Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trade Waiting - Catwoman Volume one: The Trail of the Catwoman

Catwoman volume one was published by DC Comics and charts the return of Selina Kyle to the DC Universe after her ‘disappearance’ during the No Man’s Land storyline that ran through all of the books in the bat-family in the early two thousands. The book can be split into four parts, with Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke in some shape or form being the tissue that connects the whole volume. The first part of the book is the Selina’s Big Score storyline that is written, pencilled and inked by Darwyn Cooke and Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth. The second part is a study into the character of Slam Bradley that was originally featured as back up strips in the pages of Detective Comics that is written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled and inked by Darwyn Cooke and coloured by Matt Hollingsworth. The third part explains Selina’s return to Gotham and her new mission statement once there and is written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred, and coloured by Matt Hollingsworth. The fourth and final part of the book takes a look at Gotham’s crooked police force and how Selina interacts with and reacts to it and is written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Brad Rader, Cameron Stewart and Rick Burchett, and again coloured by Matt Hollingsworth. It is often said that too many cooks spoil the broth and no where is this truer than comics. Do Brubaker, Cooke and friends break the trend with this volume? Find out after the jump.

Catwoman: The Trail of the Catwoman

Written by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred, Brad Rader, Cameron Stewart, Rick Burchett and Matt Hollingsworth

The Trail of the Catwoman is not a small book, containing Selina’s Big Score, back up strips from Detective Comics and issues one to nine of Catwoman (2001) and seeks to spend a lot of it’s time putting the pieces in place to change the direction of Selina’s character from Cat Burglar to protector of Gotham’s East End, home to the forgotten many that inhabit the city, the prostitutes, the homeless and the people too old, young or frail to look after themselves. This is not to say the book is all do gooding and that Selina has left her old ways behind, the master thief that she is, stealing things is a major part of the story, particularly in the Selinas big score portion of the book.
Along the way, an engaging supporting cast is introduced utilizing little used characters such as old school private investigator Slam Bradley and confidant to the Bat and physician supreme, Doctor Leslie Thompkins. Selina’s sister, Holly, is reintroduced as her eyes and ears on the street and is the character that Selina is without a shadow of a doubt, closest to. We also get a guest appearance from Gotham Central’s very own Crispus Allen and even the Bat himself makes a cameo himself.

The capes and cowls aspect of the book is played to a minimum. Too often Catwoman has been seen as a playful foil to Batman’s hard nosed vigilante but Cooke and Brubaker go to great lengths to giving the character a much needed expansion of her personality with Selina seen out of costume more than she is seen in it. There is also a new spin on the idea of secret identity. Rather than have the tried and trusted technique of having a character be two distinct personalities in and out of the costume, Selina IS Catwoman, and uses her disappearance in a previous storyline to keep the lie going and thus allowing her to work in the shadows with relative freedom. This also makes Brubaker’s life as writer a little easier as it appears that quite a few characters on both sides know that Selina and Catwoman are the same person and the idea that everyone thinks she is dead negates the need to explain just how she operates.
Selina’s Big Score, the first major storyline contained within the volume and handled almost in it’s entirety by Darwyn Cooke is a straight up heist tale. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to draw a line between this and Cooke’s current major work, the adaptation of Donald Westlake’s Parker novels. Even Selina’s beau in the tale, a chisel jawed grafter, is named Stark, a wink to Westlake’s pen name, Richard Stark.
The story concerns Selina and crews plan and subsequent attempt to steal a large quantity of diamonds that are owned by one of Gotham’s major crime bosses from a speeding train. Cooke was born to tell stories like this and whilst his style is obviously comparable to Bruce Timm, his liberal use of a thick black line to set the mood makes Selina’s big score a noir tale of the highest order.

The second storyline fleshes out Slam Bradley’s quest to investigate further into the disappearance of Selina and her connections to Catwoman. A down on his luck private investigator searching for a thought dead femme fatale is nothing new yet Brubaker and Cooke’s reverence for the genre shows, making a plot device that has been used countless times exciting and fresh. Cooke’s more defined line suits the slight change in tempo and the slightly lighter take on the crime/noir genre.

The third major storyline concerns Selina’s return to Gotham and her decision to help the unwanted sections of society as prostitutes are being murdered by a john that bears an uncanny resemblance to a matinee idol. Interestingly, the interaction with Gotham’s main crime fighter, Batman, is minimal, allowing Selina to become a more rounded individual and as a result convinces the reader that she can step up when forced to confront real threats head on. The combination of Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred on art duties for the first five issues of Catwoman is nothing short of phenomenal. As the storyline goes on it becomes harder and harder to see where Cooke’s art ends and Allred’s starts and vice versa. Fans of either artist’s stuff that haven’t seen their work on Catwoman would do worse than to check this book out. Cooke’s classic Rat Pack aesthetic coupled with Allred’s psychedelic sixties pop art inspired approach combine to create the third artist that many penciller/inker teams seek to establish but are rarely successful in doing so. Both artists’ styles can be seen within any given panel whilst neither of them over encroaches on the other one.

The fourth and final storyline contained in the volume is a study into the police corruption that Gotham City has always suffered from. A crooked cop named MacNalty, (yes that’s right crime fans,) becomes increasingly violent and erratic after a case involving a drug mule spirals out of control after Selina intervenes. This is the storyline where Brubaker really gets to shine, his writing is sharp, plotting tight and characters believable in a situation that isn’t too far removed from the world we inhabit. The art duties for this storyline are handled by Brad Rader, Cameron Stewart and Rick Burchett. There is no problem with any of the above mentioned creators but coming directly after a storyline drawn by Cooke and Allred the drop in quality can be felt. Nevertheless the stylistic aesthetic continues with simple elegant lines used to tell the story and all three artists are without a doubt strong in their craft. The final pages of the volume set up a potential arch villain for Catwoman to deal with and leave you on a slight enough cliff hanger that leaves you wanting more without making you feel that the story you have just read is incomplete.

Verdict – Buy It. Five issues of Cooke and Allred together make this a buy, as does the whole of Selina’s Big Score, as does watching Ed Brubaker evolve into the top creator he is today, as do the Slam Bradley back up tales, but when put together, with a decent price point and a paper and card stock that is miles above the usual poor stock that DC use for its collected editions and this really is a must buy that leaves you chomping at the bit to find out what happens next.

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Klep said...

This era of Catwoman is what made me fall in love with the character, and why I dropped the new52 book after the first issue.

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