10:30 am EDT, May 9, 2019

‘Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale’ book review: A refreshing new origin story for a classic DC character

I never considered myself a fan of Catwoman. I love cats and I love complicated female characters but Selina Kyle never spoke to me. That is, until I read Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart’s Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale.

Selina Kyle is a classic DC character who has been around for ages, always with a similar origin story: Leaving an abusive home, Selina Kyle becomes homeless and resorts to petty grocery store theft in order to survive. She also has a sister that she cares very much for, working hard to try to reclaim her from the orphanage she was sent to. But, while Selina does commit theft to get by, she also has a strong moral code and a vendetta against the rich who so often abuse their wealth while others starve or are forced to deal with abusive situations. And so, she becomes Catwoman, a cat burglar who steals from the rich, but not necessarily to give to the poor.

While Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale doesn’t completely deviate from that origin story, there are some striking and effective differences.

Fourteen-year-old Selina Kyle is your typical high school student. She’s an only child who has a few friends that she keeps at arm’s length, does moderately well in school, has a crush on the popular kid, and has to deal with bullies every once in a while, putting them in their rightful place.

But unlike the typical teenager, Selina is forced to go home every day to a broken household where she’s forced to endure her mother’s abusive boyfriend as her mother stands idly by. After a particularly grisly experience one day, Selina Kyle leaves home, preferring to become homeless rather than suffer through domestic abuse any longer.

After living on the streets on her own for a while, she discovers that the solitary life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She also realizes, to her surprise, that there’s solace and happiness to be found in being a part of a group, and so she joins a pack of other runaways/homeless youths who support themselves by committing small crimes.

Sure, a lot of her backstory in Under the Moon is very reminiscent of her classic history: The abuse, homelessness, petty theft. These things are what make Selina Kyle, as well as Catwoman, who she is. But it’s the how and the execution (both written and illustrated) in this newest graphic novel from DC Ink, that makes the difference.

I’ll admit that the first third or even half of the novel is pretty bleak. The book’s depiction of domestic abuse can be pretty jarring at times. Selina’s mother’s boyfriend is about as disgusting and terrible as they come. He’s a large man who’s a heavy drinker and who can snap at any point. Though he’s technically a visitor in their home (as he claims no legal ownership of it), he has deemed himself king.

Even worse is Selina’s mother who does nothing to stop him. The novel gives a bit of background on just how terrible her decision-making and choice in partners is as well as how completely dependent on them she is. Her mother’s lack of agency is almost harder to watch than the boyfriend’s abuse because she does nothing to shield her daughter.

It’s one thing to know that domestic abuse exists and is happening all over the world. It’s another to see it portrayed so realistically on a page and with a character that you’re already familiar with.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the catalyst for Selina leaving home and resigning herself to the street is pretty awful and packs quite a punch. The moment that made her decision for her had me all-out crying on the train on my way to work. Selina is drawn so thoughtfully and so carefully, both through text and illustrations, that it’s hard not to feel for her.

In addition to tackling domestic abuse, Under the Moon also confronts important topics such as homelessness and self-harm as well.

While the lows of homelessness where about what I expected, I was surprised to see some “highs” as well. Or, well, Selina not being miserable the whole time. When she first gains her independence and strikes off on her own, we’re privy to her wins: easily swiping food to feed herself, stealing some extra clothes from the mall, bathing in a fancy high-end store bathroom, etc. Her first few weeks of homelessness reflect every teen’s idealistic dream of leaving home.

But of course, that luck and that rush of independence doesn’t buoy Selina for long.

I was fascinated by the pages devoted to the harsh reality of homelessness and the constant compromises Selina makes not only in order to survive, but also to retain any shred of her dignity. Watching as she ambles about, looking for any scrap of food, clothing, or hope, is heartbreaking. Myracle and Goodhart do an excellent job of illustrating, through both words and images, not only how tough it is to be homeless but also how, though it may start as one for some, the “lifestyle” is not a choice.

'Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale'

As I mentioned, this novel also touches on self-harm, though not as much as I thought it might. While Under the Moon‘s discussions and portrayals of domestic violence and homelessness are really well done, its inclusion of cutting is treated with a mere throwaway line/page and followed up only in vague terms toward the end. While I understand that a graphic novel, moreso than a traditional no-pictures YA novel, has more responsibility and risk when depicting self-harm (insofar as it has to walk the line of discussing it without giving teens the idea to try it), this book does so little with it that it would’ve been better to have not included it at all.

The last half of this graphic novel focuses on the idea of found family. As someone who has surrounded herself with and found solace in found family in her own life, I really enjoyed the dynamics of Selina coming to terms with the fact that, even though she doesn’t have a traditional family, she doesn’t have to face the world alone. That there are still people that she can trust and invest in without fear of being hurt.

Her relationship with a younger girl is especially moving, as Selina learns that she needs to be able to take care of herself in order to be able to take care of others (partially because others actually care about her and her well-being, whether or not she wants them to).

That’s not to say that Selina overcomes her cat-like skittishness around others. But, through her interactions with her new family of runaways as well as her run-ins with the Bruce Wayne (her aforementioned crush), she opens herself up and becomes a multi-faceted character. She cares about others without trying to get too attached, but her detachment ends up creating attachments. Though the plot and low-key “twists” at the end of the novel were pretty predictable (and ones I called at the very beginning of the book’s second half), the journey to get to them was very heartfelt and well-done.

Under the Moon is very much about Selina Kyle’s journey toward self-discovery, but I feel like I’d be remiss to mention Bruce Wayne’s portrayal here as well. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a younger, less cynical Bruce Wayne in this novel. Though he’s (very rightfully) not a large presence in this story, the scenes between him and Selina are some of the most fascinating. They bring out interesting elements in one another and somehow exude a sense of calm familiarity and sizzling chemistry simultaneously. This younger Bruce Wayne isn’t the world’s greatest detective just yet, but he’s open, patient, and incredibly helpful, which are aspects that mainstream depictions of Bruce Wayne have omitted recently and I found refreshing.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale is impressive on so many levels. The artwork and coloring are so entrancing to the point where I sometimes found it hard to turn the page because I just wanted to keep staring at the one I was one. But the story, which feels so real and gritty without being an all-out downer, constantly compelled me to keep going. This novel does a good job of balancing lighter moments of love and hope amidst the darkness, but also doesn’t make light of serious and important topics like domestic abuse and homelessness.

I really hope we get another book about Selina from this storytelling duo and that Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale is just a jumping off point for this version of Selina Kyle. Now that this book has finally convinced me to invest in her character, I can’t help but want more.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart is available now from these fine booksellers. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

'Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale'

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