The Evolution of Catwoman: Best Catwoman Stories by Decade
Many of comics’ most popular heroes have been around for decades, and in the case of the big names from the publisher now known as DC Comics, some have been around for a sizable chunk of a century. As these characters passed through the different historical eras known in comics as the Golden Age (the late 1930s through the early 1950s), the Silver Age (the mid 1950s through the late 1960s), the Bronze Age (the early 1970s through the mid 1980s) and on into modern times, they have experienced considerable changes in tone and portrayal that reflect the zeitgeist of the time.
With this feature we’ll help you navigate the very best stories of DC Comics’ most beloved characters decade by decade. This week, we’re taking a look at the best Catwoman comics.
Catwoman first appeared in the first issue of Batman's solo title, as did some other guy called the Joker. She would then go on to appear in the second and third issues as well, something even the Joker didn't do. Selina was intended to be an opposite number to Batman — Kane and Finger believed cats to be “the antithesis of bats” — as well as a foe who was more of a friendly rival who could add a spark of romance to Batman's otherwise grim life. She was inspired by 1930s film star Jean Harlow, who had apparently made quite an impression on a young Bob Kane.
This story is Catwoman's first appearance, before she dons a costume (she first wears a mask — a terrifyingly realistic cat mask — in “The Batman vs the Catwoman”) and even before she is called Catwoman (that's in her second appearance), but otherwise, many of her classic elements are there: a burglar and jewel thief who flirts with Batman (this story is the source of that well-known “Quiet or Papa spank!” panel), who may or may not have intentionally let her escape.
Catwoman's earliest escapades can be found collected in the Batman Chronicles series of paperbacks.
Best of the rest: “The Joker Meets the Cat-Woman” (Batman vol 1 #2), “Fashions in Crime” (Batman vol 1 #47), “The Batman vs the Catwoman!” (Batman vol 1 #3), “Your Face Is Your Fortune!” (Batman vol 1 #15), “Claws of the Catwoman!” (Batman vol 1 #42)
Catwoman would go on to be a popular recurring character throughout the '40s and into the '50s. Her character developed with the introduction of an origin story — she committed crimes due to a head injury she had sustained as a flight attendant — and her relationship with Batman caused her to reform for a time and actually help Batman fight crime. After a few years, she returns to crime, but then vanishes for years due to comics' greatest threat: the Comics Code Authority, who had very strict ideas about how women should be portrayed and whether or not it was okay for the hero to flirtatiously let the villain go.
The selection here represents Catwoman's last appearance of the Golden Age in 1954. This is a story of the classic jewel thief Catwoman, who with the help of some big cats under her command, traps Batman and Robin on a secluded island and strips them down to loin cloths. And then she would disappear for twelve years until...
Best of the rest: “The Crimes of the Catwoman” (Detective Comics vol 1 #203), “The Secret Life of the Catwoman” (Batman vol 1 #62), “The King of the Cats” (Batman vol 1 #69), “Catwoman—Empress of the Underworld!” (Batman vol 1 #65), “The Sleeping Beauties of Gotham City” (Batman vol 1 #84)
Most of what we consider the classic Batman rogues' gallery disappears from the pages of the comics for the majority of the '50s, largely due to the Comics Code. Batman would instead fight sci-fi monsters and generic gangsters for much of the decade. But in 1964, editor Julie Schwartz would give the Batman line a kick in the pants with the so-called “New Look” era, which reintroduced many of the classic villains, just in time for them to make their TV debut in the 1966 Batman series.
Catwoman, however, did not make her triumphant return in the pages of Batman despite her alluring portrayal by Julie Newmar on TV. Instead, she came back to comics in the pages of Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, in a story in which she hypnotizes Lois into believing that she herself is Catwoman, and then turns Superman into a cat.
Best of the rest: “Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman” (Batman vol 1 #197), “The Case of the Purr-loined Pearl” (Batman vol 1 #210)
After being reintroduced to the pages of Batman in the late '60s, Catwoman would make sporadic appearances, changing costumes with some regularity, but more often appearing in reprints of Golden Age stories than in new material. The Golden Age version of Catwoman — who, in DC's cosmology of the time, lived on Earth-2 — would feature in recurring stories through the '70s and early '80s about the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman that picked up with her reforming from a life of crime and saw her finally marrying Batman.
