“Catwoman” under Ann Nocenti’s guidance has been a thoroughly uneven title, and in many ways “Catwoman” #19 is the perfect example of the series’ ups and downs all contained in a single issue. Ultimately, there are some bits that are great, but other parts just drag the comic down.
The basic concept — Catwoman is planted by the Justice League of America into Arkham Asylum to perform reconnaissance — is fun. It’s a good usage of Catwoman as the “secret” member of the Justice League of America, and plunging her into Arkham Asylum for any reason sounds like a lot of fun. Initially, Nocenti’s script doesn’t disappoint. The conversation about why they’re doing this flows smoothly, and the take down of Catwoman by her own teammates is a good reminder of how they aren’t really a team (but rather a group of people organized by a director to work together). So far, so good.
Once Catwoman’s deep inside Arkham, though, the story falls apart. Even if readers can ignore the fact that “Catwoman” #19 features the fastest detox imaginable, the book feels like everything is on an accelerated pace, but not in a good way. Does Catwoman ever gather any actual pieces of information? Why is escape from Arkham as simple as hopping through a trap door? What is the massive temple with marble statues and multiple levels of architecture that’s just hanging out underneath the asylum? How exactly does Catwoman persuade someone deeply doped up on psychotropic drugs to be rebellious? Heck, why is no one monitoring the super-villains taking their pills since apparently they’re the only thing preventing a jailbreak? It’s a lot of flash with little substance, and that’s frustrating because this feels like it should be so much better. This is ultimately a comic that’s all surface, no depth.
The art is also uneven, with series artist Rafa Sandoval joined by Cliff Richards and Stefano Martino for additional pencils. There are some images that click together well, like Catwoman kicking Katana in the face early on. Catwoman’s body moves through the air in a direction that feels not only like it has a lot of energy, but in a way that pays attention to body proportions and how one would actually look when propelled. Look by way of contrast to the panel where Catwoman kicks two guards right after breaking free of her cell. Her legs are crazily long and the moment in general just looks silly, not dangerous or impressive. And that’s the art of “Catwoman” #19 in a nutshell; strong and well-executed one moment, off-kilter and hard to take seriously a page later.
I keep dipping back into “Catwoman” because I want it to be better than it is, and every now and then there’s a promise of a story (or a great fold-out cover) that holds so much promise. In the end, though, I just keep feeling like this is a book that has the good basic ideas down pat, but keeps failing to flesh everything out enough in the actual execution.