“Spanning the Universes” spotlights a different comic book character every week and suggests stories featuring those characters for you to seek out and gleefully devour. Want to see your favorite character featured in this column? Make suggestions in the comments and let us know who you’re passionate about!
WHO They Are:
Catwoman, one of the most iconic comic book heroines, is best known for her leather-clad curves and dynamic love-hate relationship with Batman. She is typically figured as the sultry villainess, one part femme fatale, one part vigilante, and two parts powerful and intimidating. In the DC Universe, she operates as both counterpoint and ally to Batman: her inception and original name, The Cat, operates as a signal to her similarity, yet differences to Batman (similar sounds, yet distinctively set apart). In her original conception, she was figured more as a straightforward villain: a cat burglar with expensive tastes, and was created to work in juxtaposition to Batman himself.
The 1950s saw Catwoman take a leave of absence from the comics, as according to the Comics Code, her skin-tight costume and consequenceless criminal actions were a little too risqué at the time. The 70s brought about the return of the Cat, prominently in the Earth Two arc. Earth Two presented Selina Kyle as coming from an abusive marriage, where she steals her jewelry back from her ex-husband (and apparently develops a taste for cat burglary). Oh, and let’s not forget that Earth Two Catwoman and Earth Two Batman gave birth to the Huntress, a one Helena Wayne.
The Earth Two and original conception of Catwoman have her presented as more affluent and indulging in criminal activities for the thrill of it — and for the dazzling rewards, of course. It wasn’t until Frank Miller’s retelling of her origins in Year One that a more nuanced Selina Kyle was presented. Miller shows her life as a fed-up prostitute with the desire to protect her sister and friends as the reason for her creation of Catwoman. This origin instills in Selina Kyle the sense of loyalty, justice and compassion that defines her heroics, as well as the danger, the burglary, and the lack of respect for authority figures that defines her villain aspects. The New 52 version of Catwoman picks up on Miller’s origins, showing a Selina Kyle who has been damaged from growing up as an orphan and dealing with her own trauma and identity crisis.
WHY Should I Care:
Catwoman is a character that refuses to be pinned down into one set category. Whereas Batman refuses to kill and operates out of a strict right versus wrong mentality, Selina Kyle’s motivations work in accordance with her own standards of loyalty and a sense of justice that isn’t bound by typical laws. Despite sometimes being the love interest/side-kick, she is never relegated to being just that. Catwoman is never a plot device, but rather a dynamic character who actively challenges those around her. She is constantly blurring the borders of being a hero and a villain, at times occupying both contradictory spaces simultaneously. She becomes a villain when she acts mainly as a thief, breaking the rules and working to serve her own ends. But she is also a hero because her own standards of loyalty create a M.O. that will not violate or hurt those less fortunate than her.
Admittedly, Frank Miller’s revamping of her origins create a deeper complexity and subtly to her motivation. By giving her the orphan-turned-prostitute origins, there is a side to Selina Kyle that most villains lack: her origin speaks more to the resolution of her character and what she believes in verses being forced into vigilantism out of guilt or an accident. Catwoman is created in much the same vein that Batman is. Both have a sense of injustice and a desire to fight back against the perpetrators of an unfair climate in Gotham. She does what she does out of her own sense of fairness and judgement, and not to gain power selfishly over Gotham.
WHAT Should I Read:
Looking for the best of this feline femme fatale? These aren’t all dedicated Catwoman trades, as a lot of what makes Selina so great comes out when she interacts with others in the DC universe, especially Batman. Check out the following issues (for both her incredibly gripping narrative and stunning visual representations):
1) Batman: Year One. Writer: Frank Miller. Artist: David Mazzucchelli
This is a must read for Frank Miller’s stellar revamping of her origins. Miller presents a nuanced version of Selina that lends her a lot of depth and intrigue, and fully fleshes her out as a compelling character.
2) Hush. Writer: Jeph Loeb Artist: Jim Lee
This arc is one of the best examples of the co-dependent, inevitable and yet doomed relationship between Selina and Bruce. It goes beyond the usual romp on the rooftop that has defined the Catwoman/Batman dynamic, and really cuts deep into the issues of what binds and drives the two together and apart.
3) The Game and Welcome to the Dollhouse, New 52 Issues #1-12. Writer: Judd Winick. Artist: Guilliem March/Adriana Melo.
The New 52 take on Catwoman presents a solid version of Selina that is powerful, compassionate and shows how she grows into the post-modern character that refuses to be strictly defined and labelled as either a hero or a villain.
4) Long Halloween. Writer: Jeph Loeb. Artist: Tim Sale.
This run presents an iconic Catwoman and shows how much of a threat she can be when she is working against Batman. While Winick’s New 52 take on the Cat presents a very nuanced version of her motivations, Long Halloween shows Selina getting down and dirty bad-guy style. And let’s not forget: that purple outfit. Rawr.
5) Gotham City Sirens: Union. Writer: Paul Dini, Scott Lobdell Artist: Guilliem Marche.
Starting after the Heart of Hush story, Gotham City Sirens presents a more light-hearted and fun side to Catwoman as she teams up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in a very girl-power-meets-butt-kicking good time.