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

The Story: Catwoman can steal a painting in under a minute.  What can you do in a minute?

The Review: Over the weekend, a friend of mine told me she had broken up with her boyfriend of six months.  I can’t say I was surprised.  A couple weeks after they got together, she and I hung out for the first time in nearly half a year, and while we were in the middle of a karaoke rendition of K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life,” I was surprised to find her then-new boyfriend’s face glaring at me through the singing room window.  That was an early red flag, if any.

Yet my friend was not only able to look past the utter creepiness of that incident, she apparently did so for a whole host of other danger signals.  The way she described it was, “I’d get this nagging sense that something was wrong, but he was great in other ways, so…”  While reading this issue, it occurred to me that my friend’s explanation for why she stuck with this guy for so long kind of applied to my feelings for Nocenti’s Catwoman, too.*

See, I just don’t know whether I like or hate Nocenti’s loose, borderline spastic approach to storytelling.  As this issue demonstrates, there’s a lot of quick scenes, sudden jumps, and mental adjustment you have to do in a typical Catwoman script.  Sometimes, it feels like a scene barely gets itself going before we move on to the next, often with a rocky, less than even transition.  At the same time, you can’t tell if the problem is you just haven’t gotten the hang of her rhythm yet.

Maybe what Nocenti’s really lacking is some kind of unifying theme to certain arcs.  Here, right as Selina’s in the middle of an art caper, we cut to an orphanage where she checks up on Milo, the little boy she rescued from the Joker’s clutches in #13.  On the one hand, it shows that Nocenti has an eye for detail and she doesn’t establish anything without reason.  On the other hand, the scene doesn’t really gel with the rest of the issue’s substance, and it’s also confusing in what exactly is the problem with Milo.  One of the orphanage’s sisters relates:

“What he did was…terrible. He’s one of the incurables. Just this week, he got a teddy bear out of the trash and claimed a cat gave it to him.  He makes things up…  Thank the Lord he doesn’t remember what he did.”

So…was what he did “terrible” as in “evil”, or as in “tragic”?  And what exactly was so bad about his actions that it led the good sister to call him “incurable”?

Still, Nocenti knows how to keep the pace lively, and with the endless crossover and tie-in issues out of the way, she can focus on developing the plot as she pleases, starting with the arrest of Gwen Altamont, Catwoman’s friend and fence.*  You get the addition of Tammy Keys to play against blonde-cop type and work as bad cop to Detective Carlos Alvares good one.  Nocenti should make sure she doesn’t go overboard with Keys’ strident personality, because she can quickly fall into the category of appallingly bad cop (“I hate it when you creeps know your rights,” she snarls to a cool Gwen, who asks for a warrant before handing over her phone.).

But for Sandoval’s relaxed, slick art, Tarragona’s glossy inks, and Oback’s mastery of a dark, earthly palette, Catwoman could very well fall into the category of mediocre superhero titles.  Though I don’t always like Sandoval’s ideas for our heroine’s wardrobe, he always draws them as true-to-life as possible.  Even when the posture of his characters during action sequences are downright ridiculous, they nonetheless convey this high-octane power and speed, which is what Catwoman really craves from her life of theft: “All the thieves I know these days, they just sit in front of computers all night and hack into this and transfer cash to that.  Where’s the thrill?

Conclusion: Although Catwoman definitely feels different, which is part of its appeal, it’s sometimes so erratic a read that you can’t quite pin down if it’s a difference you like or don’t.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Incidentally, not twenty minutes after I wrote that intro, I found out the two of them have just gotten back together.  Oh, joy.

* When it rains, it pours.  I had only just learned what that word meant for last Wednesday’s episode of Arrow, and here it is again.