Black Canary Archives volume 1


By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-734-4 (HB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female furies to hold a star spot in the DC universe, following Wonder Woman, Liberty Belle and Red Tornado (who actually masqueraded as a man to comedically crush crime – with a couple of kids in tow, too!). She predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl (remember her?) and disappeared with most of other superheroes at the end of the Golden Age, to be revived with the Justice Society of America in 1963.

She was created by Bob Kanigher & Carmine Infantino in 1947, echoing the worldly, dangerous women cropping up in the burgeoning wave of crime novels and on the silver screen in film noir tales better suited to the wiser, more cynical Americans who had just endured a World War and were even then gearing up for a paranoiac Cold one…

Clad in a revealing bolero jacket, shorts, fishnet stockings and high-heeled pirate boots, the devastating shady lady who looked like Veronica Lake even began life as a thief…

This superb full-colour hardback collection was released in 2001 to capitalise on the character’s small screen debut in the first Birds of Prey TV series. It gathers her admittedly short run of tales in Flash Comics (#86-104, August 1947 – February 1949), Comics Cavalcade #25 (February/March 1948), plus two adventures that went unused when the comicbook folded: one of the earliest casualties in the wave of changing tastes which decimated the superhero genre until the late 1950s. Those last only resurfaced at the end of the Second Great Superhero Winnowing and were subsequently published in DC Special #3 and Adventure Comics #399 (June 1969 & November 1970 respectively).

Also intriguingly included are two stellar appearances in Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), therein teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted but ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part solo thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April – May 1972) after she successfully migrated to “our” world and replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

Regrettably, all these treasures can only be found here. Incomprehensibly, DC have allowed this entire imprint of reading gold lie fallow for years, both in print and digital formats. Hopefully, events in their cinematic analogues will entice them into reviving the Archive line… and adding to it…

In the heady, desperate days of post-war uncertainty, continuity was meagre and nobody cared much about origins. All that mattered was pace, plot, action and spectacle. As we’ll see, even when the Black Bird got her own strip, where she came from was never as important as who she faced…

Flash Comics #86 was just another superhero anthology publication, suffering a slow downturn in sales, and perennial back-up feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed its sell-by date. Although a member of the JSA, Johnny was an idiot; a genuine simpleton who just happened to control a genie-like Thunderbolt.

His affable good-hearted bumbling had carried him through the war, but changing fashions had no room for a hapless (adult) hero anymore. When he encountered a masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. In this introductory yarn, ‘The Black Canary’ tricks him and T-Bolt into acquiring an invitation to a crime-lord’s party, lifts the ill-gotten loot and leaves Johnny to mop up the hoods. It was lust at first sight…

Nothing much was expected from these complete-in-one-episode filler strips. Hawkman and The Flash still hogged all the covers and glory, and although young artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Robert Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured the immediate return of the Blonde Bombshell as she again makes the big goof her patsy, leaving ‘The Package of Peril’ in his inept hands. When mobsters retrieve the purloined parcel and secret documents it contains, Johnny follows and, more by luck than design, rescues the Canary from a deadly trap.

She returned in #88 – sans domino-mask now – using trained black canaries to deliver messages as she again finds herself in over her head and is forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself before retrieving ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale as ‘Produce the Crime!’ sees the cheerful chump accidentally busting a gem-smuggling scheme without any help from the Girl Gladiator – but she did return in full force for #90 as ‘Johnny Thunder and the Black Canary’ officially team up to thwart a photographic frame-up and blackmail plot in ‘Triple Exposure!’

They resumed the partnership in #91 as gangsters used rockets and ‘The Tumbling Trees!’ in their efforts to trap the svelte nemesis of evil – and just to be clear: that’s her, not Johnny…

The strip became Black Canary with the next issue. She even got to appear on the Lee Elias cover with Flash and Hawkman. Johnny simply vanished without trace or mention and his name was peremptorily applied elsewhere to a new cowboy hero as the rise of traditional genre material such westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise that the wreath she is working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, the Blonde Bombshell is just in time to save him from a wily gang of truck hijackers.

