Walk through history with Father Valley as the Order of St. Dumas expands its tale and gives more to Catwoman’s latest enemy.
Written by Ram V
Illustrated by Fernando Blanco, Kyle Hotz, and Juan Ferreyra
Colored by David Baron
Lettered by Tom Napolitano
Father Valley is a mystery. His unusual style as a hit man, his habit of keeping a bible designated for each of his targets, his macabre and particular method of elegant savagery, his insistence on waiting until his target has reached their highest point before he strikes them down—these are all strange and enigmatic traits that have remained unexplained…until now.
Bear witness to Father Valley’s past with the Order of St. Dumas, and his unexpected connection with Azrael, to learn the method to of his madness. And see, once and for all, why Catwoman should be deathly afraid of being on his hit list.
Despite the name, the 2021 annual for “Catwoman” is not a story about Selina Kyle. In fact, she scarcely appears, only actually showing up on three pages, and not even being the focus of the narration. No, this special is not concentrated on the normal protagonist, but on a car more villainous figure: Father Valley, as Ram V delves into his motivations and history, showing the descent of a holy warrior into madness and hatred.
The title of the story within “Catwoman 2021 Annual” #1, ‘Walk Through the Valley,’ brings to mind two items, both of which seem relevant to the portrayal of Father Valley: Biblical verse “Psalm 23:4,” and the intentional corruption of its words in Shawn James’s song “Through the Valley.” Taken together, these two influences work in tandem, as V examines not only Valley’s origins in relation to the Order of St. Dumas, an organization that prides itself as a holy order in the vein of an Inquisition, but also the ways that Valley has cut ties from it, deliberately casting himself as a punisher of the wicked who has resigned himself to a hatred of the very beings and group to which he once held fast, a pious man who loathes his own faith even as he works to eradicate the worst of it.
Through the story of Father Valley, V is able to dive into the workings of the Order of St. Dumas itself, an organization most often tied to Azrael and, through that identity, to the Batman family, without requiring much in the way of the latter group at all. Jean-Paul Valley, the modern and arguably most famous Azrael, is mentioned, but as the story is in flashback, he only factors in as comments from others, rather than showing up in person as a teenager. No, V instead focuses on the origins of Father Valley and how they relate to a different Azrael, a different famous member of the Order, expanding on the characterization of both and allowing them to exist outside of the binds of a plot focused on Jean-Paul Valley or Batman.
Interestingly for such a villain-centric story, “Catwoman 2021 Annual” #1 does not paint the Order as inherently pure evil, nor in a flattering light, but rather as a group that is being destroyed and has significant problems within and without. Father Valley’s origin could be seen as a kind of tragedy, an unfortunate consequence of what happens in a rash action that ultimately would prove unnecessary or overzealous, but imposed from a higher power (mortal in this case, but theoretically could be applied beyond). That said, V does not show the Order as positive, giving little reason to believe they do not deserve the hatred headed their way, but in focusing on specific figures and giving them sympathetic points of view, he shows that even kinder men can be led into darkness by fanaticism or relative incompetence by their superiors.
The illustrations by Fernando Blanco, Kyle Hotz, and Juan Ferreyra help a great deal toward selling the somber nature of the story, using intense detail that favors close-ups over slightly wider shots. At a distance, there is some loss of detail that may lessen the effect of powerful scenes, such as one with Selina Kyle or another with a mid-distance shot of the prior Azrael. However, these instances are few and far between. Far more common are the close-ups or deep shadows of the Order’s actions, with intense detail of nearly every wrinkle of the various characters, mostly the men, in such a story. Even as the plot ramps up to intense violence, Blanco, Hotz, and Ferreyra illustrate scenarios that seem almost sedate, sad and calm in spite of graphic violence, weighing into the tragedy and reluctance involved in the events leading up to the formation of the “Father Valley” identity.
While the illustrations are somber, David Baron’s colors illuminate or obscure moments of deep emotion beyond that sadness or rage. The vast majority of ‘Walk Through the Valley’ is steeped in cool colors and oppressive darkness, even when using blank white backgrounds. Azrael’s blood red attire makes for a stark contrast against the rest, a proverbial light in what the Order would call darkness even before igniting his flaming sword. That shock of warmth is always connected to violence, as if sacred flames purged that which the thematic “angel” has claimed as wicked or in need of destruction. In spite of that choice of shade and hue, it is cooler, darker colors that take up the most space, deep shadows far more prevalent than bright lights, as is common of stories centered around Gotham City, even while this tale primarily is told in other continents entirely. The deep shadows and cool colors lain out by Baron are a perfect fit for the intensely detailed illustrations by Blanco, Hotz, and Ferreyra, giving even this violent origin a sad undercurrent that is hard to ignore from V’s script.
Final Verdict: 7.5– Stepping away from Catwoman herself allows for a very intriguing origin story for one of her villains as an element of the Batman mythos is allowed room to expand without Batman himself.