The best Catwoman comic may not be a Catwoman comic at all. Of the ones I’ve read, I liked Darwyn Cooke’s the best. But I found a book that is just what I think Catwoman should be: Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Bandette. It started as a webcomic, but it’s now available in two hardbound volumes.
Bandette is a Parisian teen girl thief. (Her real name is Maxime Plouffe.) The first two chapters set the tone: she breaks into a mansion, steals some Rembrandt minatures, gets seen, escapes, helps out her police friend with the aid of her teen irregulars, talks to her rival (whose nom de vol is Monsieur), flirts with her friend Daniel, and earns a death sentence from a villain named Absinthe.
It’s fun, it’s well done, and it’s completely weightless. No grimdark at all, at least in volume 1– Absinthe seems no more dangerous than Mr. Rastapopoulos in Tintin. Can you tell I’m sick of grimdark? Not long ago in the DC universe, Joker apparently cut his face off. And then his face became a McGuffin for awhile, and then he got it back again. Back on his face, that is. I guess that’s pretty crazy, but a) it’s a steal from another media property; and b) it’s really pretty dumb. It’s grimdark as the camp body horror other half of Batman 1966.
I’m guessing Tobin has read some French BDs… the fact that the police inspector’s name is BD may be a clue; also the Tintin-level mixture of humor and adventure. Bandette also owes something to Irma Vep, classic catsuited French thief. Tobin has everyone talk as if poorly translated from French:
Daniel: But what is this list?
Bandette: Is it not obvious, Daniel? It is a mischief list!
Daniel: A mischief list?
Bandette: Yes, it’s very exciting! It’s a listing of items owned by Absinthe. …It would be the height of folly to attempt to steal them.
Bandette aims to do just that, of course– she has a very high opinion of herself. Which in a real person is not a very attractive quality, but she somehow pulls it off, perhaps because the fun she’s having is so contagious. (When she visits Monsieur, to propose a mutual challenge, she starts off by asking if he has any cookies.)
I picked it up on the strength of Coover’s name– I loved her Small Favors, and few artists are so good at drawing cute girls. But she can draw much more: big-nosed Parisian cops, middle-aged master thieves, Parisian rooftops, etc. It’s stylized but beautifully drawn; it fits the story perfectly.
I think what goes wrong in most of the Catwoman books I’ve seen is precisely the lack of lightness. It’s fine if things go wrong– that’s what makes stories. But I want her to be smart, witty, resourceful, a little cocky, and graceful and admirable as a thief– like Bandette. There’s no need to give her the same traumas as Batman.
(I was at the library today and volume two was unavailable. So these remarks are based on volume one. If she runs into Joker in the next book, it’s not my fault.)
The one DC book that captures some of this lightness is Amanda Conner’s Harley Quinn. A recent episode had Power Girl hit by a space alien and lose her memory. She wakes up in Harley’s back yard, and Harley convinces her that she is actually her loyal sidekick. Wacky is hard to pull off, but Conner gets just the right balance, I think.