Judging by the books opening pages, you’d think that this would be another god-awful issue like pretty much everything else that we’ve seen since September, but it actually gets much better. Let me be clear: it gets better but I still don’t recommend that you buy it. Ann Nocenti’s Catwoman run is a risky buy at a quarter sale! What I’m saying is that the Catwoman Annual actually has a good structure, makes sense (most of the time), and has better artwork than we see in the ongoing series. Sure there’s still an ice cream truck of doom and only 2 characters manage to sound like people but I didn’t hate myself when it was over. I forgot everything I read about 2 hours after reading it, but I never felt bad!
Let’s take a look at the first few pages which are available free online as a Comicvine exclusive. We see a kid running from rockets in the very first panel– you can’t start suspending your disbelief now. The next panel is him stopping in the middle of the street to say “I’m scared.” to another man who looks at the boy and the incoming missiles behind him (that are clearly visible) and says “Relax, kid.”
It’s a pretty terrible start with some unnatural behavior from its people and physics in general. Before we even turn the page the projectiles explode, but don’t kill the kid nor do they scorch the ground, leave a cloud of smoke, or even knock the guy– who was standing less than 10 feet away from the blast– to the ground. Later in the book a coroner is just as confused by what happened to the kid as we are. Apparently no witnesses stuck around to talk about the missiles and Penguin’s men picked up what was left of the missiles after the boom. He’s never seen anything like it before so I suppose we can suspend our disbelief even more and assume that Penguin made bombs that kill one person and one person only but without actually blowing them up even when you strike them with 2 bombs. The following two pages has Catwoman having a conversation with a gangster about shoes. Nobody’s talking about the missiles. Just that there are shoes on the power line where the kid’s body is now being suspended. The boy’s clothes are not even in tatters.
Thankfully, things look up after this intro when Harvey Bullock enters the story! Harvey is great and has a better record of being competent in the New 52 than Gordon does. He’s actually got a better track record than most characters. He’s somehow managed to show up in Batman: The Dark Knight, Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics, and now Catwoman and the character is totally unscathed. Not even the worst books seem to be able to bring Bullock down and that’s a wonderful thing. Nocenti writes him well and he’s a great addition to the Catwoman series, he certainly hasn’t been getting much face-time anywhere else.
Overall, Nocenti does a pretty good job writing every scene that doesn’t feature Catwoman. There’s even a surprising amount of subtlety, something that’s never been seen in this series before, as we see later in the book that dead bodies are showing up with some kind of black crud around their mouths, some kind of “black ice.” And if you flip back earlier in the book to the rather unhinged blonde detective, you’ll see that she is eating black ice cream in every scene! Very nicely done. At first it seems like she’s just a ridiculously hot-headed character, but the artist very carefully slipped the ice cream in there without drawing too much attention to it.
Penguins scenes are all nice too if you can get into the idea of him being more of a tinkerer as he was shown to be in Hurwitz’s Penguin: Pain & Prejudice. She captures his voice (his plan still isn’t all that great, it’s kind of hard to see how he’s having such a hard time getting hold of Catwoman. Why jump to the extreme of “silhouette chasing missile”?) and the artists who worked on this book all draw him well. And if tying Pain & Prejudice into the story wasn’t enough, we also have Mr. Hypnotic making an appearance. Who’s that, you ask? Do you recall a guy with green shades (he simply has creepy green eyes in this book) and a purple scarf in Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics run? He was part of a new class of criminals coming into Gotham to do business with Penguin. Guys like Mr. Toxic, Imperceptible Man, and Mr. Combustible. All of these characters have shown up again to varying degrees except for maybe Imperceptible man, but then again– who knows? He could be in every single Batman comic for all I know…
But the point I was making is that the scenes with Bullock and the detectives are good and the Penguin moments are good, but I loathed any time Catwoman was on the page. One of the strangest scenes that didn’t have any explanation was when Catwoman met up with a tinkerer friend named Alice. It was at this moment that I tracked down Catwoman #20 and read it because clearly I was missing out on a lot of key plot points in this Annual. Wrong. I don’t know who this character is supposed to be yet and apparently the colorist didn’t pay any mind to the narration that says “Alice looks like she never sees daylight because Alice’s complexion looks as healthy or healthier than Catwoman’s.
Reading issue #20 didn’t help any at all. It showed me that Penguin was mad about Catwoman stealing from him, but anyone can pick that up through the context clues in the Annual. What you don’t really get a good handle on is that Catwoman did some grave robbing, which I still don’t feel that comfortable with her doing, but whatever. When I came back to the Annual, Catwoman took center stage and there was poor dialogue and a few pages of Catwoman swishing a high tech cape that tells missiles not to hit her (she says she dug around in the guts of one of Penguin’s rocket to get info on how they work but… I have no idea where she would’ve gotten that scrap. It’s never shown). After that we got more interesting action scenes with higher stakes and a glimpse at what Mr. Hypnotic is capable of. It was… it was okay.
Of course, the whole story is far from over. Catwoman Annual is simple the battle and what’s to come in the ongoing series shall be the war between Selina and Oswald. If Selina can start acting a lot less ditzy it might even be a storyline worth reading.
I say pass on this one, but the arc it sets up shows promise for the months to come. The artwork by Christian Duce is an improvement on what we see in the ongoing series and the characterization of Penguin and Bullock was nice plus we got to see more from a little-known baddie trying to make his way in the New 52. Catwoman Annual #1 doesn’t feel like a giant-sized special, it feels like a half-way decent…well, almost halfway decent regular issue that’s been way over-priced. Have you seen that Arrested Development episode where Jim Kramer upgrades the Bluth Company from a “triple sell” to a “don’t buy”– that’s basically what I’m saying here about Catwoman.