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Purrfect History: Twelve Moments that Defined Catwoman

Purrfect History: Twelve Moments that Defined Catwoman

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Friday, April 17th, 2020

It’s been eighty years since Catwoman first prowled onto the scene, and she’s still going strong. The Feline Fatale has had a busy nine lives, operating as a cat burglar, scheming as a villain, saving lives as a hero, and wrapping the Dark Knight around her finger. In celebration of Selina Kyle’s eighty-year legacy, we’re taking a look at twelve moments that defined Catwoman.

Her First Heist

Readers first met Catwoman in 1940’s Batman #1. Before the leather suit, before the whip, before the cowl, Catwoman was a simple burglar known only as “The Cat” who disguised herself as an old woman so she could infiltrate a yacht. When Batman unmasked the Cat, her beauty stopped him cold, which pretty much set the stage for how the rest of their relationship would go. The Cat was cold, crafty and fearless, and the Caped Crusader had never met a criminal, or woman, quite like her. The story ends with Batman “accidentally” letting the Cat escape, a move that had the Boy Wonder questioning his mentor’s sanity. Although this story lacks Catwoman’s traditional name, costume or tools, it established many defining aspects of her characterization that still stand to this day, such as her resourcefulness, her attitude and the way she could wrap Batman around her finger.

The First BatCat Engagement

Remember summer 2018 when comic fandom was buzzing about the Batman and Catwoman engagement? Some of you might be surprised to learn that Batman and Catwoman tried getting engaged once before—way back in 1943!

Batman #15 was the first time Batman and Catwoman met outside of their “nightlife” and sparks flew. At the time, the name Selina Kyle hadn’t been created yet and Catwoman was going by the alias Elva Barr. Of course, Bruce instantly recognized Elva as the Catwoman, but decided to play it cool. One romantic montage later and they were engaged, much to the astonishment of Dick Grayson. Batman thought he could use wedding plans to rehabilitate Catwoman, but the whole situation blew up in his face. (It was like a romcom, but with capes!) The story might not have a happy ending for BatCat shippers, but it still remains a pivotal chapter in their romantic history.  

Catwoman Gets Her Whip

Batman is known for his batarangs, Green Arrow is famous for his arrows, Wonder Woman has her lasso and Catwoman is famous for her whip. In Batman #39, Catwoman, who was going through a temporary blonde phase, steals a bunch of cats to help her with an even larger heist and tries to kiss Batman under the mistletoe. (Gotta love the Golden Age!) However, by far the most important thing in this comic is Catwoman’s cat-o-nine tails making its debut.

During a battle, the Feline Fatale surprises the Dark Knight by unleashing her whip, making Batman flinch noticeably backwards. For good measure, Catwoman also uses the whip on her own men, because how else will you prove you’re the Alpha Female in the 1940’s?  Nowadays, Catwoman is rarely pictured without her whip, and we suspect a few Gotham security guards flinch when they see it. It’s become such an iconic part of her MO that it’s hard to imagine a time she didn’t have it.

The Name Selina Kyle and Catwoman’s First Redemption

Batman #62 might be one of the most important Catwoman stories ever written, with almost every comic written afterwards indirectly referencing it. (Sadly, it’s not yet available digitally—but hopefully it will be someday!)

It might be hard to believe, but Catwoman had been around for ten years before fans ever learned her true name. This issue, which came out in 1950, was the very first time that Catwoman was revealed to be Selina Kyle. That means you have this story to thank every time someone says that name in a video game, television series or movie. In the comic, Catwoman awoke after getting hit on the head claiming she was a flight attendant named Selina Kyle who had been suffering from amnesia for years. Of course, this still being the Golden Age, the World’s Greatest Detective did nothing to fact-check that claim and reasoned that amnesia had made Selina become a criminal…which leads us to reason that Batman doesn’t know how amnesia works. Years later it was revealed that Catwoman had made up the amnesia story to get out of jail (you don’t say!), but this story remains essential. In addition to finally revealing Catwoman’s real name, this was the first time the Feline Fatale attempted to reform. While Catwoman’s first stint as a hero didn’t last long, it’s important to remember that a leopard doesn’t change their spots overnight.

Silver Age Comeback

In 1966, Catwoman returned from a twelve-year absence and what a comeback it was!

The Adam West Batman television show regularly featured the character, making Catwoman a household name, so it was only natural for her to return to comics. Selina has never been a predictable kitty, so rather than make her return in the pages of a Batman title, she chose Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #70 as the venue for her comeback. Catwoman immediately proved that her time away hadn’t tamed her, as she used a magic wand to transform Superman into a cat and placed him in a Kryptonite pet carrier. If she didn’t have readers’ attention before, she surely earned it then!

Her First Backup Feature

For 41 years, Catwoman had been defined by the hero she was fighting, but all that changed in Batman #332, when she starred in the first in a series of solo backup stories. Now Selina was the protagonist, and she really let her claws out—just ask poor Jack Klannon, he has the neck marks to prove it!

This first backup tale features Catwoman as she investigates and dismantles Talia al Ghul’s criminal enterprise. Later backup stories featured Catwoman acting as a bodyguard, private investigator and more. It was 1981, and Catwoman was ready to be more than a criminal. With her own backup feature, writers and readers were able to explore new sides to her personality.

