A Catwoman 100-Page Super Spectacular Deep Dive – Aliens and Feminism

TITLE: Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular
AUTHORS: Paul Dini, Ann Nocenti, Tom King, Mindy Newell, Jeff Parker, Liam Sharpe, Mindy Newell, Chuck Dixon, Will Pfiefer, Ram V, Ed Brubaker.
ARTISTS: Emanuela Lupaccino, Robson Rocha, Mikel Janin, Jonathan Case, Sharpe, Lee Garbett, Kelley Jones, Pia Guerra, Fernando Blanco, Cameron Stewart. 1940s variant cover by Adam Hughes.
INKERS: Mick Gray, Daniel Henriques, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Laura Allred, Alejandro Sanchez, Jordie Bellaire, Alex Sinclair, Steve Oliff, FCD Plascencia
LETTERERS:
Wes Abbott, Saida Temofonte, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Tom Orzechowski, Gabriela Downe
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: June 3, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

She’s undoubtedly the hottest 80-year-old woman you’ll ever see.

That’s right, folks. Like several other pillar characters in the DC Universe, Catwoman turns 80 this year. So like those characters, she got her own 100-page celebration. I can’t say she doesn’t deserve it. In terms of feminist icons, there are some who would place her in Wonder Woman’s orbit. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but one simply can’t dispute how iconic she is. Thus, DC assembled a brilliant assortment of talent for her big birthday celebration.

We kick things off with Paul Dini, who is always welcome in the Batman universe. Though I can’t say this is one of his most memorable outings. He uses his eight pages to introduce is to a villain called the Taxidermist. That, as Selina herself says in the story, is very “Gotham.” The Taxidermist seems like the kind of idea that was good on paper, but in actual execution…meh. I wouldn’t expect to see him on a best villains list anytime soon.

On the plus side, what little the Taxidermist offers looks absolutely gorgeous. Emanuela Lupaccino, Mick Gray, and Laura Allred give us something truly worthy of Catwoman’s 80th. It’s funny, I wondered why I was so reminded of Mike Allred, despite him not being credited. Once Laura Allred’s name popped up, it was all quite clear.

We dive into Batman Returns territory for “Now You See Me,” as Robson Rocha quite obviously draws Selina in her stitched black leather costume. We even get a brief appearance from the Penguin. Thankfully it all looks pretty. Though the story itself, about Catwoman duking it out with a dirty security guard, is pretty forgettable.

Much less forgettable is Tom King’s follow-up to his “Some of These Days” story from Batman Annual #2. It presents a scenario where a (presumably) married Selina and Bruce Wayne get pregnant and have a baby. Ironically, Selina once had a canonical daughter, though not with Bruce. Poor kid got retconned out of existence by the New 52.

It’s a pretty story that puts King back with Mikel Janin. That chemistry between Bruce and Selina was always his greatest strength during his Batman run. That two-issue “Rooftops” story from issues #13 and #14 will go down as one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories ever published.

My only complaint? We get at least one night of a pregnant Catwoman fighting crime with Batman, costume and all. Ladies? If you happen to be expecting, please don’t try this at home. (As if you needed me to tell you that…)

Our old Batman ’66 friends Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case return for a story about Catwoman and…aliens? I’m sure it’s happened before. But it’s still such an odd match-up. Which, of course, is the point.

Parker and Case take full advantage of the absurd premise, giving us absurd aliens with absurd names and looks that could easily have come from the original Star Trek series. Not to mention the absurdity that the world gets saved by a villainess. Because wouldn’t ya know it, aliens just happened to land when Batman was out of town. Don’t cha hate when that happens?

Things get surprisingly bloody for “A Cat of Nine Tales,” written and drawn by Liam Sharpe. Once again, we have Catwoman and a security guard. When confronted, Selina proceeds to tell the poor guy about nine ways this scenario can end. Most of which involve somebody dying.

I’m not sure the Selina Kyle of 2020 would be this chatty. But I can’t find it in my heart to sling too much mud at this. Aside from Wes Abbott on the lettering, what we see here is all Sharpe. And he manages to tell a coherent story in only three pages. So while by no means perfect, this story is still an achievement.

“Little Bird” is written by Mindy Newell and drawn by…LEE GARBETT!!!! When was the last time he was in Gotham? I’ve still got such fond memories of his work on the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series from…what was it, a decade ago?!? And the man hasn’t lost a step since, as he turns in some fine work here. He and colorist Alex Sinclair do a fine job channeling Batman: Year One. We get a scene where Selina is in similar…er, we’ll call “escort gear” as we see in that story. They also do a hell of a job on the gray David Mazzucchelli Catwoman costume, tail and all.

I was, however, initially confused. The story involves Selina stealing an old mezuzah that belonged to a woman who cared for her as a child. It took me a moment or two to figure out what a mezuzah is, and the identity of this elderly woman in a nursing home. I initially thought we might have jumped into another alternate future for Selina…

Still, they stick the landing. The story speaks to the idea that underneath all the theft and crime, Catwoman has a heart of gold. A great destination, even if the road to get there was a little rocky.

