When a character has existed for as long as Catwoman has, you would think that writers would have a grasp and a basic understanding of who she is, what she would sound like and what would make her tick; but that can't be further from the truth. You see, Catwoman is complicated. Very complicated. Not only has she had various origin stories, but sometimes not even she knows what she wants. Does she want Batman, or doesn't she? Does she want to steal, or doesn't she? Yet, that's part of her charm, isn't it? Her unpredictability is part of the character's appeal. And while Catwoman has evolved since she first appeared in the 1940's, she has undergone such dramatic changes to her origin and her identity, that it's difficult to determine who she is exactly. So what qualities make up the character of this complicated vixen? And is she, post 'New 52,' anything like she was before?
Catwoman was first introduced in BATMAN #1, printed in April of 1940. Her first appearance was a memorable one, and happened to coincide with Bruce Wayne's origin as Batman. Yet, that Catwoman is very different from the Catwoman we were introduced to twenty-five years ago in Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE; and both those interpretations of Catwoman are entirely different from the most recent telling of her origin in CATWOMAN #0 by Ann Nocenti.== TEASER ==
One of the most recognizable interpretations of the character appeared in Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE. In this series Selina appeared as a girl who grew up on the streets and who, to an extent, became a product of her environment. She gets mixed up with the wrong people, falls into prostitution but she eventually redeems herself. There is a great moment in YEAR ONE where Selina stands up not only for herself, but also for Holly. This "Robin Hood" type of mentality is something that remains constant throughout much of Catwoman's character history. Who will stand up for the helpless? The ones that fall in the grey area that not even Batman will stand to protect? The first hint of this came in YEAR ONE when Selina comes to Holly's defense. This is a quality of her character that resurfaced later in DC's YEAR ONE ANNUAL (1993).
Following Miller's YEAR ONE, DC did away with Selina's "life of prostitution" storyline and opted for a "cleaner" approach to the character. The publisher signed on Doug Moench to do away with the prostitution stuff and focus instead on a life of crime as a thief on the streets of Gotham. During her years as a teen, Catwoman was "brash and reckless" (something we saw a lot of, more recently, in Winnick's first twelve issues of CATWOMAN), stealing from the rich to keep for herself. She would later embark on a life of fighting crime; defending those less fortunate than herself. Remnants of what we saw in Miller's YEAR ONE resurfaced here in this series. But it was a creative team that came years later that would really dig their claws (pun intended) into Catwoman's psyche. The following creative team would later reinstate the prostitution angle to her character, but that would once again be undone when Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke signed on to deliver Catwoman's ongoing series.
It was Brubaker that probably best identified and explained Selina's character. He wrote her as this intricate character who was both reckless, but still very much sure of herself and in control. She dedicated her life to helping people who fell into the "grey;" those unworthy to be defended by Batman. The prostitutes and the junkies. It was in this series that Catwoman dealt with a lot of serious issues -- some of them seemingly stripped straight from the headlines. In the second arc of her series, for example, Selina works to take out a gang that is using underprivileged children to smuggle drugs into Gotham City. Kids who fall under the radar, she finds, are her responsibility to take care of.
It was in this series that Catwoman's moral code was really defined. She wasn't good, but she wasn't bad, either, and she had evolved from the reckless girl who would steal for kicks to a woman who understood that there are people who needed protection; people that the Gotham PD weren't really concerned with.
Following Brubaker's run on the character, Jeph Loeb took the helm in his mini-series. It was here that ties between Selina and the Falcone family were established, but not something that was really explored afterwards. Loeb and Tim Sale's CATWOMAN: WHEN IN ROME told of Selina's trip to Italy. There, she attempted to uncover her identity and her heritage. Yet, it seems any ties to the Falcone family have been completely done away with. In Ann Nocenti's retelling of Catwoman's story, Selina is not Italian, but Russian, and her origin as a protector of the less fortunate (who may or may not have dabbled in prostitution) has been completely rewritten. Now, she is an orphan girl who loves shiny things, was pushed off the roof of a building, and was licked back to life by a clan of stray cats. While before it seems we had this character that was grounded in reality, now we have a woman who might have magical cat powers? We don't really know yet. What we do know, however, is that this Selina is a lot less deep than the previous character. She is not only considerably less evolved, but she is also so much more shallow. Her motivations are seek out and find shiny things, whereas before it was 'help the helpless.' It's hard not to look back and feel like Selina has lost a lot of what made her character interesting.
I think it's interesting that the character of Selina Kyle evolved considerably into a detective in her own right. It wasn't just Batman playing Robin Hood, it was Selina too. Only difference is, her moral code was a lot more lax than his. When Batman saw only black and white, Selina recognized that there was some gray area in the world; maybe that's why she is so important to his character. In a sense, she created a balance because she offered this alternative view of the world. The problem is, she simply doesn't feel the same. So, although we know who she used to be, we don't quite now who she is now. As for where she is going? The possibilities and infinite, but let's not forget that there already exists a lot of great comic book material to build from. And I'm not even counting Tim Burton's origin of Catwoman in Batman Returns.
What do you think of Catwoman then and now? Which interpretation of her character do you prefer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.