Interview: Genevieve Valentine on Writing Catwoman As the Mob Queen of Gotham
Genevieve Valentine’s excellent run of writing Catwoman has just ended as of this week, with yesterday’s Issue #46 as her last — alongside artist David Messina, with whom Valentine has worked throughout her too-brief stay. Before the new creative team picks up the reins next week, here’s our interview with Valentine about her thoughts on the narrative arc she chose.
Maddy Myers (TMS): This mob storyline that you’re doing — there have been other storylines where we’ve seen Catwoman start doing something and then she’s just quit after a couple of issues, probably because the writer got bored with it. But in your case, it seems as though you decided, “Nope, this is it, this is what I want to do.”
Genevieve Valentine: When they called me, they said that her being a mob boss would be at least the first arc, coming out of Batman Eternal. I think putting her in that position is so amazing. She is an amazing thief and everything else, but it’s hard to keep her connected to Gotham when she’s such an independent character. But putting her in something that is so much a part of the Gotham underworld — and then making it her responsibility? She doesn’t like being in charge, but when she wants to be, she’s damn good at it. And I think that that’s the kind of tension that can easily sustain the entire arc. And what we’ve been looking at over the course of this thing is the fact that she, in fact, is almost too good as a mob boss. She has had to find her line and step back and be like, “I do not want to cross a line that I know I can’t come back from.” I mean, she ordered the death of a blood relative, and the rest of her entire arc has been, “I don’t want to be this person. How do I get out of this with the fewest casualties?” And we’ll see how well she does with that!
TMS: So, your decision to put that story in, when she has her relative killed — did you know, always, that you were going to do that? There have been other times when Catwoman has killed someone, like when she kills Black Mask. She’s not like Batman; she will kill people if she has to. But in this case she didn’t directly kill anyone — what’s your interpretation of her morality when it comes to this?
Valentine: For me, her ordering it was almost worse than her doing it. Because her killing of Black Mask was justified — even Batman would not have been, like, too torn up about it.
TMS: I mean, he would have been, because it’s Batman. The man has issues.
Valentine: [laughs] Yeah. I think it’s one thing for her to kill someone who she knows has it coming. But for her to order it means that she is in entrenched in a system that she is not sure that she wants to be in for very long. It is her handing something that she doesn’t want to do over to someone else, which I think she rebels at on a very visceral level. She has come up relying only on herself. And making that the initial turning point for the first arc, was realizing that she is actually in this so deep that she cannot get out clean. It is not going to be an easy out for her. So the end of this arc is actually showing the fact that even when you step back and are trying to do the right thing — and she was really trying to be doing the right thing, getting out, setting up safeguards, trying to cut herself loose from everything, and become independent — but it is not going to work out for her the way that she thinks it is. [laughs] No spoilers!
TMS: I loved all of the historical quotes that you put in. It’s a very ‘talky’ book. There’s a lot of talking — which I’m into, it’s like a crime novel. So, obviously, that was by design. Were you reading Queen Elizabeth’s memoirs and you thought, “This would make such a cool comic book!”
Valentine: That’s exactly what I was doing! The mob in Gotham has a reputation for being the heavies, a lot of gun-heavy action scenes — we had seen that, and that’s established. So, we know. What we haven’t seen as much of is what goes on in those roundtable meetings where everyone sits down and is jockeying for position and just playing the long game. Which is why I’m so glad that Mark Doyle and the Bat team gave me twelve issues, so that I could play this really long game, because that’s what makes the mob interesting — is that right now, they’re like, “That sounds good.” And ten years from now you’re like, “Aw, shhh…” I don’t know if I can swear?
TMS: You can swear!
Valentine: Aw, shit. [laughs] My mom’s going to be so disappointed.
Valentine: But in that way, the mob is descended directly from the much more obvious factions of Queen Elizabeth’s court, where everyone is there for a purpose, and you know exactly why everyone is there, and the Queen knows exactly why you are there. And that’s not a position that Selina would ever have chosen for herself, and it’s not one that she’s born into — so it’s literally, heavy is the head that wears the crown. So I went from the supposition that the mob stuff would be interesting if we look at it from the inside, and then went immediately to the most interesting mob storyline ever, which is Queen Elizabeth.
TMS: Yeah! But you also incorporated in some Antony and Cleopatra quotes and some Caesar quotes …
Valentine: I do! And there’s a lot of Borgia’s in the second arc.
TMS: Yeah! I like the idea of Catwoman going home at night and reading these books, being like, “Oh my god, I’ve gotta find other historical women in power.” That was how I interpreted it —
Valentine: Well — I mean, she has a huge house, she has that huge library, and she’s not dumb!
TMS: I know! I love that you wrote her as incredibly intelligent and calculating.
Valentine: Thank you! You do not survive as an independent contractor in Gotham, unless you have your wits about you.
TMS: There’s a lot of hustling that happens in the freelance world of jewel thievery.
Valentine: Why are there so many jewels in Gotham? Who ever lends jewels out in Gotham anymore?
