In CATWOMAN #32 (Ann Nocenti, Pat Oliffe & Tom Nguyen) we open in the middle of a desert somewhere in Asia. Because nothing to me says the character of Catwoman like a wacky-races style battle between supervillains on the complete opposite side of the earth. I use the word supervillains lightly here: when was the last time Big Wheel and Mirror Master were a credible threat to anyone?
I can’t claim to know what Ann Nocenti’s game is here since I’m only coming in on this series with this issue. By the time we actually do get plucked out of our setup and back to Gotham, which supposedly takes place ‘ten hours ago’ which makes me wonder if anyone bothered to research travel distance, to see her doing Catwoman stuff, I pick up that she’s apparently working for the Gotham City P.D. I wonder how Batman feels about that?
If I had to list a real honest to goodness positive that had to do with story, it’s that Ann Nocenti gives us a glimmer of some interesting characterization. At the very least, one single cast member in this issue is likable in her only appearance. The rest of the plot doesn’t really serve to fit a character like Catwoman. Having events that make sense for your character is an important thing in any form of storytelling, and while Roulette might be another supervillain, I just don’t think the circumstances here – that goofy race thing she deals with in the beginning- really serves her character at all.
There are two things I can say about this book that I enjoy: I like the way Pat Oliffe draws Selina Kyle, but only out of her costume. Outside of her costume she’s got this kind of 90’s inspired punk look about her that says less high-society and more the kind of person that would hang out in a New York dive bar. I kind of wish she had the character to match it, but it works a lot more for the ‘hip’ and let’s honestly start calling it ‘edgy’ New-52 Universe. Artists seem to have as many of their own takes on Catwoman as they do on Batman and it’s always to interesting (not necessarily good) to see how an artist is going to choose to represent her.
The second thing would be the coloring. All of the New 52 books that don’t have artists on them like Francis Manapul seem to have a very consistent style of coloring that heavily relies on a down to earth, varied palette and lots and lots of shadows. Tom Nguyen is at the very least very capable of handling this and making it look like every other New 52 comic that’s out right now (with special exceptions.) Ann Nocenti grasps at the very least that a character needs other characters to bounce off of and I really want to see her do some interesting things with the characters here.
There was a chance to see Catwoman rock maybe some Mad-Max inspired desert gear here, or maybe a more arid take on her black catsuit. Instead we get the desert adventures of a woman wearing black Lycra, southern Asia doesn’t seem like it’d be a very chilly place to be during the day. I was supposed to be caught up in the details of Catwoman’s race through the desert, instead all I could think about was how hot and miserable Selina Kyle must have been in that stupid catsuit in the middle of some giant desert.
To take a moment to talk about the differences between how men and women are handled in the mainstream comics industry, if this had been a Batman story he most certainly would have been decked out in some survival-gear inspired take on his costume, meant for a hotter and more arid climate. Batman’s a male character with a storied history though: Catwoman’s never been able to really stand on her own apart so she has to be identified by a skin tight black costume wherever she goes. I know Catwoman is 32 issues in deep in a series right now, and started as soon as the New 52 first launched, but is there a standout story anywhere in that collection of issues yet?
Likewise, does the art in this story tell us anything we don’t know about the character? Does it inform our view of the story and its characters? There’s probably one panel in it where we see Catwoman doing any actual burgling, the rest is dedicated to a Coroners room and ‘ten hours later’ the deserts of southern Asia. Catwoman is one of the books that most needs its own style – so the fact that it looks like anything else that came out of the New 52 is a very solid mark against the book. Catwoman is a character who’s costume could be used to create a very strong mark of style in how she’s represented. Instead she’s another catsuitted comic book character who has a much greater spotlight shining on how her body looks than what she can do.
Catwoman #32 doesn’t know what it wants to really do with the character. I get the feeling Ann Nocenti wants readers to be able to identify as well with Selina as they can with the rest of DC’s characters. That’s a tough mark to hit for a character that, while being well defined, is so tied up in the mythos of another character. Maybe taking Catwoman away from Gotham isn’t a bad idea, but it needs to be more permanent then some goofy race with mirror master.