This profile is part of a chronological series about DC Comics’ Catwoman. As such it is meant to be read after the first two articles, which cover her appearances during the 1940s.
This profile focuses on her 1950s material. Though it includes comparisons to her 1940s material, it doesn’t use any information from after the 1950s. See the FAQ about “emergent history profile” if that intrigues.
Since out-of-fictional-universe concerns drive this era, we’re going to discuss some real-world events. Writeups.org articles normally are about diegetic elements, but here the character is strongly impacted by 1950s political campaigns against comic books.
Repent ! Repent !
Catwoman only appears a few times during the 1950s. Back then, the moralistic crusade against comic books was in full bloom. Preventing Batman and Robin from making little boys gay, and Wonder Woman from making little girls lesbian, led to numerous books-burning.
Part of the pressure was that any depiction of crime had to be entirely negative. This left no room for Catwoman. She was clearly a criminal (though not a genuinely violent one). But she also had romantic tension with Batman and they sometimes cooperated.
By 1950 she seemed to have become a fairly popular character. But the Wertham morality campaign was already afoot. Thus, writer Bill Finger attempts to turn her into a good guy. Which does build up on 1940s stories, particularly the “Elva Barr” one.
Yet this ultimately fails. Catwoman vanishes in 1954, with the Senate hearings (where Wertham explains that comic books are worse than Hitler) and the Comic Book Code Authority. She remains in comic book limbo for years – until the 1966 Batmania.
Stray cat strut
You can also check our full guide to our Catwoman character profiles, for orientation.
- Real Name: Selina Kyle.
- Former Aliases: “The princess of plunder”, “The feline felon”, “the female scourge of Gotham”.
- Marital Status: Single.
- Known Relatives: Karl (brother).
- Group Affiliation: Associate of the GCPD.
- Base of Operations: Gotham City.
- Height: 5’6″ Weight: 122 lbs.
- Eyes: Green. Hair: Black.
Powers & Abilities
During the 1950s, Catwoman is markedly more dynamic than during the 1940s.
Harder, better, faster, stronger
She is a sort of “cat whisperer”, which wasn’t the case before. Kitties are exceptionally friendly toward her. Selina can easily have them stop what they were doing, come to her and collaborate. She’s also highly knowledgeable about cat breeds, cat behaviour, etc..
She even knew how to prevent an angry tiger from attacking, using her cape like a whip and yelling at it. It’s entirely possible that the tiger would have ended up walking away out of uncertainty. She also had an exceptional rapport with already-tamed circus big cats.
Her technical skills, which were unclear during the 1940s, are now better established. She seems to have training in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and (1950s) electronics engineering.
Likewise we much more clearly see her prowess when it comes to :
- Climbing and acrobatics.
- Rappelling and (less clearly) swinging on ropes.
- Markswomanship and whip use.
Holy cat-crime equipment, Batman !
Catwoman’s cat-o-nine-tails is retconned as being much longer, like a full-sized bullwhip.
It looks much more dangerous. Furthermore, the reach and multiple weighted lashes allow her to entangle multiple people (if they’re close enough together). If Batman and Robin are distracted, she can capture them both with a single crack of her weapon. At one point she even entangles three men at once.
Other gear includes :
- The cat-apult. Apparently a flexible, spring-loaded plank that launched her in the air to grab a passing helicopter (!). We’ll assume that she also had a compact parachute (catachute ?) on her.
- A pair of silken ropes with a third rope forming patterns between the two. This resembles the cat’s cradle children’s game . Catwoman deploys this as a sort of rope bridge between buildings, and she can run along it faster than if it were single-wire skywalking. There’s also an implication that she now uses swinglines like Batman & Robin.
- A new version of the cat-acombs. This time it’s an expansive base hidden within a warehouse, with entirely cat-themed decorations and a bunch of pet kitties. She later rebases to an ancient island temple with lots of cat statues.
- A larger, more powerful Kitty-Car that can seat four. It is markedly faster and heavier than commercially-available automobiles.
- A bunch of catbirds. These are songbirds who make surprisingly cat-like noises. Catbirds were used as a distraction, to give the impression that something cat-related was going on elsewhere.
