Title: Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper
Writer: Mindy Newell
Penciller: J.J. Birch
Inker: Michael Blair
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Catwoman made her first appearance in 1940. An adventurous, athletic thief, initially known as the Cat, she went through several incarnations before being established as Selina Kyle, a criminal who nevertheless had an admirable side and an attraction to the Batman.
In 1985-86, DC Comics made mainstream headlines with Crisis on Infinite Earths, a groundbreaking series which effectively ended their fictional universe(s) and birthed a new one, free of the clutter of a half-century’s history. Frank Miller retooled Batman in Batman: Year One, (available at Amazon.com
and Amazon.ca), and gave readers a glimpse of the new Selina Kyle. Before either of the characters don their disguises, they meet on the streets of Gotham. This Selina Kyle is a prostitute who specializes in BDSM, has a fondness for cats, advanced training in karate, and a female sidekick of sorts, a child prostitute named Holly. She appeared in regular DC comics, but the line between this dark character and the swashbuckling antihero was unclear until 1989, when DC launched a successful Catwoman comic. Its first four issues, heavily based on Year One were later collected in this trade paperback.
Overall, Newell has created a convincing journey for the protagonist, from Selina Kyle, angry prostitute (whose first cat costume is a leather fetish outfit procured by her pimp), to Catwoman, thief, self-serving vigilante, and antihero.
The story has a deliberately fragmented structure. This leaves several gaps, some of which should have been filled. In need of further exploration are Selina’s relationship with Holly, and the personality of her trainer, the over-the-hill Wildcat.
Originality: 3/6 As a take on Catwoman, this seems very original. However, it has deliberately borrowed heavily from Miller’s Batman: Year One, even recreating scenes. This makes perfect sense, of course, but affects the score in this category.
Artwork: 4/6 The artwork is effectively gritty. The stylization sometimes seems excessive. Stan the Pimp has been given chalk-white skin; Selina appears once too often in undersized underwear. (If you want to see DC-sanctioned Catwoman ass, this would be the comic to buy).
Story: 4/6 The story is choppy, but it holds up to rereading. The plot develops with the dark melodrama typical of comics and, eventually, the far-fetched costumes and violence. These things remain at the level of pulp fiction, however; we see no signs of impossible science, world-domination-coveting madmen, or other needlessly bizarre comic-book flourishes. Even Batman plays only a supporting role.
Characterization: 4/6: Her Sister’s Keeper has the kind of simplified psychology typical of the better super-hero comics. It’s good, though not great.
Emotional response: 4/6 The story has a certain shocking quality, not because we haven’t seen these elements before, but we have rarely seen them at play in the life of so iconic a comic book character. In the end, Kyle proves both sympathetic, if not entirely admirable.
Overall: 4/6 This is no Year One, but it manages to create a world where these characters make sense.
In total, Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper receives a score of 26/42.
This version of Catwoman proved quite successful; an Issue #0 even developed the troubled childhood of the sisters Kyle. As the successful 1980s/1990s Catwoman comic developed, however, writers distanced themselves from this origin. DC’s official history was re-retconned in Zero Hour, and has been tinkered with many times since, so that many of the changes established by Crisis no longer hold. Officially, Selina Kyle was never a prostitute, and for a time, she never had a sister, either. More recently, Ed Brubaker has reinserted Madelaine Kyle and Holly into continuity, and Selina’s sordid past may be official once more.
A variation of this review, by this author, appears at E2