THE MANY LIVES OF CATWOMAN:
THE FELONIOUS HISTORY OF A FELINE FATALE
Author: Tim Hanley (Chicago Review Press)
A review by Bob Reyer
“Feed your kitty now,because once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop. Tim’s words are as mesmerizing as Catwoman herself.” Adrienne Barbeau, who portrayed Selina Kyle & Catwoman on Batman: The Animated Series
Although it took me a bit to get to this latest work by Tim Hanley, that was only due to the preparations for our 300th episode, as I’m a regular follower of his Straitened Circumstances Wonder Woman blog, and I very-much enjoyed his books “Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter” and “Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine”, and even if I didn’t completely agree with all his opinions, they made me stop and reconsider my own… and isn’t that what a great book should do?
His treatises on the importance and treatment of female comics characters are always well-thought, arrived at by voluminous research and snappily written, to boot. Having finished “The Many Lives of Catwoman” in an absolute flurry, I can say without any equivocation that I whole-heartedly agree with Ms. Barbeau’s pull-quote cited above! This book is a must-read for anyone interested in not only the “Feline Fury”, but how the comics industry has portrayed super-heroines through the years.
Mr. Hanley’s “Wonder Woman: Unbound” smartly addressed the myriad subtleties and contradictions that surrounded the Amazon Princess’ many portrayals and their eras, so taking on the history of Catwoman, a character who probably inhabits more “grey areas” than any other in comics, was a perfect marriage of author and subject.
Since her debut as “The Cat” in Batman #1 (not only wasn’t she Catwoman yet, she wouldn’t be named as Selina Kyle for another ten years!), Catwoman has acted as both heroine and villain…sometimes in the same story! As Mr. Hanley shows through his luxuriant research, across the decades she’s been a progressive and agency-filled character who has also suffered at being thrust into traditional gender roles, and both of these scenarios oft-times in opposition to the era-in-question’s mores, not counting Jim Balent’s (to my mind) dubious contributions to the hyper-sexualized 1990s, of course.
The book takes us on a well-guided tour through the various stages of Catwoman’s career through all media, dating from her creation by Bill Finger, past her long absence post-Dr. Wetrtham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” through to her return via the marvelous portrayals by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether during “Batmania” where so many of us were introduced to the character.
The years since, as Mr. Hanley rightly points out, have been a very mixed bag, with wonderful highs such as Michele Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns”, Ms. Barbeau as Selina in “Batman: The Animated Series”, or the Ed Brubaker & Darwyn Cooke re-imagining that brought genuine class and true agency back to Catwoman, but these have been interspersed with her poor treatment during DC’s various events, ugly revisions to her character by Frank Miller, “The Nineties” (’nuff said!), that terrible 2004 film, and right up to her New 52 “break the internet broke-back #0 cover” and her current situation in “Rebirth” where Catwoman is without a solo series for the first time in two decades.
Tim Hanley has crafted an enlightening and well-balanced presentation that truly demonstrates how special Selina Kyle can be when handled with the requisite care and respect both for the character and her audience, particularly the female readers who have always embraced even the merest hint of the empowerment that Catwoman can display when given the chance. As it did me, Mr. Hanley’s “The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale” will certainly entertain you with a barrage of fun facts, but will also no doubt have you thinking more deeply about the character of Selina Kyle than ever before, so this book receives my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!