"Catwoman" is and continues to be the stealth comic in the Batman family. I'm delighted that Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown will be continuing on the title post-"Convergence," because this is a comic that deserves far more attention than it's received so far. What we have here is a crafty little crime comic that shifts its characters into more and more danger every month.
If you haven't been keeping up to date on "Catwoman," Valentine and Brown's run spins directly out of "Batman Eternal," where Selina Kyle became the head of the Calabrese crime family and has been trying to bring all of the other families under her wing. By the time of "Catwoman" #40, things have spun out of control. The Calabreses have lost all of their allies and Roman Sionis -- better known as Black Mask -- is attempting to wipe the Calabrese family off of the map once and for all.
What strikes me month in and month out with "Catwoman" is that this is a comic that is more or less rooted firmly in reality. Sure, there's a new Catwoman running around and Sionis's head looks distinctly different than a regular one, but that's about as far into the realm of fantasy that Valentine lets "Catwoman" stray. This is a book that could have just as easily wandered in from Vertigo with its squabbling crime families, double-crosses and complicated interpersonal relationships. It's a lot of fun to read, in part because Valentine keeps it unpredictable. Characters you'd assume were "safe" have been anything but, and -- when the dust settles this month -- Selina is distinctly not in a great position. She's fighting for her life, but what could have easily turned into an "everything worked out just fine" moment becomes the opposite. Valentine is in for the long haul, and her plots reflect that.
As much as I'm liking the complicated relationship that she's given Selina with the members of her family -- who to trust, who to cut loose, who to make alliances with -- it's the one she has with the new Catwoman that grabs my attention the most. You can see the attraction in both the way Valentine writes their dialogue as well as how Brown draws the two of them together, even as they're circling around one another warily. That mixture of interest and mistrust is keeping things a little energetic, and I appreciate that the characters are inching closer and closer together even as they're not racing into something too fast. It feels as real as a romance between a woman in a costume and a woman who used to wear the costume can be.
Speaking of Brown's art, I've appreciated it more and more every issue. I love his craggy, rough style. When the Penguin showed up this month, that smile looked so menacing under Brown's ink line that I almost cheered; it's amazing how the character was transformed back into someone to be feared in one swift moment. Brown also has a great usage of blacks on the page; he and colorist Lee Loughridge use shadows and darkness not to obscure things but rather to make other images pop. When Selina is leaving the Penguin, the final panel where her face and collar are swathed in darkness is really dramatic and strong. It forces you to focus on the look on her face and, in particular, her eyes; that calm and cool gaze she casts him just brings home the idea that she is in utter control even as the city crumbles around her.
Here's the great news: if you've missed out on Valentine and Brown's run, "Catwoman" #35-40 will be collected into "Catwoman: Keeper of the Castle" this August. In the meantime, don't be afraid to pick up an issue of Valentine and Brown's "Catwoman" to give it a sample. I think you'll like what you see.