#AA2019 Nominees Round Up, October 10 Edition

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Mass,  narrated by Julia Whelan
Audio Published by Listening Library
Publication date: August 7, 2018
ISBN: 978-0525595410

I have never been a fan of DC Comics, home of the Batman universe.  While my fellow second graders idolized Adam West from the campy 1960s television show featuring the Caped Crusader, I was small but my scorn was huge; the only Batman movie I have seen more than a half hour of is the Lego version.  Similarly, while I know the teens who talk to me about their favorite books clamor for more Sarah J. Maas, I have to admit I have only read (listened to) one title, as a professional assignment.  So I popped the first disc of Catwoman: Soulstealer, written by Sarah J. Maas and narrated by Julia Whelan, into my car CD player with minimal expectations; it was the only new audiobook I had with me for a long drive.   What I discovered was a production that had me sitting at the gas pump with the car running for an extra minute or two, just to get to the end of a chapter.

This is an origin story of one of the leading villainesses of Gotham, but so much more.  Selina Kyle has donned the cat mask for a heartfelt reason:  all her life, she has put herself in mortal danger to try to provide for her seriously ill little sister.   Back in Gotham after years training at an academy for assassins (who, incidentally, are now as bent upon putting an end to her antics as is Batman himself), Selina forms an uneasy triad with fellow villainesses Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.  Again, forget everything you know from the movies about these wild and crazy ladies; Maas has made them much more complex and multi-dimensional.  And narrator Julia Whelan captures their personalities equally without regard to movie portrayals.  Harley, for instance, speaks with an almost imperceptible sad catch in her otherwise manic voice; there is a deeply troubled soul inside the pyrotechnically proficient young woman in the silly outfits.

The foil of these ladies is not Batman himself (off on a mission, it’s explained), but his young protégé Batwing.  Batwing’s alter ego, Luke Fox, is African American, and apparently even in Gotham, even if one is a decorated war hero and the scion of a powerful family—and even if one is a superhero—a person of color is subject to racial discrimination.  Whelan slips effortlessly from Selina/Catwoman’s ultra-feminine voice to Luke/Batwing’s huskier tones.

The assassins who made Catwoman who she is and are now, so to speak, on her tail represent a variety of nationalities and ethnicities; Whelan gives them distinct and authentic accents while never descending into caricature.  She is equally adept at portraying cameo characters like Commissioner Gordon and the Joker, again without relying on the familiar film versions.

Fans of the DC universe will enjoy what Maas and Whelan have done with some of their favorite characters.  But what makes this audiobook production truly exceptional is the fact that there is so much that will appeal to NON-fans.

— Cathy Andronik