Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about Gotham’s premier feline thief, Catwoman.
Only a few months younger than Batman, Catwoman debuted in Batman #1 where she originally went by the name the Cat. First presented as a con artist who disguised herself as an old lady, the Cat attempted to make off with an emerald necklace worth half a million dollars. Only the timely intervention of Batman and Robin allowed authorities to see through her guise and attempt an arrest.
The Cat attempted to talk Batman into joining her as the King of Crime but Batman refused. It should be mentioned that he didn’t seem to try very hard to capture her once she got away from him. Batman was smitten.
Knowing a good thing when they had it, the Batman team brought the Cat back in the very next issue. This time, the first meeting between two established Batman villains took place. In this landmark issue, the Joker met the Cat, now referred to occasionally as Cat-Woman, though the two were at odds. Batman again managed to bring both villains down but allowed Cat-Woman to escape without too much of a fuss.
Once again, the Batman team enjoyed the Cat so much that they brought her back in the very next issue. The sexual dynamic at work between the beautiful thief and the heroic Batman made for fun reading in the book’s previous two issues. This dynamic was severely blunted when the Cat started using her first costume: a sexy cocktail dress and a full-on cat mask. This wasn’t just a fun little mask that covered her eyes. No, this was just a cat’s head on top of a lady’s body. It was unsettling to say the least.
If anyone is thinking of cosplaying as this version of Catwoman, please don’t. It’s creepy.
After dumping the cat’s head, the Cat officially dropped that name and became Catwoman full time. By the 1950s, the sleek jewel thief in the slinky dress had been replaced by a woman obsessed with cats. Now Catwoman had a real costume complete with a cape along with cat-named items like her Kitty Car, her lair the Cat-acomb, and various stray cats that were always by her side. This was also the time period that she actually got a real name: Selina Kyle.
For the next several decades, Catwoman would occasionally clash with Batman and his allies. During many of these battles, she would appear sporting a brand new outfit that would change just a few short years later. In many cases, Selina was as obsessed with marrying and dominating Batman as she was with stealing expensive jewelry and other goods. Batman was presented as being intrigued by the gorgeous thief but always stopped her from carrying out her wicked plans.
Over time, Batman’s constant lectures and talking-tos turned Selina away from her life of crime. On Earth-2, the world which housed an older version of the DCU, Bruce Wayne and a completely reformed Selina Kyle eventually married and had a daughter together. Back in the main DCU of Earth-1, Batman and Catwoman’s courtship was only just beginning in the mid-1980s. There, Catwoman loved Batman so much that she finally gave up her life of crime to be with him. In what is perhaps my favorite issue dealing with their relationship, Batman #392 featured Batman and Catwoman having a date around Gotham. During one memorable scene, Batman took a page from his Lady and the Tramp playbook by setting up a spaghetti dinner for the two of them in an alley while a horrible Italian stereotype looked on.
As has been mentioned many times in the DC Histories, the Crisis on Infinite Earths reset everything in the DCU. In the seminal Batman: Year One storyline, Selina Kyle was reintroduced in the DCU. Now a dominatrix style prostitute, Selina was inspired by Batman to put on a costume and circumnavigate the regular rules of Gotham. But before she could put her new plan into action, she punched out her pimp and took her young friend Holly along for the ride.
After parting ways with Stan, Selina created the Catwoman persona. Selina knew that Gotham was a tough city and she had no problem with taking from others so that she and Holly could have an easy life.
In the pages of Selina’s first miniseries, her decision to become Catwoman was examined in more detail than in Batman: Year One. Also in the pages of Catwoman, Selina’s sister Maggie was introduced. A nun with a past, Maggie did her best to talk her sister out of the life she had chosen, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Selina had picked her future and it was one that she and Maggie would continue to butt heads over.
The success of this first miniseries and the fan reaction to this relaunched Selina meant that an ongoing Catwoman series launched a few years after her miniseries wrapped up. In that pages of this new Catwoman series, Selina’s childhood was examined.
Though this story ignored Maggie, Zero Month presented Selina’s childhood as a troubled one. Both of her parents had died while Selina was young and she was sent to a reform school to be looked after until she became a legal adult. Sadly, the school was corrupt and Selina was an outcast among the staff and orphans who lived there. After a hard fought battle with the school’s director, Selina convinced the school to release her and wipe her official records. She was granted both requests. Selina Kyle officially didn’t exist.
A little while later, more information was released about how Selina Kyle got her cat-like reflexes and abilities. It seems that before she became Catwoman, Selina was already a small-time cat burglar. During an adventure that went wrong, Selina ran into a ninja cult operating in Gotham City. She somehow convinced the cult’s leader to allow her to join. From there, Selina’s natural abilities were honed to a fine point and the career of Catwoman began soon afterwards.
Also along the way, Selina hooked up with Ted Grant, an ex-championship boxer who moonlighted as the JSA member Wildcat. Ted had a gym he created which trained people in the sweet science. Selina learned a lot from her time with Ted.
