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Batman: “Whose side is she on ?”
Sister Magdalene: “Like you. Her own.”

Context

During the mid-1980s, DC Comics rebooted their superhero universe.

This meant revamping their lead characters next. By that point, most had been around for 40+ years.

For Batman (Bruce Wayne), this was chiefly done in a 1987 storyline called Batman: Year One. Written by Frank Miller, it polished his origins. And added the noir, urban decay thriller vibe wot Miller was famous for.

(Though my contract says that I must, at this point, write that David Mazzucchelli’s art did a lot of the heavy lifting).

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Avast ye strumpets

This retold, more 1980s sequence also redefined some of Batman’s main characters. Including Catwoman.

The Catwoman part may have been the weakest bit in this revision. It also aged like, well, milk. Since for years Miller would double and quadruple down on tough female characters who were, like the revised Catwoman, neurotic portrayals of prostitutes.

The revised version also had little texture. Though her decision to become Catwoman is caused by the rise of Batman, it’s not her story.

Her sister’s keeper

Two years later, there was a Catwoman Limited Series. It was the first time she had her own book.

Written by Mindy Newell  (with art by Joe Brozowski  ), it assiduouslyWith great care and perseverance. stuck to what is seen in Batman: Year One. Yet it smartly reconstructed some missing context, changed (subverted ?) the point of view, and added needed depth.

This story (collected as Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper) defined the modern Catwoman.

It also made it possible to launch Catwoman vol.2, which had a 96-issues run.

Sequence

This profile covers everything from February of 1987 to the end of 1989. It has S P O I L E R S about this material.

“February”, since the pre-Crisis Catwoman was still appearing in January, 1987 (Det. #570). That’s because of the “Crisis continuity penumbra” thing. Where the full New Earth continuity created by the Crisis wasn’t entirely manifest in the books for some months.

This character profile is part of a clowderThe name for a group of cats. Now you know. of articles about Catwoman.

For more about those, see the guide to our Catwoman character profiles.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - leather bondage night leap

Background

  • Real Name: Selina Kyle.
  • Known Relatives: Magdalene (sister), father (name unrevealed, deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: Certainly not.
  • Base of Operations: Gotham City.
  • Height: 5’7″ (1.70 m). Weight: 125 lbs. (57 Kg.).
  • Eyes: Green. Hair: Black.

Powers & Abilities

Ms. Kyle is worldly, smart, observant and collected.

She knows the streets of Gotham City well. Particularly the criminal and shady sides of the East End.

She’s in robust physical shape, but doesn’t seem to have much of an education or marketable skills. She generally lacks respectable ties, qualifications, manners, etc.. That leaves her with but few ways to make a living.

She seems to be particularly attractive. But at that point, she lacks the training and resources to truly emphasise this.

Likewise, she has a strong personality, but still needs to develop her mystique and confidence to reach a heroic level.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - karate street fight

Cat of action

Selina has a knack for agility. She can learn related skills very quickly, and reach extreme proficiency levels as she practises.

In particular, she taught herself urban acrobatics. And could apparently gamboleRun and jump about playfully. over rooftops with cinematicThe level of power and (un)realism found in a spectacular action movie. mastery in a matter of weeks. As might be guessed, she’s great at landing on her feet.

She’s also a natural at moving silently and keeping to the shadows.

Selina steals from secure places, but the skills she employs to do so aren’t shown. We don’t see her, say, defeating security systems. But we do see her jimmying open a window.

She has some skill at acting and manipulation, perhaps from her sex work experience. But it’s not pro level.

Claw/claw/bite

Ms. Kyle received extensive close combat training from Ted Grant, the original Wildcat. Mr. Grant is a gifted instructor, a master of numerous martial arts styles and melee weapons, and one of the greatest boxing champions of his generation.

He started by training her in an unspecified style of karate. Later on, at her request, he taught Selina how to use a heavy whip in combat.

