Monday, March 25, 2013

Shepherd492 reviews: Catwoman: Dollhouse

Catwoman: Dollhouse  

Dollhouse collects issues 7-12 of the New 52 version of Catwoman's ongoing montlhy series. The issues were originally published from March 2012 to August 2012.

                The second volume in the  New 52 relaunch of Catwoman's character, Dollhouse attempts to advance the character of Selina Kyle by introducing many new sidekicks and giving her more characters to play off of. Meanwhile, she continues to struggle with her adrenaline addiction and finds herself in sticky situation after another. Characters are the focus of this book, but we also get two new villain arcs, both of which tie into Batman's adventures. At the end of the day, these tie ins and some inconsistent artwork greatly hurt what is otherwise an enjoyable set of stories.
                In this series, Selina can't reasonably be called a master thief, and this book continues that tradition. This isn't a calculating and experienced burglar, getting the goods with a minimum of fuss and an economy of effort that has characterized her efforts in the past. Instead, this Catwoman plunges headfirst into every available problem that sounds dangerous enough to be fun. In this book, one of her more memorable achievements, and one symbolic of her presentation throughout this book, is falling for an incredibly obvious heist, then escaping through extraordinary luck. Just because she is more about martial arts, blind luck, and doged determination doesn't mean that she is a totally bad character, though readers expecting the subtle charm of Anne Hathaway's portrayal or the pure sex appeal and seductive qualities of Michelle Pfeiffer's may want to look elsewhere. This character is bubbly, at times charming, often headstrong, and kind hearted despite her ignoble profession. This book also delves a bit into her childhood traumas, and how those have caused her to be a damaged person desperately seeking these death defying experiences and cheap thrills. Though there are moments when she seems too dumb to be taken seriously, Catwoman does have a few really solid moments in this book and it is certainly a unique take on the character, and therefore one that not every fan will have an easy time accepting.
                The major draw of this book is the expansion of Catwoman's supporting cast. In book one, she really didn't have anyone besides Batman and some fence that died after one or two chapters, now there is a far more concerted effort to get her some more enduring characters to play off of. First up is a character introduced at the tail end of book one, Gwen, Catwoman's new fence and occasional life-coach. Her tasks consist of picking out the juiciest items for Catwoman to steal, and making sure that Selina's more reckless side, a dimension of her character explored in great detail here, doesn't consume her and lead her to a very bad place.
                The second character fleshed out here is a brand new one, a fellow thief named Spark. As you might imagine, Spark is super-powered, and his abilities center around using electricity to help him pull off heists. The dynamic between the two is fairly interesting and it is good to see Selina interact with a powerful character that isn't Batman for once, but of course by the end of the book Spark has been sacrificed on the altar of cheap plot twists and it is questionable as to whether or not we will see him again. For this particular volume at least, Spark was a surprisingly fun character with a good deal of promise where Selina's future was concerned.
                In addition to Catwoman's latest sidekick, this book features as an ongoing plot point the adventures of straight cop Detective Alvarez and his earnest efforts to bring Selina Kyle to justice. His efforts are good for a unique take on Gotham, one we don't see particularly often, but after a certain number of issues in which Alvarez ponders why Catwoman seems to be off limits and protected by his corrupt colleagues, something has to give. Despite the fact that this story has been going on since the halfway point of the first volume, there is little closure here. We never find out why Alvarez is so interested in Selina, and we never find out why others are so intent on protecting her. Instead, Catwoman ends up teaming with Alvarez to take on the latest crop of villains to come her way.
                While volume one saw Selina fighting original villains that were quite bland and tired rip offs of things you would've reasonably expected to see in '90s comics, volume two actually has her fighting characters that tie in to other Batman comics. No, not iconic characters like Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, or Clayface (though Penguin has a somewhat important role in this book, he isn't what I would call an antagonist,) instead we get a Court of the Owls tie in and a story about the Dollmaker, a character (or a descendent of characters, I'm not sure which) featured in Tony Daniel's Detective Comics run.
                The result is that this starts to feel less and less like Selina's book. She is forced into the Court of the Owls tie-in through a manner that, while not entirely clumsy, definitely didn't advance her character much. This was an obvious sales gimmick and while it wasn't the worst issue in the world and in fact had some fun fight scenes and a great appearance by the Penguin, it wasn't a progressive issue and lacked much of a purpose. In probably the worst insult of all, she is forced to rely on Batman for help in defeating a seemingly average villain. There's no real reason that Catwoman shouldn't have been able to take down the Dollmaker; her abilities seemed to consist of nothing more than shooting machine guns and throwing grenades, and to have Catwoman running to Batman on such a routine excursion is tremendously embarrassing and unhelpful to the characters' development. Dollmaker herself is ridiculously far from being a compelling character, she shows up, does some creepy stuff, and fights our heroes, but there is so much we don't know about her. Her combat abilities aren't really apparent, her history is nonexistent, and her motivations and future goals are totally unclear. This is a villain created for and banking on shock value and creepiness, because, like a doll, beneath the plastic there is absolutely nothing going on.
                Dollhouse suffers from dramatic changes in art team, from newcomer Adriana Melo, back to series mainstay Guillem March, then back to Melo. The artists use very similar styles in this book, but with Melo basically trying to do something that March laid the groundwork for in the first six issues of the series, she ends up being the one forced to adapt. The result is that her parts of the book are well drawn in many areas, but critically lacking in at least one: faces. This series has been one that exaggerates Selina's sexuality and expressions in a very noticeable manner. Selina is supposed to be alluring, and when she isn't looking alluring her emotions should be perfectly broadcast on her face because she is a very fiery and impulsive person in this take on the character. Unfortunately, both criteria are far above Melo's skill set, or at least her skill set using a style consistent with the series. Selina looks absolutely awful in several shots, having a totally inappropriate expression on her face or a hideous gaping stare that makes her look outright creepy. Part of the problem seems to be a difficulty with drawing Selina's goggles and still conveying her expression. Most of the worst panels come when Catwoman is in costume and must be drawn with the cowl on, which results in botched proportions and an overly exaggerated expression. 

                Melo does a good job otherwise, and the car stealing missions that Selina is now undertaking look fantastic, not to mention the varied and typically seedy environments that we see throughout the book, and she would've probably benefitted from using her more natural style instead of one that looks so ridiculous so often. On the other hand, March is great in his limited appearance, bringing an appropriate sense of style to the Court of the Owls crossover that at least makes it a quick and enjoyable read, and giving us plenty of expressive shots of Selina's face. He doesn't engage in the "cheesecake" poses as much as in volume one, and in fact most such poses take place under Melo's pencil, but as ever he draws a very attractive Selina and captures the spirit of the book perfectly.         

                Dollhouse is a step down from the previous arc in the series, due to art inconsistencies, lame villains, and a story that is in danger of being overrun by Batman, but there's still some things to like here. Selina is a flawed but enjoyable character and she has a decent supporting cast for most of this book, and the art does have strengths that continue throughout the book. If you liked the first volume, the second should be fun as well, but at the end of the day this is a fairly shallow, forgettable read that you could just as easily do without.
Final Score

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