Editor’s note: Due to a production glitch, the first page of this column did not appear in CBG #1693, but will run in CBG #1694. In the meantime, here’s the entire column for your enjoyment.
Dear Mr. Silver Age,
I see the new Batman movie is going to feature Catwoman! But the pictures I’ve seen don’t look like any Catwoman I’ve ever known! Why didn’t they use the version so familiar to us?
Mr. Silver Age says: Which version would that be, Pammy? The truth is, Catwoman has gone through plenty of changes in her career (especially in her get-up), even if we just focus on the comics Catlady. That was especially the case during her revival in the mid-1960s, during the halcyon Silver Age of Comics — and Batmania — after what had become a long catnap. Her return to Batman’s life not only came about in furtive, feline ways but also involved multiple wardrobe changes.
As we all know, Selina Kyle made her debut in Batman #1 (Spr 40) as a slinky jewel thief (or, at least, we know it now). She apparently was so impressive that she returned in the next two issues, a record not even The Joker could match (although he came close). In that third issue, The Cat-Woman made the fashion faux pas of donning a giant mascot-like cat head to go with her slinky gown.
She continued using variations on that goofy look for way too long and finally changed to her familiar purple dress and cowl with green cape in Batman #35 (Jul 46). She kept that look, with a few modifications, for the rest of her Golden Age career, which was substantial. But then science-fiction aliens and other fads intervened, and Batman’s traditional rogues fell out of favor. She disappeared after one last tangle with The Dynamic Duo in Detective Comics #211 (Sep 54).
Ten years later, as Batman’s “New Look” was ramping up, DC reminded us that she’d used to be near the top of his rogues’ gallery. She appeared in 80 Page Giant #5 (Dec 64), Batman’s first starring role there, with a reprint as one of his “Greatest Adventures.” Then she appeared in the Sunday newspaper-strip reprint in the 80-Page Giant issue of Batman #176 (Dec 65) as one of Batman’s “Most Fantastic Foes.” No argument here.
She was even the featured villain in a mini-comic premium in Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts in 1966! Clearly, something was up, and I’m guessing this last appearance owed much of its demand to a certain TV show making its debut in January 1966, in which her part was played by Julie Newmar. It certainly got my attention.
With that kind of build-up, her return to comics surprised readers: It came with “The Catwoman’s Black Magic!” in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #70 (Nov 66)! She now wore a skin-tight black costume reminiscent of the TV Catwoman, with the traditional cat-cowl and green cape.
Her cunning plan involved capturing Lois, brainwashing her into being evil, and then using her to kill The Penguin, so Selina could steal his loot. Then, when the cops closed in, they’d capture Lois and never know that the real Catwoman had returned to crime. Another part of the plan involved Catwoman pretending to be Lois dressed up as The Catwoman and using magic to turn The Man of Steel into a cat that she then imprisoned in a green kryptonite cage.
Needless to say, a plan this cunning took two issues to unfold and required a partnership between Lois and Lana Lang and a conference with President Johnson. Ultimately, Batman and Robin led Catwoman off in bat-cuffs, and our gals freed Supes. Oops, almost forgot the Spoiler Warning.
Why was it left to Mort Weisinger and Kurt Schaffenberger (along with writer Leo Dorfman) to set the style for the return of Batman’s more felonious female feline foe? That’s a question for the ages, all right. I have no answers for that one.
In any event, it took a full year before Catwoman returned to Batman’s titles. Maybe she had to serve her jail time first, since, when she arrived on the final page of Detective #369 (Nov 67), she was footloose and fancy-free. Sadly, what inspired her to return was a front-page newspaper story on Batgirl’s accomplishments. “Complimented By Caped Crusader,” the sub-headline said. No, really.
“Looks to me like Batgirl is making a play for Batman,” Catwoman erroneously surmised. “I’ve known Batman a lot longer than that Jill-Come-Lately! If he belongs to anybody, he belongs to The Catwoman!” Oh, boy.
She made her case a few weeks later in “Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman!” in Batman #197 (Dec 67). This time, the woman at the wheel of The Kitty Car wore a skin-tight dark green costume in some odd scalloped texture and an elaborate, pointed domino mask and light green boots and gloves. Yikes. She wielded her cat o’ nine tails to capture some crooks and prove she made a better partner than Batgirl.
Batman was skeptical but willing to believe, but Batgirl was not charmed. Both crime-fighting ladies showed up at the next crime scene, and Batgirl needed Catwoman’s help to corral the criminals. Batman was impressed but refused to admit his obvious love for Selina (she thought), which frustrated her. Actually, The World’s Greatest Detective didn’t realize she had a crush on him, the big dope. He finally expressed his suspicions to The Boy Wonder, to which Robin replied, “Duh.”
At her wit’s end, Catwoman captured our Terrific Trio and gave Batman an ultimatum: Marry her or she’d return to crime. Bats declined, so she robbed some people and offered again to return the loot if Batman would marry her. He again declined, and Batgirl decided enough was enough and saved the day. As Catwoman was led off to jail, she scoffed at Batgirl’s denials of wanting Batman to herself.
