Guest Post: 50 Shades of Selina Kyle
If you’ve read today’s previous post you can see there is theme today. This guest post takes a look at one of my favorite characters Selina Kyle aka Catwoman through the years. The writer is Beth Bartlett who blogs at Pure Geek.
A handsome billionaire. A flexible young woman with rope. Sounds like the bestselling, saucy tale thrilling women around the world, except for one catch: no one puts Catwoman in a corner.
Although Catwoman’s been around for over 70 years and has plenty to offer female readers, she’s still not as popular as this year’s over-hyped wonder, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which literally has the woman signing her life, virginity and independence away to an emotionally damaged man who’s way too rich and way too kinked out with bondage and punishment. Sure, Selina Kyle’s been through some punishing times, but she’s never been one to just sit there and take it. Let’s break and enter through a few decades and see how time, the ultimate master, has treated our kitten with a whip. Has she been overpowered like Anastasia Steele or empowered?
News reports state that Bob Kane created Catwoman, first known as The Cat in Batman #1, in the mold of glamorous and whip-smart actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr.
She was dangerous, seductive and dealt with Batman on her own terms. After she lost the giant cat head and started showing a little leg, she threatened more than the Caped Crusader—she also made the censors nervous with her sex appeal and vague moral standing. Selina Kyle disappeared in 1954, and wouldn’t reappear until 1966.
Status: any woman who makes that many men uncomfortable is definitely empowered.
Catwoman moved from the comics to the TV screen in 1966’s “Batman,” and Julie Newmar was the perfect sizzling counterpart to Adam West’s staid bat. Even though she was occasionally grouped with foes like the Riddler and the Penguin, she maintained her traits of no lethal force, unusual cunning and making Batman crazy with all those confusing feelings in his tights. (Which, honestly, makes me wonder, did Bruce Wayne’s parents not have “The Talk” with him before they were offed? Seriously.) After Newmar left, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriweather picked up the slack. In the comics, the censors had tamed Catwoman alternately into a wife and mother, an abused wife, and even a murderess.
Status: TV Catwoman: Empowered. Comics Catwoman: Overpowered.
Our favorite femme feline probably needed therapy after the bizarre back-and-forth of this era. She goes from jewel thief to a dysfunctional orphan to ex-hooker to a dominatrix with a cat-o-nine-tails. After attempts to make her tortured and gritty, she finally shines with her own series in 1993, full-bodied and of crafty, sound mind. Not only does she play on both sides of the fence, she dances along the rails and occasionally gives a roundhouse kick to the posts for good measure. Sometimes she’s bad, sometimes she’s good, but she’s always her own woman as she travels from thief to CEO to martial arts expert.
During this time, we also have Michelle Pfeiffer as an unhinged Kyle in 1992’s “Batman Returns.” While her backstory is changed yet again, she’s mesmerizing in this new role, and Pfeiffer’s interpretation on film will stand for two decades as a strong, sexy character who does her own thing. The patchwork catsuit illustrates her internal splintering, and remains iconic to this day.
Status: Comic Catwoman: Even those she uses up a few lives, her moral code is classically colored in shades of gray. The kitty wielding the brush is empowered. Movie Catwoman: Selina is initially overpowered, but turns out to be electrically charged with empowerment.
It’s back to the wife/mother theme for Selina, along with enough relationships to fuel a WB drama. She’s rebooted once again in 2001 with an Emma Peel-style catsuit. While the look is classic, the storyline becomes more personal as she receives a circle of allies and enemies, including Batman. In fact, she’s grabbed his light switch and flipped things back on, becoming a good girl in the process and getting herself catnapped, drugged and mindwiped. After not caring for a couple of decades, now she cares too much, fighting crime and even killing a foe, then topping that after One Year Later with motherhood, retirement, un-retirement and a steady Bat boyfriend. She wraps up with some fierce, fun girl-on-girl fury with Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and her sister, who flickers in and out of existence upon any writer’s whim.
Status: Was she being manipulated the whole time by Zatanna? Overpowered, but kicked enough ass at the end to regain some empowerment.
In 2004, Halle Berry played a character on the big screen named “Catwoman.” Everyone has mutually agreed this was a mass hallucination caused by sunspots and bad wine. Really, really bad wine.
Status: Nonexistent. There is no spoon, move on.
The New 52 re-do tosses her back into her earlier days, remaining vague on her origins but way too attached to her Batty call. The series advertises her as “addicted to danger, addicted to shiny things.” What? She’s a Real Housewife now? It’s time to let go of the Batpole for a while and swing free into the night.
Status: Even though the story and the art aren’t indicative of Selina’s best moments, she’s still not as overpowered as the tied-up chick in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The best thing women can do is quit buying rope, get a whip and take back their attitude. Maybe Anne Hathaway will show them how much fun taking control can be this summer in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Who knows? With any luck, Catwoman will find a new audience and a more powerful direction for the future.