Catwoman is unquestionably one of DC Comics
' most beloved villains
. She has a long and varied history, and is usually
treated carefully by DC's writers.
Catwoman, AKA Selina Kyle, first appeared in 1940, in Batman #1, as a jewel thief. Her creation is credited by Bob Kane (Co-creator of Batman) as being a collaboration between Bill Finger and himself. They decided that they needed a female villain to give the strip some sex appeal, and to put a romantic interest into Batman's otherwise-sterile life. From the start, she was designed as Batman's perfect counterpart, and intended to appeal to female readers as much as male. They wanted to make her likable, so they made certain that she would never be a murderer, or even particularly evil, as a contrast to Batman's other villains like The Joker.
Her origin wasn't revealed until many years later, in Batman #62, The Secret Life of Catwoman. After yet another of her burglaries, she was being pursued by Batman. As they ran past a building in the process of being demolished, she noticed a wall that was about to collapse onto Batman, who was unaware of his peril. She pounced on Batman and knocked him out of harm's way, but took a brick to the back of the head herself, which knocked her out. Batman took her to the Batcave, and when she awoke, disoriented and confused, she didn't respond to the name "Catwoman." Batman slowly extracted from her that she was a stewardess for Speed Airways when the plane she was on went down, and the last thing she remembered was being hit on the head as she tried to escape the crashed plane. She was horrified when Batman told her of her exploits as the Catwoman, and declared that she wanted nothing to do with a life of crime. Batman talked her into assisting him in capturing Catwoman's partner at the time, Mister X. Batman and Commissioner Gordon took the amnesia story at face value, and considered it a mitigating circumstance, allowing her to avoid going to jail for her crimes. She opened up a pet shop, and apparently went straight for several years, until Detective Comics #203, Crimes of the Catwoman. Furious with a newspaper article relating to Batman's capture of Catwoman (implying that she was a simple-minded woman), and the way some local hoods sneered at Catwoman's reputation, she again donned the tights and returned to a life of crime. Her first act was to sneak up onto the roof of Gotham Police HQ, and alter the BatSignal to show a giant cat on the clouds, announcing quite publicly that Catwoman was back in business.
That origin is extremely vague, and it is implied somewhat that the amnesia may have been a sham. However, it is the only origin ever given for the Catwoman, prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, there is another origin that some Bat-fans consider canon. In The Brave and the Bold #197, The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne, another origin for Catwoman is explained at length.
In this tale, Selina admits that the amnesia was a lie, and tells Batman her true origin while dressing a wound he suffered during their battle with The Scarecrow. She had been married once, when she was very young, to a rich and handsome young man, who turned out to be extremely abusive. When she divorced him, he took away all of the jewelery he had given her, and declared that he would see that she lived in abject poverty for the rest of her life. Seeking revenge, she broke into his safe, and stole back all of her jewelery. Enraptured by the independence and strength she got from the act, she took up the role of Catwoman. After several years, she began to regret her actions, turned herself in to the police, and went to jail. She is released from prison temporarily to help Batman capture the Scarecrow (which is where this story started). After the battle and mutual confessions, the two of them got married, and retired.
Because of the common starting point of the amnesia tale, many fans took this story to be official for the "real" Catwoman, as well. Unfortunately, this origin is related by the Earth 2 Bruce Wayne, not the Earth 1 (mainstream) Bruce Wayne, and cannot be considered official for the "real" Catwoman because of significant divergence from the "real" universe's timeline. The Earth 2 Catwoman soon gave birth to Helena Wayne, who would become The Huntress some years later when Selina was killed by some thugs.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths (A DC retcon stunt intended to get rid of all of the alternate worlds and simplify the continuity, which ended up resulting in even more complications and contradictions), Catwoman was given a very different origin, starting in Batman #404. Selina Kyle, at this point, was a prostitute working for a lowlife thug named Stan. She wore a black leather dominatrix suit for her clients, and the writer, Frank Miller, dropped some hints at her being a lesbian. After a particularly severe beating by Stan, Selina was sent to a hospital, where she met a police inspector named Flannery. Understanding the predicament she was in, Flannery sent Selina to Ted Grant, a retired superhero called Wildcat. Ted taught her some martial arts, so that she could defend herself, and she proved to be a particularly apt pupil. Some time later, she witnessed a disguised Bruce Wayne (who was not yet Batman, in this new continuity) beating up on Stan. Wayne was stabbed by another prostitute named Holly, a friend of Selina's, and Selina joined the attack on Wayne. She wasn't able to defeat him, but managed to run him off. Wayne, sorely injured, decided that he needed a costume to "strike fear in the hearts of evildoers," and became Batman. The next time Stan tried to beat Selina, she knocked him out cold, and retired from prostitution, taking Holly with her. She decided to take up a life of burglary, and made up a costume "like that bat guy who's been on TV lately," but reminiscient of the cats she loves so much.
