Catwoman 4 (April 2002)

Catwoman #4

How does noir work when the villain is a Clayface rip-off. I say rip-off because Catwoman is a Batman spin-off and Clayface is a Batman villain. Brubaker knew the similarity. It also gives Cooke something fantastic to draw. Selina in this gross pink muck–the leftover transformative flesh of the villain? Great stuff. Lots of movement in the art.

The villain does have something of a noir origin though. G.I. injured, army docs turn him into a monster, it’s like a film noir with shades of fifties sci-fi. It’s really cool.

But Brubaker relies on it almost too much. The script tries to showcase the art, which is fine and dandy and marvelous. Only it makes for some rushed scenes. One less page of the fight and one more page with Selina and Leslie would have been awesome.

The issue starts fast and rushes. The last few pages seem so short because of the action sequence pacing. Those last few pages are exceptional. Brubaker and Cooke figure out how to give noir a superhero. It’s great comic book storytelling.

Even if the fight goes long.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Conclusion; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

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Catwoman 3 (March 2002)

Catwoman #3

It’s a strange issue. It’s a good issue–though it’s certainly the least ambitious so far–but it’s also a strange issue. Selina doesn’t have as much narration as she had before and now she’s doing much different things. She’s the star of a Bronze Age Batman comic, where Batman dresses up as Matches Malone and investigates on the wharf.

It’s a successful issue. Cooke’s in on the Bronze Age vibe of the issue and the art feels very seventies. The content Cooke’s illustrating, anyway. There’s even a sixties thing with a used car dealer. A lot of thought went into the visual presentation of the book. I just wish Brubaker hadn’t been so quiet.

So far, this series has been about Selina evolving into a do-gooder. This issue continues that evolution, but with the exception of the narration in the first few pages, Selina’s experience is absent from the comic. Even when Brubaker brings back the narration later, it’s to establish that Matches Malone sequence.

Like I said, strange. Expertly, enthusiastically done, but with too much confidence in the narrative effect of the comic to worry about the narrative itself. It’s showy.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part Three of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Catwoman 2 (February 2002)

Catwoman #2

Cooke mixes a lot of styles in this issue. Selina lives her non-costumed life in a more angular city, one with more art deco designs than when she’s got the costume on at night. But Cooke also finds this mixed style for Selina herself. She’s got the modern look, but he also goes for Silver Ago influences to make her more sympathetic.

And then there’s what Brubaker’s narration does for her character. This series of Catwoman integrates whatever history the character had since Batman: Year One, so the Jim Balent stuff and whatever else, with a continuation of the character from Year One. Or at least something closer to that characterization. Including the history of prostitution.

The prostitution angle–with Holly, Selina’s sidekick from her Year One days–figures into the story, with Gotham’s dirty cops ignoring a serial killer preying on girls on the street. Selina ends up investigating it. There’s no humor in the comic. Not a moment. Not even when Cooke and Brubaker take the time and care to show Selina’s pure joy in running around the rooftops. It’s serious stuff; Brubaker’s very deliberate in how he works through Selina’s thoughts in the narration too.

Again, it’s noir. It’s a noir comic masquerading as a superhero comic (masquerading as a noir comic). Brubaker juggles the mainstream and more artistically ambitious beautifully. What Cooke does is just as important, but it only works because of how well Brubaker does his bit.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part Two of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Catwoman 1 (January 2002)

Catwoman #1

In his ★★ review of Batman Returns, Roger Ebert said, “no matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don’t go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes.” I disagree about the film, but not all of the quote. I agree with the first part, not so much the second. Because it’s a closed vision of heroes.

It oddly doesn’t seem to occur to Ebert how the “junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything… [can be] the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” Because a review of a single comic book from 2002 needs this long of a preamble. One with the only time I’ll agree with Ebert this year and a great Rick Moody quote.

But Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman requires a significant preamble. Because Brubaker and Cooke crack Ebert’s problem. How do film noir and superheroes go together? Well, the superhero can’t be the hero. Batman shows up in this first issue of Catwoman for two reasons.

First, regardless of how progressive DC was being with a non-objectified characterization of Catwoman, they weren’t being so progressive they didn’t want to sell the comic. There’s an exceptionally tasteful, but sexy, suiting up sequence. Cooke can do that kind of thing, thanks to Brubaker selling Selina’s excitement. It’s believable.

That scene is so well-executed, one might just skip over it as a commercialist detail. But Batman is all commercial. You launch a spin-off of a Batman comic, Batman better guest star, especially in the early aughts, especially going from Chuck Dixon and Jim Balent to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. You need Batman. And this issue delivers. A full-on Batman action sequence–it’s hard to remember when Brubaker’s mainstream writing was a DC staple, not how he brought the same thing to Marvel to better sales–then Batman shows up for character stuff.

And that character stuff is the second reason Batman shows up. He’s essential to Brubaker’s characterization of Selina. Selina has an informed but seemingly simplistic view of Batman; he’s her dark blue boy scout. It gives Selina better possession over the shared setting, she belongs.

