Ann Nocenti and Rafa Sandoval's "Catwoman" #26 has some strong points but is generally overwhelmed by too many characters and a plot that presents as complex by the characters, even though it's painfully simple.
On the writing front, "Catwoman" #26 suffers from two major problems. The issue is front loaded with recap and unnecessary narration in an attempt to bring readers up to speed on a complicated war and characters impossible to easily summarize. It's a thankless and daunting task for both reader and writer to slog through. Also, Nocenti's plot is simple: Catwoman finds a bunch of diamonds at Rock Bottom that are rigged to explode at certain harmonic frequencies. She subsequently uses them to rig the space to blow up, thus (kind of) saving Gotham and putting an end (or at least a pause) to the war between various criminal elements. So why Nocenti has Catwoman explain her plan four times in the book (to the reader, Rat-tail, the Warhogs and Duela) is puzzling. Sure, Catwoman has to bring other characters in on the plan, but there had to be a better way to do it than repeating it over and over again. There's nothing particularly wrong with the plot as a device in a comic book, but because Nocenti draws attention to it so many times, it starts to feel even thinner and less interesting with each subsequent mention.
Sandoval draws a fantastic Catwoman, but unfortunately doesn't get much opportunity to draw her as the issue is overflowed with other characters that take up a ton of panel time. The way Sandoval moves Selina about the page is so strong that it's become an integral part of her character and one of the finest things about her in the series. The best page in the book has Catwoman rappelling down to talk to other characters upside down in a way that is both natural and yet utterly Selina. It's wonderful. However, Sandoval is less successful with his portrayal of both water and wax, two elements in heavy rotation in this issue. In fairness, part of the problem with the execution of both materials is as much a function of poor coloring as anything else. Regardless, in the end it feels unclear and over rendered. Like Nocenti's plot, the treatment of these elements only draws more attention to them and exposes their weaknesses.
Sandoval is an incredibly detailed artist, which works both to his advantage and disadvantage. The details in "Catwoman" #26 are painstakingly lovely and welcome, especially in an age of backgrounds that are frequently phoned in or ignored altogether. Unfortunately, because everything is rendered with the same intensity, it all starts to blend together and becomes muddled and confusing. There is simply no room to breathe. There are a few places where Sandoval makes some quieter more restrained choices, and those pages are his best. In fact, sometimes Sandoval's choices shine so brightly that the hint of his potential as an artist is crystal clear and magnificent. But too often in this issue -- whether because he's not there yet as an artist or because he's working with a script that offers him few chances to excel, or within a house style that hems him in -- the excellent choices are overwhelmed by fussier, less mature ones.
I keep coming back to "Catwoman" because I love the character and hope the book will have magically transformed while I've been away into something I can love, but it keeps just missing the mark. "Catwoman" #26 has less overt problems with voice, character and storytelling than previous issues by this team, but it's still just a mediocre comic book.