Chuck Dixon, one of the unsung heroes of modern Batman lore, returns alongside Kelley Jones for a Clayface story. Though I hate to say it, this isn’t one of his better outings. Not much to this one. I assume they went with Clayface to suit Jones’ horror strengths. Catwoman finds him, a confrontation ensues, rinse and repeat. I get the sense the only real purpose for this story was to have Selina be in the purple costume from the ’90s.

I know Kelley Jones has his crowd. I’ve just never really been one of them. I will say, though, that his Catwoman is very expressive here. I was pleasantly surprised to see that from him.

Things get downright meta for author Will Pfiefer’s return to the book, as he takes Selina to a comic book convention. He creates a world where the characters themselves are the autograph-signing, question-answering celebrities.

As someone who’s been to a number of these conventions, I found this story charming. Once I got the hang of it, that is. I initially found it difficult to get my bearings. But its a nice little anniversary story, and Pia Guerra’s art is very accessible.

I confess budget constraints caused me to fall off the monthly Catwoman series, so I’m not sure if her sister Maggie has been a regular or not. I have to assume she is, as “Addicted to Trouble” is about the sisters road tripping back to Gotham from Villa Hermosa. Naturally, it’s got a cool car in it. Hijinks ensue.

Thanks to the actions of Black Mask in an early 2000s story by Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart (who oddly enough are on the next story), Maggie is unable to speak. But she still makes a nice road-trip buddy for Selina, and we even focus a little bit on that inability. I wish they would have at least mentioned Black Mask in passing, as he wound up being one of Catwoman’s most-hated rivals.

Brubaker and Stewart evoke memories of 2000s Catwoman the same way Kelley Jones does 90s Batman. So their closing story, “The Art of Picking a Lock,” is an automatic sentimental favorite for yours truly. This book wasn’t cheap, but seeing Stewart draw Selina, Holly, and Slam Bradley again is almost worth the price of admission by itself. And as you’d expect, Brubaker’s pulpy writing style is right at home in Gotham City. God damn I miss him being on a Bat-book.

I wouldn’t call this collection memorable. But it’s a nice little tribute to Catwoman with some A-listers contributing, and a couple of nice nostalgia trips to boot. If nothing else, it should make Selina’s fans smile. I certainly did.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Batman: The Wedding Review – Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 8: The Wedding
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Tony Daniel, Clay Mann, Mikel Janin
INKERS: John Livesay, Sandu Florea, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Tomeu Morey, June Chung
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #4550, portion of DC Nation #0.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
October 24, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Welp, this was a big one. A pivotal moment in Batman’s world. Or was it? I mean, it certainly could have been…

Either way, this book pissed a lot of people off. And not just with the pay-off (or lack there of) to a year’s worth of build-up. Tom King and the Batman crew had been cranking up the weirdness factor with the last several issues. And not necessarily weird in a good way. It was more weird in a, “Huh?” way. There’s a strong argument to be made that the weirdness reaches its apex here, in a three-issue story called “The Gift”…

1. What’s your refund policy?
Linkara actually did a masterful job of roasting “The Gift” in a recent episode of Atop the Fourth Wall. But I’ll touch on the broad strokes here.

In an ill-conceived attempt to give Batman a wedding gift, Booster Gold and Skeets travel back in time to stop the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The idea was to give Bruce an It’s A Wonderful Life moment, i.e. a chance to see what the world would be like without Batman. And indeed, the world is worse off for him being gone. Much worse. The nation of “Eurasia” is ruled by Ra’s al Ghul. The Penguin has become president of the United States. Selina Kyle is a serial killer who only speaks in meows. Gotham is infected by a “Joker” insanity plague. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is a homicidal Batman whose costume is covered in firearms and explosives. When Booster finds himself trapped in this horrific reality he’s created, he has no choice but to try and…well, take back his gift.

Perhaps the most prominent theme, of Tom King’s Batman run has been the question of whether or not Bruce can actually be happy. It’s a hell of an idea to explore. I get the sense that’s what “The Gift” is trying to do. Would Bruce be happier if his parents hadn’t been killed? And considering how the world looks without Batman, is everyone better off with him being unhappy, yet serving a greater good?

However, in terms of plot holes, “The Gift” looks like friggin’ swiss cheese.

Let’s start with Booster Gold. Setting aside that King portrays him as a complete doofus, his plan makes no sense. By the classic Back to the Future, Part II logic, if you travel back in time and change something critical, reality will change around you. The world you return to may be drastically different than the one you left behind. So Booster goes back in time to stop the Wayne murders, thus preventing Bruce from becoming Batman. Once he does that, how does he expect to return to the present day and show Batman what he’s done? Batman doesn’t exist! That was the idea behind this whole cockamamie scheme in the first place!

What’s more, with this story King, like so many other writers, falls victim to Batman worship. Would the world be different without Batman? Or at least the Batman we know? Yes. But does the entire world fall into chaos without Batman? Remember, we’re still in the DC Universe. The Wayne murders had nothing to do with the origins of Superman or Wonder Woman. Hell, we even see Green Lantern in this story! (Albeit in a gratuitously violent manner.) You’re telling me no other heroes could have stopped Ra’s al Ghul from conquering half the planet?