- MOAR SLEEP GAS ! Which Catwoman insists counts as a cat-crime, since it plunges people into “a cat-aleptic sleep”. She and her men will wear full gas masks when using this gas.
- A twin-seater airplane, which we’ll assume is called the Cat-Plane. It is outrageously styled like a black panther, and has a “CW” logo on the tail. The Cat-Plane may be a modified Lockheed T-33 . Or another jet trainer along the same lines, since the T-33’s distinctive wingtips are missing.
The Cat-Plane’s front paws can be lowered and the claws extended. These were sharp enough to shred the wings of the Bat-Plane when it passed underneath.
Catwoman also resumes leading armed goons for her cat-crimes.
In 1954 she steals four trained circus animals (a leopard, a large black panther, a tiger, a male lion). These deadly beasts happily follow her commands, and she treats them much like beloved pets.
For those who want audial atmosphere, a hugely popular song from 1950. Namely Eileen Barton’s “If I knew you were comin’, I’d’ve baked a cake”. A most 1950 title, that.
As far as I know, she isn’t related to Clint Barton.
In 1950, mysterious new mob boss Mister X (“Mousey”) blew up the prison’s wall to free Catwoman. He wanted to make her his partner-in-crime. She would be in charge of conducting heists, using her own methods. Catwoman took the deal.
However, Batman and Robin tried to catch her. As she fled, Catwoman realised that Batman was in the way of a collapsing building. She managed to push him out of the way, but was hit in the head by a brick.
The blow did not just stun Catwoman. It revealed that she was an amnesiac stewardess (formerly with Speed Airlines) named Selina Kyle. Kyle had been rendered amnesiac years before, during a plane crash. Not knowing whom she was, she had created a new identity for herself as the Cat, then the Cat Woman.
After this new blow to the head, she only remembered her life as Selina. But Batman showed her his documentation about her life as Catwoman. This allowed Ms. Kyle to also remember this part of her life.
Try to remember the kind of September
A few notes about this sequence :
- Catwoman was likely active since 1938 or so. But she says that “it won’t be 1950 for years !” rather than “for more than a decade !”. This weakly suggests a compressed timeline. She doesn’t mention anything about looking older either. But then suspended ageing is normal in a super-hero comic book.
- When Batman shows Ms. Kyle the exploits of Catwoman, it is clear that they all occurred in the same continuity. Whereas reading these stories during the 1940s didn’t give a sense of strong ties between them.
- One remark from Robin implies that Catwoman’s incoherent characterisation during the 1940s was caused by amnesia issues. Whether such a retcon was the authorial intent, I cannot say.
When life was slow and oh so mellow
The scrupulously honest Selina Kyle was horrified to learn about her Catwoman identity. She hypothesised that her identity as the Cat had been based on subconscious recollections from her childhood. Her dad operated a pet shop, and was an expert about domestic cats.
Batman, Miss Kyle and the commissioner made a deal. Catwoman would become an undercover agent, setting up a trap for Mister X. Catwoman thus ran two heists with Mister X’s men. In each case, she used a house cat.
- A cat with a loud bell attached to her collar ran wild within music studios. As everybody chased her to prevent her from ruining the recording sessions, the criminals stole gold plates used to make master recordings.
- Catwoman used a toy mouse in such a way that a cat chasing it would pounce onto levers opening the armoured doors protecting a pile of cash.
She then captured Batman and Robin, as part of the plan to catch Mister X. Though it was a narrow call, our three heroes then arrested the masked crime boss.
I want to retire, no longer required
The commissioner thus let Miss Kyle go, as she didn’t want to be Catwoman ever again.
However, Batman pointed out that the CGPD would likely again call on her service as an undercover operative.
At this point, readers could imagine that Selina would now feature in Batman adventures as undercover police. Possibly with vague romantic overtones.
I want to retire, inform the suppliers
Selina started running a small pet shop in downtown Gotham, specialised in kitties. This likely means that her father had died while she was an amnesiac, and she inherited his business.
(The card on the window reads “Selina Kyle, Proprietoress”. Though this word is a rare one now, it seems to have been more common in retail and hospitality back then.)
