It was in 1940, only a year after the debut of Batman in 1939's DETECTIVE COMICS #27, when Bill Finger and Bob Kane decided to spice up the world of the Caped Crusader with the introduction of one of the most iconic and long-surviving femme fatales in comic book history—Catwoman.
In his autobiography, Batman & Me, Kane wrote about the creation of the character who was originally known only as The Cat.
"We knew we needed a female nemesis to give the strip sex appeal,” he wrote. “So Bill and I decided to create a somewhat friendly foe who committed crimes, but was also a romantic interest in Batman's rather sterile life. She was a kind of female Batman, except that she was a villainess and Batman was a hero. We figured that there would be this cat and mouse, cat and bat byplay between them—he would try and reform her and bring her over to the side of law and order. But she was never a murderer of entirely evil like the Joker."
The Cat first appeared in BATMAN #1, where she was much more of an enigmatic and classic fatale, one who changed her face and name regularly to keep her identity a secret. In that way, she was a more magnified mirror of Bruce and his double life. The woman who would eventually become known as Catwoman was first introduced as a cunning jewel thief who attempted to convince Batman to team up after he foiled one of her schemes. That duality between the pair would continue throughout their relationship, though it would be Catwoman who would change her colors to occasionally team up with Batman as the pair evolved.
It wasn't until BATMAN #62 that Catwoman would be unmasked as Selina Kyle, an airline hostess who feigned amnesia as a way of escaping her life of crime. From there on out, Selina changed her allegiances, constantly challenging Bruce and his expectations. Or rather, she did until DETECTIVE COMICS #211 in 1954. That issue would mark her last appearance for 12 years due to the newly introduced Comics Code Authority, a self-censorship movement which strictly defined what could and couldn't be included in the pages of the then very popular books.
The Comics Code Authority was created to deal with the backlash from Fredric Wertham's book, Seduction of the Innocent, which posited that comics were a dangerous influence on young minds. Selina fell victim to the stringent rules largely due to three specific lines from the code: 4) If crime is depicted, it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity. 5) Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates the desire for emulation. 6) In every instance, good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
As you can imagine, the fact that Selina was always more of an antihero than a villain, was often freed by Batman due to their mutual attraction, and almost never punished meant that Gotham’s burglary laws weren’t the only thing our girl Selina was violating. But just because she wasn't gracing the pages of DC's comics it didn't mean that Selina was gone for good, though, as the character became a mainstay on the iconic Adam West Batman TV series, which saw her played by three different, brilliant women: Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and, of course, Eartha Kitt. This brought Selina to a brand-new audience, which probably explains why when she returned to Batman comics in 1966, it was for good.
A seismic shift in Selina's life took place in the 1970s when a series of stories set in the alternate-universe of Earth Two introduced a world where she and Bruce married and gave birth to a daughter named Helena who would later become the vigilante known as the Huntress. This began a long tradition of teasing the life that Bruce and Selina could have had together if things had been just a little different.
It's in this way that Catwoman always represents something Bruce can't quite have—his inability to fully apprehend her during her crimes reflecting the loss of stability and family life that they'll never truly manage to have. (Though, of course, when Selina was introduced in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, the pair were finally given the happy ending they never quite achieved in the comics.)
After 1986’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, it was revealed that Selina's mother was Cuban, making her one of DC's few Latinx characters, though that aspect of her life is yet to be fully explored. Throughout the years Selina has continued to be a major part of Batman's life and DC comics in general, whether in the pages of her multiple solo series or as Bruce's fiancé (but never wife) in the most recent Batman series. It's not just on the page, though, as she's also one of the most iconic and prolifically adapted members of Bat-canon with multiple iterations on the big screen—like Michelle Pfeiffer's unforgettable turn in Batman Returns—and the small screen, including the influential Batman: The Animated Series.
Selina has been inspiring readers for generations with her wit, smarts and, of course, her beauty. She's one of the few Batman characters who has lasted as long and gained just as many fans as the (bat) man himself. Selina Kyle, we salute you!
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.