By Justin Wood
“Gotham City is overrun with criminals. They're scum, lowlifes. I should know. I was one of them.”
“I'll build a wall around the city of Gotham! It's going to be a huge, beautiful wall, and I'm going to put it right here.”
“But we don't need a woman to run this city; we need a leader.”
“Let's make Gotham great again!”
Subtle guys. Real subtle.
Okay, I have no real idea where to start with this. Presumably, to cash in on the repulsive election we're suffering through right now, DC Comics decided to jam out some sort of "topical" response quickly. This thing is a genuine oddity, folks. There hasn't been something so desperately political and equally confused about its subject in the Dark Knight's library since 1971's Batman #230.
Beginning at the top, it's a Catwoman book. Dramatic pause. Why? From the very premise of a political allegory starring Catwoman, I get the creeping suspicion of dartboard editorializing, letting chance decide the publishing choices made outside of Scott Snyder's privileged domain. Nothing about this story reads like it was conceptualized from the start as something that fit Catwoman best. Hell, it barely feels written at all in parts, huge sections just being the most rote Bat-cliches in the very worn book. At this point, it should be a goddamn writing sin to have Catwoman and Batman on a roof together flirt fucking each other. It hasn't been memorably meaningful since Batman: Dark Victory and at this point, whenever these two costumed dickheads square off in a "clash-of-ideologies" while their engorged junk tries to claw its way out of their rubber playtime gear, it makes me want to be sick and read a book without pictures instead. I like Catwoman conceptually, but the meaningless collection of bad copy-and-paste script patches she represents to every poorly written Batman book makes me wish she would take a Wolverine-esque death hiatus.
Damn, I didn't realize how much I hated this book until now. If I don't move on, we'll still be here after the actual election.
Anyway, Penguin is running for Mayor. You can tell from the newspaper article in the comic where he " 'ormally announced his candidacy." He's running against a woman with red hair while Catwoman has flashbacks to a violent girl she knew in her days in an orphanage who also had red hair but had a different name. Huh, wonder if that will connect at all later in some sort of twist. Penguin is painfully obviously cast as Trump, but by the end of the story, you'll be trying to figure out if the redhead was supposed to be Clinton, what that was supposed to say about the election, or even if the author had seen any election coverage this year, period. As a story, it doesn't say anything about Catwoman, Batman, Gotham, and certainly doesn't say anything remotely engaging, narratively. As an allegory for the election, you can barely scrape the "Election Night" title out of the handful of soggy, easy references to the current race.
The art is another monster. Read quickly, and it looks like a passable mimic of the David Finch style, thin hatching, and strict comic book realism. Slow down, even for a minute, and weird stuff starts jumping out at you. Like the fourth panel of the first page, an establishing shot of a basement with a girl sitting in it, with such weird funky perspective it begins looking like an Escher drawing if you actually try to figure out what it's trying to show you. Or a reaction shot of Catwoman watching Batman grapple away, where she looks back so far her body starts tipping off of the perspective axis into freefall. OR, the panel on the next page immediately after that, where a perfectly nice panel of Catwoman peeping on a Granny interrupts itself with a bizarre drawing of a hand that looks like Selina uses gloves to cover up a weird fuzed misshapen claw. It's weird because many of the panels look pretty decent. Some of the architecture has a lot of detail (emphasis on some). Costumes and characters are rendered generically but decently, with texture and lighting. It's a plain looking book, but not a terrible one. Until you slow down, and then you begin to wonder if the artist is sloppy or was aggressively rushed by an unfair deadline.
Here's a fun game to play. It's called "spot the crowd." There are two scenes in the book where the political candidates hypothetically address a large crowd of people. I say hypothetically because the speaker and the audience are never drawn in the same panel. In fact, in the climactic debate at the end, the crowd is never drawn period. Both scenes show speakers on a stage with a comical void in front of them, an implied audience, making them look like they are speaking to an empty room. Both scenes feature excessive close-ups, seemingly detailed with the fine hatching I mentioned before, but actually saving time by eliminating the time-consuming (and narratively necessary) job of drawing a room full of people.
This is a shameful book. It's ugly, it's inept, and worst of all, unlike books like All Star Batman where clearly every opportunity is extended, here you really have to lay the blame on DC for publishing something so shoddy that it puts the talents of the creators in severe doubt. I don't know these creators. They might be talented in their own right and were put in a bad spot to rush out a quick cultural ephemera cash-in. The illustrator clearly knows how to do a lot of things that an artist should know how to do, but my first experience with their personal skill is now stained with the memory of this embarrassment. That's a crap thing to do, and whether the crew was legitimately talented or not, the publisher should put enough thought into what they waste good paper on to not put people's reputations in peril. Not that enough people will likely read this to do any lasting damage (this has polybag written all over it), but in principle, the Big Two should be better than that.
There is a backup story, about Prez. I don't know Prez. I don't know what it's about, don't know who these characters are. It seems 50% clever and 50% really irritating and self-satisfied. Really well drawn and colored, though. Don't publish back up stories anymore. Either do something sturdy enough to have its own issue or just don't do it.
I need this election to be over. Either way, we go, we're fucked it seems. Camps sanctimoniously entrench themselves in their ideologies and hurl insults at each other over the Internet, firing sexism, racism, and progressive condescension at each other with such sincerity and venom you'd think they thought they could kill those that disagree with them with retweets. Talking heads talk of change but the meteorology report suggests things are either going to stay the same and crap or get much, much worse. In fact, where this comic failed, the comic industry itself provides the much clearer allegory for the election. Except the election ends. November 8th everybody gets to throw out their cheap yard signs for another three and a half years. Comics, on the other hand. These comics. Well, they'll just keep coming, won't they?
See you in 2017, folks.
Catwoman: Election Night #1
Writers: Meredith Finch, Mark Russell
Artists: Shane Davis, Ben Caldwell
Publisher: DC Comics