In this month’s Catwoman, Selina squares off against orderlies while Mrs. Creel deals with her husband… And that’s about it…
If you’ve frequented the site over the years, then you’ve probably noticed that I tend to question when an artist transitions from illustrating comics to writing comics. This isn’t to say that an artist is incapable of writing a good story – look at Sean Gordon Murphy – but I do feel that artists sometimes approach writing with the mindset of, “If I have a good idea for a story, then it will be a good book.” The reality is, that’s not the case. Unfortunately, I think this might be the reality for Joelle Jones on Catwoman.
There are many nuances and subtleties that go into writing, and while they’re technical and often not directly identified by the general audience, they’re still important. A writer might have a concept that is stellar, but if the writer is incapable of plotting the concept so that it has strong pacing, relatable characters, and intriguing interactions, then that concept is essentially wasted.
There’s so much more that needs to go into a written narrative. Writing comics is essentially the most efficient medium to tell a story in. You have limited pages, and need to drive the plot while also driving the characters. Each panel should encourage you to move to the next. Each page should push you to turn to the next. And each issue should leave you eager to pick up the next. You literally have to tell a story within multiple confinements.
At the largest scale, you need to plot your “run” – but as we know with comics, you’re not starting from scratch, nor can you plan on the main character having a finite story (usually). Within the run, you need arcs, and within arcs, you need issues. In each of these though, you need to tell a story that contains a basic story structure, which will commonly be crafted in a three, four, or five act structure. If you fail to follow this structure, then your final product will suffer in the way that Catwoman does – interesting ideas that gain and lose momentum at inopportune times causing the narrative to feel clunky and unfocused.
Before I go any further though, I want to stress that there are a lot of incredible moments in this book. I mean that. There are aspects of Joelle Jones’ Catwoman that I would consider masterclass… but plotting and pacing aren’t one of them. Overall, there is potential for an excellent story here. Selina has fled Gotham after walking out on Bruce, found an adversary in the process, and reunited with her sister. We’ve also been introduced to a number of intriguing characters. But none of it has come together to create a cohesive story, and I have to question the relevance and purpose of it all.
Looking at the core plot, we’re five issues in and I can’t tell you what the direction of this story is. I have no sense of where this title is heading. It’s rudderless. Without a clear direction, stories tend to lose momentum, and, eventually, support. Now, we know that Selina has two motivations for leaving Gotham: create some distance with Bruce and find her sister. But again, we’re five issues in, and this is all we know. Her desire to distance herself from Bruce is self-explanatory, but why is she here for her sister – especially if her sister is catatonic. What made Selina desire to seek Maggie out? Why move to Maggie’s city rather than just visit her? I know her sister was just reintroduced, but we’ve had two full issues now that have failed to provide any inkling of an explanation.
Then we have the Creels. As antagonists, there’s so much potential here. They’re connected, creepy, believable, and interesting. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think they were good antagonists, but what’s their angle? Much in the way that we don’t know why Selina has come after her sister, we don’t really know why Mrs. Creel has such a strong hatred towards Selina. These are fundamental aspects of the plot that need to be established to help give the narrative and characters purpose.
In the same respect, we have numerous supporting characters who have been introduced, but yet again, they have no purpose. They’re just there. From Detective Yilmaz, to Raymond and Adam Creel, to Carlos and his grandmother… Each of these characters have been set-up to play large roles in this story, yet none of them have actually carried any significant weight in the plot following their introductions. Each issue feels like it is nothing more than one big exploration of an interesting concept, only to abandon it and let it linger with no further development.
As I said though, there are outstanding moments in this issue! The two fights that play out simultaneously are excellent! Watching Catwoman fight the orderlies was not only entertaining but full of panels that felt as though they could be classic depictions of Catwoman. From Selina’s stance, fighting style, and use of her whip, it’s all good. Then you have the altercation between Raina Creel and her husband. These panels are intense! The entire encounter harkens back to Creel’s debut in the first issue, and it is downright creepy.
After drugging her husband with a substance known as Narssistrine, a drug the family had been pushing, she reveals that the drug stiffens the skin and muscles of the user making them feel invincible. High doses of the drug, however, causes the nervous system to react as if the body is being attacked, subconsciously forcing the person to physically attack themselves. Is it believable? No, not necessarily, not without hallucinogenic or cognitive effects first… But watching someone slice through their own skin is visually effective and disturbing. And since this is a comic book, I’m completely ok with this suspension of disbelief.
The success of these encounters isn’t a testament to Jones’ script though, but a testament to her ability as an artist. It’s her art that makes this book the success that it is, and I can’t help but wonder how much better this book could be if she were co-writing with a more experienced author. I don’t mean to take away from the success found in this book, but it’s a relevant thought. If the scripts for Catwoman were as good as the art, then this book would be a 10 out of 10 every month.
Unfortunately, outside of the altercations, nothing else really happens here. There is a set-up at the end of this issue, but I can’t bring myself to get excited about what might follow. So far, we’ve had three separate cliffhangers/ reveals, and none of them have actually panned out in an entertaining way. What’s appeared to have been a setup that would unfold throughout the entirety of the following issue, have all ultimately played out in a matter of two – maybe three – pages. The rest of these issues have essentially been nothing more than this book spinning its wheels. And that’s, unfortunately, how I feel when reading this title at times. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels on a road that leads nowhere.
- Joelle Jones and Laura Allred’s art.
- You like seeing depth in Selina Kyle.
- You want incredible action sequences.
Overall: A little bit of focus could take Joelle Jones and Catwoman a long way! The narrative feels clunky and ill-planned, which is a shame considering there are so many intriguing aspects that have been set-up. I can’t help but feel that Jones is nothing more than a kid in a candy store at the moment. There are so many options to explore, that she’s trying them all and failing to savor any of them effectively. Thankfully, Jones’ art is masterclass and well worth the purchase of this book alone!