The Cat and the Claw, Part One
I suggest you save the flattery for the judge…
Air Date: 5/9/92
Director: Kevin Altieri
Writer: Sean Catherine Derek, Laren Bright, Jules Dennis (Teleplay), Richard Mueller (Teleplay)
Themes: Crime, Animal Conservation, Romance, Terrorism
Villain: Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Red Claw
Synopsis: Batman investigates both a spate of robberies committed by a feline themed burglar and a terrorist group active in Gotham, while Bruce Wayne becomes enamoured with a new socialite in town.
So, another introduction. Catwoman isn’t really a villain, but she isn’t exactly an ally either. That kind of grey area that she inhabits makes her a pretty appealing character, as is the fact that she has been one of the most consistent romantic interests for Batman down the years. B:TAS sticks with the, by now, traditional interpretation of the character which is a sort of Robin Hood type angle, stealing from the rich and giving some to the…animals. Yeah. Anyway, it isn’t really the cat obsession or design that makes Selina Kyle stand-out, it’s her interaction with Batman/Bruce Wayne and her raw sexuality. Kyle appeals in both her criminal and public persona, and this two-parter is all about the relationship between her and Wayne. And, Catwoman and Batman, a strange dual love story, a four-way. Catwoman, who gets a thrill from robbery, wants the dark, mysterious Bat, while Wayne, ever distracted by his crime-fighting lifestyle, wants the captivating but distant Kyle.
This was also the very first episode aired, though it comes well back in the production order. It’s an interesting one to go with, since Catwoman isn’t at the very top of Batman supporting characters and the actual villain is an original creation. That’s a bit of a brave leap to make for the episode that was supposed to hook an audience, but it does have a lot of positive things going for it.
We open with a classic Catwoman heist as she uses her feline ally – and her claws – to steal some valuable jewellery. This opening sets up Catwoman nicely, as a competent, alluring burglar, with an affinity for animals. The cat, Isis, jumping through a laser grid might be a bit much, but this is still a fun little set-piece to open the episode.
The real entertaining stuff comes afterward, as Batman tries to chase Catwoman down. All the hallmarks of their relationship are there to see from the first interaction: Batman never quite able to catch her, the playful flirting from Catwoman, the stoic, yet not uninterested, response from the caped crusader. In a way, this chase is just one big opportunity for both to show off to the other, their athleticism, their fighting skill, their stealth. There is a certain tension – I suppose it is sexual, though I don’t mean in an obvious, in your face way – between the two characters. Catwoman has a playful exterior hiding a rock hard competence and skill. In these opening scenes, she seems impressed by Batman, but he’s still an obstacle to overcome. For Batman’s part, his mixed feeling of attraction towards the criminal he’s trying to send to prison is obvious. In truth, he seems to give up on the chase all too easily, and seems oddly pleased to be given a smile for saving her cat. This is a side of Wayne we haven’t seen before, as obsessed as he usually is with the crusade on crime. Batman as a man, a being with romantic needs, is something that is rather unexpected to see.
We move on from there into the other half of the episodes angle. Bruce Wayne is out doing the “billionaire playboy” thing to the hilt, surrounded by vapid, boring women all desperate to spend any amount of time with him. Obviously there is a hint of gold-digger to all this, but it’s made clear that Wayne is still physically attractive within the universe. That isn’t something we’ve seen much of either up to this point, but it makes sense to introduce that element to the character – of being a “catch” – for this episode.
Selina Kyle is a stunning creature, one designed to standout in the crowd of so-so competitors. Wayne is blown over by her, actually bashful when he brings himself to speak for her. This is no act by the master of disguise, he’s genuinely lost for words when confronted by this smart, sexy, powerful woman. Perhaps it’s because Kyle seems to have little interest in Wayne, which is bound to drive the guy a little crazy. Is the entire Kyle/Wayne and Cat/Bat relationship based off that old saying: You always want what you can’t have? Perhaps it is.
A good chase scene, one more action oriented than the first, follows as Batman tracks down some terrorists. The use of terrorism in what is nominally a children’s cartoon would be a more tricky prospect today, but the mercenaries of the Red Claw are not really that scary, though their gun-toting nature does provide a bit of spectacle. The fighting, the choreographing and the explosions of this scene all stand out and it is an effective heart-racer.
It serves to set up “Red Claw”, a terrorist leader who seems to have an eye on weapons he/she can get in Gotham. Commissioner Gordon turns up for the first time in a while, and I enjoyed his brief conversation with the shadowed Batman. Gordon cleaning his glasses while talking away to the vigilante is practically iconic at this point, and he serves as a bit of simple exposition here. A decent mystery has been set in place. Why is the Red Claw in Gotham?
But Bruce Wayne has other things on his mind. The date scene with Kyle, with her in the slinky dress yet seeming bored and non-committal, is another favourite for the episode. Wayne is just so eager to impress, throwing around his contacts and “pull” in order to try and please her. His good looks and charm don’t appear to be doing the job anyway. Kyle’s real identity is not kept a secret from the audience, but there is a nice little bit of tension in that we know that Kyle will soon clash with Batman again, and certain identities are bound to come out in the open.
Kyle is a bit of a femme fatale I suppose, but a much more interesting one than Pamela Isley, the only other female character of note so far, back in “Pretty Poison”. Isley was insane and clearly on the bad side of morality: Kyle is something else entirely. Her anger at the lack of care for her planned wildlife reserve is palpable. She can fight her corner, in costume and out, but isn’t afraid to use Bruce Wayne for his connections – and then casually declare she doesn’t actually want to go out on a date with him.
