Batman/Catwoman Special #1 is a triumph as a one-shot examining Selina Kyle’s life through the various ways she’s spent Christmas. It’s also a touching tribute to the late, great John Paul Leon who draws half the story and has the entire second half of the issue serve as a tribute for him. Meanwhile, fans of Tom King’s Batman/Catwoman will enjoy seeing Selina and Bruce’s relationship develop over the years.
A major draw for this issue will be John Paul Leon’s art. For anyone unaware, Leon passed away last year and while not its original intention, this book operates largely as a tribute to him and his work. Leon himself draws the first thirteen pages with Bernard Chang, Shawn Crystal, and Mitch Gerads picking up where he left off. It’s a delight to see Chang, Crystal, and Gerads attempt to emulate Leon’s style, with bold inks and an emphasis on shadows and silhouettes. While Leon’s art does stand tall among the group, the entire effort is aesthetically pleasing and largely in-line with each other. Some of Chang and Crystal’s pages stand out the most as being different from Leon, but Gerads’ work blends in nicely despite being very much his own style.
What really ties the first half of the story together though are Dave Stewart’s colors over Leon, Chang, and Crystal’s pages. Stewart is one of the best colorists in the business and his work is a perfect fit for Leon’s clean pencil work and bold compositions. A page with a young Selina in a sewer surrounded by alligators is starkly beautiful and demonstrates the strengths of Leon’s work. Other artists would cover the panel with an over abundance of detail, dirt, and grime whereas Leon lets Stewart’s thoughtful colors fill much of the page with pale, sickly greens to enhance the image. This approach allows the focus to be on the composition of Selina’s downtrodden body language above all else. Gerads’ work on the other hand does feature much more detail, particularly on faces, though it still captures that grounded feel of Leon’s figure work. Gerads also gets to draw an older Selina and Bruce where his eye for detail allows him to age the characters in a way Leon perhaps would not have. By the end, some of Gerads’ faces feature more wrinkles than skin, not shying away from the reality of aging even in these larger-than-life characters.
The story itself is simplistic on the surface, but very rewarding on subsequent re-reads. Each scene depicts a different Christmas Day of Selina’s life. The issue proceeds chronologically from Selina’s early days as an orphan all the way to her marriage to Bruce into old age. There are definitely similarities to King’s previous Batman Annual #2, but the holiday themed structure does capture the progression of time in a more heightened manner. With how cold and distant some of the characterizations in the main Batman/Catwoman series are, this book does better humanize Selina and Bruce (and even some villains) as the ravages of time take their toll on their body and spirit. Simply put, it’s gripping to see Selina change over the years in both her personality and station in life. Each page serves as a snapshot of where Selina is at the time, with some pages offering fun vignettes while others are more sentimental. One page may have Selina take out a drunk man at a bar to steal his watch while the next has Selina knock out Joker who bemoans how she “used to be interesting.” There are a lot of facets of Selina’s personality examined here and I’m aware some readers feel as though King writes her out of character. However, I feel as though this issue demonstrates his knowledge of Selina, despite his tendency to fixate on some of her darker traits. A particularly stirring page has Selina confront an elderly Riddler as he robs an empty bank in a bout of elderly confusion. Instead of merely beating him up or belittling him, Selina guides Riddler back to the hospital. This is one of the better pages in the book as King uses one page to detail not just Selina’s calmer personality in this situation, but also hints at what is in store for even villains as they age out of relevance.
There’s a sense of melancholy to the issue, which is no surprise for a Tom King script, but even as the misfortunes pile up there’s a balance between Selina’s sadness and optimism for the future that lies beyond her own life. Some readers may bounce off a methodical examination of life and death using Selina as the anchor, but fans of Bat/Cat should enjoy seeing their happy moments together, brief as they may be in the grand scheme of things. Tom King is good at this type of thing and anyone on his wavelength will eat this up.
While the main story lasts just under forty pages, that’s only about half of what the issue offers. There’s several “behind the scenes” breakdown pages included which show John Paul Leon’s process as well as a touching essay of his life and career by Michael Davis of Milestone Media. On top of that there are two reprints of Leon’s work with “The Riddle” from Batman Black & White, written by Walter Simonson as well as “Reflections of the Heart” written by Ram V from Crimes of Passion #1. Both stories are worth reading, though I am particularly fond of V and Leon’s work in their short story which I previously scored a 9/10 within its anthology. Lastly, there are eighteen pin ups from a variety of artists such as Lee Bermejo, Dave Gibbons, Clay Mann, and Vanessa Del Rey. While I feel the book is worth the purchase for fans of Bat/Cat due to the strength of the main story alone, there is definitely a sense of padding with the pin ups and reprints. In this sense, the second half of the issue is a dedication to John Paul Leon and if you’re not a fan of his work, the cover price may be slightly harder to justify.
- You’re a Bat/Cat fan and want a glimpse into their lives together into old age.
- John Paul Leon is a favorite artist of yours.
- The price tag doesn’t turn you away since only half of the issue contains the actual Bat/Cat story.
Batman/Catwoman Special #1 is a beautifully produced book on every level. Each artist involved, John Paul Leon the star among them, does an excellent job of paying tribute to one of our great comics artists. Tom King’s script maintains a steady balance of realism and hope as it tracks Selina’s entire life using her experiences on Christmas Days as the frame. While there is an argument that the second half of the issue is mostly filler due to reprints and pin ups, fans of the series, Bat/Cat, or John Paul Leon himself will not be disappointed if they pick it up.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.