Review: CATWOMAN #39

catwoman-39

CATWOMAN #39
Written by Genevieve Valentine
Art by Garry Brown & Lee Loughridge
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: February 25, 2015

Things are heating up for Selina Kyle in Catwoman #39. Now that the tables have turned in Black Mask’s favor, it’s all she can do to keep the Calabrese clan afloat while the chess pieces continue to move against her.

It’s no secret that I’m into gangster stories. When I read Catwoman, though, I feel like I’m reading the best mafia story that isn’t on TV right now — though it easily could be. I think what makes it feel like a TV show is its complexity. There are a number of different threads running through the issue, whether it’s Black Mask’s new schemes, Mason’s mysterious game, the loyalties of newest Catwoman Eiko Hasegawa, or the dynamics within Selina’s own group.

That each issue is heavy with plotlines is a double-edged sword. I think the series will read very well as a trade, though it’s a little tougher to engage with on a monthly basis. I’ve taken to always reading last month’s issue before I crack open the current one because I know there’s a lot going on and it’s easy to miss things. You might not remember who certain characters are or who knows what when.

On the other hand, it replicates the stress that Selina is trying to manage — which is what I think makes the entire experience worth it. You, the reader, are forced to stay on your toes and keep up with all the moving pieces, mirroring the our protagonist’s own juggling act as a relatively new crime boss. Yes, there’s the risk of losing your audience, but I think Valentine has made the right gamble here, given the dimension it adds to the narrative itself.

I think the only thing that was really missing for me this go round was a bit of a personal element. Because there was a lot to engage with in terms of plot, things ran a little light in terms of what’s happening with Selina herself. We have a new and interesting development involving her relationship with Eiko (one I am very interested in and excited about in at least one regard), but beyond that, it’s not as deeply involved with Selina as we’ve been in past issue. It’s less engaging upon re-read because there’s a little less heart in this installment.

Of course, I think that’s also the nature of this story and why, again, it’s going to be killer as a trade. Sometimes you have to pull back a little on the personal when there are big things happening with the families — but given how well-written and structured Catwoman has been thus far, it’s worth pointing out this comparative weakness.

I think the artistic talent on this book is hitting just the right note for the content.. There’s a very hard aesthetic that gives you the emotional landscape of the material before you even read the words. Brown shows great control of shadow, silhouette, and dark space that works well and fits the narrative without being oppressive. The style is just a little bit sketchy, which is great, because all these crime families are more than a little bit sketchy.

I especially like the character design for Black Mask. There are a lot of different ways to take his character, given Roman Sionis’ varied origin story and how committed the artist is his mask really being a mask. In Garry Brown’s take, the mask-ness of it is ambiguous and therefore much more sinister — which works, when he’s the primary Bad for the time being.

Still, I think that it’s the colors that are working the most for me in this issue. I think it’s key, in dark/noir books, to bring in other visual elements. It’s easy to make a dark book dark. It’s much more of a challenge — and much more interesting for a reader — if you make a dark book colorful. Think what you may about the current Batman book, FCO Plascencia is killing it by breaking those conventions and Lee Loughridge is doing a slightly similar thing with Catwoman.

I love seeing panels with vibrant oranges, purples, and blues in a mafia book. There’s something to be said about realism, certainly, but there’s also something in trusting the reader just a little. You can go bright and lurid because we know that we’re looking at an artistic representation rather than a photograph. It’s thinking just as much about what looks good as what looks real. It’s something that comics can do that most other media can’t.

However, given that sort of experimentation with color, I do think the book could be pushed further in terms of structure. I’m digging the style, but now I want to see more risks taken with paneling, sound effects, and dialogue placement. This is a genre with a lot of tradition and tropes, but just like Selina has shown up to change the game, I’d like to see the same thing happen on the art.

Catwoman #39 is yet another solid installment in a very solid book by this creative team. Selina is an amazing crime boss and, if I’m perfectly honest—I think I like her better this way than as costumed (anti-)hero. She’s more grounded and feels like she owns herself on this run, even given how things seem to constantly spinning out of her control. This issue and this new run has a lot to offer Catwoman fans, crime genre fans, and especially gangster story fiends like myself.

Verdict: 8.0/10

 

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9 Comments

  1. Steven said:

    There’s no denying these are good stories, but we’re several issues and an annual in and I’m still having a hard time with this drastic transition of character. Selina Kyle was a young woman who survived on the streets by using her allure, tenacity, and wits, becoming Catwoman, the greatest cat burglar alive. I would like to see Selina using her talents and skills as head of the mob family, drawing upon her many contacts she’s developed over the years. It was never shown that Catwoman ever worked or knew the inner workings of the mob, rather, she kept to herself and as under the radar as possible. Why not use those she knows to fall back on. Selina’s only weakness? Her thrill of adventure which has gotten her into trouble more than once in this series. If the current writer can tie-in past continuity a little more with the current story focus, I’ll be a happy Catwoman fan.

