Nocenti Cannonballs "Catwoman" into Race of Thieves

UPDATED 4/24/14 1:05 PM PT: A previous version of this article referred to the current "Catwoman" story arc by the originally solicited title, "The Race of Outlaws," and has since been amended.

Running five times in the 1970s, the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash was an illegal cross-country road race famously lampooned in three "Cannonball Run" movies starring Hollywood heavyweights Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jamie Farr.

In "Catwoman" #30, writer Ann Nocenti revved up the action in similar fashion, pitting Selina Kyle against classic DC Comics' rogues and brand new burglars in the first part of her "Race of Thieves" arc.

Featuring pencils by Patrick Olliffe, inks by Tom Nguyen and colors by Sonia Oback, another highlight of "Race of Thieves" is the New 52 debut of Roulette, the supervillain created by Geoff Johns and Rags Morales that first appeared in 2001's "JSA Secret Files" #2.

Roulette possesses genius-level intellect when calculating gambling odds, and is an expert in close combat, making the character a perfect counter to Selina Kyle. Nocenti told CBR News that while Mirror Master is featured in the arc as well, it's Roulette that Catwoman really doesn't want to see looking back at her when peering through the looking glass. The writer also revealed how the arc ties into "Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion" and hinted at the other villains vying for supremacy in the Race of Thieves.

CBR News: While you've been on "Catwoman" for 18 issues, I haven't had the privilege of interviewing you about it yet, so for the obvious icebreaker, who was the better Catwoman: Eartha Kitt or Julie Newmar?

Ann Nocenti: Eartha Kitt. Julie Newmar's Catwoman was classic, but Earth Kitt purred. Eartha Kitt once said: "I am the original Material Girl." I think she understood Selina Kyle. Her characterization of Catwoman's sheer joy in the steal, the con, the loot and how it all made her hum with pleasure, that's the Catwoman I love.

And Eartha Kitt's rendition of the song "I Want to be Evil" is fabulously catty. You can see her sing it on YouTube, and it is well worth watching. In real life Eartha Kitt grew up tough, orphaned, like Selina Kyle, and like Selina, was a survivor.

Speaking specifically of the New 52 and your run with the character, what do you think makes Selina Kyle tick?

Selina Kyle is not a hero, nor a villain. She's not pretending to be either. She's a survivor. Ever since she was a child, she's gotten knocked down, picked herself up, and kept going. I was at Emerald City Con last month, and a woman came up to me and said she was giving her daughters "Catwoman" to read because she felt that despite being a thief, Catwoman was still a great role model for her daughters. If Catwoman wants something, she uses her skills to go get it. If something bad happens to her, she deals with it and moves on. She struggles with issues of conscience, but for the most part she loves being herself, being Catwoman. She sometimes tries to tame the feral cat inside her; she is sad on occasion at how she can't have a "normal" life with a job, husband and family, but mostly she loves the adventurous world she creates for herself. And this last bit is key: She creates the world she lives in. She is continually inventing the world she wants to live in -- a world of adventure, and one she controls.

She may walk the line between hero and villain, but she was featured in "Justice League of America" as a superhero of sorts. Why does that work?

The great thing about an iconic character like Catwoman is that she can try on many hats, be in many stories that explore who she is, and always snap back to her essence. Batman has long tried to ping her conscience, and he sometimes succeeds. She can play the superhero game if you can harness her skills and interest, and there is something in it for her. But she's playing a long game, a long con. Even her moments of heroism are calculated.

I wrote a short story for DC's "Young Romance" issue, drawn beautifully by the fabulous Emanuela Lupacchino, where Selina Kyle encounters Batman before she's Catwoman. She's just a young cat-burglar. He catches her thieving and doesn't judge her so much as he challenges her to think it through. To think beyond her actions to the effect they have on others. It's a romantic tease on Batman's part -- be who you are, thief or whatever you wish, but if you think it through, I might be there on the other side for you.

I love the high-concept of "Race of Thieves." Was this story something that you wanted to do so you could explore Catwoman in a different light (or dark) and her abilities as a criminal mastermind?

The current arc of "Catwoman" stories is about building her skills. What's exciting for me about the New 52 is that it turned the clock back on DC characters, so Selina Kyle went from being a seasoned, experienced femme fatale to a younger, more open and naïve adventuress.

