For DC fans right now, you almost cannot go wrong with a single comic set in Gotham. Anywhere you look — be it in Batman, Detective Comics, The Joker, Nightwing, or something else — is a book worth celebrating.
Then there is Catwoman, which sneakily might be the best of them all. After a terrific run by writer/artist Joelle Jones, the pairing of writer Ram V and artist Fernando Blanco has kept this book humming even as its cast remains far lower profile than the other Gotham books.
Batman is not a presence here, outside of a few scattered references. The Gotham drawn by Blanco and colored by Jordie Bellaire is not as fantastical as it is in James Tynion IV’s flagship Batman book.
Sure, a holographic assassin might show up every now and again, but Catwoman is set in parts of Gotham that actually feel like a real city. The characters that populate Blanco’s pages—the “Alleytown strays”—are people we only glimpse briefly, but can safely assume have lives that matter beyond the borders of the page.
And the storytelling is sublime, keeping Selina Kyle at the center while never skimping on the right amount of action scenes. V’s approach in this issue particularly works because it recognizes the ways that a comic page can distort time and skew a narrative perspective.
The issue is about “misdirection” and few mediums can play with that idea better than comics because of the primacy of space. There is a standard order to the panels on each page, but how quickly a reader goes through them—and how much time the writer builds into the space between panels—can manipulate our perspective.
The result is a story that can bounce through time and space with ease while mooring the reader in Selina’s thoughts. She’s a compassionate thief, but her game is misdirection. So while she toys with the characters in the story, she can also toy with the reader.
I am spending a lot of time on the way this book approaches form, but the content is just as exciting. Every action scene lights up the page thanks to letterer Tom Napolitano’s excellent sound effects* and Blanco’s creative use of perspective.
*(Ed. Note: We’ve since learned Blanco illustrated the sound effects as well. We regret the error.)
The first page opens on Selina hiding from several gunmen, whose bullets whiz past her face and toward the reader. As if the thrill of these widescreen shots was not persuasive enough, Blanco loves adding small inserts that amp up the drama by showing either Selina in evasive action or her pursuers’ weapons.
V tells each issue from Selina’s perspective, but like Batman, her voice tends to be practical or focused. Her compassion shines through in her actions, not in some vacuous, internal monologue. That strikes the right note for me, though sometimes I wish V would lay off the cat puns.
The other strong aspect of this comic is the world-building, which helps make the Gotham books feel interconnected. Since the end of Future State, Simon Saint has hovered like a shadow over Tynion’s Batman book and in Catwoman, V has slowly inched Saint to the forefront of the plot.
How the eventual creator of the Magistrate program factors into all of this is still unclear, but he is due for a clash with Selina soon. V only leaves Selina’s perspective twice in this issue and each time it is for a haunting interlude with one of his villains. The scene with Saint, which Bellaire submerges in a haunting, red glow, is especially foreboding, as is a visit with the inscrutable Father Valley.
This is a book that is doing a lot and could just as easily not work. Sometimes I wonder how it would be if V kept Selina even more isolated from the central events of the Gotham line, as she briefly was during the start of Jones’ run on the title.
What he ultimately achieves works well, though, because Selina can be the star of her own book and a participant in the wider world of Gotham, which might just be the most fascinating place in superhero comics not named Krakoa.
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