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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Guest Article: Catwoman Through The Years

Catwoman Through the Years 

As do all comic book characters that have been around for longer than five years,
Catwoman (otherwise known as the civilian Selina Kyle) has been reinvented countless times by different writers, directors, and animators. She's gone through costume changes, name changes, various origin stories, but at her core, it's always the same idea. Just like Batman is always going to be a man who dresses like a bat and tries to catch criminals, Catwoman is always going to be a beautiful woman, dressed up like a cat, who is search of (depending on what's going on at the moment) revenge, jewels, or just a good time. She was originally designed, in fact, to be an opposing female Batman of sorts, someone who could compete with him physically and mentally, and who would also bring a little sex appeal (or a lot of sex appeal) to the series. 

Catwoman first appeared in Batman #1, published in the spring of 1940. Along with the Joker, she was one of Batman's first villains, which makes it appropriate that they are now two of the series' most recognizable characters. She's introduced as a femme fatale who's able to outwit Batman, and their attraction to each other is established almost immediately. She appeared regularly in the comic series for four years, but disappeared in 1954, due to the Comic Code Authority. Because early comic books had created a moral panic in America, the CCA was established to ensure that nothing that might corrupt young minds made its way onto the printed page. This included depictions of excessive violence, glamorous depictions of crime, anything supernatural, and anything overtly sexual. This last one was Catwoman's downfall, as a single woman wearing a skintight costume and flirting with the lead character was far too scandalous for the average reader. Eventually she returned in 1966, and picked up right where she left off. Since then, her story has been expanded upon, beginning from her childhood, spent partially in and orphanage and partially on the streets), her time as a prostitute (and her departure from that lifestyle), and her relationships, both with Batman and Bruce Wayne.  

Since her introduction, Catwoman's costume has remained fairly simple. She started out with no disguise at all, then played around with a few dress designs, but eventually settled on the catsuit that has since become her trademark. It's almost always purple or black, and is usually accompanied by either a cowl with cat ears attached, or by a domino mask with separate ears. Depending on which incarnation of the character you're looking at, she can also have a tail or gloves with retractable silver claws on them. Catwoman's other defining feature is, of course, her whip, although in earlier years, she was shown using a variety of weapons. 
The first actress to play Catwoman was Julie Newmar, who was in the first two seasons of the 1966 Batman TV show. She was replaced in season three by Eartha Kitt, who, despite the fact that she was African-American and Newmar was not, wore the same costume and picked up right where Newmar left off. Newmar was also unavailable for the 1966 movie adaptation of the TV show, so Catwoman was played there by Lee Meriwether. All three actresses embodied Catwoman's deviousness (she had a seemingly endless list of ways to foil Batman and Robin up her sleeves), but also her sexuality and her flirtatious/antagonistic relationship with Batman himself, and helped to establish the way that most people see and think of Catwoman today.  

The next time Catwoman appeared on screen, she was portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1992 movie, Batman Returns, directed by Tim Burton. The birth of Catwoman in the movie universe takes place when Max Shreck, a Gotham businessman who's planning to steal electricity from the city, attempts to assassinate his secretary, Selina Kyle, when she learns of his scheme. Luckily for Selina, she survives the fall and is revived by a group of stray cats, which helps form the basis for her new identity, Catwoman. As always, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle fall for each other, both privately (as Batman and Catwoman) and publicly (as Bruce and Selina). At the end of the film, Batman has been led to believe that she's dead, but the final scene reveals to the audience that she is indeed alive. The sequel to Batman Returns, Batman Forever, briefly mentions Catwoman, but she doesn't actually appear.  

Catwoman, the 2004 film starring Halle Berry, is only tangentially related to the Batman franchise, and has nothing to do with any previous versions of the character. Berry's character is named Patience Phillips, who (like Selina Kyle) is murdered by corporate bigwigs when she attempts to stop their wrong-doings (this time, it's a cosmetic company knowingly producing a product that has dangerous side-effects). Somehow, she ends up being brought back to life by a cat serving as a messenger of the Egyptian goddess Bast, and she makes the decision to use her new cat-like abilities to seek revenge on those who had her killed. The rest of the plot has little to do with anything, which has led to the Catwoman's reputation as one of the worst films in recent memory. Luckily, since it never had any connection to anything else in the Batman universe, it's easy to just pretend that it never happened. 

Christopher Nolan, director of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight has since taken on the task of redeeming Catwoman's character. Thus far, all that's known is that she'll be played by Anne Hathaway, and that it will be Selina Kyle, not another character going by the Catwoman name. Although the movie has not been released, there have been some leaked pictures of Hathaway in her Catwoman costume, seen here. 

Looking back, Catwoman is a character that has been driven by a few simple things over the years: sexuality, fun, and revenge. We’re hoping that Hathaway’s character stays true to Catwoman’s basic qualities, but can provide a fun, new twist on the kitty-character that we know and love.  
This article was written by Sophia Anderson of, which has great Batman costumes and Catwoman costumes if you’re planning on dressing up for The Dark Knight Rises. Because, why wouldn’t you?