Quick, what’s the best Batman story ever? Maybe you chose one of Frank Miller’s Bat-Classics like Year One, Dark Knight Returns, or All-Star Batman & Robin (ok, probably not the last one). Maybe you went for a Jeph Loeb option with The Long Halloween or Hush. No matter what you chose, you probably at least had an answer to the question. What about for Catwoman? That one’s a little tougher, right? I’ll spare you the hemming and hawing and let you know that, for my money, Selina has never been in a better spot than she has this year and we may very well be seeing her best story yet.
Why’s 2022 her best year yet? Glad you asked! What’s her BEST STORY YET? We’ll get to that. First, I want to break down all of the great Catwoman content that we’re getting this year, and there’s been a lot. Probably most obviously, The Batman film, featuring Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, released in March to generally great reviews and a domestic box office of over $350 million. Drawing heavily from the character’s depiction in Miller’s Batman: Year One, Kravitz gave audiences an on-screen version of Catwoman that was a far departure from the overly theatrical Julie Newmar/Earth Kitt performances from the 60’s Batman TV show or the Michelle Pfeifer Batman Returns character who has come to be more remembered for the Black skintight costume that the character she portrayed. Instead, Kravitz keeps the character far more grounded, unwittingly pulled into The Batman’s world and alternating between helping him achieve his goals and her own objectives. It’s a portrayal by Kravitz that The Ringer’s Arjuna Ramgopal remarked “was amazing. She brought a badass energy to the character that was familiar yet different, and her chemistry with Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne was on a different level that really helped carry the movie.” (‘The Batman’ Exit Survery, The Ringer, March 7, 2022) With an ending that all but screams out “THERE’S A SEQUEL COMING” we’re likely not done with this version of Catwoman, and that’s a good thing.
Over in the comic world, (and comics are, after all, dope) this year saw the reprint of one of Selina’s most revered stories. The Catwoman of East End omnibus, (just got my copy from Organic Priced Books!), sees the reprints of some long out-of-print Catwoman stories by one of the medium’s gone-too-soon legends Darwyn Cooke and current King-Of-Crime-Comics Ed Brubaker. Of particular note, this omnibus contains what many people might consider Catwoman’s best story (notice the lack of bold text and caps lock), Selina’s Big Score. With both writing and art duties by Cooke, Selina’s Big Score sees an older and presumed dead Ms. Kyle returning to Gotham, ready to leave the Bat and all the costumed freaks behind. Cooke tells a great heist story, with his signature bold, broad lines and distinctive coloring giving the story a flow and life few others have been able to capture. It’s a classic crime story, complete with assembling the crew, plotting the heist, then a last second twist that turns it on its head. Heck, this is such a classic crime story he even includes a character that is just straight up Parker from Richard’s Starks famous series of the same name (he goes by Stark here, Cooke’s not trying to be subtle). It’s a love letter to the genre that sees one of the industry’s biggest talents put his spin on the character and that set both his Catwoman ongoing series with Brubaker and his Parker adaptations that were recently finished posthumously by Brubaker and Sean Phillips in the Parker: Martini Edition Last Call. (purchased mine from Organic Priced Books!) It’s telling the story is called Selina’s Big Score, though, as this is fundamentally a heist story, not a Catwoman story. Honestly, you could strip the Catwoman titling and a few mentions of her costumed past and history with Batman and the story is no different. For this reason, I can’t consider Selina’s Big Score to be her BEST STORY YET, despite being very excited to have it reprinted in the hotly anticipated omnibus.
Which finally brings us to the matter of Catwoman’s BEST STORY YET. With apologies to Ram V’s recently concluded great run on the Catwoman ongoing title (which saw Selina wage a war on the local outfit who’s taken over the criminal elements of her old home) and Tom King/Clay Mann’s Batman/Catwoman DC Black Label series (which sees the conclusion of Tom King’s version of the pair’s relationship that was started back in his run on the Batman title during the Rebirth era), Cliff Chiang’s Black Label series Catwoman: Lonely City is one issue away from completing Catwoman’s BEST STORY YET. Honestly, I think this is the best book on stands right now. While he’s primarily been an illustrator, this series is showing that Chiang’s scripts are every bit as colorful and lively as his Eisner winning art. The series sees an older Selina newly released from a long prison sentence and returned to a futuristic Gotham that’s left behind the costumed shenanigans of its younger days following the death of the Batman. Faced with no prospects for a life in this unfamiliar city, Selina plans the biggest heist in her life: a hit on the Batcave.
