The year kicked off with fan-favorite writer Tini Howard taking the helm on the Catwoman ongoing solo comic book series at DC Comics, working with a roster of artists on the continuing adventures of Selina Kyle. No longer engaged to Bruce Wayne, Catwoman has been steadily carving her own corner of Gotham City outside of the shadow of the bat, meting out justice on her own terms while always existing with a more morally gray area than most of the Bat-Family. However, Catwoman certainly hasn’t been alone since leaving Batman’s side, with allies and enemies surfacing to keep the cat burglar on her toes in the middle of a shadowy gangland war.
While contending with the shifting balance of power in Gotham’s criminal underworld, Catwoman has found herself targeted by the supervillain mob boss Black Mask. Linking up with Harley Quinn, Selina has managed to stay just out of harm’s reach only to learn that she is being pursued by the lethal mercenary Red Claw, with the character making her full DC Universe debut after being introduced in Batman: The Animated Series. And even working together with Harley, Selina is going to have to think fast and move faster if she hopes to stay alive.
In an exclusive interview with the Popverse, Howard reveals her own personal connection to Catwoman as a fan, explains how she wants to challenge and explore Selina’s life and place in Gotham through her story, and reveals how she came to the decision to incorporate Red Claw so prominently into her run.
Catwoman strikes me as a character that’s very near and dear to your heart. Do you remember what your own introduction to the character was?
Tini Howard: It was absolutely Batman: The Animated Series or Batman Returns, I’m definitely old enough to have enjoyed both of those things when they came out. [laughs] Those were definitely my first introduction to her, and I definitely loved her. I always thought she was great for superficial reasons because she had dark hair and was a girl like me. It’s hard because I think there’s a two-fold battle with that. Some people look at me and my career and think it’s really exciting that I’m writing Catwoman because it seems like a good fit and then there are people who don’t even know me who think I’m too close to the character and assume it’s just [me] writing [myself]. Neither is true, but I think she is super-important to me and always has been.
What she represents for women in comics is not always there and she was the first to do it in a lot of ways. She’s a femme fatale but not one who’s going to give it all to the hero or turn and try to kill you. She’s like a cat, you don’t know what she’s thinking all the time, but it also makes her a really good character to subvert the idea that women are mysterious and hard to figure out. She’s that kind of character but, at the same time, women are people and we have really interesting series of thoughts and internal logic that are not always supportive of other stories.
Like with Catwoman, am I a hero or villain? Well, it depends on what’s needed in the moment but I do also think, in her heart of hearts, that Selina Kyle is a good person. I never questioned that, and I think that’s why I like her and relate to her. I think I’m a really good person, but sometimes you have to use harsh methods. [laughs]
Batman: The Animated Series’ legacy looms large over your Catwoman run so far, with Harley Quinn and now Red Claw, who had been voiced by Kate Mulgrew. What was it about bringing in Red Claw into this story?
I love Kate Mulgrew. Talk about characters who weren’t like the other girls on TV telling me how to be, freaking Captain Janeway?! [chef’s kiss] A lot of my run is about bringing things I love about Gotham because I feel that’s what everyone’s work in Gotham is, what’s your Gotham look like? For me, it’s very much a fusion of the noir Gotham from Batman: The Animated Series and Darwyn Cooke’s Gotham with Grant Morrison’s Gotham. I believe Grant once used the term “necrodelic” to refer to Gotham and it’s my favorite word ever, the fusion of dark and psychedelic.
Those are the things I really loved about Morrison’s run, so I fused them into this neo-noir Gotham but specific to things within Gotham and not other neo-noir things like Drive or Neon Demon – both of which I love! [laughs] But it feels like a combination of Gotham City’s stuff and, though I take from stuff outside of comics, Gotham is so rich that you want to make sure that you’re paying homage to the city as a character.
There’s an issue where I bring in Onyx and Flamingo, which is a nod to the Morrison run and the characters that they created that I think are really cool, important, and underserved. Not underserved in that they haven’t been used well but there are thousands of characters to use, and we also like to make up our own. There’s a game of trying to find characters in Gotham who haven’t been used in awhile and could be used in a new way. I love the toy box aspect of comics, being able to see who we can use the story.
As someone who does visual art and costuming in my spare time, seeing what I have that can fit is a favorite thing of mine. I love doing that with characters and Red Claw, which was actually a suggestion from my husband Blake who co-wrote Vampire: The Masquerade with me and is co-writing a Batman: Urban Legends story with me that’s coming out. I was just brainstorming with him, and he suggested Red Claw, and I wasn’t sure if I could use her, but then I looked into it and I could. I had the perfect place for her in issues #43-44, which was a sort of mini-mission. Nico Leon, our artist, has been on a little bit of a break, so I’m working with Bengal, who is a legend!
I love Bengal’s work on Death or Glory.
Yeah! That’s why I wrote two issues’ worth of car chases. I wanted to do something inspired by Death Proof, getting outside of Gotham and into the boonies. I have lived in the country for much of my life and enjoy a country road trip, and I wanted to put all that in. Looking for the right foil, Red Claw is perfect for a lot of that for a lot of reasons. We needed a mercenary, and she’s so cool, she’s a woman, and putting her up against Harley is so fun because they’re both from Batman: The Animated Series.
