Ever since her first appearance under the moniker “The Cat” in 1940’s Batman #1, Catwoman has clawed her way into comic book history as one of the most memorable characters ever created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Over the years Selina Kyle has become a fan favorite rogue as both an antagonist and love interest for Bruce Wayne. The pair has not only been crossing proverbial swords for almost 80 years but in the wild world of DC Comics they’ve also had a (non-canon) child together, almost gotten married, and often teamed up for the better of Gotham City. That Bat and Cat dynamic is an enduring one, and it’s about to get a reimaging with the announcement that Zoe Kravitz will take on the role of Selina Kyle in Matt Reeves’ upcoming Batman movie, opposite Robert Pattinson’s new take on the Caped Crusader.
Gotham’s most famous femme fatale was inspired in part by Hollywood starlet Jean Harlow and, strangely, according to Kane’s biography Batman and Me, the artist’s own cousin Ruth Steel. She was introduced to the gritty streets of Gotham City with the intention of crafting a romantic entanglement for the Bat, one that would pit the billionaire vigilante against a physical and intellectual equal who also happened to be a total fox. It was a relationship that would remain at the core of the Batman mythos until she mysteriously disappeared from comic book pages in 1954. It would be 12 years until Selina returned; though it’s never been officially stated, it’s widely believed to be due to the implementation of the Comics Code Authority.
The self-imposed regulations featured many strict rules, including ones that seemed to relate to the flirtatious game the Bat and Cat played: “If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity… Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates the desire for emulation… In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.” As we all know, Batman often let his lady love go free and she certainly glamorized the lifestyle of a master thief. Luckily for fans she’s been a DC Comics stalwart since her return in 1966. That return, of course, ran alongside her first onscreen appearance in the cult Batman TV show from the 1960s, which is where we’ll start our rundown of some of the brilliant women who’ve brought Catwoman to life over the years.
Julie Newmar was already well versed in unusual roles when she took on the mantle of Catwoman alongside Adam West and Burt Ward in Batman ’66, having played a humanoid robot on the strange ’60s sitcom My Living Doll only one year before putting on the cat ears and becoming the first ever on screen Catwoman. Fitting in with the campy tone of the show, Newmar was an electric villainess who began as nothing more than an antagonist before she started to ramp up the sexual tension between the Cat and the Bat. Though she was never called Selina Kyle, Newmar managed to make the character larger than life, and in the spirit of the show was always surrounded by a colorful assortment of henchmen and thugs.
The tough talking, sometimes cruel character was pretty radical for the time as she subverted the idea of the usual good girl love interest and was far closer to the noir-soaked femme fatale archetype. Newmar took on the role for the first two seasons of the show, taking a more prominent role in the series’ sophomore outing. Though she had to leave due to a scheduling conflict, she began a trend of brilliant women who would bring Catwoman to the screen, and even returned to voice her in two DC animated movies based on the classic TV series.
The first cinematic Catwoman arrived the same year as Julie Newmar’s TV version when the actress who had first taken on the role couldn’t film the movie due to a back injury. In stepped newcomer Lee Meriwether, who brought an attitude (and domino mask) all her own. Meriwether was far more of a serious threat to Batman than Newmar and had far less time for flirtation as she spent her time running the criminal organization known as the United Underworld. Although the movie version of Batman ’66‘s Catwoman was arguably more high profile than Newmar’s rendition–who’d only starred in two episodes of the first season at the time of the film’s release–when the time came to shoot the second season, Newmar returned and Meriwether’s brief stint as Catwoman was over.
Like many actors in the ’60s TV scene–including genre icon Sid Haig, who appeared on Batman ’66 multiple times–Meriwether would pull double duty, returning to the series after her starring role in the movie as a small side character in the second season episodes “King Tut’s Coup” and “Batman’s Waterloo.” She would later star in multiple famous TV shows including Star Trek, Murder She Wrote, and Mission: Impossible. Despite her short time in the role, Meriwether is still a comic con regular where she meets fans who can’t get enough of her take on Catwoman!