Dick Grayson becoming Batman, much less a Batman who’s more like the Punisher, makes no sense either. How does Dick get the whole bat motif if he’s not taken in by Bruce? Did a rogue bat somehow fly into Haley’s Circus and snap those trapeze wires?

In addition to serving as an extremely bizarre look into an alt-universe Gotham City, “The Gift” essentially serves two purposes. First, like “Everyone Loves Ivy” in the last collection, it helps set the stage for Heroes in Crisis, in which Booster has a major role. Secondly, it gave them a reason to have Tony Daniel draw Catwoman in her Batman Returns costume. But Christ on a cracker, if they wanted to work that in, there had to be a better way than this. Just say it’s a failed prototype costume Selina made. You don’t have to alter the damn timeline…

2. Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?
Well, it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? You can’t do a big story like this and not have the Joker around in some form.

Mikel Janin is back for the two-issue story, “The Best Man.” But before that, we get a little gem from DC Nation #0 drawn by Clay Mann. The Joker breaks into a random house, and holds a man hostage while he waits for the mail to come, inexplicably expecting an invitation to Batman’s wedding. By and large, I’m not necessarily in love with Clay Mann’s take on the Joker. But there are two shots he absolutely nails. The first is the opening splash page. The second is the panel at left.

Tom King writes a decent Joker. He’s good at working humor into the horror, one of the hallmarks of a great Joker writer. The Clay Mann story, “Your Big Day,” and the first several pages of Batman #48 are really good. But as the proceedings continue, he runs into a familiar problem: Joker, and later Catwoman, talk too much in attempts at banter. This is especially true in issue #49, which consists almost entirely of them talking about “the old days,” and Joker’s worry that a happily married Batman wouldn’t be funny, and might ultimately cease to exist.

The big problem I have with issue #49 isn’t so much about the banter attempts. It’s that the Joker, for lack of a better term, talks straight with Selina. He drops the act. He talks like a normal person, as if to an old friend. That’s the idea, I suppose. But I believe that on the rare occasions the Joker does that, it has to be brief yet impactful. It has to mean something.

Consider it this way: Tom King and Mikel Janin clearly have a fondness for The Killing Joke, the classic story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. At one point Joker even refers to the church they’re in as the “Moore Cathedral” on “Bolland Ave.” For those of you who’ve read it, think about that final scene where Batman extends that olive branch to the Joker, and the Joker simply and quietly responds. For just a few precious moments, he’s not a monster anymore. Then he goes into a joke, and brings himself back into character.

Now…what if he’d been like that for a huge chunk of the story? Or the entire story? Not in the flashback scenes, mind you. The ones in the present day. Takes a lotta the punch out of the story, doesn’t it?

3. The Moment of Truth
Artistically, Batman #50, the wedding issue, is a beautiful tribute to the dynamic these two characters have shared for nearly eight decades. There are splash pages, pin-ups essentially, by the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, among numerous others. You can argue work like that is worth the $16.99 on its own. Meanwhile, we’ve got Janin back for the story proper.

While I think this Batman run has soured a lot of people’s perceptions of Tom King following his stellar run on Vision, he’s on his A-game for this issue. As he damn well should be. There’s an absolutely beautiful one-page scene between Bruce and Alfred. Depending on how invested you are in them and their surrogate father/son dynamic, it may even move you to tears.

The ending of this issue, i.e. the outcome of the wedding, had a lot of people crying foul. I’m not going to get into spoilers, but it’s been over a year since the issue was published. So I feel comfortable enough saying fans thought DC didn’t deliver on what they’d promised.

But let’s be honest: These are mainstream superhero comics, where marriages either get retconned out of existence, or are mystically evaporated via deals with Mephisto. At best, there was only a 50/50 chance they were going through with the wedding anyway. Plus, it’s not like they had the Joker, or God forbid Kite-Man, come in and break up the ceremony. They tied it into what had already been established in the 49 issues prior, and the big theme of Bruce and happiness. Was the final outcome predictable? Absolutely. Even a little bit of an eye-roller. But it works. Especially with the benefit of hindsight.

When discussing a potential marriage between Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio once famously said in 2013…

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. … They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”

DC would ultimately scale back on that philosophy. For instance, they re-established the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane. But I think fans who were in the know about DiDio’s remarks saw this ending as a step backward.

I think that’s an understandable sentiment, but perhaps a bit premature. As of this writing, Tom King has one issue of Batman left, which happens to be an extra-sized 48-pager. Then he’s got a 12-issue Batman/Catwoman maxi-series coming in 2020. So he’s clearly not done with them yet. I’m not saying I expect anything in particular to happen. I’m just keeping an open mind as we move ahead.

4. I Now Pronounce You…
Batman: The Wedding is a red letter moment in the history of two iconic characters. For that alone, it’s worth a read. And for all the blunders King has made during his Batman run, he got the wedding itself right. Mikel Janin’s art continues to amaze, standing tall on its own even with additions from iconic Batman artists. And hey, if train wrecks are your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out “The Gift.”

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, and Bride or Burglar?.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.