Catwoman: The Game
The Game collects the first six issues (September 2011-February 2012) of DC's New 52 run of Catwoman, the third ongoing monthly series to her name.
Collecting the first six issues of the new 52 Catwoman run, The Game is an excellent series of capers and cliffhangers that gives us yet another new look at the character of Catwoman. This new look and persona is the strongest element of the book: when it sticks closer to what the character is known for, it tends to falter and repeat itself, while the bold new insights into the character are generally appreciated. Juggling the required bits of fan service with a genuinely fresh interpretation of the character, The Game is only hurt by a lackluster supporting cast and cliché, one note antagonists.
Catwoman: The Game features a very young Selina Kyle as she is just getting started in her career as an infamous cat burglar. A direct result of this is that she is portrayed as being very impulsive, immature, and emotional. She spends the book doing increasingly dramatic capers and finding herself in stickier situations with gradually more powerful foes. The book does a great job of leaving most every segment with a taut cliffhanger promptly (and usually smartly) resolved at the start of the next chapter. The pacing is unlike most other books I've read in the New 52, which definitely is a strength. Instead of the long winded, multi issue epics most series have been pushing, Catwoman works very well as an episodic serial style adventure. Her struggle isn't to stop a long reaching mega-plot featuring a cavalcade of villainy and a plethora of plot twists, though there are three of the usual villain archetypes to oppose her, but instead the overarching focus is to watch her grow as a character and confront her inner demons and character flaws.
Despite the fact that the three major conflicts are mostly detached from one another, this trade is quite cohesive and does a great job of building off of previous plot points even as the various antagonists and supporting cast members fall by the wayside. There is something important happening in basically every page and the constant action makes this a book that you can very easily breeze through in an hour or so. If there are any complaints with the story in this book, they relate directly to how the side characters influence Selina. Batman makes several appearances in this book, like he does in most bat-family titles, and of course it doesn't take long before he becomes an overbearing presence. The first issue of this trade is infamous for the scene occurring at the end, but that and the fundraiser party shown in chapter 2 were really the only interesting moments the two shared. Batman shows up a few other times to chastise her for being so mistake ridden and vengeful, but it lacks the humor of their unwitting interaction outside of the costumes and the emotional weight of their intimate relationship inside the costumes. The only other ally of Selina that we get a feel for in this book is Lola, Selina's longtime fence who is gone a third of the way into the book. The dynamic between the two was fairly interesting and Lola was an offbeat character that had a lot of potential, so of course she was taken out of the story far too quickly and in a very short sighted and unsatisfying manner. The next arc may get another character in the same mold based on the final pages of The Game, but there was precious little reason for Selina to have so little meaningful support for much of this book.
I loved this take on Selina Kyle, and her portrayal is the biggest reason that this book is entertaining, especially because she lacks much of a supporting cast. She is basically an adrenaline junkie: committed to the thrill of the heist and in love with being chased around by those she has stolen from. This leads to painfully introspective moments as she realizes what her commitment to the hunt is costing her: she is always on the run, Batman is perpetually upset with her, and she has lost friends due to her many mistakes. Still, she remains helplessly devoted to a lifestyle of reckless crime and shameless excess. This struggle with addiction is a very real element in the story, and the depths of her divisiveness are further explored when she encounters the three major villains presented in The Game. She is absolutely brutal with these folks and it really brings across the contrast between her and the more heroic friends of Batman. One gets his eye torn out, another gets their entire ear bitten off, and the third gets bludgeoned with a baseball bat. It is ruthless, gritty stuff and I was seriously cringing during the ear bite scene. This character may lack the polish and charm of the iconic character from the Dark Knight Rises, but she does manage to succeed in a totally different way that paints her as an incredibly flawed character with an underlying goodness that hasn't quite been revealed yet.
A major problem I have with this book are the villains. We get three main ones over the course of the collection, each one worse than the last. First up is Russian mob boss Ivanko, who is actually a fairly decent, if forgettable foe with ties to Kyle's past. We get our first taste of just how low Catwoman can go with this character, and his appearance helps to define her childhood in this latest reboot. The next villain is Bone, a deformed psychopath who is determined to take back what Selina stole from him. Irrational, barely promoted (Selina even says something about how weak he is, and he goes out like a wimp,) and thoroughly unoriginal (bad rip off of Black Mask in appearance,) this character really messed with the otherwise promising middle portion of the book. Closing out the book is easily the worst antagonist in this book: Reach. Reach is a female telepath that seems to be straight out of the worst of the 90's era comic books. Sporting a not at all attractive denim and fishnets look, complete with stupid looking goggles, this character spouts off cheesy catchphrases like it is going out of style. She also suffers from the common pattern of being ridiculously overpowered one moment, then completely incompetent when the hero finally needs to pull through and win. The best thing about this character is that Selina pulls a full-blown Tyson vs. Holyfield on her. Since the conflict present is definitely focused more on Selina's inner flaws than on these villains, this isn't the worst problem for the book to have, but it still would have been nice to encounter three villains that are uniquely suited to challenging Selina instead of just one and then two horrible knockoffs of other characters.
The artwork is pretty much a perfect fit for the tone and characters of this book. Expect to see hyper sexualized characters representing both genders, and artist Guillem March rarely passes up an opportunity to draw Selina in a seductive pose or in various states of undress. I'm not a big fan of "cheesecake" shots in comic books on the grounds that it tends to objectify women more so than it does men, but at least this is relatively well executed cheesecake. Luckily, the art team is competent in plenty of areas outside of drawing enormous breasts, such as in rendering some of the more expressive eyes I've seen in comics. Not that the facial expressions aren't great too, but the pain and guilt in Selina's eyes when she sees what her reckless behavior has caused speaks volumes about the character that even the narration never truly touches on.
Selina's acrobat skills are also highlighted strongly with action scenes taking a very dramatic flair and putting her in a variety of difficult to manage positions. While such stunts have the potential for horribly drawn, anatomically incorrect posturing, they mostly wow in this book. There are a few scenes where the perspective is slightly skewed or limbs look off (most notably during a police interrogation sequence) but for the most part the book does a great job at conveying Selina's prowess in martial arts. One huge drawback though are the handful of spreads that show up throughout the book. These range from being blandly drawn set pieces to a two page spread that is an absolute chaotic mess. When using a regular structure, the art is as good as most anything out there. Body language is very realistic and the settings tend to be very vibrant. There are few panels that pop out as being head and shoulders above the rest, but the product on the whole is refined and mostly tasteful.
The Game shouldn't be the most incredible comic book you read this year, but it is certainly a competent one. Using every bit of its Teen+ rating for lavish cheesecake, brutal violence, and a controversial sex scene, this book is a solid interpretation of the character that delivers nonstop action and a relatable but heavily flawed heroine. The artwork mostly succeeds in bringing the characters to life and even though a few of the panels are duds, the action generally fits the tight script. This is a safe recommendation for fans of the character and anyone who appreciates a stylish, competent tale that is light on details but heavy on conflict.