by The Masked Bookwyrm


For other Catwoman appearances, see:
The Batman section (specifically Contagion, Gotham Noir, Hush, The Last Angel, The Long Halloween, Prey, Terror, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Year One, The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told...and others)

For a list of other graphic novel reviews, click here

Catwoman published by DC Comics

Catwoman Defiant - cover by Brian StelfreezeCatwoman Defiant 1992 (SC GN) 48 pgs.
a.k.a. Batman: Catwoman Defiant

Written by Peter Milligan. Pencils by Tom Grindberg. Inks by Dick Giordano.
Colours: Steve Oliff. Letters; John Constanza. Editor: Denny O'Neil.

Number of readings: 1

Rating: * * * * (out of five)

One of a number of prestige format one-shots DC Comics releases to cash in on various Batman motion pictures by spotlighting the villains who had appeared in the movie (this was released atthe time of the movie "Batman Returns" and simultaneously with the unconnected graphic novel Penguin Triumphant).

Catwoman Defiant has Batman's sometimes foe, sometimes friend, Catwoman being pursued by hoods working for a demented Gotham gangster named Mr. Handsome. Handsome likes to collect beautiful things...then destroy them. Batman persuades Catwoman to help him stage a trap, but things go awry and Catwoman is captured for real.

Catwoman Defiant is a nice, well-paced little action-thriller. Batman is featured as less than a co-star, but in more than a cameo, making this principally a Catwoman story.

Milligan scripts well, mixing humour, mood, action, and even some deeper emotion. He even throws in a couple of unexpected turns that manage to keep the story energized, including a twist ending. Plot elements which I won't comment on here. After all, I enjoyed the story partly because I didn't expect them.

The Grindberg and Giordano art team is pretty effective. Grindberg started out as something of a Neal Adams imitator, and by this point Giordano was starting to employ a heavier brush style echoing Klaus Janson a little, meaning that you could almost -- but only almost -- imagine the art being "what if Adams had been inked by Janson". Grindberg's style is a little loose anatomically in spots, but is overall effective. The chief weakness is that Handsome and his gang wear realistic masks -- so realistic, in fact, that I didn't realize they were supposed to be masks until long into the story (I just attributed the characters' stiff expressions to a weakness with Grindberg's art).

Steve Oliff's colours add enormously to the mood. Heavy on the greys and browns, they lend an eerie ambience to the thing, both complementing the darker scenes, but also providing a nice counterpoint to the lighter banter as well.

Though this isn't a "mature readers" comic, there's definitely a salacious, kinky undercurrent, with Catwoman drawn in various coquettish poses, and the whole premise being one emphasizing her as a beautiful object, and a lady-in-peril.

However there's a scene where Catwoman suggests to Batman that he could beat some information out of a thug (Alfred later echoes the sentiment). Batman doesn't object to the concept, merely its practicality in this particular instance. Later, he employs a kind of psychological torture to elicit some information.

Funny word, isn't that? "Torture". But it raises an interesting point, not just with this story, but a lot of super hero comics, Batman inparticular.

Often Batman acquires information through intimidation, either through threats of violence, or through actual violence. Significantly, in those stories the word "torture" is never used -- but that's what it is. The use of pain to break the will of another. To be up front about their philosophy, maybe Batman writers should have Batman refer to studying the techniques of Nazi scientist Joseph Mengele for tips.

Put that way, it doesn't sound quite so fun, so hip, so heroic, does it? But that's basically what (some) comics, not to mention many movies and novels, do. They portray "heroes" employing techniques that are generally forbidden under most human rights laws -- the very techniques that, when a villain employs them in a story, are meant to show just how sleazy and reprehensible a character he is. Every time a hero "beats up" a bad guy in a story for information, the writer is saying, "Hey, y'know, maybe the Nazis weren't so bad after all." And many are the writers, well regarded and considered (or who consider themselves) thoughtful intellectuals, who do this, from Denny O'Neil to Alan Moore.

