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Catwoman, slinking in and out of thievery like a mischievous kitten, has titillated Batman throughout most of the Dark Knight's long career. This princess of plunder was envisioned by Batman creator Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger as a female counterpart to the Caped Crusader, and as a means to attract girls to the comics' readership, but through spunk and tenacity she quickly distinguished herself as much more than a copycat. From her first appearance as The Cat in Batman #1 (1940), Gotham City's most notorious burglar—dressed to the nines (lives?) in a clinging, cleavage-showcasing gown—arouses a side of Batman that the prepubescent Robin finds puzzling. Through each encounter, suggestive repartee between the Bat and Cat intimates that if not for their ethical division, these two would boot the Boy Wonder out of the Batcave and redefine the term Dynamic Duo.

When compared to the Joker, Two-Face, and other psychopaths in Batman's deadly rogues' gallery, Catwoman, whose penchant for luxuries entices her into a career as a thief, seems tame—but by no means is this lady docile. Wielding a whip with a cat-o'-nine-tails, a weapon that by the late 1980s acquired sado-sexual connotations, the cunning Catwoman, with her pugilistic prowess and well, catlike reflexes, becomes a fierce combatant when cornered or challenged. She had clawed her way through a decade's worth of stories in random issues of Batman and Detective Comics before her roots were disclosed. In The Secret Life of Catwoman in Batman #62 (1950), the villainess reveals her true stripes as she saves Batman's life, taking a blow to the skull in the process. Once regaining consciousness, she emerges from amnesia with the recollection of her past life as Selina Kyle, flight attendant, and no knowledge of her stint as a criminal. Aiding Batman and Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon in their apprehension of her former partner in pillage, Kyle is exonerated of her felonies and allowed to set up business as a pet-shop operator, but before long her ego, bruised by taunts from the press and former underworld associates, leads her back into larceny as Catwoman.

While her identity was known to Batman and Gordon, Catwoman's mystique stymied her adversaries, particularly her ability to resurface after seemingly perishing—did she, like her namesake, really have nine lives? This raven-haired, wide-eyed felonious feline also dazzled Gotham's finest with her wardrobe: Aside from the ghastly full-sized cathead mask she wore during a few early outings, Catwoman skulked about for more than two decades in a stylish purple dress, green cape, and a cat-eared cowl before streamlining her garb in the 1960s into a form-fitting emerald catsuit that would have made Diana Rigg (TV's Mrs. Peel) green with envy. By 1969, she'd slipped into a skintight blue bodysuit with a long cat tail, before returning to the purple gear in the mid-1970s. She also frequently cavorted about town in a cat-shaped kitty car, took to the air in a catplane, hurled a catarang, and even used a cat-apult to leap to a helicopter while pulling a heist.

Throughout most of her comic-book career, Catwoman was portrayed as Batman's most likeable villain: Sure, she was a bad girl, but not that bad. In the late 1970s, Catwoman's heart of gold led her to shed her life of crime and marry Batman—not in the comics' regular continuity, but on Earth-Two, DC's parallel world where its characters from the 1940s resided. Their union bore a daughter, Helena, who became the Huntress when the Earth-Two Catwoman was murdered.

Back on Earth-One, Catwoman continued to pillage, even after DC Comics jettisoned its multiple-Earth concept in 1985. Selina Kyle was reinvented, along with the Dark Knight, in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's groundbreaking Batman: Year One four-issue story arc beginning in Batman #404 (1987). Kyle, it was disclosed, endured an abusive childhood and was on the streets at age twelve, becoming fiercely independent as a result. Seguing into a life of prostitution, this new Kyle was a dominatrix with a butch haircut, who donned a leather catsuit and used her whips on johns before taking to the rooftops as the burglar Catwoman. More recently, however, Catwoman has given up streetwalking and developed a profound moral sense, albeit one tempered by her hard life. She serves as an occasional ally to Batman and often protects the downtrodden in Gotham City's seediest neighborhoods.

Catwoman's popularity was bolstered in the mid-1960s by Julie Newmar's tantalizing portrayal of the villainess in the popular Batman television show. Newmar sunk her claws into the role, playfully frolicking about with moves so sensuously catlike, all eyes were glued to her while she was on camera. Her immediate successors to the part, Lee Meriwether in the Batman theatrical movie (1966) and Eartha Kitt in later episodes of the television series, never quite commanded the screen as Newmar did. In director Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992), Michelle Pfeiffer's take on Catwoman rivaled Newmar's, and spawned a long-delayed Catwoman movie, planned for 2004, starring Halle Berry (Ashley Judd and Nicole Kidman were previously considered for the part). Catwoman has also appeared in the numerous incarnations of Batman television cartoon series to appear throughout the years and has been merchandized since the 1960s in items including dolls, action figures, and bubble-bath dispensers. —ME

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