The whole DC Icons thing – a series of young adult books set in the universe by comic book publisher DC Comics – went right past me. Furthermore, I have never heard of the author before. I didn’t know who Sarah J. Maas was until I picked up my copy of «Catwoman: Soulstealer» at an airport. I long for the days where I’d still be unfamiliar with DC Icons and Sarah J. Mass’s body of work.
After having this short book that felt like it took me six years to read, I have one big question: What does the title mean? Sure, Catwoman does steal things all the time, but souls are not among them. So let’s go through this book with numbers. The word «soul» is mentioned ten times throughout the content of this book.
- Three times before the book’s plot begins on the cover page and and in copyright notices
- «She’d been sitting on this bench for an hour now—had arrived just prior to the lunchtime rush of people desperate for a few minutes of fresh air before returning to their soul-sucking jobs in the offices towering high above the small city park.»
- «“I want to help the planet. He…” She went back to shoving cash into her duffel. “There are no lines for him. He’s soulless.”»
- «Lost, forgotten souls that no one would miss or fight for.»
- «But she’d done a damn good job of seeming like a bored, soulless heiress.»
- «Stealing away that beautiful, lovely soul.»
- «She’d given everything, lost everything, to honor her bargain with Talia. Her life, her soul, in exchange for Maggie’s safety and happiness.»
- «Her very soul, it seemed.»
There’s only one occurence of «soul» that can be connected to theft. That’s «Stealing away that beautiful, lovely soul». This is not related to Catwoman’s actions in any way, shape or form. It refers to a sickness that Selina Kyle’s sister, Maggie, is afflicted with.
Throughout the book Sarah J. Maas completely dismisses the book’s title. So in my head, DC Comics came up with a title for the book and then went shopping for authors. Maas got the job. Maas decided to write the book maybe because she genuinely likes Batman and Gotham City, maybe because she needed paycheck, maybe because she saw it as a career opportunity. Because for better or worse, she’s now created something that is forever part of the Batman mythos. Then Maas’s creative gears started working but she remembered nothing about the book other than «write something starring Catwoman».
Sarah J. Maas versus Gotham City
The biggest problem with letting Sarah J. Maas loose upon the unsuspecting characters of Gotham City is that Sarah J. Maas has no idea who any of these people are. Therefore, all the characters are wildly out of character and therefore, the entire Young Adult Novel feels like the worst kind of fanfiction. I’ll devote an entire paragraph to Catwoman herself right below, because as the main character she gets the worst of it.
What Maas continuously fails at is localizing her stories. Her writing is dialog driven and descriptions of anything are few and far in between. Catwoman’s swords are a prime example of that. Because, after some League of Assassins training, Selina Kyle has a kind of battle suit. It somewhat resembles her regular catsuit but has a helmet that serves as a plot contrivance by means of having a display that supplies her with any kind of information that she needs at the time of needing it.
Let’s do some maths. When you run the book through a text editor such as Brackets, it will tell you that it has 8437 lines of content that is the book’s story. I have, for this, eliminated copyright notices, table of contents, acknowledgements and previews of other books in the DC Icons series. That’s 262 lines.
Line 3281 reads as follows:
Selina had three heartbeats to unsheathe the twin short swords artfully hidden in the back of her suit. Standard for all League suits.
This is the first occurence of the character sequence «sword». This sequence only occurs 13 times throughout the book, and once it refers to a crossword puzzle and twice to a password. What’s so bad about line 3281 is that Selina has been going around Gotham and the League of Assassins for 38.88 percent of the entire book, mostly wearing her battlesuit and not once have we gotten a description of the suit that is good enough to actually mention swords.
That’s how the entire book reads. Pieces of equipment, objects, characters, character traits and plot elements appear and disappear at random. Most egregiously, this affects locations. There’s hardly a location that is properly described. Luke Fox aka. Batwing lives in a large flat on the top floor of a penthouse. His neighbour is Holly Vanderhees who turns out to be an alias made up by Selina Kyle alias Catwoman. Yes, you can see where this is going. More on that later.
The best description you get of the flat is when Luke enters Holly’s apartment on line 7097.
Her apartment, still shadowed in the early-morning light…Clean. Unremarkable. A mirror image of his own, though the furniture and art had a more feminine feel. She had probably rented the place furnished.