The past two years have deepened her and given her more skills. She fought a Gang War in the Badlands against the Penguin. She learned about blowback and collateral damage. In 'Gotham Underground,' she pitted Doctor Phosphorus, the Warhogs, Joker's Daughter and Tinderbox against one another and let them destroy each other. She emerged unscathed, and now has a detailed map of what lies under Gotham. She'll use that knowledge very carefully. She's working undercover at Gotham City PD to put a few cops in her pocket, and her little black book is filling with information. Information is power to a thief who wants to stay in the game in Gotham.

And now, she's in a race to win the Greatest Thief in the World title -- a race against the Rogues' Mirror Master and Glider, new villains Swindle and Vice, one of Penguin's men in Thaddeus Volt and Roulette. It's how she plays the game that matters. Again, it's a long con, and a long con is a skill game.

From the solicitations, we know the "Race of Thieves" is a globe-trotting contest that will see Catwoman competing to be crowned the best thief in the world. But what exactly is the Race of Thieves, and what are they racing to steal?

That's the long-con part of the tale. Like many Olympic events, there are preliminary rounds before the gold. Every thief in the race gets points for their hacking skills, lock-picking talents, dexterity in a fight, snagging the most valuable piece of loot, but in the end, the one who wins is the one who figures out the point of the game.

As Selina vies for best thief in the world, what separates her from the rest of the pack?

She's going up against highly skilled players, with powers far beyond hers. Mirror Master and Glider not only have terrific powers, they've got each other. They care about each other and have each other's backs.

Mirror Master may be a thief, but he's a rock solid man. He's having trouble with his powers and is using his Mirror Gun as back-up. I'm also building off what happened in "Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion." Glider is in a coma, but can travel to Mirror Master's side in spirit and keep his confidence up. This is a strong vantage point to race from, that they trust and care about each other deeply. And these Rogues are outlaws with a code, like Catwoman.

In contrast, the new villains Swindle and Vice are a pair of backstabbers. They are a couple in hate as much as they are in love.

Selina Kyle is solo. No one's got her back. That alone changes the odds of the game. That's where her true skill comes into play -- in her ability to watch, wait, play the game the best and then pounce.

Who is running the Race of Thieves?

Roulette is a DCU villain we haven't seen in a while, and as a master of gaming and odds, she's running the race. She's colder and more calculating than Catwoman, and you have to wonder if this is Selina Kyle's fate, to someday become a cold snake like Roulette.

This sounds a bit like "Cannonball Run."

"Cannonball Run" is a great reference. I think the first outlaw races were inspired by what some felt was an increasingly law-driven country and a romantic notion of the loss of the outlaw ways in America. I had a friend who was a racer in the later Gumball Races, the races that were inspired by the movie. These races could most likely never happen today, because of how quickly surveillance technology would nail the route the racers were on and shut the thing down.

The first part of the story is also about the outlaw parties that used to happen in New York. You'd get a strange invitation to a party with no address, and only at the last minute would you get a message as to where the party was taking place. It would be some old empty warehouse and bands would play, the party would rave and everyone would split before the cops came. Catwoman is invited to one of these outlaw parties, and the race is on.

Selina is operating as a double agent in this arc. Is there anything that you can share on that front?

Selina Kyle is discovering that to compete with those with more power than her, she needs to rely on stealing not just jewels, but information. Slipping herself into the Gotham City PD through the Crime Hotline was a fun offshoot of John Layman's "Gothtopia." There was a moment in Gotham when no one knew who they were, and she was able to slip into Gotham City PD, undercover. Now that she's in, she's in. She's going to work that angle as long as she can.

Finally, you have new artists working on the series in Tom and Patrick. What do they bring to the project?

Patrick Olliffe is a fantastic storyteller. He's doing some of the best work of his career. The pages have huge style and gorgeous detail, but underneath that he's a clear storyteller, which is so important, especially in a multi-character story like this outlaw race.

And Tom Nguyen's work brings out the detail and balance. Then, colorist Sonia Oback just rocks it to the finish line. The first page of "Catwoman" #30 is stunning. I love the work the three of them did on the blazing mood of Selina Kyle burning her Catwoman suit. Sonia's painting, the shine and reflections and details she adds in the coloring, is a key part of the book. It's often just us writers who get interviewed, but comics are teamwork.

"Catwoman" #30 is on sale now.

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