Sun
Nov 18 2012 1:00pm

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2

“The Cat and the Claw: Part 1”
Story by Sean Catherine Derek & Laren Bright
Written by Jules Dennis & Richard Mueller
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Episode #013
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Shirley Walker, Harvey Cohen, Wayne Coster
Animation Services by Sunrise
Original Airdate—September 5th, 1992

Plot: Unbeknownst to Batman, Gotham’s new cat-burglar is also Bruce Wayne’s latest love interest, environmentalist Selina Kyle. This “catwoman” gets in over her head when the multinational corporation she breaks into turns out to be a front for the terrorist Red Claw.

This is the first episode of Batman: the Animated Series to air, and the first five minutes are about as perfect an introduction to Catwoman and her relationship to Batman as you could get. Immediately, Kevin Altieri drops the viewers into Selina’s vertigo inducing life of climbing buildings fifty stories off the ground. She uses the more fetish-y parts of her outfit, the whip and the claws, as tools of her trade. Two lines in and she drops the “purr-fect” pun, four lines in and she’s flirting with Batman. The moonlit cat-and-mouse chase across the rooftops, with Catwoman going all out to stay half a step ahead of the Dark Knight, both of them shocked and excited by a partner who can keep up, is a great microcosm of their relationship. And it even ends with Batman risking his life to save her cat, a nice homage to Batman: Year One, and a single image that shows how Batman prioritizes saving lives, even animal lives, over fighting crime.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2

Unlike the Joker or the Penguin, who had also been featured in the Tim Burton Batman movies, Catwoman is given an introductory episode. Perhaps this is because, despite a hair color taken from Michelle Pfeifer, this is a very different character from the mousey secretary reanimated by cats wearing stitched together vinyl that appeared in Batman Returns.

The Animated Series version is a thief motivated by environmental concerns. That’s not to say Catwoman is good, per se. There are probably safer, more effective, and legal ways to save mountain lions. She chooses to be Catwoman because she clearly gets off on the thrills of being a cat burglar. And when Batman rejects Catwoman’s sexual advances by saying “the thing between us” is “the law,” Catwoman winces at how painful that line is then kicks Batman off a roof, even though he JUST saved her life! Adrienne Barbeau delivers Selina’s lines with appropriate purr that quickly turns to growls when she doesn’t get her way. This is not a woman to fuck with.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2

This sets up a complicated love quadrangle, Bruce Wayne is head over heals for the beautiful, intelligent, charming, and determined Selina Kyle, but Catwoman is only interested in the tall, dark, and violent Batman. We rarely see Bruce have to pursue anyone, so it’s great to see him blushing and flustered. You have to let your disbelief suspend a little extra (why don’t they recognize each other’s voices, or chins?), and ignore what Selina’s exact relationship is to her live-in secretary Maven (Mary McDonald Lewis), but the love/hate relationship between Catwoman and Batman is dynamic and fun.

However, this is a two-parter....

 

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2

“The Cat and the Claw: Part 2”
Story by Sean Catherine Derek & Laren Bright
Written by Jules Dennis & Richard Mueller
Directed by Dick Sebast
Episode #016
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Harvey Cohen
Animation Services by Akom Production Co.
Layout Services by NOA Animation
Original Airdate—September 12th, 1992

Plot: Red Claw’s terrorists steal a weaponized virus and try to kill Selina Kyle, ruining her and Bruce’s second attempt at a first date. Then Batman follows Catwoman to the Multigon site, where they are captured.

As with “Two Face.” the second part just isn’t as good as the first. And the fault here falls mostly on Red Claw, another villain original to the series (though she bares a passing resemblance to DC Comics villain Cheshire). Everything about her is as vague as the roughly Eastern European accent Kate Mulgrew uses to portray her. She’s a terrorist, but aside from money it’s not clear what her cause is. She seems very taken with herself as a terrorist who is also a woman, but it’s not like she’s particularly a good feminist. She calls herself Batman’s match, but really she’s just a footnote. Cobra Commander with an off the shoulder blouse.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2

I guess the idea was to contrast Catwoman, the batman villainess who is Batman’s match, with one that isn’t, but Red Claw is such a generic bad guy that really any villain could have been used. The much better comparison would be Poison Ivy. Like Catwoman, she’s motivated by environmental concerns and uses a combination of seduction and outright criminality to get her way. Catwoman even has an unexplained psychic bond with cats that mirrors Ivy’s connection to plants. However, Catwoman is introduced as an effective criminal first and a sexy lady second, unlike Ivy, and Selina is obviously MUCH saner, if still morally flexible.

