Free of the self-inflicted restraints of a non-linear narrative, Catwoman #18 simplifies its story structure and allows co-artists, Joelle Jones and Fernando Blanco, to flex their artistic muscles. Simply put, Catwoman #18 is a gorgeous comic book with each page featuring either stunning two-page action spreads courtesy of Blanco, or richly detailed dialogue driven scenes by Jones herself. Unfortunately, Jones falters once again in how the action unfolds. With magician, Zatanna and master thief, Selina at her disposal, Jones writes a script where each of them mostly ignore their special skills. Jones’ writing often sets up intriguing scenarios such as a team up between Zatanna and Selina but fails to follow through. Unfortunately, that potential is once again squandered by either a lack of ambition or foresight in narrative scope.
The previous issue ended with Selina seeking help from Zatanna in tracking down Raina Creel. Up until that point, Jones lately used a non-linear approach that did little to spice up a rather routine narrative. It’s Selina versus Raina Creel without much more than a few simplistic fist fights to create tension. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Jones resorts to yet another brawl, this time in a bar, as a stopgap between substantial progression. With such an interesting team up in Zatanna and Selina, it’s a huge disappointment that the writing forces them to withhold using their signature skill sets in the ensuing carnage. Zatanna and Selina’s wager on who can defeat the most thugs is amusing, but the gag is not worth the lack of more dynamic action.
Despite my disappointment in how the action plays out, Jones’ and Blanco’s art almost makes me look past its repetitive nature. In many ways the build up to the brawl is the more striking sequence. Jones’ highly detailed line work captures Selina’s and Zatanna’s wry smiles as several thugs in the background prepare to attack them. Something as simple as Selina’s closed eyes as she takes a sip of her drink is rendered so delicately and perfectly balances itself between realistic and expressive. Even in panels where Selina or Zatanna’s face dominants the foreground, Jones brings the same level of detail to the thugs that lie in wait behind them. It’s truly impressive work on a level of sheer artistic craftsmanship and comic book storytelling. There’s a great back and forth in the art and dialogue that bounces the focus between Selina and Zatanna. This culminates in a great panel that pulls the perspective back and sees them both sit, legs stretched out, unworried about the coming fight. It’s at moments like this where Jones masters the marriage of art and dialogue.
Unfortunately, the transition to Blanco’s art when the fight begins is jarring. His faces are nowhere near as detailed as Jones’ which is the first thing that stands out. While I wish this discrepancy wasn’t so noticeable, Blanco’s true strength lies in his panel layouts. Most of the fight takes place over a couple of fantastic two-page spreads. Blanco smartly doesn’t overcomplicate his compositions and allows the reader to cleanly read from left to right with clearly defined moments to drop down the page. It’s easy to follow and fun to look at. While the bar environment isn’t as lusciously rendered by Blanco as it was by Jones, the colors by Laura Allred and FCO Plascencia do a great job of maintaining a level of visual consistency. What’s less endearing is that Jones’ set up has Zatanna not use magic and Selina refrain from using her whip. While both eventually do end up showing off their special skills, it’s a definite misfire to have most of this fight merely have Zatanna and Selina punch and kick their way through the thugs. In a vacuum, this scene is fine, but Jones’ Selina ends up punching her way out of most situations and the lack of variety is noticeable.
However, the b-plot with Carlos and Maggie is an utter disaster. Jones’ supporting cast hasn’t done much lately and that trend continues here. Carlos texts Selina and gives her (and the reader) a brief summary of the current state of Villa Hermosa. Since the entire DC line of books is in the middle of the “Age of Doom”, Villa Hermosa is in chaos with riots while Raina Creel instills martial law. Even though it appears that a line wide mandate encourages books to integrate the “Age of Doom” into their storylines, the sudden shift into outright anarchy in Villa Hermosa feels particularly unearned and incongruous to the story Jones has been telling. Maggie’s introduction way back in the first arc of the series was a fantastic cliffhanger and promised a great story for the future. Ever since then, Jones has done little with her character or with any of her supporting cast, which leaves B-plots like the one here with absolutely no tension or interest. Even with a cliffhanger that puts these characters in danger, the lack of set up and focus on these characters makes it fall flat.
- Jones’ art is worth the cover price alone to you.
- You love a good old fashioned bar fight.
- Zatanna is a favorite character of yours.
Jones’ Catwoman is a gorgeous book each and every time Jones herself is on art duties. Fortunately, Blanco’s art compliments Jones’ well enough to not totally derail the issue on an art level and his two-page spreads are a joy to pour over. Unfortunately, Jones’ plotting leaves much to be desired. The dialogue and characterization remain solid, but Jones’s overarching narrative has lost focus between the recent non-linear storytelling and inconsistent tone that has emerged. Early on, Jones crafted an intriguing tale of police and political corruption against the backdrop of sunny Villa Hermosa. Now, we’re stuck in a mire of apocalyptic end times and reliance on out of this world plot devices that leaves Selina increasingly out of place in her own series.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with this comic for the purpose of this review.