Note:Dean and I hand over the keys to P:R Roundtable to our talented cast of contributors, as comics writer Vito Delsante, Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin, comics scholar Jessica Plummer, and cartoonists Jon Morris and Joel Priddy take on DC’s alpha female Catwoman. From the first costume Selina put on to her most recent garb in The Dark Knight Rises, our staff don’t pull any punches and don’t put away the claws. In this P:R Roundtable rundown, we focused on the major costume shifts over the character’s history, and glossed over any minor variations like the recent “New 52” design. And remember, submit your own art for our Fan-Art Friday: Catwoman — deadline is this Friday! – Chris A.
Joel: Oh, dear gawd. That is disturbing. Were… were they going for disturbing? Like, Professor Pyg disturbing?
Jessica: I’m actually more fascinated/alarmed by whatever’s going on with her feet.
Rachel: I’m incredibly curious as to how you start with “cat” and end up at that particular color scheme. Secondary colors (see the green and purple below) are at least kind of villain-coded, but this is just flat-out bewildering.
Jon: Well, to be fair, I’ve seen more golden and orange cats than I’ve seen purple and green.
Vito: To be fair, I think this is the same type of literal thinking that went into “Bat-Man” (as he was originally named). What does a Cat-Woman look like? This.
Vito: My favorite out of all of them. I don’t know if it’s the color scheme, or if it’s so blatantly a woman’s outfit (because it’s a dress), but this one always seemed appealing to me…more so than the tight leather outfits. Other than the mask/cowl, there is nothing here that suggests a cat. No tail, no fur. Cats are slinky, so those other outfits are more “catlike” than this one, but this one…it’s a classic.
Rachel: I love this outfit, and it’s stylish as hell, but it’s impractical to an extent that actively impedes suspension of disbelief. For a one-off scene or formal-wear riff on a different costume, it’s ace; as the primary costume of a cat-burglar character, not so much.
Joel: I’m on record as loving formal evening dresses as crime-fighting gear, but, honestly, this one has never done it for me. The dress itself doesn’t really have any character. It’s a dress as imagined by someone who has never paid attention to dresses. And the cape doesn’t really integrate with the costume all that well. It just seems like extraneous detail. Worst of all, it doesn’t communicate anything about Catwoman. I mean, the mask has ears and all, but it’s hard to look at this costume and think “cat burglar.” She looks like she should be sitting above the fray directing minions, doesn’t she?
Rachel: Yeah. Or doing something magic-y–look at those hands.
Jessica: Yeah, there’s no real personality here. “She’s a lady? Boom, dress. She’s in a comic book? Boom, cape. She’s a bad guy? Make it green and purple and cut those slits real high on the thigh.” It’s not a bad outfit, and god knows I have a soft spot for old school costumes, but as a means of conveying the character, it fails.
Rachel: Is this where the actual, y’know, catsuit was introduced?
Joel: I don’t know, but I’m of an age that this was my first introduction to Catwoman, and the baseline by which all other designs are measured. It’s a good costume for what it was: a relatively low-budget and intentionally campy TV superhero costume. The sparkly sheen to the fabric does a lot to liven the costume up and make it more than a simple black silhouette. The ears say “cat,” the mask says “crook” and everything else about it says “60’s sex appeal.” Which, is pretty much exactly what the show was going for. Looking at it as a comics design, it falls a bit short. The shapes of the mask and the ears mirror each other just enough to clash awkwardly. Conversely, the necklace and the belt are individually nice, but don’t relate to each other at all.
Vito: Yeah, this is of the same era that introduced Mrs. Peel of the (TV) Avengers, with her cut-out hips. The thing I always liked about this Catwoman (other than Newmar’s portrayal) is that, just like you suggested, Rachel, this is what a catsuit is. Or at least, this is what inspired the idea of it. It’s slender, hugging the actress’ curves (all three of them…Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether too), and in seeing her in it, you can’t argue Batman’s attraction to her. I think, and this is totally my opinion, but I think that this version of Catwoman took her from being the annoying cat burglar and made her the woman Batman hates to love. Looking at this again, I can’t help but think that Nolan was more inspired by this than Darwyn Cooke’s design (see below).