And that’s all the set-up we got. The new status quo was established and a pattern for fast-paced but inconsequential rollercoaster action romps took off…

To celebrate her arrival, the Canary also appeared in catch-all anthology Comics Cavalcade – specifically #25 cover-dated February/March 1948 where she flamboyantly finishes a ‘Tune of Terror!’ inflicted on a rural hick trying to claim an inheritance, but encountering nothing but music-themed menace…

A word of warning: Kanigher was a superbly gifted and wildly imaginative writer, but he never let sense come between him and a memorable visual. The manic Deus ex Machina moment where a carpet of black canaries snatches the eponymous avenger and victim out of a death-plunge is, indeed, utter idiocy, but in those days, anything went…

Back in a more rational milieu and mood for Flash Comics #93, the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Crystal!’ has the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled many gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry had pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf had no idea his mousy landlady was the lethal object of his crime-busting desires…

The rather pedestrian ‘Corsage of Death!’ in #94 sees them save a scientist’s ultimate weapon from canny crooks, whilst ‘An Orchid for the Deceased!’ spectacularly finds the Avian Avenger framed for murder in an extremely classy Noir murder mystery before #96 combines equestrian robbery with aerial combat as gem thieves risk innocent lives to solve ‘The Riddle of the Topaz Brooch!’

Finally finding a formula that worked, Kanigher had Larry and the Canary investigate textile thieving thugs involved in ‘The Mystery of the Stolen Cloth!’ and murdering stamp-stealers in #98’s ‘The Byzantine Black’, as Infantino’s art grew ever more efficient and boldly effective.

‘Time Runs Out!’ in #99 ups the drama as ruthless radium-stealing gangsters trap the duo in a giant hourglass, and #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track down a model-making gang of burglars and are unexpectedly caught in ‘The Circle of Terror!’

Just as the stories were building momentum and finding a unique voice, the curtains were beginning to draw closed. ‘The Day that Wouldn’t End!’ in #101 sees Canary and gumshoe uncover a sinister scheme to drive a rich man mad, Dinah’s shop becomes an unsuspected tool of crafty crooks in ‘The Riddle of the Roses!’, and ‘Mystery on Ice!’ finds the capable crime-crushers suckered by a pack of thieves determined to steal a formula vital to America’s security.

Flash Comics disappeared with #104, making way for new titles and less fantastic thrills. ‘Crime on Her Hands’ ended the Canary’s crusade on a high, however, with an absorbing murder-mystery involving a college class of criminologists. She wouldn’t be seen again until the return of the Justice Society as part of the Silver Age revival of costumed mystery men, when awestruck readers learned that there were infinite Earths and untold wonders to see…

Nevertheless, the sudden cancellation meant two months’ worth of material was in various stages of preparation when the axe fell. The “All-Girl Issue” of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in 1969, with Bernard Sachs inking Infantino as ‘Special Delivery Death!’ finds Lance framed for murder and both Dinah and Black Canary using their particular gifts to clear him. Adventure Comics #399 printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to a crime in the making…

Once the Silver Age revival took hold, superheroes were everywhere and response to Earth-2 appearances prompted DC to try-out a number of impressive permutations designed to bring back the World’s first team of costumed adventurers.

Try-out comic The Brave and the Bold #61 offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science known as Starman. The deliriously cool cases began with ‘Mastermind of Menaces’, as vile techno-wizard The Mist returned, using doctored flowers to hypnotise his victims into voluntarily surrendering their wealth.

When he utilised Dinah’s flower shop to source his souped-up blooms, she, husband Larry and visiting pal Ted were soon on the villain’s trail…

Mystery and intrigue gave way to all-out action in #62’s ‘The Great Superhero Hunt!’ as husband-and-wife criminals Sportsmaster and Huntress began stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their first victim Ted and Dinah were on the case and ready for anything…

These latter classic tales alone are worth the price of purchase, but this splendid tome still has the very best to come as Adventure Comics #418 & 419 provide a scintillating 2-part graphic extravaganza by Dennis O’Neil & the legendary Alex Toth.

Originally an Earth-2 crime-fighter, Dinah was transplanted to our world by the wonders of trans-dimensional vibration after husband Larry was killed (see Justice League of America #73-75 or many assorted JLA compilations). Beginning a possibly rebound romance with Green Arrow, Dinah struggled to find her feet on a strangely different yet eerily familiar world. In ‘The Canary and the Cat! Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved Blonde Bombshell has no idea her pupils are hirelings of vicious criminal Catwoman and the martial arts moves she shares will lead to her death and the liberation of a deadly menace…

Augmented by a fond remembrance from co-creator Carmine Infantino in his Foreword and detailed biographies of the many people who worked on the character, this admittedly erratic collection starts slow but builds in quality until it ranks amongst the very best examples of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy. I hope you get a chance to see it…
© 1947-1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale


By Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Doug Moench, Ed Brubaker, Frank Springer, Lew Sayer Schwartz, Kurt Schaffenberger, Irv Novick, Tom Mandrake, Michael Avon Oeming (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0213-2 (TPB)

It feels odd to plug a book that is so obviously a quick and cheap cash-cow tie-in to a movie (and a bad movie, at that), but this Catwoman volume from 2004 has a great deal to recommend it. For a start it is quaintly cheap ‘n’ cheerful. The references to the film are kept to an absolute minimum. The selection of reprints, purporting to signify nine distinct takes on the venerable femme fatale are well considered in terms of what the reader hasn’t seen as opposed to what they have. There are also some rare and stunning art pieces selected as chapter heads, too, from the likes of George Perez, Dave Stevens, Alan Davis and Bruce Timm.

The stories themselves vary in quality by modern standards, but serve as an intriguing indicator of taste in the manner of a time capsule or introductory Primer. Track the feline fury from her first appearance as mysterious thief ‘The Cat’ (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson: Batman #1 1940), through ‘The Crimes of the Catwoman’ (Edmond Hamilton, Kane/Lew Sayer Schwartz & Charles Paris: Detective #203 1954), to the wonderfully absurdist cat fight with Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (#70-71: 1966), as described by Leo Dorfman & Kurt Schaffenberger in ‘The Catwoman’s Black Magic’ and ‘Bad Luck for a Black Super-Cat!’

A victim of 1960’s TV “Batmania”, ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman’ sees her battle Batgirl in a cringingly painful outing from Batman #197, by 1967 by Gardner Fox, Frank Springer & Sid Greene) but at least it can be regarded as the nadir of her decline from sexy object of pursuit to imbecilic Twinkie. From here it’s onwards and upwards again…

In the nonsensical ‘The Case of the Purr-Loined Pearl’ (Batman #210, 1969), Frank Robbins, Irv Novick & Joe Giella slowly (and oh, so terribly gradually) begin her return to major villain status, after which Doug Moench, Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema devise ‘A Town on the Night’ (Batman #392, 1986), showing one of her innumerable romantic excursions onto the right side of the law before ‘Object Relations’ (Catwoman #54 1998), shows us a ghastly but brief “Bad-Grrrl” version of the glamorous super-thief.

Mercifully, we then get to the absolutely enthralling ‘Claws’ (Batman: Gotham Adventures #4 1998, by Ty Templeton, Rich Burchett& Terry Beatty), produced in the spin-off comic based on the television cartoon but probably the best piece of pure comic book escapism in the whole package. The volume closes with another revision of her origin ‘The Many Lives of Selina Kyle’ (Catwoman Secret Files#1 2002), by Ed Brubaker, Michael Avon Oeming & Mike Manley.

Catwoman is a timeless icon and one of the few female comic characters that the entire real world has actually heard of, so it’s great that the whole deal is such a light, frothy outing, as well as having some rarity appeal for dedicated fans. Go get her, Tiger!
© 1940-1955, 1956-2002, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Life After Death


By Tony S. Daniel, Guillem March, Sandu Florea, Norm Rapmund & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85767-123-2

At the climax of a harrowing and sustained campaign of terror by insidious cabal The Black Hand, Batman was apparently killed (by evil New God Darkseid during the “Final Crisis”). Although the news was kept from the general public, the superhero community secretly mourned whilst a small dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies trained over the years by the Dark Knight formed a “Network” of champions to police GothamCity in the catastrophic days and weeks which followed: marking time until a successor could be found…

Most of the Batman-trained task force refuse to believe their inspirational mentor is dead and thus, believing him only lost, have accepted Dick Grayson – first Robin and latterly Nightwing – as the stand-in Gotham Guardian until Bruce Wayne can find his way back to them.

The transition has been bloody and brutal. Grayson had to stop an outcast contender who sought to usurp the legacy of Batman and turn the role of Dark Knight into debased red-handed avenger rather than benign shadowy protector. For now former Robin and erstwhile Red Hood Jason Todd has been defeated, abandoning his quest to become the new Gotham Guardian even as a new iteration of deceased crimelord Black Mask runs rampant in the city.

Crushed and cast aside in the savage gang-war with the triumphant mobster’s mind-controlled False Face Society, mercurial maniac Two-Face has simply vanished, whilst third force The Penguin has been apparently conquered and cowed: remaining only as a meek and compliant vassal of the triumphant newcomer.

