I’ve mentioned that Catwoman is my favorite of Batman’s rogues, but that’s primarily for her role as an antihero and romantic foil for our hero than as a villain. This is largely due to Ed Brubaker (he sure did do a lot for the Bat-books in the early aughts) casting Selina Kyle as the defender of Gotham’s East End slums in her most recent solo series, armed with Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant redesign of the character. In many ways, Brubaker’s run does for Catwoman what Batman: The Animated Series does for Batman, using the essential aspects of the character’s multiple iterations to tell powerful stories with a strong crime noir influence. When Brubaker’s plot strays from these core elements (Selina’s troubled past in the East End, her personal relationships with sister Maggie and best friend Holly) the book takes a noticeable dip in quality, similar to the dive from “Heart Of Ice” to “The Cat And The Claw.”
“The Cat And The Claw” is one of those episodes that loses sight of the things that make B:TAS impressive, almost entirely because of the ridiculously stupid villain created by Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright. Why they decided to saturate Catwoman’s animated debut with a bad Elektra knockoff is a baffling decision, and god damn does the Red Claw suck. She only makes one more appearance in the series, and she’s miserable then, too. Lacking any sort of backstory or motivation for her terrorist acts, Red Claw’s defining characteristic is her indistinct eastern European accent, suggesting she may be some sort of Communist, but we really don’t know. And if her main purpose is to be a massively destructive opponent in the vein of the Joker or Scarecrow, Red Claw is a failure, over-complicating her evil plans to the point they collapse under their weight. Catwoman’s moral ambiguity and romantic relationship to Batman poses a problem for the writers because there needs to be someone for our hero to beat up and put away at the end of the episode, and he can’t kick his girlfriend in the gut or throw a garbage can over her head. A Catwoman appearance usually means there’s going to be an additional less interesting villain, which is unfortunate because Selina Kyle is captivating enough on her own.
Catwoman is denied a backstory by the B:TAS creative team, likely due to the show’s proximity to the release of Batman Returns. Of the previously existing rogues that have debuted on the series so far, Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman are the only ones whose history before villainy is unrevealed. They were also the only three to have been introduced on the big screen, so it’s possible that there was network pressure to keep their characters’ pasts as similar to the films as possible (which we know was true regarding their appearances). In this case omittance is acceptance. There’s no explanation for Selina Kyle’s obsession with protecting felines, and rather than serving as actual motivation, it becomes just another random element in a mess of an episode.
“The Cat and The Claw, Part One” begins with Catwoman (Maude and Escape From New York’s Adrienne Barbeau) committing a high-rise jewel burglary with the help of her super-cat sidekick, Isis. I’m pretty sure a cat can’t see infrared lasers or crawl into and up a rain gutter, but I’m also sure Derek and Bright don’t care. Logic isn’t their strong suit. The appearance of Isis is already a big red flag, as a super-intelligent animal sidekick usually means an abysmal episode of B:TAS. Batman catches her in the act, but his reaction is considerably less harsh than if it were a man stealing the diamond necklace. The two are instantly attracted to one another, and their rooftop fight sequence is the equivalent of a first date (Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale take this idea to the extreme in their short story “Date Night” in Solo #1). Batman even gets his hands on her pussy by the end of it, when he saves Isis from an oncoming vehicle. There’s a lot more banter than normal during their fight, particularly from Batman’s side, and if Batman had caught her stopping a burglary instead of committing one, he’d probably be inviting her back to the Bat-cave. Director Kevin Altieri deserves recognition for his beautiful rooftop choreography in this scene, despite the fight ending with Batman being foiled by the series’ greatest danger: trash cans. Gotham apparently lacks a waste management service, because there are just giant stacks of full trash cans piled on top of each other all around the city. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, and the city can’t smell very good either.
The action switches to Bruce Wayne for the next scene, as a date with the city’s most eligible bachelor is auctioned off to raise money for animal preserves. Selina Kyle wins with her $10,000 bid, and a smitten Bruce is eager to follow-up on her victory. Their meeting out of costume is cut short by the sound of sirens and gunfire, though, as the police chase down a stolen military truck full of weapons. Altieri does similarly strong work in this sequence, with dynamic camera angles helping to emphasize the speed of the chase. After stopping the truck, Batman learns that Red Claw is in Gotham, and Commissioner Gordon describes Red Claw as “the most ruthless terrorist leader in the world.” Gordon also believes Red Claw to be a man, which shows how much he knows about the subject.
When Bruce goes to meet Selina for their date, her lawyer calls to tell her that the land she had planned to buy for a mountain lion preserve has been sold to Multigon International. Selina reacts angrily and cancels her date with Bruce, but when he gets her a meeting with Multigon chairman Stern, Bruce and Selina get to spend some quality time together investigating corporate terrorism. Stern threatens to kill the mountain lions, Selena threatens him with a wave of animal activists, and Bruce has to sit and watch. No wonder he spends so much time as Batman. There’s a Spider-Man/Black Cat vibe with the relationship between Catwoman and Batman, as Selina finds herself unattracted to Bruce Wayne, yet completely smitten with his costumed alter ego. Bruce Wayne is just another man in a suit, and it’s only when he is able to benefit her cause that she actually shows any affection toward him. Batman is the only man that is able to awaken any sort of primal desire in her.