Taking the reins from Julie Newmar in the third season of the classic series, Eartha Kitt already had an extensive career as a singer, actress, and activist. The studio was enamored with Kitt instantly as they felt that she already embodied the concept of a cat woman. Kitt channeled Meriwether’s more serious tone and added a layer of ruthlessness to it. Eartha’s Catwoman was a true equal to Batman, one who was never intimidated by the men in tights who wanted nothing more than to thwart her devilish schemes. Sadly, due to Kitt being the first African-American Catwoman and the racism of the time, there was never any romance between this Catwoman and Batman, which though depressing because of the context actually makes Kitt’s portrayal totally unique as she was a truly independent woman in the face of the hero.
Her groundbreaking role paved the way for better representation in superhero programming and film. It also means that far from Kravitz being some kind of outlier she is in fact carrying on a proud tradition of Black women playing Catwoman that’s been going on as long as Batman stories have been adapted on screen.
For many of us, Michelle Pfeiffer was the Catwoman of our childhoods. Her turn in Tim Burton’s gothic masterpiece Batman Returns was one that not only introduced audiences to one of the best superhero movie costumes of all time but also redefined Selina Kyle for a new generation. Gone was the pretty, charming, and generally rather well-behaved character from the comics; here was Pfeiffer as a mousy receptionist turned misandrist icon. Kyle became a cypher for female rage, her death at the hands of Max Schreck a prescient analogue for all the women harmed by powerful men in their places of work.
Selina returned as a nothing less than a force of nature, her bondage-inspired costume becoming instantly recognizable and iconic, the tight latex and exaggerated stitches bringing Tim Burton‘s gothic flair to life. The character was originally meant to be played by Annette Benning who stepped down due to pregnancy, and Blade Runner‘s Sean Young famously campaigned for the role after an injury stopped her from taking the role of Vicki Vale in Batman ’89. Fate prevailed, though, and Pfeiffer took on the role that would become one of her most well known and what’s arguably the defining live action Catwoman performance.
The other key Catwoman for ’90s kids was Adrienne Barbeau who blessed Saturday morning cartoon viewers with her silky tones as the voice of Batman: The Animated Series‘ Catwoman. It makes sense that Barbeau, already a genre icon for her turn in John Carpenter’s The Fog, brought her smoky late night tones from her breakout horror role as a radio DJ to the cartoon which for many fans remains the quintessential version of the Caped Crusader. This iteration of Selina Kyle was a wealthy heiress and socialite who was drawn into a life of crime. And, like the Burton film, she shares an unusual and potentially supernatural connection with her feline friends who gave the anti-heroine her name.
Barbeau isn’t the only actress to have voiced Catwoman in animated form. In fact, Catwoman has been brought to life by a whole bunch of incredible talent including Sanaa Latham, Jennifer Carpenter, Cree Summer, Grey DeLisle (who’s voiced her an incredible 11 times), Laura Bailey, Eliza Dushku, Vanessa Marshall, Jane Webb, and Melendy Britt. But it’s Barbeau who captured our imaginations as the morally grey antagonist to BTAS‘ Bruce’s stoic hero. This Catwoman was a stone cold seductress who was never afraid to use her feminine wiles in order to get what she wants. That didn’t mean she didn’t have her own twisted moral compass, though, as she was an advocate for animal rights, sometimes taking extreme measures to protect her spiritual kin.
Though she’s best known for her stint during Batman: The Animated Series, Barbeau did continue her tenure as Catwoman during the follow-up series The New Batman Adventures, which acted as both a relaunch and continuation of the popular kids TV show.
Despite the fact that her outing as Catwoman was much maligned at release and became a little bit of an embarrassing secret for DC, Oscar Winner Halle Berry still did her best to bring a reimagined version of the character to life. In a huge leap from her comic book origin, Berry played Patience Philips who was a completely different iteration of the hero than had ever been seen before… for both better and worse (mostly worse). The young graphic designer was a meek and submissive worker for a huge corporation before almost dying after unintentionally uncovering some potentially fatal corporate sabotage at her company, Hedare Beauty. After her strange resurrection, the story took an exceedingly supernatural turn into uncharted waters and made Patience the living embodiment of an ancient cat goddess.
