The DC ICONS COLLECTION has a very simple premise: take a famous DC superhero, give them to a popular YA author, and have them craft a story about each character’s adolescence, well before they put on their capes and tights and started crime-fighting. It allows the authors to delve into a part of each character’s life that’s not often explored (well, except for Clark Kent on Smallville) and give us stories about superheroes that aren’t comic books or filmic adaptations.
Among the featured characters (Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman) Catwoman stands out as the one protagonist whose “hero” credentials are somewhat suspect. Better known as an amoral cat-burglar, Selina Kyle is reimagined in Catwoman: Soulstealer (2018) as a dirt-poor teenager struggling to care for her young sister, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. She makes ends meet by fighting in caged matches, which brings her to the attention of several powerful individuals.
After a particularly brutal match and a subsequent visit from the police, Selina is whisked away to a private school in Italy by a woman called Talia al Ghul, where she is trained among the elite warriors of the League of Assassins.
Two years later, Selina returns to Gotham City under the alias Holly Vanderhees, a wealthy socialite with money and time to burn. It’s clear to the reader that she’s returned to the city for a reason, but her goals are kept largely opaque as “Holly” attends parties by day, and the woman who soon becomes known as “Catwoman” robs the extravagantly rich by night. But to what end?
Meanwhile Luke Fox, son of Lucius Fox of Wayne Enterprises, guards the city while Bruce Wayne is away on a secret mission of his own. As his alter-ego Batwing, Luke lays traps for the audacious Catwoman, while growing increasingly attracted to his new neighbour Holly…
I knew author Sarah J. Maas from her THRONE OF GLASS YA novels, and was curious about what she would do with Selina Kyle. I was actually a little nervous, as the main character in that series is a little insufferable, and Selina is a favourite of mine. (And I certainly knew I was reading Maas when I read that Selina had: “pain barking down her body.” Always with the barking pain in her writing).
But there was nothing to worry about. Selina is daring, self-possessed, and with a deeply-buried moral compass that guides all her decision making. She reminded me most of Anne Hathaway’s take on the character in The Dark Knight Rises, and the appearance of Talia and Nyssa as ruthless trainers of League recruits makes me think Maas has also watched the CW’s Arrow.
The story also involves a team-up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, who are already established personalities as the Gotham City criminals, and Maas doesn’t shy away from depicting their romantic relationship with each other (as well as Harlequin’s unhealthy obsession with the Joker).
I was less familiar with Luke Fox, but he makes for a three-dimensional straight man to Selina’s more chaotic persona. Though it feels a little odd that Selina’s romantic entanglements are with Luke instead of (the entirely absent) Bruce, the two manage to capture the same rapport that comes whenever two people on opposite sides find themselves attracted to each other.
Ultimately Catwoman: Soulstealer reminded me a lot of Maas’s THRONE OF GLASS books, in the sense that Selina (like Celaena Sardothien) is running a large long-con right under everyone’s noses, one that doesn’t become clear until the final chapters. And after reading Batman: Nightwalker, it was fascinating to see the city from the opposite side of the class divide. Selina’s thoughts and ambitions are profoundly different from what Bruce’s were at a similar age.
This is my favourite of the three DC ICONS books I’ve read, mainly for the portrayal of its main character, the emphasis on female friendships, the rare occurrence of an inter-racial flirtation (that’s not treated as a big deal) and a storyline that delivers plenty of suspense and a satisfying conclusion.