  2. J. A. Micheline said:

    I take your point, definitely, that this is a Selina who is pretty drastically different from past portrayals, with the connection to her old style almost entirely abandoned. I felt that the team handled her resistance to use old contacts and old methods well, though. It was part of the whole narrative of her fully committing to being this new version of herself and fully committing to the Calabreses. While I do agree that the transition was kind of rocky (I didn’t really start to enjoy the book until about 3 issues in), in general, I think I’m okay with her mostly leaving the past behind and trying something totally different because it was justified within the actual story. She did say that she was going to try be something else. Plus, we’re yet to see if she’s really able to do that given the kind of trouble she’s found herself in lately. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did exactly as you said in the next issue and fell back into her old contacts and into her old ways.

  3. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    To be perfectly honest, I had long ago abandoned this title until Genevieve took over, so the transition would have been pointless for me. I’m just so thrilled to see Selina handled in a new way that has respect for her intelligence above all else, that how we got here is not anything that even worries me. (although a lot of that was covered in Batman Eternal)

  4. A M B said:

    As soon as it was announced that Selina had a crime boss father it was clear that no one was interested in telling the story of her rise to power. It was a horrible decision for the character and was surprised there wasn’t more immediate outcry over it.

    I don’t really like gangster stories. I appreciate that Valentine gets that the role of Kingpin cuts Selina off from her freedom and irreverence and therefore makes her miserable, but it hash’t made anything I want to read.

  5. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    But I think this isn’t a story about rise to power at all. It’s a story about keeping power and the cost involved in that. Very much like the Godfather films. And that’s REALLY interesting to me.

  6. A M B said:

    I get that it’s interesting to you. But it cuts off most of the aspects of Catwoman’s character that appeal to me. The adventurousness, the independence the low bull tolerance are all gone.

    I feel like this story was created by thinking “Catwoman is known for her criminal activities and her most celebrated run was a noir tale, therefor let’s make her a crime boss!” And well, it doesn’t work for me.

    As I said I hated the set up from when it was announced. I hated that it came from Scott Snyder, a writer who never gave Selina a speaking role in over two years of writing Batman and when he did had her declare “Catwoman is dead.” (For a Point of reference Tony Daniel, Gail Simone, Peter Tomasi, John Layman, Greg Hurwitz and Geoff Johns all wrote Selina with a speaking role out site of her book during this time). It felt like a writer, who had no interest in writing her, putting her in a position in which, maybe he’d be interested in writing her. A kind of depressing take on the BatCat relationship through a writer.

    The remove to Kingpin hasn’t created a more consistently written character. Any complaints about her being “unintelligent” before could be applied to how she’s written in Batman Eternal.

    Valentine and Brown’s Catwoman is a weird place. Spun off from a plot in Batman Eternal it can’t claim the “more creative freedom” trumpet that heralded Batgirl and Gotham Academy, but it also doesn’t look like it takes place in the Gotham of the titles in the Bat-line. (It looks and feels like it takes place decades ago, which I fail to see as a good thing.) It missed the boat in how “bright” stories are attracting readers these days. It doesn’t make me wish that DC didn’t do the mob boss direction.

  7. wowlock said:

    I am kinda worried about Selina’s relationship with the new Catwoman. As you mentioned before, I kinda hope this isn’t another ”BRING IN THE SPOTLIGHT AFTER BATWOMAN FIASCO ” move , because that would be an insult to her.

    Also, I want Bat/Cat back dammit 😀

  8. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    I sincerely doubt one has anything to do with the other. We certainly could stand to have two leading ladies of LGBT background. Maybe even more!

  9. wowlock said:

    I am all about it but certain characters like Selina , after 4 issues in on her new direction to change this drastically, doesn’t give me the narrative hope for it. I mean it is more fitting for Wonder Woman since she is Amazon but Selina ? Sure she likes to be flirty but I don’t think I saw her having ‘that’ kind of interest in any other woman. I mean she shacked up with Poison Ivy and Harley for god’s sake, if anything , that would’ve showed there 😀 Oh well , we will see. You might imagine that I am not a big fan of this ‘Mafia Selina’ turn ever since the preview of Batman Eternal.

    And as I said, I am an old Bat/Cat fan at heart… Earth 2 was a little piece of fullfilment until the tragedies happened. Kinda sad that not many relations I used to follow still goes on today. Maybe I am too old-school for the new directions anymore or I need certain stability that is hard to find in comics these days 🙁

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