ComicsAlliance Reviews Anne Hathaway’s Favorite ‘Catwoman’ Comic
Yesterday, our friends over at Moviefone posted an interview with Anne Hathway, the actress playing Selina Kyle in next year’s The Dark Knight Rises, where she talked about the comics she read to get a feel for the character. In addition to checking up on Catwoman’s first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1, Hathaway also mentioned what she considers to be the Catwoman comic she likes the most:
“She follows this guy into a museum because she wants to steal this piece, and she touches it and this guy is like, ‘You’ve defiled it with your female hands,'” Hathaway recalls. “[It also includes] her training to become a fighter and she has to battle the guy who was a jerk to her in the beginning, and you get to meet her master who believed in her and who gave her a shot.
Despite the strange, vague description, our own Andy Khouri was able to track down the comic Hathaway was talking about: 1995’s Catwoman Annual #2, in which Catwoman gets an updated origin featuring mystic ninjas. And it’s exactly as strange as Hathaway’s description makes it sound.
The story in question was released as part of DC’s line of Year One Annuals, which featured updated origin stories after the restructuring of the DC Universe in 1994’s Zero Hour. The goal seems to have been to flesh out Catwoman’s origin a little more from her appearance as a prostitute/dominatrix turned thrill-seeking thief in the pages of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.
In that respect, it makes perfect sense that Hathaway would be reading to prepare for the part, even if things get a little bizarre in the end result by writer Jordan B. Gorfinkel, James A. Hodgkins and The Talent himself, ComicsAlliance favorite and long-time Catwoman artist Jim Balent.
At the start of the issue, we get a little background on how Catwoman ended up whipping dudes for money down in the East End. Basically, she botches a robbery, gets shot, falls at least forty stories out of a skyscraper into a river (even though this part of the story takes place in the Gotham City equivalent of Central Park), gets washed up and found by hunters (who I guess are hunting in those lush forests they have on the riverbanks in Gotham?), who just straight up throw her into a brothel. Literally.
At that point, she decides it’s best to remain underground for a while, so she cuts her hair and takes up illicit dominatrixing to make ends meet while she hides out. As far as unflattering origin stories go, that one’s right up there with Firestorm, who went to protest a nuclear power plant and ended up accidentally causing a meltdown.
The field of hourly rate whipwork does have its advantages, however. Specifically the fact that one of her clients ends up dropping the blueprints and security plans to a museum, giving her the perfect opportunity to pull of a heist involving the jeweled amulet of the “Egyptian Bast God,” which I think is a rapper.
Unfortunately for Selina, her thievery is interrupted. By a ninja.
The ninja in question is named Kai, and there’s not really a reason given as to why Selina’s touch “defiles” the amulet, but I guess we can just chalk that one up to general ninja sexism. There’s sort of a big deal made about the fact that he straightens out his leg straight to add additional power to his kicks when they’re fighting, and later, the comic reveals that Catwoman’s carefully watching this because she possesses “incredible hand-eye coordination and physical memory.” So much like Marvel’s Taskmaster, she can replicate any physical action that she gets a good look at, and while one would assume this is something that would come up pretty often, it’s the first I’ve heard of it.
Anyway, the ninja ends up leaving with the “defiled” amulet, so Selina chases him to the DC Universe equivalent of the Cobra Kai dojo from Karate Kid:
Thus, Selina signs up to learn from her new sensei, the Armless Master who showed up in KnightQuest: The Crusade as one of the people who helps Batman get his groove back after his broken back. And suddenly, this story becomes My Fair Lady with ninjas, as the Armless Master teaches Selena both martial arts and how to blend in with high society, cook french cuisine and make tea, all while she develops a rivalry with Kai and gains the nickname “Catwoman” (or as the sensei says, “Nehko-Chan“) from her omnipresent pets.
Just so we’re clear on where we stand: This is now a story of Selina Kyle: Dominatrix By Day, Ninja By Night. How this premise did not result in at least two graphic novels, I will never know.
Interestingly enough, there’s actually a pretty strong thematic connection here to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. In both stories, the protagonist is more or less “rescued” from a frustrating dead end surrounded by criminals and inducted into a quasi-mystical order of ninja. The difference, though, is that while Ra’s al-Ghul/Henri Ducard in Batman Begins is trying to indoctrinate Bruce Wayne as one of his soldiers, the Armless Master seems pretty content to just teach her ninja tricks, sit back and see how that works out for her.
The connection’s underscored even more when the story dovetails into showing a few of the events of Batman: Year One, with the part where Batman fights the SWAT team in the condemned building recreated from Selina’s point of view:
There’s an additional point made in the Catwoman story, though: Selina sees the bullet wound in Batman’s thigh, realizes that for all his supernatural-seeming showmanship, he’s just a man, and if a man can become something more, then so can she. It’s actually a really cool moment.
And then it hops right back on the train to crazytown when she makes her costume out of a super high-tech volcano-proof hazmat suit that she buys from the back of a dude’s van.
That’s just how things happen in Gotham City, folks.
Once she customizes the suit into a more form-fitting cat costume — though how exactly she’s able to tailor a skintight-but-bulletproof armored leotard isn’t exactly addressed — Catwoman acquires a complete mastery of ninjutsu in slightly over one year, to the point where the Armless Master names her his second-in-command. As you might imagine, Kai disapproves.
Catwoman then decides to put her skills to good use by infiltrating a high society party with the goal of stealing — wait for it — The Catacomb Diamonds. Get it? Cat-acomb? Yeah. But then, in a surprising twist, she’s interrupted once again by Kai, except that this time, he’s dressed as a dog carrying a truly improbable number of knives.
See, Kai has decided pretty unilaterally that he’s going to be Catwoman’s arch-nemesis, and thus he’s gotten himself a costume and a new name: Hellhound. Because dogs hate cats, a piece of knowledge he apparently acquired through the ancient ninja art of watching a bunch of Looney Tunes.
He also reveals what all that stuff about “defiling” was about, except that I’ve read it four times now and still don’t quite get what’s going on. As near as I can figure, Kai isn’t just a ninja, he’s also super into Egyptian mythology, and thought that “Bast God’s” magic amulet was his key to power, except that Catwoman threw him off by getting her womany energy all over it. But now, the cycle has reset itself which he will gain by… making her stab him in the chest with one of his eighty-three knives?
Catwoman stops him and gives him a scratch on the face for his trouble, but I have no idea why he’s even bothering to fight her. If her touch fouls up the ritual, then why does she have to be involved? Does he really think that he should tell her all about how stabbing him is going to turn him into a super-powerful demon monster who will most definitely kill her right after? And considering that she just up and leaves without taking the amulet or any of his knives, why doesn’t he just get somebody else to do it? Or do it himself, which is what I thought he was doing the first three times I read this.
And did I mention that this entire sequence takes place in the middle of a party thrown for the Gotham City Police Department? Those dudes might be corrupt, but when two people in fursuits start rolling around on the dance floor yelling at each other about demons and stabbing, somebody ought to do something.
But instead, Catwoman makes her escape, Hellhound goes on to become a z-list villain, and the Armless Master gives Selina the metaphorical thumbs-up to keep on ninjing around Gotham City in the form of a tiny jade cat statue.
Personally, I hope that Hathaway’s reading of this story has given her some insight into the character, but even more than that, I hope it’s actually relevant to the way she’s going to have to play the role in The Dark Knight Rises. I mean, let’s be honest here: Who doesn’t want to see Christopher Nolan tackle a story of Japanese-Egyptian Human Sacrifice Demonology? I know I do.