In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s When in Rome, Selina Kyle takes a much-deserved vacation to Rome, but that doesn’t last for long. When Catwoman is linked to the murder of a mob don, Selina, in true femme fatale style, sets out to clear her name while searching for her own familial roots–with the Riddler and a Sicilian assassin in tow.
When in Rome’s noir mystery will probably have you guessing till the end, but it is Loeb and Sale’s characterization of Selina herself that’s more interesting than the story itself. (This is probably because there aren’t many books starring Catwoman out there, but I digress.) Selina is intelligent, independent, and strong, confident in her profession as ‘honorable thief,’ and comfortable in her sexuality. Perhaps for the first time, Loeb and Sale explore Selina’s relationship with Batman exclusively from her perspective, highlighting the mental and perhaps psychological strain from their complicated relationship.
However, Loeb and Sale still find plenty of reasons to find her in various lack of dress, in situations that add minimally to the story at large; she is often wearing only a bedsheet or lingerie. It’s noticeable even by regular comic book standards, and while it may be distracting, perhaps even offensive, to some readers, most of us have read enough comics to know it could be worse. Much, much worse.
Catwoman’s out of her ‘natural habitat,’ as it were; outside of Gotham and away from Batman, who only appears in Selina’s dream-ridden hallucinations. Even though Batman’s shadowy presence could be a letdown for some, it still illuminates their confusing, strange relationship, particularly how, subconsciously, Selina knows that Bruce is the one behind the cowl. Aside Bats, the supporting cast were less than appealing; the Riddler is a sniveling pervert, Cheetah had a lot of cheesy one-liners about catfights, and the Falcone mob are not your extraordinary supervillain fare.
And yet, the secrets Catwoman discovers about her past still make this a must-read for her fans, not to mention Sale and Stewart’s beautiful art. The red, blue and purple tones, not to mention the fiery tones during Selina’s flashback, create their own atmosphere and really add to When in Rome’s noir style.
Even without all the gratuity, I would still recommend Darwyn Cooke’s Selina’s Big Score before this one.