Whoever he is, the current Black Mask is as sadistic, psychotic, meticulously methodical and strategically brilliant as his predecessor. His first move had been to free many of Batman’s most maniacal menaces – temporarily stored at Blackgate Prison after the infamous Arkham Asylum was destroyed. Despite the Network’s utmost efforts and the completion of a new high-tech institution, many of the worst inmates remain at large…

This terse and occasionally histrionic volume collects the contents of Batman #692-699 (December 2009 – July 2010) revealing the identity of the mastermind behind the mask and recounting the final fate of the pretender as well as heralding the return of a much misunderstood and fearfully underestimated foe…

Written and primarily pencilled by Tony S. Daniel, the eponymous saga ‘Life After Death’ begins with ‘The Awakening’ (inked by Sandu Florea) as Grayson – grudgingly assisted by Bruce Wayne’s assassin-trained son Damian as the latest Boy Wonder – continues to hunt the escapees and their Machiavellian manipulator…

So great was the crisis that the National Guard had been deployed to enforce Martial Law, driving back the False Face legions and more or less cordoning them into the Devil’s Square area of the city.

With the successor Batman and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon forced to play a waiting game, Black Mask and his inner circle – malignant “Ministry of Science” boffins Fright, Professor Hugo Strange and Dr. Death – go on the offensive by resurrecting a deadly nemesis even as the new director of Arkham seeks a way of undoing the brainwashing techniques used on the False Faces. Hard pressed on all fronts, Grayson seeks the unique assistance of his mentor’s greatest, most secret asset Selina Kyle, and together they discover a new player in the drama. Marco Falcone has returned to Gotham…

Years ago the original Batman had destroyed the power of the Mafia in the city, driving the last of the “Made Men” into exile and breaking the all-pervasive organisation of Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. Now his last surviving son seems intent on using the current chaos to reclaim his inheritance and re-establish the family business…

However the gangster has his own setbacks to deal with: his safe has just been broken into and the contents swiped by Catwoman. As well as cash and jewels the vault contained the most valuable and potentially dangerous document in Gotham…

Luckily for all concerned, Mario doesn’t realise the role his beloved “niece” Kitrina a very capable and dangerous teenaged cat-burglar in her own right – played in that theft…

The Ministry of Science now has a ferociously hands-on new member. Concentration Camp survivor Dr. Grant Gruener once haunted Gotham as the scythe-wielding vigilante The Reaper, until his apparent demise at the gauntleted hands of the Dark Knight. After years of genetic tampering and behaviour modification by Strange, the killer is back and ready to resume his crusade…

Moreover new information has revealed that the mesmerised False Faces aren’t just enslaved career criminals but also have members recruited from ordinary law-abiding citizens, all equally mind-controlled by the hideous masks they wear – and now someone is killing them, guilty and innocent alike…

The campaign of terror continues as the headstrong and potentially lethal latest Robin joins his barely tolerated commanding officer in winnowing the hordes of False Faces before the pair are distracted by different enemy in ‘Charades’.

Bruce Wayne’s (if not Batman’s) ultimate adversary is Dr. Tommy Elliot, a beloved boyhood friend as warped by his own mother’s malign influence as Bruce was reshaped by the murder of his beloved parents.

Eminent surgeon Elliot became the twisted, sadistic and obsessive Hush to punish his only friend and childhood companion: one who had been perpetually held up to the troubled, never-good-enough kid as a perfect example of a son by Elliot’s deranged parent. Tommy even divined the billionaire’s greatest secret – the true identity of the Dark Knight…

After many deeply personal, psychotic attacks on Wayne’s legacy and Batman’s friends, Hush took the ultimate step in his psychological war against his oldest confidante by surgically transforming himself into Wayne’s mirror image and attempting to entirely usurp his life (see Batman – Streets of Gotham: Hush Money).

The Batman Family had never accepted that their mentor was dead, and all their actions were predicated upon the premise that he would eventually return to reclaim his mantle, so once Catwoman tracked down and emptied all Elliot’s hidden bank accounts Hush began trading on his stolen looks to rebuild his fortune and take another stab at revenge by bankrupting the Wayne financial empire, simultaneously removing the Bat-Network’s crucial operating capital at the same time…

Only recently reformed criminal-turned-High Society Private Eye Edward Nigma – still known as The Riddler – seemed to suspect the imposture, with Grayson and his comrades ironically compelled to publicly cover for the faux Bruce to keep their own secrets…

At a grand benefit to mark the re-opening of Arkham Asylum, Grayson and the undercover Huntress verbally spar with Elliot, Riddler and the Falcones, but when Kitrina perpetrates another robbery Nigma chases her and sustains a life-altering head injury…

Meanwhile in the bloody streets The Reaper is taking a brutal toll on Black Mask’s enemies and the general public too…

Batman begins his fight back by targeting the suspiciously quiescent Penguin in ‘Fractured Pieces’ even as the newly open Arkham begins to suffer mysterious attacks and its builders and administrators begin succumbing to tragic accidents. But even as the Dark Knight’s strategy prompts a murderous attack on the Bird Bandit by Black Mask forces, Mario has discovered Kitrina’s role in his misfortunes and takes steps to end her interference.

