Catwoman #4 dives into Selina Kyle’s past as she visits her sister, Maggie, at a hospital at which she’s been staying due to her catatonic state. The action of the story thus far comes to a halt as we learn more about Selina’s childhood with Maggie and how she came to be hospitalized. Does this exploration of Selina’s life add a chapter to her origin story worth visiting?
In writing this issue, Joëlle Jones’s focus is fixed on introducing Maggie to readers new to Selina’s life or reminding readers why she matters to Selina and how she informs her motivations in this series. Instead of setting up Maggie as a simple foil to Selina, Jones emphasizes that because they’ve both survived a harrowing childhood, the differences between them and the way they survive the lives they’ve been dealt aren’t in opposition from one another, but just different ways to cope. What’s important about that distinction is there’s no set of values or judgements arising out of how these characters are being portrayed, but a nuanced exploration of how trauma can shape a person and continue to shape them no matter how far they try and distance themselves from it. Not only does visiting Selina and Maggie’s past present this exploration of trauma well, but it adds another layer of complexity to the decision made in Batman #50 which led her to Villa Hermosa.
For Selina’s visit with Maggie in the present, Jones continues to cover pencils and inks while Laura Allred continues to cover colors. For the scenes exploring Selina’s past, Fernando Blanco provides pencils and inks while John Kalisz handles the colors. I continue to be impressed by how well the teams work together and create such an even flow between their pages. Both teams convey their distinct artistic strengths and neither filters their work for the sake of cohesion, yet it never feels jarring or distracting when the page turns and the story transitions between the past and present.
Even though the subject matter is serious, it’s clear Fernando Blanco and John Kalisz had a fun with the artwork in this issue. There’s a scene that takes place during a Halloween parade where Blanco and Kalisz let loose in a two-page spread filled with giant puppets, spooky costumes, and fireworks colored with an almost chalky texture. It’s a minor detail, but that texture feels pitch perfect for the moment, conveying a feeling of childhood and nostalgia in this brief moment of fun in an otherwise dark issue. For the more macabre scenes, Blanco and Kalisz represent a classic Batman villain as a genuinely chilling movie monster and render their victims in a starkness that’s bloody and upsetting without feeling gratuitous. That restraint allows the horror to feel all the more real and therefore all the more stomach-turning.
Jones and Allred continue to soar in their artwork for the scenes in Selina’s present day. To focus on another comparatively minor detail–because how many ways can one reviewer convey that Jones and Allred are consistently killing it–Jones conveys a lot of emotional weight in a decision made in her inking. The action of the scenes in the present can be summarized as Selina talking to her sister until the last couple pages, but the mood of those scenes is weighted by the scratchy lines used to texture the walls behind close-ups of Selina and Maggie’s faces. Not only is Jones continuing to deliver exceptional character renderings, but texturing the walls in those dark, chaotic lines makes Selina’s internal turmoil manifest in space in an affecting way. Josh Reed’s lettering continues to excel as well throughout the issue, tying the past and present scenes together well with well-placed word balloons and sound effects that feel animated without being distracted.
Overall, Catwoman #4 was a pause in the story worth taking. Some readers may not like how much the plot slows down in favor of exploring backstory, but it’s clear this series is focused on developing and exploring Selina’s character and this issue succeeds in doing so. The cliffhanger at the end is the only part of this issue that felt a bit conventional, but readers wanting to learn more about Selina’s past or even what may have contributed to her actions in Batman won’t want to miss this issue.