What's worse is that this morally questionable practice is used by writers simply because they are lazy. Really. I mean, Batman is supposed to be "the world's greatest detective", but in recent years, how often does he actually detect? How often does he study clues, analyse soil samples, and draw conclusions? Not often (at least in the stories I've read). It's easier just to have him beat up a bad guy when a case stumps him -- a technique that, aside from its immorality, is impractical. Sure you can beat a guy until he answers your question...but there's no reason to assume his answers are true.

It's perhaps odd for me to comment on that here, of course. As I said, many stories are marred by this ideology, and here, Batman doesn't actually beat up the guy, making it one of the lesser offenders. But by having Catwoman actually verbalize it so cavalierly, it draws attention to it more glaringly than some.

Still, other than that ethical aside, Catwoman Defiant is a fun, atmospheric read.

Cover price: $5.95 CDN./$4.95 USA 

Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper 1991 (SC TPB) 100 pgs.

Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper - cover by Brian Stelfreeze

Written by Mindy Newell. Drawn by J.J. Birch. Inked by Michael Bair.
Colours: Adrienne Roy. Letters: Augustin Mas, Carrie Spiegle. Editors: Denny O'Neil, Daniel Raspler. Reprinting: Catwoman #1-4 (1989 mini-series)

Number of readings: 2

Rating: * * (out of five)

(Note: This was reissued, so there may actually be more than one version of the cover floating around).

This tells the origin of Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, expanding upon the scenes depicted in Batman: Year One. Selina is a prostitute who, after being beaten up by her pimp, the ethnically ambiguous Stan, takes some self-defence courses (from Ted Grant, a.k.a. Wildcat, an awkward interweaving of mainstream super heroes with this seedy world). She decides, first, to strike back, then to leave the world of prostitution behind and become a thief. But Stan isn't willing to let her go, and when he learns that Selina has an estranged sister who's a nun, plots his own revenge... Eventually, Batman himself becomes involved.

Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper is a gritty, "mature readers" tale. It's also not entirely successful. For one thing, Mindy Newell goes the cinematic route of many modern comic writers, telling the story entirely with dialogue -- no thought balloons, text pieces, or internalization at all. The end result is a story where you don't really feel you come to know or understand the characters. Even time jumps between scenes are made confusing, lacking explanation. She also relies on the pictures to convey nuances -- reaction shots, expressions. But while J.J. Birch isn't a bad artist, per se, neither does he (she?) deliver the necessary goods. There were panels where the meaning of a scene relied entirely on a wordless panel -- and I couldn't quite make out the specifics of a character's expression (were they grinning...or grimacing? etc.) Although it's terrible to compare one creative team to another, giving the interconnectedness between this and Batman: Year One, the comparison between Newell/Birch and Miller/Mazzuccelli is unavoidable, with the former coming out the poorer.

Like too many comics, this relies too much on prior knowledge. Occasional scenes from Batman: Year One are interwoven here, but without adding any greater meaning or insight, and in ways that are liable to be confusing for someone who hasn't read that previous story. Likewise, Batman shows up and, playing on the long-standing relationship between the two, seems infatuated with Catwoman...but in the context of this story, when he's only seen her a couple of times, it plays as artificial. As well, it's assumed we know Catwoman becomes a thief, and so isn't really expressed here. One moment she's beating up her (ex)-pimp, the next she has a bunch of jewellery and it's not clear where she got it. Sure, DC Comics assumes if you're picking up a Catwoman comic, you know who she is, but a good story should fill you in as it goes along in case you don't.

But this relates to the character stuff I mentioned earlier. It's not clear why Catwoman becomes a thief. Nor do we know why she became a prostitute in the first place, or even why she quits (surely this wasn't the first time she was assaulted?). In Batman: Year One, Miller convinced us of all this, in part because Catwoman was a supporting character and we could accept a rough sketch. Here, with Newell forced to fill in the blanks, it's largely unconvincing. Of course, Newell is partly hamstrung by the character herself, since I'm not even sure DC knew what it wanted to do with the character at the time: is she a thief or a vigilante? a super-villain or a super-hero? Of course, the whole prostitution-origin angle is awkward, since I'm not sure if it's even alluded to in Catwoman's regular, Comics Code Approved magazine.