Tragically he has completely underestimated her abilities as he hunts for missing maps of Devil’s Square – and Black Mask’s secret sanctum – which she originally created and has now reclaimed…

Norm Rapmund joins Florea on inking with ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ as Kitrina begins her brutal retaliation against the Falcones and Batman discovers who she really is. As Mario flees the aftermath, the mob boss is ambushed by the Reaper and only the last minute intervention of Batman and Huntress save him from a grisly end.

On the deadly, near-deserted streets, Riddler’s confusion slowly abates as he begins making connections to a life he’d forgotten and re-experiences a compulsion long controlled…

The war takes an ugly turn in ‘Mind Games’ when the Penguin at last makes his move: enslaving Batman with Black Mask’s mind-binding gimmicks and dispatching the befuddled crimebuster to even the score – and perhaps even assassinate the murderous mastermind behind everyone’s woes…

By the time Robin has rescued his brainwashed senior partner, Kitrina has found an ally and mentor of her own – one with no love for the Falcones, Penguin or Black Mask and an agenda all her own – and the Boy Wonder’s unsavoury task is to reconstruct just what horrors Batman has committed since he fell under the spell of the mind-controlling mask.

Armed with inevitable conclusions, hard-won knowledge and unpalatable truths regarding presumed friends and foes, the new Dark Knight at last implacably ends the plague of unrest afflicting Gotham but, even after taking out the Ministry of Science, overcoming the rampaging Reaper and exposing Black Mask, the ‘Liberator’ and his Network allies are acutely aware that the job never ends and the battle is barely begun…

This collection then concludes with the 2-part ‘Riddle Me This’ (illustrated by Guillem March & colourist Tomeu Morey) as the Prince of Puzzlers encounters a murderous old associate in criminal conjuror Blackspell whose ‘Magic Tricks’ concealed a cunning, years-long revenge scheme.

However as the bloodshed and mystery escalated in ‘A Means to an End’ the increasingly overworked Batman was forced to accept that the obvious suspect might not be the guilty one… nor that all his allies were working with him…

Torturous, tumultuous, convoluted and challenging, this action-packed, high-octane Fights ‘n’ Tights drama will deliver all the thrills, spills and chill fans could hope for with impressive punch and panache aplenty. Moreover it’s all very, very pretty to look at and even the freshest neophyte is well aware that it’s all just a prelude to the return of the real Dark Knight…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told: volume 2


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Dennis O’Neill, Irv Novick, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-037-2

By the time this sequel collection of Batman classics appeared, graphic novels were becoming fully established as a valuable second marketplace for comic adventures, not just celebrating standout stories from the company’s illustrious and varied history but also as a format for new and significant works.

They were also a superb high-ticket item for enhancing public buzz from media events such as the follow-up Batman Returns movie. However, although this tantalising selection of tales starring Catwoman and the Penguin was designed to cash in on the second feature film, it does contain a superb procession of brilliant criminal clashes which no true fan of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction could resist…

After ‘Of Fowls and Felines: Fifty Years of Felony’, an erudite introduction by Marty Pasko, and Mike Gold’s fact-filled Foreword ‘The Deadliest Duo’, both liberally illustrated with pin-ups by José Luis GarcíaLópez, Brian Stelfreeze, Jim Aparo, Don Newton, Brent Anderson and others, the dramatic duels begin with ‘The Cat’ (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson from Batman #1, Spring 1940) – later adding the suffix ‘Woman’ to her name to avoid any possible doubt or confusion – who plied her felonious trade of jewel theft aboard the wrong cruise liner and fell foul for the first time of the dashing Dynamic Duo, whilst the perfidious Penguin debuted in Detective Comics #58 (December 1941, by Kane, Finger, Robinson & George Roussos) primed to make the Batman and Robin the victims of ‘One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups’

‘The Secret Life of Catwoman’ comes from Batman #62 (December 1950-January 1951, by Finger, Kane & Charles Paris) and saw the Felonious Feline reform and retire after a head trauma cured her larcenous tendencies, after which ‘The Penguin’s Fabulous Fowls’ from #76 (April-May 1953 by Edmond Hamilton, Kane & Paris) found the Umbrella King turn xeno(crypto?)-biologist to capture mythical avian monsters and turn them loose in Gotham…

January 1954’s Detective Comics #203 exposed the ‘Crimes of the Catwoman’ when the bored and neglected Selina Kyle took up her whip and claws once more to prove she was still the Queen of Crime in a classy caper by Hamilton, Kane & Paris.

