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 Batgirl #48 Review – Video Games, a T-Rex, and…Mind Wipes???

Batgirl #48, 2016, coverTITLE: Batgirl #48
AUTHORS: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
PENCILLER: Babs Tarr
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: February 3, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“It’s a Birds of Prey reunion!” That’s basically what the cover is saying to comic book fans. In retrospect, it’s a wonder DC fouled up the New 52 incarnation of that book. The Birds of Prey concept has a lot going for it. But at its core it was about the friendship between Babs and Dinah (and sometimes Huntress). Considering how well Batgirl has been going, and how Black Canary factors into it, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr might just be the heirs to Birds of Prey. Come to think of it, is DC even doing anything with Huntress right now?

But I digress…

Fragments of Barbara’s memory have gone missing. The question is, why? And what does it have to do with her brain apparently being tampered with? Thankfully, Black Canary is there for a little extra back-up. But not before Batgirl and Batwing take on Co-Op, a villainous duo with a flair for gaming.

Batgirl #48, Babs Tarr, Batwing picnicConsidering how much history there is in the Barbara Gordon/Dick Grayson romance, the success of Barbara’s romance with Luke Fox has been a pleasant surprise. And then they had to taint it in this issue by reminding us that he’s Batwing. Luke Fox works just fine as Barbara’s super-smart boyfriend who’s now helping her in a new business venture. He doesn’t need to be a superhero. In fact, that was part of what made Batgirl #45 so cool, when Babs chose Luke over the muscular, dashing and daring Dick Grayson. That’s not to say Luke should be helpless, and I know the Batgirl team weren’t the ones who made him Batwing. But c’mon. Can’t that whole concept just be left as a relic of the reboot?

These Co-Op villains are pretty fun. They’re written pretty tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of their charm. And their presence gives Tarr and and the artistic team a chance to go all out with a blaze of colorful, cartoony madness. Our villains are dressed like TRON characters, one of them is riding T-Rex, our heroes are placed inside a pro wrestling arena and are fighting a big luchador. It’s one of the nuttiest sequences we’ve seen from a DC book in quite awhile. I’d be more than okay with seeing these guys again.

Batgirl #48, 2016, Babs and DinahTarr really gets a chance to show off her versatility in this issue. We go absolutely crazy near the beginning of the issue. Then in the middle we have some cartoony anger and snark when Babs and Dinah come across a few Black Canary fans (shown right). Then at the end, we get a dramatic scene where the other characters are terribly concerned for Batgirl’s wellbeing. While it couldn’t have been done without Fletcher and Stewart’s writing, make no mistake about it, Babs Tarr’s art is the element that truly ushered in this new era for Batgirl. Look no further than this issue for the evidence.

Our main villain is someone Babs has seen in a nightmare, and who has in-depth access to her mind. Going forward, this has the potential to be something very scary, and very personal. It’s something very much befitting the upcoming 50th issue, and they’re even tying it back to their first story, collected in The Batgirl of Burnside. Batwing notwithstanding, Team Batgirl has yet to let us down. And I don’t see that trend changing in the near future.

Images from batman-news.com. 

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A Batgirl #45 Review – Dick Grayson: Wedding Crasher

Batgirl #45TITLE: Batgirl #45
AUTHORS: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
PENCILLER: Babs Tarr
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: October 28, 2015

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead for Batgirl #45.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a big fan of Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson as a couple. I was as stoked as anybody when DC let Gail Simone work with them again during Convergence. That being said, the Batgirl team does real justice to Barbara by not putting her back with Dick in this issue.

There’s no supervillain in Batgirl #45, and no real crisis for Babs to overcome. Instead, we find ourselves at the wedding of her friend Alysia. Our herioine is entrusted with keeping the ring safe for the bride. But when Dick shows up before the festivities and playfully swipes the ring, things get complicated.

***For the events leading up to this issue, check out Grayson #1, Batgirl Annual #3 and Grayson #12.***

Batgirl #45, Dick Grayson, Babs TarrIt would have been very easy to put Barbara with Dick. That option is always going to be there, and it’s always going to work. But that’s not what happens here. In this issue, Dick is actually positioned as the antagonist. It’s one of the few times in this era of “Dick Grayson, sexy super-spy” that we’re put in a position to not like him. He’s not malicious or cruel at all, but he’s clearly in the wrong. It’s surreal, but it’s done in the interest of playing up Barbara’s confidence and independence. As readers, we already knew she had those qualities. But this issue accents them wonderfully.

Simply put, Barbara stands up for herself when Dick tries to insert himself into her life romantically. She takes him to task for interrupting this special day, and that he must face the consequences of faking his own death, and what that did to the people he cares about. What makes this such a strong moment is that she’s right, and we admire her for being brave enough to put Dick in his place. It’s something he needed to hear, from the character perhaps best qualified to tell him.