Vito: In terms of being “catlike” and slinky, this one has that in spades. I like the high boots and gloves (are those technically opera gloves?), and to it’s credit, it has the same mask as the previous version, but it runs into the same problem as a previous one; it doesn’t look like a cat.
Rachel: It is, however, an actual catsuit, which gets it some points from me. I’m really torn about this costume: It’s silly, and it’s frankly pretty boring, but it also does a decent job of bridging the elegance of the first version with a degree of practicality. I like the conceit of the opera gloves.
Joel: It’s hard to separate this costume from its cheesecake context, but this shows a much more streamlined, and iconic take on the character. It’s simple enough a design that even little details can derail it, however. The claws and the eye-hole cut-outs are too busy and distract from the whole.
Jessica: Yeah, I’m not sure how she’s not skewering her own right palm there. I think this costume is moving in the right – or at least a more familiar – direction, but as Rachel said, it’s both kind of silly (when was the last time you saw a purple cat?) and boring. Every submission we get here has had more thought put into it than this.
On the other hand, if nothing else it shows that you don’t have to show any skin to be drawn in a ludicrously cheesecakey fashion. It’s not always about pants vs. no pants.
Vito: This one falls way off the reservation, but Michelle Pfeiffer wore it so well, you can’t really complain. Taking into consideration the origin of this character (she was pushed out of a window and then…I kid you not…licked back to life by alley cats), it is suitably bizarre and fetishistic (as most of Tim Burton’s costume designs usually are).
Rachel: Catwoman should not be shiny, and this costume is stupid. I will concede that Pfeiffer wears it well: legend has it that this costume was pretty much made of liquid latex, which had to be repainted on to Pfeiffer at the beginning of each shoot.
Joel: The connection between super-suits and fetish gear has been pretty thoroughly examined and mined at this point, but it was still a fresh, even revelatory idea when this movie came out. I’m glad that there were no serious attempts to translate this costume into the comics (or, at least, none that I saw), because it wouldn’t have held up well on the page. But it was lovely on the screen, and paved the way for Cooke’s perfect balancing of fetish and practicality.
Jessica: This is a case where silly (so shiny! so unnecessarily jagged! licked back to life by alley cats!) works for me, although that may just be because this movie was made before Tim Burton devolved into a parody of himself. What I like about it is that it’s actually attempting to convey something about the character – the contrast stitching represents her fractured psyche, etc., etc. The costume’s off the reservation, but so is this Selina Kyle.
Jon: Remember how many Batman fans praised the Burton movies because, at long last, Batman was no longer campy? Twenty years later, I hope folks have come to recognize that “dark” can be just as campy as “day-glo”.
Anyway, this is a perfect Catwoman costume for Burton’s Batman, anything more subdued might have seemed ludicrous next to DeVito’s Nightmare Before Penguinmas outfit and all the candy cane-striped weapons of war. The broad white stitches, fire engine red lipstick and gleaming vinyl allow her to stand out from the scenery. Definitely a miss in any other medium or movie, but a good fit for Batman Returns…
Vito: All this needs is a tail and I think we have a real cat silhouette. The opera gloves are a nice touch and the mask is suitably exaggerated. Whenever I think of a Bruce Timm design, I always think of economy; not one section is wasted. That belt, for instance, could easily be a cat’s collar (actually, I think Julie Newmar wore a similar belt). It’s pretty much spot on.
Rachel: Did I say that the Balent design bridged elegance and practicality? I take that back. Ain’t nobody does it like Bruce Timm.
In general, though, the Timm-designed animated DCU *is* my DCU, so I’m predisposed to think of this one as the “real” costume.
Vito: You’re allowed! It has to be the epitome of the DCU for an entire generation.
