Ann Nocenti and Rafa Sandoval present a vague Catwoman vs. The Joker story in “Catwoman” #14. Unfortunately the two villains don’t get to have an interesting fight and the concept appears to have nowhere to go, thus falling frustratingly flat.
The Joker is a great character, but without a real purpose behind his apparent madness, this issue has nowhere to go and feels like filler designed to drag the crossover audience into the book. They’re likely to be disappointed, because so far as I can tell this book reveals nothing. It’s just a series of uninteresting puns made by a madman, who then abruptly goes away when he gets the feeling that Catwoman “no longer wants to play.” It honestly feels like an incredible waste of time with the exception of some gorgeous artwork.
It’s hard to blame Nocenti for the non-existent plot because I’m not sure how much control she has at this point (being both new to the book and her book being a small cog in a massive crossover), but other things she should have a handle on, like Selina’s voice, still miss the mark. Some of Selina’s interior narration, particularly about her feelings for Batman, read especially shallow and a huge step backwards for the character. If readers are going to be asked to retread the Bat/Cat relationship, it needs to be more interesting and less banal. This issue is neither.
On the plus side, Sandoval is already finding his groove on this book after only two issues with a great visual handle on Selina. While the book still skews a bit sexy for my personal tastes, it’s far less overt, especially considering that several plot points in this issue involve Selina’s clothing being shredded or entirely removed. I prefer how Sandoval tackles a singular character to his recent work on X-books where he felt spread a bit thin. Conversely, everything in “Catwoman” is beautifully detailed and lush — there’s not a thin panel to be found. Selina looks consistent throughout the book and he moves her sublimely through the pages. The opening splash page with her half-covered in snow is stunning, and kudos to colorist Sonia Oback for her part in that. However, the storytelling still needs some work. It’s especially important when you’re dealing with a character like The Joker who barely makes sense to begin with. Some of the pages (and panels) take a pretty big leap on behalf of the reader to make much sense thanks to the Joker’s rambling.
While this issue might hang together more impressively within “Death of the Family,” it’s incredibly unsatisfying as a standalone. While Sandoval is quickly finding his footing for Catwoman and has the potential to be a great artist for the book, it feels like we won’t know what Nocenti can really do as writer until she’s out from under the shadow of the crossover.