Not satisfied with the way things turned out after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC pulled another retcon stunt several years later, called Zero Hour. This one was more successful in simplifying continuity issues, and had some effects on Catwoman's origin, changed and retold in Catwoman #0. Now, she had never been a prostitute, and was never trained by Ted Grant. Instead, she was the neglected child of an alcoholic widower, who was orphaned at age 12 when her father died. After reporting his death in a cold, matter-of-fact manner to 911, she took to the streets and survived on petty theft for a time. She was eventually picked up by the police and sent to a girl's home. From examples around her, Selina soon decided that theft was the fastest and easiest way to get the life of luxury she so desperately craved. After some close calls, she came to the realization that she needed some training in personal defense in order to survive on the streets, and was soon taken in by an armless sensei who taught her a great deal about close combat, and also instilled in her the sophistication and charm that are some of the true hallmarks of Catwoman.
Catwoman tends to steal jewelery and other forms of art, but in all incarnations, she has shown a marked preference for feline icons and imagery. This has been used against her on several occasions. She also shows a distinct affinity for felines, large and small, and has used them as "accomplices" now and then. One of Catwoman's most consistent features (except during her rough handling by Frank Miller) is the fact that she goes out of her way to avoid killing people.
Catwoman changes back and forth from villain to anti-hero somewhat regularly, depending on the writers' conceptions about her, and is one of the very few villains in DC history to have her own successful regular comic.
In the original Batman TV show, which debuted on January 12, 1966, Catwoman was very much a staple of the show, and often stole the spotlight from Batman. She was originally played by Julie Newmar
for the first two seasons. However, because of Newmar being unavailable for various reasons, Catwoman was played by Lee Meriwether
for the Batman movie (released in August, 1966), and by Eartha Kitt
for the third and final season of the show. Because of the morals of the times, the sexual byplay that had developed between Batman and Newmar's Catwoman was jettisoned when Eartha Kitt assumed the role, to avoid any hint of an interracial
relationship. All told, Newmar played Catwoman for twelve of the 120 episodes of Batman, and Kitt played her for only three episodes.
In 1992, Tim Burton
's Batman Returns
introduced a considerably more psychotic
image of Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer
was chosen to don the latex catsuit when Annette Bening
bowed out due to pregnancy, and ended up giving a sex-charged performance. She goes over the bend when her boss, Max Schreck, attempts to kill her, and crafts a catsuit
out of an overcoat she had in her closet (Amazing how far that latex
goes). She bases the outfit on her obsession with taking care of stray cats. She is drawn to Batman, but can't decide whether she wants to bed him or kill him.
A solo Catwoman movie, to be directed again by Tim Burton, has been planned for quite some time, and was intended to debut before the third Batman movie, but Pfeiffer's unexpected pregnancy caused the plans at the time to be scrapped. It may yet see the light of day.
Also in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series
debuted Catwoman in episodes 13 and 14, The Cat and the Claw
, parts 1 and 2. Her voice was provided by Adrienne Barbeau
. Episode 13, despite its intended place within the TV show's continuity, was the first episode of Batman ever aired.
Warner Brothers decided to change Catwoman's origin for the animated series, simplifying it somewhat from the "current" origin, so as to fit into the younger target audience for the series. As a poor orphan, Selina Kyle was forced to steal to live, and grew up becoming Gotham's most proficient cat burglar. She adopted the Catwoman alias in order to heighten the mystery around her already legendary thefts. In the cartoon, Selina has an even stronger affinity to cats, and devotes her public life as rich socialite Selina Kyle to assisting animal protection organizations.
Some details taken from Feline Fatale: Catwoman Over The Years
, at http://pw2.netcom.com/~mwomack/
the rec.arts.comics.dc.universe FAQ at http://www.idyllmtn.com/rac/dc/universe/racdu.html
and several other considerably