Joelle Jones’ Catwoman is now a zombie book. As we near the conclusion of Jones’ Creel saga, what stands out the most is a lack of tonal consistency. We started out with a small scale, yet effective crime thriller, bounced around a few fun one or two issue capers, and now have finally landed in outright horror territory. I love being surprised by a change in direction, but not like this. Catwoman #20, guided by artist Fernando Blanco’s capable hands, manages to thrill in its brief flashes of excitement. Unfortunately, the overwhelming feeling that this run failed to live up to its potential lingers throughout as some of the richly characterized cast are denigrated to being actual zombies.

The opening splash page immediately throws things off as Creel’s minions struggle to corral her zombie son, Adam, out of the room. I thought perhaps the zombie angle would get downplayed after Catwoman survived the initial onslaught, but Creel’s zombie army remains intact. Raina Creel started out as a compelling villain. She was the matriarch of a political powerhouse/crime family who finessed her way past her husbands to achieve power. Now she’s the maniacal ruler of Villa Hermosa, commanding zombies around, without an ounce of her once interesting personality to be seen. Even supporting characters, like Detective Yilmaz, have been essentially wiped out and turned into zombies without ever reaching their true potential promised in the earlier issues of the run. It’s all very disappointing to see Jones’ plotting regress to simple black and white morality and lose its character driven intimacy.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Saida Temofonte

Not all is rotten in the current state of Catwoman, however. Even if I don’t like where Jones takes the plot, Blanco’s art makes it very appealing to look at. FCO Plascencia’s colors give the opening horror scenes a real Argento vibe with a dramatic neon palette of pinks and purples. It’s no surprise that having a zombie army can quickly become a liability and there is a certain satisfaction that comes when the zombies break free of their cages and turn on Creel’s men. The scene does take up too many pages though and lasts about a third of the book, which is too long to spend away from Selina and the true dramatic meat of the series.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Saida Temofonte

Surprisingly, Blanco and Jones both struggle with a quieter scene between Selina and Maggie. The entire run I’ve wanted more scenes with Selina and Maggie as the dramatic potential between the two sisters is incredibly high. We’re all waiting for the moment Maggie snaps out of her catatonic state, but unfortunately it seems we’ll have to wait a bit longer. What we’re left with instead is an inert scene, both in the art and writing, as Selina ruminates on all her problems out loud to Maggie. The monologue comes off as a summary at a time when the stakes should be at their highest. Jones keeps Selina stuck in the same spot over three pages as she holds Maggie up against a wall, which doesn’t give Blanco much to work with visually. Blanco does his best here, but facial acting is not his strength, and there’s one panel in particular with a really bad “eureka” moment face. Jones doesn’t seem to know what to do with the scene as Selina sits up, sits down, cries in despair, gains courage, loses it, sits back down and so on. Jones’ struggle becomes more apparent when Selina’s cats arrive in a sort of deus ex machina moment where they give her the needed inspiration to get back out and fight. Selina even says “I’ve never seen a group of alley cats be so direct before” as if Jones’ is telling on herself for not knowing how to proceed.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Saida Temofonte

Jones’ script really doesn’t do anything else to inspire confidence going forward either. With the table set for another showdown between Creel and Selina, we’re introduced to presumably the final part of Creel’s plan… which is just making more zombies out of Villa Hermosa’s elite. As carnage ensues, Blanco gets to play to his strengths as Selina works through zombie after zombie with aplomb, using her fists, feet, and most notably her whip to decimate the horde. It’s goofy, but exciting, to see Selina whip a zombie’s head off and its nicely constructed by Blanco. His figure work is great and gives the action a good sense of movement despite only seeing it in snapshots as much of the action is intercut with Raina Creel explaining her plan. When you strip Catwoman #20 down, it’s nothing more than a slim plot to set Catwoman up against zombies and ultimately face down Raina herself. I don’t like how we’ve gotten to this point, but if the art team can make the action exciting as usual, then perhaps the series can carve out some redemption as a horror pulp book.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Saida Temofonte

Recommended if…

  • You’re not tired of zombies.
  • Seeing some slight progression with Maggie and Selina’s relationship interests you.
  • You’ve stuck with Jones’ Creel saga til now and want to see how it all ends.

Overall

Catwoman #20 does its best to entertain as a horror tinged pulp adventure, but struggles to reconcile itself with the strong characterization from the series’ earlier arcs. On its own, Blanco’s art keeps the book afloat with evocative action and there’s also great flash from the colors by FCO Plascencia. Unfortunately, Jones’ bogs herself down with Selina’s self doubt that due to its repetitive nature, makes her come across as unreliable instead of troubled. The complex angst that came with her breakup with Bruce hasn’t translated well going on two years, so Selina’s trepidation feels unearned and out of place in the zombie jamboree she’s now in. With next month’s issue serving as the conclusion to Selina and Raina Creel’s battle, hopefully Jones finds a way to wrap up Selina’s interior struggles, both with Bruce and Maggie, while still delivering on the promise of high quality action.

Score: 5/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.