Star-Bulletin Features

Graphic Arts As Literature


Catwoman enters a new
era in new comic series

By Gary C.W. Chun

One of the small pleasures over the past six months or so has been the reinvigoration of Batman's favorite feline counterpart, Catwoman. She and the Dark Knight, who share a deep, abiding sense of justice (and an attraction to each other), have opted to stay on opposite sides of the law.

That is until now, in this recent series penned by Ed Brubaker and drawn in a pleasing cartoon-noir style by, first, Darwin Cooke and now Brad Rader, who worked on the popular Batman animated series and drew "The Batman Adventures" comic book tie-in.

After a disastrous side trip to New York City where she skirts death, Catwoman returns to Gotham City a reformed woman.

Selina Kyle's alter ego has always enjoyed the thrill of being an expert thief, teasing and staying one step ahead of Batman. As Batman creator Bob Kane wrote in his autobiography, he and artist Bill Finger "knew we needed a female nemesis to give the strip sex appeal ... (so we) decided to create a somewhat friendly foe who committed crimes but was also a romantic interest in Batman's rather sterile life. ... We figured that there would be this ... cat-and-bat byplay between them -- he would try to reform her and bring her over to the side of law and order."

Catwoman was introduced to Bat-readers in the spring of 1940, and while the character has stayed fairly consistent, it seemed her look would change with every fashion trend. The campy '60s TV series and movie saw a trio of slinky actresses -- Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriweather -- don a tight black Halloween-like costume, complete with ears and tail. And there was the fetish look Michelle Pfeiffer adopted in the 1992 movie "Batman Returns."

But until recently, she was known more for her skintight purple costume with mask, claws and bullwhip, veering between the cartoon-friendly look of the animated series to the balloon-breasted babe Jim Balent created during his long run on the comic-book series.

The current incarnation of the character, while still sexy, is outfitted in something more practical: a form-fitting, black vinyl, one-piece suit and hood with night-vision goggles. It places the emphasis on stealth and action, pushed along by Brubaker's briskly paced story-writing and small, succinct illustration panels, numbering up to 12 per page.

The current run of "Catwoman" is up to seven issues; Kyle has left behind her high-rolling, high-class life for the gray-shaded world of the vigilante, defending the downtrodden of Gotham City. Her flirtations with Batman have ended as she surrounds herself with people who can help her through her new phase of life: her friend and confidante Dr. Leslie Thompkins; the gruff P.I. Slam Bradley; and Holly, a young, reformed prostitute that Kyle befriends, who becomes her eyes and ears on the East End streets.

In "Anodyne," the series' first story, Catwoman fought a shape-shifting man responsible for prostitute murders. Issue 5 had the stand-alone story "Trickle Down Theory," which showed how corruption in high places could result in the deaths of young drug-runners. In the latest story, "Disguises," we learn more about Holly's character and how she became a victim of police corruption.

In his deft characterizations and scripting, Brubaker shows why he's one of the better writers around. And Rader continues the illustrative style Darwin Cooke started on the first four issues.

Expect to see Catwoman on the big screen in the near future. Ashley Judd, currently starring in "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," is committed to portray the DC Comics character, although not as Selina Kyle. The current draft has her as a veterinary scientist who seeks revenge against an industrialist who had her killed. (Like Pfeiffer's Kyle, the scientist is resurrected with the help of cats.) No director or supporting cast has been signed, although filming may start later this year.

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