The changing face of Catwoman in the movies

With Anne Hathaway cast in the role of Selina Kyle for The Dark Knight Rises, Jennie looks at the ever-changing cinematic image of Catwoman…

Dark, sexy and the Caped Crusader’s purr-fect (sorry) woman, Catwoman is arguably the most recognisable of Gotham’s rogues gallery. While not the most terrible or villainous Batman character, Selina Kyle has always managed to cause a stir.

With the exception of the Joker, Catwoman is possibly the most beloved of Batman’s antagonists, and has appeared in every version of the franchise. From Selina’s early days in the first issue of Batman in 1940, to Anne Hathaway’s up-and-coming appearance in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman has never been without his Catwoman.

I can’t say for certain, but it seems quite likely that Catwoman’s frequent reappearances in the Batman franchise is a result of her constant changes in allegiance, and her on/off relationship with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego.

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While her guises in Batman: The Animated Series and the soon-to-be-released Arkham City videogame are fairly consistent with her look in the comics, the image of Catwoman in the live-action movies and the 60s television show has constantly changed, much like the actresses who’ve played her.

As Adam West says in the Mr Plow episode of The Simpsons, “Michelle Pfeiffer? Ha! The only true Catwoman is Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, or Eartha Kitt…” And this seems a fairly accurate representation of the general consensus on Catwoman; everyone has their favourite version, whether you’re crazy for Michelle Pfeiffer, love a girly Julie Newmar or crave a, shall we say, alternative Halle Berry. Although the various performances are a mixture of good and bad, few have really captured the essence of the character as featured in the comics.

Arriving somewhat late in the game, I never really appreciated Catwoman until I read of her heartbreaking attraction to Bruce Wayne in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush. As a result of that story, Catwoman has, for me, been about the close-cropped hair, goggle wearing and catsuit-sporting Selina Kyle seen throughout the Batman universe for several years. During this time, Catwoman featured prominently in the now finished series, Gotham City Sirens. She recently returned to star in September’s first issue of the new DC universe Catwoman title.

With her comic book image in mind, I found it slightly odd that the leaked pictures of Anne Hathaway in costume from the set of The Dark Knight Rises seem so reminiscent of the Catwoman of the 60s.

It seems to me that any film appearance should be strongly guided by the appearances in the comics. In the era of the DC new Universe, where costume changes, reboots, retcons and restarts are frequent and sometimes surprising, it is interesting that while a brand new Catwoman title has been relaunched, there are no drastic changes to her costume, backstory or character.

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When interviewed on the subject, Catwoman issue one writer Judd Winick stated that the book would be sexy, intelligent and violent: all strong aspects of Kyle’s personality. Meanwhile, artist Guillem March, the initial lead artist on Gotham City Sirens, puts his successful spin on the artwork.

Catwoman issue one, however, has sparked much controversy following its general release on September 22. This is mainly due to its depiction of Kyle as a barely dressed violent woman who (spoiler!) gets a bit frisky with Batman in a fairly explicit manner. While the relationship between Catwoman and Batman has been a longstanding plot point, it has never been shown so graphically in the past – the comic was rated T+, after all.

Although less overt, this year’s Batman Live stage show featured what I can best describe as a mid-air dance and passionate kiss during its final scenes. It suggested to me just how important the pairing of Catwoman and Batman is to the franchise. However, stylistically, the buxom burglar’s look remained the same as the comics, reinforcing her image further.

Arkham City, released later this year, features Catwoman as a prominent leading character, and while a change in costume did wonders for Harley Quinn, the game’s designers also seem to have opted to keep the look of Catwoman in line with the comics.

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Overall, of the four versions of Catwoman in current media, three have the same styling that matches the look and attitudes of the comic in the last decade or so. As such, the new images of Anne Hathaway are surprising.

Starring in such roles as The Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada and more recently One Day, Hathaway could be viewed as having a rather chick flick dominated resume, where she has played particularly girly roles that are far from the hard life and nefarious personality of Selina Kyle. In particular, the decision to keep her hair long is an interesting one, as this goes against every other depiction of Catwoman in the media at present.

I can’t help but wonder, in a movie that already features Tom Hardy as Bane, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, ladies’ favourite Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, as well as a stellar returning cast, just what can this Catwoman do to grab our (and Bruce Wayne’s) attention?

All I can say is that, given Christopher Nolan’s track record, I am eagerly awaiting his vision of Catwoman. I suspect that each leaked picture is simply part of a larger ad campaign for the film; perhaps we will see a transformation of Selina Kyle into a more recognisable Catwoman during the film itself?

After all, just because Nolan’s films depict a realistic version of Batman, this doesn’t mean Catwoman can’t wear her trademark costume – just as the Joker retained his purple suit. Maybe Hathaway’s performance will be just as surprising. I certainly hope so.

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Ultimately, while she has certainly had more than her nine lives’ worth of reincarnations, Catwoman remains popular with comic book fans everywhere. The only question that remains is that, after a long run of hit-and-miss big- and small-screen portrayals of the character, will The Dark Knight Rises deliver a Catwoman that comic fans can truly love?

Read all that’s known about The Dark Knight Rises here.