Coming off the back of Batman #50 – the long-anticipated Bat/Cat wedding issue, also out this week – Joëlle Jones’ Catwoman #1 wastes no time in setting up the new status quo for the character. In doing so, as Selina Kyle herself warns us on the cover, it thoroughly spoils the outcome of that story. So if you haven’t read Batman yet, and managed to avoid the early leaks, then beware: spoilers follow.
Ready for us to let the cat out of the bag? Then read on…
The set-up for this new Catwoman is that Selina has left Gotham behind, and is now settled in the city of Villa Hermosa. Although, perhaps ‘settled’ is the wrong word.
The issue opens with a chaotic triple-stranded sequence; first we see Catwoman running from the police along the rooftops, shooting two officers in the process. Next, a TV interview with the Senator and First Lady of Villa Hermosa. Finally, we see Selina herself, playing Mahjong in a casino.
The three play out simultaneously, sharing page space and cutting back and forth without any obvious rhyme or reason. It’s easy to identify which is which, thanks to Laura Allred’s excellent coloring work – each strand has a distinct color scheme, whether it’s the muted blue of the Catwoman rooftop chase, or the green/orange combo of the casino – but nearly impossible to follow all three events at once.
The result is dizzying. Are these events all happening, as the narration says, “simultaneously?” If so, don’t the first and last of those sequences contradict one another?
It’s an intentional effect, meant to put us in the disoriented mindset of Selina Kyle, a woman who has just left her home and fiancé behind, and who is now fighting insomnia and struggling with her mental state. “I can only pull static”, one of her narrative captions states, and that’s how it feels to read these pages.
Even once the comic starts to pace out these three strands into a more standard superhero-comic rhythm, though, there are still more questions than answers. Who is impersonating Catwoman, and why? What’s going on with Raina Creel, the First Lady of Villa Hermosa?
The latter looks set up to become this comic’s villain. There seems to be an interesting concept at the heart of Creel, about the polished sheen of public politics, versus the ugliness behind closed doors. This is expressed by her entire appearance being a façade – there’s a memorably horrifying page where she peels off her face, piece by piece.
But her inclusion in the story at this point seems almost random, and that means there’s nothing to anchor all those interesting questions the issue sets up. You might expect this to be Selina’s role as protagonist, but the point of this story seems to be that she’s lacking a stable center, herself.
Instead, that duty falls to the art – which, fortunately, is utterly beautiful. If you’re familiar with Joëlle Jones from her work with Tom King on Batman, then it’s fascinating to see her lines colored by Allred, who brings out a harder edge, almost like the work of Paul Pope. She also – vitally for this particular title – draws an excellent cat.
It’s another way of marking this series apart from the book it’s spinning out of. Jones is careful to re-establish Selina as a character in her own right – away from Gotham, facing an entirely new villain – with a distinctive tone. That’s a vital process for anyone who’s just broken up with a long-term partner, but this Catwoman hasn’t quite landed on her feet yet.