It’s the last version who gets a shot at solo stardom in this new series, timed to ride the wave of hype surrounding the upcoming Geoff Johns/David Finch Justice League of America series. And I like her.
As written by Ann Nocenti, Katana’s a little more vulnerable than in the past, with a ready sense of humour. She’s surprisingly good company in a debut issue which sees her move to San Francisco’s Japantown district to seek out a young woman whose tattooed body holds secrets connected to her sword. Before Katana, aka Tatsu Toro, meets Shun, however, she encounters wise old fox Junko and grasping landlady Nori, and sets up a training area in the basement of her tiny apartment.
She also has a disturbing dream in which a lovemaking session with her dead husband, Maseo, turns out to involve her enemy, Coil. This motivates a creepy sequence in which she snuggles up with her katana sword – within which she believes the soul of her husband resides – and tells it: ‘You are the only one welcome in my bed.’
The close of ‘Way of the Outsider’ (a nice nod to the character’s comic heritage) has Katana take on a bunch of swordsmen out to steal her mystical sword. She takes them down but has a tougher time with their leader, the aforementioned Coil.
Nocenti’s script is nicely judged, with the exception of Katana’s civvies wardrobe, whose elements – earrings, hair sticks, skirt, ‘whiplace’ – double up as weapons. Oh, and her mask becomes a hat. This sort of thing was OK in the Sixties, with Barbara Gordon’s librarian togs becoming Batgirl’s costume, but it seems a little silly in 2013.
Japantown is a clever choice of setting, as it’s thematically in keeping with Katana as a character, without being too far removed from most of the potential audience. It also allows for a contrast between the dark and the whimsical, as Katana fights for her life surrounded by kawaii cuties.
And as depicted by the delicate lines of Alex Sanchez, Japantown looks gorgeous, exotic without being alien. As does Katana, whose visual mix of serenity and confidence give her a quiet power unusual in a comic heroine. The secondary characters are full of personality, too, with Shun particularly memorable, her bearing evoking unspeakable sorrow. And the panel to panel storytelling is spot-on, complementing and embellishing Nocenti’s tale; the action sequences are especially strong, even with the House of Flying Hair Sticks business. Matt Yackey’s colour work is sublime, tending towards the naturalistic with added glow and some attractive colour graduations, while Taylor Esposito’s lettering choices work a treat.
There’s a mighty fine cover too, courtesy of JLA’s Finch. I’m not yet sure whether I prefer our heroine with white eyes, as here, or on-show peepers, as seen inside. Decisions, decisions …
Katana #1 is a breezily entertaining read, with a sparkling script and terrific visuals. Away from the rest of DC’s heroes, Katana stands out, while the Japantown setting is refreshingly different. There’s a mystery as regards Katana’s interest in Shun and the secrets of the sword, and supporting characters that could lead to a few decent subplots. All very promising. It’s good to be surprised by a comic.