Joel: Bruce Timm is, indeed, masterful at collecting a character’s disparate visual elements and arranging them in a considered, elegant manner. He often designs ur-iconic versions of already iconic characters. And all that skill is clearly on display in this Catwoman, who shares DNA with all the previous versions in a simple, seemless way. I just… kinda find it boring. I feel like somewhere along the line, the character lost her texture. But, it may be suffering by comparison to the next design.
Jessica: I don’t feel like I can add much to what you guys have already said – it’s elegant, it’s sleek, it looks as much like a cat as you could want without getting all Andrew Lloyd Webber up in here. It does feel slightly dated to me, I think because of the opera gloves, but that’s a small quibble.
Jon: I always figured the opera gloves were a concession to the comics, and I’ve never liked them in either incarnation. I do feel that Timm’s streamlined Catwoman is, for such a daring character, a little boring. It always resembled a gray Miss Fury to my mind. Still, at some point the best thing you can do for a character’s look is simplify them as much as possible, and this gets Catwoman down to her basics.
Vito: Great call on the Miss Fury reference, Jon! I never saw that until now!
Vito: What it lacks in cat shapes, it makes up for in cat burglar chic. I think it’s safe to say that Darwyn’s design has become what all modern Catwoman designs get measured against. In the current New 52 Catwoman comic, the front zipper is down to up the sex appeal, but I don’t think that’s needed.
Rachel: Cooke’s Catwoman is hands down one of the best, smartest character redesigns of all time. If this roundtable were a contest, this entry would be my 10. It’s sharp, it’s incredibly stylish, and it’s also super practical. In one swell foop, Cook took Catwoman’s costume from something that was obviously designed by and for people watching her and turned it into something that she could legitimately have chosen and assembled herself. This, more than anywhere else, is where she makes the visual shift from a peripheral Bat-babe to a superhero (superantihero?) in her own right.
Joel: The summum bonum of Catwoman costumes. It’s dramatic, distinctive, and doesn’t require a heroic suspension of disbelief. You can learn so much about the character from looking at this costume, and what you learn make you like and be interested in this character. I mean, this is clearly an outfit worn by a woman with serious plans for her evening.
Jess: Word. Seriously, what else is there to say? This is Catwoman.
Joel: Haaaaaaahahahahaha-huwheeeeeee! Can you imagine if they’d actually made this movie? Good thing sensible heads prevailed, and, the moment the producers saw this costume, they burned the studio to the ground and salted the earth around it.
Jessica: Yeah, that was a close call! The thing that gets me about this costume isn’t the trying-too-hard dominatrix top, the shredded pants and shoes (did she rip them up herself???), or the fact that she’s wearing boom mikes around her upper arms, but the amazingly cheap Halloween costume-looking mask. And you just know that mask actually cost like $50,000 to make.
Rachel: Seriously, why are we even discussing this?
Joel: In order to keep our accreditation as a member of the Comics Internet, we are legally obligated to make fun of this movie at every opportunity.
Jon: I am tasking myself with coming up with at least ONE positive thing to say about this costume. I like the shape of the ears – just the shape of the ears, not their placement on the head or the general construction of the mask or anything else about anything else on this costume, but the shape of the cats ears are very cats earsy. Well did, cats ears shape wrangler Angus Strathie, well did.
Vito: I suppose this is my fault, right? But, my journalistic integrity intact, I think that…I never saw this movie (can’t call it a film, just can’t), but I think they make reference to Pfeiffer’s Selina in it (or that’s what someone told me), and in that respect, I can see the connection. But little else, other than skin. It’s universally panned and for good reason. It’s become the very definition of Tobias Funke douche-chill convention cosplay. Over the top, unnecessarily gratuitous and just plain awful. I wish no one ill will, but I’m hoping that in Joel’s “salted Earth” scenario, the costume designer went back to school. Starting from kindergarten.
Rachel: Super simple, pared down to the very base elements of the costume. Nothing particularly special, but it works in context.
Joel: Needs more shoulder pads, Nagel.
