Fantastic Firsts: “Batman” #1

catwoman-first-appearance-page-from-19401

Since her debut in 1940’s “Batman” #1, Selina Kyle (alias Catwoman) has been beguiling Batman and readers with her feline ways. In her first appearance, the relationship between hero and villain has retained many qualities in the comic books that can be observed to this day. Catwoman herself also has many of the same personality traits in “Batman”s first issue that, with other writers and artists’ help, were shaped and transformed into something more complex as the decades passed by. Created by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane, Catwoman wasn’t the only villain to debut in the Dark Knight Detective’s first solo issue. The Clown Prince of Crime himself had two tales within. With such high caliber villains debuting in the same book, Batman’s solo series started off pretty packed with excitement and was just the beginning of the unveiling of his cavalcade of villains.

The debut story of Batman’s most beloved villainess was simply titled “The Cat” and was written by Bill Finger (who contributed more to the Bat-mythos than any other creator), with art by Bob Kane and inks by Jerry Robinson. The story begins with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson discussing an article about an upcoming private yacht party being thrown by the socialite Martha Travers. One part of the story catches the eyes of the Dynamic Duo: the emerald necklace worth $500,000 that will be worn by “Mrs. John Travers” (note the sexist name, which was a product of its time). An article about a private party attended by the richest of the rich is an invitation for the devious and the diabolical to crash said party. Bruce sends Dick ahead in disguise as a steward and the Boy Wonder is able to flex his detective skills and display his physical prowess before Batman is able to make his dramatic entrance.

Robin discovers that Martha’s necklace is about to be stolen by someone calling him or herself “the Cat”, who is in cahoots with the socialite’s nephew. More drama ensues when a boat full of fedora-wearing gangsters appears pretending to be the Coast Guard. These goons then proceed to rob the passengers of their baubles and cash. When Batman and Robin catch up to them, Batman allows Robin to take care of them single-handedly after taking away their guns. Batman breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader with a stern face after Robin beats the gangsters senseless: “Well, kids, there’s your proof! Crooks are yellow without their guns!..Don’t go around admiring them..rather do your best in fighting them and all their kind!” After capturing these men and then letting them loose on Robin, Batman was inciting a human cock fight. However, he did prove there is no need for guns in the war on crime.

The reader must be thinking, “Where’s the Cat?” In only the last two pages of the twelve page story is the true face of the Cat revealed to the Dynamic Duo and the audience. In this story, “the Cat” is not given the name Selina Kyle or Catwoman. She has no name or origin in this issue. Those monikers and her origin wouldn’t come until later. In “Batman” #2, she is called “Cat-Woman” and then “Catwoman” in subsequent stories. The Cat’s clever and wily ways have stayed with the character of Catwoman to this day. The modern Catwoman is able to sneak unnoticed through many situations, using her sensuality and smarts.

Batman notices a running old woman when the fire alarm is set off and says,”Nice legs for an old woman!” He goes after this mysterious “old” woman with nice gams, grabs her, and rips her wig off. The Cat is caught and he begins wiping her makeup off with a towel while she screams, “Let go of me!” Batman’s response is jarring and quite appropriate: “Quiet or papa spank!” Since their first encounter, Batman and Catwoman have had a sadomasochistic relationship that both seem to enjoy immensely. The Cat sits seductively on a chair, allowing Batman to undo a bandage wrapped around her leg that contains the emerald necklace and says, “I know when I’m licked!”

The King and Queen of crime?!

The King and Queen of crime?!

The Cat, in an act seen many times over her history, wraps her arms around Batman’s neck and suggests they become partners: “You and I together!” She says they could be the “king and queen of crime..We’d male a great team!” Batman grasps her hands violently and says, “Sorry, your proposition tempts me, but we work on different sides of the law!” The attraction between the Bat and the Cat has always been there, with a push and pull between the two making their over-seventy decade long relationship such a complex one.

Proof of that complexity comes at the end of the story when it appears that Batman has purposefully let the Cat escape the law’s punishment. Batman, acting in an uncharacteristic moment, actually reacts to this strange woman in a human way. He’s intrigued and attracted  by her. Over the years, that complexity becomes even deeper with Selina Kyle straddling the proverbial fence between bad and good. They even become romantically involved during different periods of their history, with Batman having faith in a woman he trusts to be more good than bad.

Robin, at the end of the story, accuses Batman of letting the Cat loose. Batman suspiciously and evasively says, “Why, Robin, my boy, what ever gave you such an idea!…Hmm..Nice night, isn’t it?” In the last panel, he seems smitten by her and her “lovely eyes”, even going so far as to remind himself of his fiance at the time. After this Cat-tale, Batman will never be the same again.

Catwoman has contributed greatly to the character of Batman since her very first appearance as simply “the Cat”. Batman sees complexity in Catwoman and, because of that, sees the complexity in himself. Both Bruce and Selina are mirror images of each other, with both unable to let the other go away for very long. They were even married in an alternate universe, which is something that will probably never happen in the “real” DC universe. The game of cat-and-bat is one of the most memorable and iconic in all of fiction and, if they did get together, then the game would be over. And that is a game that, through comics, movies, and television, seems to never tire audiences (or the characters) out.

Batman #1
Written by: Bill Finger
Art by: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Letters: Jerry Robinson
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: June 1940

 

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