June 15th, 2006

default

Let's Be Badguys

DC comics launched a miniseries called "Infinite Crisis" that was to set a new status quo throughout the entire DC universe. But to get as much money from grubby fanboy hands build up the series and set it on the course they wanted, they published several tie-in books. "Day of Vengeance" ruinated the magic of the DCU, and got Captain Marvel out of the way so Superman wouldn't have to share the limelight. "The OMAC Project" showed just how screwed up in the head Batman had gotten lately and set up the character assassination of Wonder Woman. "The Rann-Thanagar War" . . . I don't know, some stuff happened in space? I guess? Infinite Crisis itself barely mentioned it. And in "Villains United," the . . . well, villains united. All of them.

Except for six.

In my opinion, "Villains United" was the best of the Infinite Crisis tie-ins. It was certainly the best of the ones I read (Day of Vengeance, Omac Project, Identity Crisis, Sacrifice). Why?

Well, it was cool to see the villains try to act smart for once, and it went in a couple of cool and creepy ways. It was cool to see a bit more violence, with actual consequences (death, maiming, that sort of thing--granted, everybody who's a confirmed kill was pretty much a nobody, and the maiming was really of the one ear variety, but still). And it was cool that this little romp through the bad side of town of the DCU was really really fun. It was the most enjoyable in-continuity miniseries I'd read in a long while (so long I can't remember, maybe Batgirl: Year One?). Seriously, I've read it three times, and each time it was just as enjoyable as the last. There are no hidden messages, hidden meanings to be deciphered from the art. It's just a pretty straightforward story about bad people and the bad things they do to keep other bad people from making them do worse things (in their eyes). It was fast-paced. It had witty or even quirky dialogue. It painted the characters as broadly or narrowly as the story needed. It was good-old-fashioned story telling of the sort old-school fanboys whine has been missing in comics for so long. All that good stuff.

But mainly? It was cool because of what it did to Catman.

Who?

Well, see, there was this hero call Batman. You know Batman. I'm not going to link to my previous mentions of him, because you know it all already. Well, Batman had this villain, a "cat thief" who called herself Catwoman. She was meant to be a femme fatale to Batman's urban, fatherly vigilante figure. A romantic interest, but one with a hint of danger, making her perhaps even more desirable. She was used a few times, and eventually even reformed. Along the way, it was decided that if Catwoman was a fun character, perhaps something of a rival for Batman could be created, a Catman?

And so Catman had a couple of adventures against Batman. I believe as pretty much originally presented, he was a physical, if not mental, match for Batman. Supposedly, he also had a loincloth that made him immortal. Maybe. In any event, he was skillful, but unlike Batman, with his emphasis for precision and discipline, Catman (aka Thomas Blake) was all about luck. He was like a swashbuckling version of Batman without the morality. He wasn't a killer, but he wasn't a nice guy.

He was forgotten, then reused, then forgotten again, then reused again. And somewhere along the way, he just became a joke. He was portrayed as misogynistic. He was recruited into a band of other low-on-the-totem pole Batman villains called "The Misfits" in an otherwise nice little story by Alan Davis in Shadow of the Bat (with some restrained but still good art by Tim Sale). This was in the early nineties, and though he wasn't treated greatly, he wasn't thrown around and shat upon and then laughed at.

That came later. That came when Brad Meltzer ("Identity Crisis" Brad Meltzer, who now has the job of writing the Justice League) had the job of writing Green Arrow. He portrayed Thomas Blake, Catman, as an overweight loser who was laughed at by other villains (even truly lame ones, it seems, like Crazy Quilt or The Rainbow Raider, who's a villain because he's color-blind. Yeah). Green Arrow eventually beats him up in his own house and leaves him crying in his own depraved hell.

And also, it seems at one point, Catman was eaten by a monkey.

So crap upon crap was piled on him over the years (including an apparently out of continuity tale about how Catman was a serial killer, slicing open the throats of women who reminded him of his abusive mother). Even the Batman: The Animated Series didn't really use Catman to the fullest, having him appear in one story (out of costume as the leader of a cat cult) that was really more about Batman and Catwoman.

But then, Villains United came out. Catman hadn't appeared in comics for a year or two, so when you first see him, buffed up to steroid-using levels, in shorts and the remains of his shirt working like either suspenders or twin bandoleers, with the scar of a lion attack on his chest (which has become his new symbol), barefoot, a knife at his side, his hair caught in the breeze, standing on a rock like some primitive tribal leader about to send men into battle . . . it's a striking image, whether you've seen the overweight crybaby he last was or not. He turns down membership in the grand alliance, what the villains are calling The Society (a call-back to the Silver Age "Secret Society of Super-Villains). Everyone else has been saying "Yes," either reluctantly, through coercion, or willingly. Thomas Blake? Catman? THE JOKE?

A calm "No."

Then there's threats, and the rest of the story takes place. Where Catman commits himself well. Very well. So well, in fact, he's probably going to be the leader of the team of six when they get their own title in a few months, "Secret Six." Written by the same dame who wrote "Villains United," with art by the same guy who started and finished the mini (he was either pressed for time, or other work built up, so someone else did a couple issues). If it lives up to the promise of "Villains United," it could be one of the best of many new series DC is launching after "Infinite Crisis."

All I know is, I'm looking forward to it.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque