Batman: The Cat and the Bat tells us the tale of the first meeting between a very young Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Catwoman (Selina Kyle). Written by Fabian Nicieza with art by Kevin Maguire, this 4-issue story from the pages of Batman Confidential in the late ought’s, tells of a madcap run across Gotham as Batgirl tries to recover her father’s detective notebook from Catwoman, who has stolen it for her own uses. The main characters take turns chasing the other one around town, from rooftops to nudist clubs to the basements of Arkham Asylum, before third party criminals get involved and they must reluctantly team up and almost trust each other to help Catwoman’s friend and recover Jim Gordon’s top secret notebook.
This is very light fare and is clearly meant to be a fun and lighthearted read for fans of the Bat family, with Barbara Gordon in particular and on that level, it works rather well. The ending is predictable and the stakes are rather low, but it’s still a fun story with great character beats to it. Nicieza does a good job of having his two dueling narrators, Batgirl and Catwoman, sound distinct and different from each other; even on busy pages or panels where they are both talking to us, it’s always pretty clear who is talking to us at any given moment. And while Batgirl gets higher priority as the main character, Catwoman is not far behind, though for story purposes she remains a bit more of a mystery in terms of what her motivations are. The story offers a nice tour of Gotham that includes all the classic sights and sounds of that crime ridden city; dark rooftops, swanky weird sex parties for the rich, warehouses full of guns and explosives and even Arkham Asylum itself. We see all of this primarily through Gordon’s eyes, and showing us what she thinks of all of this is a nice change of pace from older more experienced characters like Batman. While this version of Batgirl is young and inexperienced, Nicieza does a good job of peppering the book with little moments where Batgirl has to rise to the occasion, whether it’s as simple as merely keeping up with Catwoman, figuring out where a sniper is or whether she will strip down to follow Catwoman into the Gotham City Hedonist Society. And while this roadblock is clearly there so that Maguire can draw a lot of naked people, Catwoman and Batgirl specificity (more on that later) but it also offers a nice moment where Barbara recognizes Catwoman by the scars on her back. Throughout the book, we are shown what a smart and capable young detective she is. I think that sometimes it’s hard to show characters being smart without coming off as all knowing, and Nicieza does a really good job here. He even manages to not have Batman steal the show, a trap that is easy to fall into for even the best writers.
Kevin Maguire is a pretty big name in comic books but I’m not sure if I have ever read any of his work. Regardless, his art is great here. Characters are expressive and unique looking and convey a lot of their disposition simply by looking at them. His faces especially are incredibly expressive and dynamic; Batgirl beams with excitement and happiness when she first regains the notebook, and her moments of uncertainty when she’s unsure of herself or her surroundings are really delightful. Her currant emotional state reflects in her facial expressions at every turn and it’s a wonderful way really see who she is at this point in her life. Catwoman is a very different kind of character and you see that in the way she carries herself and how she reacts to everybody else in the story and Maguire does a really good job of distinguishing the two from each other both for story and character reasons.
More than that though, Maguire does a really great job of showing body’s in motion, body’s reacting to any number or situations. There is a panel early on where Batgirl is squinting through a small binocular from her utility belt and not only is her off eye closed, but her entire face is squinted and contorted in just way a person would if they were looking through just one eye. It’s a really subtle thing that works incredibly well and showcases his talent as much as any splash page ever could. Not that the action doesn’t impress, because it really does. Batgirl’s escape from the nudist club is jam-packed and you can see the speed with which she wants and needs to get out of there. Later in the story the action ramps up and all of the fight scenes are expertly staged and detailed; the flow and sequencing of the fights and various chase scenes are really well done; the fight in the salvage yard that moves from the ground, the rooftops and various levels of in between tracks extremely well and would have looked much more haphazard with a lesser artist than Maguire. I was really impressed with the art all around. I definitely need some more Kevin Maguire art in my life.
The only real weakness of the book really is that there is a not so subtle streak of cheesecake running throughout the entire book. By the end of the story, both characters have been as close to naked as DC Comics would ever allow, and their costumes have been SHREDDED like few comics ever show. In and of itself, I don’t think this is a bad thing, but let’s be honest… I can’t think of the last time I saw Batman or Superman’s costumes get so demolished in such a conveniently sexy and provocative way. That being said, I don’t think it hurts the book in any profound way. Neither character is weaker for the amount of skin they show, and nobody really has time to leer at them before getting socked in the face. The book even makes Batgirl’s decision to enter the nude club one of strength and perseverance, which lessons and of its lurid aspects by quite a bit.
If you like your comics grim and gritty with high stakes, maybe look elsewhere. If you like fun, well-crafted comics with a fun story and outstanding art, I could not recommend Batman: The Cat and The Bat more. Batgirl has experienced something of a renaissance these past 5 years, but that is built on older tales like this one that really capture who she is and what makes her fun and unique.