By Molly Jane Kremer. While it’s more than a bit distasteful to begin by immediately critiquing a lady-character’s wardrobe rather than the content of her comic (Look! Catwoman has traded her sexy zip-up catsuit for a smartly-tailored business suit!), it is still a comic, and male or female, the costumes do so often make the character. And Catwoman, Gotham’s master thief, has been constantly illustrated with her signature catsuit unzipped nearly to her navel. It’s always been strangely… unsubtle (and, you might guess, unsafe?) for one in her profession. Considering how often her costume has been improbably depicted since its design, it’s utterly delightful that Selina is being drawn clothed in something that actually makes sense to wear within the story being told.
That story being, of course, that Ms. Selina Kyle has received a promotion of sorts, and is now the new heir to the Calabrese crime family, one of the most powerful in Gotham. Jeph Loeb toyed with a version of this concept in Batman: Long Halloween and Catwoman: When In Rome, but never to this extent. She was kept at (more than) an arms’ length from having any actual power, and her mob-relations never really had much affect on her life or choice of profession. Now however, in this all new direction! stemming from the pages of Batman Eternal, Selina is large and in charge of organized crime in Gotham, and thanks to a stellar creative team, does she ever wear the crown well.
The issue’s title, Comfort To The Hurt Of The King, is excerpted from a quote by Queen Elizabeth I. The new writer, Genevieve Valentine, has come to sequentials by way of prose, and is an accomplished novelist in her own right. She uses the quote to open the issue (way to class up the joint, Valentine!) and sets a tone for the comic, of the violent struggles and machinations that go into holding on to a seat of power.
From the start, the comic ups the drama quotient: we have grittier, non-house-style artwork courtesy of the great Garry Brown (hailing from Marvel’s Iron Patriot and Dark Horse’s uber-bingeable series The Massive) and amazing colors by Lee Loughridge (who sports a flawless resume even bigger than Gotham’s crime problem). Brown’s mastery of atmosphere is more than evident in sidelong glances, faces half-wreathed in darkness, and simultaneously glaring and grimy cityscapes.
A great sense of noir is on display here, and the many long shots of various rooms are always shadowed where there’s sun streaming through the floor-length, many-paned windows. Throughout, Loughridge’s muted sepia-toned colors are evocative of the seedy New Yawk of the late 70’s and 80’s: he’s worked on both Gotham Central and on the previous volume of Catwoman, and shows he still has a grasp on the scummy side of the Bat’s City.
Like both Batgirl (which recently underwent a similar creative revamp) and the new Gotham Academy, this looks to be a book that, while set in Gotham, is going to keep itself (mostly) independent of the city’s most steadfast and famous night watchman. Batman does pop in (and some of his appearance is on admittedly one of the most gorgeous pages in the issue), but seemingly only for Selina to give him the brush. And he does feel irrelevant to this story; it’s Selina’s, and she has everything well in hand.
Accompanied in turn by her distrustful consigliere Ward and her cousins Antonia and Nick, she runs “the family business” as though born to it. She negotiates pier access (necessary for gun-running, of course) with Gotham’s Yakuza family, and attends a museum gala (“what a novelty to walk into one of these through the front door”), savvily mingling with Gotham’s elite, as she can now be counted as one of them. She knows what she’s doing, and even excels at it – we’ve come a long way, baby, from the days of Guillem March drawing her humping Batman on the floor in issue #1.
This is the least sexualized – and most powerful – this character has been since 2011, maybe even since Brubaker, Cooke and Stewart refined and redefined her as an anti-hero for a modern audience. You can see, at times, Brown paying a little homage visually to both Adam Hughes’ iconic “Audrey Hepburn as Catwoman” look, and to Anne Hathaway’s portrayal in The Dark Knight Rises. But still, she’s mostly a Selina we haven’t seen before at all – with queenly allusions, city-spanning ambitions, and the wherewithal to achieve them.
Catwoman #35, with its fantastic ear for dialog, has the cinematic feel of a great TV crime-drama, and a tone one would typically expect from Vertigo and Image’s finer offerings. It has the accessibility all first-issues should aspire to, and gives a solid foundation of what this book is and where it intends to go. While the other aforementioned new-to-the-block Bat-books have a decided (and purposeful) teen appeal, this is a book for adults, full of intricate complexities, featuring that ever-sought “strong female protagonist”. Valentine seems determined to give Selina’s story the gravitas and sophistication it deserves, and pantsuit or not, Catwoman is now serious business.
Written by Genevieve Valentine.
Art by Garry Brown.
Colors by Lee Loughridge.
9 out of 10