Gotham Prison Blues: Reviewing ‘Catwoman’ #51
by Scott Redmond
Not even bars can keep Selina Kyle down, as ‘Catwoman’ enters a whole new phase for the title character and her supporting cast putting them in a whole new dynamic. No matter the setting the series keeps its character-focused head up and presents a colorful gorgeous fun time that speaks to so many things.
Selina Kyle is a free-roaming cat, so putting her behind bars won’t be good for her or anyone else. Insert in whatever quotes there are about caged animals here and it would be pretty darn apt about the situation one Catwoman faces.
Catwoman #51 picks up right where the previous landmark issue left off, with Selina adjusting to her life behind bars (a place she’s familiar with from the past) and the horrible choice she had to make that got her there. It would have been easy for Tini Howard to follow that big issue up with another big action-packed piece or something focusing only on Emiko’s trying to heal while also being the city’s Catwoman currently. Instead, we get a much more character-focused issue, one of the hallmarks of this series, turning our eyes mainly on Selina but also on Eiko and Dario for a short bit on how they are able to help her with some plans she has for her prison time.
Often when status quo changes befall a character there isn’t a lot of time for the character or the audience to process this change. There are big events or moments to get to, so things have to ramp up and some of the impacts of the change might be lost. Not in this series. Howard has spent a lot of time really getting in Selina’s head in this run and giving moments time to properly breathe and grow, and that’s what we are getting here. A whole issue of Selina thinking about the change, letting it weigh over her, as she makes moves to solidify her position in the jail because there is part of her that might believe she deserves to remain here.
I’m a big fan of these types of issues where the plot/storyline/whatever you want to call it can move forward but the development of a character, which alongside their personality is often what makes us care about them, has plenty of space to flourish. It’s a thing that felt like it got lost a bit there during the era of big bombastic event story arcs meant to fill a trade paperback every few months. Honestly, the Batline of books is a place where this type of thing is really doing well, as almost every member of the family is getting this and more in their respective series.
It’s nice to see Sam Barsi and Vincente Cifuentes back on this issue, after some work they did a few issues prior. There is a sort of smooth slickness to the work they create, that plays well with the amount of detail and depth found on the page. We spend a lot of our time within the prison here and the spaces genuinely feel either very tightly confined or spacious as they should, with the choices in paneling and positioning helping to give us the feeling that we’re also there in these places. We get a ton of white/negative space used pretty well in this issue as it frames a lot of the panels and even is part of panels that take up most of the page.
Speaking of paneling, I really enjoy getting a look at how creative so many artists are with paneling. A story can easily be told with standard sequential panel styles, it was done for a long time and is still effective, but there is just something different about a more fluid panel style. A sort of energy that just radiates off the page when we have panels that are of a variety of shapes and styles, sometimes overlapping or staggering across the page in ways that help guide our eyes down the page in different fashions. It also allows for panels of varying shapes that are better for either capturing a wide shot or better getting right close up on a face or moment, making sure we can fully take in what is happening at any given moment.
Anyone that has been reading this series has been able to take in the fantastic color work of Veronica Gandini on numerous occasions, including the previous issue. Just as the artwork is slick and smooth, so too are the colors that are provided by Gandini. A prison is a mostly colorless place, with lots of grays and whites around, which allows for the colors of the jumpsuits and other elements to pop a lot in here without having to make them extremely bright. Gandini comes in with a sort of toned-down approach of sorts, making the colors have mostly a more grounded real feeling but also still feeling very distinct and allowing for more vivid moments to appear.
While unfortunately, I’m not sure who to credit, as there is no credit/title page in the issue & letterers are criminally left off the front-page credits, I cannot leave lettering as something not spoken about. There are a lot of great bits of energy and voice injected into the various lettering, making sure that tone/volume and intent are clear at all times and even letting the personality of characters we hardly know stand out. There is a really interesting almost white-out-like effect being put behind the big black location & time captions, making them stand out but also feel as important as they should.
Catwoman #51 is now available from DC Comics.