Catwoman #39 gives Selina Kyle a fresh start back in Gotham City courtesy of Tini Howard and Nico Leon. Howard’s script throws a lot at the reader in this first issue as she carves a new path for Selina in Gotham, while Leon’s art strays from the noir influences of the previous run in favor of a glossy, more provocative view on Selina’s day-to-day.
First off, I found the first five pages of this issue to suffer from unclear artwork and influx of exposition. Selina is back in Gotham, that much is clear, but by page two we’re thrown into the deep end of the pool with a bevy of narration boxes as Howard attempts to quickly establish her new group of enemies. The Gotham underworld is run by four crime lords who range from a former Falcone capo to the leader of a yakuza clan. Their introduction page is clumsy, with their first panel putting one at the head of the group, which makes him look like the leader despite them being meant to be on equal footing. Introductory panels for Eiko Hasigawa (notably making a return from Genevieve Valentine’s run) and Federico Tomasso have their heads tilted away from the reader, not allowing for readers to really soak in who they are and what they look like. Subsequent pages also have their backs turned to the reader to further obfuscate them from the reader for no clear reason. Visually, it’s sloppy. Leon’s pencils are crisp but his compositions are clumsy and Tom Napolitano’s letters do their best to lead the reader’s eye in the right direction. An early two page spread has too much negative space in the middle, with shades of purple and pinks dominating the strip club setting, while every character is framed in silhouette only. This results in a page that feels blank, despite there being a lot happening on it. Selina Kyle taking on a group of mobsters in a strip club should be more thrilling than this.
The opening does abruptly end to join Selina one week earlier as we see her piece together the plan we see unfold in the previous pages. It’s a fine enough device, which allows the book to open with a bang before setting the stage. However, there’s such a large amount of caption boxes that there’s rarely time to breathe even on pages which may better be off setting a sense of atmosphere. There’s a scene where Selina meets up with Eiko, who wears an unbuttoned shirt with her underwear visible underneath, on a yacht as Selina attempts to get information out of her. Howard wisely utilizes Selina’s bisexuality and widens her romantic escapades outside of the usual (as of late) male private detectives/police detectives/vigilantes. In fact, Howard’s script is mostly interested in examining the various ways men belittle and dominate the women in their lives.
There are definitely aspects to Howard’s opening issue I find intriguing. Selina infiltrates the shady Miss Trixie’s Boarding House for Wayward Girls as a way to glean gossip from various mafioso mistresses that frequent the building. The grimy side of Gotham is a great place to examine in a Catwoman book as Selina is best able to blend into such areas. The script is effective in establishing this tension between mafiosos and their women, however some later choices seem more concerned with making a thematic point than a thrilling narrative. Selina’s new headquarters lies on the abandoned ninth floor of this shady hotel, in a room that was once “ventilated in a shoot-out”. I find it a bit of a stretch that Selina can live in an “abandoned” hotel room, but what follows next bothers me more. Selina finds herself face to face with a new potential villain/ally who belongs to a thieves’ guild of sorts and wants to recruit Selina. While there’s nothing wrong with this character at face value, it’s yet another development without much set up in a script that’s already overstuffed with new characters and unseen backstories.
Leon’s art pairs well with Bellaire’s colors, but compositions remain busy and cluttered. For example, Selina’s rooftop battle with “Valmont” never flows the way it should with most panels largely covered in dialogue bubbles and others with the silhouettes of birds that fly around them. Simply put, there’s absolutely no room for any page to breathe with either too many caption boxes, dialogue, or unnecessary visual clutter. Even Selina’s showdown against the leaders of the Gotham underworld is littered with text, which doesn’t lend itself well with the neon pink aesthetic of the club. It results in a lot of white, pink, and black on the page, and the overabundant dialogue results in the white text bubbles preventing the white background panels from delivering the necessary contrast against the pink environment. To my eye, this is a poorly constructed comic on a visual level. As the issue ends, Selina delivers yet another monologue to state her ultimate goal….power. There’s potential here in Selina’s war to clean up the Gotham underworld, but this is a shaky start.
- You prefer Selina returning to Gotham to take on its underworld.
- A more provocative take on the character doesn’t turn you away.
- Howard’s take on gender dynamics within Gotham’s seedy underbelly intrigues you.
Catwoman #39 has much on its mind as Tini Howard’s script attempts to establish Selina back in Gotham as well as starting a war between her and the city’s underground. Nico Leon’s art is competent, but most pages are cluttered and rely heavily on the dialogue to make sense of them. After Ram V and Fernando Blanco’s methodical, noir inspired run, this issue’s reliance on provocative scenarios feels like a step backward and its execution leaves much to be desired. As a fan of Howard’s previous work, I’m hopeful the series can refocus itself after this hefty introduction.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.