Before Ram V and Fernando Blanco take over the series proper in two months, we have a two-issue arc courtesy of writers Blake Northcott and Sean Gordon Murphy with art by Cian Tormey. While last month’s fill-in issue went high in the camp factor, Catwoman #23 feels like a love letter to 80s action exploitation flicks right down to its jungle setting and nondescript Latino bad guys. Despite a familiar tone, Tormey’s art elevates the book and injects even more personality into an already purposefully gaudy script.
Selina is on her way to Isla Nevada (reminiscent of 1985’s Commando which is set in the fictional Val Verde) which is somehow not covered in snow and is in fact a tropical paradise. Despite the peaceful looking locale, there’s some sort of struggle going on between the local drug dealers and a mythical beast that has been taking out cartel members. The opening scene is a pure blast of action due to Tormey’s immaculate pencils and FCO Plascencia’s wonderfully evocative colors. Two motorcycle riding cartel members chase down a runaway “worker” as their headlights cast a blinding blue light through the cool greens of the nighttime jungle. The colors shift to an eye popping purple and red as a giant creature emerges and tears apart the cartel members which creates a sense of visceral horror as the stakes rise. Tormey’s pencils are deliciously cartoony with ample emotion on even the soon to be murdered cartel members. The action flows between panels as well due to Tormey’s dynamic poses and attention to detail as the two motorcycles rip through the greenery. It’s a fantastic opening scene that even with minimal dialogue, sets up the world incredibly quick and allows Tormey to flex his muscles early.
Less impressive is a short, but uneven scene with Selina at the airport that suffers mostly due to the script. Tormey does well with what he’s given and creates a sense of texture that the scene on paper doesn’t necessarily evoke. Simple things like how the airport security guard stamps Selina’s passport with a small “pap” sound effect and how her jacket has a slight sway to it as she looks the other way. It’s very delicate and thoughtful art. Less thoughtful is the exposition dump Selina receives via a random elderly woman on the plane who somehow ascertains Selina’s identity by seeing she is a “ritzy white woman” on her way to a criminal infested island. It’d make sense if we didn’t meet other rich white women at the party she later attends, but then again Selina’s identity doesn’t seem to be much of a secret to begin with. No matter how you slice it, it’s an inelegant way to deliver the backstory of the location, including a local legend in the form of Kisin, the supposed “God of Death”. There’s also an eye roll inducing reference to Murphy’s “White Knight” that only draws more attention to the scene’s haphazard dialogue.
Like many people nowadays, I’m a fan of the 80s revival that has boomed ever since popular media has fully delved into the era. However, it’s grown increasingly stale and transparent in its intentions and the more I see it, the more I sense a lack of willingness to engage with the present and retreat into the safety of toothless nostalgia. The appearance of an obscure comic villain from, you guessed it, the 80s only solidifies my opinion. Snowflame, a cocaine addicted drug lord that symbolized the Reagan era’s fear of foreign drugs spilling into the United States is by all purposes an out of date relic. For some reason, Northcott and Murphy decided to resurrect the character for no apparent reason other than it’s slightly humorous. He’s fashionably unfashionable with a boxy white suit, a red sports car, and an unquenchable taste for white powder. It’s not a bad character, but it does signal to me that nothing is meant to be taken all that seriously despite potentially edgy material. If fun’s the aim, then I’m willing to give the book room to play around even if there was potential for more.
However, there are few moments in the script that reference more timely issues that feel out of place in the 80s playpen previously established. Selina meets an influencer by the name of Tambra Quartz who flouts her follower count and says things like “Hashtag, you can buy happiness” in what amounts to a caricature. I’ll reserve further judgement on this character until she can add more to the plot instead of a random aside which results in Selina saying “I don’t care what strangers sitting behind their keyboards think about me”. Timely sure, but seemingly random and feels more like the writers airing out their own personal grievances in regard to today’s social media pitfalls. The scene does set up the supposed McGuffin of the story in the form of “The List” (a file that contains intel on various criminal enterprises). It’s a fairly standard heist set up, but that’s always welcome in the series.
Unfortunately, the book ends with the reintroduction of Kisin and a much more mythological bent as Selina finds herself embroiled in an urban legend. That’s ultimately the main problem with this issue. There’s a lot of competing tones and plot lines that never quite seem to gel. We have an 80s throwback in the vein of something like Commando or Predator, a traditional heist story at a high stakes auction, and a mythological element with Kisin. Kisin looks like a giant black panther for no reason other than to keep a cat theme in a Catwoman book. Kisin is actually a Mayan god and Isla Nevada is a small island off the coast of Antartica, which the book seems to reference in the description of its usual weather. Wrap all that up in a kitsch 80s coating and you got something…messy.
- You love a good Sean Gordon Murphy cover.
- 80s nostalgia and the appearance of a niche 80s DC villain piques your interest.
- Something that puts fun above all else is something you need right now.
Catwoman #23 features exceptional art from Ciran Tormey and FCO Plascencia which greatly elevates an uneven plot and script by Sean Gordon Murphy and Blake Northcott. Tormey’s work features such thoughtful detail and finesse throughout that it only exposes the uneven nature of Northcott’s script. Murphy helped plot the story but he perhaps gave Northcott too much to deal with here. With only another issue left in this mini-arc, I fear there are too many moving parts and themes to cover with only twenty more pages.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.