It’s hard to believe we’re only a third of the way through Batman Catwoman. That’s because writer Tom King, artist Clay Mann, colorist Tomeu Morey, and letterer Clayton Cowles aren’t spinning their wheels. They’re creating a series that’s going places. Often, those places feel dangerous. DC Comics’ Batman Catwoman #4 is no exception.
King has somehow set up a plot, with three separate timelines, that still has a sense of stakes. Though we see Selina in the future, we still worry for her safety in the present. This is a nearly impossible feat of writing. Just as Romeo & Juliet gets us to hope against hope that they’ll come through all of this, even though the Chorus assures us from page one that they will not, Batman Catwoman makes us fear despite our assurance of safety. Selina will live on to a ripe old age. She and Bruce will be happily married for years. But Selina digs herself deeper and deeper into a hole. And with every passing moment, we feel that the future might not come to pass. King uses our knowledge against us, almost. He leaves us wondering “How will they get through this?”
Mann’s layouts create a real sense of calm for much of the issue. Even when Batwoman, the futuristic Helena Wayne, is fighting goons, the page looks peaceful. Just as when Selina and Bruce are having a tense conversation. Each of these moments feels ordered and simple. Mann’s art style is gentle and soothing, but his panels are also neat and tidy. It makes these scenes, especially those that do have fights or danger, feel familiar. Sure, danger lurks behind every corner, but it’s a danger we know well. We’ve seen Batman punching Penguin goons, Batwoman doing the same feels comfortable and on-brand. But then we get panels that tilt and twist. We see the frenzied last few seconds of Batman defusing a bomb. These moments stand out and shock the reader just as they twist out of sync with the rest of the page.
It’s in the Iceberg Lounge that we discover a new element to this story. Morey shows Batwoman arriving. She’s doing research into a murder. And though this is a bleak venue, there are specks of brilliant color on these pages. We see her yellow gloves and the orange of Penguin’s outfit. As simple as the scene is, there’s a sense of brightness. Helena seems like her father, suddenly. A much younger version of Bruce, still learning the ropes and still bright eyed and bushy tailed. At the end of the issue, we return to the Iceberg Lounge. This time, we’re following Selina there. The page is almost identical in how it depicts the setting, except in its coloring. The page is bland. The colors that are present are muted and soft. Morey shows us how a mother and daughter see the world quite differently. Helena’s bright days are still ahead, Selina’s have faded into the past.
Cowles shows us the complicated nature of these characters. When we first see Helena fighting the Penguin’s goons, the “CLNK” of her batarangs knocking away their guns is small. It’s a quite noise, a subtle noise. But when she’s in the thick of battle, she whacks one goon upside the head. The massive “POW” is followed by a small speech bubble. “I’m aware,” she says simply, in answer to one of Cobblepot’s claims. The juxtaposition between those two moments, right next to each other on the page, shows that Helena really is the daughter of both her parents. She’s the subtle, quiet, and assured daughter of Catwoman, with all the bombastic punchiness of her father. Cowles continues to do this throughout the issue, showing Clayface’s elegant speech in scratchy green letters, and Phantasm’s cool logic in dark, twisting, black word balloons. Under Cowles’ pen, every character is a layered enigma.
DC Comics’ Batman Catwoman continues to deliver. It’s a story that feels dangerous. Even some of its own elements seem to threaten one another. But that’s because this creative team has imbued this story with a tremendous feeling of stakes. Every scene feels like it could go anywhere, even when future scenes tell us otherwise. Pick up the next issue to this fantastic series, out from DC Comics March 30th, at a comic shop near you!