While last month’s issue gave a glimpse at what Ram V and Fernando Blanco had in store for their run, Catwoman #26 delivers a more focused and intriguing set of obstacles for Selina to overcome. V’s Selina is far removed from the self loathing mess of previous arcs and while there are a few cracks in her armor, the script keeps her on the offensive as she takes her fate into her own hands. Additionally, the introduction of new villain, Father Valley, adds a heightened edge to the otherwise grounded scheme of taking on various mobsters in Selina’s former home of Alleytown. There’s a lot of moving pieces but V keeps things easy to follow and is greatly aided by some impressive art courtesy of Fernando Blanco.

Readers should not be turned off by the cover’s “Joker War” heading as its connection to that storyline is tenuous at best. Long story short, Penguin wants Selina dead for double crossing him last month and taking off with all of the money they stole from Joker. Blanco gets things started off right with a very attractive rendition of the Iceberg Lounge full of appropriately stylish club goers equipped with tattoos and dyed hair. FCO Plascencia’s colors set the mood immediately from the glitz of the dance floor to the moody purples and blues of Penguin’s private office as he meets with the deadly hit man, Father Valley. What I like most about this scene is Valley’s demeanor, which carefully treads the line between grounded and gaudy. His outfit is ridiculous, he spits out a comedic “Mhaha!”, but he never once comes off as a joke. A villain posing as a religious figure has worked ever since Night of the Hunter and that remains true to this day. V also uses the scene to establish what separates Selina from the rest of Gotham’s criminal underworld, namely her sense of empathy. Penguin sees the fact that Selina cares about people as something to be exploited, which exposes his villainy and Catwoman’s heroism organically. This exchange also foreshadows Valley’s potential strategy to take Selina down, which already puts poor Maggie in the crosshairs once again.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Tom Napolitano

The strong character work continues when the focus shifts to Selina as she acknowledges that recent events have made her soft and that she wishes to reclaim her reputation. It’s an interesting identity crisis as her enemies actually do see her as soft while she scrambles to retain her edge. Yet readers know her empathy for others is what separates her from those like Penguin. Even Selina’s recruitment of local wayward kids is suspect as she’s essentially employing child soldiers in a brewing war. There are no easy answers here, which is the right approach to a character who rides the line of decency like Catwoman. Thankfully, V keeps the plot easy to digest among all the shadowy character motivations. There’s a great two page spread that Blanco and letterer Tom Neapolitan absolutely nail when it comes to a mixture of aesthetic and exposition. The spread is made up of several grid panels that chop up a map of Gotham City. Several of these grids portray Selina’s three adversaries that she must deal with to control Alleytown along with their corresponding racket. It’s a blatant exposition dump, however V and Blanco deliver the information in a way that captures interest by making the reader feel like they’re pouring over the game plan right alongside Selina. Napolitano’s letters also flow perfectly with Blanco’s grid pattern, which makes the info dump a breeze to read through. Nahigian is the meth dealer, Pit Rollins is the gunrunner, and Lieutenant Kollak is the crooked cop that keeps it all under wraps. Three strong personalities are established without even meeting the characters face to face.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Tom Napolitano

If there’s a weak link in the script it lies with Detective Hadley who I didn’t care for in previous issues and his inclusion here doesn’t do much to change my opinion. His scene where he investigates a local chop shop owned by Nahigian is quite good despite Hadley’s rather vanilla characterization. Slam Bradley of yesteryear was an intriguing “straight man” foil for Selina, so it remains to be seen if Hadley can attain a similar sense of tragic attraction toward the always enigmatic Selina. Stronger are the scenes where Selina herself starts rubbing shoulders with the local crime lords, most notably Pit Rollins as she executes a man via high stakes pole dancing. The book takes on a more 70s pulp vibe in these scenes, something the series has flirted with before, and it works in spades. There’s a palpable sense of grime and danger when Selina finds herself face to face with truly depraved mobsters, even when these scenes are intercut with flashbacks showing Selina take down several thugs. Blanco is one of the best in the game when it comes to two page spread action sequences and that remains true here. Despite her fighting prowess, Selina plays a dangerous game when she attempts to play Rollins and Nahigian off each other and the stakes feel extraordinarily high even without Valley in the shadows.

Credit: Fernando Blanco, FCO Plascencia, Tom Napolitano

Lastly, I’m glad to see Maggie hasn’t been ignored by V after Jones’ run didn’t do much with her character. Maggie is speaking now, albeit not much, but her relationship with Selina is ripe for exploration and I have high hopes V has a good take on their dynamic. It’s a touching moment when Selina thanks one of her young protégés for spending time with Maggie (by presumably watching Mad Max: Fury Road) and even more touching is when they hug after Maggie delivers some succinct, yet truthful advice. All the while, Valley watches from afar. There’s a lot of moving pieces in Catwoman #26 and it’s an impressive script that keeps it all from being overwhelming.

Recommended if…

  • Fernando Blanco’s exquisite art makes the book worth it alone.
  • You want to get a first look at promising new villain Father Valley.
  • A pulp 70s vibe is something you like as well as a more morally ambiguous Selina.

Overall

Catwoman #26 is one of the best single issues of the series in a very long time. The self loathing Selina characterization ran out of steam months, if not years ago, so it’s a joy to see a more proactive Selina try to take down local mobsters and retain her dominance in the underworld. V’s script is a great example of how to balance great action, necessary exposition, and gentler character moments without overwhelming the reader. Simply put, there’s a lot to like here and very little I can see being held against it, especially when Blanco makes everything so nice to look at.

Score: 8.5/10


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