Sex between a couple of well-written, consenting adult characters — whether full on interactive erotica or Bioware’s fade-to-black cutscenes — is a fun thing to find a video game.
I did not expect to find it in "New World Order," the third episode of Telltale Games’ Batman series.
This op-ed will contain spoilers for a series of scenes in Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 3!
This is partially because of Catwoman
Crafting a well-written sex scene (or, in this case, some making out, a little teasing, a stumble towards the bedroom and a fade to black) is one hurdle. Making it an interactive scene is one higher. And doing it with a character with a long, tired history of being over-sexualized, underwritten and subordinated in interest of enhancing the perceived heroism or masculinity of her more famous male counterpart — that’s a challenge.
In 1986, Frank Miller had the opportunity to reboot Catwoman for a new era in Batman: Year One. Characteristically for him, he transformed her civilian identity into a hardcore, man-hating dominatrix. Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke gave Catwoman a soft reboot in the early 2000s, updating her costume with her now-characteristic goggles and walking her far, far away from the idea that sex appeal was the primary reason the reader should be interested in her.
In Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini made her an elusive, complicated thief and activist, who was just as unsure of whether she wanted to be by Batman’s side as he was about her. Christopher Nolan had a chance to do his own version of the character in The Dark Knight Rises, and decided to put an expert catburglar in towering stiletto heels. He said the hidden blades in the heels were a combat advantage, she uses them precisely once during the film.
Batman: Arkham City featured Catwoman as a playable character; her idle animation was a "sexy stretch." Batman: Arkham Knight had her damseled by the Riddler, in possibly the least likely character interaction in the series. Judd Winick opened Catwoman’s history in the New 52 with two full pages of panels of her breasts, ass and half-naked body — without ever showing her face.
What I’m saying is that you never really know what you’re going to get when you wade into a new take on Catwoman, especially when she’s being set up as a romantic interest for Batman.
So, in Telltale’s "New World Order," when Selina dragged an injured Bruce back to her apartment, I braced myself. Playing as Batman is explicitly, viscerally a power fantasy. What kind of options would an attempt to create that power fantasy provide when interacting in such a loaded way with such a loaded character?
Surprisingly good ones?
Bruce is injured, automatically putting him in the more vulnerable position as Selina tends his wound, and — naturally — she has to get his shirt off to do so. As she gets him upright, they talk; about trust and secrets, about how Selina has trouble with the former because she has uncovered too many of the latter in other people.
Even though I was still trying to pump the breaks on the romance subplot at this point, I took the offered dialogue option that would let Selina know that I trusted her and thought that she had more potential than she knew. That was just kind, after all, and true. She deserved to have somebody believe in her.
Mask off, but still fully clothed, Selina cozied up next to Bruce, under his arm, on the side of his naked chest that wasn’t wrapped in bandages. Crap, I thought. Then the game offered me the choice of adorably smooching her on the top of her head.
Oh no, I thought. I didn’t want to drive myself into a train wreck of a sex scene — but I am nothing if not a dedicated roleplayer. I know what Bruce Wayne would do if a beautiful, self-aware, sober, intellectual equal cozied up to him on a couch and leaned into his side.
Bruce Wayne would adorably smooch the hell out of Catwoman’s head.
With that, we were off to the make out races. If there was good character content here I wanted to see it, but I was still terribly worried this would take a turn for the gross, and so when the next choice popped up, I deliberately chose nothing — neither protesting nor pushing things further than they already were. Ideally, I thought, Selina would take the lead.
Instead, she pulled back, looked Bruce in the face, and said "Tell me you want this."
Holy date night, Batman, Catwoman was checking in for enthusiastic consent.
She got it.
Things got a little too voyeuristic with Selina’s body, after that, I thought, but the bit faded to black quickly after, only to be followed by a Next Morning scene where Selina casually and thoroughly dunks on any idea Bruce might have that he might have a romantic chance with her and the player is left with a practically naked Bruce Wayne to pilot awkwardly around her apartment in the pursuit of a breakfast of shitty freezer-section bagels.
To frame that another way: the point when the player is given the most freedom is a scene where they cannot freely ogle Selina’s body, or even see it — instead, the body on display is Bruce’s, when it’s far more naked than Selina ever gets. And as Bruce inspects her apartment, every point of interaction reveals significant character details about Selina and her life, making sure that the player doesn’t get their Sex With Catwoman achievement (metaphorically) without an equal helping of appreciating her as a whole person.
Selina likes Bruce, the game shows, but she’s not falling head over heels because he said some nice things to her — an entirely reasonable and perfectly in-character beat. And regardless of whether you chose to have Bruce tell her he’d like more than that, for a hilarious moment the famous, handsome, eligible billionaire seems a little weirded out that she’d so casually toss him from her bed in the morning.
Selina’s hot, but so is Bruce, "New World Order" makes sure to emphasize. And it pushes back on two industries that often use female characters solely as eye candy by confronting the player with the intriguing mundane of Selina’s day-to-day — a jewel thief who orders cheap Chinese takeout for herself and top-of-the-line kibble for her cat.
"New World Order" genuinely surprised me with its ability to handle one of comics’ biggest male power fantasies sharing a genuinely sexy evening with one of comics’ most often over-sexualized female characters. Now, the best steamy scene of Batman and Catwoman I’ve seen might just be from a video game, not a comic.