Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Catwoman 13 originally released October 17th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Shelby: Last week, we talked about the overuse of darker tropes as a means to make a story excessively dark and gritty in our Chat Cave discussion of Sword of Sorcery 0. The particular example we were discussing was an attempted rape scene which many viewed as a way to make the comic edgier and sell more copies. Drew made the point that the same argument can be made of any emotion; character’s emotions and their reactions to the emotions of those around them help propel the story forward, and they can easily be twisted to sell comics first, and develop plot second. The same can be said of madness. It can be used to effectively display a character’s unraveling, or it can be included in a story merely to push the envelope and be unique. The big problem with madness is it is, by nature, very confusing. So, when we’ve got a story that pushes madness to the extreme with very little reason behind it, we’ve got a disorienting mess on our hands.
Catwoman is standing on a ledge when a raggedy stuffed kitty doll floats down on a balloon. As a mysterious figure with a familiar smile watches, she remembers she last saw this toy in her friend Lola’s apartment. Remember Lola? Her first fence who got killed and blown up by someone or another early on in Judd Winick’s run on this title? Anyway, she finds another toy, this one a robot, and a poster of a chesire cat? And a chess board? And some sort of cat signal? She was chasing her shadow the whole time? It’s unclear.
Selina moves into a new apartment, and Gail (her current fence) gives her a new job; steal the Black Queen and use it to take the White Queen. Because there’s a giant chess game going on over Gotham. So, she steals the Black Queen (literally a giant chess piece), and knocks over the White Queen, but there’s a woman inside? Catwoman tries to break her out, but she says it’s a trap, that the Pawn will be sacrificed. The White Queen blows up, Catwoman goes to the Pawn (because that’s there, too) and breaks the kid out of that (because there’s someone in that one, too), and then the Pawn piece blows up as well, leaving Catwoman and I to wonder “Now what?”
I can see exactly where Ann Nocenti went wrong with this issue. It’s a Death of the Family prelude, so it’s got to be crazy, right? Yes, but not so crazy I don’t know what the hell is going on. The opening sequence with the burnt and broken doll is a perfect example of how Nocenti went too far. Lowering the doll to her on a balloon? The Joker silhouetted against the moon, with only his grin highlighted? Getting into Selina’s head by manipulating her guilt over causing the death of the only real friend she had? That is all perfectly aligned with the Joker’s business model; it’s unsettling, demented, and creepy. But then Nocenti seems to dissolve the barrier between what’s happening in Selina’s head and what’s happening around her for no real reason. Her memories appear to take on physical form, as there’s virtually no distinguising the flashback of the original explosion and the reality of what’s happening to her now. And then there’s that trippy chase scene I included above. Is she on drugs and hallucinating? Is this a Mad Hatter thing? There’s a real Alice in Wonderland vibe. What exactly is it she pulls out of the light at the end? I think a good portion of the blame falls on artist Rafa Sandoval; he, like Nocenti, is trying to do too much and returning a finished product that is busy and aimless. Look at this page of Catwoman climbing to the roof while the Joker watches.
Again, I know exactly what Sandoval is trying to accomplish; he’s going for a dynamic feel with non-traditional “panel” layout, probably to showcase Catwoman’s agile abilities as well as the Joker’s crazy rubbing off on everything. Instead, we’ve got Catwoman in the foreground and background, an environment which is first defined by positive space, then by negative, and no sense of which way is supposed to be up. The looming Joker is nice, but I feel like that foreground Catwoman should be able to see him, and I don’t know where that Joker gargoyle came from. The point is, Sandoval is trying too hard to be innovative and, like Nocenti, is just mucking things up.
Oh, this title is so frustrating. It was frustating under Winick, and it’s frustrating now under Nocenti. Character complexity is shown by making Selina selfish and stupidly reckless on one page, and oddly caring on the next. I didn’t even get into the chess board stuff. Is anyone out there reading this title? Is that chess game an ongoing theme that everyone knows about in this title? Anyway, Drew, were you able to get more out of this than I did, or are you also counting down the days until we no longer have to cover this book?
Drew: Poor Selina. She has so much potential as the lead of a good book, but her reputation around here makes me only think of shit. Unfortunately, this issue does nothing to change that perception. To answer your question, Shelby: I think I may have actually gotten less out of this than you did.
I once had a small child try to tell me the knock-knock joke with the punchline, “orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” (I know you know it). What was unusual in this telling was that there was no set-up — the first “who’s there?” was “orange” — so there was no reason for me to be glad that he didn’t say “banana.” To add to the kind of deconstructed absurdity of this telling, the punchline was followed by a series of go-nowhere knock-knock set-ups where “banana” is at the door. I now think that’s a better way to tell the joke, but it’s clear from this child’s version that he had no idea what makes the joke funny. What he did know is that if he said these words in this order, he would tell a thing called a “joke” and that people think “jokes” are funny. This is essentially the approach Catwoman has taken to storytelling.
Shelby’s right to cite both Nocenti and Sandoval for turning in a confusing mess, but the confusion isn’t just confined to the action sequences. Take this totally normal conversation between Selina and Gwen, which muddied horribly by bizarre layouts and blocking.
I encourage you to click on the image and actually try to follow the scene. I have my own gripes about why this shouldn’t be a double page spread, and why that splash of two characters just talking to each other is kind of gratuitous, but I’ll save those for the comments. What I want to talk about is how difficult Sandoval made this scene to follow. Maybe this is just me, but I’m incredibly bothered by the fact that the last few dialogue balloons are written at the same height on the page as the fourth panel. It forces our eyes to move up the page, which is totally counterintuitive. Part of what irritates me so much about it is that the sky we can see through the window (which seems like the much more logical place to put those balloons) feels like completely wasted space.
I also can’t get over the blocking in this scene (and no, I’m not just talking about Selina’s pose in that first panel). In panel two, Selina adds, seemingly out of nowhere that she hates skin. The first time though this scene, I had no fucking clue what she was talking about. Gwen’s response, “Really? I love it. I’ll take your skin.” doesn’t help at all. We’re talking about Selina’s skin? It’s not until panel four, where we see Selina disgustedly picking at a piece of chicken that she’s talking about the fried skin from the bucket Gwen is holding throughout the scene. Of course, I missed that my first time through, so when Selina reiterates that she hates skin two panels later, I still had no idea what was going on. Other than those mentions of skin, the chicken is never mentioned, and we don’t see any chicken in either panel where it’s being discussed. It’s needlessly confusing, and a solution would have been as simple as swapping the basic content of panels two and four. Instead, I have to work to figure out a completely needless detail, which makes the prospect of comprehending the rest of this issue incredibly uninviting.
Let’s face it: a chess game where someone is held to the moves made by strangers who just grabbed and moved their pieces makes no fucking sense. A giant chess game played throughout the city also makes no sense, but at least I can accept that as rich people having nothing better to do. Throwing out the rules of who makes the moves when makes this seem less like a chess game, and more like a very stupid excuse for Catwoman to see some action this issue. Also, why would a white pawn blow up immediately after the the white queen? Doesn’t that team at least get to make a move before a piece is “sacrificed”?
This issue clearly isn’t designed to invite close readings, and in fact seems to punish anyone paying close attention. It’s my least favorite kind of comic, taking advantage of the Death of the Family crossover in the most cynical way possible. DC will get my money for these two issues, but then it’s back to being completely forgotten about. It’s a shame nobody on this title is aiming higher than that.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?