Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Catwoman's Closet full of Clothes...

Selina Kyle is without a doubt one of the most important and well-known women in the DCU, though most know her as Catwoman. Over the years her costume has varied wildly and been adapted to better suit the evolution of her character. Catwoman was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane and rumoured to be at least partially inspired by Kane's second cousin by marriage, Ruth Steel. Catwoman, first appears in Batman #1 (Spring 1940) in which she is known as "the Cat". A whip-wielding adversary of Batman, she was a cat burglar with a taste for high-stake thefts. Since that time most modern writers have interpreted her dual-identity as a response to a history of some sort of abuse. Her most popular golden age outfit is the purple dress and cape, one we've seen a few variations on. But I do want to take a moment to address her very first outfit, a little green number. She wears a necklace of gold circles and a matching gold belt. The dress has a low cut tear drop in the front but full voluminous sleeves. It falls into a skirt and she wore white heels to complete the ensemble. Admittedly that isn't as noteworthy as what Batman is saying in the first panel, an interesting statement about how times have changed and how men treat women (at least sometimes in fiction). She still has a ways to go before she becomes the femme fatale we've all come to know and love. From the beginning, Selina was intended to be an anti-hero and occasional ally and love interest of the Batman. Unlike his other foes, she did not kill and seemed to enjoy engaging the Dark Knight in a sort of game of chess. Many times throughout the character's history it has been intimated that Catwoman is Batman's true love. Though she wore this green outfit briefly it certainly made its mark and green remains a recurring colour for Catwoman, which to me seems extremely odd as the only green cat I know of is Battle Cat. Despite the dialogue I enjoy the contemptuous disdain in her posture and facial expressions. She's not wearing any feline accessories that proclaim her dual-identity, she's simply wearing "the cat", an ideal that for centuries men have associated as female. Due to her grace, beauty, grooming habits, aloofness and mysterious behaviour some men see many attributes in the cat that they also seem to see in women. At this point we shall move on to an actual cat costume. We see once more the green in the form of a long cape and now she's wearing a purple evening gown with two slits in the front for her legs. She wears black leather heeled boots, and leaves her long flowing raven hair free from underneath her cowl. She also chose not to wear gloves, disdaining such things as fingerprints or fearing to leave them. To the modern viewer there is a great deal about this costume that is difficult to comprehend. Why would a cat-burglar dress in green and purple? Why wouldn't she wear gloves? And why would she wear high heels if she was running along rooftops as portrayed in this drawing here? But it does look sort of cool, in a retro '50s way--and as for practicality and all those silly questions I asked earlier about this outfit--forget them. I will paraphrase what Lucy Lawless said while portraying herself on "the Simpsons", any time you see something that doesn't make sense, or seem practical in the DC Universe remember its because Superboy-Prime punched a wall. Don't feel bad if that last bit doesn't make sense to you. Its a good thing. While wearing this costume Catwoman reformed for the first of many times. However when she returned to crime she chose to breakaway from her traditional look. Seen here in a dual to the death with Diana Prince: Wonder Woman, Selina has shortened her hair to a bob and exchanged the cowl for a simple red mask with pointed cat ears. She wears a sleeveless black leotard, presumably made of leather with an animated tail, pale blue stockings and blue heeled boots with a red lining rolled over to show said lining. She wears long black opera length gloves, presumably made of leather. She doesn't normally wield a sword, the two are forced to fight one another and of course temporarily become allies. Even in this issue where Catwoman is deliberately looking to make trouble and return to her life of crime she ends up helping Wonder Woman, not that the truce would last. Over the next few years Catwoman had quite a few run-ins with other super-heroines and villains and eventually made it onto TV. In the late 1960's she was played by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Merriweather. All three wore a similar looking black bodysuit with gold claw tips on the gloves and short boots with short heels. A cat mask and cat ears completed the outfit and gave her a slick look. Both Julie Newmar and Lee Merriweather wore their hair down around the cat's ears, but Eartha Kitt had a thick braid wrapped around her ponytail to hold her ears in place. Taking inspiration from this DC introduced a new look for Catwoman, but managed to somehow get it all wrong. Once more they return to green, in an alarming but bold statement. She gets