It’s easy to argue that the most surprising ending in a comic this week took place in “Justice League of America” #4. After an issue-long infiltration into the belly of the mysterious secret society’s headquarters, Catwoman was shot in the head by the society’s leader, seemingly left to die, bleeding on the floor.
While modern comics readers have become accustomed to death in comics, the way Geoff Johns and Brett Booth present Selina’s apparent demise is nonetheless refreshing. The world of comics today is a far cry from the ’80s and ’90s when readers had no idea what was going to happen in their favorite books. There were no weekly press releases about the newest creative team, no interviews with creators readily available online and solicitation text was mainly read by retailers rather than fans. Readers got their information straight from the comic, and for better or for worse “Justice League of America” #4 — and the series as a whole — operates much like the days before every detail of a comic was teased in advance. In a time when the death of a major character is nearly always teased well in advance by a publisher, there was nothing to indicate Catwoman’s demise other than one vague line of solicitation for “Justice League of America” #5.
In a way, Johns’ back-to-basics approach for the book is even more surprising than the end of the issue. Considering the brisk pace at which “Justice League of America” has moved along so far, the take makes a certain amount of sense. It definitely keeps readers on their toes, and a large part of the book’s identity has become that surprise factor — it’s the series where readers can expect a certain amount of “Whaa–?” every month, since no major events from the series seem to leak in advance, from official sources or otherwise.
That said, Catwoman’s death certainly seems like the kind of major occurrence that might spark a conflict between the Justice League and Justice League of America. Batman’s already on edge following the death of Damian Wayne, and Catwoman’s death would only further his grief-fueled rage. It certainly makes for a huge reason for Batman to want vengeance on Steve Trevor for putting Selina in harm’s way: Could this could be a precursor to what Johns has planned for the Trinity War? Or maybe even DC’s long-rumored Villains Month?
Of course, the possibility exists that Catwoman isn’t dead at all. Indeed, it seems unlikely that DC would kill the character off, if only because she headlines an ongoing title that sells well above the threshold for cancellation every month. (In April, “Catwoman” #19 outsold “Worlds Finest,” “Superboy,” “Talon,” “Birds of Prey” and more.) Johns is known for cliffhanger endings that may not be what they seem, and “Justice League of America” is only on its fourth issue. Plus, there is a shapeshifter on the team — a team assembled for their black-ops abilities in addition to being a respectable public face — and he did share a “moment” with Selina in last issue’s back-up story, so anything the reader sees may not be exactly what it seems.
Whatever the case, over the course of its short publishing life, “Justice League of America” has established a tradition of paying off the big moments immediately in the next issue — which means readers won’t have to wait too long to see what happens.