This story recounts much of what happened after that. While this story is nominally the origin of the original Huntress (daughter of the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman), much of the focus is on Catwoman, who, years after having retired from both crime and crime-fighting, is blackmailed into donning her catsuit once again, with tragic results.
The Brave and the Bold vol 1 #197, by Alan Brennert and Joe Staton
In the mid-1980s, Catwoman, just like every other DC hero and villain, saw her whole continuity revised by the changes brought on by Crisis on Infinite Earths. Catwoman, specifically, was no longer an amnesiac flight attendant but was now, thanks to Frank Miller's milestone work “Batman: Year One,” a professional dominatrix who became something of a Robin Hood of the Gotham slums, particularly to protect a young runaway in her protection named Holly, who had turned to prostitution.
But despite the sweeping changes of “Year One,” the selection here is one last (literally) story of Earth-2 Catwoman, widely considered to be the best Catwoman story of all time. This tale recounts how Batman comes to fall in love with Selina after a dose of fear gas from the Scarecrow cuts him off from everyone he had previously considered an ally.
Best of the rest: Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper #1-4, “The Last Laugh!” (Detective Comics vol 1 #569-570), “Shadow of the Cat!” (Batman vol 1 #323-324), “A Night on the Town” (Batman vol 1 #392), “Never Scratch a Cat” (Batman vol 1 #355), “Terror Train” (Batman vol 1 #345-346), “The Kill Kent Contract” (Superman Family #211), “Batman: Year One” (Batman #404-407)
Over fifty years after her first appearance, Catwoman finally starred in her first solo ongoing series in 1993, by various writers including Jo Duffy, Chuck Dixon, and Devin Grayson, but primarily drawn by artist Jim Balent. Her ongoing series was full of action-packed international adventures and capers as Selina worked as a morally gray thief and sometimes bounty hunter and government agent.
The selection here is full of action in the familiar Chuck Dixon style, and sees Selina forced to work as a spy after being kidnapped by a government organization who blackmails her into committing a seemingly possible robbery. Selina must use her wits to navigate the political intrigue and danger around her while also working to turn the tables on her captors.
Best of the rest: “Catwoman Year One” (Catwoman vol 1 Annual #2), “Sisters in Arms” (Batman vol 1 #460-461), Catwoman: Defiant, “I'll Take Manhattan” (Catwoman vol 1 #66-71), “Ace of Killers” (Hitman #15-20), “Larceny Loves Company” (Catwoman vol 1 28-30)
Catwoman was majorly revamped in the early 2000s following the end of her previous ongoing series and apparent death at the hands of Deathstroke the Terminator. The second volume of her ongoing saw her given a stylish new costumed designed by Darwyn Cooke and starring in noir-tinged adventures by writer Ed Brubaker. With protege Holly and private detective Slam Bradley as supporting characters, Selina appoints herself the protector of Gotham City's East End while still carrying on as a cat burglar.
“Relentless” is perhaps the height of this era of the book, in a tense story that sees Selina falling into the bad graces of Gotham's underworld, as the Black Mask takes revenge on Catwoman's Robin Hood-style activities against him by striking out at those closest to her, including her sister and Holly.
Best of the rest: “Only Takes a Night” (Catwoman vol 2 #32), “Crooked Little Town” (Catwoman vol 2 #5-10), Catwoman: When in Rome #1-6, “Wild Ride” (Catwoman vol 2 #20-24), Selina's Big Score, “The Dark End of the Street” (Detective Comics vol 1 #759-762, Catwoman vol 2 #1-4), “It's Only a Movie” (Catwoman vol 2 #59-64), “The Bat and the Cat” (Batman Confidential #17-21)
And that's it for the decades we've experienced so far! The 2010s are halfway over; we'll have to see who comes out on top in five years! Will Keeper of the Castle come out on top? We'll see!