In “Anodyne”, the opening storyline of the long running third volume of Catwoman, Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke put a fresh new spin on the assumed dead Selina Kyle/Catwoman with the help of inker Mike Allred and colorist Matt Hollingsworth. The first issue of the series examines Catwoman’s inner life and demons and is quite introspective. Brubaker uses captions to examine her motivation for putting on the Catwoman costume on again as well as her dialogue with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a close friend to Bruce Wayne. Darwyn Cooke’s pencils go wild as he draws a variety of scenes from a dark dream sequence filled with symbolism, like blood, a cross, and of course, cats to chase scenes across the rooftops with a sunset and an homage to Batman: The Animated Series with some superhero action. Mike Allred’s inking make sure all the figures, buildings, animals, and blood drops are distinct and help later when the villain of the story starts to literally lose his form. And Matt Hollingsworth’s color gives the arc structure with different palettes for day and night as well as a great use of greyscale when Catwoman lights up the Bat-signal and realizes that her view of the world is “just shades of grey” as she helps people that more upstanding heroes would ignore, like prostitutes getting killed on an almost daily basis. These killings give an immediate motivation for Catwoman as she does morally questionable things like break into the GCPD morgue, but shows empathy for these women and girls because her life experience is similar to theirs. Brubaker writes Catwoman as a champion of the innocents with a dry sense of humor, who will take out anyone who hurts or humiliates a woman. She’s also a bit of a detective.
In keeping with her new characterization as a champion of the oppressed and exploited, Ed Brubaker and the artists show a Catwoman, who is more careful about breaking the laws or doing unethical things. She chases down leads instead of stealing diamonds. There are little moments where she shows that she’s more heroic like in issue 3 where she knocks on Leslie’s window instead of breaking in even though Cooke draws a huge splash of this scene to draw attention to her unconventional behavior as she crouches on the window sill. However, Brubaker doesn’t completely get rid of her past as she goes undercover as a prostitute to entrap as the killer, and Cooke uses small panels to show the details of her breaking into the police headquarters, like one would show a big heist. However, Brubaker also show her gentler side as she talks to Batman about her lack of purpose in the first issue and eventually opens up her home to Holly, her old roommate in Batman Year One, who has returned to being a prostitute. She even genuinely thanks Leslie Thompkins for contacting Oracle for information about the serial killer as well as helping her come to grips with her dual identity as Selina Kyle and Catwoman.
One of the biggest strengths of this opening arc is how Brubaker introspectively writes Catwoman. She isn’t just a sexy burglar on the hunt for her next big score or smooch session with Batman. She has a vibrant inner life and a good grip on the role she plays in Gotham City’s seedy ecosystem. She doesn’t have everything figured out, but by the end of the story arc, Catwoman knows that doing good makes her feel better about herself and not have those hallucinatory nightmares like in issue one. Brubaker also handles the problems of Gotham in an even handed and socially conscious manner. He pins the blame on the corrupt political and law enforcement system of Gotham, not the women, who are forced to be prostitutes so they can eke out a living in the slums. He casts Catwoman as a foil to Batman as she attempts to rehabilitate criminals and exploited people instead of just knocking them out and taking them jail or Arkham Asylum.
Even though Catwoman deals with dark subject matter, like prostitution and murder, it is not without its moments of lights. Even though she is filled with doubts about her purpose in life and the reason she is Catwoman, Selina does her best to enjoy it. Her dialogue and inner monologue is filled with little wisecracks, like when she decides to not have a tail on her new costumes, calls Batman a “boy scout, or chuckles darkly when she finds out that the serial killer thought she was an undercover cop. This lightness is conveyed in Cooke, Allred, and Hollingsworth’s art as she has a big smile on her face when she jumps across the roofs of Gotham in her new suit for the first time. There is another full page splash in Catwoman #1 as she acrobatically flips into the spotlight from a tower in contrast with Batman, who broods in a shadowy inset panel. However, Cooke’s art is put to good use during the more emotional movements when he zooms onto Catwoman’s sad face as she watches a prostitute get beaten by cops, or when Holly tries to pick the lock to her house. Brubaker isn’t afraid to delve deep into Catwoman’s past as a victim and criminal, but he shows how she has used these experiences to be empathetic towards other people and really make a difference. With its gorgeous Darwyn Cooke art, cinematic panel layouts, and in-depth portrayal of the character, the “Anodyne” arc is the beginning of an Ed Brubaker tradition of reinventing in old characters in fresh, psychologically rich ways that he would later apply to Captain America and Bucky Barnes for Marvel Comics.