Brubaker and Cooke visualize that setting as a noir. They start with the already noir-ish David Mazzuchelli Year One visuals then develop it, creating a Technicolor film noir. Brubaker’s script follows Selina–the comic’s narrator as well as protagonist–through her last few days of sabbatical. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to get suited up again.

There’s a lot of noir framing in the flashbacks and so on. The narrative construction is special stuff. It’s meticulous. Meticulously written, then meticulously illustrated.

By the time the most noir element comes into the comic–in its last pages–Brubaker and Cooke have already delivered an awesome read. The way the last two pages and the soft cliffhanger? It’s the chocolate sprinkles on the frosting.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part One of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 4 (January 2013)

884070

Looks like Conner rushed a bit with the art. The issue opens fine and closes okay, but there are some definite rough patches.

The ending is atrocious, when Cooke and Conner tie it directly into a scene from Watchmen, only now we get to hear Laurie’s take on the scene. Guess what? Neither Cooke nor Conner–whoever wrote the scene–are as good of writers as Alan Moore. Shocker.

Otherwise, the issue’s not terrible. Instead of letting her be a hippie superhero, which was interesting and fun, the writers wrap everything up neatly for the finish. And the writing between Laurie and Sally is terrible, which doesn’t help things.

Hollis Mason shows up for a little bit and he should’ve been the narrator of the whole series, given where it goes.

Again, it could be worse–like as bad as Higgins’s pirate story–but it could be a lot better.

CREDITS

The End of the Rainbow; writers, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner; artist, Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, Wide Were His Dragon Wings, Part Three; writer, artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Chris Conroy, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 3 (November 2012)

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The mystery of the smiley face button is solved! Finally, now everyone can sleep at night. The addition of said button does make one wonder if Cooke’s flipping off Moore a little (as the button is what started Moore’s disputes with DC).

This issue features a lot of things Cooke and Conner should have covered in the previous one, with Sally worrying about her kid instead of just ignoring it (from the reader’s point of view). The ending isn’t great, but it’s whole.

It’s a bridging issue without any memorable scenes. Even Laurie tripping on bad acid turns out to be a red herring.

The comic’s not bad, however. Conner’s art is still a nice mix of straightforward and sixties–not quite indie, but definitely not mainstream vanilla–and the scenes are well-written.

Laurie just isn’t enough of a character this issue.

The crappy backup has a terrible cliffhanger.

C 

CREDITS

No Illusion; writers, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner; artist, Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Evil That Men Do, Part Four; writer, artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Chris Conroy, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 2 (September 2012)

872691

Cooke and Conner set up Laurie as a hippie superhero; it’s kind of cool and definitely a decent look at sixties San Francisco. What’s interesting–and something I don’t think the original series ever established–is Laurie goes the “with great power” route. She turns into Silk Spectre because she can help people if she does. It deepens the character quite a bit.

And she needs it, because Cooke and Conner spend almost half the issue on the supervillains plotting to get kids tripping and consuming. It’s an incredibly boring scene and it goes on forever and ever.

Her boyfriend’s not much of a character either. I haven’t determined if they’re supposed to be teen runaways, but one would think his parents might be concerned.

The ending cliffhanger’s either going to be awesome or some terrible way to be grim and gritty.

Shockingly, Wein writes an okay pirate backup too.

CREDITS

Getting Into the World; writers, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner; artist, Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Seven; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Chris Conroy, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 1 (August 2012)

869319

For Silk Spectre, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner go the romance comic route. Or at least closer to it than I was expecting, but it makes sense given Laurie’s age during the high adventuring days of Watchmen.

She’s got her teen story going while Sally deals with aging and raising a kid to be a costumed adventurer. Cooke and Conner make both women utterly sympathetic, but it only works on Sally’s side because the reader knows her story.

Without it, she’d come across as a tiger mom. Except maybe the phone call to Hollis, which is as close as the comic gets to self-indulgence. It needs a little more, but it’s quite good as is.

Conner’s art never gets too cute, but always maintains the romance comic tone. It’s rather good and hard to imagine Spectre without it.

Higgins’s backup art, however, is severely lacking. It’s a muddled mess.

CREDITS

Means Goodbye; writers, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner; artist, Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Two; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Chris Conroy, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen 6 (March 2013)

MINUTEM Cv6 solicit

Cooke plays both Hollis and the reader. We all find out at the same time–maybe Cooke’s trying to show Hollis made the same negative assumptions the reader does, but I don’t think so. Cooke’s been intentionally fooling the reader for at least three issues and in ways he doesn’t fool Hollis.

The comic still somewhat succeeds because Cooke writes Hollis so well. He’s likable and sympathetic. It’s funny Cooke doesn’t give him a single vice while everyone else gets a bunch.

But Cooke never makes Minutemen its own thing. He ties into the original Watchmen a lot for the epilogue. The series itself is basically the story of Hollis editing his book. Only the reader gets the truth this time.

One probably shouldn’t second guess Alan Moore, especially not with a contrived, triple surprise ending. Cooke even misses the issue’s best possible moment.

Still, it could’ve been much worse.

CREDITS

The Minute of Truth, Chapter Six: The Last Minute; writer and artist, Darwyn Cooke; colorist, Phil Noto; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; editors, Wil Moss, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

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