Some of my favorite Batman stories are ones where he barely appears. For a character that popular, whose shadow is as long in popular culture as anyone, sometimes all a story needs is the hint of his presence.
In this issue of Catwoman, writer Ram V gives Selina Kyle the same treatment. Across varying vignettes, Selina’s pursuers — Gotham City police and the mysterious assassin Father Valley — are treated to stories of her past.
The stories are not only lessons on Selina’s chameleonic character — kind and resourceful, unforgiving and selfish — but chances for guest artist Evan Cagle to show off his own diverse skillset.
The first page was not Cagle’s best showcase. Valley is interrogating one of Selina’s former associates, but the bland, monochromatic backgrounds and lack of detail were not encouraging.
But if you have seen one of Cagle’s covers or glanced at his innovative webcomic, Dark Tropic, you would know this page is hardly representative of the detail in his work. Throughout the issue, Cagle draws sprawling vistas as varied as the Gotham underground and coastal Sicily. Like a basketball player who heats up most in the second half, Cagle saves some of his best moments for smaller panels.
I especially love a close-up shot late in the issue of Selina as her eyes peer through a masquerade ball mask. That moment presages a brutal final page, the kind arriving at such a precise, emotional note that is far too rare to spoil.
For a comic whose plot has advanced quickly since the end of Future State, this issue is a necessary come-down. V hints at the Magistrate program, which has become a more important force in the Batman books, but mostly lets his characters tell tall tales about Selina.
The cumulative impact of their tales — some positive, others quite negative — gives Selina the the aura of a larger-than-life legend. I was reminded of Marauders #20, which featured a similar structure built around stories about Storm. That story functioned as a tribute. This one is more of a warning: mess with Selina at your own peril.
V’s choice of perspectives is instructive here. The people reflecting on Selina are not her best friends or teammates, but people she’s either saved, worked briefly with, or abandoned. Each has their own perspective, but none of them knows Selina well enough to view her as anything but a force of nature.
Catwoman often keeps its focus tight on Selina. V leans on her narration to move the story forward. This issue rewards the ones that came before by showing Selina’s impact in other, more indirect ways. Her absence is what animates this issue and, even when she appears, it is filtered through other people’s eyes.
The title, “Everything You Know About Selina Kyle,” is strangely appropriate. Ask a bunch of people about someone and see what they say. You’ll often hear garbled, contradictory things. No one is a monolith, least of all an antihero like Selina.
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