Up until now, Batman has been He Who Must Not Be Named in Ram V and Fernando Blanco’s Catwoman run. He matters immensely to Selina Kyle, but this is her book. V inserted an offhand mention here or there, but refrained from anything more at risk of distracting from Selina’s story.
That changes in a big way in this issue, which marks a major transition for the series. It is the climax of Selina’s confrontation with Father Valley, the final issue before the Fear State crossover begins, and, Blanco’s last issue as the comic’s regular artist.
As promised on the cover, Batman finally makes it to Alleytown and his conversation with Selina, however brief, gets this issue off to a strong start.
Blanco, whose collaboration with colorist Jordie Bellaire is central to the book’s distinctive, neo-noir style, has a lot of fun showing the breadth of Batman’s surveillance technology in a marvelous double-paged spread. Helicopters fly over the fires raging in Alleytown as scenes from earlier in this arc — evidently connected by Batman to Father Valley’s master plan — hang overhead like billboards. The sequence comes together beautifully with letterer Tom Napolitano’s choice to pivot the captions on an angle, creating a 3-D effect unlike anything I can remember seeing in a superhero comic.
Batman helps unravel one piece of the puzzle, but the issue’s main drama still comes down to Selina and Father Valley, who makes things very personal. The long, drag-out fight with Valley builds to a fiery crescendo and, in a broader sense, is excellent storytelling. Blanco’s widescreen panels and jump-off-the-page sound effects enhance the drama. V’s narration ably captures Selina’s uncertainty a the fight proceeds.
The best part about the conflict is how V refracts these characters through their dialogue and combat styles. This year’s Catwoman annual — a brilliant look at Valley’s origin — established how, like Selina, he came to reject the foundational authority figures in his life. Both of them are loners, suspicious of attachment and accountable to no one but themselves.
But anyone even vaguely familiar with Selina’s comics history knows how much self-deception informs this idea of herself. She has always sought out allies and people to protect. When Valley dismissively calls her a “narcissist,” he is piercing at the part of her that is torn between the loner Selina in her mind and the Catwoman who needs people even as she constantly fears letting them down.
Superhero comics, as individual issues, do not tend to lend themselves to this level of introspection. But the superpower of any long-running franchise is time. V and other creators have had time to build Selina to this point, occupying a semi-guardian status in Alleytown, and that development is able to crest in this satisfying finale. Then, of course, Valley’s plan veers slightly off course at the end and Selina is left to pick up the pieces. That’s good craftsmanship and, if there’s been a constant to this Catwoman comic of late, it is the consistency of its craft: from V’s writing to Blanco and Bellaire’s art to Napolitano’s excellent lettering.
Blanco’s planned exit from the series will unsettle that delicate, creative balance, but this book has weathered other transitions before with grace — including when Blanco first took over art duties from Joelle Jones. Whatever problems Fear State poses for Selina, the one sure bet in comics is that Catwoman will return as strong as ever.
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