Catwoman is thus an elite fighter. At this point of her career, she seems to have low-cinematic fighting proficiency. So she’s clearly superior to most brawlers on the street, but a genuine expert will give her a more even fight.

She also still lacks field experience. Selina is talented and learning quickly, but she doesn’t know yet how best to handle all kinds of fights and crises.

Gear

Catwoman uses a cat ‘o nine tails. This is a heavy leather whip that ends in multiple (possibly nine) weighted lashes.

Her gloves also have claws over the fingertips. Where they come from is unclear, and they do not seem to be a genuine, combat-grade weapon. Though they might help with climbing.

She carries some lockpicks… somewhere. Within her gloves, perhaps. Or her boots.

Soundtrack

Some appropriate 1987-ish music for a chronologically correct atmosphere, mmm…

Janet Jackson’s “Control” is a nice fit. Ms. Jackson started working on that album as a teenager, the lyrics are an obvious match, and the music was punchier, more frank and more personal than the norm in pop back then.

Let’s go with “What have you done for me lately”, perhaps the album’s most memorable beats. Since it has something of a Catwoman vibe.

The video also shows some fashion of those days – starting with Ms. Jackson huge-shoulder-pads jacket and volumised curls.

History (part 1)

Selina Kyle grew up in or near Gotham City. By this point, we only know that :

  • Her mother left when she was very young.
  • The home was an unhappy one. Why is unknown, though Selina was distraught rather than relieved upon learning of her father’s passing years later.
  • Selina was close to her older sister Maggie.
  • There always were foster cats at home. Selina and Magdalene saw the cats as their main source of comfort and affection.
  • The pious Maggie wanted to build a respectable life for herself, but Selina sought to live on her own terms. She ran away multiple times, trying to find her own way in the world.

East End girls

To Maggie’s dismay, Selina ran away for good circa age 15. But semi-inevitably, she ran into a nasty, brutal pimp named Stan – and started working as a prostitute.

Ms. Kyle was a sex worker for about two years. She could now afford a dinghy East End apartment. She took in a dozen stray cats, plus a catastrophically underage colleague – Holly Robinson, who seemed about four years younger.

Despite her efforts, Selina and Holly’s lives were dominated by the murderous, crafty, depraved Stan. He would occasionally beat them, and made it clear he’d kill them if they crossed him.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - stan pimp no costume long hair

With Stan.

A cop of all things

One such beating sent Selina to the hospital. A cop visited to see if she’d press charges. Though, obviously, Selina told him off, Det. Flannery unexpectedly gave her the business card of a self-defence instructor.

This is how she met Ted Grant. Though she was wary at first, she realised that she needed to learn. And while her pimp’s cut meant she couldn’t afford the lessons, Grant gave her a huge discount.

During a street brawl, Selina intervened to protect Holly. Despite her newly-acquired skills, a drifter — actually Bruce Wayne in disguise — punched her out.

Incensed and realising that she wasn’t big enough, Selina asked Ted to train her in whip fighting.

Hell for leather

The whip had come with a leather dominatrix suit and a full-head cat mask. This was a request by a high-paying gimpA submissive role in some sexual practices..

Selina had to be strongarmed by Stan into servicing this customer. But soon after she witnessed Batman escaping from the police amidst a cloud of bats.

This primal imagery struck her. Fascinated, she decided to use the cat suit for power and anonymity.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - leather dominatrix suit rooftop

The cat/dom leather suit. No, I don’t know how she got up there with those boots.

History (part 2)

Selina lured Stan into a dark alley, then confronted him while wearing her costume and whip. She quit her job – then beat him up in the hope that it would dissuade him from retaliating.

However, the dark alley was behind a church. Which is how Selina ran into her sister, who had become a junior nun there.

Maggie recognised her. Selina froze then ran.

Elated to be free from Stan, Selina blew her savings to have a more utilitarian Catwoman costume made.

