Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Paul Gulacy (p), Jimmy Palmiotti (i)
As Zeiss steps forward ready to kill Catwoman as a means of sending a message to Batman, we see Selina isn't quite prepared to give up without a fight, and what follows is a very intense fight where Zeiss comes across as a relentless force, while Catwoman struggles to keep one step ahead of his attacks. However, she's eventually brought down when Zeiss is able to bury his knife in her stomach, but as he closes in for the final attack the battle takes an unexpected, and rather unwelcome turn.
If I block out the finish of the battle from my mind this is an extraordinarily entertaining back and forth battle between Catwoman and Zeiss. I mean Ed Brubaker knows how to deliver a battle that understands the one idea that I wish all writers would get into their heads, and that is if you want readers to be emotionally invested in a battle, then the battle has to sell the idea that the hero is in real danger of being handed their heads. I mean Rocky tapped into this feeling by spending most of the movie establishing the notion that Rocky didn't stand a chance in the ring, and one of the reasons why the Metropolis section of the battle in "Superman II" stands up as one of my favorite comic book slugfests transferred to film is because it had Superman battling not one, not two but three villains who were his equal. The battle in "Matrix Reloaded" between Neo and the army of Agent Smiths is a cool looking display of special effects but it also pales in comparison to the subway battle from the first "Matrix" because in that first encounter Agent Smith came across as an unstoppable opponent, while in that second encounter in spite of the considerable advantage in numbers Neo looked too impressive as he knocked them aside like generic thugs. This issue makes Zeiss into a truly creepy opponent as most of Catwoman's attacks don't seem to faze him in the slightest, while his attacks leave one openly concerned about her ability to pull herself off the mat, with the panel where we see her expression after Zeiss buries his blade in her belly being one of the most intense moments we've received in the 30 issues this book has offer up.
Paul Gulacy does a solid job delivering the intensity of this issue's action. There's a very real sense of urgency to the moments where we see Catwoman trying to hold her own in this encounter, as we watch her become increasingly torn up, while Zeiss looks completely unfazed by the attacks that she does manage to land. There's also a wonderful sense of speed and movement to the exchange, as that art does display a very solid understanding how to convey the motion of the characters so that it's very easy to follow along with the various attacks. The art also deserves full marks for its work on the big impact moments as I loved the panel where Catwoman's whip wraps itself around Zeiss' neck, and the panel where we see Selina's face as the knife is shoved into her stomach is a very powerful image. Now there are moments when the character's faces look a bit odd, and the backgrounds look a bit flat and lifeless, but for the most part this issue stands up as Paul Gulacy's best issue, and it impressed me enough that I hope Ed Brubaker has more action intensive issues lined up to play off the obvious strength of his artist.
This issue offers up a wonderfully intense battle where Catwoman looks to be driven right to the edge of defeat and Ed Brubaker completely drops the ball by having her rescued by a secondary plot element. Now I realize that he's set up these ninja characters as dogging Selina's heels for the past several issues so having them step into intervene when Catwoman is on the verge of being killed isn't a completely unexpected development, but speaking as a reader who was enjoying the heck out of that battle and openly wondering how Catwoman was going to win, I found this intervention to be downright intrusive. I mean it's like spending an issue watching two enemies who have fallen out of a plane battling for a single parachute, only to discover on the last page that one of them can fly. It's the type of ending that left me downright annoyed, and this is never a good feeling especially when the rest of the battle does such a successful job of building up an incredible sense of tension, and a genuine concern that the hero might not emerge from this battle alive. In fact this ending felt more like Ed Brubaker simply felt like getting a head start on his next arc even if it meant stepping all over the final moments of this arc. In the end the big question of how Catwoman would've won this battle on her own is left forever in doubt, and this in turn leaves one questioning whether Ed Brubaker can be trusted not to offer up a handy hidden solution whenever he backs his characters into a corner where it looks like they might not be able to make it out under their own steam.
It's Like A Slap To The Belly With A Wet Trout:
This issue would've been a strong contender for my favorite single issue of the year if not for its final moments which completely turned me off the story, as instead of delivering the big moment where Catwoman establishes why you can never count her out, Ed Brubaker forever casts doubt on his ability to deliver a satisfying finish to his stories when he brings in a secondary plot element to save Catwoman rather than having her save herself. I mean if he was looking for a way to get his next arc off to a start that would sour me on it right from the word go than he couldn't have come up with a better means than having it step all over the final moments of this arc. However, I will give this issue full marks for delivering a very harrowing battle that managed to perfectly sell the idea that Catwoman was in a battle that didn't look like she stood any chance of winning, as Zeiss comes across as a terrifying presence, and his evil was so overwhelming that I was even prepared to looks past the more cheesy moments of the encounter, like the rescue effort by one of Selina's teen operatives. However, the final moments of this issue completely turned me off what had been a truly enjoyable reading experience, as there's nothing as frustrating as watching writer stumble and fall only moments before they crossed the finish line.
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