Posts Tagged ‘julie newmar’

h1

Batman and Catwoman and All Things Gotham

October 28, 2011

Listen to
internet radio with Allaine on Blog Talk Radio
Advertisements
h1

Blogtalking about Batman, Catwoman and all things Gotham (What else is new?)

October 28, 2011

I had such a blast last night appearing as a guest on Blogtalk Radio and talking about all things Catwoman: Purple Catwoman, Reboot Catwoman, Catwoman and Batman, all the actresses who’ve played Catwoman in the movies… well you get the idea. Seriously though, we talked about other stuff. Harley, Ivy, Joker… Meow
Cat-Tales Author Chris Dee on The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman, the DC Comics Reboot, purple Catwoman costumes, and all things Batman
You can download the podcast here.

h1

Catwoman and Cleopatra: Inkblots of an Age

April 25, 2011

After Practical Cats, a reader asked me to summarize my Cleopatra theory as it pertains to Catwoman.  With shooting under way onCatwoman Inkblot The Dark Knight Rises, and Batman circles abuzz with speculation on what Christopher Nolan’s take will be, it seemed the perfect time.

Briefly: Cleopatra lived and died over 2,000 years ago, and what’s known about her life hasn’t changed.  There is the sensational Roman account, juicy but questionable material dating from a propaganda war with Augustus Caesar, and a drier but more flattering picture of her political accomplishments recorded by the historian Flavius Josephus.  That’s it.  It’s not like any new unauthorized biographies were unearthed in the 1300s, 1500s, or 1800s to account for the drastically differing images of her.  There is only one set of facts from which different ages have formed completely different Cleopatras: from “The Nile Slut” to a childlike innocent, from a murderous man-eater to a savvy politician, from a devoted mother to a tragic “slave to love.”   Obviously, they can’t all be right.  Obviously, what each era chooses to focus on—and what it chooses to ignore—says more about them than it does the real Cleopatra.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s fascinating Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions does a remarkable job analyzing each of these incarnations and what they reveal about the eras which romanticized and vilified her.  Not surprisingly, it is the spin each age puts on the sexual aspects of her story that is most telling about their attitudes about women in general, and women’s sexuality in particular.   

Cleopatra and CatwomanLike Cleopatra, Catwoman is a sex symbol who has spanned many generations and gone through many incarnations.  From her first appearance in Batman #1, the draw between male and female has always been the distinguishing feature of Bat/Cat encounters.  Tame and subtextual under the early comics code: Batman saw through Catwoman’s disguise in that first appearance by noticing her shapely legs. Amusingly brazen by the time Julie Newmar donned her claws and Adam West’s Batman declared “You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt.”   Of course there is more to Catwoman’s appeal that the physical.  You can’t throw a batarang in mainstream comics without hitting a beautiful and voluptuous woman.  What made Catwoman particularly well-suited to the role as the Batman’s romantic foil was her playful free-spirited disposition.  In an era that was finally acknowledging that sex is fun, the Bat/Cat titillation reached its zenith in Batman #324 when Selina awoke naked in the Batcave after her costume had been torn to pieces.  Batman tosses her a replacement saying she was lucky he’d kept one of her old costumes in his trophy room, and she responds—just barely covering herself with the sheet—that she “got lucky in more ways than one.”

Approved by the Comics Code.  And that’s probably what made it so much fun: the tingle of being bad, of getting away with something a little naughty.  It is the appeal of Catwoman, and in scenes like that, the reader got a taste.

And therein lies one of the essential elements of a successful Catwoman portrayal that has often eluded DC Comics.  A simple comparison of the merchandise dating from Denny O’Neil’s day as Bat editor, where it seemed to be a mandate that her features be distorted by a hostile snarl, to the turning point when a Japanese company, Yamoto Toys, released a limited edition figurine based on manga artist Kia Asamiya’s design.  The sexy come hither pose and naughty grin sold out in days in many U.S. comic shops and was voted The Sexiest Batman-related Action Figure by Wizard’s ToyFare Magazine.  After a second equally successful figurine from Yamoto, again featuring the Jim Balent costume with an appealing pose and smile, DC appears to have got the message.  Recent offerings of the Balent costume from DC Direct have certainly featured an attractive pose and naughty grin.

