Catwoman #36 “Keeper of the Castle”
Written by Genevieve Valentine
Art by Gary Brown

Catwoman is back with its second installment of “Mob Boss Selina!” The debut of the creative change gave us a glimpse into Selina’s world now that she’s taken the thrown as the head of the Calabrese crime family. She replaced her cat suit with a business suit, and I found it to be an interesting and exciting change of pace. The book is smartly written, and while Selina is usually overly confident and flirtatious with risk and danger, she was surprisingly hesitant in this new role, as she navigated the politics of running the underworld. As she debates her ability to run the mob, we are introduced to the key players within her ranks, as well as those outside of it – specifically her cousins, an adviser, other family leaders, Detective Alvarez and Keyes, and Black Mask.

This issue picks up exactly where the previous issue left off. Black Mask has cornered one of Selina’s associates to gain intel on her plan for running guns in Gotham. He’s on the verge of getting the information any way he can, but at that moment, Catwoman shows up to stop him. She successful in her attempt, but there’s a catch… this Catwoman isn’t Selina.

In the midst of this, Selina is forced to try and navigate her way into gaining control of Gotham. On top of running guns, she is now strategically trying to place herself in a prime position to have an upper hand over the other crime families. One of her strategies is to take over the Gotham Docks, but doing so comes at a price – running the deliveries that come through the docks. So you can only imagine her dilemma when she discovers the next shipment coming in is heroine. Once again, Selina forced to find a way to move supplies to the streets of Gotham without completely undoing the work she’s done to keep the streets clean.

Despite her desire to work alone, Selina needs the support of those around her to ensure she can keep the Calabrese machine moving. Nick and Antonia are the foundation in which Selina stands, but she doesn’t completely trust them yet. Despite their effectiveness, you can definitely feel a descent in the ranks forming, especially with Ward. Everything about him and his approach towards Selina feels as if he’s waiting for her to make that one mistake so he can discredit her, and move the family business to someone more deserving. Despite that lingering anticipation of betrayal, he continues to advise her well. But someone in the house is playing a rat, and leaking information to Detective Alvarez – which Selina realizes after discovering Alvarez is way too close to their plans. Can Selina continue to work two angles while running the mob, and stay a step ahead of the GCPD? Who’s the snitch in her ranks? Who is this new Catwoman? And how does Black Mask plan to get Selina’s attention? The only way to find out is to pick up the issue.

Recommended if:

  • You’re looking for a smart Catwoman story.
  • You prefer your Batman related stories steeped in the streets of Gotham.
  • You love narrative stories that continue build on each other and develop suspense.

Be warned, there are spoilers below.

The Art: As I said last week, I don’t think Brown is the best artist, but I do enjoy the tone he conveys. His heavier pencils and shadows add a grittiness to this book that definitely supports the narrative. There are times that I find myself wishing that his art was a little more crisp – especially concerning faces – but the tone outweighs my desire for cleaner lines.

And I’m not sure if it’s Valentine’s writing, Brown’s portrayal, or the history this character has with Selina prior to the New 52, but Black Mask is definitely on the scary side here. Feel free to check out some of Brown’s art in the spoiler tag. There are some reveals in the pages I’ve chosen though, so look at your own risk (seriously).

Spoiler

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The Good: There’s something about the way that Valentine writes that I find captivating. In my opinion, her pacing is phenomenal. She takes her time with the plot and her characters, making use of her panels and pages to ensure she gets enough character development in to grow the characters, but still manages to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. Some will probably feel that this book is too slow due to how Valentine conveys her narrative, but I wouldn’t completely agree. We’re only two issues in, and already Selina has made substantial ground in Gotham, built allies, and we’ve discovered the identity of this new (temporary?) Catwoman.

New characters like Nick, Antonia, and Ward feel like they’ve been part of Catwoman’s mythology for years, despite the fact that we really don’t know them. Detective Keyes and Alvarez have also returned in a fashion that is more reminiscent to how they were in Winick’s run. And Black Mask is as intimidating as possible considering the short amount of time he’s actually been in this book.

Then there’s the suspense and tension. It runs throughout this entire book: all of it conveyed subtly through the narrative and art equally. Everything that happens is purposeful and add a layer and texture to the story and characters. Selina is creating a house of cards with her approach to running the family business, is facing doubt from opposing families, has a traitor in her family, a rogue player from another family, the GCPD getting closer to her, and Black Mask building his arsenal. If this were a film, I would feel like the tension would be scored the same way Heather Ledger was scored in the Dark Knight. You know everything is on the verge of falling apart for Selina despite her progress, and it could happen at any moment.

The Bad: The pacing. While I love it, I know it will be slow for some readers and turn them off. The new creative team relies heavily on its narrative and layered plots to carry the story. There’s not much action here, so the team does their best to make up for it by providing a smart story. While I think this will feel much faster and work better as a trade, some readers might find it too slow to read monthly, and this book already has sales that are lower than I would like.

Overall:  The new creative team continues to develop this new direction for Selina, building more and more on a fresh foundation that is intelligently intriguing, dangerous, and intense. This really is Selina Kyle like you’ve never seen her before, and you’ll be sorry if you miss out.

SCORE: 8.5/ 10