Her First Solo Limited Series

After the DC Universe’s timeline was shifted with the reality-altering Crisis on Infinite Earths, Frank Miller reinvented Catwoman in 1987’s Batman: Year One. The comic gave Selina a new backstory as a former street girl who took command of her life by becoming Catwoman. Although Year One was critically acclaimed, fans wanted to see more of Selina’s story, and in 1988 they got their wish.

After years starring in backup features and as a villain in other characters’ comics, Selina was finally given her own title with a four-issue Catwoman limited series. Mindy Newell, an underrated DC legend, gave the comic a much needed female voice as she picked up the story threads from Year One and expanded Catwoman’s background. Newell introduced Selina’s sister Maggie, who took a different path from her sibling by becoming a nun. As the miniseries made clear, Catwoman was more than a Batman supporting character, and she could support her own title. Which leads us to our next entry…

Catwoman Gets Her Own Ongoing Series

In 1993, Catwoman was riding high after Michelle Pfeiffer wowed audiences as Selina Kyle in the previous year’s Batman Returns. Fans couldn’t get enough of the Feline Fatale, so DC finally gave Catwoman her own ongoing series in 1993. Spinning out of the events of the popular Knightfall crossover, the first storyline involved Selina dealing with Bane and his henchmen.

Many installments of the 94-issue series were illustrated by Jim Balent, whose iconic renderings of Catwoman became the gold standard for the 1990’s. Although Catwoman participated in many of the Gotham crossover events of the time, she mostly kept to herself, with Batman seldomly appearing in her title. Catwoman (who got her ongoing series before Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl) spent her series robbing Gotham blind, dodging bounty hunters and proving she was the true star of the show.

Darwyn Cooke and Ed Brubaker Reinvent Selina

In 2002, Catwoman was taken in a new direction when DC legends Darwyn Cooke and Ed Brubaker teamed up to revamp her status quo. First, Cooke wrote and drew a one-shot called Selina’s Big Score, which reads like a comic book version of Ocean’s Eleven. In this underrated story, Selina, outside of her costumed identity, planned a big heist and put together her own crew for the caper. No colorful supervillains and no Batman in sight, Selina’s Big Score was just a thrilling story of intrigue, thievery and betrayal.

The one-shot was followed by a new Catwoman ongoing series by Brubaker and Cooke, where Selina donned a new costume, relocated to Gotham’s East End and became the neighborhood’s resident Robin Hood. Brubaker’s Catwoman was a nuanced character who loved the thrill of stealing but genuinely cared about improving the lives of the people in her neighborhood. The series was critically acclaimed, with fans loving the new direction Selina had been taken in and Cooke’s new costume design enduring for over fifteen years.

Selina Becomes a Mother

Selina Kyle has held the title of burglar, hero and—starting with Catwoman #53mother!

In 2006, DC undertook a line-wide event called “One Year Later” where the chronology of every comic jumped ahead one year. In Catwoman #53, fans were given a shock in the opening pages as Selina Kyle gave birth to a baby girl named Helena. There were so many questions going through readers’ heads—who was the baby’s father and what would motherhood mean for Selina’s life as Catwoman? The name Helena was an homage to the daughter Batman and Catwoman had in Earth-Two continuity, leading some to wonder if the Dark Knight was responsible for the stork’s visit, but the culprit turned out to be Slam Bradley’s son, Sam.

For a time, Selina attempted to juggle life as a mother and life as a hero, but it wasn’t easy. When baby Helena became the target of Catwoman’s enemies, Selina made the heartbreaking decision to give her daughter up for adoption. Becoming a mother changed everything for Selina, putting her daughter’s safety above her own happiness was one of the hardest things she ever had to do.   

Catwoman, the Crimeboss

In 2014, Selina went through another reinvention when the former cat burglar claimed her birthright as head of the Calabrese crime family. For much of the storyline, which began in 2014’s Catwoman #35, Selina didn’t wear the Catwoman costume. Instead, she dealt with the difficulties of managing a mafia family, forming alliances, coordinating attacks and dodging betrayals. Selina Kyle has always operated in gray areas, and her new status as a crime boss forced her to test her morality limits as she never had before. How far would Catwoman go to maintain harmony in the criminal underworld? The answers surprised the fans and Selina herself.

The Second BatCat Engagement

Catwoman has made her mark as a villain and a hero in her own right, but her relationship with Batman remains one of the most enduring soap operas in the DC Universe. Bruce and Selina were playing the “will they or won’t they” game decades before Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, Mulder and Scully, Jim and Pam and thousands of other classic ships.

In 2018, it looked like their ship was finally coming to port as Batman and Catwoman prepared for their nuptials in the pages of Tom King’s Batman #50. The story is a love letter to their romantic history, filled with beautiful splash pages from artists like Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, Tim Sale, Frank Miller and so many more. Unfortunately, Catwoman was manipulated into leaving Batman at the altar, but the story isn’t over yet. Tom King’s BatCat saga will continue later this year in the limited series Batman/Catwoman, while Selina’s solo adventures continue to be chronicled in the pages of Catwoman.

Whether she’s a bride or a burglar, a hero, villain or something in between, it’s clear that even eight decades in, Selina Kyle’s career as Catwoman is far from over!

Happy anniversary, Catwoman! You can celebrate the Feline Fatale by stealing a moment to read the 100-page Catwoman 80th Anniversary Super Spectacular, which is now available in comic shops and as a digital download.

For more anniversary retrospectives, check out Josh's article about the twelve moments that defined Dick Grayson.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for and, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.