One of the many things that I think that Batman: The Animated Series got right was its atmosphere and style. Bruce Timm and his team beautifully married the Art Deco and German Expressionist styles that were inherent in Anton Furst’s designs for the 1989 Batman film with a character animation style that felt inspired by Alex Toth. It’s a cartoon noir that feels perfect for the pulp-inflected world of Batman.

While there was, of course, the direct adaptation of that universe to comics in the Batman Adventures series, something with a bit more edge appeared in the DC Universe proper from one of the storyboard artists and animators from Warner Animation. That creator, Darwyn Cooke.

…because my world is all just shades of grey, Batman.”

Catwoman by Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred, Matt Hollingsworth, and Sean Konot was a bit of a departure from her ’90s series. To the world at large, Selina Kyle was dead. At the beginning of this series, she had essentially hung up her costume and was attending therapy with Leslie Thompkins. She was only drawn back in to the world of crime through a series of murders of sex workers, otherwise not given effort by Gotham’s police. The opening arc, “Anodyne”, gave us a mystery to solve.

Credit where it’s due, Jim Balent, Jo Duffy, Doug Moench, and Devin Grayson chief among the creators on the 1993 series, it was a fun adventure series that had the occasional caper. The 2001 series took different cues. Selina adopted a more practical costume. It stripped back the core of the character to what was more familiar to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One. And some of the seediness of Moench and Paul Gulacy’s “Prey” from Legends of the Dark Knight. It recast Selina as the pulp detective, the troubled anti-hero, more than the femme fatale and it revelled in noir goodness.

Of course, it’s Gotham, so of course he’s got to be a freak.”

Darwyn Cooke is a master of showing action through static imagery. I think that his work here is some of his best. He has a tendency here to break down action scenes to multiple smaller panels, giving the effect of quicker movement to a more standard rhythm of the pages in this arc of 8-panel grids. It’s quite interesting how that works.

Pairing with Mike Allred finishing or inking the work also has a unique effect. The outlines are smoothed and faces are rounded with Allred bringing a bit of his style to the work. It retains the shadow and light common to Cooke’s work, while evoking a bit more of that cartoon noir feel. Matt Hollingsworth enhances that further with limited solid base colours of blue, purple, and a kind of yellow orange. It creates an effective moody atmosphere.

Ed Brubaker uses a kind of hardboiled narration for Selina’s voice, tinged with irony when it comes to the oddity of Gotham’s criminals. It’s presented as the torn pages from a journal in the dialogue boxes by Sean Konot. It’s a common convention for the lettering in crime comics these days. Though Konot adds another nice design element of having some of the boxes break across panels, flowing through the gutter.

And you can’t argue with happiness, can you?”

The first four issues of Catwoman from Brubaker, Cooke, Allred, Hollingsworth, and Konot feel like a how-to on bringing noir sensibilities to superhero comics. It embraces the spirit of Year One, the verve of Batman: The Animated Series, and sheer knowledge of the genre. Bringing a new, but natural, evolution of the character.

Current collected editions also include Cooke’s own Selina’s Big Score and the lead-in back-up shorts to the series from Detective Comics. They further spotlight different aspects of the noir genre.


Classic Comic Compendium: Catwoman – “Anodyne”

Catwoman – “Anodyne”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred
Colourist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: Sean Konot
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: November 28 2001 – February 27 2002 (original issues)
Available collected in Catwoman – Volume 1: Trail of the Catwoman and the Catwoman of East End Omnibus

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!