When Catwoman breaks into Stern’s office to find information about Multigon’s “resort,” she is attacked by Red Claw and nearly falls to her death until Batman saves her. Clutching his chest as they soar through the air, Catwoman kisses Batman on the lips, a reward “for saving her cat,” and his eyes go wide. After they land they go back to making out for a while longer, until Batman has to go and bring up the pesky law and how they can’t be together because she’s a criminal. She’s saving animals; it’s not like she’s hunting down mobsters and killing them. Sometimes, Batman’s mission can be a real buzzkill, especially when it comes to getting his swag on. Even as a kid, I remember thinking that the mid-air kiss between Catwoman and Batman was very sensual for a kid’s show, and it’s a shame that we never get to see Catwoman as a regular love interest for our hero. Sure, she shows up a good amount throughout the course of the series, but her episodes never quite live up to the character’s potential. "Part One" ends with a shot of one of Red Claw’s henchmen spying on Selina, setting up the next half of the episode, where things get really stupid.
The worst part of “The Cat And The Claw” is that Red Claw’s evil plan is so scattershot that it ends up making no sense at all. She buys the land to apparently use as a base, then steals a virus from a train, realizes the virus is too dangerous and uses it against Batman and Catwoman, planning to use a fake virus to hold Gotham City ransom. Why didn’t she just steal the virus, threaten Gotham, collect her gold, and get rid of the virus? Why go through all the trouble of securing land for a base if you’re going to be leaving anyway, probably back to Mother Russia or something equally clichéd? Why? Because the mountain lion land is Catwoman’s story, while the virus is Batman’s. I think the choice to make this episode two parts led to the writers trying to find ways to pad out a far too simple plot with a lot of developments that only serve to make the villain look stupid, which is a complete contrast to the character's reputation mentioned in the script. Red Claw never feels like a legitimate threat, no matter how many mountains she blows up. And with more emphasis on her terrorist plot than the far more interesting Bruce/Selina relationship, "The Cat And The Claw, Part Two" loses many of the redeeming qualities of its predecessor.
The second part's strongest scene is Bruce and Selina's second attempt at a date, which gets interrupted by Red Claw's henchmen. Watching Bruce out-maneuver his assailants while Selina wonders how he learned to drive so fearlessly is a moment when we see the Batman persona outside the cowl. As lame as the line "You look like the cat who swallowed the canary" is, Selina's reaction makes me wonder if she doesn't recognize subconsciously who Bruce really is underneath the suit. In fact, I think they both probably know who the other one secretly is, and the secret is the biggest turn on. Bruce manages to knock their attackers off a bridge into the waters below (they swim to safety, just as people thrown off trains land comfortably in bushes) and drops off Selina, and when he returns to the Bat-cave that evening, Alfred notices a cat hair on Bruce's jacket, the same kind of hair Batman found on his cape after he saved Isis. Having made the connection between Selina and Catwoman, Batman goes to Selina's apartment, just in time to save her assistant Mavin from one of Red Claw's thugs. Mavin tells Batman that Selina has gone to the Multigon site and that she's fallen in love with him. That woman sure does move fast, but then so does Bruce. He tells Catwoman that he hasn't cared for someone the way he does for her in a long time, and they've known each other for about two days.
Specific people serve certain roles in the B:TAS mythos in the relationships with Bruce Wayne. Alfred is his parent, Robin is his son, Commissioner Gordon is Batman's friend, Harvey Dent was Bruce's. Bruce puts a lot of emphasis on these single figures, and we've seen the emotional impact when he loses one of them. He had a serious girlfriend once, and re-watching Mask Of The Phantasm has me very excited to get to that later on. Selina Kyle presents the opportunity to have one again. And unlike Andrea Beaumont, Selina Kyle is the complete package for Bruce and Batman.
- Batman Beatdown: Batman muscles information out of a mobster by literally picking him up of the ground and just letting him dangle until he cracks.
- Adrienne Barbeau originated the role of Rizzo in Grease on Broadway. Michelle Pfeiffer was in Grease 2. Coincidence or Catwoman musical conspiracy?
- What if Batman got hit by the truck when he went to save Isis? The animation makes it looks like it is really close.
- If there was supposed to be some sort of gender commentary with this episode’s plot, it’s pretty weak. Unless Red Claw represents a woman’s menstrual cycle, Catwoman her sexual desire, and Batman the crushing masculine influence. I’m really reaching here.
- “Hey! I’ll have to try and trim those claws.”
- “Feds and their secrets.”
- Are there cameras in all the animal skulls in Stern’s office, or is he just borrowing Victor Fries’ magic multiple angle cam?
- “You bought a date, and I’m honor-bound and delighted to deliver.”
- Commissioner Gordan has a separate phone for Batman he keeps in his desk. Love it.
- The animation by Akom in “The Cat An The Claw Part Two” is truly dreadful, and the studio would eventually be fired from B:TAS because all their episodes looks like utter shit. Character shapes are less defined, the action is stiff, and this episode's climax of Multigon burning looks like a child’s crayon drawings. Some really bad animation there.
- Hearing Conroy’s Bruce and Batman voices side by side when he’s talking to Gordon on the phone, then Selina in the car, shows the impressive seamlessness with which he handles the transition between the two.
- Mavin reminds me of a grown-up Marcie from Peanuts.
- "Keep this up, and I'll be on you from all sides. North, south, east, and west."
- "More than you will ever know."
- This episode basically hits all the major action-adventure cartoon cliches. Rooftop chase. Two car chases. Train chase. Giant explosions.
- R.I.P. Dwayne McDuffie. Truly a huge loss to the animation and comics world.