The New 52 version of Catwoman stumbled out of the gate by overplaying the porno hand, being a cleavage-happy festival of gritty sleaze puncuated with a creepy Bat-boffing – a shift that was too jarring for many Selina Kyle fans after growing accustomed to the more adult and refined version of her we got through after that run of quality Ed Brubaker storytelling… although the whole One Year Later thing where she had a kid for some reason might've been questionable more recently, but still, it was a hell of a regression to swallow.
Now, however, Judd Winick has stepped aside and Ann Nocenti has taken over the writing duties with Catwoman #0, but she's said she's not out to completely change tones from what Winick was doing with his take on the character as a reckless youth slowly learning some kind of lesson. It would be hard to do that with a #0 issue anyway, which features an even younger and less experienced Selina Kyle, although the fact that she's getting a day job as the "Mistress of Protocol and Invitation Management" for the mayor's social event planner sure feels like something we haven't seen from her. Stealing expensive shoes from the wardrobe closet as she's getting her orientation – that's more Selina.
However, Nocenti really seems to be shaking things up here in her own way, putting her on the trail to search for her long lost brother and having her discover some weird things about her own identity. Catwoman #0 has an unfortunately disjointed story which jumps back and forth a lot, making it a bit tricky to follow, but it seems to be thus: Selina Kyle is an orphaned thief on the streets of Gotham, and has been ever since she was a kid in a foster home with her brother – a foster home covering a burglary ring. Judging by this and Billy Batson's upbringing, all foster homes are apparently corrupt in the New 52.
As a young adult, she gets busted trying to con a reporter into thinking she's a surgeon for some reason, then runs off swearing not to be humiliated like that again, tries to steal some jewelry and gets busted again by a thug who hates grungy sneak thieves and calls her a parasite. While she's licking her wounds in an alley, greedily clutching a single pearl she managed to keep, she's approached by some mysterious stranger offering her an opportunity in a "Second Chance" program for at-risk youth, claiming to be associated with the mayor's office. A year later, she's worked her way up to that aforementioned day job, trying to use her position to persuade her co-workers to dig through foster kid databases to try and find her brother, of whom she's lost track. The search doesn't give her anything on him, but she sees herself identified with a strange Russian name, before the whole system crashes.
Turns out that was because she was poking her nose where it didn't belong, prompting Mystery Guy to confront her on a rooftop about snooping too much, and then when she insists that she needs to know who she is, he chucks her off a skyscraper. She lands on an awning to break her fall, tears through it, thunks onto the sidewalk, and then a dozen cats show up and start licking her awake. A scene right out of Tim Burton's Batman Returns and Michelle Pfeiffer's version of Selina. Go figure. Will she get supernatural nine-lives powers now?
Also of note, she even used the cloth of the awning she fell through here to make her "first skin," which might mean there's an early version of the New 52 Catwoman that sports the famous old-school purple suit.
Cut to the modern Catwoman reflecting on all this, renewing her search for the truth after seemingly uncovering some suppressed memories, apparently realizing she has a tendency to "act out" too much while stealing files, and then eventually discovering that "Selina Kyle" apparently doesn't technically exist.
This all seems… sort of weird. Giving Catwoman the Black Widow treatment of false identities and a Russian background and memory issues feels like it's heading for a very convoluted place, and it doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. Then again, maybe Nocenti is trying to write off Winick's take by making her an erratic personality case thanks to whatever brainwashing shenanigans were pulled by these creepy criminals, and once she learns the truth, maybe she'll snap out of it. Or at least some of it.
However, one point where Nocenti and artist Adriana Melo succeed is in making us viscerally understand where Selina's kleptomania comes from. She's had absolutely nothing all her life, and whenever she gets something, it's generally taken from her immediately – she had to tuck a diamond into her mouth just to be able to keep anything from her evil foster-home larceny, since they'd strip search the kids to make sure they don't hold out on them. Melo's work is pretty solid for the most part, lovely at times and excellent with certain emotional beats in the story, particularly when showing us how badly Selina needs something to call her own and how badly she's clawing for a way out of her lot in life, but it's a bit awkward when it comes to depicting action.
Overall, Catwoman #0 raises a lot of questions and makes us feel some things. It's not really a thrilling new direction for the series, though, but we're not exactly giving it the stink-eye, either. The jury is still out.