Jon: Why was her face blue, exactly? Is the outfit that tight?
Vito: There were a lot of…I’d hate to call it unnecessary…designs for the New Batman Adventures portion of the Batman: TAS, and this was one of them. I never understood the need for the blue/white face in costume, but I always assumed it was because she was hiding her identity…from a guy who called her by her first name. Rachel’s right, though; it’s not spectacular, but it does improve the first design by inches.
Vito: Now this one gives a cat shaped silhouette! The colors are extraneous and unnecessary, but add some depth to the costume. The signature whip as a cat tail is pretty clever. And it takes the previous cowls and adds Darwyn’s goggles. Whoever designed this (it might have been by committee, as most things in animation are) really took all that came before, picked their favorite, and really worked in as much of it as possible. I almost prefer this one to Timm’s economical one.
Rachel: Basically the Cooke design with some features exaggerated. I like the look of the cowl, and the whip as cat tail is clever, although I don’t know that I’d count it as part of the costume, since I can’t imagine it *stays* like that much.
There’s something awfully Medieval-nun about the shape of the head, though. Points off for that.
Joel: Maybe I’m crazy and mixing up species in my head, but I think of owls or rodents more than cats when I see this. Those ears and goggles are just so big. That and the turtleneck cowl make me feel like this is a design where people were fussing with it not to make it better, but to make it theirs.
Rachel: You’re not crazy–I absolutely see it, too.
Jessica: I can see the rodent thing – it’s the huge ears, the strange eyes, and the cowl giving her a burly line from head to shoulders instead of an actual neck. To me it just looks like what the Selinist monks wear at Kyle Abbey. It’s not bad, but it suffers in comparison to Timm’s and Cooke’s..
Vito: Without the benefit of seeing the movie yet, and knowing which Selina we’re going to get (cat burglar? cat themed rebel inspired by Batman ala Year One? both?), the worst thing you can say about it is how good Anne Hathaway looks in it. It doesn’t “say” Catwoman (or, even, cat woman) to me, but I can see some of Darwyn’s design in it. Hollywood’s predilection for not wanting to mask its stars (or the star’s egos maybe) is troublesome in a superhero movie…especially in one where the hero and the main villain spend, from what I can see, the majority of the movie masked when they are in costume. It makes no sense to me that the goggles flip up into cat ears; just give her the mask! But, after the movie, I may like the reasons for why it is what it is as much as I like seeing Hathaway in it.
Rachel: I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve seen this in action, but just based on the photos, I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. It’s an okay costume, I guess, but not really a Catwoman costume. I mean, it’s like they took the Cooke design and replaced everything that made it distinctive or specific to Catwoman with a pair of stiletto heels.
Joel: Many superhero costumes, and Catwoman’s may be an especially good example, need to balance drama and practicality. This costume, and really, a lot of the Nolan Batman aesthetic, falls into a sorta uncanny valley of superheroic conceits. They get so close to something that could exist in the real world that the little moments of drama start to seem jarring. In this case, the suit itself is fine, if a little indistinct. The goggles work for me, and I can see this being about the media dubbing her the Catwoman based on a silhouette rather than her just being cuckoo for kitties and deciding to cosplay her way through a crime spree. But those heels! No one should be wearing heels like that under any circumstances. It defies belief that one could cross a ballroom floor without breaking one’s neck in those things, much less engage in death-defying acts of derring-do. That one moment of dramatic flair just sinks the whole rest of the enterprise.
Jessica: That’s what gets me about this costume. “No, no, we can’t have her actually dressed like a cat in our Very Serious Superhero Movie, that would be ridiculous! But make sure to give her long, flowing hair, an exposed face, and heels that Lady Gaga would think twice about.” For a non-superhero movie it’s a fine catsuit (shoes aside), and Hathaway looks fantastic in it. But I feel like I’m being insulted in both directions here. I’d almost rather have her in the purple dress from up top – at least then I’d feel like someone involved in the production had actually read a comic book and enjoyed it.