Catwoman #43 probably isn’t what most readers are expecting after Tini Howard and Nico Leon’s first arc on the series. Bengal takes over on art duties this time around and does a good job with what he’s given by Howard’s script. However, there’s such a sharp shift in tone and stakes that it almost feels like an entirely different series. This wouldn’t be a noticeable problem if the story at hand justified such a change, but the introduction of Harley Quinn and roller derby feels like spinning wheels instead of being a fun diversion.
Speaking of spinning wheels, the highlight of the issue comes in the first half with a car chase interrupting an otherwise routine road trip. After taking Black Mask down a peg in Gotham, Selina wants to lay low for a while and invites Harley on a trip out of town. This is a fine enough set up for a buffer arc and Howard’s lighter approach gives the book a more grounded, slice of life approach where Selina and Harley truly do come off as friends looking for a sense of peace. These quieter moments of characterization work, even if I’m not the biggest Harley fan and find her sudden appearance in the series jarring. Thankfully, the real focus is on Selina. Her claim that being Harley’s friend grounds her since she’s able to live in the moment is an interesting take that (mostly) justifies her appearance.
A highlight of the book comes when Selina and Harley lay low in a motel on the way to a roller derby match they intend to participate in. There are some classic Harley moments (of the less violent variety) where she tells Selina she’s getting ice just because she wants to use the ice machine. There’s a panel where Selina pinches Harley’s cheeks and the way Bengal draws the innocence on Harley’s face sells the moment entirely. Bengal’s art is much different than Nico Leon’s, but the more cartoony style works extremely well in this issue. Jordie Bellaire’s colors are exquisite and give each scene a different atmosphere. I also appreciate Bellaire’s decision to eschew logic to fit Bengal’s style, especially when the highway road is colored entirely in red. This gives a nice pop of color to what would realistically be a dark, empty highway. The motel room they stay in is warmer and the hallway outside is colored in a sickly, yellow-green that captures the grimier aspects of a roadside motel. Every artistic decision is well thought through, even down to a mischievous first person POV sequence when someone stalks Selina at a gas station (even ending with a slight twist on the page turn). Howard and Bengal even pull off a tender moment between Selina and Harley as they lie together in bed.
Bengal is also adept at drawing cars and capturing their movement (see their work on Rick Remender’s Death or Glory), which is key to capturing the intensity of Selina and Harley’s car chase with their would-be stalker. Howard’s script captures the inherent tension of knowing someone is following you on the road and allows Bengal to cut loose and deliver some effective high speed action beats. While Bengal’s work and Bellaire’s colors are exemplary, Tom Napolitano’s lettered sound effects also punch up the choreography. The sense of movement is already there through Bengal’s pencils, but the sound effects also track both cars’ paths and deliver the requisite “WHAM”s and “BOOM”s when the carnage hits its climax.
Unfortunately, the last third of this chapter is when things fall apart. I truly don’t understand why the issue puts roller derby front and center. It’s in this moment where the book veers just too far from what you come to expect out of a Catwoman book (let alone a superhero comic). The first half did a decent job of balancing its lighter fare with the tension of a highway stalker, but nothing about this roller derby sequence is congruent with not just the series, but the issue itself. The juxtaposition between Bengal’s style and the high stakes of Selina fighting off her stalker in the motel is gone. This leaves readers with an odd sequence that feels more like someone showing off a hobby of theirs that you have zero interest in. The cliffhanger is basic, but features a character that fans of Batman: The Animated Series may be happy to see.
- You’re a Harley Quinn fan and like to see her relationship with Selina grow.
- A focus on roller derby doesn’t bother you.
- Bengal’s art is enough to look over the inconsequential nature of the storyline.
Catwoman #43 is a strange issue that longtime readers may want to skip if they lack an interest in either Harley Quinn or roller derby. Similar to a recent Nightwing arc, the issue’s only relevance to the series overarching narrative is that Black Mask is now sending assassins after Selina. I’m not opposed to exploring Harley and Selina’s relationship to each other, but the sudden shift in tone and focus may turn away readers who are more interested in Selina’s ongoing war with Gotham City’s underground.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.