I can find no tactful way to say it; Ann Nocenti's (former writer of Daredevil and current writer of Catwoman and Katana) run on Catwoman has been bad. Many feared what she might do to the feline fatale based on her horrible handling of the Emerald Archer, and those fears were realized for most fans from Nocenti's very first issue of Catwoman and have continued to manifest throughout her run.
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Despite this, I think Nocenti has been unfairly slammed in a couple areas, and though I am certainly not trying to say that her work is good, I do think there are some roses among the thorns.
Reexamining the Zero Issue
Nocenti successfully ostracized every Catwoman fan on the planet with her Zero Issue. Given the opportunity to create an origin tale for the character, Nocenti went off the deep end in most readers' view by making Selina a normal woman who was betrayed by her boss, murdered, and then revived and given multiple lives by cats. To add insult to injury, we discovered the Selina Kyle was not really Selina Kyle at all, and that Catwoman has no memory of her life before her murder.
I agree that this is an egregious destruction and convoluted reimagining of Selina's character and history, or rather it would be egregious if anything in the above paragraph were true. However, I believe all of the above interpretations of the story are incorrect.
First, Selina was never an ordinary woman. The story makes it very clear that Selina was a thief for many years before ever taking part in the second chance program. In fact, there are several scenes where she is wearing what appears to be the classic black Catwoman costume, minus the mask, before her “murder.” While working for the second chance program, Selina goes out of her way to don cat themed slippers which could easily be taken to mean that she was alread7 acting as Catwoman while working the second chance program. It is clear that at least part of Selina's motivation for holding this position was to get inside information on her brother's location, so it is certainly not beyond reason to speculate that Selina was using the job as nothing more than a long term con.
Second, Selina was never murdered. She was shoved off a building, an awning broke her fall, and she was knocked unconscious by the physical trauma. Cats came up to her, and she reawakened, but there is nothing in this scene which implies that Selina ever died. In fact, the internal monologue continues throughout the entire scene which would suggest she was alive the whole time. I understand that this was an homage to Batman Returns which did certainly have some supernatural elements to Selina's second lease on life, but it was just on homage and nothing more. Sure, Selina says, “This is where I left the first skin of my nine lives,” but this is an expression; it does not mean Selina literally has nine lives (or eight) in the DCNU.
Third, we have the idea of Selina not actually being Selina. Now this clearly is implied by the comic, yet all we really know is that a file in a computer system claimed that Selina was an alias. This could easily be false information.
Fourth, we know Selina lost her memory for a time, but that time was over one year ago. Selina could have easily regained her memory since then.
To recap the Zero issue, a bunch of people crapped their pants about these additions to Catwoman's origin, but in reality, the events about which people complain are at least subject to interpretation, and in the case of her supposed resurrection, I would say that the evidence clearly suggests that she never even died. Regarding whether this undermines Catwoman's previous origin tales, the issue certainly can be interpreted to mean that Selina did not become Catwoman until after her near death experience, but you can theoretically work in all (well, nearly all) of Selina's past origin into the DCNU zero issue if you work of the assumption that all those other events still happened and were just was not mentioned specifically. Even if Selina were never Catwoman prior to her fall, it seems probable that Selina has the same history just without the cat ears.
In the Grand Scheme of Things
I fully believe that Nocenti has been unfairly slammed for her Catwoman Zero issue, and I wanted to give her a fair defense on the subject, but even beyond that, I think Nocenti deserves some positive consideration on the direction she has taken the character.
Look, I am extremely anti-reboot. I think it is a horrible move, and I despise almost all continuity changes just on principle. If DC has a new direction for a character in mind, then they should have the intellectual integrity to write a story that moves the character forward rather than spreading magic reboot dust across the entire company.
However, the reboot happened and creators were clearly encouraged to make new interpretations of established characters, so I'm going to work off the assumption that DC came to Nocenti and said, “You start on the Zero issue. We want something fresh and exciting to get people talking. Do whatever you want!”
What did Nocenti do? Two things.
First, Nocenti made Selina a character who tried to play by the rules. Again, there is ambiguity in the story, but judging off surface appearances, Selina was raised to be a thief, and she continued on that path until someone gave her a route to redeem herself and earn an honest living at which point she seized the opportunity. Good for Nocenti! It's much easier to root for a thief when she is somebody who tried to do things right and got kicked off the straight and narrow as opposed to rooting for someone who steals just because she is too lazy to earn things honestly.
Second, Nocenti added some mystery to Selina's past, and personally, I think that is absolutely awesome. Selina's whole life might be a lie, and for a character who was already clearly acting in a self-destructive manner as evidenced by a year's worth of stories prior to Nocenti's run, this is actually a pretty good justification for her reckless streak. How can Selina possibly act like a stable individual when she does not even know who she is? This is an excellent setup for future story arcs which could be mined for years.
Finally, as much as I am a fan of continuity, I think this might be a more interesting version of Catwoman than what we had in the DCU. I understand that Selina reached her pre-Flashpoint status through years of character development, and again, I hate to see any continuity changes, but at the end of the day, pre-DCNU Selina was basically nothing more than another leather clad hero of Gotham...except Selina occasionally stole stuff and hung out with a morally ambiguous crowd, but for the most part, not much distinguished Catwoman from the Huntress, Batman, Nightwing, Robin, or Batwoman in terms of her operation and moral alliegance. Now, Selina is back to being a thief, and her series fully embraces the adventure element of her stories. She may occasionally do good, but she is primarily out for herself, and that adds significant diversity to the Batman universe.
All that being said, these good points of Nocenti's writing do not excuse the stilted dialogue, the incomprehensible actions scenes, the throwaway supporting characters, the pointless crossovers, the scenes added just to showcase Selina's junk, the occasional cessation of all sense of physics, time, and space, the lack of focus in narrative structure, the plot convenient scenarios and events, and the lack of weight to any of Selina's actions.
By the Numbers
As long as I've been babbling on the series for this long, let's go ahead and take a look at how Catwoman is doing in rating and sales.
In terms of ratings, (based on ComicVine's average user ratings) Nocenti's series has been horribly received throughout all five issues. The highest rated comic was issue 13, the first story of the Death of the Family arc, which managed to score a 3.0/5.0 which really is not very good, but ever since that issue, the series has been received ever worse reaching as low as 2.2.
In terms of sales, Catwoman remains strong. The last issue before Nocenti took over was Catwoman #12 which sold 31,000 copies and was in 25th place out of the 52. The zero issue increased sales to 39,000, but Zero month sales were stronger in general for DC, so Catwoman remained in 25 position. Things more or less remained the same for issue 13 which was the first part of the Joker crossover yet did not greatly increase sales. That changed in issue fourteen when sales skyrocketed to 64,000 and Catwoman actually finished in 8 place for DC. Things settled back down to earth after the Death of the Family crossover with Catwoman averaging 35,000 and 22 place for the next two months. It is worth mentioning that 15 and 16 were crossovers with The Black Diamond Probability story arc, so Nocenti has never really been challenged to sell the book just on the quality of her writing.
Catwoman has been a bad book under Nocenti's run, yet for some reason it sells well. Despite the poor quality though, I do think all writer should be given a fair shot, and Nocenti has had some concepts in her stories. Sadly, the bad outweighs the good.