Texture has always been a key component I look for whenever I’m reading a story, whether it be a comic or traditional prose. It’s hard to find in most books, but unmistakable when you encounter it. It’s when all your senses are engaged by what’s on the page, whether it be sensing the high pitched whine of a disobedient child, or the squeak of a leather chair as it swivels. Catwoman #16 is a book of texture, due to Joelle Jones returning to primary art duties and elevating the book far beyond its recent quality. Jones’ art is, to put it mildly, remarkable. A single page holds more texture than most artists would hope for in an entire issue. As an artist, Jones is an amazing storyteller. As a writer, Catwoman #16 displays Jones’ weaknesses in crafting a narrative that flows and leads the reader from beat to beat. It’s a brittle book, filled to the brim with this texture that Jones has magnificently jammed into the book’s nineteen pages, that unfortunately breaks apart as she attempts to weave and bend a narrative through the beautiful art.
The rigidness of the story isn’t immediately apparent as we start the book at the end of a fight scene between Selina and Raina Creel and her zombified children/henchmen. Selina has taken a beating and crawls on the ground nearby a Lazarus pit. Jones’s art does a great job implying the violence and hurt Selina has endured. With each movement, Jones and colorist Laura Allred have Selina’s suit and body drip and smudge ink on the pages. It looks like Selina is melting, or that the book is falling apart along with her, as she staggers around after her beating. It’s a great way to depict injury without having to resort to blood and gore. While I’m not the biggest fan of the well-trodden cold open, Jones’ art and Allred’s colors make it work by sheer force of artistic will.
Then the story structure starts to reveal its weaknesses as we jump a few weeks after the Lazarus pit beatdown. Usually a cold open like this one takes place later in the story, but instead we immediately learn it’s taking place in the past. It’s an odd choice as we don’t get much context of the scene and the story moves on quickly without promising the reader more information down the line. Nonetheless, Jones demands the reader’s attention with a striking page of Selina driving down the highway, a pair of cat themed dice in her window, and wearing an attractive pair of blue leather racing gloves. Although Selina sings a song and a few panels have musical notes, my mind can better hear the squeak of her gloves against the impressively rendered stick shift and the whir of her lowering her driver side window. The lettering by Saida Temofonte deserves credit here as well. The lettered sound effects are always well integrated into the art and paneling since their placement and size enhance the art without overshadowing it.
I can talk forever about how Jones’ art envelops you in every auditory and visual sense, but then the review would be far too long. The majority of the issue has Selina infiltrate a wealthy family’s mansion that is currently under siege by a child’s birthday party. Selina dodging the dozens of children that run through the house shows off Jones’ expressive figure work and imbues a simple domestic scene with the intensity of a full blown action sequence. The environment is lusciously rendered as well, with the cold metallic modern home contrasting nicely against the bright birthday presents that litter the household. The dialogue is very strong here as well. The matriarch of the household, Gloria Geddes, immediately reveals what type of character she is though the dialogue. She mistakes Selina for a magician’s assistant and complains about having to “take a more active role” in her son’s life by planning a birthday party.
But then the issue slows down. The true purpose of Selina’s visit to the Geddes household is revealed when she interrogates Mr. Geddes and one of his cronies about the whereabouts of Mrs. Creel. It’s an impressive sequence if you view it in a vacuum. This book is violent, but Jones does a great job of masking most of the violence without dulling its impact. Outside, the children beat a pinata which is intercut with each strike Selina lays down upon her poor interrogation suspects. It’s a striking sequence, equal parts beautiful and vicious, which basically sums up what most readers want to see out of Selina Kyle. However, at one point Selina states that she hates repeating herself as she interrogates her suspects. I felt the same way as the sequence takes place over five pages and slows down the pace of the issue to a near standstill that it never recovers from. The sequence’s brutality also leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth. Selina’s sidekick, Carlos, even mentions that her methods were a “bit harsh”. To make matters worse, the book then goes back and forth in time three times and demolishes any sense of narrative flow before ending on a vague, yet ominous note.
The series has always had problems establishing a sense of narrative progression with Mrs. Creel being the only constant. With the addition of Lex’s offer and apparently a more vicious Selina after she takes a dip in the Lazarus pit, I struggle to grasp onto where the story is headed. Gorgeous art that creates an unparalleled sensory immersion is tough to completely dismiss, but it’s a shame that the story continues to struggle. Catwoman #16 is indicative of the series as a whole – a book of great sequences in search of a plot. Hopefully, Jones can tether the various plots she has created into a satisfying whole by the end of the arc.
- Joelle Jones’ is one of your favorite artists.
- Slow developing plots don’t turn you away.
- Selina’s darker side is something you want to see explored.
Catwoman #16 is an artistic tour de force that is hamstringed by a slow moving narrative that doesn’t have a clear sense of purpose. Even ignoring recent developments in Tom King’s Batman, Jones’ Catwoman has had problems in having its narrative build up from arc to arc and instead feels like a series of vignettes that are loosely tethered by generic crime syndicates that are given a convenient face in the villainous Mrs. Creel. The series still has potential to leave a mark, but Jones needs to make magic out of the plot pieces she has available at her disposal instead of splintering into further subplots and vignette-styled plotting.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.