There is furniture that feels feminine. That’s all readers will ever learn about it. In the closet, which is located somewhere, there’s a mirror somewhere in the closet. When you push a button, a secret door opens to a nondescript secret room that has a table and weapons in it.
Lines 7119 to 7123 read:
Revealing each detail as they warmed up: The assortment of weapons on the walls. The chrome worktable with her tool kit left scattered over the surface, wires and bits of metal everywhere.
That’s it. What weapons? Swords are the only weapons ever mentioned in the book that we know Catwoman uses when it is convenient for the plot. So throughout the book, readers never get the feeling that they’re in a cohesive world that functions. Characters just appear to float in empty space.
Sarah J. Maas versus Society
As with any book that tries to make an impact, «Catwoman: Soulstealer» has a social message. Now, the obvious pick here would be to go for poverty in urban areas seeing as Selina Kyle grows up in abject poverty and has to resort to crime to afford schooling for herself and medical care for her sister afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Having this as your basic setup could provide a great commentary on topics of poverty linked to education or medical cost. You could go even farther and comment on how education in the USA is mostly horrible unless you have money. Medical care is something that can bankrupt a person for years and years.
This is, obviously, not what Sarah J. Maas goes for. Because if she did go for that one, she’d have to admit a flaw in Catwoman’s character, which she can’t do for reasons I’ll get to later.
No, Sarah J. Maas decides to go for racism.
Luke Fox is the son of Lucius Fox, one of Batman’s most trusted allies. In the movies, he’s played by Morgan Freeman and has consistently been portrayed as African American. So therefore, the filthy rich Luke Fox must now make commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement and the plight of young black people in today’s USA. The first time this becomes relevant in the 8437 lines of the book is when Luke drives his brand new Porsche 911 through the city and he muses about being stopped by police.
At this point, Luke Fox is in his early 20s and a honourably discharged US Marine officer. A Porsche 911 costs at least 91 100 US Dollars as of October 2018. Given the wealth and opulence of Luke Fox’s lifestyle, it is to be assumed that he did not go for the basic version of the car and 91 000 dollars is a low estimate. Because Sarah J. Maas makes a point of describing the wealth of the Fox family and their taste in exquisite and custom jewelry, clothing and living spaces.
Without going too far into the territory of the issues surrounding the struggle of Black Lives Matter, I would like to point out lines
Luke avoided the urge to honk at a car that idled in the left-turn lane while the green light came and went. Even with the Fox name attached to him, it didn’t erase certain realities. Like the fact that he’d been pulled over by a pair of cops last month, even when he’d been going the speed limit.
He could still see the two officers flanking his Porsche. Still feel the way the seams on the steering wheel dug into his palms as he kept his hands in clear sight, gripping hard against the fury seething in him. Still feel his pulse raging throughout his body as he spoke as clearly as he could, keeping his temper on a tight leash. He’d made sure to slowly, so slowly, reach for his wallet and registration.
But the moment the cops had seen his name and address that afternoon, their eyes widened. The officer on the driver’s side had gone brick red, his mouth tightening before he muttered an apology as if every word tasted like sour milk.
Let’s say I was a policeman and I’d stop a young guy in a hideously expensive sports car. I would be somewhat curious as to how he got the funds to afford such a car. It’s not unlikely that a young man can afford such a car, but it is unusual. The likelihood that said young man, no matter which ethnicity, has stolen the car is actually a lot higher than the likelihood that he bought it.
Besides, that’s not what Black Lives Matter is about. BLM is not overly concerned with traffic stops. BLM is concerned with poor black people being killed for being unarmed in public, mentally handicapped and or living in their own house.
Still, black people get shot for no good reason and that’s a problem. In fact, that’s something that should not exist and I at least commend Sarah J. Maas for thinking of the issue, being the exact antithesis of the people that make up Black Lives Matter and so she has no stakes in this.
The problem is that it’s painfully obvious that she doesn’t understand the first thing about the cause of Black Lives Matter. So she takes the first random black person she can find in her books and makes this a character that suffers greatly, going to the extent to imply that Commissioner Gordon – one of the very few uncorrupted policemen in Gotham City – is racist.
