This week from DC comics we get a title you do not want to miss! Usually when DC does annuals, they tell stories just outside of continuity or take the story in a different direction somehow. I suppose that is true of this issue as it went in a direction I did not expect. In fact, even though this title bears the name Catwoman, the Catwoman Annual 2021 does not deal with Selina Kyle at all. I nearly skipped over this issue, thinking it irrelevant. Boy was I wrong because we finally learn Father Valley’s backstory. In the process, we harken back to a time of a broken Bat and a successor that taught Batman how to kill. A past is revealed and the Order of Saint Dumas returns!
The year was 1993. The comic world recently suffered the shock in the demise of the Man of Steel. It would reel once more as the other invincible DC hero would be defeated and broken. A new villain, Bane, not only takes down but breaks the Bat. It appeared Bruce Wayne’s days as Gotham’s protector came to an end, so who would now take up the mantle? Many thought it would be Dick Grayson, but Bruce made a different choice. Jean Paul Valley, a newcomer who used the hero name, Azrael, would be chosen, and the path for failure would be laid.
Jean Paul belonged to an order called the Order of St Dumas. This fringe religious order assassinated those it deemed evil, but the Order itself failed to live up to “good” standards. It’s brainwashing would drive Jean Paul insane and pollute the mantle of the Bat. His ruthless aggression and armament upgrades to the Bat-suit allowed him to take Bane down where Bruce failed, but Jean Paul also broke ‘the rule’. Az-Bats, as fans would call him, killed. Jean Paul lost himself in a psychosis that only ended when Bruce, donning the cape and cowl once more, tricked Jean Paul into removing his mask.
A Past Revealed – Right in Front of Our Noses
So what does any of this have to do with Catwoman? Quite a bit and the evidence was right in front of our noses the entire time. Selina’s new thorn in her side goes by the name Father Valley. The name Valley should have triggered some alarms, but I for one never made the connection to Az-Bats. Through the ongoing comics, we learned some of what haunted Jean Paul Valley. Not only did the Order of Saint Dumas brain wash him, but Jean Paul suffered from father issues as well. His father’s ghost haunted him for some time. Now in Catwoman Annual 2021, we learn the story of what happened to not only Jean Paul’s father, but the Order as well.
The Order worked in secret, which enabled it to use such brutal methods, but all that was about to change. A mole ratted out the Order, and as all shady organizations do, it responds in the extreme. Jean Paul’s father, Ludovic Valley, led the assassin arm of the Order, so it was on his shoulders the responsibility was placed. His mission? Wipe out the Order, so it could rebuild. This meant killing people he worked with and trained, including one man who he treated as a surrogate son.
Ludovic may have given up one son to try and protect him from the Order, but he adopted another young man named Karl. Karl of course feels betrayed. After an emotional confrontation, Karl tries to save Ludovic the sin of killing him and throws himself from the balcony. Karl Valley dies in that fall, but rising in his place is the demented and mentally broken Father Valley.
A Past Revealed – He Is Risen
I love this issue! The main cover uses Az-Bats in the background, but I didn’t see how that factored in. The opening really takes into the head of Father Valley and shows his extreme dedication. Then, when the comic jumps to the roof top vigilantes I thought it looked like the Saint Dumas knights, but it also looked like other costumes in the DC Universe. Then Ludovic shows up in the full Order armor and I flipped out. They are back!
The story does an amazing job telling the tale of Ludovic and Karl. It teaches you not to befriend/adopt any fellow Order members because you never know when you may have to kill them. You really buy into the father/son relationship told in this issue, and when Ludovic mentions giving up a son to protect him, it really lays out the evil of the Order. We know what the do to Jean Paul under Ludovic’s nose. Then the Ludovic betraying Karl really sets up Father Valley’s psyche and why he’s so messed up.
The story leads us through one final confrontation that finishes unresolved between Ludovic and Karl, but the ending where Karl dons the trademark hat of Father Valley really cements Father Valley’s dementia.
A Past Revealed – A Future Set in Motion
This great back story leaves us with one burning question – where is this story of the past leading us to in the future? We do get one quick scene with Selina in this issue. She rushes to the hospital where Leo tries to recover. Needless to say, Selina is pissed! Then again, that was Valley’s purpose. Like Bane did to Bruce, before taking Selina down Valley wants to break her. Catwoman will come into the coming confrontation in a rage, but will that help or hinder? Her rage could give her a strength to plow through Valley’s assaults, but it could also unbalance her and lead to her downfall. The Order of Saint Dumas does not raise slouches when it comes to fighting. Selina will need her best game in the fight to come.
Can Selina win on her own? I am actually going to say no. Bruce isn’t an option to help right now, and her closeness does not extend to the rest of the Bat-family. Harley could be a big help, but she has yet to show up in Catwoman’s title. Harley’s appearance doesn’t quite fit. Were we just shown Selina’s unintended savior?
As I said above, that final confrontation between Ludovic and Karl remained unsettled. Karl threatens to kill Ludovic if he sees him again and walks away. Did their paths separate forever? Or will Ludovic resurface and battle Father Valley with Catwoman? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
A past revealed. The stakes have been raised and the table looks set for the final square off between Father Valley and Catwoman. The war begins in Catwoman 33. What did you think of the Catwoman annual? Where do you think the war is headed in the next Catwoman issue? Head on over to DC Fanatics on Facebook and let us know what you think.