Keep in mind that these stories were meant to be added to the prostitute story that had already been created. This meant that Selina Kyle was an orphaned girl who trained as a ninja by a secret cult and trained as a boxer by a member of the JSA while working as a dominatrix in the seedy side of Gotham but who also had a sister who was a nun and who wasn’t mentioned too often. It was as if DC had created Selina’s post-Crisis backstory via Mad Libs.
In any case, Selina got a fresh start after it was reported that both Selina and Catwoman had died just a few issues before her ongoing series reached its one hundredth issue. She was, of course, fine but no one knew that. This ending point allowed readers to gain a new perspective on Catwoman. Darwyn Cooke would provide that perspective when he gave Selina a noir makeover the following year.
Selina stepped out of her retirement to pull of a major heist against Gotham mobsters. In order to get the heist accomplished successfully, she realized that she’d need help. Towards that end, she pulled Slam Bradley into her circle of allies.
Slam Bradley actually has quite the real-life backstory himself. Co-created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the team behind Superman, Slam debuted in the pages of Detective Comics #1, which came out in 1937. That makes him older than even Superman and Batman. Slam was a two-fisted private detective in the pulp tradition who could (and often did) take a punch in the course of his investigations.
With Slam on her side, Selina attempted to pull off a caper but things went south. The story ended with Catwoman being back in Gotham and Selina having a relaunched solo series. Now in a new costume and primarily concerned with helping out the residents of Gotham’s crime-ridden East End, Selina tried to go about her life. She was now mostly concerned with making her neighborhood better. Things changed after Selina went up against Black Mask one too may times.
Black Mask was the ringleader of Gotham City’s crime syndicates during this time period. Selina’s attempts to keep his influence out of the East End caused no end of trouble to the villain. Having had enough of Catwoman’s interference in his operation, Black Mask kidnapped Selina’s sister Maggie, along with Maggie’s husband, and tortured the pair of them. Maggie had left her nun life years earlier and married a man named Simon. After tying up Maggie and Simon, Black Mask cut out Simon’s eyes and made Maggie eat them. This drove Maggie insane and lead to Selina shooting Black Mask in the face, instantly killing him.
Immediately after Selina killed Black Mask, Infinite Crisis hit and every DCU book jumped forward in time one year. When readers next saw Selina, she had a child with an unknown father. Worried that her daughter, who she named Helena, would be a likely target by those who had a vendetta against Catwoman, Selina gave Helena up for adoption shortly thereafter but not before the young baby’s life was threatened.
Selina Kyle can stand alongside other DCU women like Stephanie Brown and Power Girl who had babies that quickly became out of sight and out of mind. It seems to be a reoccurring theme. After Helena was put up for adoption, she was, as far as I can tell, never spoken of again outside of this series.
A few years before this all happened, Selina and Batman had become an item. She had learned Batman’s secret identity and had spent a little bit of time in the Batcave. Even with that, it was later strongly hinted that Slam Bradley’s son Sam had been Helena’s father, not Batman. Even though Selina had slept with another man and killed Black Mask in cold blood, it was clear that Selina still had a large part of Bruce’s heart. As I mentioned before, this is probably due to the fact that no one ever mentioned Selina’s baby.
Hush, a Batman villain and former childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, knew that Bruce loved Selina so he kidnapped her, cut out her heart, and kept her alive with advanced medical machinery. Only after a harrowing adventure was Batman able to track Hush down and retrieve Selina’s heart.
After surgeons reattached Selina’s heart, Zatanna offered her up some magical salve which took away all of the surgical scars associated with heart transplant operations. I assume this was because DC still wanted Selina to look good in a bikini without people asking a lot of questions.
Shortly after Bruce died in Final Crisis, Selina began hanging out with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn on a regular basis. She was attempting to look after these two villains and make sure that they didn’t do anything too awful with their powers. Plus, they were all kind of friends. However, it was an open secret that Batman and Selina were sort of an item, so the first thing Ivy did when getting some quiet time with Selina was to try to pry Batman’s secret identity out of her friend.
Luckily, some mental blocks courtesy of Talia al Ghul kept Batman’s identity a secret.
Shortly before Flashpoint reset the DCU again, Selina made a conscious choice to remain with Ivy and Harley instead of rejoining Bruce after he was resurrected. It seemed that, in the end, Selina’s more base desires won.
In the New 52, Selina once again has her own solo series. This time, she has no idea about Bruce Wayne’s secret identity, but that doesn’t stop her and Batman from enjoying each other’s carnal pleasures. It just makes things more awkward when the two of them come to a major disagreement. At least this time, Selina hasn’t shot anyone in the head and she’s never had a baby.
The genre of the New 52 Catwoman book appears to be less noir mystery and more hyper-reality adventure. Will that change with a new writer coming on board? Will Selina Kyle’s New 52 origin be a bit more coherent than her post-Crisis origin? We’ll find out the answers to both of those questions soon.
Jeff Reid feels bad for all those children of female superheroes who are off living in Limbo. Poor little guys. Jeff expresses even more sympathy for forgotten comic characters on Twitter.