(The shop’s apparent surface and inventory varies from panel to panel. But it seems to be a niche business moving just enough money to pay for itself and support Selina.)
However, some mobsters learned that Selina had been Catwoman. And they resented her constant refusals of getting involved in crime ever again.
What evil lurks in the heart of catwomen ?
In 1951, a number of mice and cats were set loose within an hospital. Batman and Robin enlisted Selina Kyle’s help. She calmed down and collected the otherwise uncontrollable cats. But valuable drugs had been stolen, and this sure looked like a Catwoman crime ! Holy crafty cat crimes, Batman !
Other cat-crimes followed. Crime boss “Whale” Morton was attempting to frame Kyle, in part to force her to join his gang. Knowing about her amnesia, he also used a few tricks to make her fear that she now had a comic book split personality.
Selina eventually agreed to collaborate with “Whale”. But this was a trick. Her goal was to :
- Obtain proof of Morton’s guilt, as he had always managed not to leave actionable tracks.
- Derail his planned attempt at killing Batman and Robin.
Catwoman captured Batman and Robin for Morton. By that point, even Batman was having doubts as to whether Kyle had truly reformed. But from a few details he deduced what her real plan was.
Thus, Catwoman and the Dynamic Duo defeated the Morton mob. And produced extensive video footage of Morton committing crimes.
Am I my brother’s keeper ?
After recovering her memory, Selina had been reunited with her brother Karl. However, Karl Kyle was a shady character. In 1952, he decided to fill the void left by Catwoman as the criminal King Of The Cats (a.k.a. the Cat King).
The Cat King gave a solid account of himself whilst clashing with Batman and Robin. Selina pleaded with Karl to stop this and reform, to little avail.
But as the Cat King and the Batman fought in a zoo, Selina had to come in and save them both from big cats. Since he owed his sister his life, Karl agreed to go straight.
During this case, Batman was jealous of the Cat King, whom he mistakenly thought was Selina’s lover. Between this and the previous case — where Bruce was highly reluctant to consider that Selina may have reverted to crime — we’re back to Batman being sweet on Catwoman.
In 1954, everything snaps back. Catwoman abruptly reverts to being a criminal.
As it turns out, this won’t suffice. Catwoman cannot survive the Comics Code that goes into effect in October, 1954. Among many other things, the Code forbids :
- Sympathetic and/or glamorised crime and criminals.
- Showing the method or details of crimes.
- Kidnapping. Which presumably includes cat-napping.
- Inappropriate clothing. Which includes dress cuts you’d routinely see on then-contemporary television or at cocktail parties.
- Criminals going unpunished.
- Crimes that do not seem sordid and unpleasant.
- Disrespecting the police. Which presumably includes using sleep gas hidden in a fake cat tail to knock officers out.
Thus, cat-crimes have to go the way of the sabertooth after the following stories.
Crimes of the Catwoman
Random criminals are badgering Ms. Kyle about her past. Then, the Gotham Gazette runs a Batman retrospective article that disses Catwoman.
Angered, Selina resumes being Catwoman so people will have to respect her. She announces her return by placing one of her cats in front of a beacon, projecting its silhouette on passing clouds above Gotham.
Catwoman hijacks an helicopter and commits other robberies. She uses the money to rebuild her base and arsenal. Criminals now respect her again, and a pair of thugs applies to work with her.
Batman narrowly prevents them from stealing the money from a lion taming show, even though they gassed unconscious the entire audience. The Dynamic Duo then derails her attack on a yacht (that she boards within a fake catfish, which the angler just reeled aboard) to steal cat’s eye gems.
During this fracas, Catwoman refuses to kill Batman. She just leaves him tied up in her base so he’ll be out of the way.
The sleeping beauties of Gotham City
Catwoman simply returns to her life as Selina Kyle, since there’s no proof that she’s Catwoman. She even anonymously applies to a much-publicised beauty contest, easily making the finals.
Though Batman and Robin narrowly prevent Catwoman from stealing an invaluable violin (strung with catgut), they can’t catch her. Soon after that, the beauty contestants all catch a sleep sickness… starting with Selina Kyle.
