Red Claw crashes Catwoman and Harley Quinn’s roller derby party in Tini Howard, Bengal, and Jordie Bellaire’s exciting but imperfect Catwoman #44.
It’s girls’ day out in the DC Universe as Selina Kyle and Harleen Quinzel make their way through Gotham with plenty of thrills and spills. Catwoman may be a high-profile anti-hero, but she’s no apex predator. The Tomasso clan is still out for her blood, and the infamous Black Mask, under their command, hires Red Claw to assassinate her in Catwoman #44 written by Tini Howard, with art from Bengal, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters from Tom Napolitano.
Between being stalked, hunted, and chased off the road, Catwoman needs all the help she can get. Unfortunately, Harley is a little preoccupied with the roller derby and is eagerly anticipating Selina’s attendance. Catwoman #44 takes the Tomasso-Catwoman feud to the roller rink and to the road with plenty of color, chaos, and changing alliances.
The current ongoing Catwoman series has taken Selena down a serious and intense path, so Catwoman #44 brings a nice change of pace with a slightly more fun and frivolous subplot. Catwoman’s cool, calculated pragmatism is definitely entertaining, but she really stands out when paired with a more overtly heroic partner to contrast her flexible brand of ethics. Catwoman #44, which pairs her with Harley Quinn, is an interesting twist on this familiar dynamic. Now, Catwoman is the sensible, relatively grounded one, while Harley is the Manic Pixie loose cannon. Funnily enough, despite being her typical wacky delinquent self, Harley is surprisingly tame here. Her main goal in this issue is having fun and winning the game for her roller derby team — not to mention surviving one of the most thrilling drag races in comics history. There’s definitely some sexual tension between these two, but the overall dynamic between Catwoman and Harley is innocent, lighthearted, and positive.
Writer Tini Howard’s run is a nice reimagining of the DC Canon. She does very well when depicting the central female leads, but some of the supporting cast comes across as a bit shallow. Red Claw is reduced from her original depiction, in the animated series, as a terrorist organization leader to a mere hired gun. Mafioso Tomasso remains a one-dimensional stand-in of the bigoted patriarchy. And Black Mask is reduced to a strawman misogynist, with most of his deeper connection to Catwoman stripped away. Catwoman even manages to sway Red Claw onto her side by revealing that Black Mask pays her less than if she were a man. It’s all rather heavy-handed and unsubtle, but there are enough bare-knuckle brawls, firearm battles, roller derby action, and high-speed car chases to make it easy to enjoy Catwoman #44 in spite of the lack of nuance.
For the most part, Catwoman #44 is a bright, bold, and pulpy story of blood and rollerskates, and Bengal’s art is every bit as bright and pulpy as Howard’s writing. Bengal and Bellaire make are as good of a team as Catwoman and Quinn. Bengal’s line art is loose and free, with visible sketch lines and plenty of negative space, even in the more complicated environments. This gives Bellaire plenty of room to experiment with color and texture. Soft, billowing splashes like watercolors fill the otherwise empty space, giving the panels plenty of life. This issue makes use of a brighter and more childlike color palette, especially in the roller derby scenes. Bright green, turquoise, red, fuchsia, and yellow dominate — a refreshing change from the darker palettes associated with the titular character and Gotham City.
Although it can feel shallow and overly moralistic at times, Catwoman #44 is good fun, featuring one of the most successful odd-couple pairings in recent memory. While not a lot gets accomplished plot-wise, both Catwoman and Harley Quinn are wild and charming enough to make this issue a fun ride.