She’s armed, she’s a thief and she’s made far too many nerds discover their sexuality earlier than they probably should…she’s Catwoman. But she wasn’t always the woman in the suit with the stabby claws that we know and love.
Believe it or not, Catwoman wasn’t actually that popular a villain until the Silver Age. She appeared in Batman #1 as a generic “jewel thief” type villain, and popped up sporadically until 1954…and then vanished for more than a decade. Opinions differ as to why: the will-they-or-won’t they dynamic violated the Comics Code or Batman spent a decade being totally gay…but either way, she didn’t crop up until 1966. And, then, well, she’s been inescapable since. Let’s take a tour, shall we?
Catwoman really came back for one reason: the “Batman” TV show, that ran twice weekly and needed as many villains as they could come up with. This is why we have villains like King Tut: the comics just didn’t have that many villains in the first place. Also, it was an opportunity to get Julie Newmar into a catsuit. Not to mention Eartha Kitt, also in Newmar’s catsuit, because apparently the suit itself was designed and constructed by…Julie Newmar. She also apparently kicked Jim Belushi’s ass in court. Why’d they replace her again? Oh, right, because the producers were terrible.
Catwoman basically was Batman’s beard throughout the ’70s and ’80s until 1986, when Frank Miller rather memorably reinvented her as a prostitute turned jewel thief in “Batman: Year One”. Also, he explained the whip as Catwoman being a dominatrix and actually putting something resembling genuine chemistry into the Batman/Catwoman relationship. Funny thing, it was a lot more credible when they weren’t just letting each other escape. Instead of either missing a bullet point on the Evil Overlord list or just showing some really crappy policework, they were actually getting under each other’s skins.
Anyway, Catwoman was starting to become a major player, but she wouldn’t be a breakout in her own right until…
Look, we’re not going to lie. The 1989 “Batman” is still a rock solid and fun movie, but “Batman Returns” really kind of sets the stage for the godawful following two movies. There’s a lot wrong with “Batman Returns” as a movie: the plot is clunky, the film itself is overproduced, the set design is completely wrong because Anton Furst had died and Burton took over, Danny DeVito can’t act, and Catwoman’s origin doesn’t make any freaking sense.