Catwoman Merchandise, Action Figures and Figurines

But the detour into snarling hostility illustrates how, like Cleopatra, Catwoman has undergone reinvention after reinvention reflecting the insights, fetishes or fears of those doing the re-imaging.  Consider her Bob Kane origin from “The Secret Life of Catwoman,” an airline stewardess who suffered amnesia after a plane crash.  (Yes, amnesia. It’s a comic book.)  In the 1940s and 50s, stewardesses were incredibly glamorous figures.  Beautiful, svelt single girls, traveling the world, meeting exciting people and working side-by-side with pilots!  It is in this story that Catwoman’s real name is revealed to be Selina Kyle.  Selina meaning “daughter of the moon.”  Kane clearly gave his Catwoman a glamorous and romantic cache befitting her status as the Queen of the Night in Batman’s world.  This Catwoman, despite her criminal activities, was far from evil.  She bargained away loot to save Robin from Joker, and on regaining her memory, worked with Batman to bring down a crime boss and ultimately her own criminal brother.

The next origin revealed that the amnesia story was a lie.  Selina Kyle had been married to a rich man who beat her.  When she left him, he tried to ruin her.  Her first robbery was stealing back the jewelry he’d given her and, titillated by the thrill, she continued.  The attitudes expressed by this version of Catwoman are not at all difficult to decode, for the author puts it right in the text: Selina tells Batman she made up the amnesia story to get out of the life of crime because  “I was thirty years old and I didn’t want to die without love… without children.”  That Selina does marry Bruce Wayne and has a child with him: Helena Wayne.  While modern sensibilities may kneejerk at the notion that every woman must pang for motherhood, I submit that the root idea that all humans, both men and women, want love is a timeless and valid one.

Things took a bit of a turn when the in-your-face feminism of the Sixties sent the comics boys into a tizzy.  Consider the mentality of a writer who had the Green Lantern’s girlfriend become evil Star Sapphire for 5 days each month.  How does such a man respond to images on the news of women shouting for equality and burning their bras?  Well, Catwoman donned go-go boots and snarled about “The Battle of the Sexes” and how “No man would ever tame her,” and that same writer gave Batman a new enemy/love interest, a submissive Asian who “was good company even when she was quiet.

Yeah.  Seriously.  Amazing, isn’t it?

The Catwoman of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is of a period that lost the most fundamental “Look, up in the sky” aspect of superhero comics: the wish fulfillment of a child, the adventures of characters we would all want to be if we could.  To fly, to be strong, to swing across the city on a silken Batline, to have exciting adventures in a world of larger than life color…  In the spirit of remaking all the known characters as damaged human beings that no sane person would ever want to be, Selina was a meek, repressed, overworked secretary whose boss killed her.  All of her ‘empowerment’ was a reaction to oppression and victimization, but it should be noted that this is not really a gender attitude.  The men in Burton’s world fare no better.

Of Frank Miller’s Year One and subsequent comics based on its Catwoman origin, all that any enlightened reader need do is look at the body of Miller’s work.  The sheer number of prostitutes, rapes and castrations paint a vivid portrait of the man doing the writing and his attitudes, but just in case anyone doubts, Rob Bricken has taken the trouble to map it all out in 6 Hints that Frank Miller Might Have Issues with Women.   What all this says about Miller is – well, it’s Miller.  It doesn’t have to represent the rest of us.  We don’t have to be the generation that was so terrified of women’s sexuality they had to demonize it.  It was DC who let this guy with obvious issues about women’s sexuality define a woman’s icon.  It is DC Comics who refuses to remedy or even admit that error.  It falls to other media to do so.

Mr. Nolan, I’m looking at you.  The 21st Century is eagerly waiting to see what “Our” Catwoman will be.

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com

Article first published as Catwoman and Cleopatra: Inkblots of an Age on Blogcritics.

h1

The Dressing of Cats is a serious matter…

January 21, 2011

So it’s to be Catwoman and Bane in Dark Knight Rises… Meow!The Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes #1 Anne Hathaway

I haven’t put forth any opinion on Anne Hathaway simply because I know enough about actors to know what I don’t know. If it’s a bad actor (Katie Holmes) you can see a train wreck coming without knowing any particulars of the role. In all other cases, none of us out here have seen enough of most actors to know what they are capable of. You watch Mr. Mom, you would never dream Michael Keaton could play Bruce Wayne. You watch The Doors, you would never that dream Val Kilmer couldn’t. So good luck, Anne! I have already mentioned the je nes se qua of Selina, as I see her, is best seen in Jennifer Ehle’s Eliza Bennet. She is about 120% more alive than the rest of us, there is a core of fun, joy, and good humor that makes a perfect foil to the dour intensity of Mr. Darcy…

Now, performance aside, there has been a certain concern raised about her “Complexity” – non comics folks, let me explain. There is a particular idiocy among a certain subset of comics readers that think cup size is inversely proportional to a complex and sophisticated portrayal of the character. A curvy and bouncy Catwoman that men enjoy looking at can’t possibly be a serious, realistic and complex treatment of the character, because of course, big breasted women don’t exist in nature. Fear not, fellas. What you saw in The Devil Wear’s Prada is creative costuming. Anne Hathaway is plenty lacking in complexity.

