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The Many Lives Of Catwoman

The Many Lives of Catwoman – The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale
Tim Hanley
Chicago Review Press
$18.99

Tim Hanley’s new book The Many Lives of Catwoman is one that I awaited with much anticipation to read. Those of you familiar with Hanley know that his past work includes books on Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine) and Lois Lane (Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter). Hanley brings impeccable research and an engaging and readable style as he traces Catwoman’s lengthy history in comics from her first appearance as simply the Cat in Batman #1 in 1940 as well as her forays in movies, television and cartoons.

Hanley begins with an unvarnished discussion of Catwoman’s creation at the hands of Bill Finger, despite Bob Kane’s decades of deceipt and greed, and examines the traits that made Catwoman stand out in her early appearances. She was a rare female character with agency who possessed a cunning nature and regularly outsmarted Batman. Hanley posits that another aspect that lends to Catwoman’s appeal is her status as an outsider which allows her to shift between the roles of vilian, distrusted ally and anti-hero.

Characters with such great longevity tend to change through the years. Superman under Siegel and Schuster was often concerned with issues around social justice while Mort Weisinger turned him into a nearly omnipotent and benevolent god. William Moulton Marston’s bondage themes in Wonder Woman did not survive long past his death just as a mod Diana Prince divested of all her Amazonian heritage was put to rest. The author illustrates that Catwoman is no different in this respect starting with her transition from a strong willed person to a woman given more to romance and trivialized by Batman as traditional gender roles returned post World War II.

The effects of Frederick Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocent had on the comics industry are well documented. Wertham considered Superman to be a power mad danger. He declared Wonder Woman a lesbian and as it turns out he wasn’t exactly wrong. He believed Batman and Robin were rife with homoerotic undertones and suggestions of pedophilia. As a result of these allegations the romance angle in Wonder Woman was played up with Steve Trevor regularly bringing up marriage whereas long time Batman editor Jack Schiff gave Batman love interests by returning Vickie Vale to the cast and introducing Batwoman. Hanley discusses how Catwoman also became a casualty of Wertham’s Seduction for a twelve year period only breaking her Silver Age abscence with an appearance not in a Batman comic but in Lois Lane #70 under the Superman line’s Mort Weisinger’s guidance.

I was especially pleased to read the sections in which Hanley talks at some length about Catwoman’s original 1993 series. Specifically, he addresses the tension that arose from the smart scripts turned in the title’s five females writers (Jo Duffy, Deborah Pomerantz, Joan Weis, Devyn Grayson, and Bronwyn Carlton) who worked diligently to transform Selina into a series headliner as a complex and flawed character following her own moral code in contrast to Jim Balent’s artistic depiction and rationalization of her as a parental basement dweller’s sex kitten fantasy. Also of particular interest to me are the sections in which Hanley discusses queer representation with Brubaker’s version of Holly Robinson and girlfriend Karon, Genevieve Valentine’s year long arc revealing Selina falling in love with a woman who happened to be the daughter of a Gotham mobster, and a trans character in a season three episode of Gotham Girls. Hanley reminded me how wonderful Holly and Karon’s characters were and it’s a shame the characters are relegated to comics limbo.

There is a great deal more material in which Hanley devotes to Selina was portrayed in comics throughout the 1970s and 1980s including a no nonsense look at Frank Miller’s radical departure. Significant space is given to Selina’s various television,film, and animated permutations, including an analysis for why Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns succeeded whereas the solo Catwoman movie was disastrous.

Beautifully reproduced cover images and TV and movie stills on glossy paper comprise most of the sixteen paged photo section. They’re all well chosen and the older covers I’d not seen before are a special treat. In another photo a smartly dressed Bob Kane plays himself off as the painter of a beautiful woman modeling as Catwoman. If there is a downside to Hanley’s book it is that Hanley’s book was written outside the auspices of DC/ Warner Brothers which means a lack of interior art reproductions from any of the comics discussed.

The aforementioned issue is hardly a reason to pass on this excellent guide to Catwoman. My level of interest in and enjoyment of Hanley’s Catwoman has spurred me to put his Lois Lane book at the top of my must read books! I’m very curious what he has to say about Lois was treated under Mort Weisinger’s editorship. If you enjoyed either of his previous books then I recommend you check into this one!

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