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Original Airdate: October 2, 2004
Writer: Adam Beechen
Director: Sam Liu
Ah, Catwoman. One of the truly old hands of Batman’s rogues gallery, surpassed by only the Joker (and maybe Hugo Strange if you want to get more obscure) in terms of longevity.
It’s a lot harder for me to sum up Catwoman’s history than for most of the other villains, because her origins and character have been all over the damn place since 1940 and from what I can tell, every one of her eras has its supporters and detractors. She began as a somewhat virtuous jewel thief (in her first appearance, Batman saw fit to “accidentally” let her escape; by her second, she was willing to give her loot to the Joker if he’d spare Robin’s life), and since then she’s ran the gamut from Julie Newmar’s beautiful-but-pure-evil supervillainess:
To an almost no-strings-attached heroine in the Bronze Age:
To everything in-between. As of this writing, she’s held down two ongoing comics that each lasted more than eighty issues, and that’s only a small fraction of all the appearances she’s made over the last seventy-five years.
So – sorry to say, but I’ve got sizable gaps in my knowledge of Catwoman, so I probably won’t be able to make as many comparisons to the comics and other media as in my previous reviews. Still, if I remember correctly, Beechen didn’t really get too imaginative with Selina’s debut on The Batman.
The cold open plays coy for just a little while before letting us see
The Catwoman in all her Jeff Matsuda’d glory. So let’s start discussing it, shall we?
From what I can tell, older Bat-fans’ reaction to this costume is split between “Meh, at least it looks like what she’s wearing in the comics right now” and “THOSE EARS THOSE GOGGLES KILLITWITHFIREASDFGH@Q@E3%”. Myself, I don’t particularly mind the fruit-bat ears or the oversized goggles, and having her wear the whip like a tail is a nice touch (don’t get started with me on tripping hazards – if you can buy that bedsheet Batman calls a cape, you can buy this). But the turtleneck…
Sorry, the tactleneck is a little harder to swallow. It’s almost like they wanted to design Catwoman with a hoodie, only they realized at the last minute that it would look fucking ridiculous pulled over those giant ears, so they compromised.
Catwoman’s doing typical Catwoman-y things – breaking into some Oriental billionaire’s house, gymnastics routine through a million lasers, yadda yadda yadda. But before she can grab the trinket of the day, she sets off the alarms and has to beat feet.
Fast-forward to next morning, where the break-in is all that Exposition News can talk about. Beechen keeps up the tributes to classic Batman creators with mention of Robinson–Sprang, which delights me to no end. Detective Yin also makes a quick appearance, and I have to say – Beechen writes her with a surprising amount of nuance. You’d expect the anti-Batman cop to immediately try tarring Catwoman and Batman with the same brush, but the first thing Yin notes is how different their m.o.‘s are, while of course not ruling out a connection entirely.
Oh, and don’t feel too bad for that dude Catwoman tried to rob. His name’s Hideo Katsu, and Batman’s been investigating him (for no given reason) for a while now, so we know he’s pure eeeevil. He’s introduced to us in a scene so Yellow Peril-y that I almost think it’s parody – vaguely Asian leitmotif, tarking rike this aboot how dispreased his Mulakami broodrine is (so he’s related to this guy?), and throwing a katana at his men while demanding Catwoman’s head.
(Okay, I know his voice-actor is Asian, so maybe that’s his natural accent, but it doesn’t excuse all the other stuff.)
Now, in most Batman franchises, Catwoman is the only villain who has a secret identity, and The Batman‘s retained that pretty faithfully. Her civilian name’s still Selina Kyle, she lives in a penthouse with a bunch of cats, and she mostly steals for shits and giggles instead of profit. And she gets a crush on Batman almost the second she sees him in the paper. The only real change The Batman makes is having her go the Clark Kent route when outdoors.
She’s voiced by Gina Gershon of Bound fame (no, as far as I can tell her memoir doesn’t even allude to this), and… it’s pretty much what I’ve always imagined Catwoman to sound like. Cocky, carefree, and a tad self-spoiled, but not exactly evil. She doesn’t quite get the seductive part of the character down, but that might be the character design working against her.
