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A pull list for the legacy of Catwoman

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Jan 15, 2019, 4:02 PM EST

Selina Kyle has been around quite some time, and there have been more takes on her than just about any other character. Her frequent appearances in film, television, and cartoons, the vagueness of her concept, and the way writers viewed women in each respective decade all contributed to making her one of the most changeable and versatile characters in genre.

Yet since the late ‘80s, Catwoman’s portrayal as a slightly jaded jewel thief with a dark past whose allegiances remain forever cloudy has been mostly consistent in the comics. Over the last several years, Selina has just gotten more and more fascinating, leading into Tom King’s Batman run and Joelle Jones’ new Catwoman series, but here are some of the comic book stories that got her here.

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This comic is ridiculously dark, as was writer Mindy Newell’s two-part Lois Lane story When It Rains God Is Crying. It makes sense because Her Sister’s Keeper was intended as a counterpoint to the equally grim Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Richmon Lewis, and Todd Klein. As Year One tells us of Batman’s beginnings, this story gave us a more detailed view of Selina Kyle’s life before she became the suave cat thief we’ve come to know and love. The illustrations are by J.J. Birch.

There is an overabundance of violent scenarios involving sex workers in comics, but the full stories are seldom told, and those that make it to the page are often problematic. This was definitely true of Year One, while Newell's story does provide more context and more sympathy for Selina and her friends. Her Sister’s Keeper begins with Selina, horribly beaten, who heals at the hospital and goes home to turn her life around. The story manages to redirect towards a positive resolution while treating its protagonist and the women in her life with more kindness than managed by Year One. Newell always dealt with surprisingly heavy subject matter, and stylistically it seems like she barely missed a career as one of the early Vertigo writers.



Jo Duffy’s run is usually forgotten, sandwiched between Her Sister’s Keeper and Chuck Dixon’s pending run beginning with #15, but the fact is Duffy’s Catwoman didn’t really stand a chance. The stories are broken up by relentless crossovers — Knightfall, Knightquest, etc. — so there isn’t really a defining arc, which is a huge shame because Duffy’s take on Catwoman was one of the most intriguing. Besides Duffy’s writing, penciler Jim Balent would go on to work on the Catwoman series for some time, but his art is at its best here. Ande Parks on inks and Buzz Setzer on colors makes it come together really well.

In this story, titled Zephyr, Catwoman encounters a woman who dresses like a butterfly and calls herself, well, Zephyr. She and Catwoman fight it out at an amusement park called Happyland, and that should be about all you need to be completely sold on this story. Besides that, though, it’s one of the few moments of this run where things were just focused on Selina Kyle rather than being somehow derailed by her role in the greater Batfamily, and it’s really good.



Like Jo Duffy, Devin Grayson’s run is underrated, but fortunately for us, she had a longer time to run with it, remaining on the series for a solid 16 issues. Part of that run was the story Bank On It, in which Selina is surprisingly caught in the ladies' room of a bank when a dangerous heist occurs and she must rush to save the patrons of the bank from harm while still following her own agenda.

Bank On It is just one short issue but it’s a great one, and it’s a really good jumping on point for Grayson’s time on the book. Catwoman has to use everything from sympathy to basic pickpocketing tricks to her sexuality to an actual shotgun to save the people at the bank. On the other hand, as we’ve all come to expect from one Selina Kyle, she has more cards up her sleeve than all that, and she lives to play the bank another day.



The late Darwyn Cooke had a good stack of Catwoman stories under his belt, but Selina’s Big Score is not just drawn but also written by him, and it holds a special place in my heart for bringing us the noir hero version of Catwoman that we all deserve. After she fakes her death, she finds herself low on resources, and in true heist film fashion, she has to pull “one more job” to provide for herself.

As one might guess, the whole story reads like Rat Pack-era Ocean’s 11, only with Catwoman at the center. It manages to give us one of the character's greatest supporting casts while reintroducing a version of Catwoman that was truly fun. Catwoman is always at her best when she’s on her own running from forces beyond her control and acting with fully selfish motivations while reluctantly playing the hero at key moments, and that is the Catwoman Cooke gave us in this story.



Here at FANGRRLS, we are big supporters of Genevieve Valentine's all-too brief run on Catwoman, in which our girl Selina became the head of the Calabrese crime family (which is apparently a huge deal in Gotham City). Ever the go-getter, Selina decides to use her surprisingly not ill-gotten gains to unite the criminal underworld in hopes that it will save Gotham. This idea… super does not work, which should not surprise you, but it’s a hell of a ride anyway.

Valentine’s take on Selina kept her out of the Catwoman costume long enough to let us become more aware of her philosophical leanings and focus on her desire and enchantment with the seemingly limitless power that she suddenly finds at her disposal. The arc also introduced Eiko Hasigawa, who temporarily donned the mantle of Catwoman while Selina couldn’t. The two develop an attraction to one another and even share a kiss, although their respective duties keep them from developing their romance before Valentine’s run ended. Still, it’s a hell of a story, and gives us the Catwoman that has really come to define more recent takes on her.



Ed Brubaker had a long run on the Catwoman series that lasted most of the third volume, and his run established Selina’s longtime friend Holly’s identity better than any writer before or since by adding her to the book full-time as Selina’s partner in crime. He also wrote one of the better Batman/Catwoman stories in It Only Takes a Night.

Like many stories on this list, It Only Takes a Night is short and sweet. Batman arrives early in the issue, encountering Selina for the first time since he recently believed her to be dead. They share a tender moment on a rooftop where he assures her that he tore apart Gotham looking for her, and then awkwardly tells her he’s glad she’s “not dead.” That’s about as sweet as Batman gets, and Selina responds about the same. The two of them go out for a night on the town as civilians, then back to her place, where Bruce tears up, admitting how afraid he was to lose her. Out of all the Catwoman/Batman stories, this issue does right by readers in that it doesn’t make any promises of commitment but shows us that the affair between the two will likely continue on for both of their lives, which might just be why it works so well for them.



Taking place in parallel to the creative team’s other book Batman: Dark Victory, When in Rome features a very uncommon team-up between Catwoman and the Riddler as they travel to Italy. Selina is in search of the identity of her father, who she at the time believes to be Carmine Falcone. While it plays a bit more seriously than Selina’s Big Score, the noir elements are in place, particularly in Sale’s art.

Selina is plagued by nightmares of the Batman, only to awaken to her hotel room aflame. She barely escapes with her life, and goes on to make more enemies, which becomes apparent when she finds herself in a showdown with Wonder Woman’s nemesis the Cheetah. The Riddler inevitably betrays Selina, but she sees it coming. The story might not resolve the identity of her parentage, but When in Rome remains one of the more entertaining Catwoman stories of its time.