Catwoman astride a pet. Artists: Dick Sprang and Charles Paris.

THE CATWOMAN

Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Bill Finger (writer) and Bob Kane (artist)
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Terry Lee had The Dragon Lady. Airboy had The Valkyrie. The Spirit had Sand Serif, P'Gell, Thorne Strand and any number of others. And Batman has …

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… The Catwoman — the villainous female whose threat to the hero is very real, but who also seems on the edge of seducing him … successfully.

The Catwoman (then called simply "The Cat", as in "cat burglar") debuted in the first issue of Batman, dated Spring, 1940, in a story written and drawn by Batman's own creators, Bill Finger and Bob Kane. She wasn't a costumed criminal, like so many villains Batman has fought, but merely a sexy jewel thief. She made an attempt to talk Batman into abandoning law enforcement in favor of partnering up with her, but of course he didn't. He did, however, make a couple of errors in bringing her to justice, which seemed inexplicable to Robin (who hadn't hit puberty yet), and which resulted in her escape.

She also appeared in the second and third issues, and in many more thereafter. In the early appearances, she was occasionally referred to as "Cat-Woman", but mostly went by the same one-syllable appellation she'd used in the beginning. It was later that she actually took on the name "Catwoman". Also, it took a while for her real name, Selina Kyle, to come out. Her third appearance was the first in which she wore a distinctive costume, and there, it consisted only of a full-head mask in the shape of a cat's head. The purple-gray dress, slit up the side, with matching cowl and green cape, which she used throughout the 1940s (tho she's switched costumes many times since) was another later addition, as were her affinity for real cats and her penchant for planning crimes around cat-related themes. By the time those were in place, it had become evident to readers that despite its simple adversarial nature on the surface, on deeper levels, she and Batman had a fairly complex relationship.

Right from the start, it was clear that The Catwoman wasn't as villainous as most recurring foes. Unlike The Joker, Two-Face, etc., she never committed murder, and wasn't too fond of armed robbery either. She became less villainous during her first decade, to the point where, by 1950, she'd completely retired from crime and was making her living running a little boutique in Gotham City. She even assisted the law now and again, tho rarely in costume. She remained a seldom-seen supporting character into the '50s, with Batman finding an excuse, every couple of years or so, to drop by for a chat (and perhaps, tho readers never saw hard evidence of it, a little more). She briefly came out of retirement in the middle of the decade, but by the latter part, had been pretty much forgotten.

In a 1977 retcon, the Batman of Earth-Two (the extra-dimensional world where DC Comics had taken to stashing its 1940s characters) was posited to have married The Catwoman during this period. They became parents of The Huntress, later a member of Infinity, Inc. This offshoot of mainstream continuity has since been dropped.

With The Catwoman no longer a high profile part of the hero's life, the publisher made a few half-hearted attempts to fill the void. Batwoman, introduced in Detective Comics #233 (July, 1956), was an apparent attempt to provide sexual tension, but she didn't do a very good job of it and was dropped from the cast in the mid-1960s. She turned up one final time, years later, as a murder victim. (More recently, there's been a new Batwoman.) If there was a perceived dearth of cat-themed villains, The Cat-Man (no relation) was introduced in Detective #311 (January, 1963). He didn't stick around very long. Another apparent attempt at sexual tension was the female villain Poison Ivy, introduced in Batman #181 (June, 1966). She's been around ever since, but the sexual tension never really gelled.

The fact that Batwoman changed her name to "Cat-Woman" in her last couple of costumed appearances (1963 and '64) and teamed up with The Cat-Man is scarcely remembered even by hard-core fans.

The Catwoman herself was back, villainous once more, in Batman #197 (December, 1967) (presaged by a cameo in the previous month's Detective Comics). She's maintained a steady presence ever since. As in the 1940s, she's not as bad as most bad guys, and has been known to switch sides and help the law. In fact, in recent years, she's been more superhero than villain, tho she's a hero with an edge, a lot of sex appeal and a certain frisson of kink. (In fact, they've rewritten her history to include victimless sex crimes early in her career.) She's even had her own title — a four-issue mini-series in 1989, an ongoing series from August, 1993 to July, 2001, and a second ongoing series beginning in January, 2002 (where she's involved in a romance with the aged Slam Bradley). In 1997, she had a crossover with another publisher's character, Vampirella.

On July 19, 2004, Warner Bros. (Steel, V for Vendetta) released her first feature-length movie, with Halle Berry (Storm in X-Men) in the title role. She's a little different in this version. Her name is Patience Philips rather than Selina Kyle, and she has actual cat-like super powers. Also, she doesn't have any connection to Batman. But she's as sexy and as edgy as long-time comic book readers expect The Catwoman to be.

— DDM

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Text ©2004-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.