There’s a lot of Catwoman content this week on the stands and Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 is where you’ll find the lion’s share. These oversized specials tend to be very inconsistent, but the creative teams at hand here are overwhelmingly strong so it’s no surprise there are more hits than misses. However, many Catwoman short stories tend to take a simplistic view on the character and settle for stylish heists over all else. Fortunately, the creative teams here mostly mix it up and explore other facets of Selina Kyle, other than her sleuthing prowess.
“Skin the Cat”
Up first is a fun jaunt written by Paul Dini with pencils by Emanuela Lupacchino. For all my talk of looking for more than just standard heist stories, Dini’s script operates more as a reverse heist even if it follows similar beats. A number of big cats (lions, leopards, pumas, etc) are missing from a habitat that Selina herself funded, so she’s on the hunt for whoever’s responsible. Lupacchino’s pencils are well suited for the story that puts Selina in the middle of a deranged zoo made up of stuffed cats with a special room reserved just for her. Laura Allred’s colors are exquisite once again, enhancing Lupacchino’s crisp line work with a pop retro vibe. The layouts are refreshingly simple too and lets the reader focus on the detailed environments that are wonderfully rendered by Mick Gray’s inks. There’s nothing in Dini’s script that will linger with the reader for more than few moments after it’s finished besides maybe its decidedly dark ending that’s played with a Tales from the Crypt sense of morality. Not much depth, but fun and pretty to look at, which makes for a solid opener.
“Now You See Me”
Next is one of the weaker stories, which is a shame since Robson Rocha’s pencils are some of the more stunning in the entire collection. It helps that Rocha depicts Selina in her outfit from Batman Returns. Ann Nocenti’s angle for this story is interesting in that it focuses on a corrupt cop who’s in charge of monitoring security camera footage. He sees Selina stow away the spoils of a recent heist and decides to take it for himself, using his access to the cameras to hide his actions. Rocha’s art is the true star and greatly aided by Alejandro Sanchez’s moody colors that cast the eventual rooftop brawl against a sunset which glows over the entire scene. It’s a very rich color palette, especially compared to the clinical feel of the security office, but that richness also carries over into the script. There’s simply a little too much crammed in here and leaves the ending floundering in the wind. Nocenti takes on police corruption/ineffectiveness, foiled supervillain plans, female empowerment, and a dialogue driven meditation on what separates Selina from your average criminal. By the time it ends, with a strangely violent act by Selina that she chalks up to stealing “dignity”, it’s hard to take away much of anything when so much is thrown at you.
Tom King is back to frustrate everyone again with his usual clipped, back and forth dialogue that dominates his scripts. Here’s my confession, I like his dialogue even if his methods have become ridiculously transparent and lost some luster. Mikel Janin’s art works due to its sheer efficiency even if his figures come off a little like mannequins held up by strings. However, he never missteps, his compositions are thoughtful, and his splash pages are a feast for the eyes, cramming a lot of action into one space but giving enough room to breathe. However, King’s script is not going to convert any naysayers as it tackles what Selina and Bruce would do if Selina became pregnant. The sight of Selina in her skintight suit, her pregnant belly pushed up tight against leather, is sure to elicit some groans. There’s even room to note that Selina fighting crime while deep into her pregnancy is a ridiculous act and child endangerment. For that, all I’ll say is Batman recruits child soldiers and most everyone accepted that. It’s a nice story that uses its absurdity to its advantage and ends on a touching note that ties everything up quite succinctly. “Helena” is not so much about fighting crime, but about the balance between your inner nature and the responsibilities you have towards the ones you love. Fans of King’s Batman Annual #2 will get more out of this as it serves as a sort of continuation of that issue.
“The Catwoman of Earth”
Anytime I read something written by Jeff Parker I always enjoy it and this story is no different. After a couple more serious minded stories, Parker and artist Jonathan Case crank the over the top meter to its nonexistent limit and churn out a highlight of the book. Selina is at the Annual Gotham City Science Fair pulling a heist since Batman is nowhere to be found, only to find herself in the middle of an extraterrestrial skirmish. Case’s art is simply sublime, as are his colors which make this the most distinct story of the collection. His figure poses are also extremely emotive and the lettered sound effects perfectly capture the retro Batman ’66 atmosphere. It’s a visual treat but Parker’s script also nails Selina’s core essence of being a good person deep down, even if she’s forced to after pulling a heist. There’s also an effective feminist element in that the invading aliens don’t allow their “femoids” to speak without permission, an aspect of their culture that Selina pushes back on. Perfectly paced, fill with great action, and a satisfying ending. You can’t ask for much more.
“A Cat of Nine Tales”
I love a good pun so Liam Sharp’s short story already gets some points right from the start. This short is only three pages long but depicts nine possible scenarios between Catwoman and an unlucky security guard who catches her mid heist. I love Liam Sharp’s art, though I don’t think this is his strongest work. I love his colors and overall aesthetic but some panels are rendered much differently than the others and appear washed out. Additionally, the rigid structure of each page dedicates three vertical panels to a possible scenario which doesn’t give Sharp much room to diversify his compositions. Despite it’s self-imposed simplicity, the story works due to its throwback style of storytelling, right down to its larger than life dialogue for Selina and traditional twist ending.
