Catwoman 2021 Annual #1 wisely chooses to flesh out series villain, Father Valley, right after the previous issue focused on Selina and her allies. The overarching narrative remains ever present, allowing Ram V’s script to remain relevant in the larger scheme, while mostly looking backwards in time to fill in some gaps. Armed with a solid team of artists, this issue is a must read for anyone reading the main series, but not the best choice for anyone jumping in for the first time.
The issue opens with Fernando Blanco on art, letting longtime readers ease into the book as it directly deals with the fallout of Valley leaving Leo for dead last chapter. V’s script gives a brief glimpse of Valley’s routine as he bathes himself free of blood then immediately flogs himself to cleanse his mind with pain. While it’s no surprise Valley is an extremist, this development does solidify his religious background even before a prolonged flashback that details his upbringing within the Order of St. Dumas.
The extended flashback that makes up most of the issue largely works despite some familiar beats. Kyle Hotz’s pencils are next up and they are a large departure from Blanco’s style. The way Hotz draws Azrael and his fellow members of St. Dumas lends them immense weight, and even their robes look heavy and take on a life of their own. Think an almost Venom/symbiote type aesthetic. Despite his characters’ somewhat clunky appearance, Hotz’s action sequences are easy to follow due to clean page layouts and expressive figure work in Azrael’s soon to be victims. There’s a lot on the page, between flowing robes, shattered glass, and gunfire, but the occasional panel with just a white background helps the pages breathe and keeps spatial orientation coherent. While Hotz’s work isn’t delicate, it’s impactful and full of energy.
V’s dialogue is sharp as ever, which is a major plus in a storyline that heavily leans on religious self loathing that can easily swerve into melodrama. Hotz’s style is more successful in the fisticuffs than in nuanced character “acting,” but his usage of heavy shadow captures shifts in emotion even if I would never call it subtle. There’s shadowy eyes, shadowy cheek bones, and shadowy robes, but the heavy inks never entirely swallow the characters. A central wolf metaphor also works, especially combined with Hotz’s pencils, which make characters often look like beasts more than man, especially when armored up. Father Valley, known here as Karl, is the adopted son of Ludovic Valley, also known as the father of Jean Paul Valley. Karl doubts the mission of St. Dumas and wonders if all the blood they shed is truly the work of God. Ludovic responds that people like themselves are wolves and are better off satisfying their violent nature in service of a greater power. V’s script tracks “Karl’s” path from doubtful minion, to full fledged servant of God’s will, even if it ultimately falls under a more general umbrella of fanaticism. Karl’s background with St. Dumas explains his appetite for violence, but the religious factor does come off mostly as a slight flavoring.
A mid book twist accompanies a change of artists to Juan Ferreyra, a favorite artist of mine. Without delving too much into spoilers, Ludovic is given a choice between loyalty to the Order of St. Dumas and to Karl himself, which results in a lot of dead bodies. Luckily, Ferreyra is more than up to the task of depicting Ludovic’s assault on those who stand in his way. I love Ferreyra’s more flashy page layouts, which is never hard to follow due to his more refined figure work. The colors in Ferreyra’s work are more delicate too, which combines well with Ludovic’s flaming sword and the midnight sky. David Baron is the credited colorist here, but I know Ferreyra often colors his own work too. Nonetheless, the colors are particularly effective on Ferreyra’s pages, humanizing the characters with their softer touch. While V’s script never truly surprised me in how the narrative plays out, it’s cleanly plotted, easy to track character motivations and greatly enhances Karl’s background.
If there’s any fault to the book, it’s that Selina herself is mostly absent, despite seeing her anger at Leo’s near death encounter. Any fan of the series so far likely won’t mind the focus on Father Valley/Karl, but anyone looking for an easily digestible Selina focused “one-shot” will not find that here. Additionally, Ludovic arguably has the most interesting character arc in the issue, even stealing the spotlight from Karl. The return to Blanco’s art does bring us back to the present day where tensions rise in Alleytown. There’s some political messaging in seeing Alleytown’s police force violently disperse protests since they lack the ability (or desire) to actually fix the problems the community faces. It’s well done, but between Valley’s flashback, the examination of religious fanaticism, and the actual main narrative with Leo and Selina, there’s a lot of separate plot threads. I have no doubt V’s follow up issues will regain focus on Selina’s attempt to control Alleytown, but with this annual and last month’s issue of Catwoman, there’s been a lot of looking backward instead of forward.
- Learning about Father Valley’s past is something you’ve been wanting.
- You’re a fan of Azrael and the Order of St. Dumas.
- The lack of Selina doesn’t bother you.
Catwoman 2021 Annual #1 is a solid tale of conflicted allegiances within a fanatic religious organization. Father Valley and Ludovic dominate the narrative, but longtime readers will likely enjoy understanding Valley’s background. The three artists work well together, with Juan Ferreyra’s pages a particular standout, but there’s no aesthetic missteps as a whole. While the political tension in Alleytown does feel a little abrupt to what came before, V’s Catwoman run so far has been stellar and future issues have a great foundation to leap forward from.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.