Catwoman goes and trips a silent alarm in the city, and Batman shows up almost immediately. After some standard bantering and flirting, the chase is on.
This entire scene is a marvel to watch – maybe it’s because this is a more action-dominated show and Catwoman is the first villain who’s supposed to be Batman’s athletic equal, but all the flips and turns they make through the city are just shy of breathtaking. It gets even better when Batman tries to corner her with a flying Bat-Drone (coming soon to a government agency near you!), and the hand-to-hand begins.
Quick disclosure – That Other Show’s Catwoman episodes usually ranged from “not too bad” to “literally, objectively the worst episode ever”, so there’s not really much competition from that corner. In my opinion, it only really nailed the spirit of Catwoman on its last try – a wordless little vignette pre-packaged with Mystery of the Batwoman, using the redesign that tried to turn Selina into Desire of the Endless.
But this Catwoman begins like that – seemingly one step ahead of Batman at every turn, to the point where she actually kicks his ass in their first fight. And then, because she never leaves a heist empty-handed if she can help it, she reaches down and takes…
… his utility belt.
No, “utility belt” is not a euphemism. At least not outside certain corners of the Internet which I have never been to. No siree.
The belt actually doesn’t look half-bad on Selina Stickyfingers, but what she really stole it for was to get new burgling gear. That’s fair enough, I suppose. Unmasking Batman would be way too easy, but getting a couple new toys to maintain juuust enough of an unfair advantage isn’t something she’s above.
Oh, and Katsu is still stewing over how his men haven’t been able to find out anything about Catwoman (also, he has an actual shark aquarium, which pushes him into Stupid Awesome territory for now). This calls for drastic measures:
the Hand the League of Assassins the Dragon’s Fangs!
Back in the Catcave, Selina starts fiddling around with the utility belt and accidentally turns on the Bat-Bot, which rampages around the Batcave and almost kills Bruce. Selina inadvertently switches the thing off before that can happen, but then she turns on the Batmobile and sends it careening right out into the city.
Moral of the story: don’t fucking link all your wonderful toys into one easily-stolen computer system.
But we do get this image of Gamer!Selina out of it, and it needs to be a thing. Stat.
While Alfred starts disconnecting all the other gadgets in the Batcave, Bruce goes to get the toy plug of the day: the Batcycle. It’s not really as jarring as most of the previous examples, since a motorcycle is something you’d expect Batman to have on-hand anyhow, and using those in particular to hock toys is a long, proud tradition in Batman media.
I cannot, however, be that generous with Batman’s now-bare waist. Am I supposed to believe that Batman only has one utility belt handy at all times? He might still be new to the gig, but stocking backup belts… shit, that’s first-year knowledge.
By the way, our more perceptive viewers may note that image of Batman up there is surrounded by something offensively bright. No, that’s not the fire of a nuclear strike – it’s sunlight. The episode fast-forwarded into next afternoon when we weren’t looking, so we get to see Batman drive around in broad daylight for the first time.
(I know – I was half-expecting Batman to go up like flashpaper, too.)
While Batman desperately tries to keep up, the Batmobile smashes shit up all over the city. The whole thing is a slickly animated piece, even though it never quite ratchets up enough tension to make me believe that Batman’s actually going to bite it.
After Batman regains manual control over the Batmobile, he drives it back to the cave and finds to his relief that Alfred’s unplugged every other gadget in there. Unfortunately, it’s right about now that Catwoman’s tactic of “poke at random shit and see what happens” starts paying off, giving her full access to the belt and its sweet remote-control Batarangs.
Selina then breaks the first law of thieves everywhere and returns to the scene of the crime with her new toys. Man, how much is that lion worth?
Also – man, I was just kidding about the gamer thing earlier, but having Batman’s utility belt and the remote-control ‘rangs really does turn the theft into one big video game for Selina. I can’t imagine she’d be too thrilled about a heist where the only thing she needs to move is her fingers, but maybe she’s doing this out of pure spite instead of for the usual adrenaline rush.