(Magdalene being a nun is presumably a reference by Newell to the Madonna/whore complex  concept. And the preceding writer’s choice to recreate Ms. Kyle as a sex worker).

Nun pareil

However, Maggie was determined to find Selina.

She did legwork among East End prostitutes until Selina came to confront her and told her to let go. However:

  • Magdalene refused. She also informed Selina that their father had recently died of heart failure.
  • Stan kidnapped Maggie to have his revenge over Selina.
  • Detective Flannery deduced that the Catwoman was Selina Kyle.

Meanwhile, Catwoman started stealing jewels and the like. Though given the crime rates in Gotham City, that didn’t make the splash she had hoped for.

However, the money from the loot meant that Selina and Holly didn’t have to turn tricks anymore.

Catwoman escalated her robberies. She stole from Commissioner Loeb, then from crime lord Carmine “the Roman” Falcone. But the press was fascinated by Batman, and kept assuming that Catwoman’s deeds were Batman-related.

Even clawing Falcone’s face to literally make her mark was misinterpreted.

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Her sister’s keeper

Detective Flannery then informed Selina that Magdalene was missing.

Refusing to cooperate and evading police surveillance, Selina located and confronted Stan.

During their fight, Stan fell to his death. The captive Maggie would have fallen the same way, but Batman (Bruce Wayne) had been investigating the kidnapping. He saved the young nun.

Selina resented her Catwoman confidence for having nearly killed her sister. She considered burning the costume, and had a talk with Maggie about that.

Three to get the heads ready, go cat go !

However, Holly was then beaten by Captain Strunk, of the GCPD. Though respected, Strunk secretly was a predator.

Selina did try to talk about it with Det. Flannery, but he wouldn’t help. As the Catwoman was the only way to get justice done, she attacked Strunk outside of his home.

However, the Batman came to check on Holly at the church. Not wanting her sister to go too far, Maggie told him that she was after Strunk.

Now I’m not afraid to do the Lord’s work

Batman managed to stop Catwoman from carrying out her vigilante killing.

She grudgingly agreed to let him handle Strunk, but refused to surrender. After kissing him she hit and clawed him by surprise, then vanished.

As Selina was now gone, Magdalene took Holly in at the church. It had extensive charitable facilities, and provided Holly with a safe place for a while.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - Action Comics costume

This costume only appears in a small serialised feature (Action #611-614). It is a curious hybrid of the suit seen in Batman: Year One and the pre-Crisis outfit. And a forerunner of the 1990s one, wot dropped the green bits.

History (part 3… OR IS IT ?!)

The Action Comics feature mentioned just above was written by Newell between Batman: Year One and Catwoman Vol. 1.

But it’s not a flashback. So it depicts Selina several years after her origin. It’s a version that’s reminiscent of 1980s pre-Crisis Catwoman, but grittier and more crime-movie-like. As per the Miller-established new vibe.

Hot tin roof

When this story takes place:

  1. Selina seems to be in her mid- or late 20s, and Holly in her early or mid-20s.
  2. Selina has come to own and run a Gotham City cabaret called the Tin Roof. It is a meeting ground for many of Gotham’s more skilled independent criminals.
  3. Holly has married some rich dude “in Jersey”. Presumably meaning upstate.
  4. Selina has a sort of uneasy collaboration with Detective Flannery. Who may by that point have been promoted to Major Crimes.

Flannery and Kyle are on opposite sides, but might work together in specific circumstances. Furthermore, he feels responsible for having “created” Catwoman.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - with sister maggie back street

Caterwaul like an Egyptian

However, Selina steals an Ancient Egyptian brooch. This results in so much heat that even Flannery starts poking around the Tin Roof.

Selina hurriedly gives a box with the brooch to a visiting Holly, so she’ll unknowingly smuggle it out of town.

