Best Shots Review: UNDER THE MOON - A CATWOMAN TALE

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale
Credit: Isaac Goodhart (DC Ink)
Credit: Isaac Goodhart (DC Ink)

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale
Written by Lauren Myracle
Art by Isaac Goodhart and Jeremy Lawson
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Ink
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

They say cats have nine lives - but trying to fit all of them into one book might be too much for even Selina Kyle to make a clean getaway.

Credit: Isaac Goodhart (DC Ink)

In Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale, writer Lauren Myracle creates a patchwork narrative that frantically jumps between domestic abuse, teen homelessness, self-harm, and found families, while also trying to serve its comic book source material with serial killers, parkour heists, and the traditional Catwoman-Batman romance. Yet while the overall storyline is jumbled and discordant, you also can’t deny it’s a beautiful one, thanks to the elegant linework of artist Isaac Goodhart, who sets a new bar for DC Ink as an imprint.

“Not to whine, but my life pretty much sucks.” From the very first line, Myracle makes it pretty clear that Selina’s life is not going to be one of subtlety or nuance - we quickly learn her cocktail waitress mother is a human doormat with a revolving door of men in her life, each one more cartoonishly abusive and nasty than the rest. Yet Myracle seems to conflate this faux edginess with real depth - it’s one thing to have Selina get slapped by her mother’s boyfriend Dernell, but when he starts playing the knife game from Alien on her hand, it’s so over-the-top that you can’t help but be taken out of the story. (And by the time we get to an extended and gratuitous scene of animal murder, it’s hard for Myracle’s script to earn back some much-needed goodwill.)

Credit: Isaac Goodhart (DC Ink)

Which is a shame, because she glances upon some subject matter that could be really helpful for readers, particularly from disadvantaged upbringings - but almost invariably, before Myracle can really dig into any of these themes and show how they shape Selina as a character, she moves onto the next item on her checklist. Seeing Selina survive on the streets as a homeless teenager -and realize very quickly it’s hard to survive public school when you smell like garbage and there are roaches in your hair - could fuel an entire book. There’s a moment where Selina defends a gay classmate that almost feels like an afterthought. Meanwhile, a scene of self-harm feels like a parade of red flags in a post-13 Reasons Why environment, even as Myracle (to her credit) circles back to it later, now that Selina has had time to reflect and grow as a character. Hell, even the book’s initial themes of women navigating a world of misogyny could have been extremely relatable to a whole generation of readers. But because Myracle can’t decide on a theme, none of them are explored enough to feel like more than lip service.

But at the same time, these important themes are blunted by Myracle having to serve two masters: YA readers and comics fans. The idea of having a heist be the centerpiece sequence for the entire book is a smart way for Myracle to focus the overarching narrative - of how Selina Kyle eventually becomes Catwoman - but she stops for hokey subplots like a charming parkour expert who teaches Selina everything he knows, or an inhuman serial killer who lurks in the shadows a handful of times before being quickly apprehended in the book’s sole action sequence. It’s all fat that could absolutely have been trimmed, in no small part because it keeps the tone of Under the Moon feeling off-balance - are we supposed to feel warm and happy because of Selina’s new found family? Or are we supposed to feel tense about sudden moments of horrifying bloodshed? Even a romantic subplot featuring Bruce Wayne feels a little like a missed opportunity - it’s understandable to not have the future Dark Knight overshadow the main character, but he still feels like a cipher that a girl as independent and interesting as Selina Kyle would never find to be attractive.

Credit: Isaac Goodhart (DC Ink)

But the saving grace of this book - to be honest, probably the main reason to buy Under the Moon at all, despite my reservations to the plot - has to be artist Isaac Goodhart. Goodhart imbues Selina with so much charisma and intensity on every single page - you can absolutely see how this ordinary girl could grow up to become an infamous cat burglar. (To be honest, based on the amount of swagger Goodhart gives Selina, I would say he is a shoe-in to be drawing Veronica over at Archie.) Goodhart’s designs for Bruce are also truly incredible - he does so much of the heavy lifting in making this bloodless playboy become a bonafide romantic interest (even if his flashbacks tend to evoke a little bit of Young Sheldon).

I’ll also add that Goodhart does a magnificent job at selling sequences that probably shouldn’t have worked at the script level - a page of Selina leaping and backflipping as she learns parkour is especially eye-catching, as our soon-to-be antiheroine literally rolls from panel to panel, while a quasi-mystical experience with a cat spirit looks genuinely magical in Goodhart’s hands. (It doesn’t always work, though - it’s not his fault, but even Goodhart can’t make a Thomas the Tank Engine riff not feel like a bizarre tangent.) While I do think the two-toned color approach feels a little overdone (especially after DC Ink’s recent Mera: Tidebreaker graphic novel), colorist Jeremy Lawson gives the book a nice sense of tone, even if some behind-the-scenes images featuring a full-color image can’t help but make me wonder what this book could have looked like with that treatment.

To say that Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale is a mixed bag is probably underselling it. It does show an ongoing flaw throughout DC Ink as an imprint - namely, the tendency to try to fit too many stories under the umbrella of a single narrative. Because on paper, Lauren Myracle’s script is ambitious and sweeping - but she’s ultimately unable to do justice to any of the weighty topics she tries to tackle, because she refuses to commit to any one theme or angle. If you’re a fan of beautiful artwork, however, you’ll find lots to love with Isaac Goodhart’s pages, but it’s a shame that this YA graphic novel couldn’t have given him a better story to work with.

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