Comic-book historian Tim Hanley takes queer superheroes very seriously: He’s explored LGBT representation on his blog, Straitened Circumstances, and dug into the queer underpinnings of the America’s most famous superheroine in the book Wonder Woman Unbound. His latest title, The Many Lives of Catwoman, traces the history of Batman’s longtime foe-with-benefits, Selina Kyle.
With the Dark Knight proposing to Catwoman in Batman No. 24, and buzz about who will play the character in the Suicide Squad spinoff movie Gotham City Sirens, it’s an interesting time for the feline femme fatale.
We cornered Hanley for a few questions about DC’s iconic antihero.
Catwoman has been around for more than 75 years What does your book uncover, especially for readers who may not be plugged into the character?
The book is about Catwoman specifically, but through her it’s also a book about how female characters have been treated in popular culture over the past eight decades. Catwoman is a fascinating case study. For the bulk of her career she’s been a supporting character, and as a villain she was always an outsider in the superhero genre. As such, she’s a prime target for marginalization and mistreatment, but also for creative attempts at reinvention.
She also serves as a unique lens through which we can see how the role of female characters has evolved over the years across various forms of media. I hope that the book reveals the brave, defiant, charming core of Catwoman and that [readers] come away from it with a deeper appreciation for the character.
Is there something in particular about Selina Kyle that appeals to queer fans?
While Catwoman certainly isn’t the gay icon that Wonder Woman is, she is one of the few canonically queer characters in comics today. Two years ago, in a story arc by Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown, Catwoman came out as bisexual. While her bisexuality hasn’t been much of a focus since then, it nonetheless remains a part of who she is and may well come up again in the future.
One thing that’s particularly compelling about Catwoman is her confidence. In nearly every incarnation, she exists outside of the mainstream and flourishes. When someone else, typically Batman, tries to limit her or change her, she refuses and remains true to herself.
Who is your favorite Catwoman from TV or movies?
I always flip-flop back and forth on two of them, so I’m just going to have to declare a tie: My first favorite is Julie Newmar from the 1960s Batman television show.
You could tell that Newmar relished playing a bad guy, and she captured the cleverness, humor, and strength of Catwoman perfectly. My second favorite is Michelle Pfeiffer and her amazing performance in Batman Returns.
There’s a righteous anger to her that Pfeiffer makes so endearing. And, like with Newmar, it’s clear that she really threw herself into the part and loved what she was doing. She flat out steals the movie from everyone else.
Who do you think should play Catwoman in Gotham City Sirens?
What’s interesting about DC’s current cinematic universe is that we’ve got an older Batman, and so it stands to reason that Catwoman doesn’t have to be particularly young. And given the stark whiteness of much of the superhero world, it would be great to see a woman of color in the role. My top pick right now is Lucy Liu, because she’s just so good on every front and would kill it as Catwoman. But the choices are wide open—Paula Patton could be rad, or Ruth Negga, Priyanka Chopra, or Rosario Dawson. There are a lot of fun ways it could go.
In the comics, Batman recently asked Catwoman to marry him. There’s no way she’s saying yes, right?
That was my immediate thought, but DC sure is making us wait for an answer. And in the meantime, writer Tom King has been chatting about the proposal and it sounds like he
might be interested in exploring her saying yes.
Whatever DC decides, I doubt it’s going to end well. Catwoman’s too independent to be tied down, especially to someone who loves the law as much as Batman does. While they have a fun chemistry, it works best when Catwoman’s cleverly flirting with Batman and preying on his attraction to her as a means to an end.
The Many Lives of Catwoman is out now on Chicago Review Press.