While comic books were originally a heavily male-dominated industry, there have been plenty of popular female characters throughout the years. One of the first that comes to mind for any comic book fan is Selina Kyler, a.k.a. Catwoman. Catwoman was introduced in the very first Batman comic book issue and has been a staple of the franchise ever since.
Along the way, there have been several on-screen adaptations showing Catwoman with varying types of demeanors. Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman in the original television series, while actresses including Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, and Anne Hathaway have played the character more recently on the big screen.
Catwoman has been seen as a villain in some instances, as well as a hero. No matter how you see Catwoman, she’s certainly one of the more complex characters throughout comic book history. She’s more than just a femme fatale that’s used as a setpiece for Batman’s adventures, too. Let’s take a look at why Catwoman is much more, and why she’s become a popular individual character in her own right.
The Good Side
From the outside-looking-in, Catwoman can appear to be one of the “bad guys” in the Batman universe. After all, she’s an expert burglar and tends to fight off Batman whenever he tries to foil her heists. However, Selina Kyle has proven to be someone who isn’t motivated by evil, as she doesn’t intentionally try to hurt anyone, and she certainly never sets out to kill anyone like many of the other Batman villains.
Because of this, Batman was always able to see the good in Catwoman. She’s someone who acts on pure necessity rather than evil instincts. Creator Bob Kane said that this was intentional and that Selina was someone who was hard to understand fully, just like a cat, though his full explanation (in his own words) was a bit “chauvinistic.” Once Catwoman’ is developed more throughout the series, we see that there is a lot of good in her character.
The early iterations of Catwoman focused more on Catwoman being a femme fatale and a romantic interest for Batman. This would remain the constant for the first couple of decades of Catwoman’s history but eventually changed during the 1980s. It was then that Catwoman was established as someone with a backstory that was much deeper. Frank Miller wrote Catwoman as someone who worked as a “lady of the night” that became a burglar after seeing Batman, but that was soon scrapped.
Catwoman’s backstory has been changed several times depending on the generation and Batman series that she’s part of, though there are some constants that remain. Catwoman is often seen with a background in which she was orphaned, abused, and left out in the streets. This is the main inspiration as to why she’s a burglar, as Catwoman has used her athletic prowess as a way to make ends meet, stealing high-valued jewels and money without inciting chaos like the Joker.
Though Catwoman isn’t a model citizen, there’s one thing that’s for certain, and it’s that she’s as independent as anyone that you’ll meet. Even though Batman was also orphaned when he was a child like Catwoman, he still had a support system around him that helped position him into being perhaps the most powerful person in Gotham City.
Catwoman, on the other hand, didn’t get that kind of support as she grew up. There was no Alfred or Lucius, so she relied entirely on herself to make ends meet. That type of independence, even if it was illegal, endeared a lot of people to the character. After all, Batman breaks the rules all the time by being a vigilante and people idolize him, so why shouldn’t Catwoman get a break when she simply is trying to keep herself alive?
There are a lot of people who didn’t grow up with a support system and admire the type of independence that Selina Kyle has shown throughout all adaptations. Catwoman also tends to not ally herself with factions around Gotham City, or even Batman for too long, as she is independent and likes to keep it that way.
There are a lot of Batman villains that simply don’t have a soul or a fiber of well-meaning in their bodies. You think of villains like the Joker who just want chaos and to hurt as many people as possible, but the opposite is true for Catwoman. There have been many instances when Catwoman has been shown to be perhaps the most compassionate and caring person in the Batman universe.
One of the more prominent examples comes from “Batman Vol. 3” when Catwoman admitted to killing more than 230 people after the orphanage burned down. It turned out that she didn’t do it at all, and was simply covering for Holly Robinson, her friend and protege who would end up becoming the next Catwoman. Needless to say, Catwoman may be hardened and talented, but she’s not the dangerous criminal that Gotham City thinks she is.