Every relationship has its obstacles. It can be distance, communication, or meddling relatives, but for Batman and Catwoman, it’s a bit more complicated. Batman catches criminals, and Catwoman is a criminal. At their very cores, they’re in direct opposition of one another, and yet the flames of romance between the two have been burning bright for over eighty years.
This spring, Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz will be bringing the Bat-Cat passion to the big screen in The Batman, introducing a new generation of fans to Gotham’s most complicated love affair. Yet, even not having seen the movie yet, we’re pretty sure it won’t end with them grappeling off in the sunset together. After eight decades of “will they or won’t they,” Batman and Catwoman haven’t been able to make it work, and yet, they refuse to call it quits. Why is that? To explore this question, let’s take a look at the history of their romance.
It all began on a boat. In 1940’s Batman #1, a mysterious burglar known as the Cat tried to rob a group of elite yacht passengers. When Batman unmasked the thief, he was stunned to see that she was actually a beautiful young woman. What’s more, it’s clear from the beginning that there’s a strong attraction between the two. The Cat affectionately wraps her arms around Batman and says they should join forces and become the king and queen of crime.
“Sorry, your proposition tempts me, but we work on different sides of the law,” Batman states in response.
Yes, he turns her down, it’s interesting that Batman says he’s tempted by her proposition. Bruce Wayne is dedicated to justice and stopping criminals, but his attraction to the Cat is so great that when she asks him to be the king of crime beside her, he says he’s tempted. He’s not going to give up his ideals for her, but the temptation is there. Within panels of their first meeting, the conflict at the heart of their relationship for the next eight decades is perfectly summed up in that one exchange.
Batman was so taken with her beauty, that he did something he had never done before: he let the criminal escape. Batman feigned clumsiness, but Robin saw through his mentor’s posturing. At the time Bruce Wayne was engaged to an actress named Julie Madison, but the memory of the Cat’s eyes was all he could think about.
By 1940’s Batman #3, the Cat was now calling herself Catwoman and clashed with the Batman once more. After being betrayed by a group of criminals she was working with, Batman saved Catwoman’s life. Before the Caped Crusader could arrest her, Catwoman thanked him with a kiss—their very first. The kiss clearly stunned Batman, which allowed Catwoman to shove him and escape. The story ends with both of them in separate places, each longing for the other and wishing they had met in a life where their roles weren’t in direct opposition of one another.
In 1943’s Batman #15, the Bat and the Cat met out of costume for the first time. Catwoman was disguised as a socialite named Elva Barr, and Bruce Wayne was judging a beauty contest she had entered. Bruce instantly recognized her, but he played dumb in order to protect his secret identity. Elva found herself smitten with Bruce Wayne, so smitten that she considered giving up her life as Catwoman for him.
When Batman learned of Catwoman’s feelings, he enacted one of his all-time dumbest plans. Bruce romanced Elva and it wasn’t long before the two of them were engaged. The plan was to date Catwoman long enough for her to give up her life of crime, then end the engagement—at least that’s what Bruce told himself.
In the end, the whole thing blew up in Batman’s face. Catwoman learned that the engagement was just a ruse to get her to quit crime (under the impression that Wayne was doing it as a favor for Batman) and reacted how you might expect. An alternative interpretation of the comic is that Bruce Wayne’s story about using the engagement to reform Catwoman was a ruse to save face. Perhaps Bruce Wayne saw this as an opportunity to taste the forbidden fruit that is the Batman/Catwoman romance.
Lovers at Last?
In 1950’s Batman #62, the Caped Crusader learned that Catwoman’s real name was Selina Kyle. That’s right, he didn’t learn her name until ten years after their “first date.” Despite this new knowledge, their relationship remained mostly unchanged. The topic of marriage came up again in Batman #197, with Catwoman offering to go straight in exchange for a marriage proposal, but the Dark Knight wasn’t biting.
In 1979’s Batman #308, a new solution was presented to the eternal Batman/Catwoman dilemma. Could Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have a successful romance if Batman and Catwoman were removed from the equation? After being paroled, Selina Kyle began a serious romance with Bruce Wayne, still unaware that he was Batman. Their love grew to new levels, but ultimately the experiment failed. You can’t remove Catwoman from Selina Kyle because it’s who she is at her core, and ultimately her past caught up with her when she was framed for a series of crimes. In an attempt to clear her head, Selina left Bruce and Gotham behind in Detective Comics #509.
