Katana #1: No Clue Why She’s Blue
So, Katana has her own book now. It's written by Ann Nocenti and drawn by Alex Sanchez. It is called Katana. The cover advertises that it's "from the pages of Justice League of America," which doesn't come out until next week, so it doesn't really have pages to be from yet.
Full disclosure: I don't really know anything about Katana, and I've had little inclination to learn anything. She has a sword. She's a Bird of Prey. She's going to be the Robin replacement sidekick on the upcoming Beware The Batman animated series. I played her Heroclix figure in a tournament last Sunday. I've also not really enjoyed Nocenti's work on Catwoman and I tapped out of her Green Arrow pretty early. The former is on her, but the latter is likely on my general lack of interest in Oliver Queen. So the deck was stacked against me liking Katana #1.
The final verdict doesn't entirely confirm my bias, but it doesn't completely dispel it, either. The opening few pages are a solid hook. The first big panel of Katana being wrapped up in a snare lamenting her impending death at the hands of Coil, Master of the Spiral Sword, is a strong first salvo from Sanchez, The subsequent dialogue from the mouth of Coil is not something you see a lot of – a screed against women being able to master anything but a kitchen – followed by a really interesting line about how he's using her emotions against her. "Hatred is useless, Katana. It is as if YOU drink poison and expect ME to die." It's jarring enough to grab the attention.
From there, the Sanchez art is very hit and miss – and most distracting is his use of some kind of half-hearted shading that makes everybody look as though they're covered in a fine layer of dust or grime, or that they have vericose veins pumping black, oily blood. It's off-putting.
The story flashes back to Katana setting up shop in San Francisco, in a secret basement in Japantown, trying to train herself to fight blind, and we see she's got a long way to go. She has a nightmare about having weird, bloody sex with Coil, waking up with shame at betraying her husband, whose spirit she believes resides in the sword she carries – the sword that killed him. That's a quirk I dimly recalled from reading the first issue of the New 52 Birds of Prey. She then dresses up with clothing that doubles as lethal weaponry, and goes out in search of Shun, a shamed "untouchable" woman who has been sentence to have her entire body covered with tattoos depicting the history of ancient clans in Japan. Katana needs to learn more about her sword, the Soultaker, which is said to drive its wielder crazy. Then, she's attacked in a "Kawaii Park" full of bushes shaped like cute animals, and is then attacked by Coil's goons, which brings us to the now. Where Coil challenges her knowledge of the Soulsword and her general mindset about everything.
Nowhere in here is any explanation as to why Katana's skin suddenly turns blue in the middle of the fight, once she takes off her pink robe and reveals her fight suit. It's not a big deal, but an annoying gap in knowledge that seems like it should be filled in a #1 issue. There is some interesting discussion peppered throughout about the nature of violence and what it does to people who truck in it, but there's something about Nocenti's generally straightforward first-person narration that bugs me, and I can't really put my finger on it other than thinking maybe it's just too on the nose. "The hem of my dress, stiched with razors — twirl and slice!" Kind of a neat idea, but it feels too blunt or something. Or maybe I'm just carrying over some of my issues with Nocenti's Catwoman, which would seem to require a much more subtle touch than she's giving Selina Kyle. Maybe that straightforward style will work better for a woman who chops people up with a burning sword.
Overall, Katana #1 is not a bad issue, really. I'm just not sure if there's enough here to get me to a #2. Your mileage may vary.