Yet Catwoman remains active. She even traps Batman atop a giant glass orange juice squeezer surrounded by panthers. Presumably, it was a Tuesday.
Selina Kyle is the first to recover from the sleep sickness. As the only valid contestant, she’s crowned beauty queen of Gotham. However :
- Batman finally realises that the sleeping form of Ms. Kyle was a sort of hologram, created with catoptrics mirrors. Which is how she was active as Catwoman whilst “Miss Kyle” was asleep.
- He also deduces in the nick of time that a fortune in diamonds is hidden among the presents to the beauty queen, as part of a smuggling scheme.
Though Batman and Robin prevent her from getting these rocks, there’s still no proof. They have to let Kyle smugly walk away. With her crown, though the contest was presumably later declared void.
The jungle cat queen ! (part 1)
On a jungle island East of Central America, Catwoman locates an ancient temple built by cat-worshippers. After stealing four tamed big cats in a circus, she turns the temple into her new base. She also forces the shady characters operating a (quite possibly illegal) diamond mine on the island to work for her.
Catwoman raids the Gotham airport, stealing a case of diamonds as her panther threatens the pilot. She then jets back to her secret island. Yet Batman swiftly deduces where the island is. The Bat-Plane catches up with the Cat-Plane, but Selina shreds Bruce’s plane’s wings, forcing Batman and Robin to land.
Batman and Robin are tricked and captured by the diamond mine guys. But Catwoman refuses to have the captives killed or unmasked. Instead she lets them flee into the jungle so she can hunt them. Much like the Huntress (Paula Brooks) did to Wildcat (Ted Grant) some years before.
However, it seems to be a pretext to have fun running around with her big cats. Batman even comes to suspect she’s not actually hunting them.
The jungle cat queen ! (part 2)
Batman and Robin are captured by the miners. But Catwoman makes sure that Batman can escape from certain death.
Bruce briefly binds Selina, but the faithful big cats come in to claw through the ropes. Riding her tiger as if it were a striped pony, Catwoman swiftly escapes on her Cat-Plane.
“Sentiment is her weakness” grimly exclaims Batman “and that’s why we’ll catch her the next time !”
(Catwoman riding a tiger is mildly amusing. “Catwoman riding a giant cat” was a recurrent visual gimmick on the intro splash page of Catwoman stories. But it never actually happened in any of those tales… until her very last panel.)
The vitals in the Background block are averages between our 1950s estimates and her officials 1980s vitals.
By this point, her eyes are firmly green and her hair is firmly black. Her bust also becomes heavier, and her hair is worn longer, as US beauty canons evolve. There’s sometimes a little catlike effect to her eyes, though it doesn’t quite work.
There are changes to the costume — primarily, the green collar — but it’s negligible.
The reformed Selina Kyle is an honest, hard-working young lady. She despises crime, even when the heists she’s conducting are part of a police sting operation. Selina feels much more comfortable caring for and selling kitties at her shop.
After her sudden heel turn, she’s more flamboyant and assertive than before. She wants to affirm herself as a respected, wealthy badass. Her crimes have to be impressive to feed her mystique.
Said crimes also have a playful aspect, to show how superior she feels to the opposition.
Cat vs. Bat
The 1950s bad-girl Catwoman is more coherent from story to story than before. The cat theme is always played up, and her attitude toward Batman is more constant.
That she keeps clashing with Batman is curious. She’d never hurt him, but he’s seriously trying to arrest her. So there isn’t really a win condition for Catwoman. Plus, she has to pretend that she wants to kill him, to maintain her street cred.
On the other hand, during the three stories under consideration she consistently has the upper hand. She’s playing with Batman, with a justified confidence in her ability to escape in the end. After all, bats kinda look like winged mice. Vaguely.
“I hate to leave this warm fire and my pretty pets… but it’s time I looked over the first place I’m to rob !”
(To her brother) “I saved you only so you’d have a chance to come to your senses ! I want you to return what you’ve stolen and go straight ! Promise me !”
“There’s one gas pellet in here… only one ! If I gas Batman’s tiger, Karl will die… If I gas Karl’s tiger, Batman will die ! WHOM SHALL I CHOOSE ! WHOM ??”
