A two-month break could have stunted the momentum of even the most-seasoned creators, but V and Blanco don’t miss a beat in this thrilling issue, which catches readers up with Selina Kyle’s role in Gotham’s Alleytown while seeding more details about the origin of the Magistrate — the mercenary group readers know from Future State.
Even as a rare comic containing one story amid DC’s recent deluge of anthology or oversized titles, Catwoman #29 packs in a lot of plot threads. There’s a grisly murder scene to open the issue, a killer with ties to Magistrate progenitor Simon Saint, a mysterious experiment involving Poison Ivy, and the return of Father Valley, an Anton Chigurh-like assassin with a flair for quoting the Bible.
That’s a lot of story to get through, but V never lets the pace feel too rushed. More than a few panels are silent, giving space for Blanco and colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire to strut their stuff. Bellaire’s ambidextrous coloring style was one of the highlights of Future State and she is perfectly paired here with Blanco, whose noir-ish style has shades of David Mazzucchelli’s urban realism and Jim Steranko’s pop art.
Bellaire particularly stuns with her approach to that blood-soaked murder scene. Nearly everything in the room is covered in red, except for the assassin, whose yellow, checkered tones stand out amid the carnage. In a double-page spread later in the issue, the assassin reveals itself to be incorporeal by literally fading in and out of focus. Bellaire overlays the vanishing figure with purple and green stripes, giving it the appearance of, as Selina puts it, “a cheap hologram.”
When the comic slows down, as in an early scene reintroducing Selina, resplendent in a rooftop pool, Bellaire bathes the scene with light, but smartly has Selina and Detective Dean Hadley, her erstwhile ally, both wearing black. Even when the Sun is out, danger always lurks around the corner for these characters.
Just because Bellaire’s skill is a known quantity at this point does not make her work any less enjoyable. The same goes for V, who has done phenomenal work for nearly every major comics publisher but recently has become something of DC’s Swiss Army Knife. He can credibly switch between Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, and Catwoman — all very different books with very different styles — without falling into the repetitive patterns or tropes that plague other prolific writers.
If Future State reminded us of anything, it was how spot-on V captures Selina’s voice. (AIPT’s Keigen Rea rightly called it “exactly what I want.”) He maintains that excellent balance here between her external confidence — a one-liner where she calls the Riddler “insufferable” is a delight — and internal doubts. I especially like the oblique references to Batman, who need not occupy a large presence in the book, but has to be accounted for in some way. “I promise myself I won’t get involved, then something out of the corner of my eye catches my attention,” she thinks at one point. “I wasn’t always like this. Maybe I got it from him.”
If this otherwise splendid issue gave me any cause for concern, it’s in one, minor detail. Across the Batman books, DC has begun laying track for the creation of the Magistrate by having Saint, a suspicious inventor-type, exit the shadows with plans for his mercenary soldiers. We’ve already seen him pitch the Magistrate program to Gotham’s mayor in Batman #106 and it is suggested in this issue that he is involved in some way with the holographic assassin who clashes with Selina. Continuity between books is great and the stunning amount of talent in the Bat-office makes me optimistic that they can pull off this long-gestating story with aplomb. But if there was one drawback to the Future State Gotham stories, it was the repetitiveness of the Magistrate as a villain. One can only watch Gotham’s heroes punch a cyborg so many times.
Certainly the concept of a fascist mercenary group is interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how Gotham’s different power centers play a role in bringing the group into existence. But as actual villains, the Magistrate’s Peacekeepers were fairly dull. Whatever role Catwoman plays in this story should be a useful one, given V’s focus on the varying sources of corruption in Gotham and Selina’s ability — as an antihero with ties to Gotham’s villains and heroes — to navigate the city’s underworld.
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