In the mid 1950s costumed villains faded from view for almost a decade until the Batman TV show made them stars in their own right.

Batman #169 (February 1965) saw the wily, bird-themed bad-man triumphantly return to make the Caped Crusaders his unwilling dupes and ‘Partners in Plunder!’ in a stirring romp by Ed “France” Herron, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, whilst full-length epic ‘The Penguin Takes a Flyer into the Future’ (#190 March 1967 by Gardner Fox, Chic Stone & Giella) mixed super-villainy and faux science fiction motifs for an enjoyable if predictable fist-fest.

When the Tigress of Terror eventually resurfaced with Batman #197’s ‘Catwoman Sets her Claws for Batman’ (December by Fox, Frank Springer and Sid Greene) the frankly daft tale pitted her in romantic combat against Batgirl for the Gotham Gangbuster’s attentions. This one is most fondly remembered for the classic cover of Batgirl and whip-wielding Catwoman squaring off over Batman’s prone body – comic fans have a psychopathology all their very own…

Batman #257 in July-August 1974 produced a canny thriller in ‘Hail Emperor Penguin’ by Denny O’Neil, Irv Novick& Dick Giordano, wherein the Parasol Plunderer kidnapped a young Middle Eastern potentate and fell foul of both Batman & Robin and Demon’s Daughter Talia Al Ghul.

The Teen Wonder returned in Detective Comics #473’s ‘The Malay Penguin!’ as the podgy Napoleon of Crime challenged the temporarily reunited Dynamic Duo to an entrancing, intoxicating duel of wits, courtesy of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin from November 1977.

After an informative ‘Catwoman Featurette’ from Batman #256 May (Jun 1974), a two part Catwoman solo feature by Bruce Jones, Trevor Von Eeden & Pablo Marcos proved her potential as a force for Good in ‘Terror Train’ and ‘In the Land of the Dead’ from Batman #345-346 (March and April 1982) whilst ‘Never Scratch a Cat’ from #355 (January 1983, by Gerry Conway, Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala) re-emphasised her savage, independent nature and unwillingness to be ignored by the Dark Knight…

A ‘Penguin Featurette’ from Batman #257 then precedes ‘Love Birds’ from Batman Annual #11 (1987) wherein Max Allen Collins & Norm Breyfogle explored the Penguin’s softer side – and found it lacking – before ‘Eyrie’ (Detective #568, November 1986 by Joey Cavalieri & Klaus Janson) firmly re-established the Little Emperor of Crime’s stylish, deadly and bloody bona fides in a chilling tale of extortion and murder…

This terrific tome, edited by Paul Kupperberg and Robert Greenberger – who provided the creator biographies and End-notes – is also packed with many compelling cover reproductions filling up all those half-page breaks which advertised new comics in the originals to make this another captivating collection of utter superhero excellence: fun-filled, action-packed and wildly beguiling.
© 1940, 1941, 1953, 1954, 1965, 1967, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: the Long Road Home


By Will Pfeiffer, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-181-6

After a phenomenal relaunch (see Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score, The Dark End of the Street and Crooked Little Town) the feline felon motored along nicely for years before falling prey to her most telling weakness: she is inextricably bonded to the Bat Franchise and as it turns, so does she.

Despite some sterling work from Will Pfeiffer, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez, the series was marked for cancellation and the final days saw her sucked into both the Amazons Attack and Salvation Run publishing events (see particularly Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack!, Justice League of America: Sanctuary, JLA: Salvation Run and the previous volume Catwoman: Crime Pays).

So it is that this final compilation (collecting issues #78-82 of her gone-but-not-forgotten monthly comic) opens with the urban defender of Gotham City’s downtrodden underclass marooned on a distant deadly planet where America’s super-criminals have been clandestinely deported by the government, trying to avoid being killed by her own rogues gallery (Russian émigrés Hammer & Sickle and Cheetah most notably) whilst back on Earth old friend Slam Bradley’s search for her has led him into a murderous deathtrap…

One Final Whine (and you just know that’s not true): as I’ve said in many a review, graphic novels are different from simultaneously published periodicals, and lots of the tricks that augment sales in the latter are actual hindrances in the former. This first chapter is the ideal example of that observation.

In the comic-books this story culminates with a cataclysmic death-duel on the alien Hellworld, and a Slam Bradley teaser/cliffhanger after which the informed reader turns to Salvation Run issues #6 and 7 to discover what happens next. In this collection we simply, inexplicably find Catwoman back on Earth and coming to Slam’s rescue. Bast help you if you’re on a tight budget or only collect Catwoman books…

Feel free to consider that an advisory to buy Salvation Run too.

