The fun thing about superheroes is they work so damn well with alternate takes, as in Cliff Chiang’s Catwoman: Lonely City. The series has explored an older and maybe even a little wiser Catwoman who lives in a Gotham without Batman. It’s a scary world, but in the final chapter out today, Catwoman: Lonely City #4 wraps things up while exploring whether Selina can free Gotham from its fascist state.
If you were at all wondering if we’d find out how Batman died, fear not, as the opening scene takes place ten years ago when Joker killed Batman. As the preview shows, Joker is on the roof of the GCPD, has TNT strapped to his stomach, and Jim Gordon is a button press away from dying. It’s a challenging situation made even more challenging with Joker goons running rampant. Cut to Catwoman and Poison Ivy getting choked by Etrigan the Demon; things look as bad as they were ten years ago.
Something this series gets right is nuance, be it how Catwoman speaks to Etrigan or how Zatanna responds to a magic door opening. There’s a lot of history under the surface, making for a rich reading experience. Instead of telling us, we get to see it in a bit of dialogue, character acting, or a well-timed cut to something else. It’s a comic that rewards the reader who pays attention and knows these characters’ history.
This adventure is about Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Etrigan, who must enter the locked-down Batcave. After some looking around and feeling sullen about it all, the Batcops that Two-Face commands arrive. Big action ensues, and Chiang doesn’t hold back, between Poison Ivy bringing out the big guns and Etrigan eating the neck meat of an unfortunate Batcop. Chiang plays with the space, the powers, and all the action in between.
Framing by Chiang is also excellent, like in one scene where a Batcop tries to quit but is taken down by Two-Face. Not seeing the man’s face makes the scene darker and more awful. It’s as if Chiang is saying Two-Face does not see they are a person. The layouts are incredible, keeping the pace at the right speed, either slowing down or speeding up. A comic like this is a great example of how comics can do much more than film, making the visuals do more work than a couple of cameras and editing software.
The extra-large format is also doing a lot of work in this issue. Chiang plays with spacing and size that a conventional comic can’t pull off. Chiang is also a great letterer with captions that read like they’ve been cut from a notebook, Etrigan has his special word balloons, and the sound effects are clearly drawn in rather than overlaid later. Big props to a very small “splish” that does some great work in a tiny panel.
If you’re looking for a deeper meaning, this issue (and the whole series) is about letting go. Letting go of the past or those you have lost. It’s most evident in a scene with Bruce and Alfred, which reveals the butler was close to death but brought back. His return was good at first, but not after a while. Letting go of the past is somewhat of an ironic point made in a serial story about legacy characters that will never die. It’s an excellent example of how DC Black Label allows creators to say new things.
Catwoman: Lonely City #4 is a well-crafted concluding chapter filled with satisfying endings and goodbyes. At its core is a message that we must eventually let go of those we have lost to live a full life another day.
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