We have to compare and contrast Kyle with the Red Claw, revealed in a sort of “shocking” manner as a woman. Women have an absolutely rough time in the comic book world, depicted as overly-sexualised bimbos with huge breasts and thigh-high boots frequently, or overly-butch muscle-heavy types. That is, when they aren’t being stuffed into refrigerators. Catwoman has found herself treading the line of bimbo/eye candy plenty of times, especially in these kinds of controversial covers, but has generally managed to be more of a character than just a skin-tight suit.
Red Claw is the opposite end of the spectrum, huge, powerful, leading a major terrorist organisation. “Butch” is the term I used above, and I hope I can be forgiven for saying that Red Claw exhibits stereotypically lesbian characteristics. That is, the fictional type of lesbian of course. She’s a direct contrast to the slim, athletic, more emotional Catwoman but she’s just as powerful in her own way. “The Cat and the Claw” is going to be fairly unique in the prominent roles it gives to female characters, and it is a shame that such a thing is not repeated more often. At some point, comic book writers/animators are going to realise that the most memorable and praised female characters are not the ones with the gigantic mammary glands. While Red Claw may not be the most singular creation, she is still a deadly threat, a woman in charge and someone that Batman finds himself on a level pegging with.
The episode concludes with another heist, with Batman largely relegated, yet again, to a supervising role. He only comes in at the end really, and the set-piece is left for Red Claw and Catwoman to clash. It isn’t a great clash it has to be said, with a bit of set-up being done for the heavier stuff in Part Two. Catwoman isn’t even that interested in Red Claw’s main plot, she just sort of stumbles into it, which weakens the overall story a bit. It has some nice moments – see below – but the pro-feminist message I discussed above takes a hit when Batman has to step in to save a Catwoman from the very masculine villain. At least Red Claw comes off as a major threat here, and we can look forward to more of her in the next part.
Batman and Catwomen get to kiss, with Batman struggling to admit that it’s an enjoyable experience, even if it is just to himself. It’s an odd little romance we’ve got here, a doomed one certainly, but it’s an angle that is worth seeing out. Batman continues to maintain that bringing everyone to justice is his only concern, but that does ring hollow at this point. That’s the episodes main hook, far more than the Red Claw plotline, resolving the romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman. Catwoman pushing him off a building is pretty typical of the relationship, in how this sub-plot ends for the moment.
It does end on a cliffhanger, as Catwoman’s alter ego is exposed to Red Claw’s organisation (through a pretty creepy looking underling) but this plot is weak from the focus placed more on the Kyle/Wayne interaction over the Red Claw stuff. More effort was put into one half of this episode; it’s plain to see, with the Red Claw almost an afterthought, at least in Part One. I don’t want to say that it is tacked on, but is certainly feels like it, as if they thought more traditional action and villains were needed to supplement the chase between Batman and Catwoman. If so, I think that was a mistaken judgement to make.
-There are those police blimps again, haven’t seen them in a while. Nice model.
-Catwoman might lack the black latex of Michelle Pfeiffer, but her model is still loosely based around that. I like it, and her VA, from Adrienne Barbeau is also excellent.
-You might recognise the Red Claw’s VA, because it’s Kate “Captain Janeway” Mulgrew. While she struggles with the accent, she does an acceptable enough job here.
-There are just a bunch of really strange animation choices in this episode, starting with a leering face for Batman as he emerges out of the shadows going after Catwoman.
-Interesting effect during the auction scene, with normal coloured Wayne stepping out of a blue-tinted crowd. Not quite sure what to make of that.
-As Selina Kyle bids on Wayne, his eyes go crazy, with his left clearly looking downwards. It made him look rather insane for a brief moment. It isn’t helped by the ecstatic looking fat man next to him. A major mistake.
-As he first talks to Kyle, Bruce Wayne has a ridiculously intense blush on his forehead. Jarring.
-I like how Gordon continues to talk even after Batman has clearly left.
-They might go a bit too far with the “Selina likes Batman but not Bruce” thing, but they have a nice lead in to their first “date” as Kyle insists “I wish it were Batman”.
-Frequently throughout the episode, but especially in Kyle’s apartment, Bruce Wayne is hideously disproportionate, with a tiny head on a huge body. They try and draw attention away from it with the way the scene is framed, using wall lines to focus on Kyle, but it is still pretty jarring. Thanks goes to my more knowledgeable girlfriend for pointing out how they try and disguise such inadequacies.
-The reveal of “Red Claw” is pretty dramatic, with the secret door and the silhouette, but it sort of works for such a terrorist leader.
-I guess Rupert Thorne is out of the picture, seeing as how a new Mob boss has to be dealt with. I really loved Batman’s line to him when he deflects that they aren’t terrorists: “You’re still SCUM”. Batman remains uncompromising.
-Eyes are a bit of a focus for the two female leads in this episode, with Kyle’s bright green ones contrasting with the blue ones of Red Claw.
-Neat little thing with Kyle playing the piano. I always enjoy those kinds of plot devices, and it is one that Batman Begins seems to have copied.
-I’m actually at a bit of a loss to remember clearly what the diabolical plot of the Red Claw is. It just so wasn’t the focus of the episode. Something about viral weapons? Whatever it is, it’s treated in a fairly secondary manner.
Overall, half of a good episode is here, but the rest is forgettable enough.
To see the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.