Joelle Jones continues her run on Catwoman, and while there may be imposters, police, and a corrupt businesswoman on her tail, I’m not quite sure what story she’s trying to tell…
Last month, Joelle Jones delivered one hell of a debut. No, there isn’t anything overtly fresh or original to her take on Selina Kyle or the tribulations she’s facing, but the issue is written and drawn incredibly well! Every panel in the first issue is full of substance, nuance, and unspoken characterization. While that continues here, the script for this issue feels… incomplete. And that’s honestly the best way for me to describe the final product: incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, concerning the overall story arc, there’s plenty of substance but none of the scenes in this issue add up to create a completely satisfying read on its own. Before we get into any shortcomings though, let’s focus on what works!
The best aspect of this issue is the art. This should come as no surprise because many of us think “artist” before “writer” when Joelle Jones’ name is mentioned. But if I’m being honest, so much of her storytelling is shared between her script and her art. This is an example of when the art completely enhances the story. While her scripts are strong from a character aspect – I’ll get to this in a bit – her art delivers a complex, unspoken story through body language, lifestyle, clothing, etc. Think about most of the films nominated for an Academy Award. A number of these films have a lot of quiet time to really show the character, and how they react and live in the world around them… That is what Jones does with Catwoman. Look at the two panels below.
Neither of these panels contain any dialogue, but both speak volumes. The first panel may just seem like it’s there to set-up the location, but we can see and learn so many more details if we look closely. If you note the time, it’s 11:00 am. Selina is asleep, her back to the window – or depending on how you interpret this, she’s turned her back to the outside world. Her cats, however, are doing the opposite of her. Both of these images conflict with who Selina is at her core. This idea could speak volumes about where Selina is in her life, and could hint at potential depression. This idea is also reflected in the nature of her surroundings. If you look at her belongings, her lack of organization could be described as “refined chaos.” Her loot is organized by category, but everything is disheveled, and kind of thrown together. She also hasn’t completely unpacked her belongings, which is a sign that she views this entire arrangement as something temporary. Where is she going after this? What’s the next step? She probably doesn’t even know the answer to that. She just knew she couldn’t be in Gotham and she needed a new space to be inside herself and figure that scenario out.
Shifting our attention to the next panel, it’s a simple panel of Selina on her bed, looking at her engagement ring. Here, I’d encourage you to look at Selina’s body language – head down, legs crossed. It’s as if you can see her replaying her decision in her mind. Re-imagining different scenarios under different circumstances. Yes, she chose to stand Bruce up, but this shows that decision wasn’t made with herself in mind. And then you can see the sense of longing as she looks at the ring Bruce gave her. She’s not holding the ring though. It’s sitting next to her, in its box, almost as if it’s out of reach. At the same time, the box is open and presented to her as if the marriage itself is still open and presented to her. Or perhaps that’s just the hope, the idea she’s longing for, desiring, questioning.
These are just two panels, and they’re specifically panels with no dialogue. We see multiple instances of this, and then moments where these same ideas elevate Jones’ script. If there’s an element within her script that she succeeds at, it’s characterization. Each of the featured characters feel fully realized, and we get depth in their physical depiction, as well as the way they speak. There are a distinct cadence and mindset to her characters, and the dialogue she pens is quite good. We see a number of examples of this, but I think the best example is a conversation between Selina and Carlos.
The conversation itself is fun, enjoyable, and relatable, but again, Jones adds so much more through her art. This trend continues in scenes featuring Mrs. Creel and Sam. The conversations are superb and do a lot for the characters… But they also shine a light on an opportunity in Jones’ writing.
While many scenes are great in and of themselves, Jones appears to struggle with progressing the plot. Nothing in this issue really drives the story forward, and if I’m being honest, aside from the opening scene with the imposter Catwomen, a reader might be able to skip from issue #1 to issue #3 (full argument for this notion pending until I read issue #3). That’s never a comment a writer wants to receive. As good as most of these scenes are, there’s just not much value.
A casual reader may notice a drop in quality, but may not be apt enough to pinpoint the actual problem here because when you break it down, it’s a matter of story structure. Comics are a difficult medium to write because of the challenges a writer faces as opposed to other mediums. For example, most comics are written with the idea of a collection in mind, but they still have to be published as monthly issues that offer a satisfying story on its own. So not only do you need a beginning, middle, and end for the arc, but you also have to create a beginning, middle and end for each issue. This is just the basic structure of a story though. Within that, you also have to create a reason for the reader to turn the page, and eventually come back next month – all of which has to be executed as efficiently as possible.
To help explain my point a little better, we’ll look at your standard five-act structure. If you look at writers who work predominately in television, then come to comics to write an arc, you might notice that they tend to write five-issue story arcs. This is most likely due to the fact that television scripts are written in a five-act format (1. Prologue/ Exposition 2. Conflict. 3. Rising Action/ Climax 4. Falling Action 5. Denouement/ Resolution). Essentially, it’s almost like each issue would be an act, and each of the acts together would create an episode. But to get to my point, using this example, this issue should establish the conflict… and it’s the one thing this issue fails to do. We know there’s an antagonist, but what don’t know what her intentions are, nor are there any progressing problems for Selina based on what was already established in the first issue. It’s as if the events of this chapter are nothing more than a second presentation of the “Prologue/ Exposition” issue. This chapter literally goes nowhere, and it’s something the editor should have coached to.
This approach to writing may seem calculated and formulaic, but there’s a reason for that, and Catwoman #2 exemplifies why. When I reached the last page, I felt I’d only experienced a third of what I should have in this chapter. Even the “reveal” on the final page to drive us to purchase the next issue failed to a degree because Jones revealed her hand halfway through this chapter. She’s literally striking out on technicalities.
Looking past structure and the technical approach to writing, there are still highs and lows to this book. While I’ve praised dialogue and characterization, we also get badass moments such as this:
As well as a terrifying scene depicting what happens when Creel gets pissed off.
But that’s about as far as my praise for the action and plot can go. Although I tend to love Jones’ action, her fights here felt very jolting and lacked fluidity. In fact, the entire conflict with the imposter Catwomen is completely underwhelming, and like the issue itself, leads nowhere. We learn that these women were hired by Creel, but we don’t know why, they (the imposters) don’t know why, and Creel never reveals why. It’s just there. And not to beat a dead horse… but an awareness and outline for story structure would’ve prevented this.
In the end though, despite the shortcoming of Catwoman #2, there’s still plenty to enjoy and the pros outweigh the cons. If you go into this knowing that you’ll be somewhat let down by plot progression, you’ll most likely enjoy the issue for what it is, and take the character beats for what they are – really nice moments.
- You’re invested in Selina Kyle following Batman #50.
- Mrs. Creel creeps you out.
- You like character-driven narratives.
Overall: Joelle Jones continues to deliver strong characters and nice art with Catwoman #2, but this issue suffers some from a lack of plot progression. In the end, though, the pros outweigh the cons, and the opportunities presented within the issue are easy to overcome. There’s a great story somewhere in here, and I hope Jones finds it because I’d really love to read it!