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.
But none of that matters, because Michelle Pfeiffer is in it, and it is glorious. Unfortunately, the “Catwoman” spinoff they promised didn’t really happen. Instead…well…let’s talk about the happy times first.
From 1993 to the present, Catwoman’s had her own series or at least been the central character of a series. For some reason, in the ’90s, her grey cat suit was revamped into some purple thing, which even as a kid reading these comics I found myself wondering why, precisely they did that. Aside from the fact that it looked cool, although considering this was comics in 1993, “it looked cool” was the driving force of every single decision at DC Comics. This was the decade where they decided Doctor Fate should be Cable, only with a mullet. What’s weird is that this became retroactive, especially with Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb’s take on Batman’s early wars with the Mafia…
Not pictured: canon accuracy. At least until the next Crisis.
Unfortunately, this popularity led to…well…
“Catwoman” the movie was probably the nadir not just of superheroes on film, but quite possibly women in cinema. Seriously, it somehow managed to be offensive on just about every conceivable level. I actually saw this movie for free, courtesy of a ticket that came with the first volume of “Batman: The Animated Series”, and to this day, I remember being horrified by it in just about every respect. It’s like somebody saw “Glitter” and said, you know what this needs? This needs to be the splintery branch we shove right down some comic adaptation’s alimentary canal! At least they didn’t include anything about Selina’s nun sister or that whole eye-ball eating thing that was kind of an ongoing theme (no, we’re not kidding). The movie marked a downslope for Catwoman, if for no other reason than being turned into a pop culture joke.
Thankfully, Darwyn Cooke came along and reminded us why we love Catwoman…and also gave her a new costume that at least makes some sense.
What’s DC got planned? Well, “Catwoman” is part of the new 52, so we’ll see. But we imagine it’ll involve glorious skintight outfits. You know, like these:
So, what’s the future holds, aside from her daughter being retconned out of existence in the upcoming DC reboot. And of course we can all look forward to Anne Hathaway’s high tech Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises”.