Barbara’s behavior in the early part of this issue is also very true to her character. She essentially becomes the Miss Fix-It of the wedding party, and literally pulls out a “Wedding Day Survival Kit.” Not only does this work with Barbara’s personality, but having been to a whopping three weddings this month, I can tell you firsthand that every bride wants a character like that around.

Batgirl #45, Babs Tarr, wedding survival kitFrom an artistic standpoint, Tarr gets to be more flowery and formal in this issue than any she’s done so far. Her work, paired with colorist Serge LaPointe’s lavenders and pinks definitely give this issue a visual uniqueness. Tarr’s rendering of Dick Grayson is also impossibly hunky, and a great representation of the temptation Barbara feels to cave in and be with Dick.

The issue ends with a mysterious teaser, likely about the next villain Batgirl will take on. Solicitations indicate Babs’ mind may be failing her, and The Spoiler will be involved. If how they interacted in Batgirl Annual #3 is any indication, things will continue to be fun going forward. And considering how fun this series has been since Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr took over, what more can we ask?

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from popoptiq.com.

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A Batgirl Annual #3 Review – Ladies Night

Batgirl Annual #3TITLE: Batgirl Annual #3
AUTHORS: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher
PENCILLERS: Bengal, David Lafuente, Ming Doyle, Mingjue Helen Chen
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: July 29, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In my experience annuals are, by and large, nothing to get too excited about. More often they’re not, an annual is simply a bonus standalone issue of a series that’s a little longer, and a little more expensive. No more, no less.

Batgirl Annual #3 is a rare exception to that rule.

Penned by series writers Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher, the issue pairs Babs with a several different heroes as she works to uncover the secret of a superweapon with a power to destroy the world. The mystery willl reunite our hero with Dick Grayson (sort of) and Batwoman, as well as introduce her to The Spoiler, and later Olive and Maps of Gotham Academy.

Batgirl Annual #3As good comics are prone to doing, Batgirl Annual #3 switches artists to coincide with Batgirl switching partners. Bengal gets the lion’s share of the issue with our inciting incident, and Barbara’s run-in with Dick and the Spyral crew. Bengal’s European/Asian style is a nice fit for this version of Batgirl. It’s light and funny when it needs to be, and has a certain intensity when it’s called for. As for the story itself, Babs and Helena Bertinelli agree to work together in a manner so quick it’s unintentionally funny. It takes less than a page. You’d think someone as smart as Barbara Gordon would be a little more cynical about a new partner in the field. As for Dick and Barbara, their being so close, with the latter completely oblivious, is seemingly played for comedy at times. At one point their fingers are nearly touching, yet Batgirl can’t tell there’s another human being mere inches from her. Purely from a fan perspective, I was feeling Dick Grayson’s agony at deceiving her. So the comedy not only landed with a thud, but was out of place.

Bengal passes the baton to David Lafuente for Babs’ brief meeting with The Spoiler. As a huge fan of the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series, seeing Barbara and Steph at the same age is surreal. Still, I suppose they mesh well. Lafuente is certainly no stranger to drawing teenage superheroes (see Ultimate Comics Spider-Man), so I’ve got no issues with his work. Stewart and Fletcher also do Stephanie justice.

From a writing standpoint, the Batgirl/Batwoman team up is fine. But Ming Doyle’s art is, at times, very awkward. This is particularly true of her work on Barbara’s face, so much so it takes you out of the story. Her figure rendering, particularly during a battle scene, leaves something to be desired as well. Doyle has done some great work, but it won’t be found here.

Batgirl Annual #3, Mingjue ChenWe cap things off with what looks like something out of an old Disney 2D animated film. In this case, that’s a good thing. Minjue Helen Chen very much captures the spirit of Gotham Academy. Olive, Maps, and Batgirl hunt for answers in the school library in a sequence that’s very reminiscent of Harry Potter, Hogwarts, etc. Chen captures some of the manga vibe that Karl Kerschl brings to the monthly book, while adding her own sense of wonder and excitement. She’s tailor made for this “Youth Gotham” line DC is marketing.

 It’s very much fitting that Batgirl Annual #3 is the exception to the annuals rule. For the past year, the series itself has been the exception to what were seemingly a lot of rules about the Bat-books. Gotham City can, and should, be a dark and scary place. But it should also be a fun place to read about, and lose yourself in. That’s the true appeal of Batgirl, and the Young Gotham line in general: DC remembering that comics can be fun.

Image 1 from the outhousers.com. Image 2 from newsarama.com.Image 3 from @mingjuechen.

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