But violent attempts at getting the brooch escalate startlingly quickly in the underworld. Multiple robbers try to kill Ms. Kyle at her club. Fearing for Holly’s safety, Selina rushes upstate.

But the mansion Holly now lives in is firebombed. Selina narrowly gets her out, but Holly is fatally wounded by the blast.

Catwoman goes to confront Holly’s husband Arthur, who murdered his wife to keep the brooch. Though she offers to let him go if he’ll give back the brooch, Arthur turns out to be surprisingly strong and defenestratesThrow someone through a high window. Selina.

Narrowly saving herself from the fall, Catwoman kills two corrupt hotel detectives and frames Arthur for it. The cops find the brooch in his hotel room, cementing his apparent guilt. And Catwoman knows that one of Holly’s numerous friends in prison will likely avenge her.

Zero Hour ?

The story was accidentally ignored in Catwoman Vol. 3 (the 2002-2010 one). Which starts with Holly being very much alive.

She’s also younger than she was in the Action Comics late 1980s story, and not married.

The simplest hypothesis is that one of the reality rewrites of the DC Universe erased her death from continuity. The Zero Hour crisis is the most natural candidate.

The entire story and the timeline that led to it — not just the Holly-related aspect — likely were erased by Zero Hour.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - kisses batman

Description

The black leather dom suit was only worn in the field for one night, to beat Stan up.

The Catwoman costume Selina then had made is an almost featureless light grey full body suit. Because, I’d imagine, at night all cats are grey.

It has small steel claws over the fingers, a tail, and cat ears atop the head. Though those ears have always looked more like mice ears to me… what ? Why are you booing ? I’m right !

It does resemble the Batman costume a little bit, as said outfit was the inspiration for the Catwoman one. Perhaps she told the made-to-order costumes shop she wanted a batwoman costume for Halloween.

As they started training, Ted had Selina cut off her long hair. These were too much of a weakness in a street fight. Ms. Kyle therefore started wearing her hair in a buzzcut, maybe half an inch.

(In most latter flashbacks, Ms. Kyle having very short hair therefore is a visual signal that the scene happens during her origin sequence).

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Personality

Selina craves freedom and self-determination above all. She despises anything trying to control her – particularly the police. This extends to most forms of institutions, religion, mobs, patriarchal figures, etc..

At this point it’s still messy. She’s just a kid striving to survive. With next to no opportunities to seize, and who only knows what she doesn’t want.

Part of her arc is gaining confidence as she becomes more capable. However, early on her attempt to affirm herself mimics the methods of her pimp. Threats, intimidation, leaving enemies with showy wounds, aggression, shows of steely-eyed determination…

On the other hand she’s a protector. At this point she can only afford to protect a dozen cats and Holly – but she presumably helped other vulnerable persons.

And felines.

Catnip

One of Ms. Kyle’s vulnerabilities at this point is that she wants to be loved.

Her type seems to be beefy guys of strength and resolve. This is what allowed Stan to keep playing her, using the standard pimp tricks and manipulations.

She also has an immediate infatuation with Batman, who is the epitomeA perfect example of a quality or type. of her type.

But this almost immediately transforms into rejecting Batman. In good part in reaction over having been victimised by Stan, in part because she sees him as a glorified cop. And perhaps in part because she senses he’s interested and it might be An Actual Thing™.

Another weakness of sorts is that she craves recognition. She wants her Catwoman identity to have a rep, to be (in)famous for her exploits.

But it’s not *quite* an ego thing. It’s part of her attraction toward the concept of Catwoman.

Speaking of which…

The feline mystique

Like Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle was struck by how creating a masked, themed persona — almost a spirit — allowed her to become something greater than life. And how as Catwoman, she could actually create the existence she wanted.

The mask has a liberative effect on her. She feels bolder, decisive and self-affirming as Catwoman. And she can mostly walk that walk.

Like with Bruce, there’s the sense of a “double personality” thing. Young Selina will even occasionally refer to Catwoman as a separate person she doesn’t have much control over.

