Wannabee Catwoman? Didn't we all . . .: Kimberley Leston on the cartoon character with everything: looks, power, brains, and (originally) pointy ankle boots
Sunday 02 August 1992
My own most vivid memories of Catwoman are as a redheaded temptress in the high-camp television series of the Sixties. Wearing a spray-on catsuit with a bosom like twin torpedoes, and a pair of spike heels that could do damage to the most formidable comic book adversary, she was the pop art heroine incarnate. No wonder my friends and I found her such an alluring role model: here was a woman who knew what she wanted, was feared and desired by all, and carried a whip (or, of course, cat o'nine tails) when most ordinary villainesses would have made do with a handbag. Maybe Catwoman was to girls growing up in the Sixties what the manipulative and sexually predatory characters played by Barbara Stanwyck had been to the cinema audiences of the Forties. Quite simply, a force to be reckoned with who was glamorous to boot. You just knew that if she ever got Batman into her boudoir she would make make mincemeat of him.
Catwoman made her debut in the first Batman comic story in 1940. Invented for the novelty value of having a female antagonist to pit against the early Batman, she started life as a pet shop owner by day and cat burglar by night, styled after the actress Hedy Lamarr. Her sex appeal gathered momentum through the Forties and Fifties with a fit-and-flare dress (see right), a hefty decolletage, pointy ankle boots and a blatantly come-hither mouth, thrown into sharp relief by a half-face mask that has remained her trademark ever since. Batman could hardly be expected to resist, and so was born the most intense sexual chemistry that has ever existed between two comic book characters.
After an uninspired period in the Seventies, in which she swopped her Diana Rigg-ish TV image for an early version of a Lycra bodysuit and suddenly sprouted a tail, she emerged in her darkest incarnation in the mid-Eighties in Frank Miller's acclaimed reworkings of the Batman story, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One as a suitably hardened prostitute who dons a trusty catsuit once more.
In the form of Michelle Pfeiffer in S&M corset and her most insatiable looking lips to date, she remains true to her roots but is unquestionably contemporary. She is the ultimate female predator: assertive, sexual, complex, but oddly unsure of herself too - a walking, stalking embodiment of the modern woman and her modern identity crisis.
For faithful fans who have followed the cartoon through the decades, Catwoman's special magic is as strong as Batman's ever was. Stronger, perhaps? The shop in Camden Town reports that the first order for their Catwoman outfit was from a man . . .
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