Review: Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats trade paperback (DC Comics)

April 14, 2019

Location, location, location. Joelle Jones' Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats doesn't offer a lot in terms of story that we haven't seen before, but it makes up for it in atmosphere. Jones relocates Selina Kyle to the fictional town of Villa Hermosa, California, Spanish-tinged and palm tree-d, a far cry from Gotham City. Selina's not actually looking for trouble, but with her mere presence trouble finds here, and the mix of casinos and pawn shops, high politics and drug deals, and clean and dirty cops is very much a winning one. Jones' series is distinctive, to be sure.

The reason that Selina has come to Villa Hermosa marks a big turn in this book. With that, as with many Rebirth series, Jones draws a direct line from Catwoman's pre-Flashpoint adventures to the present, leapfrogging the New 52 entirely. It's good, because it speaks to some of the strongest Catwoman material of the modern era, and bad, because linking to the past brings us a dose of the same old thing (not to mention also some significantly upsetting material) instead of orienting the book toward the future. Clearly Jones does a good job here and clearly she's writes and draws a respectful take on Catwoman; for the next volume, I'm hoping for bigger, more, and more surprises.

[Review contains spoilers]

It was on my second read of Jones' three-focused introduction that I really understood what was happening, that we see a faux Catwoman causing the death of two police officers while Selina Kyle goes about her business (and the book's villain fumes in the background). Slowly what unfolds is a mystery designed precisely to draw Selina out, such that everything that doesn't make sense is intended not to make sense in order to bring Selina to a certain point. It's a heady crime noir plot that Jones pulls off well, and at the point in the third chapter where most of the cards are on the table, that's when Jones switches things up even further.

We learn that Selina's sister, Magdalene "Maggie" Kyle, now mostly catatonic, is being cared for in Villa Hermosa, and Selina has moved there (post Bat-wedding) to be close to her. The fourth chapter then, with flashback art by Fernando Blanco, follows Selina and Maggie from Mindy Newell's 1989 post-Crisis Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper through to Ed Brubaker's 2000s Catwoman: Relentless (but not, mercifully, to Maggie's Blackest Night transformations), bringing these two best-known Catwoman stories back into continuity. Brubaker's tale of Black Mask torturing Maggie and her husband as an attack on Catwoman was an instant classic, though shockingly disturbing (I'm hard-pressed to think of something of the same caliber in a mainstream DC Universe title since), and the fact that Jones goes right back there in this book is both a blessing and a curse.

The fourth chapter is well-done, and Jones' and Blanco's art is mixed to good effect, but I felt the story slowed here; it's a whole-issue rehash of stories that at least some of us have already read. Sure, if Jones wants to reunite Catwoman with her past-continuity self, Maggie is the way to do it, but at the same time, of course Maggie is the way to do it, because Maggie's been a common thread already in the past 30-plus years of Catwoman stories. We've already gone from Maggie the nun to Maggie the victim, through to the character's "jump the shark" moment where she became the super-powered Sister Zero and fought the Gotham City Sirens. That's an indication that the character's story has been told to its end, and Jones' use of Maggie feels not so much like resurrecting Catwoman's past as much as retreading old ground using the same emotions and character beats.

Again, however, Copycats is a strong crime noir story overall, and also has a fair bit of horror. That starts with a bit of body horror in the first chapter, calms just slightly, and then really kicks off with the Black Mask flashback and through to the fifth and sixth chapters. The pairing of hard narrative violence and mainstream DC Universe comics is tough, ordinarily reserved for second-tier titles like Gail Simone's Secret Six; Catwoman, starring an anti-hero, is often the most prominent title that can pull this off, and I thought Jones did well making this book startling and mature without being egregious.

Jones largely sidesteps the Bat-wedding aside from a brief scene in the first chapter; knowing as we do that for instance Batman: Preludes to the Wedding was written without direct knowledge of Batman Vol. 7: The Wedding, it's hard to guess what Jones might or might not have been able to say. There is not, to be sure, greater insight into Selina's decision to leave Bruce here, nor is there evidence — for those of us still holding out hope — that Selina's departure was part of a larger plan in which the couple already has the drop on Bane. Selina makes a reference at one point to "losing Holly" that I wondered might be a gaffe — Holly's in prison, sure, but Selina just saw her at the pseudo-wedding — but otherwise this book is mostly disconnected from those events, for better or worse.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats

Joelle Jones gives Selina Kyle a small supporting cast in Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats, a couple of friends and maybe allies, mostly seeming to fill plot roles (the tech support guy, etc.). The villainous Mrs. Creel and family are engaging but don't necessarily strike me as being "series regulars" necessarily. And then there's Maggie. Again, for this latest Catwoman series to last, I'm hoping for bigger, more, and more surprises — for Jones not to delve into the past but rather to establish new, better lore for Catwoman that will be equal to, not a reprise of, what was good before.

[Includes original and variant covers, Joelle Jones character and cover sketches and plot breakdowns]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

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