Review: Catwoman Vol. 6: Fear State trade paperback (DC Comics)


I’ll note at the top of my review of Catwoman Vol. 6: Fear State that between Catwoman Vol. 5: Valley of the Shadow of Death and this one, DC appears to have dropped an issue, Catwoman #33. Catwoman Vol. 5 ends with issue #32 and the Catwoman annual, and Catwoman Vol. 6 opens with issue #34. It’s no small issue, either, as it reveals the identity of the man who’s been assisting Catwoman from the shadows throughout Ram V’s run, as well as introducting an altruistic gang of rogues who factor in later. I don’t think it affected my enjoyment of Catwoman Vol. 6 that much — I chalked what confusion I had originally to my faulty memory before I realized the missing issue — but it’s an unfortunate gaffe on DC’s part.

So, Ram V ultimately wrote about 14 issues of Catwoman plus the annual. Of those, four were tie-ins to exterior Batman series events, making Ram V’s independent take even smaller. As is often the way of these things, it’s hard to puzzle out what Ram V might’ve been trying to do in his run, where he suceeded and where the needs of the whole brought him up short, except for the reader’s sense that something didn’t go quite as planned.

Ultimately, perhaps unfortunately, Ram V’s time on Catwoman seems even less than a “run,” more of a kind of place-holding measure between where Selina Kyle needed to be for Joker War and where she needed to be for Fear State. Though, that’s true for Joelle Jones' time in this Catwoman series too, essentially giving Selina a place to be between Tom King’s bat-wedding and his finale. Will Tini Howard’s tenure be the time that Catwoman’s title is finally her own? Or is that a mistaken expectation for any of the ancillary Bat-titles, which — for better or worse — increasingly exist just to tie back into Batman every couple of months.

[Review contains spoilers]

What we’ve got then among Catwoman: Fear State’s five issues is one single issue that wraps up the main antagonist of Ram V’s run (would be two issues if #33 were included), three issues of “Fear State” tie-in, and then Ram V’s offbeat epilogue. That initial single issue is impressive, representative of the best aspects of Ram V’s Catwoman all along — Ram V’s creepy, loose-cannon assassin, Father Valley; Catwoman and Valley in brutal, bloody combat; a good mystery as to what Valley’s plan is; and art by Fernando Blanco that backs it all up, particularly when Blanco plays with perspective in a double-page spread with “three-dimensional” screens.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

A lot of this we’ve seen before, and it’s possible what writers need is a new vocabulary for deadling with Selina Kyle — the assassin is after her because she double-crossed someone, his way of striking back at Selina is to target her sister Maggie, etc. But again, Ram V’s Valley has been wonderfully weird, not to mention his ties to one of my favorites, Azrael, and the conclusion of his feud with Catwoman in the epilogue is shocking in its simplicity. It feels anticlimactic that Valley should just give up after killing someone he didn’t mean to (as if perhaps Ram V had to wrap things up sooner than he expected), but the sudden turn also caught me nicely off guard.

That initial single issue is important because, in the “Fear State” tie-ins that follow, Catwoman rather takes a back seat. It’s hard to quantify because Selina is present, and the action does revolve around things that have happened to her previously — that Catwoman rescued Poison Ivy from Simon Saint, that Penguin and Riddler want revenge for Catwoman’s double-crosses during Joker War, and so on.

But the Ivy aspect seems more a plot for the Harley Quinn title for which Catwoman is just renting some space, and the Penguin/Riddler story is directly a bridge from one Bat-crossover to the next. Once one begins pulling that thread, it has the effect of making much of Ram V’s Catwoman work seem in obvious service to others' needs — again, that this is not so much a “run” as a convient parking spot for B-plots (C-plots?) from Batman with no purpose but to coincide back with Batman again.

