Catwoman #53 doesn’t boldly take the series in a new direction, but Tini Howard’s focus on characterization mostly distracts the reader from a narrative treading water. The prison setting isn’t wholly befitting an extended visit from Selina Kyle who’s better suited to sleuth about museums, high roller clubs, or any environment full of riches. However, Selina’s goal to not only break free from prison, but also uplift the women around her is a great premise.
Eiko and Dario take a more prominent role this time around, with the duo’s actions more directly impacting Selina. The opening features a nicely rendered underground fight club where Nico Leon gets an opportunity to shine with an action sequence. The very first page is a stunner with Leon’s compositions slightly skewed which adds weight to the smaller fighter’s flying knee attack. Additionally, Veronica Gandini’s colors are perfect with soft shaded smoke mixed in with the brown and reds of the brick walls. It’s a nice change of pace from the slick neon purple and blues that have dominated many scenes set in the Gotham Underworld, and the new aesthetic breathes new life into Leon’s pencils. Lucas Gattoni’s letters are also noticeably engaging, with a large dialogue bubble capturing the loud chants from the crowd without muddying up panels with multiple sources of dialogue. Eiko and the returning Onyx’s subsequent arrival then sends the sequence into a standard, yet well executed fight sequence, where the duo team up. Leon’s figure work is strong in this moment, particularly as Eiko often uses Onyx herself as a surface to leap from lending to the former’s agility and the latter’s strength.
Howard quickly gets back to Selina in prison where she is awakened by construction workers sealing off the vents Duchess was using to get inside. It’s a nice wrinkle to add, severing Selina’s contact to the outside world. Perhaps too quickly, Selina reveals she has already stolen a secret “cheating phone” from one of the workers, full of texts from women that aren’t his wife. It’s a funny way to get Selina a phone, while still maintaining Howard’s overarching theme of punishing men who mistreat women. Selina calls Dario, accompanied by a funny visual gag as he is in the middle of playing a video game on his phone with a connected controller. The subsequent conversation is a little contrived as Eiko joins the convo and gets testy with Selina when she orders Eiko to focus on defending Alleytown. The tension feels manufactured, rather than earned, particularly since Selina’s reasoning for them to go to Alleytown is a nebulous “get out of town while I figure out where to go next.” Thankfully Howard doesn’t linger on this friction for long.
The real heart of the issue once again lies with Selina’s mentorship of her fellow inmates, some of whom happen to be super villains. There is a slight hesitation to completely endear yourself to these potentially dangerous characters, but Howard’s script does a decent job of humanizing the group. For example, minor villain Fright has the ability to exhale a non-lethal nerve toxin, but she allows her fear of the guards to make her forget how to use her powers. There is a strong attempt to frame the regaining of their powers as a positive, as they merely use their gift to steal a phone charger and temporarily knock out a prison dentist. By the end of the issue, Selina pitches her idea of turning these villains into non-violent thieves who donate a chunk of their earnings to charity. It’s perhaps too tidy of an idea, and certainly contains an unearned optimism toward these former villains, but it’s smart to address the fact that Selina is empowering dangerous people.
Unfortunately, the modicum of narrative progression Howard delivers in the form of Selina bluntly stating her desire to escape prison is soon swiped away. Eiko and Dario end up fighting Punchline’s Queen of Hearts and her “Crazy Eights” minions. Leon once again utilizes many slanted panels and canted angles to heighten Eiko’s agility as well as Dario’s improved fighting ability as he tackles his opponents. Gandini’s colors are also striking, particularly the liberal use of pure white backgrounds that let Leon’s figures pop off the page. What’s less engaging is how the issue wraps up, but overall the issue is a solid bridge toward Selina’s eventual escape from prison.
- You don’t mind some minor redemption for would be super villains.
- More focus on Eiko and Dario’s adventures doesn’t turn you away.
- The lack of Valmont and romantic melodrama brings you back to the series.
While it suffers from a languid narrative, Catwoman #53 offers high quality art and an endearing set of side characters. Selina is finally proactive in her own escape plans and her growing army of former villains are given a way forward without resorting to their evil ways. Thematically, Tini Howard’s scripts are strong, but locking up your main character for a full arc is a risky endeavor. It remains to be seen if Selina will be imprisoned for an entire arc, but Howard has created a solid foundation for a prison escape that should come sooner rather than later.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.