The Catwoman comic, Under the Moon, impressed me in ways I was not expecting, and in some ways I never would have expected.
Catwoman is Not Catwoman in Under the Moon
by Travis Hedge Coke
Under the Moon is a graphic novel by Lauren Myracle (writer), Jeremy Lawson (colorist), Isaac Goodhart (artist), and Deron Bennett (letterer). It is, and I use this term with all my tongue in my cheek but if it bugs you, you earned this, a proper graphic novel. The chapters are not all the same length. It uses real words for real effect. There is a point to Under the Moon that is not setting up a future status quo for some other comic. The line art and the coloring are designed and controlled from the ground up. No unnecessary fat, no de facto fluff.
This is not a comic about Catwoman. Selina is in her mid-teens. She calls herself, trying to hype herself into something, Catgirl, but most everyone calls her, Selina.
Under the Moon is not a comic about who or what Selina will become, but the girl she is. This is not Catwoman: Year One, and if you want that, there are other comics you can check out.
Under the Moon is going to be overlooked by comic book traditionalists, because it is not set in the standard “continuity,” and was not published, first, in twenty page installments. Because that is where those gauges are set. Some are going to be annoyed by its refusal to aim itself at a middle-aged cautious readership. Too many of “us” are ready to ignore the comic because the writer has not written a comic before, or because she writes prose novels. Not even ignoring that some of these middle-agers are actually young enough that The Nine Lives of Chloe King could have been marketed directly to them, with its own twist on and evident Catwoman love, “we” can really be an uptight bunch.
Too frequently, dealing with the abuse of teenaged girls in fiction means sexualization, sexual confusion, eroticiziation. Even in well-meant, caring narratives. Night Cries, a Archie Goodwin/Scott Hampton Batman comic I love, turns its theme of post-traumatic stress, parenting, and child abuse to sexual ends. Watchmen or The Killing Joke? New Frontier? Eroticized abuse, abuse where the abused plays a role in enticing or self-harm out of delight to prolong abuse, we see this stuff too often. Kids, even as kids, see this in narratives too often.
Selina needs reasons to leave home, to be a thief, and then to be a better thief. There are Catwoman flags that must be touched in this story, and the story does tag those markers as it passes them.
Goodhart and Myracle’s Under the Moon shows its abuse through financial reliance, pinches, words, social ignorance, implicit threats, building into slaps, into the murder of pets, homelessness, fear, paranoia, reluctance, self-harm and self-recrimination. The violence is the violence not only of actions but of being, of the state and the status of our protagonist, of her school, her city, and of women and men.
“All men are assholes.” With those words, Selina sets for us a world, and it is a world we have seen.
Under the Moon shows a textured world. Jeremy Lawson’s color choices are stylish, intelligent, and comforting. Rather than splash every shade and fade onto each page, as can often be the case, most pages take one color and dress the entire page in that hue to create a sense of world, a universal tone that can shift to another just as all-embracing tone a page later.
Isaac Goodhart’s fantastic layouts are arranged to be highlighted with washes of color and not more realistic or detailed coloring. This books seems completely planned and considered. A crafted and tuned machine. Goodhart, Lawson, and Bennett visualize Myracle’s script in a naturalistic, open way, that allows the abuse content to be shown clearly without being salacious.
Abuse and aggression are pervasive in this comic, but so is love, care, exhaustion, pain, delicacy, strength.
It is lovely and good that the comic has as much release in its cursing as it does. There is a brutality in the “better a pussy than a dick” scene, freer and more honest and more useful than the standardized markers of violence that a comic, superhero or not, would typically go for. This makes Batman: Damned, which is not a bad book, embarrassing. And, the treatment of that comic, especially the second-guessing and obfuscation of genitals even more embarrassing.
Kids know curse words. And, kids know that words hurt, because words are indicators of actions and desires to act. Under the Moon addresses multiple levels of abuse and aggression without ever implicating Selina in “playing a game” or “it takes two to fight” bull, and to be honest, too many comics fall on those tropes as easy as a kid walking the ball up to the hole on a skee-ball game. Look at The Ultimates portrayal of spousal abuse and look back at this and tell me this is not the smarter, more adult comic.
Cursing is an efficacious way to demonstrate brutality and assault. Cursing is a good, freeing way to release emotions and clarify situations. Men, in this world and in ours, are fucking scary. Not scary. Fucking scary. And, that can be shown without a rape scene or a pimp or a sexual awakening and it is embarrassing to me that I have to spell that out while I am talking about a comic that seems squarely and purposefully aimed at young women the same age as the protagonist.
The comic closes with a list of contacts for help with self-harm, domestic abuse, homelessness, for LGBTQ people at risk, suicide prevention, to report animal cruelty. It is a serious three pages dedicated to real-life help, to real lifelines.
Catwoman is Not Catwoman in Under the Moon
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