As many Batman fans can attest to, the “Year One” series about the Dark Knight was quite possibly the best storyline in the hero’s history. It contained not one but two fantastic books: Batman Year One by Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli, and Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (both of which greatly inspired the Christopher Nolan trilogy). Year One also produced some decent off-shoots, including Batman: Dark Victory, a sequel to The Long Halloween. The basic idea of the series was to rewind and revisit the roots of Bruce Wayne, following his painstaking journey from troubled adolescent to brooding vigilante. What it did particularly well was flesh out the character of Bruce Wayne. What it didn’t do so well though was reintroduce us to Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.
In Batman Year One, a book which has all the trademarks of Frank Miller’s urban grittiness, Selina Kyle first appears as a prostitute or dominatrix in the slummiest part of Gotham. As you can guess, this runs contrary to how most comic writers have written of Catwoman over the years, although the idea of her being a dominatrix explains her leather fetish and use of whip. Also in Miller’s book, Selina looks a bit mannish and has a shaved head and wears wigs.
Fast forward a short amount of time to The Long Halloween and Selina Kyle is now a full-fledged, costumed femme-fatale who runs into Batman while trying to rob from a mansion owned by the city’s toughest gangster family. Here, she is much more the vivacious shady superheroine the world knows her as.
I recently found a comic from back in 1995 that answers these questions–sort of. The issue is Catwoman Annual 2, and is worth buying if you’re a fan of the cat. In the issue, it tries to salvage the character in a way by whitewashing her backstory a bit. Selina Kyle, before becoming Catwoman, tried pulling a large heist only to be nearly killed in the ensuing conflagration. In order to lay low, her friend Holly cuts her hair off and Selina becomes a “lady of the night.” It suggests in the comic that this was a brief, sordid time in Selina’s life.
In the same issue (it’s extra-sized), Selina more or less stumbles her way into an underground martial arts dojo where she meets a stereotypical wise-yet-inscrutable mentor, who teaches her all of her moves while also dispensing pseudo-philosophical advice. Later on, she witnesses Batman in action largely through coincidence, and realizes the power a costume gives, and in short time applies that idea to help her with future heists.
Lastly, in Catwoman Year One, she confronts her first villain, in the form of an incredibly lame student of her martial arts master, who is jealous of the man’s attention to her. In a very stupid twist, the student decides to try and kill her while dressing up as a dog. As contrived as the fight was, it at least served to explain where Selina gained the confidence she showed so brazenly in Batman: The Long Halloween.
In a way, it seems silly to obsess so much over Catwoman’s origins, but if you think about it, she’s one of the most important characters in the Batman mythos. Her first appearance was in Batman #1, after all. Unfortunately, like every big character from the Joker to Batman himself, her origin story has become muddled. Catwoman Annual 2 answers some of the questions, but does so in such a PG way that I can’t help but wonder if it undid much of the dark and complex work by Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb. Still, this step might very well have been necessary to give us a character who’s part urban realism, part camp–like every Batman character.
Read my analysis of Catwoman’s role in the Dark Knight Rises
To read more by me, check out The Madness of Art: Short Stories.
What’s your take on the origin of Catwoman?