After saving Bradley Selina returns to unfinished business: chiefly tracking down The Thief, an obnoxious upstart who stole all her possessions and reputation to augment his own, which she does with panache and perhaps excessive force and zeal, before settling a few other old scores, most notably with criminal information broker The Calculator, and drives off into the sunset after one final fight with Batman.

This is a readable if necessarily bitty clean-up operation prior to Catwoman joining the cast of the ensemble series “Gotham City Sirens”, but there are still moments of the old magic to be found here. A rather unfortunate end to a superb series and a wrap-up only the most dedicated fans should have to endure.

© 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Crime Pays


By Will Pfeiffer, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-972-7

Even the most resonant characters handled by the very best creators have bad patches, especially when tumbled into the destabilising chaos of company crossover events and so much more so when said creators are labouring under the cosh of knowing that the title they’re working on has already been cancelled.

So it is with this compilation of Catwoman (collecting issues #73-77 of her done-and-dusted monthly comic) as the urban defender of the downtrodden, freshly returned from a debilitating role in the Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack! storyline, having given up her daughter and abandoned her old secret identity, only narrowly escapes being blown up in her own apartment mere moments after discovering that somebody has stolen every stick and stitch she possessed…

Determined to discover who took the last remnants of her life, Selina Kyle has to steal one of her old costumes and gear from a demented collector before she goes after The Thief, only to be shanghaied by the Suicide Squad: a clandestine government penal battalion of super-villains, working black ops in return for eventual pardons… She awakens on another planet: a hellworld used as Devil’s Island of Space, where the government has been secretly dumping Earth’s villains without due process… and with no way back.

A world chock-full of metahuman psychopaths, thugs and megalomaniacs is bad enough, but when the likes of Luthor, the Joker, Vandal Savage and Gorilla Grodd start competing for the right to lead it’s going to get a little fraught. How long can Selina last before somebody remembers that she’s been fighting for the other side? And then she falls into a booby-trapped alien device that seems to send her somewhere even weirder and more dangerous…

For a fuller understanding of this tale you will have to read the collected miniseries Salvation Run, and yet again this book ends on a cliffhanger but regardless of those niggles this is still a good solid read and the end is finally in sight, with only one more book to come.

The great shame is that even though creators Pfeifer, Lopez and Lopez knew they were on clean-up detail, and compelled to add material not necessarily of their choosing, they still pulled out all the stops to make this a superbly engaging and compelling experience, and such artistic integrity shouldn’t go unnoticed or un-remarked.

Enjoyable and thrilling for established fans, this isn’t the book to start with if you’re a new reader. Those lucky latecomers should aspire to buy the complete series and indulge in the luxury of reading the lot all at one sitting…

© 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Crooked Little Town


By Ed Brubaker, Brad Rader, Cameron Stewart, Rick Burchett& various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84023-736-8

Seamlessly progressing from her reinvention in Selina’s Big Score (ISBN: 1-84023-773-3) and Catwoman: the Dark End of the Street (ISBN: 978-1-84023-567-8) the new, socially conscious defender of the underclass inhabiting Gotham City’s down-market East End District finds herself battling another gang pushing drugs in her preserve. This time however, the very guilty parties responsible seem to come from Gotham’s wealthy aristocracy. Also hungry to finger a few expensive collars is the relentless old gumshoe Slam Bradley and even Selina’s protégé Holly Robinson.

The crusade takes a dark turn when an undercover cop is murdered by his own dirty colleagues and Holly is framed for the deed. Selina and Bradley have their work cut out to survive the dirty, violent, twilight world to save the young ingénue, but behind even the artistos there’s another mastermind at work, familiar and chillingly deadly…

The four part ‘Disguises’ by Ed Brubaker, Brad Rader, Cameron Stewart and Rich Burchett is book-ended by the prequel ‘Trickle Down Theory’ and the splendidly cathartic glimpse into Selina’s past ‘Joy Ride’ (originally published as Catwoman #5-10) and complemented by the excellent and revelatory closing tale ‘The Many Lives of Selina Kyle’ by Brubaker, Michael Avon Oeming and Mike Manley, taken from Catwoman Secret Files #1.

