Catwoman #40 is a step in the right direction after a shaky start to Tini Howard’s and Nico Leon’s tenure on the series. While Howard’s scripts have a tendency to be heavy on narration, the balance between exposition and action is much more even this time around, letting the series grow into itself as pieces are put in place.
Right from the start, the opening sequence sets a good pace. Howard’s script uses the first four pages to address the fallout from Selina’s attack on the Gotham underworld’s nightclub. Valmont’s “gift” to Selina (stolen weapons from the underworld bosses) backfires, which leads to Kristi’s death (a dancer who came to Selina’s aid). Selina then has to return the weapons, not out of fear, but as a threat to show that she can gain access to the crime lords’s homes. It’s a cool opening, but it does rely heavily on narration and Howard’s voice for Selina still isn’t quite there for me. Something about Selina saying “Blegh” doesn’t sit well. Nonetheless, Leon’s art here is exemplary, capturing Selina’s traversal abilities with an appropriate ferociousness as she runs along the side of a building. Tom Napolitano’s letters also pull off some delicate sound effects as Selina breaks into the villain’s homes to return their property. A lowercase “tak” embodies that small noise you hear in the middle of the night that makes you think someone is in your house. Also of particular note are the transparent “BANG”s from Eiko’s handgun, which fit with the pulled back composition, as if the gunshots are muffled by the distance.
However, the biggest improvement in this issue is that Howard’s script has a much more straightforward plot structure, even if it is still too reliant on narration. Selina’s plan involves recruiting Dario Tomasso, the son of Don Federico, who is unknowingly soon to be “replaced” by his best friend. I love the way Leon draws Dario, with his stylish haircut that doesn’t fit with his hunched posture. Purely based on the art, the book establishes Dario’s insecure nature, his feelings of being out of place, and that he is soon to be killed by his own father. The environments are also strikingly rendered, with excellent colors by Jordie Bellaire that effortlessly capture the warm, yet slick atmosphere of a high class restaurant right alongside its grimy back hallways. Whereas last month’s issue had Selina go in “guns” blazing, here Howard has her manipulate a situation before heading in for the big showdown. I like her alliance with Dario who she gains the confidence of by implying he’s soon to be killed and replaced. It’s this type of behind the scenes maneuvering that makes a Catwoman book the most engaging.
Despite a better narrative, the over abundance of narration still saps a lot of the energy out of the book. After Selina recruits Dario, Leon draws her driving her motorcycle at fast speeds as she enacts the next part of her plan. It’s a cool image, but the sheer amount of dialogue and narration on each panel does inhibit some of the style. It’s good for the plot to be clear, but some plot points are simply over-explained. It often feels like I’m reading the same thing over and over. Additionally, there’s a moment that reads as a dig at Ram V’s run where Selina narrates that she doesn’t “need to train good kids how to be criminals just because they were born on the street”. I’m not the biggest fan of that dig, but I am a fan of her new plan to turn power hungry mobsters against each other.
From there the issue does well with its action as Selina enacts her plan for revenge against Kristi’s murderers. Leon does most of the action in silhouette, which feels like a bit of a cheat, but the script does well to justify the lights off encounter and Bellaire’s colors inject enough style to make up for the lack of detail. Choreography is also easier to keep track of, with cleaner compositions than last issue. There’s also a good reveal which explains why Dario doesn’t believe his best friend would betray him. While the series doesn’t have a handle on its supporting cast yet, there are consistent themes being developed across them.
The ending has an actual cliffhanger this time, which is good, but I’m struggling to buy into Valmont as a character. Valmont is a good addition in the sense that he gives Selina an adversary that can rival her fighting/stealing skills, but his personality is a little flippant and the effortlessly cool demeanor he puts on needs more variety before he becomes one note. Thankfully, the final pages hint at some cracks in his facade. I’m back on board with this series after its less than engaging opening issue.
- A shaky first issue didn’t turn you away from Howard and Leon’s run.
- Valmont is intriguing and you don’t mind waiting for the character to develop.
- The inordinate amount of narration doesn’t detract from the flow of the issue.
Catwoman #40 is a massive improvement from last month’s issue that shows that Tini Howard has a clear point of view that (mostly) fits with Selina’s characterization. There are moments when thematic musings make the script feel like it’s putting the cart before the horse, but the narrative becomes more concise and palatable this time around. Nico Leon’s art also improves, featuring better compositions that let pages breathe more than before. For the time being, readers should give this opening arc a chance with only two more issues to go.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.