Not that the night’s going to be short on adrenaline. Not if the man of the house has anything to say about it.
Katsu (spoiler: he’s a Yakuza boss) immediately assumes one of his rivals sent Catwoman, and promises to kill her less excruciatingly if she tells him who. Now that I think about it, that first thing might be completely true (we don’t get proof either way, and some versions of Catwoman do work for contractors if they feel like it), but for some reason I feel like taking the second with a much bigger pinch of salt.
Then Batman crashes the party aaaand I think you all know what’s next.
This… this is one of the coolest damn things I’ve seen in any incarnation of Batman. No one can really call “Batman and Catwoman vs. the night of a billion zillion ninja” out-of-character, and really, that idea just writes itself. The direction and animation are superb, and nowhere else is it clearer that this show is run by the old hands of Jackie Chan Adventures. All you have to do is squint, and it’s not too difficult to see Jackie and Viper against the Shadowkhan.
And they find time to sneak in character bits, too – Catwoman gives the belt back to Batman at the start, but as soon as the fight kicks off she’s looking to get out of there (with the lion) and leave Bats to fend for himself. Only when she realizes that he’s her best chance of getting out of there does she start helping him – and by the end, she even gives up a clear escape route to help save his life.
None of that probably seems very original to the seasoned Catwoman fan, but it kinda made a Cat/Bat shipper out of eleven-year-old me. Until my tastes… evolved, anyways.
Anyways, the jade lion gets broken in the scuffle, and Batman finds a CD inside, no doubt listing Katsu’s many heinous deeds and also just what the hell was under that truck by the S.S. Anne. As the police start closing in (wait, who the hell called them? Katsu?), our heroes make it outside the manor and exchange their last goodbyes. By the way – you would not believe how petulant Romano sounds in this scene; it makes Batman and Catwoman almost seem like siblings rather than adversaries/love interests.
I mean, there’s nothing saying they can’t be both, but… uggh… I’d rather not do the New 52’s job for it.
This leads to the last point I really like about the episode – Catwoman pulls a Batman on Batman, vanishing when he turns away for just half a second. That might not sound terribly impressive, but it’s leagues ahead of her debut in That Other Show, which made the fatal mistake of ending with Batman nabbing her and turning her in. This led to several episodes of Selina being a damsel in distress (since she’d been forbidden to put on the Catwoman outfit of her own volition), until Paul Dini went “fuck it” and undid all that.
I’m not wholly against the idea of the Bat/Cat chase ending one day, but it sure as hell shouldn’t happen on their first or second “date” – Catwoman should be skilled enough to evade Batman if she really puts her back into it, and Batman should (however grudgingly) respect her enough to not investigate her too much. For me, and I daresay for most fans, half the fun in the Bat/Cat relationship is in the chase.
(There’s also the matter of how That Other Show’s Catwoman was often written to be an insufferable animal-rights activist just shy of being a reserve Planeteer, but that’s something to discuss another day.)
Anyways, epilogue: Bennett and Yin are busy rounding up all the Yakuza members listed on that CD Batman so kindly donated to the police. For his efforts, Batman is rewarded by the police and the news media definitively linking him to Catwoman. As Gotham’s latest vigilante team.
And to close it all out, we get my favorite Alfred snark yet.
Inna final analysis, it’s inoffensive at worst and pretty damn great at best. Catwoman stories (unless they’re written by Ed Brubaker) generally aren’t renowned for being serious psychodramas that look into the deepest, darkest hearts of men, and this episode doesn’t really break convention. There are quibbles to be had over the designs (and maybe the Batman-versus-his own toys plot could’ve been shifted to another episode to leave more time for Cat/Bat interaction), but it’s largely a slick, fun ride from beginning to end.
Next: the most obscure Bat-villain yet buzzes into Gotham, but who cares about him? We’ve got a real star – a certain fella whose name begins with “A” and ends in a direction. Can you guess who?
* This screencap taken from Twinsand of tumblr. Show your support for her, everyone.