Cinematic. That’s the first word that came to mind as I read through Catwoman #14 written by guest writer Ram V with art by Mirka Andolfo. There is a lot of energy contained within this book’s pages, much to the credit of V’s well-paced script and Andolfo’s expressive art. But despite a high level of quality brought forth, I felt something inherently amiss upon finishing the book. Joelle Jones’ Catwoman run up until now has been a fairly solid crime thriller and has recently distanced itself from referencing Selina’s heartbreak over leaving Bruce. In contrast, V heavily integrates the ongoing love story between Bruce and Selina into his script and has highlighted the book’s greatest flaw: Selina has already returned to Bruce’s side in Batman. With so much of Selina’s interior struggle hinging on whether or not she’ll ever see Bruce again, I can’t help but feel a sense of inertness in the drama. Is this book returning to its initial premise of examining Selina’s heartbreak or will it continue to forge its own path?

Despite this lingering feeling, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a book by what takes place outside the confines of its own pages. The book opens with a striking enough page with Selina floating deeper and deeper into a body of water. As she sinks, Selina thinks about Bruce and wishes he could come save her. This cold open feels ripped straight out a noir story and that vibe is solidified as we flashback to Selina waiting at a bar for a mystery woman who has called upon her for aid.

What follows is V utilizing almost every noir cliché in a four page dialogue sequence to great effect. The mystery woman enters the scene dripping wet with smoky eye makeup and introduces herself to Selina as Karen Rain. Ms. Rain kicks our story into motion and explains that her husband recently died from a broken heart by her leaving him (a noir cliché). However, Mr. Rain has left behind a very valuable McGuffin (another noir trope) in the form of a file that holds information about offshore bank accounts belonging to Villa Hermosa syndicates. Long story short, Ms. Rain asks Selina to retrieve the file for their mutual profit, assuring Selina that she truly loved her husband and left him in an ill-fated attempt to protect him. This set up works well. The writing is sharp, the stakes are established, and Selina is off to her mission fast enough to overlook the familiarity of the plotting. Colorist Arif Prianto also does a great job of imbuing this otherwise simple scene with vibrant colors that make the bar setting feel lively and lived in. The character designs are thoughtful as well. Ms. Rain’s outfit tells us she is a rich socialite, equal parts attractive and dangerous, as all femme fatales tend to be.

Credit: Mirka Andolfo, Arif Prianto, Saida Temofonte

It’s a shame that this smoky noir vibe is mostly jettisoned in the rather routine action sequence that follows. V continues his more cinematic approach when depicting Selina’s attempt to swipe the file from both a police escort and Russian mobsters. For example, some establishing panels have captions that tell us the location a certain action takes place which successfully creates a sense of chaos.

Unfortunately, the art during this sequence struggles to keep up. Andolfo’s figure work is stiff at times and renders what should have been a dynamic gunfight as lifeless. A short fight between Catwoman and returning villain, NoBody, from Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin run, is done better. There is more movement in the panels and the lettered sound effects are well integrated, adding a necessary punch to the action. Whether or not this is the real NoBody remains to be seen as his last appearance had him killed by Damian, but his newfound speech impediment seems to reference that. Also on the plus side is that Andolfo’s facial work is more cartoony than most previous artists on the series and is quite expressive. This expressive facial work makes up for an overuse of oblique panels that bring more attention to the stiff figure work. Some panels also suffer from wonky perspective and vague backgrounds which muddle some of the action beats. Despite some artistic shortcomings, this main action sequence has enough twists to keep the reader engaged until the issue comes full circle with Catwoman being shot by a sniper and falling down into a body of water.

Credit: Mirka Andolfo, Arif Prianto, Saida Temofonte
Spoiler
The wrap up to the issue brings us back to both V and Andolfo’s strengths when Selina finds help from an unexpected ally – Jim Craddock, otherwise known as Gentleman Ghost. The exchange between Selina and Gentleman Ghost is a highlight of the book. Selina has a price on her head, but Gentleman Ghost saves her life anyway, both out of a sense of honor among thieves and his own interest in the file. This blend of a more grounded noir and the heightened reality of the DC Universe shows a potential path where Catwoman can find its voice. Also of note is that one of Selina’s would be assassins appears to be Lock-Up. Lock-Up first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series so his inclusion here is a fun surprise.

Overall, Catwoman is a more effective title when it remains intimate and rich in characterization. Despite a lack of forward momentum in the ongoing Selina versus Creel family syndicate story line, Catwoman has remained afloat due to its solid grasp on Selina and a likable supporting cast. Whereas recent issues have begun to shed their reliance on Selina’s heartbreak over Bruce, Catwoman #14 regresses back to that easy drama and does not add much to the series’ ongoing plot. V and Andolfo have crafted a fun read, but it stands to reason that the series would benefit more from finally tying together story threads instead of padding an already overlong narrative.

Recommended if…

  • You’re a fan of noir inspired storytelling.
  • You’ve been wanting more references to Bruce and Selina’s relationship.
  • High stakes crime tales are your thing.

Overall: Catwoman #14 is a mostly successful attempt to inject energy into a somewhat aimless series. Ram V’s script manages to pack a fair amount of characterization into a small amount of pages with the aid of Andolfo’s expressive facial work. While the action sequences themselves are a tad stiff, the book keeps a fast pace and changes its stakes often enough to remain engaging. The Catwoman title has been plagued by a lack of consistency and relevance in the greater scheme of the DC Universe (the title itself spun out of Batman #50), but Catwoman #14 shows a potential path forward.

Score: 7/10