Line 6834 reads:
Luke knew Gordon would never say anything—none of them would—but it wouldn’t surprise him if some of the shock on the man’s face had to do with the brown skin peeking through Batwing’s suit.
No, Sarah, that’s not how this goes. And that’s not the only character assassination she commits in her book
Sarah J. Maas versus Catwoman
Getting to the star of the book, Catwoman, readers are confronted with something that does not resemble the Catwoman of the comic books at all. In fact, it’s almost as if Sarah J. Maas has decided that the Catwoman readers are familiar with wasn’t good enough. What is good enough, though, is herself.
For comparison’s sake, this is Catwoman in the comic books:
For years, Catwoman has had black hair and blue or green eyes. Sarah J. Maas decided that this wasn’t good enough and therefore she’s a dyed blonde throughout the book except for a few pages in the beginning and the end.
Kind of like this:
This is a picture of the author, Sarah J. Maas. Bright eyes, long blonde hair. As far as description of Catwoman goes, she’s a dead ringer for the author herself. But not a regular person, you know. But a nigh-omnipotent version of herself. Maas’s Catwoman is never at fault, always in control, has all the answers, is gorgeous and desirable. She is in command of her own squad and just stumbles from success to success. She easily outwits Batwing, the Police, the Mob, The Joker, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and pretty much anyone else. She’s never in any real danger, always has a backup plan that is foolproof. Even surrendering to the police and unmasking publicly is part of an elaborate plan.
Catwoman in this one is a Mary Sue.
She does not resemble the woman readers know from comic books and movies. Her equipment changes at random and she possesses an arguably magical helmet that analyzes most of everything that needs analyzing, making nothing a mystery in this book. This is confounded by the fact that Batwing – Catwoman’s neighbour and love interest in and out of mask – also wears a helmet that obscures his face and has a similar feature of analysing everything.
The worst of it, though, are the tattoos.
In her mid-teens, Catwoman fought in an illegal arena run by Carmine Falcone. She was part of a gang of all-female fighters called «The Leopards». And because leopards have spots, they would get a spot tattooed on them. This is where Sarah J. Maas really screws the pooch. The illegal arena is so popular because it offers death matches. To the death. Catwoman has won 27 fights, leading to 27 spots on her. But she hasn’t killed a single person because she doesn’t do that sort of thing. Apparently. Mind you, in the comic book, rules are more suggestions to her and she sticks to them only for as long as is convenient.
Sarah J. Maas is trying to tell us that Catwoman is so good at not killing people in a game that explicitly requires death as an outcome that she gets the victories attributed to her.
Alright, so maybe the referees at this fight club are stupid. But so is everyone else. Because later on, Catwoman repeatedly claims to be the «undefeated champion» of said fight club. Of course she’s undefeated, because if she had been defeated, she’d be dead. Because death match. To the death.
Then there’s the matter of the tattoos. So Catwoman has 27 leopard spots on her arms. She hides them all the time, wearing long sleeves every day, regardless of the weather. So why get them in the first place? It’s super pointless and Catwoman, having a very distinct sense of aesthetics and grace, would never stoop so low to get tattoos.
But apparently Sarah J. Maas likes them. Because later on, while training with the League of Assassins led by Talia al-Ghul and not Ra’s al-Ghul as is customary in the comic books, Talia orders her to have the tattoos removed. At that point, it’s been firmly established that the League of Assassins, for some reason based in Italy and not Nanda Parbat, doesn’t mess around. Basically, the second any recruit commits any transgression against arbitrary rules, they are killed by the headmistress. So what does our perfect heroine do upon being ordered to remove her tattoos? She says «No» and everyone is fine with that decision for some reason.
Even in the context of the well organised fight club, the tattoos make no sense. So let’s say one person in Falcone’s fight club turns informer. Or there’s a raid. All you have to do is find all the people with the leopard spots to arrest them as fighters in the illegal arena. And seeing as they have spots, they have confirmed kills on their consciousness. These spots are not decoration, they’re evidence. And Catwoman as well as the other Leopards are flaunting them like idiots because the author Sarah J. Maas thinks they’re cool.
They’re not. They’re really not. They’re stupid. This book is stupid. It’s the dumbest book I’ve read this year.