DCAU #15: The Cat and the Claw

IN THIS ONE... Batman meets Catwoman, and both run afoul of the terrorist only known as Red Claw. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller, Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright; directed by Kevin Altieri and Dick Sebast (who was also working on Sonic the Hedgehog).

REVIEW: Actually used as a series premiere (Catwoman was making waves thanks to Batman Returns), The Cat and the Claw is almost as much of a redesign of Catwoman as Heart of Ice was of Mr. Freeze. The look is inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer's evidently (blond, no hair sticking out of the costume), but not too much. I was never a big fan of the gray bodysuit, as it's a bit drab compared to every other version (usually black or purple), but Selina Kyle wins me over with her personality. She's a criminal for the thrill of it (and you get the sense that those she steals from won't suffer), but her own brand of vigilante hero when it comes to causes she cares about like animal rights and wildlife preservation. She has a perfectly nice assistant who knows her secrets and seems to think of Catwoman's nocturnal activities as just part of the job, and a trained cat, Isis, who can be more intelligent and expressive than a normal animal on account of this being a cartoon. Oh, and cool cat-shaped caltrops, I don't think I've seen that gag elsewhere. And she's not a psychotic or even an eccentric (compare to the purring performances of the '66 TV series' Catwomen, for example). Aside from a streak of kleptomania, she's a strong, fierce, independent woman who is at least as level-headed as Batman is.

And their dynamic is really at the heart of the episode. I love how it plays up Bruce Wayne's elligibility and Selina Kyle's total dismissal of him as a person. How he really does fall for her as Selina, while she's falling for him as Batman. Shades of Spider-Man and the Black Cat, sure, but perhaps closer to Superman's romantic shenanigans. As the episode progresses, she learns to value Bruce, while he must face the truth of her secret identity. "There's something between us." "Yes, the law." And so the tragedy is that Batman's code can't abide letting her go free no matter how much he loves her. They've each got their obsessions.

The weakest element is the terrorism angle. Not the action beats, because there are some exciting car chases, fights atop trains, and the biggest explosion ever. And not the Red Claw herself, another strong female character, and I mean that literally. A bit surprised we never saw her in the comics because the look is good, but she is admittedly thinly written. What's weak is that these terrorists look just like Gotham's street thugs, and carry military grade Tommy guns. They do steal a bio-engineered plague from the army, but it's to ransom it for a billion dollars. And after they pass a dummy canister to the government, they waste the whole plague on just two people, and burn their nifty secret underground base. At best, they're just another mob gang. At worst, their actions don't make sense. But frankly, it's just set dressing for the real story of two star-crossed lovers.

IN THE COMICS: Catwoman first appeared in Batman #1 (1940), by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, as simply "The Cat". She has always been portrayed with black hair and is only a blond because of Batman Returns' casting choices. Catwoman as an activist is a DCAU invention. I should also mention the scene where Batman saves the cat from being run over by a truck, a definite echo of his saving a cat from a hail of bullets in Year One, which also featured Catwoman.

SOUNDS LIKE: Adrienne Barbeau plays Catwoman; her first comic book work was, of course, Abby Cable in Wes Craven's Swamp Thing. Futurama mainstay Frank Welker actually plays Isis the cat. And that's Kate "Captain Janeway/Mrs. Columbo" Mulgrew as Red Claw, the first time she did a kind of Russian accent for a character called "Red"! Selina's assistant Maven is voiced by Mary McDonald Lewis, a veteran superhero voice actress, as she was the original voice of Wonder Woman on early Super-Friends episodes. Herb Edelman (Golden Girls, St. Elsewhere) plays Stern, the evil CEO/terrorism financier/big game hunter.

REWATCHABILITY: High - An excellent introduction to Catwoman, I can easily forgive its cartoonish terrorism plot.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

I think this one works- well, not quite as well as On Leather Wings as a premiere, but still pretty well (and definitely good as a second episode if traditionalism compels one to keep OLW first), and it's kind of appropriate as, in some orders, Red Claw's return ends up as the penultimate (or even final) episode of the original run; a nice bookending. (What a run-on sentence!)

Much as I like Kate Mulgrew, though, the accent she uses is hilariously bad.

Siskoid said...

Yes it's a wonder they let her place an accented character on Orange Is the New Black.

Floyd Lawton said...

Let's not forget that Frank Welker is the immortal pantheon of cartoon voice work as Fred from the Scooby gang and Iceman in Spider Man and his amazing Friends 😄

LiamKav said...

It's good to know that it's not just Usagi Tsukino that can wear a cat draped around the neck as an accessory.

LiamKav said...

Batman (whilst watching Selina crawl about in skin tight latex): "So, our new cat burglar is a woman."

World's greatest detective there, folks. Also, check your privilege, Bats. Women are just as entitled to be excenntric costumed villains as men.

Odd that Penguin never got an introduction episode, but Catwoman does. I'd quite like to know how they decided who is introduced and who is assumed to already pre-exist.

Siskoid said...

And then it happens AGAIN, with the world's most dangerous terrorist also being a woman.

LiamKav said...

Red Claw doesn't help, with her "you've finally met your match Batman. Not suprising it's a woman." And then Gordon says that the Feds were looking for a man, and Bruce says that he's learning not to underestimate the opposite sex. Seriously, we get it. Women can hold the world to ransom just like men. (I'm trying to remember if we get all this in Batgirl's first episode. Guess we'll find out when we get there.)

Weird how Batman Returns forced the Penguin's design to be the flipper monster from the movie (although thankfully not his personality), but Catwoman doesn't have to look like Tim Burton's zombie fetish. What's even weirder is that when we get to TNBA, Penguin is redesigned to look human, but Catwoman is changed to look MORE like she did in Batman Returns. (I have a vague recollection that she changes to black hair at that point, and it was explained that her blond hair was dyed, and she stopped doing it after finding out that the dye company tested on animals.)

There's a weird thing going on where neither Catwoman nor the Red Claw will throw a punch. It's all kicks and judo throws. I know there was a rule in Batman '66 where Batgirl wasn't allowed to punch anyone, but I would have thought that would have gone by 1992. Maybe it's a weird homage?

And one little thing that's always bugged me... I'm guessing the colour sheets for Batman didn't indicate where his cowl when up to on his chin. Sometimes it's flesh coloured down there, othertimes it's black and blue. Drives me mad.

LiamKav said...

Akom did the second part of this. Bruce Timm was really unhappy with them, as apparently the explosions looked dreadful and kept having to be redone. He still wasn't happy with the finished product, which is one of the reasons Akom were eventually fired.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"(I'm trying to remember if we get all this in Batgirl's first episode. Guess we'll find out when we get there.)"

I don't believe so- but you do get 'Batgirl's Theme' about 9,023 times. :-)


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