Without spoiling too much, she works so well as a foil for Selina because they’re on opposite sides of something, but they speak the same language so they’re able to come to an understanding and that turns out to be really useful. I also love the silhouette appeal to her; I love a broad-shouldered, sexy woman with long hair. Working with artists, to have Red Claw, Selina, and Harley standing next to each other, they don’t look like three Barbie dolls and then there’s Dario Tomasso and Valmont, who have two different builds.
If Red Claw is this stoic, lawful evil and Harley Quinn is chaotic good, Selina Kyle is caught right in the middle. What was it about bringing them together for those set pieces at the roller derby?
A big thing about comics that’s fun are set pieces. Doing two whole issues at a roller derby sounds cool but probably would get boring for the artist to draw and get a little boring for me to explain, all the fun there just isn’t the same in a comic book. [laughs] But it is an amazing set piece, especially because Harley has a past in derby. I like to skate and our editor likes to skate, and it came up like “What if Harley took Selina to a derby? I think she’d be really good at it! She’s got that cat-like balance and she’d nail it!” It was a fun set piece for them to do together, and then Red Claw pulls out a flamethrower.
The thing about Harley is, I love that character a lot. I think she’s like Selina in that she’s important and special as a really visible woman in comics, in a way that’s not visible all time. I have a lot of fun writing her because I think that she’s brilliant, that she’s a genius, and can go on a road trip with her friend, talk with her cat, and play with her ice machine. I don’t think that she’s secretly dumb, but that women can contain multitudes. [laughs] If you know any real women and go on trips with them, it doesn’t matter if she’s a psychiatric doctor, when you’re a road trip with your girls, everyone is allowed to be stupid, silly, fun, and themselves.
It was really fun to give Harley the journey of going on a road trip with Selina for a blast and then, when something happens, we see these women kick into high gear. We see Catwoman and Harley quickly put aside any roller derby-related differences that might’ve come up during their trip right away. [laughs] Which seems [obvious] but, for me as a woman, it’s really important to see Selina and Harley be fun, casual, and flirtatious with one another. All of those things, to me, make them more like real women.
So much of Catwoman’s life is in the shadow of the bat, but your run began with Bruce Wayne out of town. How was it getting to have the cat play while the bat's away?
I think the relationship between Batman and Catwoman is amazing, fascinating, and I love it. I think that’s why I love playing with it so much, because it’s not a static thing, it’s a relationship. They’re warm clay, you can pull them apart and mash them together, change them, make them grow and be special. I think they’ll always be connected, there’s no way to not be. I also don’t think that they’re done and that she doesn’t have feelings for him, quite the opposite.
I try to write her in my run as someone who is doing fine – in the sense that, when someone says that, you wonder if they are. She’s been through a lot and it’s an opportunity to show her story, not like 'I’ve broken up with Batman! Screw him!' but more like 'I almost cleaved my life to this person forever, I have to figure out how we’re different if this man and I are not going to have the big wedding that I thought and we’re going to be doing our thing for awhile.'
He looms large and she does in his life too and part of that is telling the story of their relationship. Part of that is because of what Tom King and Clay Mann have been doing in Batman/Catwoman, which is this really beautiful picture of their relationship as a very different thing. I don’t want to do just what they’re doing, those guys are doing a great book, and I have an opportunity to tell a different story.
I’m a 36-year old woman, married for over 12 years, I’ve had a lot of passionate history in my life, and being a woman getting to tell that story in comics is great. It’s a little like Fleabag, she’s great and fun to watch, but you don’t hope that she’s like this forever. [laughs] She’s still a hero but there’s stuff that she’s not talking about and reconciling. I do this thing a lot in my work where I sometimes want readers to feel the way that you’d feel about the character if they were your friend, which is sometimes a little frustrated that she’s not talking about the stuff that you want her to talk about. Sometimes that makes people get frustrated with me as a writer but that’s the sacrifice I make because I think the story is more important than my feelings. [laughs]
It’s like watching a friend from the sidelines as they maybe make not the best decisions that they should.
Yeah, exactly! Onyx plays that role for her, telling her to watch out for this guy. Harley plays the other role, telling her that maybe it’s fun to have fun when you’re doing the right thing. No one knows, for Selina and Bruce, what’s really in their heads. [laughs]
What else can you tease for Catwoman as her adventures in and around different corners of Gotham City continue?
I’m really eager to return to the Gotham that Nico’s built with some other artists as well. We built a lot of really great stuff, and I’m eager to return. I really enjoy telling a story and keeping it small until it just gets bigger and we’re building some more onto Gotham. We’re starting to see what we see already with Black Mask and Red Claw, the criminal element more concerned with the supervillain element.
Since Catwoman has chosen to enter the fray, other costumed people are going to do the same on the opposite side. We’re going to keep seeing what happens in Gotham when you try to start a fight or claim power. It’s like anything – when you try to claim power, people come for you because that’s how people and power work. We’ve got big plans moving forward and there’s definitely a specific part of Gotham you’ll be seeing a lot of…
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