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Clawing Her Way to the Top: Tini Howard Discusses the All-New Catwoman

In a universe made of superheroes and super-criminals, you would think crime stories would be pretty common within the DC Universe. And yet, they’re not. At least not in the traditional sense. Gotham City may run rampant with gangs and crime families, but we usually only see them as they’re being painfully brought down by the city’s heroes. We rarely get to know them as anything more than easy targets for the Bat-Family.

All that’s about to change with Catwoman #39, the first chapter of what promises to be an enticing new era for Selina Kyle, brought to the page by the all-new creative team of Tini Howard and Nico Leon. In it, Catwoman returns to the heart of Gotham, immersing herself once again into its powerful underworld, where she’ll find herself in conflict and occasional collaboration with crime lords both new and familiar. We’ll also see the return of a one-time flame, the introduction of an intriguing new adversary, and at least one surprise super-villain.

It’s also Howard’s very first DC ongoing after dipping her toe in the DCU last month with a story in Batman: Urban Legends #10. As such, we thought it would be fun to catch up with her before her big DC debut to discuss the change in direction of the book, Leon’s stylish art and why we’re all so intrigued by the power and mystery of organized crime.

Over the years, we’ve seen Catwoman portrayed as a hero and a member of the Bat-Family and we’ve seen her as an outright villain. These days, she appears to fall somewhere in between. How do you see her?

Well, she’s a master of disguise, isn’t she? But no, Selina’s not a villain. When we read a Catwoman book, we believe in what she’s doing and we want her to win. But she’s a very different kind of hero, and I’m so grateful for that—especially as a complicated woman in reality who loves complicated women in fiction. She just goes way harder than I—and most people—would. Like Batman, she’s a lot of deep wounds wrapped up in leather, desperate to make the bad guys pay.

Crime takes many forms in Gotham City, from the sort of desperate street crime that we saw with Selina’s gang of Strays to the costume-clad variety that the Bat-Family fights against. What intrigues you most about Gotham City’s underworld and how will we see it play out in Catwoman?

Crime stories are so often feudal, the changes of power are done in the dark of night, away from the law. I love a crime story. The stakes are so high, but the rules are so secretive, careful, tense. Everyone’s armed to the gills and flinging around huge amounts of money, and egos are up, but the actual goals are often nebulous. Crime stories are about pride and anger and family and all these things that get emotions running high.

We so often associate Selina with the world of the wealthy elite because she’s a thief, someone who is there for her own interests, who is there to roll around in the luxury and get out. But what I wanted was the luxury world where the criminals spend their money, a place for Selina to get them when they least expect it, within the lushness of the high streets. But it never distracts her from her mission—she’s not tempted by riches, she’s tempted by the chase—and certainly not at the cost of the justice she craves.

At the start of this story, Selina is once again working alone. She’s left the Strays in Alleytown and she’s definitely not partnering with any member of the Bat-Family. Does Selina do best when she’s flying solo?

Do any of us? I think for some of us, it’s tempting to think we do. But ultimately, the thing organized crime always has is numbers. But she wouldn’t bring the Strays into battle against the kind of high-dollar crime she’ll be facing on Gotham’s high streets. She’s fighting killers. So, she’ll have to bring people into battle that are ready for that.

The return of Eiko Hasigawa was a surprise. There’s clearly a charge between her and Selina, but do you think it’s a healthy relationship for Selina?

I wouldn’t say it’s healthy, but I wouldn’t say potato chips and champagne are healthy, either. Doesn’t stop me from craving them! Selina and Eiko’s relationship was left very much unresolved, so what remains is tense and thrumming and alive with layers of power, tension, and a will they or won’t they energy that’s as much about joining forces as it is about hooking up. I think she’s an incredible character. I’m grateful to bring her in.

What can you tell us about this mysterious new thief named Valmont and this organization he’s a part of?

I don’t actually want to tell you anything yet at all! It isn’t personal, he’s just mysterious on purpose.  A lot of brainstorming went into him, and his approach, and he is inspired by a great many things—from yes, Dangerous Liaisons, but also josei manga, and classic gentleman criminals from literature. He’s just delicious, yum.

Nico Leon brings a very different look to this book than we’ve ever really seen before. What’s the single most exciting thing for you about working with him?

How wonderfully bold he is when it comes to sharing his ideas, his likes and dislikes, and his approach to new things he tries. He’s not just drawing my scripts, he’s a true collaborator, and I love that. We all sort of get on board and work together. Everyone, even our incredible colorist Jordie Bellaire is roped in when Nico is designing, because he legitimately brings us all onboard during his process. It’s incredible to see.

And everything he draws is just…perfection.

Finally, if Gotham were real, would you want to live there?

Haha…much like Selina, I don’t think I could resist it. 

Catwoman #39 by Tini Howard, Nico Leon and Jordie Bellaire will be available in print and as a digital comic book tomorrow. For an exclusive first look at the issue, click here. 

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