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Catwoman #16 – Review

CATWOMAN #16

By: Ann Nocenti (story), Rafa Sandoval (art), Jordi Tarragona (inks), Sonia Oback (colors)

The Story: The only way to get out of a room of black magic: use a haunted tank.

The Review: Last time, I analogized reading this title to a rollercoaster relationship, where just as you’re getting into the groove of the ride, it suddenly takes a 50-foot plunge, giving you a worryingly queasy feeling in your gut.  A part of the problem is that Nocenti has a loose, free-flowing writing style to begin with, but now I think she’s also hampered at many points by tie-in effects for other titles and storylines.

Now, it’s true Nocenti probably volunteered to join in Death of the Family, but those two issues were no less out of place in spite of that.  I’m sure that in a Catwoman-Joker confrontation, Nocenti would have liked to have gotten more closure between the two, but since Joker had to skip out to torture the actual members of the Bat-family, it felt like he swooped in and swooped out leaving very little impact on the title in the process.

You can say this issue centered on the Black Diamond falls into those same lines.  There’s a lot of activity going on—more on that in a moment—and yet by the last page, you don’t really feel Catwoman has gotten anything out of it except perhaps a little bit richer.  At best, you can predict that this “arc” will have its consequences elsewhere, later down the line: releasing the Black Diamond into the modern world will probably result in a line-wide crossover at some point, and Catwoman’s part in it will probably land her in hot water with Steve Trevor, thus forcing her into the Justice League of America’s service.

The in-title rewards from this storyline are much smaller.  Selina does what even Deathstroke could not: resist the allure of the Diamond.  In Team Seven #3, all it took was one touch for him to go over completely, turning into a purple-skinned, pointy-eared demon with a peasant’s hat.  Catwoman gets the pointy ears, but manages to keep herself together long enough to clean things up and get out of there.  You could argue that for a woman who’s used to regaining control when her body’s getting sloppy (“It’s like being drunk, I’m floating above myself, watching myself lose control…” she muses), this is natural for her.  Or you could say this is simply a case where Nocenti and Justin Jordan don’t see eye-to-eye on how the Diamond actually works.

You also get a possible recurring character in Darwin, who, despite being an obvious info-dump, actually entertains with his haplessness.  With all the ridiculousness going on in the Black Room, with disembodied arms floating around looking for oppressors to punch, with a demon tearing about the place and growing bigger every second, Darwin cringes most at the very thought of having to look into Catwoman’s eyes.  For an antisocial nutter like him, you might say the attraction to a wild child like Selina is poetic, inevitable, and doomed.  Sadly, the humor of this relationship is slight, and their chemistry has little spark, either romantic or platonic.

Nocenti’s script is a bit unpredictable to begin with, and Sandoval doesn’t quite manage to overcome it with his art.  At one point, we have a massive two-page splash of Catwoman and Darwin fighting and dodging several magical obstacles at once while debris flies all around them.  The very next page, all those obstacles vanish from sight and the debris has immediately settled, leaving a quiet space for them to share an awkward moment of “tenderness.”  So while Sandoval’s art looks pretty good, especially with Oback’s slinky-smooth colors, the storytelling is not all there.

Conclusion: Although the issue does have a few bright spots, something about Nocenti’s timing or erratic writing diminishes their impact, and Sandoval’s art at times frustrates your enjoyment even further.  I’m not sure how much longer I really want to stick by this.

Grade: C+

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - I hope Catwoman was speaking literally when she said she grew up driving tanks.  That is a story I could sink some money into.

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