By: Ann Nocenti (story), Alex Sanchez (art), Claude St. Aubin (inks), Matt Yackey (colors)

The Story: Katana gets her Alias wig on.

The Review: For better or worse, minority characters always have a challenge developing a following on their own.  This is especially true in the world of comics, which is still mostly a pastime for white people, both on the creative and consumptive sides.  It’s not racism; it’s the simple fact that everyone tends to resonate more with characters that look and feel familiar to them, and in a market largely driven by one demographic, others will just struggle a bit.

Katana will have an even harder time of it because she’s not American by origin, meaning there’s that additional cultural barrier readers may have to deal with.  I had a discussion with commenter M0rg0th about the various remarks on Katana’s womanhood in the first issue.  M0rg0th saw it as misogyny, but I argued that it was misogyny with purpose.  As a Japanese woman, Tatsu does have these cultural expectations of what her place should be; it’s natural that when she goes against those expectations, she’ll suffer rebuke from others and doubt within.

So you see, minority characters do have to put in a little more work to establish that kind of understanding from readers if they want to remain true to their backgrounds.  That said, if there’s a powerfully compelling story supporting them, their task is made all the easier.  Unfortunately, Nocenti does not convince you with this issue that such a story exists—yet.

For one thing, I don’t quite understand why Nocenti feels she must be so vague about Katana’s motivations.  At best, we have a sense that something traumatic happened to Tatsu in Tokyo and she’s here to take her revenge—probably—but why don’t we have more details than that?  Who or what exactly is Katana after here, in this false Japan?  What are her overarching goals?  Why are we being purposely kept out of our protagonist’s mind?

The best we can do is glean what facts we can from the story as Nocenti tells it.  Clearly, there is someone in the Sword Clan Katana’s after (“…I will consider getting close to my enemy, but only to kill him.”), but it’s not clear whom—or perhaps it’s the clan as a whole.  Realizing that her lack of numbers puts her at an immediate disadvantage, she begins a covert operation that relies on the newly-introduced “Thrust.”  In this respect, the plot strains credulity a little bit; it seems a little too easy for Tatsu to “turn” the son of the Sword Clan’s master to her side.

Plot-wise, we don’t really get anywhere before Steve Trevor suddenly shows up, dragging Katana away from her new base of operations to a new mission in a different setting altogether.  This dual loyalty to the JLA and to her own personal vendetta, on top of Nocenti’s already scattered style of storytelling, will threaten the integrity of this series before long if Nocenti doesn’t take care.

On the plus side, we cover a lot of ground in developing Tatsu’s supporting cast and civilian life in this issue.  Brothel-keeper Madam Yoko, drunken kung fu master Junko, and landlady Nori all make important reappearances, though we only get the rudiments of individual personality from all three.  Tatsu gets a new job as a waitress/bouncer, which is certainly different, if nothing else.  But nothing thus far strikes you as particularly interesting—just curious, in an idle sort of way.

Sanchez, with St. Aubin on inks, renders a cleaner issue here than last time, but that as much reveals the deficiencies in his work as his strengths.  Overall, it feels like there’s something ever so slightly missing from his visuals that prevents them from being more impressive.  Accurate and well-formed as his figures are, they’re also a little stiff, placid, and bland.  There’s not much energy or dynamism to the issue, even in the most heated action sequences.  Perhaps Yackey’s flat colors have something to do with it; there’s not much depth or tone with all those pastels.

Conclusion: While Nocenti puts the component parts of this series into ever greater focus, we still don’t have a good sense of what the whole should look like.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: “Nothing hides a woman’s intelligence more than a blonde wig.  Add a silly high-heeled swagger to my walk, I’ll be invisible.”  Yeah—no one’s going to notice the multiple, large cuts all over every exposed portion of your body.