Review: Catwoman Vol. 6: Keeper of the Castle trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Catwoman is a title that has sometimes been very good and sometimes not, and Genevieve Valentine's Catwoman Vol. 6: Keeper of the Castle is one of those good times. Valentine's tale of mob boss Selina Kyle trying to rebuild Gotham through bad acts is riveting, full of crime drama, double-crosses, and betrayals. I'm stymied that it only lasted for one more volume, and that like the rest of the "DC You" it did not take off and become the Selina Kyle portrayal of the land. Surely what's here is significantly stronger than what immediately preceded it.

[Review contains spoilers]

Foremost, Valentine has my utmost respect for overhauling Catwoman to the point where it's almost unrecognizable from what came before -- but still using characters from those previous runs. It would be wholly understandable, especially given the number of new characters Valentine introduces here, if she'd set some new, random Gotham police after Selina, but instead she uses Alvarez and Keys from Judd Winick and Ann Nocenti's runs. I've read all of those books, even though some were exceptionally troubled, and surely I took the risk that those stories wouldn't ultimately "matter"; even though Valentine goes a different direction, she preserves those stories and brings them along, and I appreciate it greatly. Equally Tesla from Nocenti's run gets a mention.

Setting Castle in established Catwoman lore is useful too because Valentine makes a significant leap from where Selina was before in this title to where she is now. Had Valentine's run continued, I imagine a flashback issue would be needed at some point (or maybe it's coming up, I don't know) that shows how Catwoman went from thief and sometimes-hero of Gotham Underground to the head of the Calabrese crime family. Even the revelation of Selina as Leo Calabrese's daughter over in Batman Eternal doesn't cover the nuts and bolts of how Selina climbed to the top so quickly (letting alone that someone ought come up with an explanation why Selina never mentioned being a Calabrese before now, aside from the fact that the twist hadn't been thought up yet). A lesser story might fall on all of these points, and it's due to the strength of Valentine's story that any confusion is inconsequential.

Castle collects issues #35-40 and the Annual #2, split three and three with the annual in the middle. That's perfect, because issue #37 ends shockingly, with Selina's bodyguard Antonia Calabrese having to kill her brother Nick for leaking information to the police. Again, all credit to Valentine, who in three issues makes us care enough about Antonia and Nick that the murder feels tragic and painful (there's shades of Greg Rucka's Lazarus in this book as well). At the same time, I felt our lack of familiarity with these characters a little bit in the end; I understand Selina wants to protect Antonia because she sees her as the future head of the Calabrese family on one hand, but on the other I maybe wanted to see a bit more of Selina and Antonia together to really feel it.

Similarly, while there's plenty resonance in seeing Catwoman battling Black Mask, I wished Valentine had chosen a different villain rather than echoing the Ed Brubaker run. Black Mask is a callback to the past, which I like, but the last we saw of him in the New 52, Roman Sionis had some metahuman mind-control powers, which are not at all present here; Valentine has overlaid Brubaker's Black Mask on the proceedings, incongruously. And Selina seems to butt heads rather constantly with Black Mask or Penguin; surely Two-Face or Maxie Zeus or the Court of Owls (or a comics version of Fish Mooney) would be an equally appropriate crime saga villain.

I've no objection to Valentine's positing, essentially a retcon, that Selina might be bisexual. First, it hardly alters my perception of the character, and second what's most interesting here is Valentine's suggestion that it might not be Eiko Hasigawa that Selina's attracted to, but rather that Selina's attracted to the Catwoman persona, which Eiko has taken on in Selina's absence -- that what Selina really kisses here is herself or her own dual identity. At the same time, Valentine's clearly able to get away with something with Catwoman that another writer couldn't do with Superman or Batman; more nuanced sexuality is probably good for mainstream comics, but at the same time some fetishization of female sexuality is surely at play.

Garry Brown offers fine work here, who like Andrea Sorrentino and Babs Tarr draws attractive, stylized superhero characters without reverting to gratuitous sexuality or sexuality when the story doesn't call for it. Catwoman seems like it for now for Brown at DC aside from Bombshells, maybe another fallout of "DC You" untimely end, and that's a shame. Only occasionally did Brown's sketched-out characters confuse me, as when Aiden Mason first appeared and with no context for how to place him, I at first thought he was the story's only other long-haired blond man, Nick Calabrese.

In all, Genevieve Valentine's Catwoman Vol. 6: Keeper of the Castle shows the Selina Kyle character used well, and later when Selina is invariably used poorly again, I'm sure I'll lament that this didn't continue. There are certain good short-runs in DC history, often between events, and this period between Convergence and "Rebirth" will be notable for how many it had, all the more significantly for its brevity.

[Includes original and variant covers, Garry Brown sketches]
Collected Editions 2016 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

2 comments:

  1. The thing about Catwoman for me is that I couldn't believe she got her own series, but even then to have her series last so long.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ugh, this was so good, and yet DC wouldn't re-launch it and let it get a clean start free from the stigma of the previous run

    ReplyDelete