Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Cameron Stewart
Publisher: D.C. Comics
The book opens in the hospital where we see Slam Bradley's injuries are quite extensive, but aside from a worrisome concussion none of his injuries are life-threatening. We then see Selina bring a physically & emotionally exhausted Holly back to their apartment before she heads out on the town to try and discover who has taken to targeting the people she cares for. To this end we see her descend upon her various information sources, but the only concrete lead that she manages to secure is the name of the person who is acting as the front man for the mysterious figure who rules Gotham's East End. We then look in on this ruthless criminal mastermind, as we see the Black Mask is making life very unpleasant for Selina's sister & her husband. We then look in on Holly who has woken up, and we see her decide to follow up on a clue she stumbled across before Slam was run down. However, her investigation takes her into Alley Town where she runs afoul with one of the Black Mask's partners. We then return to Catwoman who has caught up to the train that was speeding the Black Mask's front man out of town, and after she manages to put a good scare into the man & learn where the Black Mask is holed up, she tosses the man out of the speeding train.
It's not often that a writer is able to make you believe that they are going to kill off a major supporting player, but Ed Brubaker has managed to catch me several times during this current arc, as I entered this issue convinced the Slam Bradly had his ticket punched last issue, and in this issue Holly is on the receiving end of an utterly vicious beating, and the scenes in the Black Mask's torture chamber are absolutely chilling in their ability to make one cringe at what is being done to Maggie and her husband. The next issue box's claim that a character is going to die has the safe money being placed on Maggie's husband Simon, but truth be told that way this story has gone I don't think any of this book's supporting players are safe. The book has certainly done its job in establishing the idea that the Black Mask is an utterly ruthless villain who one simply doesn't want as your enemy. He's certainly one of the more disturbing villains to grace the pages of a comic in a good long while, and I can't wait for the impending encounter that has Catwoman arriving on the scene to discover what the Black Mask has done to Maggie & Simon. The secondary plot involving Holly's adventure in Alley Town also does a great job of grabbing & holding one's interest.
This issue also has itself a great little sequence where we see Catwoman is not above reverting to the villainous ways of her past should the situation require her to be decidedly unheroic. I mean I've seen the scenes where the hero has the villain on the ropes, and they put up an imposing front to convince the villain that if they don't start answering questions they'll be very sorry. However, with the notable exception of anti-heroes like the Punisher & Wolverine, I never really buy into the idea that the hero would actually follow through on their threats, and once they get the information they need they hero normally leaves the villain quacking in their boots. However, this issue has a scene that clearly establishes that Catwoman is not above engaging in the exact same behavior that one normally expects from a villain, as after she gets the information she needs she sends the man crashing out of a speeding train, and this leaves the man at death's door. There's also a degree of savagery to the fight that perfectly conveys the idea that Catwoman is in a very foul mood. This sequence also makes next issue's big meeting with the Black Mask all the more interesting, as Catwoman is presented as a force to be reckoned with.
Cameron Stewart is providing some absolutely amazing work, as his ability to detail the material in a clear & highly exciting manner is almost unmatched. From the anguish of Holly as she explains what happened to Slam, to the sheer intensity the drives Catwoman during the battle inside the train car, this issue is far and away my favorite issue on the art front. The way the art delivers page six where Catwoman displays her agility as she races across the city, or the highly charged sequence where she leaps from her speeding car onto the train, the art delivers some fantastic looking action. The ease at which it delivers Catwoman's fight inside the train car is also quite impressive, as all of her attacks are perfectly laid out, so that one panel leads right into the next. However even more impressive is the art's ability to convey a sense of absolute dread, as the sequence in the Black Mask's torture chamber is truly frightening, and I have to give the art full marks for making the attack on Holly so effective, considering who her attackers were. I also have to say that having J.G. Jones providing the covers for this book is the icing on the cake, as he's easily one of the best cover artists this side of Michael Golden.
To put it simply this title is the best title coming out of DC, as it's effective on so many levels. The book manages to deliver a very real sense that anything can happen. What's more the Black Mask is allowed to be an utterly disturbing presence in these pages, and if the next issue box is to be believed he's about to make a lasting impact on this book. The book also delivers some wonderful action, highly intense moments of drama, and best of all Catwoman is allowed to come across as not altogether heroic in her dealings with the villains. This book is exciting in it's ability to deliver moments where you are genuinely shocked by what Ed Brubaker has done, and I also have to say that in his 15 issues on this title he's managed to created a cast of characters who I am able to genuinely invest my entire interest in what happens to them, which is an impressive feat given I hadn't read a single issue of Catwoman before the relaunch. The top notch art also helps to push this title right to the top of my list.
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