So, that’s Anne. The first thing most of my male friends and readers brought up immediately after hearing the casting was – no surprise here– the costume. I can certainly appreciate the desire to start forming that mental picture asap, and since it’s going to be quite a while until we learn anything about the production, let’s have a little survey of Catwoman’s looks over the years.

As all Cat Fans know, Selina made her debut way back in Batman #1 as an uncostumed jewel thief known as The Cat. She was modeled after sex-goddess of the day, Hedy Lamarr, looked smashing in an evening gown, and the first thing Batman noticed was her very shapely legs. Her first “costume”consisted only of a full face furry cat-mask, which wasn’t exactly flattering.

Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes - The Cat

Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes - ClassicAlmost immediately she moved to the Classic Skirted Costume which is most familiar to modern fans from The Brave and the Bold cartoon. It is easily her most enduring look, having been the original costume in the 40s, returning in the 70s and remaining unchanged right up until Crisis on Infinite Earths, returning in numerous Elseworlds and other comic appearances since, and now in the Brave and the Bold and its related games and merchandise.

Now that’s the 4-color world. Up until Batman Returns in 1992, her best known look to non-comics fans was certainly Julie Newmar’s from the 1966 series, which the comics promptly copied, changing only the color.

Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes - Julie Newmar

Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes - Go Go BootsIn comics, the “Go Go Boots” look came next. It seems to be universally known as the Go Go Boots Catwoman despite the fact that the ’60s hair and domino mask version is actually wearing the low ankle boot more often associated with the Classic Skirted Costume. Go figure. In any case, like all bad hair and clothing choices of that period, it was quickly changed and forgotten – a lesson the present comics could learn from, god knows. Admit it was the quaaludes, change it back, and move on.

But back to Julie. I always say that a lot of boys became men watching her in that black catsuit, and in 1992 history repeated itself with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. The influence of the ’66 look can easily be seen, and the ’92 was in turn inspiration for Dolce and Gabbana interpretation in Vogue.

Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes - Iconic Body

That bring us, at long last, to the Jim Balent, the iconic look released on the cover of Catwoman #1. This costume drew upon the Classic Skirted Original, obviously, updating it for a more modern flavor while retaining all that connected Catwoman to her Bob Kane, Batman #1 roots.

Definitive History of Catwoman - Jim Balent

Batman the Animated Series wisely adapted it, opting (foolishly, IMO) to recolor for their Gotham palette which erred on the side of black.

Definitive History of Catwoman Costumes - Jim LeeThat brings us up to a present rife with mistakes. The less said of the Halle Berry disaster, the better. The movie was a mistake from start to finish, but more than a few industry watchers have observed that the multi-million dollar fustercluck could have been avoided if DC had admitted the disaster of their Volume II comic. If you put Catwoman on the cover – or the title of a movie – and you do not deliver a Catwoman story or the true Catwoman character within, then you will fail. The Darwyn Cooke goggled costume is a warning sign (Arkham City game designers, take note!) It means “This ain’t Catwoman.” It means you have been taking notes from the comics division which failed because it rejected, ignored, or tried to rewrite the DNA of the character and failed accordingly. Goggles mean you have probably got it wrong. You’re starting with two strikes against you. Even if the look were feline and attractive, you would not want that.

But it’s not feline. It’s based on Aviator Snoopy. I like Charlie Brown, don’t get me wrong. And I like his dog. But Snoopy the dog has nothing to do with Catwoman. So there’s that.

There is also the fact that they look markedly unattractive and bee-like. Jim Lee is the only artist on record who can make them kinda-sorta not nauseating, and he a) had scenes like this to work with, b) got them off her face every chance he could and c) is Jim Lee. Let’s face it, most of you aren’t. Nuff said about the goggles.

What the Nolan movie will do? We’ll have to wait and see, but there is a rich history to draw from. It should be fun seeing what they come up with.

Oops, almost forgot the Cat-Tales news!  A new tale has begun! Trophies from the Latin tropaeum, a prize, memento, or monument to an enemy’s defeat. Of course in the Batcave, it might mean something else.   We’re also just days away from a lifting that “Beta” tag on the iPhone front end, and making the catverse much more accessible to mobile readers (Yes, that means you Android and Windows Phone people too.)

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com
cattales.yuku.com
cattales.wikispaces.com

Thank you for reading. If you are viewing this post anywhere other than The Catitat you are reading a mirror. Please visit the original posting in The Catitat to leave a comment.

%d bloggers like this: