Catwoman: When in Rome
Why does Catwoman get all the best stories? Darwyn Cooke’s Ego, which contained Selina’s Big Score, was the first Batman-ish comic I read, and it’s still one of the most memorable in terms of story and characters. I wonder if it’s the fact writers just respect Selina/Catwoman enough to only give her the very best—or if they’re just so tickled by the idea of drawing a mightily-proportioned kick-butt heroine in black leather and a whip and claws. I was somewhat leery of picking up a Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale production simply because, despite the high acclaim they have for The Long Halloween and others, I either find Sale’s art enormously brilliant or rather strange. Sale makes Catwoman proportionately 40% cleavage, but I find I much prefer the “traditional” Catwoman look (thigh-high boots, purplish leather top, tail, cat mask with whiskers) over what I now know was Darwyn Cooke’s invention, the cat-eyed goggles and Honor Blackman-esque jumpsuit. Since Sale mostly draws the former for this comic, I’m mostly content. That said, I prefer Darwyn Cooke’s version of Selina—the short hair, the glam ‘40s retro look, and also I must say I don’t like how Sale draws the Joker, or Batman, for that matter. His Two-Face, on the other hand, is the epitome of cool, and bravo to this story for actually making the Riddler menacing, or at least a force to be reckoned with. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
You have to suspend your belief on a number of points When in Rome—it seems to me everyone should figure out Selina is Catwoman a long time before they do. As I understand it, at this point in the mythology Selina loves Bruce and Catwoman loves Batman but she doesn’t connect the two? If that’s the case, she must be blind. That Catwoman takes E. Nigma aka the Riddler along with her to Rome just because he’s good at solving riddles seems a stretch. But I don’t care. I love the conceit of this—it makes for hilarious writing and fantastic art. Sale must have a graphic art/marketing art background because the covers he designs for the six parts of this are incredible. They are based on advertising art by a French marketer, and the influence shows—I’d be interested in acquiring prints of all six covers and framing them. I’m afraid I haven’t been good to the colorists on comics—I didn’t realize until I read the featurette at the back of this collection how much they actually (can) contribute to the finished look of the comic. Hats off to Dave Stewart who transforms Sale’s inkwash/ink (watercolor-style) distinctive art into fabulous, almost moving pastels.
Loeb is good at making Selina’s inner monologue instantly sympathetic and identifiable. As in Selina’s Big Score, we’re with her from the outset. And as glamorous as Catwoman is in Rome, I love that the story starts with her and the Riddler waiting at the baggage claim for her lost catsuit! Sadly, all the handsome, hyper-masculine (yet I’d call them pretty boys) hitmen-type characters who try to resist Selina’s charms but ultimately fall in love with her don’t seem to last long (I’m thinking of Jeff from Big Score). Here’s another one, the amusing and hulkish Christopher Castillo. Selina has some of her funniest, winning-est dialogue with “Blondie.” Selina manages to be Audrey Hepburn, Sophie Lauren, and Halle Berry rolled into one—ergo, she’s super-cool and super-sexy, ergo, Rome is the perfect setting for her (Paris would be fun, too).
Between the constant intrigue with Blondie—is he on Selina’s side or is he out to kill her?—and Selina’s nightmarish, Twilight Zone nightmares/hallucinations about Batman, you might think her interactions with Nigma would get overpowered. The opposite is the case, and their screwed-up relationship is my favorite part of the plot. He seems, without giving too much of the plot away, to always be hanging around her bedroom trying to get a peek of her (he even tries on her catsuit in a ghoulishly laughable panel). “What? Tell me you’ve never wondered how you’d look in a skintight green leotard with question marks all over it . . . and a nifty bowler hat.” I’m afraid sometimes Selina brings all the attention on herself as she goes about almost naked quite a bit of the time. (Funny sequence where she straddles Blondie who she thinks is trying to shoot her. SELINA: “You make a habit of breaking into women’s bedrooms, pointing your gun at them?” BLONDIE: “I have no gun.” SELINA: ... “Oh.” Reminds me of a bad joke in “Queen of Hearts,” but let’s not go there.) The Riddler reminds me a bit of Chauvelin in that his end goal is to unmask Batman (surely he could figure it out—though as I recall from one of the Dini comics, he did and then got knocked out so he doesn’t remember anymore) and thinks that Selina knows. SELINA: “It’d help if we knew who the Joker was before he was the Joker.” NIGMA: “Ah, Gotham City’s second best riddle.” My favorite panel in this one vast treat is Selina thinking she’s kissing Batman only to wake up kissing the Riddler. Ha!
Interestingly, in her nightmares at least, Selina rages against Batman for trying to mold her simply into Selina Kyle, billionaire debutante and ignoring the Catwoman side of her personality, which, if true, is pure hypocrisy coming from him! There’s a superb, superb flashback sequence of Catwoman’s first meeting with Batman, rendered in glorious color. As for the connections with the mob, Selina trying to find out if her real parents were the Falcones, I could take it or leave it. Mark Chiarello is the editor and notes that it was his Sicilian background which the boys needed for authenticity. It’s hard for me to see Carmine Falcone as anyone but Tom Wilkinson at this point, which makes all of this Mafia stuff less than compelling for the likes of me. Still, it’s not every day you get to witness a cat burglary in the Vatican with a demented supervillaness named Cheetah!
This has definitely cemented my opinion: I’m going to give the other Loeb/Sale collections a chance. They really impressed me with this one.