Catwoman: When in Rome
by Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale
(DC Comics, 2005)

Selina "Catwoman" Kyle is searching for her roots -- and how better to do so than to fly to Rome in the company of a diminutive Edward "The Riddler" Nigma?

Convinced that a deceased Gotham City mob boss is her real father, Selina -- still at an early stage of her career -- recruits Nigma to help her solve her personal riddle. (In the meantime, he might also help her figure out where her missing luggage went.)

Let's forget for the moment that this would mean Selina isn't actually related to her sister, with whom she shares a remarkable resemblance, and focus on this story alone.

Let's ponder instead why Selina is haunted by visions of the Batman. Why Gotham-specific weapons -- deadly Joker juice and Mr. Freeze's ice gun among them -- are appearing in Rome. Why members of the Mafia in Italy are so eager to take Selina's life, and why one of their pre-eminent hitmen is willing to put his on the line to save her. And why the Riddler is suddenly a criminal of dwarfish stature.

When in Rome is a sleek and sexy Catwoman as envisioned by the hit team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the writer and artist responsible for several bestselling titles for both DC (The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Superman for All Seasons) and Marvel (Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Gray, Spider-Man: Blue) in recent years.

Loeb's writing is more noirish and character-driven than the average superhero comic; he doesn't shy away from a little mayhem here and there, but it's not the central motivation of his work. He quite obviously finds layers of personality much more interesting, and often a meaty source of conflict. Nigma is a perfect example, providing both the comic relief and genuine menace.

Sale's art, on the other hand, is not my favorite style: the faces of his characters are often uniformly sallow and drawn, and there's a certain awkwardness in their movements. Still, it works well with this story, perhaps because he excels at drawing Catwoman just as sleek and sexy as you'd imagine her to be, and his detailed backgrounds are well-suited to the Italian cityscape.

When in Rome tweaks Selina's personal history quite a bit, and by the end it's not at all clear how new revelations fit into the accepted storyline. It's a little disappointing, actually, that her rather unique origins have been muddied with a new thread too similar by far to that of another Bat-satellite character, the Huntress.

But that's for the continuity experts, if they exist, to debate. As a stand-alone story, When in Rome is another winner from team Loeb and Sale.

by Tom Knapp
20 May 2006

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