The vengeance story against a corporate maniac who caused her death might sound familiar, and that’s because according to rumors this film was based on an unmade Michelle Pfieffer Catwoman spin-off script that would’ve seen the heroine facing down against iconic villains Joker (note that the maniacal makeup plotline seems very similar to the first Batman film) or Clayface, who is 100% who Sharon Stone’s character should have been. Alas, we got neither of those. But we did get this iconically corny film which sees Berry and co-star Benjamin Bratt face off on the basketball court after Patience first gets her skills. It also introduced the world to DC’s first superhero movie led by a woman of color and it still holds the title of the only Hollywood superhero movie to ever have been led by a Black woman.
When Christopher Nolan returned to Gotham one last time he brought a smattering of famous Batman rogues with him including Talia al Ghul, Bane, and Catwoman. Just like the rest of Nolan’s vision of the Dark Knight, Hathaway’s Selina was an updated and realistic take on the comic book character that fit into the gritty world he’d created. Her role as a talented thief was what brought her together with Bruce as she stole the pearls that were once worn by his darling mother Martha. Quick witted and equally as fast on her feet, The Dark Knight Rises‘ Catwoman was a criminal on the run who was trying to pull off the one final heist that would allow her to leave her past behind.
Hathway brought a sweetness to Catwoman; there was no connection to animals here, no coming back from the dead, and she’s never even referred to by her mantle. Instead, Selina Kyle was nothing more than a street smart thief with a heart of gold who happened to have a pair of goggles that flipped up to look like cat ears. Despite the fact that they end with a classic happy ending that ties up the loose ends of the trilogy nicely, Bruce and Selina still have an antagonistic relationship that at one point even sees Selina sell Bruce out. Hathaway’s Selina was widely seen as one of the best parts of what was the least well received film from Nolan’s celebrated trilogy. Over the years there were a bunch of rumors about a possible Hathaway spin-off, but they never materialized. Still, it’s fun to remember the woman who kicked Bruce Wayne over and stole Martha’s notorious pearls.
When Fox announced that they were making a Batman prequel fans could never have expected the strange and immersive world that Gotham would craft over its five year tenure. From the outset, the show centered on Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Camren Bicondova’s Selina Kyle. The pair were given a Charles Xavier and Raven style retcon that saw the young orphan take in the homeless street kid and slowly build a relationship with her. Bicondova was the first actor to portray a young version of Selina and also holds the record as the performer who has played Catwoman on screen for the longest at half a decade.
A mere 14 years old when she took on the role, Bicondova had the chance to craft a backstory worthy of one of the most famous comic book characters ever. She also had the tough task of reimagining a family friendly and age appropriate version of a character who has often been defined by her sex appeal. Instead, Bicondova focused on the heart of the young woman who would become one of Batman’s foes as well as arguably his greatest love. Though she handed over the reigns of the anti-heroine for the last episode of the season, during her tenure Bicondova crafted a unique, fan favorite take on the woman who over the years stole a lot more than Bruce Wayne’s heart.
The newest actress to take on the role of Selina Kyle is no stranger to big budget franchises with her breakout movie role coming in the fan favorite X-Men flick First Class, which she quickly followed up with a supporting role in the YA hit Divergent. You might actually know her best as Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Toast the Knowing, though Kravitz also recently became a part of the wizarding world of Harry Potter when she took on the role of Leta Lestrange in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series. Despite all of those blockbuster hits, Kravitz has also racked up some impressive indie credits in films like Dope and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Kravitz also already has some Catwoman experience as she voiced the character in the hugely popular The Lego Batman Movie. But it was her recent role in HBO’s award-winning murder mystery drama Big Little Lies that truly put her on the international map.
Kravitz is an exciting choice to take on the iconic master thief. Her body of work showcases an ability to handle everything from superhero action to prestige drama. She’s clearly a lover of both genre and arthouse film and has worked with George Miller who’s known for experimental techniques and intensely practical productions. Basically, Kravitz can take whatever Matt Reeves and co. throw at her, plus it’s nice to see an age equivalent love interest for Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne. The pair are both known for intense performances so we can’t wait to see the chemistry between them when she dons the mantle of Catwoman for the 2020 film.