high green boots and green gloves and a necklace of green circles. A textured green body suit and matching mask and ears. Once more she wields her traditional cat o' nine tails, and as is typical of comics at the time she and Batgirl are fighting over Batman. If they'd kept the costume black it would have looked great and like the character in the popular T.V. show, but instead they went back to green and made her look more derivative of the Riddler. As an interesting aside the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl was also based on the T.V. show but instead of purple and yellow she wears black, blue and yellow--probably to keep in tone with Batman's colours. In 1986 Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli reinvented both Catwoman's origin and her look. Now she is a vengeful prostitute who discovers she can do much better for herself and her proteges' by donning a gray bodysuit, with clawed gloves and attached flat-heeled boots. Selina learns various forms of martial arts and ends up killing her former pimp to rescue her kidnapped sister. She and the Batman engage in a little of their typical cat and flying mouse play and thus the Catwoman is reinvented for the modern age. She wore this costume for some time, appearing in various Bat-related as well as other titles, like Birds of Prey. Eventually her popularity warranted her first eponymous monthly series and artist Jim Balent redefined Catwoman's look once again. Returning to her original Golden Age costume for inspiration he returns her to a purple cowl, with long free flowing hair and a matching purple bodysuit, with black leather gloves and thigh high black leather boots. Still wielding her cat o' nine tails Catwoman is portrayed as an anti-hero though she continues to help Batman and becomes somewhat of a Robin Hood at points. While wearing this costume she participates in events involving the Justice League, the Titans (Teen and Otherwise) and the Birds of Prey. While her series ran for over 7 years in this form she maintained this outfit with variations designed to suit climate and other needs. Sometimes it was done in camouflage, sometimes the suit had additional pieces of armour or toe claws but it always kept the same basic line and look. She wore a bodysuit, gloves, thigh high boots and free falling hair. I must confess that I've always liked the look of this costume best. As impractical as the long hair is, I like long wavy hair, especially when well drawn in fight scenes. The problem is, someone always has to come and make it more real. In "Selina's Big Score" she cuts her hair and makes some major life changes which lead to the cancellation of her first monthly title and the birth of her second eponymous monthly title. She trades in the purple for a leather bodysuit with a front zipper and attached cowl with cat ears. Instead of thigh highs or heels she wears tough looking army boots. She completes this look with goggles that also have a cat ear shape and can possess whatever night or heat vision suits the story best. Her whip doubles as her belt and tail, a cute choice if somewhat impractical and she returns to the streets of Gotham, somewhat reformed and more eager to help make the city safe. The second title lasted almost 6 years before it ended and she remains in this costume, with minor variations to this day. You can follow Catwoman's monthly adventures in "Gotham City Sirens" a great comic that follows the adventures of Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Its a lot of fun reading about the three girls as they take on Gotham City on their own terms. Its interesting to note how Batman's female enemies tend to keep their truces with the Dark Knight much more effectively than their male counterparts. But Arkham Asylum practically has a revolving door and its inmates, both former and current are apt to change their mood and motivations with little to no warning. I wanted to take a moment to mention the design for Catwoman in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns". Michelle Pfieffer played Catwoman/Selina Kyle and did a great job of capturing her "difficulty with duality". This struggle was mirrored in the Catwoman's costume, shiny black patent leather held together by hand stitched white threads that slowly tore apart and unraveled to mirror the fragile, if volatile psyche she had. Join me next week as we take a look at some designs I had in mind for every one's favorite feline femme fatale, but in the meantime her are some other looks (mostly T.V. & Film) worn by Catwoman:






Catwoman, Selina Kyle, Batman, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Diana Prince and all related symbols, insignia, costumes etc, are all © Trademarks of DC Comics and the images reproduced here are used only as illustrations for the purpose of costume critique and the promotion of DC Comics.

5 comments:

  1. And you didn't even talk about Halle Berry. Tsk! She's a horror in her own right, in that crap movie.

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  2. Don't worry, I'm saving Ms. Berry's costume for the next post... >:)

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