The New 52 initiative has been, above all, unpredictable in its treatment of DC’s iconic characters. Some, such as Mr. Freeze, received overhauls in their origin stories, while many others went essentially untouched. With central characters such as Lex Luthor and the Joker, it’s still unclear what elements of their pre-52 background are still to be considered canon in the new ongoing titles. This is particularly true of Selina Kyle.
Before the reboot, Catwoman was given an incredible amount of character development in a number of character-focused plotlines that strove to show her emotional depth and her role in the mythology above and beyond that of a professional thief. Chief among them were Jeph Loebs‘ When in Rome and the War Games/ War Crimes arcs. In the New 52, aside from a brief foray into her origin in Catwoman #0, Kyle has been sent back to basics: a catburglar and sometime ally of the other heroes, her stories are relatively light on deeper motivational questions.
The events of Justice League of America #4, then, may come as some surprise to fans and followers of the character. So far, the pages of JLA have seen Catwoman (along with several others, including Martian Manhunter and Hawkman) recruited by the drastically-reworked New 52 incarnation of Amanda Waller, initially with a view to creating a team capable of countering the JLA itself in the future. In #3, Catwoman was given the mission to infiltrate a supposed secret criminal society, and was given an unceremonious welcome by Nightwing’s classic foe Blockbuster (reincarnated for the reboot, it seems, following his death pre-52).
In #4 came the shocker– with her allies otherwise engaged with a monstrous creature of the secret society’s creation, Catwoman was apparently executed, a mysterious pale figure in purple doing the deed with a pistol to the head. The chain of events seemingly leaves little room for interpretation: the shot occurs “on-screen”, so to speak; the bullet clearly leads straight through the centre of the head; Martian Manhunter is clearly shown busy elsewhere, so there’s little possibility for it to have been a case of an expedient identity-swap. Catwoman is seen lying on the floor, still chained to her chair, a look of shock frozen on her face in the final full-page panel.
The New 52 has already been traumatic for Bruce Wayne, as Grant Morrison recently penned the death of Bruce’s son and latest Robin, Damian Wayne, at the hands of Talia al Ghul and her enforcer. If Catwoman’s demise turns out to be as clear-cut as it seems in the latest issue, Bruce will be faced with another tremendous personal loss (though, as I mentioned earlier, it’s unclear how much of Bruce’s romance with Selina Kyle has transpired in the rebooted universe).
Also worth a mention is the inscription on the secret society’s coin, reading “Aeternus Malum”, “Forever Evil” in Latin. This was recently announced to be the title for the first major DC crossover event of the New 52, with a focus on the various Supervillains, many of whom will feature in a series of special optical covers. Whether Catwoman’s death will be of major importance for these upcoming events will become obvious in September.
So, were the events of JLA #4 all they seemed? And, with the fickle nature of comic-book deaths well-known, could this be a long-lasting development or will we see Catwoman scratch her way back into 52 continuity?