Thursday, 10 January 2019

Heroine Fix: The Fiercely Independent Catwoman

I'm addicted to strong and intriguing characters.  Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

Catwoman is one of the first comic book heroines that caught my attention and made me want to write stories for her.  She was interesting in a way that seemed different from the other women in the shows and movies I watched.  She wasn't easily defined as good or evil.  She did what seemed right to her, whether that was stealing high end goods or rescuing a hostage.  She was sexy and smart and not embarrassed about either.  Even when she was cast as the damsel in distress, she always seemed to be in control of her own fate.

For this month, I wanted to look at three different Catwomen and how each one shows a different side of the character: Michelle Pfeiffer from 1992's Batman Returns, Halle Berry from 2004's Catwoman, and Anne Hathaway from 2012's The Dark Knight Rises.  

Batman Returns is dark, gothic and full of tragedy.  The tone is cynical, where the bad guys can win and even the good guys are violent and angry.  When we first meet Selina Kyle, she is timid, afraid to open her mouth and trapped in a job where she is humiliated and demeaned.  Her apartment is that of a little girl, full of toys and trinkets to try and counteract the dourness of her life.  She is someone who believes in the fairness of the world, that if she is a good girl who follows the rules, she will be rewarded.

But after her boss shoves her out of a window because she
uncovers his corruption, Ms. Kyle undergoes a change.  She is angry that the world has betrayed her by promising her safety in return for her silence.  Now she's no longer willing to play the role of the good girl.  She will now be loud, taking up the space that she wants, and not hesitating to go after what she wants, whether it's asking out Bruce Wayne or bringing a pistol to her boss's party so that she can enact revenge.

And that's just Selina Kyle.  Her alter-ego, Catwoman, is even more.  She rescues a woman from a rapist, only to turn on her and angrily tell her that she should never rely on someone else to save her.  She fights Batman, manipulates Penguin and blows up her boss's business.  She survives again and again when the men in her life try to kill her.  

To me, she became a symbol of feminism.  Initially, she obeys the rules that she hasn't set, only to learn they protect her attacker instead of her.  So she defies the rules and faces a backlash, trying to destroy her.  But she survives and defies those who hurt her, coming back stronger than ever with every attempt.  And yet, despite all of that, there is a part of her soul that remains untouched.  She refuses to be defined by others' opinion of her and continues to live the life that she wants.  She's angry but her anger is focused, targeting those who caused the damage.

Catwoman wasn't a movie that I particularly enjoyed, but the concept is one that has stayed with me.   As Sharon Stone's character puts it: "Catwomen are not constrained by the rules of society.  You follow your own desires.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  You will often be alone and misunderstood, but you will experience a freedom that other women will never know.  You are a Catwoman.  Every sight, every smell, every sound, incredibly heightened.  Fierce independence, total confidence, inhuman reflexes."

Like 1992's Selina, Halle Berry's Patience Phillips begins as someone who is waiting for someone else to give her permission to be the person she wants to be.  After she dies and returns to life, she physically and mentally transforms herself.  

Living life without social consquences is a
tempting proposition, particularly when a person has spent most of their life feeling as if they are being forced into a narrow path that only allows them to express a fraction of themselves.  But being free is indeed both "a blessing and a curse" because refusing to accept society's rules means becoming isolated and facing confrontation.  It's not a coincidence that most people will list social embarrassment as more frightening than painful death.  As a society, we admire those who break free of the rules but we also are afraid of them.  It's not a comfortable position to be in.

In The Dark Knight Rises, we don't get an origin story for Selina Kyle and her transformation into Catwoman.  She is already an accomplished thief and living defiantly.  Instead, what she wants is a chance to start over, to put her past behind her.  We are never told what exactly is in her past that she's so desperate to erase (especially since she doesn't seem to be particularly bothered by being a criminal).  She makes a comment that people do what they have to do, but once someone has done what they have to do, no one ever lets them forget it.

That is a message that rings particularly true in the age of social media, where anything posted effectively become immortal.  Choices and decisions remain on display for anyone to dig up and the context is rarely dug up along with them.

This Selina doesn't rely solely on her physical skills.  She's highly intelligent, able to keep several steps ahead of her opponents.  She defeats Bruce Wayne's security, including an ingenious escape plan and a quickly-shed disguise.  When her employer tries to double-cross her and threatens to kill her, she has a backup plan in place that ensures they'll be far too busy with the police to go after her.  

Like all of Catwoman's incarnations, the Dark Knight's Selina is angry but her anger is more
generalized.  She is willing to put society at large on trial for what has happened to her and willingly joins Bane's revolution.  But as anarchy reigns and Gotham's wealthy are punished, she loses her taste for global vengeance and joins forces with Batman to defeat the mercenary holding Gotham hostage.

And at the end, it appears that she gets a happily ever after with Bruce Wayne, a man who respects her and isn't looking to tame her independence.  Personally, if I were writing the postscript, I would still have the two of them working together to fight those who seek to take advantage of others, but regardless of whether or not you think they've retired their fitted leather suits, it is clear that the two of them are together and enjoying at least a moment of peace.

Catwoman is always sensual and more than a little wild, which I think is why she appeals to the audience.  Heroes are loyal and good.  A real hero will save someone, no matter what, because that's who they are.  Catwoman isn't a hero.  She chooses who she will save and who she will work with, which makes it all the more special for those chosen.

I like characters who have that same wildness and refusal to be tamed.  My first heroine is fiercely independent and refuses to hide her intelligence or her sexuality, a tribute to the female characters who have defied literary and social expectations and won their happy endings.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)

If you'd like to read the story of my first untamed heroine, Dani, you can pick up the ebook for 99 cents U.S. (or equivalent) on all platforms.  Enjoy fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

Or you can have a look at some of the other features on my blog, like last month's Heroine Fix about seizing the day with Georgia Byrd of Last Holiday, or my last post on whether or not I kept my 2018 New Year's Resolutions.  Or have a look at December's Hidden Diamond, A.M. Griffin and her wild heroines.  

If you're not quite ready for the holidays to end, you can have a look at my short story, The Spirit of the Holidays, now available for free on my website.

Next month, I'll be looking at Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series.  Able to unlock anyone's secrets with a mere glance, Charlotte still faces the challenge of being a woman in Victorian London, expected to conform to the strictest social restrictions.  Join me on February 14th for the next Heroine Fix.

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