It’s easy to call this series Catwoman’s Dark Knight Returns, a story about a past-their-prime former cape who’s forced to return to their previous life to deal with an unfamiliar future. Heck, I think I’ve even done it as an elevator pitch to tell friends why they simply MUST be reading this magazine sized, irregularly released $8 book. Doing so, however, I think is too much of a surface level look at the two titles, looking only at the premise and not the story. Where Dark Knight Returns was a story about the power of symbols and our role in opposing injustice in a society that has grown to accept it, Lonely City tells a far more personal tale of a woman who finds herself in a world that’s left her behind and figuring out where she goes. When no one else is doing what you do, when even your own body has betrayed you and tells you it’s time to move on, how do you hold strong to who you are and what you know?
Unlike Selina’s Big Score, it’s also a Catwoman story, or at least partly. The title Lonely City is aptly named, as this version of Gotham is every bit the main character that Selina is. She serves both as protagonist to move the plot forward and tour guide to us as the reader, reuniting us with familiar faces and locales. Chiang imbues such life and love into this city and shows us why Gotham is such a special place that we as readers keep returning to time and time again. Gotham’s more than the Bat, it’s more than the Cat; it’s a lived-in place filled with dirtiness and light, grittiness and color. Drawn, colored, and lettered by a lesser talent than Chiang, maybe this approach rings hollow. With his flowing lines, stylized outlines, and contrasting color scheme, this Gotham is a place I want to return to time and time again. Selina’s story may be concluded after issue 4, but that doesn’t mean I’m done. I want to drop on into Ma Hunkel’s bar for a few rounds with some former caped villains while they reminisce about the old days. I want to hit up the next Batforce 1 drop at OGBEAST’s spot and just kick it. In just 3 issues, Chiang has created a living, breathing Gotham that doesn’t belong to The Bat, The Cat, The Joker, or anyone else. This is a city that no one man, woman, or symbol can claim. It belongs to everybody. It belongs to no one.
What puts Lonely City over Selina’s Big Score to claim the BEST CATWOMAN STORY YET title belt is that while this version of Gotham may not belong to her, the story definitely does. Whereas Big Score could have cast any great thief as its central figure, (we get to see a good amount of backstory between Selina and the Parker stand-in Stark, whereas any past with Batman or other rogues is barely given a passing reference) Make no mistake, this is a story about Selina Kyle the woman and Catwoman, the masked figure. We relive her past as both a Batman ally/romantic partner and adversary. We get to see how her time as Catwoman shapes her current relationships with members of both the Batfamily and the Villains. When she runs into a post-Batgirl Barbara Gordon, we feel the icy relationship and judgement Babs feels towards the catburglar and romantic partner of her former mentor. When we see a reformed Harvey Dent, now trying to uphold law and order, we feel his plight as someone who knows firsthand just what the Catwoman is capable of. Unlike Selina’s Big Score this couldn’t happen to anyone else; this is Catwoman’s story, her claws are all over it. It’s the most I’ve ever cared about the character, and one that’s made me see her in a new light. Heck, this book has made me a Catwoman fan, something no book before this has been able to do. Really, shouldn’t that be what a BEST STORY YET does?
With the last issue coming in August, the big elephant in the room is if this story doesn’t stick the landing, this article looks really silly. I’m liable to get this article quote tweeted (@BBunkmasta, I know, I’m bad at Twitter) with some type of pithy comment or a cringey line from issue 4. That should tell you, though, just how good this series has been so far. Heck, if it ended unresolved right now, I still might give it the crown. Cliff Chiang has proved time and time again that he’s one of the powerhouses of the industry, and I’m willing to put whatever minor internet reputation I have on the line to call the match now. I’m not afraid at all of this book going off the rails with issue 4. The only real fear I have with this series is that it proves Chiang’s writing chops so much that he pulls a Skottie Young and becomes primarily a writer from here on out (with a regular slate of variant covers along the way). The world is a better place when there’s a monthly Cliff Chiang interior art series, and this just happens to be one of his best. I implore you in the strongest terms, do not sleep on this series. Issue 4 comes out in October, there’s still time to catch up. Don’t let this slip away from you into the night like its titular character.
BunkmastaB, aka Ben, has been reading comics since the mid 90s, with a few years long breaks here and there. His favorite character is The Question and he can’t WAIT for you to read it. For more content from him, check out his occasionally updated YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/channel/UCq9bXouWa4kONKHnCGtZ5aw.