Catwoman 80th Anniversary: Not Purr-fect, but Better Than Expected

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of CriticalBlast.com or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

 
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon
Del.icio.us icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Catwoman 80th Annivesary 100 Page Super Spectacular Adam Hughes cover

2020 sees a number of 80th anniversaries for major -- if not titular -- characters within the DC Universe, and if these 100-Page Super Spectacular releases are even moderately successfuly, we should start seeing the release of 85th anniversary issues in 2024-25.

What's interesting about getting to do this with Catwoman is that she has, of almost all the longstanding DC characters, gone through the most changes in her published life. She's gone back and forth over the line of hero and villain on more than one occasion. In the 80s she had become an ally to Batman until the Joker drove her insane and made her a villain again. Then she was given a reboot with Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE, and a tragic backstory with Mindy Newell's miniseries that eventually launched Selina Kyle into her own iconic, long-running series with Jo Duffy and Jim Balent.

Costume changes and personality changes permeate the character, so this anthology gave creators great leeway in picking which Catwoman they would like to focus on. Unfortunately, while the book includes divider pinups featuring Catwoman of the 40s, 50s, 60, 70s, etc. the stories are, with a singular exception, all done in a more modern setting.

We begin with "Skin the Cat" by Paul Dini and Emanuela Lupacchino. This adventure focuses on Selina's activist side to protect endangered cats, and gives her a little bit of a communicative ability with the animals as she tracks down a psychotic cat collector known as The Taxidermist. He's perfectly preserving these endangered animals that he steals, and he has a display room all set up for the most elusive and majestic cat of all: Catwoman.

"Now You See Me" is a mostly fun story from Ann Nocenti and Robson Rocha. A security guard sees Catwoman hide a jewel via security footage and decides to show Catwoman he can be a player and a partner. But Catwoman (rendered here in the costume worn by Michelle Pfeiffer in BATMAN RETURNS) has been playing him the whole time, and steals something from him in return. This one would have been a perfectly fine story except for that it's marred by the security guard's female partner waxing eloquent at the beginning and end over which donut she should eat.

"Helena" is the story whose teasers got a spate of reactions on the Internet when writer Tom King released some of the images Mikel Janin had produced for the story -- specifically those of a pregnant Catwoman still bounding across rooftops with Batman. This story is indeed that, but is placed in an indefinite future point, and follows Selina on into her widowed years with a grown-up Helena at her side. A perfectly good and nicely drawn story that encapsulates a "could be" life.

Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case turn in the standout story of this collection. "The Catwoman of Earth" takes place in the setting of BATMAN '66, with the character modeled after actress Julie Newmar. It's perfectly kitschy and campy, and fits the tone of the series while still giving Catwoman room for some feminist advocacy. When her robbery of a science exposition gets interrupted by an actual UFO invasion, it's up to Catwoman to put a stop to things in place of the vacationing Batman and Robin.

"A Cat of Nine Tales" is a somewhat clever play on words for a story title in which Catwoman's caper is interrupted by a security guard who has her dead to rights. In a somewhat Scheherazade-like approach, Selina tells the guard the nine different ways this encounter could play out before ultimately making her escape with none of them happening.

"Little Bird" brings Mindy Newell back to Catwoman, and is drawn by Lee Garbett. The story goes back to Selina's BATMAN: YEAR ONE origins, and even deeper to her having been cared for by a Jewish woman who gave her a special antique gift. With the woman now well on in years and the antique having gone on to the market, Catwoman sets out to steal it back so that it may be returned to its rightful owner. It's interesting on several levels, not the least of which is that Batman actually pays Selina for her time, because Selina is apparently still in the escort business at this stage of her evolution.

Chuck Dixon and Kelley Jones present one of the weaker stories of the anthology. "Born to Kiln" has a nice confrontation and a formidable opponent for Catwoman in the monstrous Clayface. The ending is even clever (although spoiled by my having seen a near-similar fate just recently with Clayface in the HARLEY QUINN: SEASON ONE bingeing I engaged in). Unfortunately, Jones's art style has never been my taste; it works well for surrealistic settings like Deadman, but just looks too bizarre and unnatural for someone like Catwoman. The facial expressions look goofy and the body poses purely unnatural. But, moving on...

"Conventional Wisdom" by Will Pfeifer and Pia Guerra puts Selina in a surrealistic tour for the readers: a comic book convention. But not just a regular comic convention, but a Bat Convention, where she finds herself a celebrity table guest, along with Bruce Wayne and the rest of Batman's Gallery of Rogues. Something's definitely amiss in this nightmare for Selina, and she's going to have to remember how she fell down this rabbit hole if she's ever going to have any hope of getting back to the real world. I really enjoyed the conceit on this one, as well as the popping colors and clear line art.

Ram V and Fernando Blanco send Selina on a road trip with her sister Maggie as they return to Gotham City from the west coast, encountering mundane issues and causing trouble along the way. "Addicted to Trouble" seems to have been written as a short story rather than a comics script, and it retains that feel in its translation to sequential art. It's a little jarring to see word balloons followed by text boxes that are merely dialogue tags. Plus, the story itself seemed to have no point other than to return Selina to Gotham and induce readers to pick up CATWOMAN #25 for the rest of the story.

"The Art of Picking a Lock" takes readers back to the Catwoman era when Selina was working with Holly and P.I. Slam Bradley. Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart cue up the action from the very first panel, pitting Selina in a race against time while the narrative boxes fill us in on a chapter from Selina's childhood that, to me, carries echoes from the childhood scenes from THE SAINT. This one's a nice little vignette that is part of a larger adventure that we don't really have to experience to understand how it will go. It's a story from a story, and is strong enough to stand on its own as such.

Pinups in this volume include work from Babs Tarr, Ty Templeton, Steve Rude & Matt Hollingsworth, Tula Lotay, Tim Sale & Brennan Wagner, Jim Balent, and Jae Lee & June Chung.

At $9.99, it's not a terrible price, given the 100 pages of content and the prestige format binding. However, the price point discourages all but the most ardent collectors from acquiring all of the variant covers.

 

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0