Review: Batman: One Bad Day: Catwoman hardcover (DC Comics)


What is the meaning of value? It’s a potent question that G. Willow Wilson asks in the context of DC Comics' preeminent thief, Catwoman. It’s not that there’s so many double-crosses in Batman: One Bad Day: Catwoman as that the value of the McGuffin keeps changing — what was valuable becomes worthless and what was worthless becomes valuable, and ultimately value is not about actual worth but sentiment, and what people are willing to pay versus what things actually cost.

Wilson’s work has been hit-or-miss for me, though her recent Poison Ivy Vol. 1: The Virtuous Cycle was really spectacular. As such, I was hopeful for One Bad Day: Catwoman, though of all Batman’s rogues, I know Selina Kyle is one whose stories can work well or flame out miserably. In the sense of a Catwoman story, Wilson’s One Bad Day is good, really good — again, a thoughtful treatise on value in which Selina’s life as indigent child and later master thief position her well to represent oft-conflicting perspectives here. Wilson also adroitly negotiates that thorniest of things, the Batman/Catwoman romance.

As a “One Bad Day” story (or what I’m expecting from thereof), however, Catwoman misses the mark. I’ll repeat that this is a really good Catwoman story, prime fodder for a Prestige one-shot or anniversary issue. But even in the basic premise of Catwoman working alongside Batman instead of against him, Catwoman is nowhere close to Killing Joke’s legacy, letting alone that the “one bad day” of the story is just Selina having a run-of-the-mill bad day (and not really that bad, in the end). Add to that an astounding continuity flop that makes it difficult to recommend this as a canon Catwoman book, and we end up with a fantastic story that simply shouldn’t have been positioned where it was.

[Review contains spoilers]

One Bad Day: Catwoman returns continually to the divide between its “haves”and “have-nots,” remarking more than once on the old chestnut that the rich get richer while the poor stay poor. Wilson’s keen insight is the way in which Catwoman Selina Kyle bridges this divide; by many tellings, she is a child born into poverty who manages to transcend that divide only by “othering” herself, stepping outside the system to steal in order to build up her wealth.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Here, Selina’s got a particular and personal heist. Her mother inherited a priceless brooch that she was then forced to sell to an unscrupulous pawn broker at a fraction of its price in order to get rent money; an auction curator found the piece, recognized it’s worth, and put it up for auction for thousands of dollars. Unusual for Catwoman, Selina aims to steal back something that’s essentially hers, righting the wrong of her mother being taken advantage of all those years ago.

In the twists and turns, it turns out the pawn broker was right and the brooch is a fake; the value of the thing, to both Selina and to the potential auction buyers, is all in its mythology. The value of the thing is not in the thing itself but in the value people imbue it with (thus how coins and pieces of paper become money); what all of this stealing ultimately means for Selina is less about material things and instead about erasing the past, as if to make the embarrassing incident in the pawn shop to have never happened.

It’s all a scheme many times over by the auction curator, whose villainous kink over many decades seems to be just tricking people into buying things that are actually worthless. As these things go, she turns out to be a super-strong supervillain called the Forger, and she’s not even profiting off of her crimes, just enjoying the trickery. That doesn’t wholly make sense, but I’m reminded of simpler times when Riddler would commit a crime just to prove himself smarter than Batman, or Two-Face just to steal something numerical. After years of Catwoman facing mobsters drunk on power or jealous of her beauty, this conflict over the very nature of thieving is something I’d happily read more about.

It’s small, depending on your point of view, but the Schrodinger’s cat(woman) moment for me in One Bad Day was the page turn when Selina goes to call her sister Maggie on one page, and Maggie answers on the other. This, any Catwoman fan knows, would be decisive — show us Maggie in a wheelchair or even Maggie in a nun’s habit and Wilson’s story continues apace; anything else and we’ve got problems. And it’s “anything else” — Maggie scraping by in a 9-to-5 as a cashier.

I get it, for the theme — Maggie’s is the third perspective, going on with living her life, not haunted by the brooch any more than when it passed from her mother’s hands. But we’re in “One Bad Day,” and just the same as the Joker’s comedian flashbacks in Killing Joke are possibly, at least, a viable origin for the villain, so too do we want One Bad Day: Catwoman to feel of a piece with the modern Catwoman. Even if Wilson didn’t dovetail perfectly with the Ed Brubaker or most recent Ram V uses of Maggie, to be antithetical even to Mindy Newell’s Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper (living in the zeitgeist right up there with Batman: Year One) lessens the impact of this book, and it seems so easily avoided. Too, again, that there is no “bad day” here, and also that Catwoman and Batman’s relationship is shockingly healthy — good in general, bad for One Bad Day.

I’ll note that Batman: One Bad Day: Catwoman starts slow, with big ponderous (though well-rendered) panels by Jamie McKelvie, before G. Willow Wilson’s book picks up about 20 pages in with the auction house. McKelvie colors here too, and I felt my copy seemed washed out, the skin tones too pale and so on, though your results may vary. Again, a fine Catwoman story, up there indeed with the Penguin and Bane volumes of this series, though nowhere near Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler that really lived up to “One Bad Day”’s promise.

[Includes original and variant covers, black and white art pages]

Rating 2.5

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I know it's a little off-topic, but I've been reading the Superman: The Warworld Saga trade, and I'm really hoping you get a chance to review it soon. I say "soon" but that's a relative term with this book. You see, DC released all of it in one softcover, but it's as thick as an omnibus. My assumption has always been if it sells well, they'll release it in hardcover (usually multiple hardcovers). If it doesn't sell as well, they'll release it in softcover. But to release so much, collected in a single softcover, is so very unlike DC. Normally, I would think there would be Warword Parts 1, 2, and 3, each published as a separate book. Obviously, it's nice to have it all in one book (albeit expensive), but I would've preferred multiple hardcovers (which might be cheaper in terms of production costs but I have no idea). Anyway, i'm enjoying it so far and I hope you will too.

    1. Chuck, I appreciate the comment. I did review "Warworld Saga," of sorts, in its three original individual releases — you should find what you're looking for at this link: Given that they already released most of that book as individual collections, I'm not as confident as you in their re-collecting it individually as cut-downs from the omnibus, though I'd be happy if they did. Pretty sure most if not all from the Saga trade is available across other collections, one exception being the Batman/Superman: Authority Special. Happy to hear more of your thoughts on that (or should I say "those") Warworld books!


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