Catwoman's strained relationship with her sister never really clicks, nor does her relationship with Holly, a child prostitute. In Batman: Year One, Selina seemed maternalistic to Holly. Here, she seems oddly unconnected. For that matter, whereas the idea of a child hooker in Batman: Year One seemed intentionally disturbing, here, for whatever reason, it's disturbing precisely because it doesn't seem as though the creative types regard it as disturbing.

Supporting characters don't fair much better. A cop character who tries to help Selina out, later turns his back on her. Maybe that was the point, the sense of betrayal, but all you're left with is a story where you don't really understand the characters...or like them, Catwoman included.

And because the characterization is weak, the story suffers. It's slow and meandering in spots, rarely generating true tension. Not to mention technically confusing in some of the legal questions raised.

Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper is, I think, intended to be ambitious and sophisticated...I'm just not sure it succeeded.

This is a review of the story serialized in the Catwoman mini-series.

Mature Readers. Cover price: __ CDN./$9.95 USA. (published by DC Comics)

Catwoman: Selina's Big Score 2002 (HC & SC GN) 96 pages

cover by Darwyn CookeWritten and illustrated and lettered by Darwyn Cooke.
Colours: Matt Hollingsworth. Editor: Mark Chiarello.

Additional notes: pin-ups; afterward by Cooke.

Number of readings: 1

Rating: * * * (out of five)

Selina's Big Score is a graphic novel meant to slip inbetween the end of Catwoman's previous series, in which she was presumed dead, and her current series. Not that that's especially relevant to the proceedings, save that that means super-thief Selina Kyle is between costumes and so dresses in street clothes, making the story a step or two removed from a superhero adventure.

The story has Selina, desperate for money, plotting to rob a train full of mob money on its way to Canada. To pull it off, she recruits a few partners. Needless to say, things don't quite go as planned.

Essentially the story is meant to join the long list of heist/caper stories that have accumulated over the years in movies and books though not, I think, very often in comics. In cinema there have been a number of recent movies like "The Score", "The Heist" and the Canadian flick, "Foolproof". All of those movies have seemed flawed to me in one way or another, so maybe it's just my own biases when I say that this graphic novel is, likewise, not an unequivocal success.

At the same time, it's not bad, either. As a breezy little page turner it's certainly adequate with decent dialogue. But the story never quite becomes more. The "caper" aspect isn't really as imaginative as it could be, given that they're robbing a moving train...or maybe that's why. After all, for all that the characters act as if it's a radical job, train robberies date back more than a century! And the twists and turns that usually accompany such a story...aren't all that twisty or turny.

Canadian writer/artist Cooke is involved with the new Catwoman series, so you can assume you're dealing with a writer who knows his character. Yet, strangely, the book actually seems to short-change Catwoman herself. What seems like almost half the pages are narrated by characters other than Selina Kyle. And even the main premise, of Catwoman recruiting people to help her plan the job, seems odd. To help her pull the job, sure, maybe, but to actually plan it? It kind of weakens her as the main protagonist.

At the emotional heart of the story is the fact that Selina recruits Stark, an ex-lover who taught her all she knows about robbing...and who she hasn't seen since she cheated him on their last job together. It provides the dramatic hook, these two characters who once loved each other, but no longer trust each other. I heartily appauld the fact that the story is even supposed to have an emotional core, in a medium and a genre (super hero) where such things are often regarded as extraneous...even in graphic novels. But there isn't much of a pay off to that aspect of the story. And maybe part of the problem here is that it's hard to entirely care about Stark, or even Selina for that matter.

Obviously, reading a series about a thief-hero means you have to modify some of your principals. Catwoman isn't a clean cut hero in the Batman/Superman mould. But it's ironic how mores have shifted over the years. Years ago, when Catwoman was simply Batman's villain, there was the added character quirk that, though she was a villain, she refused to kill. Yet, now, when Catwoman is the heroine, such principals are far less pronounced. Catwoman doesn't kill anyone (in this story at least), but she doesn't mind hanging with people who do. Stark is described as a "cold-blooded killer", and in writer Cooke's hard-boiled world, that seems to be regarded as nothing more troubling than a slight character flaw. When they tackle the train, after Catwoman has already planned their use of knock out gas, Stark starts gunning people down...and yet that never leads into even so much as a mild rebuke.

