Catwoman #51 delivers a competent, yet wholly predictable prison story as Selina manipulates her way to a position of power among her fellow inmates. Anyone who has even the faintest idea of how prison stories operate will find no surprises in store, leaving readers with a narrative that has little to say.
On the positive side, Sami Basri’s pencils are excellent from the start with incredibly expressive facial work and rock solid draftsmanship. The prison is filled with a variety of body types and personalities, ranging from its overzealous guards and wary long timers who view Selina’s arrival as a threat to their positions. With almost everyone wearing the same orange jumpsuit it’d be easy for the book to visually flounder, but Basri’s steady hand and Veronica Gandini’s colors maintain a sense of vibrancy. There’s a panel early on where every inmate is introduced as they are head counted that displays Basri’s strong sense of character design. Are these prisoners strangely well groomed for their current situation? Sure, but it does give each character a distinct personality.
Unfortunately, a good first impression on a visual front does little to make up for Tini Howard’s generic storyline. Selina wants to make a name for herself in the prison and seeks to steal a shipment of commissary goods in order to buy herself the goodwill of her fellow inmates and to wrest power from the domineering “Hoops”. It’s a fine enough concept, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Selina would likely be trying to break out of prison, rather than using her skill set to steal a bunch of snacks. What’s even more confounding is that Selina communicates with both Dario and Eiko in order for this plan to work. Dario even mentions to Eiko that he thinks Selina is “getting eaten alive in there”, yet no true attempt at breaking her out is mentioned. It’s not necessarily fair to compare two different series, but it is slightly funny that this is happening a week after Nightwing #100 featured every inmate at Bludhaven’s private prison being freed.
What’s even worse is that Selina’s imprisonment seems to be accepted by Selina herself as punishment for killing Valmont, despite that entire scenario giving her no choice. It’s frustrating that Valmont’s influence still lingers on Selina, despite another interpretation of his death being that he selfishly put Selina in a position where she would have to kill him. Her grief about Batman seeing her murder someone is more profound, but the main source of regret still hinges largely on Valmont. I do like Basri’s page layout showing Selina remembering Valmont’s death as the panels literally break away into an eerie first person POV showing her blood soaked claws. It’s just a shame that the series still relies so heavily on Selina’s heartbreak, particularly when even the most generous interpretation of events puts Valmont’s death as his own fault.
The subsequent heist is barebones as Eiko and Dario simply bribe a delivery driver to give over the commissary goods and deliver them to Selina via Duchess (the cat). If the heist is going to be so simplistic, then the details matter and there’s negative tension in how everything plays out. Howard even has Eiko almost murder two guards as a gag before putting her knives away. Doesn’t this arc entirely rely upon the fact that Selina feels remorse for murder? Howard tries to hand wave the joke by having Dario tell Eiko she’ll blow her cover as Catwoman if she kills anyone, but the series’ position on murder remains muddled. Even more aggravating is that once Selina gets a large amount of contraband into her solitary confinement cell, there’s no satisfying explanation in how she smuggles them out. A panel shows her flush a bag of goods down the toilet with a rope attached to later retrieve. However, the sheer amount of goods she’s later shown to have would require a lot more than a single toilet to hide. I wonder if the guards heard Selina flush about fifty times. The only hint at cleverness is how Selina left behind equipment for herself in prison library books during her previous incarcerations, but it’s simply not enough to spark much excitement.
By the end, Selina wins over her cellmates by becoming the new provider of goods, but the issue’s humdrum plotting and relatively safe layouts leave the reader very little to chew on. A prison arc for Selina could be fun, but it’s going to require a lot more than some stolen snacks to make it feel worth it.
- Prison stories appeal to you.
- Sami Basri’s art is enough to make a purchase.
- Selina’s grief over Valmont doesn’t turn you away.
Catwoman #51 delivers a routine prison oriented story with no surprises and more than a few questionable choices. If you’re in the mood to watch Selina sleepwalk her way to stealing commissary snacks, then this issue delivers the goods. For almost everyone else, the series makes no forward strides in bringing in new readers and offers little for longtime fans to look forward to.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.