I really, really want to see Ann Nocenti succeed. Her “Daredevil” run is criminally underrated, and the “Longshot” miniseries is wonderful. Unfortunately, the last comic series she wrote was her recent “Green Arrow” run, and… well, I’m sure you heard about that. Will “Katana” put Nocenti back on the right track?
Written by Ann Nocenti
Illustrated by Alex Sanchez
• From the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and BIRDS OF PREY!
• KATANA is a former assassin on a noble quest to restore the OUTSIDERS to their former glory!
• Will she succeed, or will she be overcome by the power of her sword, the SoulTaker?
Theoretically, “Katana” meets the number one requirement for DCnU number ones, in that it is accessible to new readers. Well, let me correct that: this issue is no less accessible to new readers than it is to old ones. Through the course of the book, readers who are not familiar with the character are gradually given “the basics,” so that by the end of the issue they have an outline of who they are reading about, without being swamped with details. Remarks regarding, say, her involvement with the Birds of Prey are made, but writer Ann Nocenti makes sure that these remarks are vague enough to avoid distracting the reader; Birds of Prey readers may think “oh, she’s referring to the Birds,” but those who are jumping into the book blind won’t bat an eye at the semi-derogatory remarks Katana makes about her “friends.” When it comes to the issue’s actual plot, though, Nocenti is in a bit of trouble. The writer takes a pretty standard technique when it comes to telling stories, and drops us into the middle of the action by page one, a once unorthodox method that has since become a tried and true standard. The problem is that Nocenti doesn’t ever give the reader any stability; rather than a moment of “oh, okay, now I get it,” we reach the issue’s sudden ending still feeling like we walked into a movie that had already started. Perhaps the second issue will give the reader more solid footing, but as a former editor, Nocenti should know that it shouldn’t wait.
What kills the book, though, is the script. Let me get one thing out of the way: writers, please stop using the phrase “epic fail” in your comics, or pretty much anything else. I know, it’s petty, but when you pair it with, say, the twist on the tired “women should stay in the kitchen” line that appears within the second page, it sounds like Nocenti has been studying the internet in order to “hone” her dialogue. Beyond that, though, the dialogue is unbearably stiff; while only devoting a portion of it to exposition, which is good, Nocenti doesn’t do too much with the words that remain. We “get” that Katana is a loner who feels ostracized by her peers, and that she misses her husband, and Nocenti does an alright job of avoiding outright telling us this, but the narration that conveys these emotions rings hollow. Between the askew framing and the dull, dull dialogue, Nocenti has taken what could very well be an interesting story and has killed any motivation for the reader to want to keep turning the pages.
Now, stylistically, Alex Sanchez is probably going to get some flak from readers. His art is somewhat similar in style to Travel Foreman — which, considering Foreman is the current “Birds of Prey,” makes sense from an editorial point of view, something you rarely hear when talking DCnU — and, like Foreman, it takes some adjusting to, but it isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, in the right situation, I’m sure it could be great, but an action action book like this isn’t quite the right fit. The mixture of dark outlines and scratchy features that Sanchez uses would be perfect for, say, a comic riffing on Japanese horror films (and, who knows, that may be where we are going), were it not for one bigger problem: Sanchez’s work can be really difficult to read. Frequently, this issue has panels and sequences where the reader can tell what is supposed to be going on, but that are devoid of any inherent motion — all of the heavy lifting is done by the reader. Every now and then, though, a panel rears its head that completely halts the reading process, as the reader is needs to stop and make sense of what exactly they are looking at. It doesn’t help that props such as Katana’s practice contraption and the snake-like sword of her adversary would be difficult for even a master to make sense of, and while Sanchez tries his best, the art of this issue further confounds the already bewildering writing.
To call this comic terrible would be an exaggeration. Unfortunately, it is very, very not good. Ann Nocenti’s plotting provides a bumpy ride, her dialogue and narration are groan-worthy, and Sanchez’s art displays a lot of potential that isn’t fully realized. DC certainily needs more good books with female leads, but the key term is “good.” The first issue of “Katana” isn’t good, or even average. It is, sadly, a pretty bad comic, and is already early fodder for the inevitable next wave of DC cancellations — unless, of course, it gets a sizable amount of residual sales boosts from “Justice League of America.”
Final Verdict: 3.0 – Pass