Review: Catwoman Vol. 5: Valley of the Shadow of Death trade paperback (DC Comics)

With Infinite Frontier, Ram V’s Catwoman is off to a slow start, but I’d venture that has more to do with lining up with “Fear State” over in the Batman titles than any failing on Ram V’s part. Catwoman Vol. 5: Valley of the Shadow of Death is only four issues and an annual as is, really just a three-parter and some side tales. The next collection, due in June, is the very “Fear State” tie-in, five issues long, and Ram V’s finale on the title — so my sense of Valley as a milder calm before the storm is not without reason.

Still, Ram V certainly makes something readable out of it, and art by Fernando Blanco is always welcome. Clearly since Rebirth DC has been trying to find a satisfactory positioning for Selina Kyle — with Batman, not with Batman, outside Gotham, back in Gotham — made all the more important now with her latest cinematic appearance. The next writer may have different plans, but I think what Ram V’s tries here has a lot of potential.

[Review contains spoilers]

So this is a book about Catwoman, and much of her difficulties come indirectly from a conflict with the Penguin, and in the course of the story she bails out the Riddler and that puts her on a course to rescue a captured Poison Ivy. In essence, Ram V offers a Catwoman book that in an expansive view is really a “Gotham Rogues” book. We’ve neither the extremes of righteous Batman here nor the maniacal Joker, but rather a setting where the morally gray among Batman’s villain set interact and sometimes help each other out for loyalty, greed, or self-interest.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Whether that’ll last beyond Ram V, I’m doubtful, but it’s the kind of book I’d read a lot of, especially with Blanco’s unpretentious, clean crime-noir art. Ram V presents Selina as being reluctant to play the part of a hero necessarily, but here it’s more serving her own goals, helping out old allies, and battling bad-er bad guys like Simon Saint than necessarily working on the side of the angels.

Again, that really speaks for the main thrust of the book — an issue to save Riddler, an issue to find Ivy, and an issue to rescue her (in, nicely, big heist style). The fourth chapter has equally attractive art by Evan Cagle, not particularly different than Blanco but with lighter inks that give colorist Jordie Bellaire’s work an appearance of watercolors; within, various cast members tell stories of Selina’s past. We do not see, as the cover suggests, Catwoman costumes from many eras, unfortunately, though a strong nod is given to the events of Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman.

(Aside, but a single pointed panel begs the question as to the Infinite Frontier dispensation of Holly Robinson. She was friend in Brubaker’s Catwoman, perhaps where she’s best known, but enemy in Tom King’s Batman. Ram V’s vague highlight seems to favor Brubaker’s version, though King’s Rebirth Batman is awfully recent to already be out of continuity.)

Similarly Ram V’s annual only very briefly checks in with Selina, drawn by Blanco, before it hands over to Kyle Hotz and Juan Ferreyra to profile the book’s existential assassin threat, Father Valley. One must hand it to Ram V here; it would have been surely easier to cast Bolt or some other anonymous DC assassin character in the book, but Ram V went with Valley, who is indeed related to Azrael Jean-Paul Valley by way of his father (but is not, as it turns out, actually Jean-Paul’s father).

As such, for what seems no good reason except the absolute joy of it, Ram V takes the annual to spin an Azrael/Order of St. Dumas story, wonderful in its inanity. I am not entirely sure Ram V’s intimation of Jean-Paul having been sent away from the order as a child quite lines up with James Tynion’s recent Azrael origin in Detective Comics as much as it does Dennis O’Neil’s years-ago Batman: Sword of Azrael, but no matter — it’s still a thrill that “Father Valley” here and Jean-Paul are practically brothers (one wonders if this will rise to the level of Jean-Paul actually finding out about it before Ram V exits Catwoman).

Two pages I thought worth pointing out in Catwoman Vol. 5: Valley of the Shadow of Death, both in the second chapter. In the first, Ram V has Selina getting into her Catwoman garb; she is surely being presented sexually here, but Fernando Blanco is among the artists who can draw sexually without drawing exploitatively. And what stuck out to me in the scene were the zippers, Selina having to zip the back of the costume and under an arm and again for the cowl. It’s the very antithesis of a form-fitting costume that magically goes on, and I thought reflected Ram V and Blanco’s great attention to detail.



Similarly, a couple pages later, note the rain coming down, through to when Selina cuts a hole in the top of a van, and once inside, the rain is still coming down through the hole. There’s no shortage of creative teams, in my opinion, who would have let physics be damned and ignored the realities of the scenery, and I appreciated that Ram V and Blanco are paying attention.

[Includes original and variant covers, Annual variant cover Easter eggs, character sketches]


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post