(Putting on her costume) “No one laughed at me when I wore *this* ! And I’ll wear it again ! I’ll stun Gotham City with such cat-crimes that they’ll never ridicule Catwoman again !”
“That dummy plastic catfish made a good way for Catwoman to get on board ! I’ll take those cat’s-eye jewels now !”
(Whilst running over the keys of a giant piano, because Bill Finger) “Surely you enjoy music, Batman ? This is my own version of Kitten on the keys ! (video)”
“So, Batman trailed me ! Well, he’ll learn that those who bother cats can get scratched !”
Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG
|Dex: 03||Str: 02||Bod: 03||Motivation: None, then Power/Thrill|
|Int: 05||Wil: 05||Min: 05||Occupation: Shopkeeper, then thief|
|Inf: 05||Aur: 05||Spi: 04||Wealth: 003 then 006|
|Init: 013||HP: 045|
Broadcast empath: 01
Bonuses and Limitations:
Broadcast Empath only to make felines calmer and friendlier. It is a Skilled Power.
Expertise (Cats lore), Familiarity (Fashion & beauty, Small retail business management), Headquarters (Expansive).
Gotham City Underworld (Low).
MID of seriously harming the Batman.
- Swingline and “cat’s cradle” rope bridge [BODY 04 for both].
- CLIMBING GLOVES [BODY 04, Claws: 03, Enhance (Acrobatics (Climbing)): 03 (cap is 09)]. I almost deleted the Claws (never used during this era, in good part because she now has a whip). But heh, too little material to decide either way.
- Cat-o-nine-tails [BODY 06, Claws: 04, Snare: 06, Stretching (No Fine Manip): 01, Limitation: Snare’s EV is capped by the user’s applicable Weaponry APs, but it has the Scattershot bonus. If the whip is used for Snaring, it cannot do anything else until all targets have been released.]
- KITTY CAR [STR 05 BODY 07, Flash: 04, Jumping: 02, Running: 07, R#02, Creepy Appearance, Notes: Flash is Steady Illumination Only, Jumping likely has Ammo: 01 and can only add to the vertical distance the car would normally be able to jump].
- CAT PLANE [STR 05 BODY 08, Claws: 06, Flight: 08, Radar sense: 16, R#02]. The second seat and flight equipment were removed in order to carry large animals. It could easily carry a large adult panther, and there’s an implication it could even carry four big cats piling up.
- Her other equipment was op-specific. The knockout gas had about 4 APs – Batman could endure it for surprisingly long. OTOH, it was being sprayed over a vast volume and was likely thus diluted. Since it usually works better.
If cats could nip, how much catnip…
Catwoman’s Broadcast Empath receives modifiers based on the mass of the individual cats in the area of effect.
Modelling this would be overkill. But generally, she’ll be auto-successful with house cats, will roll normally with cats that are larger than house cats but lighter than she is (like lynxes, panthers or most pumas), and would need to roll a double to affect real big cats such as tigers.
See the additional rules about using B.E. to improve Attitude, on writeups.org.
A Bast from the past
If there had been further 1950s appearances of Catwoman, it is likely further cat-themed assets of her would have made their return. Like the cat-acombs or the Kitty Car did.
So feel free to steal assets from the writeup for her 1940s appearances. If it’s equipment, it’ll likely be a bit better than her 1940s gear.
Here again I’m goin’ with blocky Skills, since she’d still be able to use whatever Subskill is necessary for the story. After all, she’s suddenly a crack shot with air rifles and a qualified jet pilot.
In the last story, the four big cats seem to count as Pets. It is possible that she would kept them if there had been further appearances. But her assets still tended to disappear after showing up once. It’s simply less notable because there are fewer stories.
Still no Attractive. She’s obviously super-hot and wins beauty contests, but we don’t see her getting a Character Interaction bonus from that. She could still vamp guys during the 1940s, but by the late 1940s this recedes and by the 1950s it’s gone. The “Batman is shy around women” Great Chastity Era will continue for a while. Pretty much until Dennis O’Neil, if memory serves.
Source of Character: Batman comics of the 1950s.
Writeup completed on the 7th of November, 2018.