What is this book about?
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the talent who created highly acclaimed graphic novels about the early exploits of some of DC’s and Marvel’s most iconic superheroes, turn their attention to the longtime Batman nemesis, Catwoman. This series take place shortly after the events of Batman: The Long Halloween where Catwoman, aka Selina Kyle, goes on a trip to Rome to discover the identity of her father, whom she believes to be crime lord Carmine Falcone. The story takes place in parallel to the later issues of Batman: Dark Victory.
Catwoman and the Riddler (aka Edward Nigma) take a trip to Rome. There Catwoman meets The Blonde, a hitman, who sets up a meeting between Selina and the capo of the Italian mob. Don Verinni, the person Catwoman was due to meet, is murdered using the Joker’s venom. Catwoman is blamed, and soon all three characters are beset by Verinni’s assassins. Meanwhile, Selina suffers nightmares featuring Batman.
After Catwoman’s hotel room burns down, forcing her to jump into a pool completely naked in order to escape death, Catwoman, Eddie (as Selina refers to him) and the Blonde escape to his yacht. In a pitched fight with the Don’s son Guillermo, Catwoman is put “on ice” using Mr. Freeze’s ice gun, but escapes and barters a deal with Guillermo to steal a very valuable ring in exchange for more information Catwoman seeks. The Riddler then retreats back to Gotham City for a short time (in which he attends the Hangman Trial conducted by Two-Face during the parallel events of Batman: Dark Victory). After stealing the ring from the Vatican, Catwoman is attacked by the Cheetah. After Catwoman defeats the villain (with the assistance of The Blonde), she visits Louisa, Carmine’s widow, where Guillermo in exchange for the ring, told Catwoman where she could find Louisa. Louisa denies that Catwoman is her daughter, which is the reason why she came to Rome, to find out if she was, and then Louisa orders the Blonde to kill Catwoman.
Eventually, Catwoman figures out one truth: the Riddler has betrayed her, using the trademarks of the Joker, Mr. Freeze, and also the Scarecrow’s fear gas (which was the cause of Catwoman’s Bat-related dreams). The Riddler believed that Catwoman knew the answer to what he considered the greatest riddle: “Who is Batman under the mask?” So he got close to her using all these trademarks in hopes that she would tell Edward the secret he thought she knew.
Normally, most Batman books are all about family and the search for regaining some semblance of family because so many of the Bat universe’s characters’ familial lives are fractured, something you can see in nearly any Batman book I’ve reviewed. But Catwoman books are different. Though she’s searching for her father and mother and trying to figure out who they are, mostly, When In Rome is about more or less Selina’s search for self. How she can be a strong female person not connected and in need of a strong male figure, in this case that strong male figure being Batman or her supposed father, Carmine Falcone.
Why should you read this book?
Mostly I think the best and only reason to read this book is because of the ultimate power house duo that is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Particularly, you should read this for Sale’s artwork, one of comics’ most elegant illustrators. In When in Rome he reaches new heights of stylishness. The covers for example are a tribute to the French fashion artist René Gruau. The art is literally amazing.
I think this story captures the essence of Catwoman’s greatness almost perfectly. As I’ve said in previous Catwoman comic book reviews, I think what makes a great Catwoman comic is when Batman does appear and they fight another Batman villain in Gotham City and she seeks Batman’s affection. When in Rome hits almost every check on my checklist for what makes a great Catwoman comic. Except, for the fact that it doesn’t take place in Gotham City, which, in this case, I can excuse. But other than that, this was a better Catwoman comic than any other Catwoman comic I’ve read yet! When In Rome takes all the good parts of Volume 2 and 3 and combines them and leaves behind all the bad parts. It’s the closest I think we’ve gotten so far to having an actually good Catwoman book.
If you’re a feminist, which for the record, I am not, (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but I know that this character is a big draw for people who are feminists, so you should read this wonderful article that explains why this book is the best iconic feminist representation of Catwoman we’ve possibly ever been privy to. And while I am not a feminist, I can appreciate the book and character for what she means and stands for to all women and feminists alike. And appreciate it’s existence for those reasons, which makes the reading experience that much better.
If the allure of reading a Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale book nor the allure of just reading a great Catwoman book doesn’t hook you, I imagine it’s moral compass and message to and for women everywhere, should.
If you’d like to buy the book I’m recommending, you can buy it here.
Here are my favorite parts from this book:
Oh man, Tim Sales art is truly something to be admired:
In volume 2, you hardly ever saw Selina and Batman together, in volume 3 you saw them together often, but, Brubaker really tried to write her as though she was desperately trying to get away from Batman’s shadow. Which was funny, because, Brubaker had Batman shows up a lot in volume 3 and was an integral part of her ethos. In volume 2 the writers took Batman almost entirely out of the equation, making her a strong independent female character almost effortlessly. He hardly shows up or is ever mentioned. You’d think that if Brubaker was trying to make Catwoman a strong female independent character in volume 3 that he wouldn’t have Batman show up or be mentioned. But I think that’s one of the interesting things about When in Rome, while trying to find her identity and carve out her own space, she must constantly deal with remnants of a world she has temporarily left (Batman, Gotham, the Bat-villains, etc). In feminist undertakings, they cannot simply create anew, feminists must deal with the old, as well. It’s the perfect Catwoman story. I have to wonder, to feminists, is it a good comic book feminist story? It would seem so:
Since I am not a feminist, I’m most assuredly going to mention how I much I love the gratuitous sex appeal:
I think one of the cool things about Catwoman is how they depict her as messing up often. Batman often gets pegged as being realistic, but, that’s hard for me to grasp when you see him win often. I like how Catwoman actually loses and doubts herself. It feels more real, because it is:
I found that The Riddler and Catwoman make such an interesting comedic team. I don’t think book would’ve been as funny as it was it The Riddler hadn’t starred in it: