Catwoman #45 brings the Bat family into the series in a major way with mixed results. While Selina and Bruce’s on again off again relationship has never truly left the series, here Tim, Stephanie, Cassandra, and even Dick Grayson all make appearances. These interactions inject some nuance into Selina’s current headspace, but the narrative stumbles around, not finding a groove until its final page.
Tini Howard’s script starts things off simply enough with Selina and Valmont teaming up to stop a case of dockside human trafficking. It’s here where Howard addresses the fact that Selina and Bruce are still on a “break,” right after Valmont makes a pass at Selina by not letting go of her quite as fast as he should. Personal opinion of Valmont aside (I find him entirely disposable), this type of love triangle hardly ever works and feels manufactured to bait Bat/Cat fans into anger. This is only heightened when the book displays Selina’s side of a phone conversation that took place in Chip Zdarsky’s Batman #125. In Batman, the art displayed Selina and Valmont in a much more seductive scenario, with Selina half naked and Valmont seductively posed in the background as she speaks to Bruce. Here, that sensuality is nowhere to be seen, with Selina dressed and Valmont more innocently arriving with coffee. There’s an editor’s note that states “there are two sides to every story,” but frankly I find this type of misdirection to be nothing but aggravating. It’s entirely designed to frustrate readers and also begs the question of whether a comic’s art is reflective of reality or its main character’s perspective. Both these scenes cannot exist at the same time, but if anything, Sami Basri’s pencils cheat less by not drawing Bruce’s side of the conversation. Is Batman’s more seductive version of this scenario just Bruce’s imagination of what’s on the other side of the phone call? Can we trust a book to not lie to the reader to manufacture drama out of nothing? Nonetheless, I find it hard to punish a book for editorial woes, particularly since this version of the scene is the more realistic one and presumably the “truth” of the scenario.
With that out of the way, the opening action sequence is very well done. Basri’s pencils capably handle this dockside assault with clear storytelling due to page layouts knowing when to spice it up. For example, the lead up to the assault keeps layouts simple, without any tilted panels or janky compositions. Once the fighting begins, Basri utilizes a splash page to start the sequence, then integrates slanted panels to track the action. I quite like a panel that slants upward because it flows with Selina’s upward slash to a henchman’s face. Jordie Bellaire’s colors also maneuver capably through the sequence, starting with cool blues that capture the nighttime dock atmosphere, which quickly turn to fiery reds and oranges once gunfire and explosions get involved. Tom Napolitano’s lettered sound effects know when to rear their heads, only ever dominating a page when the henchmen unleash a flurry of bullets at Selina and Valmont. Later in the issue, there’s a six panel sequence that shows Selina put on makeup and style her hair to slightly alter her appearance that is impressively rendered and frankly more engaging than most action sequences. It’s delicate work and little details like a little strand of hair sticking up combined with subtle changes of color with the makeup makes the process look authentic.
What’s less effective are Selina’s interactions with various Bat family members. The narrative is simple, but cluttered with an excess of characters all with different tactics. Selina grows angry at Tim Drake’s interference with her operation, due to the fact that she essentially allows the Yakuza to operate under her watchful eye. It’s not a bad tension to examine, but it’s here where Howard’s narrative starts to feel repetitive. Selina once again goes undercover in a shady nightclub and serves her enemies without them even knowing. Despite Selina’s “victory’ in the previous arc with Black Mask, the dynamic between her and the criminal underworld seems unchanged. Dick Grayson arrives to help, which Selina quickly rebuffs in favor of going solo. It’s a shame their face to face is truncated since a later voicemail left by Dick for Selina does an excellent job of capturing the inherent tension between the two of them due to her “break” from Bruce. There’s a lot of potential within Selina’s relationship to the Bat family, but Howard’s decision to have them butt heads so much offers nothing more than mixed signals. It also makes Selina’s sequence with Cassandra and Stephanie stand out since they actually do get along, but the scene itself has nothing to do with the overarching narrative. It’s also drawn by Robbi Rodriguez whose work on these three pages is sloppy and features a muddled environment to the point where I don’t even know where it takes place. I hope Howard doesn’t rely too much on miscommunications between Selina and others to create tension and that the infighting gives way to a more compelling outside threat.
- Valmont growing in importance doesn’t bother you.
- Batman and Selina’s “break” from each other isn’t played out.
- The appearance of the Bat family is enough to buy it.
Catwoman #45 doesn’t break new ground with its core narrative, but it does offer interaction between Selina and the Bat family. While these scenes are frustrating due to Selina’s general anger at any misstep, whether it be by Tim or Dick, there is some genuine drama to be mined from the current status quo. As it stands, Catwoman #45 lacks a compelling vision for Selina’s war against the criminal underworld and the romantic drama is tepid at best.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.