DC Comics has been the best publisher at reimagining longstanding comics characters for young adults and, in fact, Catwoman has been given a remix more than once. Back in 2019, Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale was a great example of how creators can take well established characters, revisit them in new ways and add new connections yet to be tried and make it work. Out this week is a new kind of remix as Sarah J. Maas’ Soulstealer novel has been given the comic book adaptation thanks to Louis Simonson and Samantha Dodge. It’s a comics story that’s noir, complex, and well worth reading.
The book opens with Catwoman in her teens and barely getting by as she tries to make enough money to get her sick sister the healthcare she needs. She makes cash by fighting in the ring against goons put up by famous gangster Carmine Falcone. She’s got an edge, is smart, and knows how to fight. Soon though, a woman by the name of Talia has got her within her grasp and whisks her off to another country for some training and to join the League of Shadows. Longtime DC Comics fans can already see how Maas and Simonson have already remixed Catwoman in a new and interesting way in just the first few pages.
It’s clear Simonson leaned a bit into using captions so as to not lose the narrative structure of the prose novel. Captions are used quite a bit to get inside the character’s heads, which ends up giving the story a detective noir feel. We’re literally reading their thoughts from worry to fear and doubt on nearly every page. It ends up giving the book a diary feel that will likely resonate with the intended young adult audience.
As the story goes on, we learn about Luke Fox, a.k.a. Batwing, and how he’s gotten involved with Batman. He’s an expat who is dealing with PTSD and yet keeps that hidden away so as to not let his boss Batman, or criminals for that matter, take advantage. Quickly you’ll learn this book is as much about Batwing as it is about Catwoman, and, ultimately, it’s about the bond they build throughout this book. Can Batwing and Catwoman learn to trust one another? They come from different worlds and while they both know they want to do the right thing they do things differently.
Their relationship creates an interesting dynamic that works in fight scenes and also romantically between them. This book is certainly accessible to young adults and never goes too far with sex or violence, but it’s easily an entertaining read for adults too. The relationship between these characters is what drives your interest and has you rooting for both of them to find their way even though they’re both so young with the world on their shoulders.
Fans of these characters will enjoy subtle nods to continuity and interesting twists on these characters and more. Other characters like Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn make appearances too. It’s clever to see how Maas clearly did her research and then applied what was done before so as to make something new, but also something that’s easy to respect if you know the backstories.
The art is also very good in a gritty and street-level drama sort of way. Rendered nearly entirely in black and white, the noir feel is felt via the colors. The brightest thing in the book, save for the sound effects, is Batwing’s bat-emblem on his chest. His suit is a subtle blue while Catwoman’s is a subtle purple. The art never gets too splashy and instead focuses on story progression and pacing. Dodge’s art suits that style as she’s good at closing in on a character’s emotions or playing to the quiet of a moment. This is a highly dramatic story about characters feeling many emotions and you get that through the art.
Running just over 200-pages, Catwoman: Soulstealer (The Graphic Novel) is a testament to the strength of DC Comics characters. The narratives of characters like Catwoman, Batwing, and Joker stand the test of being remixed, revisited, and changed yet still maintain their heart and identity. Add to that the noir detective story at work here, and the raw emotion of its characters, and you have a graphic novel well worth reading.
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