As grim and gritty as a comic can get without become “adults only”, yet still finding room for breakneck fun and adventure, the ongoing transition from sleek, sexy cat-burglar to tarnished champion of the forgotten is a masterpiece of skillful storytelling whilst the moody, stylish art made this particular cat’s life (her fourth, I think) a series to cherish. Irresistibly readable, this is superhero shtick at its finest. Fans of caper movies, Noir thrillers and just plain literate thrill-seekers should take note…

© 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

CATWOMAN: THE DARK END OF THE STREET


By Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart & Mike Allred (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84023-567-8

Reinvigorated and transformed by her return to Gotham City and the shucking of her sleazy, buxom, “bad-Grrl” status, (See Selina’s Big Score ISBN: 1-84023-773-3 for the full details and another rollickin’ good read) Catwoman began a more socially conscious career as a vigilante; extending her own brand of succour to the shady denizens of Gotham City’s sleazy East End District. This book collects the back-up series that ran in Detective Comics #759-762 and the first four issues of her 2001 series (volume 2, I rather suspect you’d call it).

Technically a Slam Bradley story, the ‘Trail of the Catwoman’ serial by Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart sees the grizzled old private eye hired by the Mayor to find the legendary super-thief even though all evidence indicates that she’s dead. In true film noir tradition a convoluted trail leads to lots of sordid situations and hairsbreadth escapes for the world-weary gumshoe as he unravels her life, the tension increasing as he realizes he’s falling for a girl he’s never met and hunting her for the worst cutthroats in Gotham…

For greater clarity you should read Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score (ISBN: 1-84023-773-3) before continuing with this book which then picks up a few months later as Selina Kyle moves into the East End of Old Gotham and finds renewed meaning when she determines to stop a serial killer preying on prostitutes and street girls.

‘Anodyne’ by Brubaker, Cooke and Mike Allred, reintroduces Holly Robinson, first seen in Batman: Year One (ISBN 1-84576-158-8) and the follow-up Catwoman (1989) miniseries by Mindy Newell and JJ Birch (collected as Her Sister’s Keeper ISBN: 978-0-44639-366-9). Reunited, the old friends decide to solve the case that Gotham’s corrupt authorities won’t touch.

The transition from sleek, sexy cat-burglar to tarnished champion of the underclass is a masterpiece of slick storytelling, and the cutting-edge art from Cooke et al pushed this series to a level few could touch.

Even after all this time this is probably the best incarnation of Catwoman ever – and that’s including Eartha Kitt purring away in that outfit! Fans of caper movies, Noir thrillers and just plain fun-seekers should make this book their own forever.

© 2001, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Selena’s Big Score

Selina's Big Score
Selina's Big Score

By Darwyn Cooke & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-84023-773-3

I suspect this started life as a miniseries and for best effect it should be read in conjunction with Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street (ISBN13: 978-1-84023-567-8), but still this wonderful homage to the caper-tales of Elmore Leonard, set firmly on the other side of the tracks, is a sheer delight all on its own as Selina Kyle, basking in the comfortable anonymity that comes when the World thinks you’re dead, gets lured into a robbery from the Mob that’s just too big and too exciting to ignore.

Reuniting with the crime-legend who taught her all the tricks – and whom she subsequently betrayed – a team is assembled to steal the cash. But in this murky world of cross, double cross and treble cross anything that can go wrong probably will…

And how does grizzled PI Slam Bradley fit into the mix?

Set between the Slam Bradley back-up feature in Detective Comics #759-762 and the beginning of Catwoman’s current comic series, this is a slick, absorbing and unique exploit from one of the industries most talented creators: a superhero story for readers who hate fights ‘n’ tights stories.

This splendid stylish, ever-so-retro yarn is augmented by a pin-up gallery from some of comics’ most individual artists: to wit Mike Mignola, Michael Allred, Shane Glines, Kevin Nowlan, Adam Hughes, Daniel Torres, Jaime Hernandez and the inimitable Steranko. Even if you hate all that super-stuff, take a chance and track down this book. It really is something very special…

© 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Catwoman Dies

Catwoman Dies

By Will Pfeifer, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-774-7

This action-heavy compilation starts the clean-up process as the current series prepares for cancellation by taking a number of the key premises of this incarnation and negating them. Rather than go for the favoured comics ploys of re-writing reality the creators have opted for Selina Kyle enlisting the aid of trusted friends to cover her tracks and “disappear” her.

Collecting issues #66-72, and featuring a somewhat muddled and misguided cross-over with the DC Universe Event Amazons Attack!, super-thief, single mum, and unelected guardian of Gotham’s East Side Catwoman is driven to finally forsake her life due to her increasingly high profile on the radar of such villains as Lex Luthor, the Calculator, Blitzkrieg and especially the relentless, revenge-obsessed Soviet superhumans Hammer and Sickle.

Although still a good solid read, the end is in sight and creators Pfeifer, Lopez and Lopez know they’re on clean-up detail. Necessary and enjoyable for established fans, but this isn’t the book to start with if you’re a new reader.

© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.