Mindy Newell’s script reminds me a lot of Ann Nocenti’s short in that it bites off just a little bit more than it can chew. However, Newell has a much more focused target and an ending that resonates stronger. The core of the story deals with Selina’s relationship with a former foster parent, Malke. As a child, Malke took Selina in and showed her one of her prized possessions, a mezuzah. This mezuzah represents a part of Selina’s upbringing and she steals it from a museum in order to return it to its rightful owner. It’s an interesting idea, but the script wanders around and takes on a stream of consciousness style of narration that never gels together, particularly due to the provocative imagery. We see Selina work as a prostitute/dominatrix in a page that dedicates itself to juxtaposing her inner thoughts with her line of work. This is followed by another narration heavy page that features a Nazi officer, which opens a whole other theme since Malke is Jewish, but never really finds its meaning. It’s messy and ultimately confusing, but the final moments are tender. Lee Garbett’s art is largely satisfactory, but the pages that are dedicated to long narration suffer from crowded compositions that do not gel with the lettering, making these complex moments even harder to decipher.
“Born to Kill”
Chuck Dixon writes a very lean script here that takes two pages to set up Catwoman’s aim to board a ship and steal a precious “bauble”. Right away, I was struck by the unique setting and a return to a more traditional heist plot was welcomed. However, whether or not you enjoy this one depends on your taste for Kelley Jones’ art, which is very unique and immediately recognizable. Jones’ art is incredibly dramatic and his thick shadows add great dimension to basically every panel. His anatomy on the other hand is definitely unique and could turn some off the style, but for me I find it very eye catching. His Clayface is a sight to behold and truly monstrous, with genuine emotion behind his eyes. The story boils down to a chase and fight between Selina and Clayface through the vast ship, but Jones’ bold art, combined with his sleekly simplistic panel layouts make the story leap off the page.
Will Pfeifer’s script here is incredibly witty and meta as Selina finds herself at a comic convention where everyone knows who she is, along with Batman and his many rogues. Pia Guerra’s art is incredibly strong, which is no surprise given her track record, and perfectly captures the bright, almost surreal nature of a comic convention. Some people’s taste for self-aware humor varies, but the sheer amount of references to the real world of comics and even Selina’s long history in media (we get another Batman Returns callback here), is fun to untangle. There’s a great twist ending, which is completely sold by Guerra’s and colorist John Kalisz’s impressive shift in art styles, and the tongue in cheek nature of the script doesn’t overstay its welcome.
“Addicted to Trouble”
This story is different from the others because it gives a taste of what’s to come since Ram V and Fernando Blanco take over as series regulars with Catwoman #25 in a few months. This short operates more as an epilogue for Joelle Jones’ run and a tease for what’s coming next than a self-contained story. For those not interested in either of those runs, this story doesn’t offer much for you on a script level, but Blanco’s art remains stellar as per usual. Blanco was the main artist on Jones’ run, whenever she didn’t do the art herself, so he has a strong grasp on how to play up Selina’s capabilities. A two page spread bar brawl is the highlight, greatly aided by FCO Plascencia’s fantastic colors, and a stellar use of negative space with no need for panels. V has a good grip on these characters too, with Selina’s narration dominating the script. Normally an overabundance of narration sucks the energy out of a comic, but V’s prose is strong enough to make up for the sparse dialogue. However, the tease at what’s to come is nothing special and doesn’t exactly set up an exciting new take on the character.
“The Art of Picking a Lock”
Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman run is one of my all time favorite books so my expectations were high for this one. Cameron Stewart is on art and perfectly captures what made his and Brubaker’s previous work together so special. Every panel is packed with so much glee and excitement it’s hard to find any missteps. Stewart’s poses are dynamic, his layouts flow without any hitch in tracking the action, and his lettered sound effects are pieces of art in of themselves. It’s a visual stunner and Stewart’s Selina Kyle effortlessly shifts from being cool and calm to a vicious fighter with the subtlest of nuances in the facial acting. Stewart’s colors are also impeccable as they create three distinct atmospheres between the reddish browns of the warehouse the story starts in, to the purple sky of Gotham proper, straight to the icy blues of its docks. Brubaker’s script is also remarkably clear cut and precise as he manages to skillfully interweave Selina’s heartbreaking narration about her time in a juvenile detention center with the action heavy plot. Selina recounts how she learned to pick locks during her time in juvie as she and Holly attempt to stop a Joker henchman who has something they hold dear in his car’s trunk. Everything clicks together both thematically and practically in the story’s final moments which features an appearance from someone that fans of Brubaker’s run will be glad to see. This is a perfect example of how to structure a short story, even if its aims are modest.
In between each story are also a variety of pin up drawings from several extremely talented artists. They’re all high quality and worth a look. My favorite of the bunch is by Tula Lotay.
- You’re a fan of Brubaker and Stewart’s previous Catwoman run.
- Seeing Selina in a variety of storylines that aren’t all heist related is something you’ve missed.
- You want to get a glimpse at what Ram V and Fernando Blanco have in store for their run in a few months.
Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 is a must-read for fans of the character. There isn’t an outright bad story in the bunch and the art teams alone make up for any of the lesser scripted stories. Even then, the main flaw of the weaker stories is that they sometimes bite off more than they can chew which at least gives readers something to ponder over. Luckily, the majority are solid to great and showcase a variety of Selina’s skillsets to keep things from getting repetitive. With Catwoman #22 also on shelves today there’s an abundance of content for Selina Kyle fans this week, but this anniversary special is the best way to get your fix.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.