Catwoman is truly one of the best books being published right now and the series doesn’t miss a single beat as it delves into the origins of a new character in an annual that builds upon what the regular issues have already laid down. Three complimentary art styles perfectly combine to bring various eras of the story to life while being tied together by wonderful shifting coloring and lettering. This issue and the entire series should be on the must-read list for any DC Comics or just comic book fan.
Annuals have been an off-and-on staple within the realm of DC and Marvel Comics for quite a long time. Often those annuals are used as a way to tell a one-off story featuring the main character or other characters from a book, in modern times often being disengaged from the main series storyline. Other times those annuals are very much rooted in the ongoing narrative of the main series, giving a wider space to explore something from that series.
Catwoman 2021 Annual #1 is very much a case of that second type of annual.
The antagonistic Father Valley has been crossing Selina Kyle’s path since he first appeared in Catwoman #26 when he was hired by the Penguin to find and kill Selina Kyle. Since then he’s gone out of his way to ward off others that are trying to kill Selina while also harming one of her close friends Leo in order to try and learn everything about her. Valley is playing a mysterious and dangerous game and the Annual peels back the layers to give us the origins of Valley and how he became who he is now.
As many guessed the man has ties to the Order of St. Dumas, just like Jean-Paul Valley the vigilante known as Azrael, but those similar name ties go in a direction many likely didn’t assume.
Ram V continues to build a truly engaging world around Selina Kyle from the members of the Strays to the aforementioned Leo as well as a really intriguing rouges gallery of her own with Father Valley among them (along with the previously seen Wight Witch). This might be one of the deepest looks at the Order of St. Dumas that we’ve gotten in quite some time, more often than not most looks only focusing on Jean-Paul Valley and his role in Batman’s world. Introducing the former Azrael, who has a tie to both Father Valley and Jean-Paul, as well as showcasing how the Order deals with threats to their order and ability to work from the shadows just fleshes out this part of the Gotham/Bat line so much.
Regular series artist Fernando Blanco returns after taking the previous issue off, but he’s not alone. Blanco handles much of the present-day scenes of the issue, while Kyle Hotz tackles the first portion of the flashback that establishes Father Valley and what happened to him, and then Juan Ferreyra handles the other part of the flashbacks that completes the metaphorical birth of Father Valley as we know him now. David Baron handles the colors across all their work as series regular letterer Tom Napolitano does what he does best within this issue as well.
While each of the trio of artists has a style that is their own and there are distinct differences to let you know when the art is shifting between them, their styles are not contradictory in any way. By that, I simply mean that this is one of those ‘artist jams’ where their styles complement one another and flow so easily as you read through the issue. There isn’t a jarring change that might take you out for a moment or two.
Baron and Napolitano get to stretch their artistic muscles as well as they both make sure to shift their colors and letters to fit within the scope of the various artists. The dialogue bubbles and SFX gets a sort of sharper edge to them on Hotz’s pages along with more shadows and darker colors, while they take on a bit softer and painted type looks to them for Ferreyra’s pages, while they are brighter and more colorful matching the usual sort of neo-noir look of the regular issues of the series for Blanco’s pages.
Lettering is an aspect of comics that doesn’t always get the focus that it should, as publishers don’t bring it up much and it’s often hard to talk about in reviews because of so much of the technical side not getting talked about.
That being said when there is great lettering, it truly stands out, and that’s the case here. There are some moments where what Napolitano does with eh SFX is truly inspired. A scene with a thrown sword and a slanted “Klang” that leans out of the shadow of the sword (while having its own drop shadow) easily stands out as just fantastic.
Catwoman 2021 Annual #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.