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Catwoman's Evolution From Villain to Batman's Greatest Love

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Bruce Wayne may not be the most psychologically stable person in the DC Universe, but he is a billionaire playboy with big muscles and plenty of cool toys. Is it any wonder women flock to him?

But while Batman has had his fair share of love interests over the decades, none can truly compete with Selina Kyle. Batman’s original rivalry with Catwoman has evolved into a true love story between the Cat and the Bat. They’re even a married couple now. Sort of. Here’s a look back at how that relationship has grown over the years, and why Catwoman is the only woman who can truly fill that void in Bruce Wayne’s soul.

Catwoman’s Conflicting Origin Stories

Because DC continuity is an ever-changing thing, Catwoman doesn’t necessarily have one, definitive origin story anymore. She first appeared in 1940’s Batman #1, which depicts her as a jewel thief known as “The Cat.” That’s also the issue that gave us that infamous “Quiet or Papa spank!” panel.

However, 1986’s Batman: Year One offers a far different take on Bruce and Selina’s first meeting. Selina is introduced in that story as a prostitute who clashes with Bruce during his ill-fated first attempt at playing vigilante. The debut of Batman later in the story inspires Selina to leave her life behind and start anew as a costumed criminal.

Writer Tom King actually seized on that discrepancy, making it a major plot point in his Batman series. Over the course of King’s run, Bruce and Selina repeatedly argue over whether they originally met on ”the boat” (as seen in Batman #1) or “the street” (as in Year One). The answer, it turns out, is a bit of both. Bruce first met Selina that night in the street, but he was hiding his true self. Only when he created Batman and became the hero he was meant to be did he truly meet Catwoman.

Catwoman’s Early Evolution

Even from the beginning, it was clear Catwoman wasn’t quite like Batman’s other costumed villains. She was a thief, not a cold-blooded killer. In fact, she’s rarely ever taken a life in a Batman comic. That, combined with what was a clear sexual tension between the two from day one, explains why the Caped Crusader has always been a little more lenient with Catwoman.

Catwoman was a mainstay of Batman and Detective Comics in the ‘40s and early ‘50s, but she eventually faded from the spotlight due to the influence of the Comics Code Authority. It turns out the CCA wasn’t fond of provocatively dressed, whip-wielding supervillainesses.

See Batman and Catwoman's Romantic History Re-envisioned

Luckily, Catwoman received a major popularity boost thanks to the 1966 TV series, where she was one of many recurring villains locked in a seemingly never-ending struggle with Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin. The 1966 Batman movie in particular helped cement the image of Batman and Catwoman as two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the DCU.

The TV series helped reinvigorate Catwoman’s popularity in the comics, and her relationship with Batman took another important step forward during the ‘70s. Various DC titles established the existence of Earth-2, an alternate universe where the heroes of DC’s Golden Age comics still exist. In this world, Batman and Catwoman eventually got married and raised a daughter, Helena.

After witnessing the death of her mother, Helena swore vengeance on all criminals and became the Huntress. So a real chip off the old block, in other words. While that version of Earth-2 doesn’t really exist anymore in the constantly evolving DC multiverse, those stories did help establish the idea that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are destined to be together one day, once their costumed antics stop getting in the way of their romance.

Reinventing Catwoman and Selina Kyle

One common thread across DC’s comics and TV shows in those days is that we never learned much about Selina Kyle’s life before becoming Catwoman. And what those stories did reveal was often contradictory or retconned away later. When 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths arrived to reset DC’s increasingly convoluted history, Catwoman was among a number of characters who were dramatically updated for a contemporary audience.

The aforementioned Batman: Year One got the ball rolling there, grounding Selina Kyle in the gritty slums of Gotham and tying her own origin to that of Batman. Catwoman would later get her own self-titled miniseries in 1989 that further built on the foundations of Year One. 1996’s Batman: The Long Halloween and its sequels also built on Year One and helped add new layers to the Bat/Cat dynamic. Batman: Dark Victory even revealed that Selina may actually be the illegitimate daughter of mob boss Carmine Falcone.

1992’s Batman Returns helped rocket Selina Kyle back into the mainstream, thanks in no small part to Michelle Pfeiffer’s scene-stealing performance. Returns helped further cement the image of Batman and Catwoman as two soulmates cursed to be on opposite sides of the war for Gotham’s soul. The movie also helped inspire Catwoman’s portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series.

On the comics side, Returns paved the way for the first monthly Catwoman series in 1993. True to the trends of the day, that series painted Selina Kyle less as a villain and more as a dangerous anti-hero in tightly fitting spandex. The series also helped establish a stronger sense of identity for the character outside of Batman's shadow, with many of her adventures taking her to exotic locales and high-stakes heists. The series was a hit, and DC has rarely been without a dedicated Catwoman comic ever since.

Batman and Catwoman’s Romance Heats Up

The next major turning point for Batman and Catwoman came in 2002’s Batman: Hush, a yearlong story that could be viewed as the beginning of Batman’s modern era. In Hush, circumstances bring Batman and Catwoman together again, and Batman finally throws caution to the wind, reveals his secret identity and begins a romance with Catwoman. That romance doesn’t survive the climax of Hush, but Batman’s decision seemed to forge an even closer bond between the two that could no longer be ignored. As Catwoman’s 2011 comic revealed, the two have a habit of occasionally getting frisky on the rooftops of Gotham.

Selina faced major trials of her own during this period, not least of which being a period of forced retirement after the birth of her daughter Helena. Readers never definitively learned the identity of Helena’s father, a figure implied to be either Selena’s friend Slam Bradley or Batman himself. Either way, Batman eventually helped Selina give her daughter up for adoption, another tragedy that brought the Bat and the Cat closer together.

The Batman: Every Live-Action Version of Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin, and More

Meanwhile, new live-action projects like 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises and the Gotham TV introduced new takes on Selina Kyle. Gotham forged another bond between Bruce and Selina by making her a witness on the night of the Wane murders. The Dark Knight Rises, meanwhile, showed us what happens when Bruce successfully leaves his life as Batman behind and retires to live quietly with Selina. Could the Batman of DC’s comics ever truly make that same choice? The answer may surprise you.

Batman and Catwoman Get Married

There’s a reason that argument about the boat or the street is such a major element of Tom King’s Batman run. That series is ultimately a love story between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, as well as one that asks whether Bruce can ever truly be happy and still be Batman.

That comic made headlines in 2017 when Bruce proposed to Selina in Batman #24. A year later in Batman #50, readers got to see the long-awaited wedding, one that ended with a dejected Bruce being left at the altar. Even Catwoman feared what would happen to Gotham if Batman achieved happiness and lost his edge.

Batman #50: Every Comic Cover for Batman and Catwoman's Wedding

Luckily, there’s a happy ending to that tragic story. The Bat and the Cat eventually reunited, kicked Bane’s butt and finally decided to give domestic bliss a try. Bruce and Selina aren’t legally married, but emotionally, they’re now a committed couple. That romance forms the basis of the spinoff series Batman/Catwoman, a book that explores Bruce and Selina’s love across several eras and pits them against Bruce’s ex-girlfriend, the Phantasm.

Will this unofficial marriage stick? Like so much in DC’s comic book universe, there’s no guarantee the past, present and future won’t be rewritten. But at this point, there’s no denying that Catwoman is every bit as important to Batman’s world as Alfred Pennyworth, Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon. The Bat and the Cat are two sides of the same coin.

What are your favorite Batman/Catwoman stories? Let us know in the comments.


Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.

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