Blanco departs after the first chapter, with a few different artists subbing with various degrees of effectiveness during “Fear State.” Ram V’s final issue, however, is drawn by Caspar Wijngaard, whose quirky, rounded style and fluorescent coloring is tons of fun for the final “caper” issue. Again, there’s a problematic lack of originality here — Clayface’s shape-changing becoming a too-easy Bat-writer crutch — but I appreciate the moments Ram V steps back to wax eloquently about Gotham (or New York or what have you). Too, I did enjoy Ram V’s nods to his Batman: Urban Legends and DC Festival of Heroes stories, though in the absence of a deluxe collection of Festival or etc., DC ought have also included his “Cheshire Cat” story here.



With Catwoman Vol. 6: Fear State, we find ourselves now almost 40 issues in to a title that I’m not sure has ever been doing much more than treading water between events, and even despite some capable creators behind it. Maybe Tini Howard’s run will be the shift, though the fact that Howard is about to bring back Black Mask does not suggest significant new ground to come. DC can sell a Catwoman series, so they produce it, but possibly this is an instance where acting as prominent supporting cast in another title would serve this character better than starring in a middling version of her own.

[Includes original and variant covers, script to page section]

Comments ( 4 )

  1. I've commented on other reviews about my affection for this "shared universe" period in the Bat-titles. I definitely understand the "convenient parking spot" interpretation - and I'd bet it reads differently in trades - but week to week, it really felt like Gotham was more fleshed out than it's been in years (maybe since the Reborn days of 2009, or even as far back as my golden age, No Man's Land).

    Each book felt like a different thread in the tapestry; if you wanted to follow Riddler, he's over in Catwoman, but if you're looking for Scarecrow, he's in the main book, &c. It reminded me, again, of how the X-books were flourishing when Jonathan Hickman was running the show, with characters weaving in and out of stories to the point where the whole line was essentially a multifaceted weekly.

    Indeed, Marvel has been collecting all the X-books as individual titles but also as "all in" trades (dubbed Dawn of X, Vol. 1-16; Reign of X, Vol. 1-14; and now Destiny of X). It lets you see the whole picture unfold in real time (so when Storm's sick, for example, she's sick in /all/ the books at the same time). I wonder if there's something to be said for eventually collecting this era of Bat-books in the same way. There's certainly precedent, in Knightfall and NML and War Games, though those were more linear crossovers than this melange approach.

    Omitting #33, however, is egregious.

    1. Yeah, I remeber Tynion had stated that was one of the goals of the post-Death Metal era: To flesh out Gotham and tighten the connectivity between the books more than they'd been since the early 2000s.

      As I came into comics around that time, I was understandably excited to see the Bat Family return to that style. But it pretty much collapsed with Tynion's abrupt departure and it doesn't look like Zdarsky's interested in that same approach (at least not yet).

    2. > doesn't look like Zdarsky's interested

      I don't think it's exclusively Zdarsky's fault. To my eyes, no one in the Bat office is on the same page. Zdarsky's Batman is making much ado about Tim Drake's Robin being the best complement to Batman, but Tim's got his own book where he lives on a houseboat and isn't working with Batman. Catwoman is or isn't moving on with a new guy, depending on what book you're reading, and I don't think Joker and Harley's books are even in the same continuity. Plus some of the books are still being coy about whether they're set before or after Dark Crisis, which is causing too much disjunction.

      Meanwhile, I'm pretty close to giving up on Detective Comics because I can't follow the story, and solicitations are threatening that we're just only beginning "Act Two" in March.

    3. Good points.

      Once we get past Dark Crisis, maybe we'll see more cohesion. Tynion's unexpected departure threw the entire line into chaos and it's only now begun regaining its footing (between Wiliamson's fill-in tenure and Zdarsky's inaugural arc).

      Sorry to hear about Ram V's Detective Comics being unreadable, though. I've been enjoying his Carnage and his and Al Ewing's Venom (and I say this as someone who doesn't care for the Symbiotes normally).

      I was curious about him getting the ancillary Batman book (same with his Catwoman given all the 'Best Selina Sine Brubaker' praise), but your verdict's given me pause.


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