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Character Profile: Selina Kyle, A.K.A. Catwoman
Created by: Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Publisher: DC Comics
Comic Book Debut: April 1940 (Batman #1)

Column by: Max Mallet

“I’m Catwoman.  Hear me roar.”  — Batman Returns (1992)

Catwoman art by the late, great Darwyn Cooke

A Brief History:

Selina Kyle (A.K.A. Catwoman) is one of Batman’s original rogues, first appearing in 1940’s Batman #1 alongside the Caped Crusader and the Joker.  Batman creator Bob Kane wanted to create a mischievous character that could bring female readers into the fold and have enough sex appeal to intrigue male readership.  Thus, Catwoman was born: a criminal specializing in burglary who’s known to dabble in Batman’s personal life — sometimes intimately.  

The character was forced into a 12-year hiatus during the height of McCarthyism under the guidelines of the now defunct Comics Code Authority.  The Authority acted as the comic book police during what is referred to as the Silver Age of Comics, when comics were forced to eliminate grit and adult themes for a more wholesome, family-friendly image.

Selina Kyle isn’t the only character in DC Comics lore to go by Catwoman.  However, she is without question the most recognizable and synonymous with the feline rogue.

Abilities:

Catwoman art by Alex Ross

Catwoman doesn’t have any supernatural abilities in mainstream DC Comics.  Yet, she appears to have some sort of bizarre cat-saliva-induced healing factor in the 1992 feature film Batman Returns.  We could discuss her abilities in 2004’s terrible Catwoman film featuring Halle Berry… but let’s not do that.

  • Master thief and burglar
  • Proficient martial artist
  • World class gymnast
  • Skilled with bullwhips and retractable claws

Catwoman is a skilled fighter, but like Batman is ultimately a human in peak physical condition wearing tights.  Unlike Batman, she’s female and therefore prone to being a victim of the tired damsel-in-distress storytelling tactic.

Relationship with Batman:

Catwoman and Batman are adversarial as ‘colleagues’ in comics and graphic novels.  However, they have an on-again-off-again romantic relationship.  Though Batman has several noteworthy female rogues, Catwoman is the only one that appears capable of piercing the Dark Knight’s emotional armor.  Their relationship doesn’t display the malice typical for many of the relationships between Batman and his rogues.  This is likely because Catwoman is a thief and not a mobster (like Carmine Falcone or the Penguin), environmental terrorist (Poison Ivy) or murderer (The Joker or Deathstroke).  Let’s speculate that her easiness on the eyes plays a factor for the billionaire-playboy-philanthropist-vigilante, as well.  

Catwoman and Batman in Rocksteady Studios’ Arkham Knight video game. More on Arkham Knight to come.

In Catwoman’s two Batman-centric silver-screen forays, the 1990s animated cartoon and the ongoing Gotham TV show, this relationship carries over. The developers also tease the relationship in the Batman: Arkham series, displayed above.

One Famous Cover/Story:

Cover of Catwoman: When In Rome #5

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have produced some legendary Batman works, Batman: The Long Halloween in particular.  Nearly a decade after producing that masterpiece, the dynamic creative duo created the six-issue Catwoman: When in Rome.  This story is unique to Catwoman for a few reasons.  

  1. It takes place largely without Batman.
  2. Catwoman is the hero of the story.
  3. It takes place away from the confines of Gotham City, placing the feline jewel-thief in the Eternal City.

Like most of the duo’s work, Catwoman: When in Rome was well-received.  The miniseries married Loeb’s noir-inspired writing with Sale’s blocky, moody signature art.

Representation in Media:

Julie Newmar as Catwoman in the Batman ’66 TV series.

Catwoman is easily one of Batman’s most recognizable and recurrent rogues.  As such, she’s been featured in every Batman medium since the Caped Crusader’s inception over 75 years ago.    

As time marches on and societal norms evolve, Catwoman has increasingly gained more agency.  However, to this day the respect that creators of various mediums give Catwoman is very hit-and-miss.

A couple of hits:

Catwoman: When in Rome (2004)

The previously discussed Catwoman: When in Rome gives Selina a lot of agency. This is a Catwoman who needs no saving.

Batman Returns (1992)

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns. Yes, she’s fairly sexualized in the role, however, there’s a rich character arc that leads Selina to that point. Furthermore, she comes across as Batman’s equal in physical ability and cunning.

A couple of misses:

“Papa Spank” (Batman #1, 1940)

Even for 1940 and the rampant misogyny that accompanied the era, this is just weird. Did anyone actually talk like this?

Arkham Knight (2015)

The entire Catwoman storyline consists of Batman having to save Catwoman from one of the Riddler’s plots, all the while a bomb collar is fastened to her neck. When Batman saves her, she propositions him to check into a hotel with her. When Batman denies Catwoman, she persists with, “Do you ever take the night off? Do you ever take the suit off?” This comes after Rocksteady Studios already took some flack for their treatment of Catwoman Arkham City, the previous game.

What Drives Her:

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Ultimately, Catwoman is more anti-hero than villain.  Since her brand of criminality tends to involve hurting rich people’s’ bank accounts rather than killing them, Batman doesn’t come down as hard on Catwoman as he does with most of his other rogues.  Catwoman is driven by thrills, money and occasionally revenge against those she deems have done her wrong.  Additionally, she does seem to revel in her frequent run-ins with the Dark Knight.

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