Catwoman #48 continues Selina and Valmont’s international adventure as they head to Tuscany to make a bid for Dario’s life. Nico Leon is back on art duties, bringing back the slick aesthetic of the beginning of Tini Howard’s run with mixed results. While the new setting injects some life into the series, Valmont’s love story with Selina takes priority, resulting in a final page that rings hollow.
Starting with the positives, I like the idea of Selina and Valmont’s mission in Tuscany to convince the head of the Tomasso family to spare Dario and leave him under Selina’s protection. I love Leon’s ornate backgrounds and frames for many of these panels, giving the scenes a sense of lavishness befitting the grand setting. It also hints at the inner reality of Don Lorenzo’s wife, Vittoria, as she is in many ways stuck as her husband’s caretaker in his old age. The ornate backgrounds are beautiful, but also cage her within the villa’s walls in the same way her marriage does. Less endearing about Vittoria is her rampant homophobia as she calls Dario an unrepentant sinner, which makes Selina helping her take over the Tomasso family all the more unpleasant. Selina’s morality is all over the place in recent issues, and this chapter is no different.
Before Selina appeals directly to Vittoria, she turns the screws in on extended family member, Mia Tomasso, who wants to help save Dario, but not at the risk of losing her lavish lifestyle. There is genuine drama to be mined from the Tomasso family in Italy, but Howard’s script puts Dario in immediate danger, forcing Selina to brute force her way into Vittoria and the Don’s bedroom. There is a really bad splash page where Selina and Valmont barge into the bedroom, which for some reason has the duo’s back to the reader. The composition is canted, to capture the sense of surprise, yet the focus is on Vittoria and the Don’s reactions, putting us more so on Selina’s side of things. The canted angle makes sense if the composition was drawn from Vittoria’s point of view, but here it’s far too pulled back to deliver any tension leaving the page a misfire. The giant dialogue bubble of at the center of the page throws off the composition as well.
Selina eventually strong arms Vittoria into taking control of the Tomasso family but Leon’s page composition is claustrophobic. There are several close up panels of Vittoria and Selina’s faces as Selina manipulates her into realizing that she is the true leader of the crime family. Josh Reed’s letters leave very little room for the page to breathe, which is also a consequence of Howard’s script overwriting this encounter. There’s also a strange sense that Selina is more endeared toward Vittoria than the Don, despite them both being unrepentant and bigoted criminals. Selina slaps the Don with the symbolic “Black Glove” which bestows its owner with ownership of the Tomasso family, and gives an “attagirl” as Vittoria wrests power from her husband. It is clear that Selina is manipulating Vittoria to help rescue Dario, but the scene’s entire dynamic is muddled at best. Speaking of muddled, we also have a short scene where Dario’s former lover, Noah, attempts to turn the tables on Black Mask when handing Dario over to him. Noah himself hasn’t been given time to develop either, so I’m not sure what investment I’m supposed to have in his well-being. All this scene does is serve as a way for Black Mask to gain possession of Dario. Simply put, there’s just too many characters at play here, leaving the narrative increasingly complex, without the satisfaction of seeing things click together.
The rest of the issue deals with Selina and Valmont’s attempts to return to Gotham as quickly as possible. Valmont calls in a favor from some of his friends from the League of Assassins where he explains that former members help each other out by using the league’s vast resources. It’s a fine enough explanation, but also feels equal parts convenient and over complicated. Despite calling in this favor, Valmont and Selina immediately go on the attack, fighting off their would be saviors, which includes the cannibalistic Flamingo. While it’s a fun sequence, it brings to attention the greatest weakness of the series: Valmont. While Valmont’s past has been hinted at, I feel as though Howard has done very little to truly develop him and give a glimpse into his real self. As it is, Valmont comes off more as the mysterious lover you’d find on the cover of a romance novel. Almost every one of his lines is flirtatious toward Selina, and his attempt to change his ways to not kill has never really been demonstrated. The biggest issue that arises because of Valmont’s unclear characterization comes in the final few pages.
- You’re a fan of Valmont and don’t mind Selina’s feelings towards him.
- Nico Leon’s slick aesthetic appeals to you.
- Selina’s inconsistent morality doesn’t turn you away.
Catwoman #48 features yet another change of scenery that injects some life into Tini Howard’s increasingly muddled narrative. Right now, reader enjoyment hinges largely on whether or not Valmont is a compelling love interest for Selina. As it stands, there’s a lack of true understanding of who Valmont is as a person, existing mostly as a cliche of a “dangerous lover” type. Until the series gives me a reason to truly care about Valmont and his relationship to Selina it’s hard to recommend readers stick around.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.