It’s not really pathological, though. It’s that the Catwoman persona indeed allows for an incomparably larger, freer, bolder existence than being a battered, teenage prostitute. And at this point, she has yet to explore these possibilities.

Furthermore Catwoman barely feels pain or guilt, unlike Selina.

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - strikes batman surprise

Quotes

“You told me once even whores have rights. Prove it.”

“You don’t understand. It’s not just a costume. I put it on, and *something happens*.”

Maggie: “The lady or the tiger. And you’ve chosen, haven’t you ?”
Catwoman: “C’mon, Maggie. When was I ever a lady ?”

Catwoman: “Move out of the way.”
Batman: “He’s sick.”
Catwoman: “So what ? The whole world is sick.”

(To Batman) “You’re just another cop, aren’t you — smarter, cooler, more seductive… but a cop just the same… and I don’t *do* cops.” (claws)

Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell sister keeper - many cats in bed night holly

DC Heroes RPG

Catwoman (Newell take, at age 17)

Dex: 05 Str: 02 Bod: 03
Int: 05 Wil: 05 Min: 05
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 06
Init: 016 HP: 020

Skills:

Acrobatics: 06, Artist (Actress): 03, Martial artist: 04, Thief (Stealth): 06, Thief (Locks and safes): 03, Weaponry (Whips): 06

Advantages:

Area Knowledge (Gotham City’s East End), Familiarity (House cats caretaking, Sex work), Headquarters (Confined, especially if you cram in a dozen kitties), Misc.: House cats normally trust Selina even when stressed (1 pt).

Connections:

Street (Low).

Drawbacks:

Debt 1 (caretaker for a dozen cats), Debt 1 (Stan’s cut while he still was her pimp), Dependent (Magdalene Kyle), Secret Identity.

Motivation:

Freedom.

Occupation:

Ex-prostitute, thief.

Wealth:

005

Equipment:

  • CLAWED GLOVES [BODY 03, Claws: 01, Enhance (Acrobatics (Climbing)): 01 (cap is 09)].
  • Cat o’nine tails [BODY 02, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 04), Enhance (STR): 01 (cap is 05), Stretching: 00, Descriptor: Slashing, Limitations:
    • Enhance (STR) only when performing a Grappling, Disarm or Wrestling Manoeuvre.
    • Stretching has No Fine Manipulation and no lifting power].
Catwoman - DC Comics - Newell take - cathedral rooftop grey costume

Design Notes

The stats are slightly lowballed. This puts emphasis on:

  • The fact that she’s just a beginner. Which the comics (especially Miller’s) also make plain. She’s still angry teenager Selina at this point, not yet Catwoman.
  • The fact that the story reads more like a Paul Schrader thriller movie than a super-hero origin sequence.

Newell/Brozowski stuck close to the Miller/Mazzucchelli narrative conventions in Batman: Year One, which also depict a much less formidable Batman.

This is particularly visible in the STR and BODY. Stan clearly outmuscles her, and I doubt he has a STR of 04.


Stray Design Notes

She could easily have more Thief Subskills, but they’re not demonstrated.

The gloves don’t really need stats but let’s be thorough. Frex, if she faces an obstacle or opponent with an Attack Vulnerability to Slashing Damage.

The gloves got that AP of Enhance under the *assumption* that her robberies rely on her climbing skills. To enter buildings from seemingly unfeasible angles.

It’s not demonstrated either, but it’s more economical to assume she relies on cat burglar skills than on technical security skills.

*Technically* Ms. Kyle has the Age (Young) Drawback. But of course in practice it doesn’t apply at all.

Street Connection is still Low. She didn’t know any specialised fences yet. And her contacts are as a prostitute – considered low in the pecking order.

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: A very specific chronological slice of DC Comics.

Helper(s): Otto the siamese, Darci.

Writeup completed on the 6th of November, 2022.