I’ve always taken issue with the idea of Batman and Catwoman as a couple. Her attraction to him, I get; nearly every woman, man, and child harbors a little crush on the Dark Knight. But it’s never been convincingly brought home to me why he would love her beyond all the other eligible women in his life. Yeah, she’s sexy, and she’s got the bad girl thing going on, but are we to understand the goddam Batman’s ideal woman is exposed cleavage on damaged goods?
Obviously, there has to be something more to Selina Kyle than that, otherwise so many writers wouldn’t insist on pairing Bruce with her. But we were never going to discover her hidden appeal as long as she restricted herself to thievery and the occasional good deed. Making her the head of a major crime family, however, just might force her to reveal those sides to her that perhaps Bruce has seen all along.
Such a drastic shift in status, however, requires an astute writer to make it seem organic, as if Selina’s had that capacity all along, not just developed it overnight for the occasion. Fortunately, Valentine has that well under control. Using Queen Elizabeth I as a parallel, she portrays Selina’s rise to power in a male-dominated world as a test of strength, in which she must prove her strategic mettle against conspiring forces outside and skeptics within her inner circle.
Although Selina’s motivations for taking up this venture in the first place springs from events in Batman Eternal, Valentine does a better job Arkham Manor‘s Gerry Duggan in weaving the necessary context into the story. Ward, longtime advisor to the Calabrese family, remarks, “An imprisoned father does not an heir make,” which tells you where the power vacuum Selina filled came from. As for where she got the support to do so, she snaps, “[Cousins] Antonia and Nick have a say at this table, which is more than they had when I showed up.” Two simple pieces of information that effectively answer most questions.
The nice thing about tying Selina to a family is she now has an active supporting cast to depend on. We don’t see much of Antonia, Nick, and Ward, but each has a distinctive voice they’re not afraid to assert against Selina’s, and together they have an easy chemistry that can comfortably carry the series forward.
It’s the many potential antagonists, however, who are going to make Catwoman interesting. Technically, Batman should be the boss of them all, but his appearance in the issue is mostly obligatory. You get the sense he can only ruin the series by serving as a common enemy for all the crime families to unite against, and they’re so much better off testing, dealing, and plotting against each other. As you get a better sense of the various dynamics among them, some of them based in history, you realize Selina’s playing a risky game, using her position among these families to restore Gotham’s glory. They won’t buy the “We’re just trying to make sure we have a city we can actually make money from” line forever, so she’ll have to do her best to keep their profit margin reassuringly high.
Valentine captures the moral tightrope within Gotham’s worst and finest with great precision, certainly more so than Gotham. That show throws out vague generalities about the villains keeping order and the police’s self-interest, but never hits on the serious political calculations that officers Alvarez and Keyes debate here. Alvarez is determined to catch Selina at managing the transport of an illegal weapons cache. Keyes preaches caution:
“She’s rebuilding Gotham without costing the taxpayers a thing. The lieutenant’s gonna build a statute of her in the park… If you cross the brass too much you’ll disappear, and I’m not willing to lose my badge over this. Let it go.” Certainly, she’s more convincing than Captain Sarah Essen parroting helplessly, “This is Gotham!”
As for Selina herself, turning mafia lord is the best thing to happen to her in a while. While her fondness for shiny things hasn’t gone away, her observational skills are considerably sharpened, making her seem that much more competent. She can read an unfinished tattoo as identifying a free agent within a yakuza family, or see the satire in a museum acquiring some royal gems: “[T]he first thing this bunch of rich old men did as soon as someone else paid for their problems was to buy Gotham some jewelry. Some jokes write themselves.”
Brown is far more suited to this kind of gritty, urban series than Iron Patriot, and it shows in his work. His jagged lines and heavily smudged shadows play into the noir-ish feel of the issue, and although some misshapen faces and figures remain, they’re less noticeable in this scarred, rough-and-tumble world. Loughridge’s characteristically soft, flat colors ease Brown’s heavy linework, and together they create some rather beautiful panels: Batman looming behind an evening gowned Selina; Selina inspecting the Hasigawa family’s training facility.
– Minhquan Nguyen
A direction for Selina that makes her the powerful woman she should be, not just Batman's guilty pleasure.