Catwoman returned in the very next issue, #198 (Feb 67), but it was another 80-Page Giant “All-Villain Issue,” which she surely wasn’t going to miss at this point. Throughout the Silver Age, she made a habit of ensuring she was included in just about any Batman-reprint package into which she could worm her way.
The Felonious Feline was back a mere three issues later, in “Batman’s Gangland Guardians!” in Batman #201 (May 68). I’m not sure how she’d missed out on the “anniversary” celebration in Batman #200, since The Scarecrow, Joker, Penguin, and Killer Moth (?) had helped The Dynamic Duo celebrate. Maybe she hadn’t been paroled yet. As it was, Gotham City seemed to have a very liberal parole policy.
Several rogues joined Catwoman and other villains in #201 to discuss what to do about Batman. But killing him wasn’t on the table this time. The group comprised Joker, Catwoman, Mad Hatter, Penguin, Clue Master, Getaway Genius, and Johnny Witts, the latter three having appeared in recent bat-adventures.
Pengy had been tipped that a West Coast crime syndicate was moving into Gotham, with its first order of business to kill Batman. He pointed out that, with Batman gone, there would be no one to keep the syndicate from killing all of them, too — which it surely would do. So they agreed that they had to protect Batman from the syndicate’s assassination attempts. What irony!
Mayhem ensued, as The Caped Crusader narrowly missed death time after time without knowing how he’d done it. Ultimately, he learned what (other) villain was behind the death traps, but he never did learn who his guardian angels had been.
Catwoman steered clear of Bats for eight entire issues this time, returning in “The Case of the Purr-loined Pearl!” in Batman #210 (Mar 69). She’d apparently used her time off to create yet another costume, this time a slinky blue number with light blue leggings; navy bodice, gloves, and boots; and red mask and boot cuffs. Double yikes. The mask gave her a certain demonic appearance that none of her other costumes had had, but it wasn’t her best look.
She apparently had gone legit once again, opening a “slenderizing” salon and selling her beloved Kitty Car. Try as he might, Batman couldn’t pin anything on her until she put her big plan into action. She contacted eight women inmates about to be released — including Light Laura, Florid Flo, Big Barbara, Sultry Sarah, and Timid Trixie. (Kids, don’t try giving yourself alliterative nicknames like this at home. Leave it to the pros.)
Catwoman’s plan was to shape up these former cons and turn them into doubles for her, all dressed in her new sultry costume, which would confound Batman as they pulled off the purr-fect crime. Sorry, but you have to give me credit for restraint until now. Sadly for Selina, things didn’t go according to plan, and she wound up being ensnared by a kitten and a ball of yarn. How appropriate.
Ms. Kyle apparently wore out her welcome in the Bat-books, taking three years before she popped up again. Unfortunately, she did not spend the time creating a new costume. Instead, she returned in yet another heroine’s series well away from her usual haunts, ending her Silver Age career just as she had begun it.
It started when The Amazonian Princess (now in her Emma Peel phase) and her buddy I Ching flew to Tibet in Wonder Woman #201 (Aug 72). They were there to learn more about The Fist of Flame, a gem worshipped by a small cult. Some of the cult’s members had kidnapped her new buddy Johnny Double and attacked her, so she flew to their home to see what the heck was up with that.
After trekking through a blinding snowstorm along a perilous mountainous trail, they arrived to find The Fist, which, in fact, was an enormous ruby embedded in a gigantic idol’s forehead. Diana retrieved the stone after battling the cult, only to be knocked to the ground when Catwoman showed up.
Why was Catwoman seeking a giant Tibetan ruby just as Diana Prince braved life and limb to find it herself? As noted about Catwoman’s first Silver Age adventure, just because this column is called “Ask Mr. Silver Age” doesn’t mean I can answer every question. Let’s just go with it.
Wouldn’t you know it, Catwoman, too, was kayoed by the cult. The two costumed women then had to face off with samurai swords (don’t ask) while suspended over an inferno. The winner would be enslaved; the loser would be sushi.
Needless to say, they freed themselves and were escaping when The Fist somehow transported them all to another dimension/world — aka Nehwon. (Read it backward.) That place turned out to be the home to Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, who were about to star in their own soon-to-be-gone DC comic book, Swords of Sorcery. Once the mayhem of meeting each other died down in Wonder Woman #202 (Oct 72), the two duos discovered they had mutual interests, as the barbarians were seeking a related gem.
Fafhrd and The Amazon (and I Ching) teamed up, as did (wait for it) The Mouser and The Cat. They battled an evil sorcerer and his army of minions in their own ways and set things right. That involved bringing the barbarian heroes with them to the 20th century. But one look around at the traffic and modern conveniences, and the two of them hopped the next interdimensional portal outta there.
That elaborate marketing misadventure apparently tuckered out Selina, since she went into hiding until “The Curious Case of the Catwoman’s Coincidences!” in Batman #266 (Aug 75). She’s managed to hang in there on and off since, making a dramatic return in recent years with her goggled look, complete with low-zippered catsuit and less subtle approaches to flirting. Cats may not change their spots, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Catwoman pop up in yet another costume any day.
Known to fans worldwide as “Mr. Silver Age,” Craig Shutt has waxed nostalgic about comics of old in CBG since 1992. Send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Ask Mr. Silver Age” is © 2012 Craig Shutt