Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Tim Sale, Dave Stewart (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics
Review: As Catwoman’s odyssey in Rome comes to an end, a Battle Royale breaks out between Selina Kyle and an assembled horde of Gotham’s weirdest Bat-villains as the Riddler attempts to unravel “the greatest riddle of them all” – the identity of the Batman. After a nicely-rendered showdown which provides some neat cameos for Scarecrow, Cheetah and Mr. Freeze’s technology, Jeph Loeb uses the second half of the issue to tie the loose ends of the story together and try and find some meaning behind Selina’s soujourn in Italy.
To be brutally frank, this miniseries hasn’t lived up to the standards of classic Loeb & Sale pairings of the past. Traditional late issue deadlines aside, the plot feels a little made-up-as-we-went-along, and the mooted connection between this story and the Loeb/Sale Batman stories Long Hallowe’en and Dark Victory is minimal at best. The conclusion of the plot thread which concerns Selina and Carmine Falcone’s possible family connection is weak and uncertain, based on hearsay and unfounded allegations, and which never feels like it wants to commit to a continuity-altering revelation despite appearances. Whilst I understand that this could be interpreted as subtle and realistic, it just comes off as a little half-baked and inconclusive, as the rushed final issue struggles to make sense of the various story strands which have come before it.
Whilst the subplot involving the Riddler’s motivation for tricking Selina includes what I presume to be some sly, ironic nods to the future events explored in writer Loeb’s recent “Hush” storyline (throwaway comments about the Riddler being something of a second-tier character, and both Eddie and Selina never figuring out Batman’s secret identity), it’s not enough to appeal to a more casual Batman fan such as myself and it undermines the impact of what’s happening in the here-and-now as this miniseries unfolds. So whilst this issue serves as a nice enough wrap-up of the overall story (with an unexpectedly bittersweet ending as far as Selina’s relationship with “Blondie” goes), I just don't think Jeph Loeb's writing has been as strong on this series as his previous Batman work. However, to give credit where it’s due, Tim Sale's art (with colouring by Dave Stewart - one or two of the more vibrant panels are very reminiscent of some of his work in recent Daredevil "Decalogue" issues) is at an all-time high. I love it. Standout panels include the opening page splash of Catwoman ready to pounce, some nice sequentials of Selina going up against the Riddler in hand-to-hand combat (with a neat payoff which shows just what happens if you smash up Mr. Freeze’s gun), and a genuinely chilling panel towards the end of the issue which shows an aeroplane full of people be exposed to the Joker’s smile gas. Sale’s work alone makes this issue worth a browse, if not an essential purchase.
If you’ve read the rest of this series, then this final chapter is worth picking up. However, even for fans of Loeb and Sale, the series as a whole is at best a footnote to their bigger and better work on Long Hallowe’en and Dark Victory. If you’ve read those great stories and enjoyed them, you’ll probably like this – just don’t expect too much of the creators this time round.
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