In fact, by the end of the story, I think the good guys (though not Catwoman) have killed more people than the bad guys!

Also involved in the story is private eye Slam Bradley (a comic book character who dates all the way back to the Golden Age of comics). His involvement is a little more confusing as some of his stuff seems to overlap with previously chronicled stories -- that is, parts of Selina's Big Score are meant to parallel other Catwoman stories. Catwoman is told Bradley is looking into her supposed "death", she shows up at his office...and we don't know what transpires between them! I assume that was detailed somewhere else (like maybe the TPB Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street). Later in this story, though, Bradley is now trying to help Selina, in his own way.

Cooke's art is rather problematic. Previously Catwoman had often been drawn as a sexy, comicbook heroine...sometimes a little too much so. Apparently her breasts grew exponentially over the run of her first series. A clear editorial change is at work here, as Cooke's rudimentary, cartoony, thick-inked style is a far cry from anything remotely salacious. To some, who might have felt that turning Catwoman into a pin up fantasy demeaned the character, the change might be welcome...but to others, who maybe appreciated the, uh, aesthetics of the old Catwoman, not so much so. Regardless, Cooke's style is a subjective taste anyway. Sometimes -- though not often -- it's actually hard to make out what's going on, his art is so rudimentary. Generally, though, it's comprehensible and energetic but not my preferred art style.

The story doesn't quite warrant a "mature readers" caution, but it does deal more explicitly with prostitution, and Selina's prostitute background, than some recent stories.

Also included in the book are pin-ups by various artists...none a spectacular stand-out, nor particularly sensual either.

Ultimately, Selina's Big Score is certainly an O.K. read...but not much more. And at that price, for about 80 pages of story...? It's definitely worth checking the discount bins first if you're thinking of buying it.

Softcover price: $29.95 CDN./ $17.95 USA.

Catwoman / Vampirella: The Furies 1997 (SC GN), 48 pgs. 

Catwoman/Vampirella: The Furies - cover by Jim Balent / Jimmy Palmiotti Written by Chuck Dixon. Illustrated by Jim Balent. Inked by Ray McCarthy.
Colours: Atomic Paintbrush. Letters: Kevin Cunningham. Editor: Kevin Dooley.

Number of readings: 1

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

For more Vampirella, see my review: here

When I first read this, I had never read a Vampirella story, nor was I very familiar with the current interpretation of Catwoman, so I decided to try this DC/Harris crossover co-production figuring it might be a decent intro. And, admittedly, because of the fetching cover. The story has vampire-crimefighter, Vampirella, investigating a series of brutal robberies that are blamed on Catwoman. Well, Catwoman -- the proverbial thief-with-a-heart-of-gold -- is innocent, and soon the two have teamed up and are on the trail of what seems to be a kind of were-cat. Oh, yeah, and the Penguin crops up, too. As well, the story (I believe) introduces another Harris-owned character...but more I can't say without giving away more of the plot.

Catwoman/Vampirella: The Furies is a surprisingly fun read. I had kind of expected a dark, violent thriller, and instead Chuck Dixon and Jim Balent deliver something more like "Simon & Simon" (or, in comic book terms, the old Mary Jo Duffy's "Power Man & Iron Fist"). You know, a fun, witty, fast-paced little romp. No one dies (though a few are scratched up) and it's not trying hard to be profound. It's breezy, but in a good way.

And, not to side-step the obvious, it's reasonably sexy, with Vampi in her almost non-existent swimsuit and Catwoman looking like her costume was painted on. In this day and age of "mature reader" comics, however, it's worth pointing out when something is just an old-fashioned General readerish sort of thing. Nipples are occasionally limned beneath the fabric and buttocks hugged by the costumes, but don't get me wrong (or your hopes up): there's no sex, no nudity, no cussing, no innuendo at all.

How well Catwoman/Vampirella: The Furies represents either Vampirella's or Catwoman's own comics, I don't know, but on its own, it's an enjoyable read.

Cover price: $6.95 CDN/$4.95 USA (published by DC Comics/Harris Publishing)

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