Comic Review: “Catwoman: When In Rome (TPB)”

 

Well, I might as well kick this review off with the bad news: hot on the heels of The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, this one’s sadly disappointing. Not completely terrible, but not amazing like the last two books on which Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale worked together on. Maybe if it was a little longer a bit more could have been done here, but I suppose it’s only fair to say that they do a decent enough job in six parts. The basic setup for the story is this: during the events of Dark Victory Selina loses her patience with Bruce Wayne / Batman – who she somehow doesn’t know is the same person even know it’s alluded to here so obviously that you’d think she’d make the connection – and takes a trip to Rome with…the Riddler for some reason (maybe there’s some background between the two that I’m missing from comics I’ve never read). Whilst there she does some digging in to her relationship with the Falcone’s, landing in trouble all the while. Although there is another murder mystery in the backdrop here, and a similar structure too (each chapter’s a different day of the week, although the story does take place over a longer time period than that), it takes the backseat this time. Being set in Rome (lovely city, by the way) instead of Gotham, it just can’t be as engaging as the mystery of the last two books simply because we don’t know who the characters over here are, which is beside the fact that the mystery’s kind of obvious. But that’s fine because Loeb saw this difficulty himself, and the real entertainment here is in how hilarious the book is instead.

Not that I have to say it, but I really did not expect a comedy when I opened this up, a genuinely funny one no less. Who knew Selina Kyle was so witty? The only side we really saw of her in The Long Halloween and Dark Victory was the flirty part – although that is here too – but I like this Selina even better, especially when she’s paired with the Riddler. Like I said, I have no idea why that guy’s here, but I assume that there must be some sort of connection between the two characters, especially since they know each other’s identities. The guy’s surprisingly pervy in this book, but I’m pleased to say that Catwoman kicks his ass every time he is. In fact, though it happens repeatedly, I don’t think I got sick of Sale’s flying Riddler whom Selina chucks everywhere. So, yeah, the book’s kinda funny. Is it sad in the tragic sense that the last two books were? Not really, no. When we come full circle to the events of Dark Victory at the end, Catwoman’s background is the only real sad thing here. Which, again, is fine – with such a small cast of characters in an entirely different city in a small amount of time, there’s not exactly a lot you can do on the tragedy angle. To his credit, Loeb does try to explore some of Selina’s innermost thoughts, desires and fears alike, through a number of nightmares she has, but unfortunately he isn’t very subtle at this and it’s ultimately not that great. It’s a decent enough story in the end, though, for one so short.

There is, however, one point of contention that I’d like to make about something that slightly irritated me. As you should know if you’re reading this and presumably interested in the book, Selina Kyle / Catwoman’s a sexy character. Really witty as it turns out too, but I think most people will know of her as the flirtatious type of girl who also happens to kick a great deal of ass, and that’s fine. But I’m not so sure the way she’s presented here does her character justice. You see, I thought that the way she was depicted in The Long Halloween and Dark Victory was perfection on both Loeb and Sale’s part, and I pointed this out at the time. There’s a good mixture of her being her flirty self and kicking ass, but no lingering ass  or tit shots, or her in a constant state of undress. This is, in part, due to her costume of choice in these past three books. It’s not the leather burglar outfit she’ll later wear – which is referenced to here at one point when she buys a similar costume – but a literal presentation of a cat, whiskers and all, and I think it looks really cool on her. It’s still used here, so I’ve no complaint on the way she’s depicted as Catwoman in this book. But as Selina Kyle, well, that’s a different matter. Basically, she’s either wearing barely anything or nothing at all, and I’m not sure why. “For the sake of comedy” when other characters make note of her appearance or she beats up the Riddler just isn’t a good enough reason, at least for me. In team’s defense, however, I will say that it makes sense from the perspective of the nightmares that are centered around Bruce Wayne / Batman because that’s a relationship she desires. Just not sure that she needs to come out of such a nightmare straddling a different man with nothing on, then jumping out a window into a pool where this man and the Riddler ogle her naked body. It’s just kind of silly. That said, don’t take it as a reason not to bother with the book. It’s daft, yes, but not what I’d call offensive when she kicks the shit out of the Riddler for the way he treats her, and even acknowledges how little a man he is. Besides, it’s not anywhere near as bad as whatever the fuck’s going on in the New 52 reboot of the character with its sad, sad covers.

Anyway, enough about the story. It’s alright, blah, blah, blah. What I really want to talk about is the art. So, here’s the thing: in the last two books, a chap called Gregory Wright was the colourist of Tim Sale’s artwork, and he did a lovely job. Well, the colourist this time is Dave Stewart, a name I’m now familiar with as someone who worked on Hellboy, and, fuck me, does he do an incredible job here. The process behind creating the watercolour effect, called ink washing, is explained at the back of the book and the result is simply brilliant. What amazes me is that, after reading the last several books with Tim Sale’s artwork on every page, you wouldn’t look at it and think that it’d suit a style more in line with a painting, but it surprisingly does, especially when it is paired against a more stylistic approach like that of what we’ve previously seen every now and the. The thing is, I wouldn’t say one style’s better than the other – that simply wouldn’t be fair. If this style of colouring was used on the last couple of books, I’m just not sure that it’d work in the same way. But here, in the streets of Rome, yeah, you can bet that it works. It’s just a shame that Sale doesn’t do anything interesting with panel composition, preferring the more traditional approach where none overlap one another or anything like that. You can’t have it all, I suppose. Still, what’s here is good enough, and I’ll be sad to see it go when we move on to Hush next. Although I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ve grown very quickly to love this guy’s artwork. Although Jim Lee’s artwork looks amazing and I’ll no doubt fall in love with it too, I shall miss Sale’s weird but wonderful character designs, as well as his use of high contrast in great big shots that take over a full page or two. Arrivederci, artistic chum.

In conclusion then, consider this a companion piece to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s previous two books. It’s not completely necessary that you pick it up since their Batman story ends with Dark Victory anyway (well, actually, it might not if Hush is another direct sequel, though I don’t think it is), but you’ll enjoy it if you decide to pick it up after the last two books. It’s practically worth it just to see the difference a change of colourist can make to someone’s art, or at least if you’re me and like that sort of thing. So, yes, Hush next. It looks to be of roughly the same length as The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, so hopefully if it takes me a while to read I can write my analysis of sorts on the former book.

After Hush, I’ve decided – to fuck with it! We’re just going to dive head first into Grant Morrison’s long run and never look back. Well, actually, in a run that long I might take a break with something else here and there, but you get the point. Technically we’re not starting with Morrison himself though. Although I have The Black Casebook, a book of much older stories that inspired his run, I actually have an additional book before that which should help with some background going in. It’s one of my dad’s books, dramatically titled The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. This is actually a load of bullshit, or it was when I was a kid. Like The Black Casebook, it collects a bunch of older stories, and younger me shall forever wonder why the fuck my dad bought it because when that kid read them he thought they were total crap compared to the likes of Arkham Asylum and Year One, and so on. Maybe I’ll see some appeal in them now…maybe. However, although I’ll slog through what will probably be stuff that I’ll still hate, it should be worth it in the end for a graphic novel at the end, probably the real reason my dad bought this. It’s called Son of the Demon, and I’ll explain its significance when I get round to a short post prior to the start of my Morrison run.

Until next time.

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