reflection

Off to an intriguing start, Catwoman: Lonely City #1 proves that Cliff Chiang is more than just an incredible artist - but a capable storyteller in his own right.
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Review: CATWOMAN: LONELY CITY #1 – New Old Neighborhood

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From all-star comics creator Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman, Paper Girls) comes this tale of a tired old thief coming back to a city that wants her gone. Catwoman: Lonely City #1 is an intriguing and gorgeous opening chapter from DC’s Black Label imprint. With Chiang seting up a troubling new era for Gotham that’s brought to life by his ever-spectacular visual work, this is a new series that will be a must-read for DC fans.

“Ten years ago, the massacre known as Fools’ Night claimed the lives of Batman, The Joker, Nightwing, and Commissioner Gordon…and sent Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, to prison. A decade later, Gotham has grown up—it’s put away costumed heroism and villainy as childish things. The new Gotham is cleaner, safer…and a lot less free, under the watchful eye of Mayor Harvey Dent and his Batcops. It’s into this new city that Selina Kyle returns, a changed woman…with her mind on that one last big score: the secrets hidden inside the Batcave! She doesn’t need the money—she just needs to know…who is “Orpheus?”

Writing & Plot

A big question leading into Catwoman: Lonely City #1 was if Cliff Chiang can write as well as he can draw. Well so far, the short answer is damn near. Lonely City sees us in a changed, unfamiliar Gotham without the Batman. Instead, we are guided into the life of a much older and fresh out of prison Selina Kyle. Chiang writes this Catwoman as a guarded, struggling version of the confident thief and part-time villain she used to be. She’s carefully tip-toeing around this “peaceful” new Gotham all too aware of her physical limitations due to her age. Some other favorite  villains (and one old hero) make some appearances as well, and really sell just how much has changed. Gotham under the protection of Harvey Dent teeters on dystopic fascism, where some of his old co-rogue’s have to hide in the undergrowth of dives and alleys.

Chiang’s choices of plot focus show a range of what he wants to focus on for both Gotham and Selina as a character. Catwoman’s knowledge that she is obviously older and not as physically capable is at war with who she is. She cannot allow herself to give up, especially with the guilt she feels at events prior to her imprisonment. She’s still absolutely Selina Kyle, but now she’s one with no reason to exist than to, well, keep being Catwoman. It’s like a more measured version of what Miller did in The Dark Knight Returns, but more graceful and a more believable commentary on modern fascism. Every character interaction has enormous weight, and every plot detail answers a question while posing a dozen more. I am immensely intrigued by what Chiang has opened up here in this first issue.

Art Direction

While the question of his writing skills was a draw for this comic, Cliff Chiang’s art is basically a no brainer. Unsurprisingly, Catwoman: Lonely City stands tall as yet another visual piece of comics brilliance. The Wonder Woman and Paper Girls artist brings his signature brand of expressive, colorful storytelling to this alternate Gotham City. It’s an absolute treat seeing Chiang draw his takes on various iconic Batman characters. They are all obviously easily identifiable, but drawn with a compelling in-universe important design rethinking and Chiang’s own artistic touches. The cast have all aged in different ways and we see it both in their features and their expressions. Chiang draws Selina absent the usual hyper-feminine, “feline” figure most artists give her in favor of a regular athletic woman’s build. This could be a deliberate choice by Chiang, or it could just be his own style.

Color & Direction

Chiang’s panel direction carries the comic’s pacing carefully and with momentum. There’s a natural sense of being carried along through the comic at a pace that ebbs and flows with events. Conversations are full of loaded pauses and detailed choices of focus (hand movements, room details) that lend weight to these scenes. The action scenes, which are mostly Selina hiding and running from guards cat burglar style, are carried along by quiet tension. This often explodes into intense escapes Mission: Impossible style.

Much of this direction is held together by Chiang’s unique color style. His pages all have a unifying palette, such as a range of blacks and dark blues for a break-in or browns and dim-yellows for a bar. This sort of flat style an unmistakable mark of Chiang’s work that brings out the pacing by quietly separating the sequences. Every artistic beat is measured in a manner that only comes from the writer and artist being the same person.

Chiang’s lettering (yes, he does all of it) is just as carefully built as his art. The main font is a semi-standard and clean modern comic font. This is punctuated by Selina’s inner dialogue which is depicted as actual handwriting. It’s even on little notebook pages instead of bubbles! His SFX lettering is uniquely understated for little effects, then turns massive for the big sequences. It’s some of the most finely tuned SFX lettering I’ve seen in recent comics. Every part of this chapter visual experience is part of a gorgeous, well-oiled machine.

Verdict

Catwoman: Lonely City #1 proves two things: first, there is absolutely room at DC for more Catwoman a stories. The second thing, Cliff Chiang can do anything. His writing is flavorful yet naturalistic, weaving great character interactions with a mysterious and compelling plot I have to get more of. His visuals are… I mean it’s Cliff Chiang, it looks incredible. His visual style paints this strange new Gotham in a light we’ve never really seen it as, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for this city and it’s most famous surviving denizens. Be sure to grab this issue when it hits shelves on 10/19!

 

 

Justin Munday
Reader and hoarder of comics. Quietly sipping coffee, reading, and watching sci-fi in Knoxville, TN.