If Batman had to rely on Catwoman to fight a greater evil, even though he knows that Catwoman is untrustworthy (i.e. prone to kicking him off roofs), that could have been an interesting story. Instead, Catwoman goes from being a villain in her own right to being a plucky girl reporter who gets in over her head and needs to be rescued in the second episode. By the end, instead of being Batman’s match, Catwoman is just another person Batman needs to protect. Sigh.

Other than the story problems, the second episode is okay. Dick Sebast moves away from Altieri’s dynamic action style to a more moody, Hitchcockian take, especially in the car chase sequence and the assault on Mavin in Selina’s apartment, using POV shots and reflections to place us in the heads of the characters involved. Harvey Cohen reflects Sebast’s style by filling the score with riffs on Bernard Herrman’s scores for Vertigo and North by Northwest. Kevin Conroy does a fantastic job, especially in the date sequence, as he slips in and out of Batman voice in the heat of the chase, only to deliver a great Bruce Wayne line explaining how he can drive so well, “I’ve been going to the Paris Grand Prix for years. You know, one of these days I think I’ll enter it.” And Barbeau is excellent, as always, as the femme fatale.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 & 2

The leads are so good, and the writers have the Batman/Catwoman relationship down so well, that I really wish that the first Catwoman episode had been just a Catwoman episode, with no other villains involved. Surely that story could have been written.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

8 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
This is a fairly good story overall, but it's those first five minutes that really stand out as exceptional. Basically they're a whole, standalone cartoon short that perfectly sums up the Batman/Catwoman relationship and is just superbly executed in storyboarding, animation, and music. What follows is nice enough, the Bruce-Selina relationship is fairly interesting, but it's just not on the same level -- because, as you say, it's more about Batman and Selina being on the same side with different methods than really building on the mix of romance and rivalry that defines their relationship. Unfortunately, Selina would spend most of B:TAS on the side of the law -- which I imagine is because the FOX censors didn't want Batman liking a woman who was a criminal. She didn't entirely seem to work as a character until she embraced her larcenous side again in season 2's "Catwalk."

The main thing that bugs me here is that the gender attitudes seem a bit quaint for 1992. "So... our new cat burglar's a woman." Batman really said that? Seriously? Like that would be some big surprise to him? And that was just the first of multiple lines dwelling on the fact that Catwoman or Red Claw happened to be female. It made the story feel like it was left over from the '70s.

Another thing that bugs me: how stupid did the Multigon exec have to be to give his safe (and the model of his secret construction plans) an audible combination that was one of the most famous pieces of music in history?
Iain Nicholas Mackenzie
2. Iain Nicholas Mackenzie
The gender attitudes make sense if you assume that it's really the late Thirties as the cars and other stylistic elements hint at. I've always assumed this was so because it makes sense.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
@2: Yeah, but they have computers and VHS tapes and genetic engineering and so forth. It's clearly set in a world that's basically the 1990s, but interpolated with Art Deco designs and futuristic technologies.

Also, if you look at the broader DC Animated Universe, the second season of Static Shock is evidently set in 2001 (since Virgil uses "so Y2K" to mean "so last year," i.e. out of fashion). All in all, I find that the DCAU chronology holds up fairly well if you assume that most of it (other than Batman Beyond and The Zeta Project, of course) takes place at roughly the same time it first came out.
Iain Nicholas Mackenzie
4. John R. Ellis
Selina's character follows a fairly interesting, complicated arc throughout the series. She starts out as a fairly idealistic character who robs in order to fund efforts to right wrongs, despite occasionally doing it for the thrill of the skill required.

But, as the series continues, there are subtle hints that the ideals are gradually being consumed by the adrenaline thrill of being a master thief, a larger than life honest to goodness costumed criminal.

Then comes Catwalk. Selina fails to live up to her own ideals. Something in her seems to break, and she ends up ready, willing, and able to murder a mentally ill man in cold blood.

By the time we reach Batgirl Returns, she's more or less abandoned her earlier idealism completely, now fully invested in doing it for the thrills and gratification.

A fascinating progression, at least to me.
Risha Jorgensen
5. RishaBree
<F1 fan geekout>There isn't a Paris Grand Prix! In fact,
France doesn't have one at all.</geekout>
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
@5: Well, there isn't a Gotham City either -- not in our world.
Alan Gratz
7. agratz
Yeah, the Red Claw never really worked for me as a villain. When I saw the title card for this review, I thought, "Oh. That one." I had totally forgotten it was the first Catwoman episode. All I remembered was the lame Red Claw villain.

The opening chase between Catwoman and Batman IS great, but better is the wordless Batman/Catwoman short "Chase Me" that was included on the Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman DVD. That's six minutes of pure awesome.
Christopher Bennett
8. ChristopherLBennett
@7: But the "Cat and the Claw" opening has much better music.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment