Catwoman #52 is a step in the right direction for Tini Howard’s prison based arc, which features a better handle on Selina’s current mental state. Additionally, her fellow inmates are given more to do and now represent Selina’s unique moral philosophies toward thievery and the downtrodden. The subplot with Dario and Eiko Hasigawa doesn’t quite inspire true excitement, but there is a certain charm to the unlikely pair doing their best to maintain order in Alleytown.
Right from the start, Eiko and Dario are given more to do than execute a routine heist for chips and toiletries at Selina’s behest. While the duo are still Selina’s outside contact, they now have more unique goals as Eiko tries to reintegrate herself into the Gotham Underworld while still posing as Catwoman on the side. Meanwhile, Dario struggles with his new role as “Tom-Cat” while he learns the ropes from Eiko herself. The dynamic is solid, although I do think some more humor could be derived from the unique pairing. Dario is still largely ill equipped to be a competent ally, but Eiko’s general attitude remains understanding despite an occasional moment of frustration. A certain softness has intruded upon what used to be more acidic scenes with the Gotham Underworld meetings. As Eiko returns to meet with her fellow crime bosses, only Black Mask offers a hint of anger and distrust of Eiko. However, there’s always a general goofiness accompanied with Black Mask’s bursts of outrage and indignation. While Selina has already humbled several members of the Gotham underworld, there was a chance of reigniting legitimate tension with Eiko’s return to the table. However, Howard settles for more of a one on one dynamic between Eiko and Black Mask, leaving the other members operating as flummoxed background pieces.
Sami Basri returns to art duties, delivering no nonsense page layouts, that while flirting with being too flat overall, maintain a level of consistency some artists struggle to achieve. Vicente Cifuentes’ inks imbue Basri’s pencils with a level of precision that gives the entire issue a polished aesthetic befitting the series. The figures pop off the page, especially when characters are rendered with a white outline against dark backdrops. Unfortunately, while Basri’s figure work leaps off the page, the background work is noticeably sterile and hard edged, denying some pages of the same richness offered to the characters themselves. Some environments are inviting, but usually only last for a panel or two as Basri liberally utilizes plain color backgrounds, which threatens to make characters feel like they are more or less inserted into environments, rather than truly living in them. Since every environment is so precisely clean and rendered, the lack of texture denies the book a lived in atmosphere.
Despite the occasionally antiseptic feel, Selina’s new mission to train her fellow inmates on how to steal works on multiple levels. Yes, they’re stealing snacks and various small items, but Selina taking on a mentor role is a nice bit of characterization. No matter her situation, Selina tends to take on the guise of a protector to better help herself and anyone around her she deems in need. While I was initially wary of the small stakes of it all, a letter from Bruce delivered via Duchess the cat, adds a layer of depth that was missing before. Instead of Valmont, Bruce now has taken over as Selina’s main focus on bettering herself and the book works because of it. The inherent history between the two lets the scene where Selina reads Bruce’s letter contain a scope that reaches beyond recent events and not merely retread Valmont’s death. Instead, Valmont’s death now serves as a plot point that gives Ventura Fremont an opportunity to lock up Punchline by pinning Amygdala’s and Valmont’s murder on her and helping Selina gain her freedom. I’m not fully bought into this subplot, but Valmont being used as a way to get at Punchline is a better usage of his fate than having Selina constantly blame herself for it. Additionally, Selina also reminiscences about her sister, Maggie, and her devout nature. Bruce and Maggie are far better emotional catalysts for Selina than Valmont ever was and the series is better off utilizing these characters.
As the issue nears its end, there’s a nice twist of sorts that contextualizes the entire cast in the prison. While there’s still a lack of fiery drama at hand, Howard’s endgame for this arc slowly forms here, giving Selina (and readers) a goal to look forward to, rather than just have her feel sorry for herself in solitary confinement.
- Less of a focus on Valmont is what you’ve wanted in the series lately.
- Dario and Eiko’s unorthodox partnership appeals to you.
- You don’t mind Selina’s self loathing still being peppered throughout the book.
Catwoman #52 is an improvement over last month’s issue as it manages to make Selina more proactive in her current predicament and give her a way to help those in need even behind bars. Eiko and Dario’s journey together isn’t quite as gripping, but the unlikely duo manages to get by due to the inherent charm in their teaming up. However, the biggest strength is Howard’s decision to reach beyond just Valmont to take a look into Selina’s current mental state. A change up in scenery would be better suited for now than later, but there’s still some time for Selina to grow in prison before her eventual escape.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.