I am not the most resolute Katana fan in any incarnation, so the fact that I found myself intrigued enough to take a look at this book was a minor victory for Ann Nocenti, Alex Sanchez and the rest of “Katana” #1’s creative team. Once I saw the preview art by Sanchez, however, I was on the hook for at least one issue of “Katana.”
Sanchez’s art has a photo-influenced appearance that sometimes delivers odd panel compositions and weird character positioning, but is smartly balanced with overwhelming detail, traditional shading techniques and bouncy page composition. Pages of Tatsu Toro — not Katana — dealing with other denizens of Japantown are dynamic and engaging, not as much as the battle scenes between Katana and the Sword Clan, but enough to drive the story forward and lock in the reader’s attention. Sanchez’s beautiful art is complimented nicely by the soft colors from Matt Yackey. That muted colorwork magnificently accentuates the reds of this story, which are critical to the action and narrative.
That narrative is neatly compiled by Ann Nocenti, who seemingly works through a checklist of necessities for debut issues of a new comic book series. Establish the heroine: check. Set up the heroine’s base of operations: check. Introduce a credible threat that could potentially become a recurring rogue: check. Have a memorable fight scene: check. Write to your artist’s strengths: check. Provide a mystery that shrouds the heroine’s past and clouds her future: check. Bring in some supporting cast members: check. Readers unfamiliar with this character from her appearances in “Birds of Prey” or the yet-to-be-released “Justice League of America” are able to plunk down three bucks and enjoy a full story that leaves you wanting more.
Ann Nocenti has perplexed me since her days writing “Daredevil.” Back then, she delivered stories that seemed rather obvious and oddly unbalanced on the surface, but held deeper meaning or subtle subtexts in a way not unlike the work of Grant Morrison early in his run on “Animal Man.” Her stories about Matt Murdock squaring off with Blackheart and Typhoid Mary were just so absurd and borderline abstract that it doesn’t surprise me to find her taking a similar path with “Katana,” where things just might not be exactly as they seem. Nocenti has also been hit or miss for me, but based solely on the twenty pages of “Katana” #1, she’s given me a hit.
“Katana” #1 is a chance for a perennial background character to gain some depth and Nocenti and Sanchez waste no time providing that depth in adversaries by introducing Coil, master of the spiral sword and giving her a place to call home. When I saw that DC opted to include “Katana” as one of its fourth wave of the New 52, I set my expectations low, not knowing what to expect. Those low expectations have now been obliterated by a surprisingly good comic book with a strong female lead, written by a female writer with stunning art from an artist I was unfamiliar with before today. Not only do Nocenti and Sanchez hit all of the marks necessary for a strong introductory issue, but they do so with a character that I was apathetic to prior to reading “Katana” #1. Following this issue, Katana has made a remarkable leap to must-read territory for me so long as the quality displayed in this first issue is sustained.