Katana #1 (DC) Review
The First Cut is the Weirdest
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Date: April 2013
Cover Price: $2.99 US
Title: “Way Of The Outsider”
Review by Jason Olson
Katana. Ghostly eyes. A stoic demeanor. Strange whispers spoken to her sword. A lethal and quick-to-kill assassin who we have seen jump in and out of various story lines. I find her to be a terrifying and odd character and I have enjoyed her appearances in Birds of Prey under the helm of Gail Simone. The female reconfiguration of a Samurai warrior, mixed with the eerie attachment to her dead husband, whose spirit apparently occupies her sword, Soultaker, was always a fun juxtaposition with the busty and brassy sass of Starling and Black Canary. I won’t even bother with the Freudian nuances here when discussing her love of a sharp and long sword that is her most injurious weapon.
I have been curious about how her personality will manifest and mix with the motley crew that is the new Justice League America. I made sure to pick up her first issue of her solo venture. The cover says a lot. The sword is prominent in the foreground, almost appearing like a foundation of her being. Due to the steely armored costume, and smoky greys of the Japanese urbania in the background, her matching blood red lips and Japanese sun, Hinomaru, read like a warning sign.
I was ready to dig in. How great to have a female heroine with a smaller moral compass, a very specific mental focus and a defiant taste for blood. Batman can’t even kill the Joker after everything he’s done and here’s a lady who won’t think twice about turning you into shabu-shabu if you look at her the wrong way. All the while keeping a cool and calm poker face.
Artist, Alex Sanchez and Colorist, Matt Yackey, have created an exceptionally foreign feel to their images. The setting is Japantown in San Francisco but you feel as if you need a passport. The palette goes between very hardy and thickly layered pastels, salmon, violet, sky blue, with a good measure of earthy browns, and the coldest feeling slate gray that can only match the chill you get when Katana looks straight into you.
I was a hoping for a little more fluidity and clarity from the story line. It may just be the pressure of getting so much information into the first issue. Ann Nocenti has the CV of a versatile and seasoned writer. I was a big fan of the Beauty and the Beast mini series with Beast and Dazzler from the 80s. But I had to read through this twice to really understand what was going on. There were definitely some entertaining moments that I appreciated the second time around. Katana dressing for a potential attack and with every detail of her appearance, jewelry, and tailoring, is a weapon in disguise. Her killing prowess is more of a vanity point than her sleek and toned body. Katana also learns a secret history by viewing an isolated and untouchable tattooed women named Shun. Her body tells the history and downfall of the ancient clans of Japan. I felt this was a really interesting element and I hope they do more with the character of Shun. There were a lot of unanswered questions about her captivity and what other knowledge she holds.
In general I feel like the Japanese aesthetic of clarity and simplicity were not coming through in the story or dialogue, only in the visuals. I had to read the description of the issue on the DC comics site to really get everything. If Katana’s intent and focus is to turn herself into a killing machine and avenge her husband’s death I think that should be put out there in a very and undeniable message. Maybe give us a glimpse of who she used to be, how she and her husband loved each other, or his murder. I think the transformation of a devoted and docile wife to a killing machine would be a fascinating journey. Instead the issue begins where it ends and too much of Katana’s motivation is left to our imagination. She declares she needs more training and is not ready to avenge him, but then she goes off when Coil comes to attack in the end. There’s no element of surprise or acknowledgement that she is ready. Is she ready? I still don’t know. She seems pretty freaky and tough to me.
She also has a mysterious sexual dream with a faceless man who is not her husband. I guess this will be explained later, but why throw us this now? It just confused me and only seemed to make Katana’s character more weird and creepy, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think we get that already. The woman is slightly possessed and she only seems to come to life with excitement and vigor when she slices and dices.
Simply put, I think the first issue should have been a little more simple and clean. Who she was, what happened, and where she is going next is what I want to know. I hope the next cut goes a little deeper because I think this character has the potential to do some serious damage…in a good way.