When Catwoman #35 kicked off a new story arc for Selina Kyle—written by frequent io9 contributor Genevieve Valentine—many fans bristled at the thought of taking Selina Kyle and placing her as role of a mob boss. But not only does it work, it turns Selina, and eventually Catwoman, into one of DC’s best current characters.
Spoilers ahead for Catwoman #35-Catwoman#40.
The first five issues of Valentine and artist Garry Brown’s run on Catwoman were collected this week in Catwoman: Keeper of the Castle, and it’s definitely worth picking up. This storyline deals with the ramifications of Selina Kyle’s newfound status quo as the heir to the Calabrese crime family—and how Selina gave up the Catwoman persona to take on that role. At the time, fans were displeased at how Catwoman had been portrayed so far in DC’s “New 52” reboot, and many feared that removing Selina from being Catwoman altogether was a step too far. But Valentine and Brown gave Selina Kyle a necessary break from being Catwoman to put the spotlight on her as a character—and in the process, write a pretty gripping crime drama.
And honestly, that’s what this “Family Business” story line actually was, rather than being a straightforward Catwoman story. In no short time Valentine sets up and establishes a heady political drama in the underbelly of Gotham, as Selina shores up the Calabrese family’s holdings and goes on the defensive against the Black Mask. Reading the storyline in a collected edition allows you to appreciate the sheer volume of storytelling that gets rammed into each issue—something that, when originally read as a monthly release, was a little more challenging to admire. It’s a huge tonal shift for Catwoman, but it’s a scenario that, without the grand capers or the more eager-to-scrap anti-hero Catwoman we’d gotten in the New 52 up to that point, allows us to get a look at what really makes Selina Kyle tick.
In comparison to the Catwoman we’d gotten in the previous #34 issues—one that wasn’t just a little more rough-and-ready, but also practically a member of the Bat-Family whose thievery was glossed over with little consequence—the Selina we see in Keeper of the Castle embodies the cunning and intelligence, as well as the heart, that defines classic Catwoman. This is a Selina Kyle more reliant on outsmarting people, on her wit, than she is slashing at them with cat claws—but it’s also a Selina that has to deal with conscience and her own morality time and time again. As a Mob Boss, Selina has to deal with some murky situations, whether it’s selling caches of guns or agreeing to run heroin for a potential allied family, and it constantly plays on her mind.
Selina very clearly cares for Gotham and the streets she grew up in, and her desire to protect it often clashes with what she needs to do to survive as the head of the Calabrese family. This is the sort of moral grey area that the character hasn’t visited for a long while. Instead of a member of Batman’s posse who occasionally does slightly unsavory things, this is a woman who faces impossible conflicts, and tries to do the right thing. She’s a complex enough character that the reader is given space to find some of her actions wrong or even unforgivable.
This is is largely—and excellently—done through the introduction of Eiko Hasigawa as a new Catwoman: a Catwoman who believes she’s fighting for a purer cause than the woman who gave up the mantle. It makes Selina’s own internal debate about who Catwoman is a literally external one—is she just a petty thief, or is she a hero that stands up for what’s right, no matter the cost?
It turns out that Selina Kyle—importantly Selina Kyle, not just the Catwoman identity she assumes—is both of those things. As the Black Mask makes his moves against the Calabreses, Selina is forced to return to her catsuit and become Catwoman once more, and at first, you’re almost even a little sad that she’s Catwoman again, after the excellent time the series took to establish her without the Catwoman role. But this isn’t the Catwoman she’d left behind five issues ago. This is a Catwoman who has learned from being a mob boss, from Eiko, from taking the time to look at herself rather than her identity, and emerged stronger for it. And now that Selina has to balance being Catwoman with being the head of the Calabreses, it gives her even more opportunities to explore these different sides of herself.
Although many fans were unsure at first whether the decision for Selina Kyle to ditch the Catwoman identity would bolster Catwoman or destroy it, if anything it’s made the series the strongest it’s been since DC rebooted their comics universe in 2011. Both in the comics and in our world Selina Kyle has been through a rough time, but now she’s better than ever: in fact, she’s one of DC’s best and most complex current characters, full stop.