Catwoman #44 has moments of inspiration, primarily fueled by Bengal’s visual style and thrilling car chase sequences. However, Tini Howard’s script struggles to navigate the testy relationship between Selina and Harley Quinn, creating arguments based on misconceptions that feel forced, which in the end delivers an unsatisfying ending to this two part journey.
Starting with the positives, all the action in the issue is well put together in terms of both the art and the set up within the script. The initial fight between Red Claw and Selina in the roller derby locker room is short, but effective. Jordie Bellaire’s colors wisely cast this scene in a sickly yellow-green to capture this less than luxurious back room, which lies in nice contrast to the more vibrant colors of the roller derby itself. Bengal is also great at capturing movement, but sometimes the panels don’t always lead into each other seamlessly. For example, a panel shows Red Claw charging at Selina who looks like she’s in mid-dodge, inches away from her. Yet in the next panel, Red Claw still charges at Selina who now looks further away, almost as if the panels should be in the opposite order. If it’s meant to be two separate attacks then the spacing between them is questionable and the lack of a background in one panel makes it further unclear. Nonetheless, the panels are energetic and I love Bengal’s over the top facial expressions.
The real showstopper moment is another car chase, which Bengal seems born to draw. Compositions are often thoughtful and capture both the speed of the chase and the vulnerability Selina finds herself in as she’s the only one on a motorcycle, up against cars and diesel trucks. One page has a closer up view of Harley as she drives her car, while the next panel is pulled back in a wider shot of Selina on her bike. This allows Bengal to then follow it up with a closer shot of Selina, with giant headlights behind her, just about to engulf her entirely. There’s constant play like this, capturing Selina’s speed in contrast to the sheer power that a larger vehicle has over her. Choreography is always clear and there’s rarely any confusion as to where people are in relation to each other during the chase. This is largely because Bengal doesn’t depend solely on close ups to create tension and his wider compositions allow for a more thrilling chase. Tom Napolitano’s lettered sound effects help lead the eye in key moments as well.
However, the core tension between Harley and Selina never really tracks (though Harley’s personality isn’t always the easiest to get along with). Early in the issue, Selina tries to warn Harley of Red Claw, to which Harley ignores in favor of focusing on the roller derby competition. There’s even a couple panels where Selina starts explaining roller derby rules for no reason since the match is quickly interrupted. Simply put, there was never true cohesion with the action plotline and the roller derby sequences. There could’ve been some fun had Red Claw joined the derby competition, with skates and all, to truly embrace the silliness of this entire plotline. Unfortunately, Red Claw quickly resorts to a flamethrower to break up the fun and force Selina and Harley to leave anyway. It feels like a missed opportunity.
Further making the derby plot feel increasingly at odds with the core narrative is a brief respite from the action where Selina and Harley are at a diner with the other players. Selina and Harley sit outside the diner so none of the other players are even present and the subsequent argument between the two friends never feels authentic. Harley complains to Selina about how important derby is to her and how Selina should’ve told her there was an assassin. Selina immediately responds that she did try to warn her about Red Claw, to which Harley never really addresses and further reprimands Selina for not being honest. Nothing about the tension here clicks together and Selina’s apology to Harley doesn’t track because I frankly have no idea what she’s apologizing for. Since this is arguably the actual core of the narrative, the entire issue suffers.
Lastly, the resolution to the Red Claw storyline is inert. The stalker from the previous issue comes into play here as Red Claw hijacks him in order to pursue Selina and Harley. Spoilers are to follow, but Howard’s script seems more focused on making a point about Black Mask’s misogyny above all else.
- Red Claw’s appearance is enough for you to pick it up.
- You’re a fan of Bengal’s art style.
- Harley Quinn is a favorite character of yours.
Catwoman #44 features lovely art and a fantastic car chase courtesy of Bengal and Jordie Bellaire. However, the true heart of the issue lies with the sketchily drawn relationship between Selina and Harley Quinn. Unfortunately, nothing about their conflict with each other tracks in a satisfying way. Equally fatal is the ultimate resolution to Red Claw’s assassination attempt, which suffers in its attempt to make a point about the mostly absent Black Mask, rather than Red Claw herself. I still have hope for Howard’s Catwoman, but this two-part story is easily skippable.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.