While not exactly a slow burn, Catwoman is a comic that has generally proceeded at a more measured pace than other superhero books. Writer Ram V and artist Fernando Blanco have surrounded Selina Kyle with mysterious threats — none more intriguing than the assassin Father Valley — and built them up slowly.
If there’s one drawback to this style, it is in how many Catwoman issues feel like middle chapters instead of standalone issues. But with Valley assuming a more prominent place in recent issues, including last month’s breathtaking annual, it was only a matter of time before V cranked things up a notch.
That escalation starts immediately in this issue, which deals with the fallout from Valley’s decision to torch an unoccupied church in Alleytown. The resulting blaze engulfs the area, sparking protests and a heavy-handed response from the Gotham City police (now flanked by agents of the Magistrate).
Blanco handles this scene perfectly, showing the fire’s expansion in a central panel flanked by talking heads from Gotham’s news stations. The design is reminiscent of a structure Frank Miller used in The Dark Knight Returns that treated TV news chatter as a kind of Greek chorus for the comic. What I like about it here is how it reinforces the realism of V and Blanco’s Alleytown. Like Daredevil in relation to the Avengers, Catwoman lives in Batman’s Gotham while managing to avoid the souped-up theatrics of his solo title.
While Selina has kept to the ground, she has followed Batman’s lead in other ways, particularly in how she’s molded a group of Alleytown “strays” to be a kind of second Bat-Family. These kids are one of the more memorable parts of V’s run and, as we saw in Future State, are expected to become more active allies to Selina. We see hints of that in this issue when Selina discovers the stray kids’ new base of operations, but her reaction is not exactly pride or joy. “Teaching them to look out for themselves is one thing, but I will not send them out to fight my battles,” she says.
And fight her own battles, she does. Selina finally squares up with Valley and the eight-page sequence is an exciting showcase for Blanco, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Tom Napolitano, who does a terrific job rendering Selina’s dialogue as she sinks underwater following the fight. Her words balloon in size, as if viewed through a magnifying glass, accentuating the distorting effect of the ocean.
Blanco portrays Valley as some kind of primordial demon sent straight from hell, backed by flames. Knowing he only has one issue left before leaving the comic makes these moments even more bittersweet. Blanco’s unmistakable style has been one of the defining characteristics of this comic since he and V took it over.
At least Blanco is getting quite a story to go out on. Selina, finally embracing her leadership role in Alleytown and willing to accept allies, has never needed them more. Valley, the Magistrate, and a host of other enemies await.
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