This week's Justice League of America #4 left no doubt what happened on the last page.
When Catwoman was investigating the Secret Society of Super Villains, she was shot, point blank, through the head.
And when we say there's "no doubt," that's because the bullet wound was shown from enough angles that it's clear. She was shot. Clear through the head. And her face indicates she's dead.
Yet this week's release of Catwoman Annual #1 made it very clear that Catwoman is alive and well, as the issue set up the character's advertised summer conflict with Penguin in Gotham City.
So what just happened?
DC isn't saying anything, and that in itself is indication that the death isn't what it seems. We asked them to release some type of statement on Catwoman's death, but they declined the chance to comment, leaving the whole thing open-ended. And writers Geoff Johns (Justice League of America) and Ann Nocenti (Catwoman) aren't talking either.
That means this alleged "death" probably isn't a game-changer for the Catwoman and JLA titles, and the writers obviously aren't champing at the bit to talk about the big, newsworthy death.
So... is Catwoman dead or not?
What follows are a few of our best guesses about what might have just happened at the end of Justice League of America:
Guess #1: That's a different "Selina Kyle"
The basic idea: Someone else has been wearing the Catwoman suit, pretending to be Selina Kyle and Catwoman after stealing her identity. So in JLA #4, it was actually the impostor that died.
The clues: There have actually been quite a few clues in both Catwoman and Justice League of America that someone stole Selina Kyle's identity.
First, there was the revelation last September that Selina Kyle isn't necessarily Catwoman's real name. In Catwoman #0, Selina conned her way into some secret records on a computer in the mayor's office in Gotham. But when she searched for her history in the foster care system, she saw herself identified with a strange Russian name. At that exact moment, the computer system crashed, and the young Selina was targeted for assassination.
Second, there's Justice League of America #1. In that introductory issue, Col. Steve Trevor lured Catwoman to a penthouse hotel room so he could invite her to join the team.
And how did he lure her? By promising to help her "win against 'her.'" When Catwoman asks whom he means, he says, "Selina Kyle... I'm not talking about your identity, Miss Kyle. I'm talking about the woman who stole it.... I know her real name." He implies that the enemies of this other Selina have been coming after Catwoman.
Then in Justice League of America #3, in the Manhunter back-up story, it's revealed that when Martian Manhunter read Selina's mind, he saw that she has a "lost identity." In an apparent memory, we're shown that a banker told Selina that someone withdrew all her money and closed her account. "I'm telling you!" Selina says. "That wasn't me! Someone's stolen my identity!"
Pros/cons: The advantage of this theory is that it maintains the gunshot as shown. Selina Kyle did die. Just not the real Selina Kyle. But there are quite a few things that don't add up about the theory. For example, if this isn't the real Selina Kyle, then who have we been watching all this time in Catwoman and Justice League of America? And doesn't it kind of stink that she's dead?
There's a slim chance that we watching two different women in the two different comics. But that doesn't hold up very well upon examination, because there were scenes shown in Justice League of America indicating that Catwoman remembered her relationship with Batman, meaning she's the same woman who has been getting it on with Bats in Catwoman. And the two series practically crossed over between Catwoman #19 and Justice League of America #3.
Confused? Us too. Let's just hope that if this theory does turn out to be true, the writers will spoon-feed us the secret history behind these "two Selina Kyles" so our heads don't explode.
Guess #2: Resurrection
The basic idea: Catwoman was indeed shot. But she will be brought back to life by Amanda Waller and her super-science lab.
The clues: Amanda Waller isn't just the leader of the Justice League of America, but is also in charge of the Suicide Squad. And if you're not reading Suicide Squad, let's put it this way: It's almost impossible for anyone on that team to stay dead — not even if they want to — because Amanda just brings them back to life. Thanks to a serum collected during one of the team's conquests, Amanda Waller has the power to resurrect any character that gets shot to death, mauled to death, or otherwise fatally injured. The serum isn't foolproof, but with Catwoman's body intact, there's a good chance it would work.
And even if that precedent hadn't been set for Amanda's power of resurrection, this is the DC Universe. There are Talons running around that are walking dead that can't be killed, and there are Lazarus Pits that raise people from the dead, and all kinds of other approaches for giving Catwoman back one of her nine lives.
Pros/cons: The advantage of this guess is that the JLA #4 death still shockingly happened, yet it doesn't really affect the comics long-term. But the downside is what many reviewers noted when Suicide Squad started using the whole "these-characters-can't-die" approach: The power of resurrection takes away the sense of danger.
Guess #3: There's a new Catwoman coming
The basic idea: There's going to be a new Catwoman. Someone else in the mantle.
Not in this week's Annual, mind you. But any day now. 'Cause this one died, after all.
The clues: Well, there actually haven't been any clues that anyone is waiting in the wings to take over Catwoman's mantle.
However, there have been a lot of young girls running around Gotham City that could take over the Catwoman mantle, including Carrie Kelley and Harper Row (whom we're now nicknaming "she with the ever-allusive long-term purpose"). We used to lean toward Harper Row being the new Robin, but the appearance of a new Joker's Daughter and now the apparent death of Catwoman means there are lots of options for a young costumed hero who's looking for a new super-identity.
Pros/cons: This one's a long shot. As mentioned, there just haven't been any indications that the Selina Kyle who's running around the pages of Catwoman is getting a replacement. Sure, it might be fun to have a young, new Catwoman learning the ropes, but isn't that what we just had when the New 52 rebooted two years ago?
Though we’ll also add this – Selina is never mentioned by name in the solicitations for Catwoman #21-23 (June-Aug). The title character is referred to only as Catwoman in all three solicitations.
Guess #4: She didn't die
The basic idea: What we saw isn't what actually happened.
The clues: This is a comic book cliffhanger. Expect the unexpected.
That could have been a hologram of Selina, and a recording of her death is going to be sent to Batman and the world to show the Society's powers.
Besides, we just saw Professor Ivo's robot versions of several DC heroes. When Catwoman was shot, who's to say that wasn't a robot version of her? Maybe that red stuff coming out of her head was... you know... dyed motor oil?
Pros/cons: The motor oil idea aside, this is actually one of the most likely options, because cliffhangers are often not what they seem. And it could work really well, depending on what twist is revealed in the next issue.
Now while the coffin cover for Justice League of America #5 does suggest the team thinks someone has died in the June issue, it also needs to be noted Catwoman … or perhaps we should say a Catwoman … appears on the connecting covers of July and August’s Trinity War crossover of the three Justice League titles.
And lest anyone connect Catwoman’s apparent death with the “death of a hero ignites a violent war among the Justice Leagues!” as solicited in July’s Justice League #22, co-writer Jeff Lemire has indicated in an interview that death occurs "in the first issue," meaning Justice League #22.
So what do you think really happened at the end of Justice League of America?