By: Ann Nocenti (story), Alex Sanchez (art), Matt Yackey (colors)
The Story: A lady doesn’t need to sharpen her nails if she’s got a sword.
The Review: We all choose to jump aboard a series for various reasons. Sometimes it’s creator loyalty; you love some writer or artist, so the moment you see their name attached to a project, your money’s already halfway out your pocket/purse. Sometimes it’s character loyalty; you will buy pretty much anything with Bat, X, or Avengers in the title. Sometimes it’s concept; the idea of a supervillain playing hero or a superhero in T-shirt and jeans.
And sometimes it’s something else altogether. For me and Katana, I admit it was mostly a matter of principle. I like to support female creators and characters and I like to support characters with minority backgrounds. So having Ann Nocenti writing Katana, a female character who also happens to be Asian, in an ongoing solo sounds like a pretty cool deal. If nothing else, that just piques my curiosity.
Fortunately, Nocenti displays a great comfort level with the character and tone of this title that she lacks over on Catwoman (or Green Arrow, if I recall correctly). While her portrayal of Selina Kyle often feels unpredictable and confusing, she shows much greater focus in exploring the mind and life of Tatsu Toro, which is only appropriate for a would-be master swordswoman. Throughout the issue, Nocent shows a command of Katana’s voice and the direction of the plot that I haven’t seen from her other work.
Though on Birds of Prey Katana seemed quiet and reserved, a pool of calm in the midst of her more energetic teammates, in her own title she reveals there’s a lot more disturbance beneath her surface than anyone realizes. In the opening pages, she nearly spits out her rejection of her image as a devoted wife, and as the issue proceeds, she reveals more signs of a rebel under that cultured and polite demeanor. She can be sarcastic, sexual, even petulant—all qualities you’d never have associated with her before—but in a moderate way that doesn’t turn her into a different character entirely.
The most compelling aspect of Tatsu, of course, is her obsession with her dead via her sword. Although Nocenti makes it very obvious that Tatsu genuinely believes Maseo lives on in the Soultaker, Nocenti smartly leaves a lot of ambiguity around the question of whether Tatsu’s belief has any real support. Furthermore, while myth and legend will clearly play a large role in this series, you have to decide yourself how much of it has basis in fact. In the meantime, Tatsu’s love affair with her sword is quite original, and Nocenti manages to balance both the romantic and creepy qualities of that relationship.
The only thing missing is a clear sense of Katana’s mission. Her arrival in San Francisco’s Japantown has the portent of a vendetta, yet she later states that she needs teaching, that she’s “not ready” yet—ready for what, pray tell? We can afford to wait for the answer; Nocenti sets up a rather cool little world for Katana to grow and fight in, and the different clans devoted to various weapons opens up the series to some interesting power plays.
Sanchez reminds me a bit of Travel Foreman in his fine lines, especially with such light color treatment from Yackey. But Sanchez’s work also has a bit of a rough, dirty finish that mars what would otherwise be a fairly dynamic and stylish-looking issue. His experiments with perspective can occasionally result in an unsettling image, like the opening splash of Katana’s grotesquely enlarged face. Otherwise, however, Sanchez sells all the great sequences of action in the script, delivering one of DC’s most grounded and realistic offerings yet.
Conclusion: I can’t say it’s an instant hit, but it is definitely Nocenti’s most respectable DC work in the last year and it has a lot of rather unique qualities going for it.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - It’s not often you learn about a superhero’s “first time” in a comic, but hey—I’ll roll with it. I’m glad Tatsu had such a nice—if rather uncomfortable sounding—one.