A New Old Outsider: Katana returns

Joining the recent bump in female-led title comics, Katana #1 by Ann Nocenti and Alex Sanchez dropped last month, reviving

Katana #1
Katana #1

the 1983 DC character with a brand new, and carefully equipped, new costume, but she’s just as badass as ever. Though Katana has been on the scene, appearing in various roles in Batman series and in the New 52 Birds of Prey, this is the first time she has appeared in her own solo title. Nocenti, a former staffer at Marvel, is new to DC, but takes on Katana’s story with a deft hand. The narrative is tight, alluding to the back story enough that newcomers to Katana can jump right in.  And I think they’re gonna wanna.

If you don’t know Katana, here’s the brief. Katana was born Tatsu Toro, an average girl with an aptitude for martial arts, growing up in  Japan. She later marries Maseo Yamashiro. But their happy family is short lived when Maseo is killed by his own brother who was also in love with Tatsu. She also loses her two children in the fire that was started the same night that her husband is murdered. Finding her husband dead, Tatsu takes up the sword that killed him and fights her husband’s murderer and brother Takeo. Pretty miserably tragic stuff.  But she soon finds that the sword, a katana sword called the Soultaker, was possessed with her husband’s spirit, and she can talk to him through the sword. Having always shown a strong aptitude for martial arts, she claims the sword and, vowing to fight crime, becomes Katana. When she flees to the U.S, she becomes a founding member of a superhero team called The Outsiders.  With other founding members Black Lightning, Geo-force, Katana, Metamorpho, Batman, and Halo, the Outsiders is a fairly multi-culti crew. She later briefly joins Birds of Prey at the behest of Batgirl.

As for the new Katana series…

Katana's original costume
Katana’s original costume

First let me say, I’m digging the new threads, which trades in the flashy red and yellow of her past for a sleek black jumpsuit and a half-face mask rather than the Spider-Woman-esque eye mask. Maybe the Japanese flag on her forehead is a bit overkill (we get it, she’s Japanese). I mean, aside from Captain America, few superheroes wear their nation’s pride on their chest (much less their faces), and she’s hardly the overzealous patriot that Captain America is (and despite his “America fuck yeah!” spirit, even his costumery is a bit much). Nothing wrong with national pride, it just seemed a little International Day in elementary school to me.

We already saw the new costume in Birds of Prey, so Nocenti and Sanchez are just going with what they’ve got, and they do a great job with it. In fact, this first issue puts special focus on Katana’s fashion sense. One of the best sequences in this issue shows shot-by-shot Katana’s dressing routine, revealing how she arranges her outfit over her superhero costume, down to the deadly details of her accessories – from her pointed hair-sticks to the hem of her dress stitched with razors. Apparently Nocenti has a collection of books on weaponry to thank for the  inspiration on this one!

Katana adapted her dressing habits from a cartoon she’d seen as a child about a housewife that “used everything in her kitchen to fight an enemy”.  It’s the perfect parallel to the “women belong in the kitchen” bit that enemy Coil gives at the beginning of the issue, after she’s taken out a bunch of

Katana's deadly accessorizing
Katana’s deadly accessorizing

sword-yielding henchmen with her lady wear, and Coil gets her in a tough spot. I love how she flips his degradation of femaleness around on him, literally turning the blade back on him. The action scenes are dazzlingly graceful, capturing the style of her fighting, but also bold and strong, depicting her as the warrior she is.

Issue #2 is out this Wednesday, so go get it!

In the meantime, check out Tim O’shea’s interview with writer Anne Nocenti over at Comic Book Resources.

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