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Catwoman: The Life and Times of a Feline Fatale
posted June 14, 2003
Chronicle Books makes good-looking product, and has maintained its piece of the dwindling bookstore market in part by bringing readers books with immense visual appeal. I never thought of this as a bad thing, but Catwoman: The Life and Times of a Feline Fatale is so depressing that it makes me wish for the failure of a bunch of books like it in addition to the book itself. This is the Kidd/Spiegelman Jack Cole and Plastic Man approach yoked into servitude on behalf of a licensed property. Instead of making a case for a little appreciated and ultimately troubled artist, writer Suzan Colon provides what seems by book's conclusion endless hit and run style commentary on a fictional character's strong but girly appeal. Glib variations on a vacuous theme might work for a magazine article in one of the slicks, but in book form such relentless, forced mirth makes it difficult to continue reading for more than a few pages at a time.
The reason people will notice the volume, and consider buying it, is its snappy look. For all I know of design, Vivien Sung is the leader of a graphic arts movement of which Chip Kidd is a lowly follower, but the work presented here certainly seems incredibly derivative of Kidd's basic take on comic book art. Regardless of who might be learning from whom, Sung's work is decidedly less effective. Many of her Catwoman pages fight with dead space, the added text is deployed unimaginatively, and jarring differences in mood caused by variations in quality between images punish the attentive reader. Ultimately, because the visual style is tied to a fictional character rather than an actual artist, the images act as emotional accompaniment to the text in very different ways. If Kidd's work on the Plastic Man book was an impressive but occasionally intrusive film score, Sung's is music pumped into a sports arena. You don't have to stand up and clap if you don't want to.