When the Batman/Catwoman Special was originally announced for July 2021 I was incredibly excited and it had everything to do with who was drawing it: John Paul Leon. His career marks some of the coolest and most impressive noir-style stories, like Batman: Creature of the Night, and there’s literally nobody like him. He tragically passed away on May 2nd. The book was put on hold, but it’s now available with 13 pages drawn by Leon and seven more rendered off his breakdowns. It makes this Special, which focuses on the DC Black Label rendition of Batman and Catwoman getting married, even more special.
The main story here written by Tom King is called “Interlude” and ties into the events of Batman/Catwoman. That series cuts back and forth between timelines and this special helps fill in some gaps. It opens with Selina Kyle as a child and follows her adventures living on the streets, getting thrown in juvenile detention, and Arkham as she slowly becomes the villain Catwoman. It is a well-constructed journey in understanding Catwoman and her connection to Bruce Wayne even at an early age.
The story doesn’t end there, as it follows her romance with Batman and then carries their relationship forward into their twilight years. It’s a moving story in part because it shows Catwoman’s entire life through key moments and memories. Even though it jumps ahead for big chunks, it still feels like it gets at who Selina is and makes a point about how she truly is good at heart. King is very good at characterizing Catwoman, be it through dialogue, or what her daughter says while preparing to fight crime. By the end of the book, she feels fully realized and the reader gets the sense we’ve witnessed a full life.
The story jumps in time without warning, with a page turn aging up Selina from an infant to a toddler, and then to the age of 6 or 7. That gives the overall feel of the story a dreamlike quality as if we’re dancing through an entire life of moments. That feel suits the Christmas special angle, harkening back to a Christmas Carol and how Christmas stories tend to reflect on a person’s life.
John Paul Leon’s art suits the opening of the story well. His art renders every bit of trash Selina was found in to make it feel more real. Leon conversely shows how overtly large the Wayne Home for Orphans is and how Selina’s life goes from being literal trash to being lonely and lost in a building too big for her. Rendered in a family portrait is Bruce, which has a chalky look as if literally rendered in pencil. This portrait of the Wayne family is somehow alive in its own way, as it is alive in Selina’s mind. His art is striking, sturdy in its confidence, and fantastic.
Bernard Chang and Shawn Crystal collab on the seven pages Leon originally broke down and they mimic his style well. You can still see Chang and Crystal’s style, but subtle choices like a chalky line are evident. Much of this portion focuses on the bad times of Selina’s life as she gets into fights in prison or walks on a wire many stories above the street drunk.
Closing out the main story is Mitch Gerads, which wraps up in 18 pages and this chunk focuses on Catwoman’s later years. She still suits up, but she has a daughter suiting up now too and Bruce is quite old and broken from his years being Batman. You can see style choices that mimic Leon here, as well, like the impressive city backgrounds or the solid framing.
Pulling the entire main story together is color artist Dave Stewart. There’s a muted tone to everything that gives it a lived-in and realistic feel. He colors the first 20 pages, with Gerads coloring his own work.
Also collected here are John Paul Leon’s page breakdowns, an unused cover sketch, a black and white story by Walter Simonson and John Paul Leon from the archives, a story by Ram V and John Paul Leon focused on the Question from the archives, and lots of pinups. These stories do well to show Leon’s incredible artistry at different points in his career. There are also essays by Kurt Busiek and Michael Davis about working with John Paul Leon that are intimate and good odes to the greatness of the artist.
Batman/Catwoman Special is a good special, with a main story that feels like it could be Tom King’s final thoughts on Selina Kyle. It also serves as a great ode to John Paul Leon. In fact, Busiek’s essay points out Leon asked to make Batman: Creature of the Night colder, harsher, and to isolate the young Bruce more, which coincidentally are similar words I’d use to describe this story. Catwoman’s journey here is cold, isolated, and harsh, which helps define who she is and why she turned to crime and theft. It’s also a story filled with positive relationships and a showing of her good heart. This is a touching special of lives lived well worth a read.
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