TMS: I don’t know! There’s so many changing hands. Catwoman’s moving them all around, I guess. That’s how.
Valentine: In Issue 35, they bring in Lucrezia Borgia’s wedding jewelry.
TMS: I know. Yeah.
Valentine: And she’s standing in the middle of the party, like, “Are you kidding me?”
TMS: “Don’t bring a jewel here!”
Valentine: “We all know what’s going to happen to this jewel!”
TMS: We all know it’s going to go away. We don’t know where — but it will disappear in some way. [both laugh] Okay. So, at one point, Catwoman says, about her lifestyle, “this isn’t a bad way to spend a ninth life.” As soon as I read that, I was like, “Nooo, Catwoman’s gonna go away!” And of course, that’s the rest of the story, is that the mantle of Catwoman gets passed on [to Eiko]. I was wondering — while you were here, were you like, “OK, I gotta quickly put in a queer woman of color as Catwoman.”
Valentine: [laughs] I actually put her in because I knew that Selina was going to be out of the catsuit for a long time. But Gotham abhors a vacuum. And the fact that Catwoman is such a morally ambiguous character means that it’s impossible to have a direct mirror image. So a mirror image of Catwoman in some ways is going to be Catwoman, because she’s such a grey area, that you just end up with two characters who aren’t sure how they feel about each other, who aren’t sure whether the city’s big enough for both of them. Because the city is big enough for a huge Bat family — it should, in theory, be big enough for two Catwomen, but we’re not sure about that … Also I think part of the reason that they announced the new team as early as they did was to assure everyone that [Selina] would not have to pay the ultimate price for being the mob queen of Gotham.
TMS: The fact that you put Selina in a relationship with Eiko — it seems like you haven’t really gotten much pushback from DC about that, which is awesome. It was cool with them?
Valentine: It was definitely an element of the story that we thought made a lot of sense, because of that mirror image, because Selina is in a position where there’s no one that she can really trust, even the people that are her blood relatives, and the only person that she can really rely on is the person that has the same number of issues that sort of bring her into the Catwoman role. And so she’s like, “You will understand what I’m going through.”
TMS: Absolutely. And that made a lot of sense to me. And I love it, and I want it to be forever, which it won’t, because Catwoman —
Valentine: Because comics. There is no relationship in comics that has gone well forever.
TMS: Yeah! And that’s what I was getting at — the pushback to their relationship that I’ve seen — I’m sure you’re a healthy person who doesn’t read internet comments, but I do from time to time-
TMS: And a lot of people are like, “I really just want Catwoman to be with Batman. This is just a dalliance for her, she’s not gonna end up with Eiko.” How do you feel about pushing back against a decades-long historical romance?
Valentine: Historical? That’s my keyword! [laughs] I am a huge Batman/Catwoman shipper. But only for stories in which Batman realizes that Selina is worth his time in a serious way. And what we have seen a lot in comics is that Batman is allowed to have relationships with whoever else he wants, knowing that Catwoman is always around, and the readers of Batman know that Catwoman is always around. And in Catwoman, what we see a lot of is her waiting for Batman. But she has never seemed like a character who is going to shut any doors! She is going to keep her options open. She recognizes that she has a deep connection to this guy that’s never gonna go away. But at the same time, he has made it impossible for them to be together in any kind of honest way. He knows both of her identities, and she does not know — in the New 52 — who he is. And I think, in some ways, she’s a smart enough woman to recognize that until he is ready for that happen, she is perfectly happy to be there for him — they’re fighting crime together. They had a couple of face-offs in my arc. That shows the fact that that connection is not going to go away. But in the meantime, you don’t just love one person your entire life. You have emotional connections with a lot of different people.
TMS: Yeah. I guess I just personally am annoyed about the fanbase trying to undercut her current relationship by being like, “Well, but she’s gonna end up with Batman, right?”
Valentine: That’s comics! I mean, Bruce Wayne is dating someone right now, and no one is like, “This is definitely forever!” It’s comics.
TMS: I know, I know. [laughs] I have heard that you’re not going to keep writing Catwoman —
Valentine: That is true. Frank Tieri and Inaki Miranda are taking over as of #47.
TMS: Okay. So, are there other characters within DC that you would want to write for?
Valentine: I would go back to Gotham City at the drop of a hat!
TMS: Who else would you wish that you could write? If you can’t have Catwoman.
Valentine: And without spoiling anything in particular, the fact that I’m working on Batman and Robin: Eternal means that I’m getting a chance to write a little Cass Cain. And it is really hard not to get attached to Cass Cain in a hurry! I would write for her at the drop of a hat. And I would also be interested in some characters that aren’t necessarily Gotham characters. I fell into one of my favorite characters of all time right off the bat, so I feel like I can go anywhere from here … I accomplished what I wanted to do with Catwoman.
TMS: Have you ever considered a Harley Quinn story, or Poison Ivy … ?
Valentine: I would love Poison Ivy. I can say no more about that at present. But who doesn’t love a little Poison Ivy?
(Image via Batman News)
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