If Batman and Catwoman’s romance is doomed to fail because he’s a hero and she’s a criminal, then perhaps things could work if Selina became a crimefighter. For a period of time in the 1980s, Batman and Catwoman worked side by side as partners, allowing them to finally explore their romance. In Batman #355, it was revealed that somewhere along the way, Catwoman had deduced Bruce Wayne was Batman, which added a new level of intimacy to their relationship. At last, there were no secrets between them!
Unfortunately, life in Gotham got in the way, and in Detective Comics #570, the Joker used a machine to scramble Catwoman’s brain, erasing her memories of Batman’s identity, and returning Selina to her cat burglar roots.
You think dating is hard? Try doing it in the same city as the Joker.
There’s a Kind of Hush
Although their partnership had ended, romantic longing was never far removed from Batman and Catwoman. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s epic The Long Halloween reimagined the Bat and Cat’s early history, and sexual tension oozed from the pages. Bruce and Selina enjoy a steamy romance, unaware of their double lives. At the same time, as Batman and Catwoman, they are drawn to one another and are fascinated by the mystery. In a sense, they are in two different relationships, unaware that it’s with the same person.
Loeb then took their relationship to the present day when he and Jim Lee collaborated on the epic storyline, “Batman: Hush.” In it, Batman decides to throw caution into the wind and enter into a relationship with Catwoman. He even proves his commitment by revealing his secret identity to her. Unfortunately, Batman can’t get out of his own way, and ends the relationship because he feels that he and Selina were unknowingly manipulated by Tommy Elliot.
Abandoned at the Altar
Batman and Catwoman’s relationship was one of the major themes in Tom King’s Batman run. King explored a new angle to the Bat-Cat question: can a happy Batman be an effective Batman? Batman proposes to Catwoman, but questions over what the marriage will do to his effectiveness plague Selina. In 2018’s Batman #50, Bruce waits for Selina at the altar, but she never shows up.
We learn later that Bane had manipulated these events, using proxies like the Joker and Holly Robinson to plant the seed in Selina’s head. Batman and Catwoman are able to overcome Bane and reconcile, but they table the issue of marriage.
But there are some things with Bruce and Selina that can never be tabled, like her past as a cat burglar. During the storyline “Their Dark Designs” the Wayne family fortune is stolen, and Selina was partially responsible. Years before she and Bruce got together, Selina had been one of the architects for a crime that would’ve looted the entire Wayne fortune. It was something she thought was dead and buried, but it proves to be very much alive when someone puts her old plan into action, leaving Bruce broke. Bruce forgives Selina, but the two decide to take a break, giving themselves a year to figure stuff out for themselves before they tackle the issue of their relationship once and for all in Batman #101. We’re still waiting to learn how that turns out.
Across the Media Multiverse
Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz will be following in the footsteps of the many live action takes on Batman and Catwoman that came before them. In the 1966 Batman television series and feature film, Adam West’s Caped Crusader finds himself tempted by a Catwoman played by three different actresses (Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt). The sexual tension between Michael Keaton’s Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was a huge part of the 1992 film Batman Returns. The movie presents Batman and Catwoman as two sides of the same coin, but Selina is too consumed by her quest for revenge on Max Shreck, which means any hope for love is a non-starter.
In 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway played Catwoman alongside Christian Bale’s Batman, and it remains one of the only times the Bat and the Cat received a happy ending. After saving Gotham from Bane and Talia Al Ghul, Bruce Wayne quietly retires to Europe alongside Selina. Perhaps that’s the answer to the Batman/Catwoman dilemma—they can only be together when their work for Gotham is done.
The Gotham television series presented a unique twist on the relationship, showing Camren Bicondova’s Selina as someone who helped train David Mazouz’s Bruce during his teenage years. Unfortunately, their growth into adulthood meant the end of their romance, since a cat burglar and a crimefighter can never be together. Or can they?
Now, it’s time for that question to be raised again in The Batman, with Pattinson and Kravitz putting their own spin on the forbidden romance. After eighty-two years, two failed engagements, one mindwipe, and multiple flames in between, perhaps Pattinson and Kravitz have what it takes to finally solve the Bat-Cat dilemma. Of course, they’ll have to deal with the Riddler first.
The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson as Batman and Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, is in theaters on March 4. Be sure to check out our official movie page for all the latest news, articles and videos.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.