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If you saw The Batman and thought Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman was a standout, I’m hoping these stories can be a good springboard into the wider world of Selia Kyle. Catwoman is interesting because in a lot of ways she’s even more malleable than Batman. Over the course of her 80 year history, Catwoman has shifted from villain and organized criminal to heroic outlaw, to a lover and Batfamily member. There’s a lot to work with and play around with in her character and her flip flopping morality and role in Gotham makes her a constant joy to read. But to me, I think Catwoman works so well because of the ways she parallels and reflects Batman, something I think Matt Reeves and Kravitz nailed in the film. Selina is essentially Gotham’s everyman. While Batman swoops overhead saving the city as a whole, Catwoman is the one who genuinely cares for those left behind, the stray cats nobody sees. In the seedy world of Gotham City, Selina is often our gateway to understanding the city on a more human and relatable level. So if you wanna learn more about her and understand why she’s stuck around for so long, read on. The following are my picks for beginners and long time readers of DC’s infamous thief.
Batman Year One:
Batman Year One has pretty much become the definitive starting point for those wanting to enter into the grimy world of Gotham City. Those recommending it usually point to the book’s two protagonists of Batman and Jim Gordon, but this is missing out on a smaller but also important protagonist in Catwoman. Frank Miller and David Mazuchelli’s Batman Year One is a cornerstone for Selina’s character, establishing her supporting cast, motivation and relationship with other characters (though Frank Miller is a piece of crap so if you don’t wanna read any of his work, that’s understandable). Selina Kyle has become a character who fights for the little guy, the everyday people of Gotham overlooked and stepped on. Many iterations of the character portray her as a standard cat burglar but Year One was an important story for its emphasis on her own moral code and her willingness to help others. It’s not an ideal first story, given that she isn’t the main character and I tossed up whether to have the first recommendation be a Batman story with Selina as a prostitute for most of the book, but it’s so influential and important that I kinda can’t not include it.
Catwoman When in Rome:
Jeph Loeb (an abhorrent racist so no judgment if you skip this entirely) and Tim Sale did a great run of excellent Batman stories in Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Both stories follow on from Year One but she isn’t entirely prominent. However that same creative team wrote a spin off mini-series following Selina on her own adventure. This was the series When in Rome which had Selina visiting…well Rome. It’s a great solo adventure for the character back in an era when that was a rarity. What’s really fun about this story, though, is seeing Selina in a completely different environment. This is a story about mobsters and crime in Italy, so basically Catwoman by way of the Godfather. It’s a really great globetrotting adventure with gorgeous art. Although Selina here is sexualised and fetishized more than usual, which can be grating for some.. Regardless, this is a strong and distinct Catwoman solo that stands out from everything else in her canon .
Ed Brubaker’s run Vol 3 #1-37:
For Catwoman solo comics, I think the gold standard might always be the work of Ed Brubaker. Brubaker wrote what is probably the most definitive series for the character with an early arc with the late, great Darwyn Cooke. The two of them forged a new identity for the character, shifting her even more to anti hero. This is the run that gave her the now classic black leather costume and goggles, which has pretty much become her standard look. Brubaker writes Catwoman as a crime book that explores the seedier underbelly of Gotham. The series positions Selina as a Robin Hood type, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. It’s a long run that establishes a world and supporting cast that sets Catwoman on her own path separate from Batman. It’s also incredibly easy to get into with little to no prior knowledge needed. It’s set up to be a fresh start for new readers so it’s a perfect jumping on point. For the definitive Catwoman run, look no further.
Ram V’s run – Catwoman Vol 5 #25-38 (with fill in issues with #9,14 and 15) :
Ram V’s run is the most recent entry I’ve included here. His run follows on from Joelle Jones (which I also recommend to get the most out of V’s work, although it isn’t necessary) and moves Selina into a totally new area of Gotham. He introduces the location of Alleytown. It’s pretty much the slums of Gotham and also where Selina grew up. So essentially, this series is Selina returning to her roots to try and make Alleytown a better place. In a lot of ways, Ram V is furthering the ideas put forth by the likes of Ed Brubaker. The supporting cast here is a bunch of young kids who Selina is trying to steer down the right path, more or less. It’s a great run that confronts the lower socio-economic parts of Gotham head on. Topics that most writers shy away from Ram V handles with grace and style. It’s a stellar series both for it’s world building and its exploration of Selina reckoning with her past, present and future.
Tom King’s Batman – Batman Vol 3 #14-15 and 36-37:
Tom King has become one of the most important writers in Catwoman’s history as of late. It’s his run on Batman that focused on the two characters’ relationship more closely, eventually marrying the two. King’s run is very up and down but stories featuring Selina are often the highlights of his tenure. In particular, I recommend two companion stories with two issues each. Issues 14 and 15 make up the story ‘Rooftops’, a great exploration of their relationship over the characters’ history with stunning art by Mitch Gerads. The second is Superfriends, which juxtaposes their relationship with Superman and Lois Lane. Each of the stories with Catwoman builds on the last, exploring their relationship and dynamic more closely. It’s a very intimate portrayal of the two characters that asks if they can ever truly be together. It’s very approachable with even basic understanding of the two characters.
Sister’s in Arms – Batman Vol 1 #460-461:
If I’m recommending stuff for something Batman related, chances are that Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogole are showing up. The two of them are behind my favourite Batman run of all time and thankfully, they also worked on an awesome Catwoman story in ‘Sisters in Arms.’ This story follows three of Gotham’s most prominent female characters: Catwoman, Sarah Essen, and Vicki Vale. The story has two main focuses. One is on Catwoman as she attempts to steal yet another priceless artifact. At the same time, Vicki and Essen are running their own investigation on a series of kidnappings. I recommend this story with a caveat, because it’s incredibly problematic. It deals with human trafficking and is about white women being adbucted for Middle Eastern men. Obviously, that’s pretty loaded and plays into a lot of racist ideas and stereotypes prevalent at the time. If you can push past that though, I think this is one of the great explorations of Catwoman’s character and psychology. It’s intimately focused on her thrill-seeking persona and relentless refusal to walk away from a perfect heist. Breyfogle provides some of the best art for the character as well with brilliant and dynamic layouts like the one pictured. Not perfect but a damn good read.
The Special Sauce:
Selina’s Big Score:
The late great Darwyn Cooke is of course a legend, but when Catwoman is mentioned, most will probably think of his work with Ed Brubaker. But less will acknowledge the equally brilliant one shot Selina’s Big Score. This one and done story is Catwoman by way of Oceans 11. Cooke was often known for his slick, stylish, and hard-boiled stories which makes him a perfect fit for a fun heist story. The story follows not just Selina but a whole supporting cast. This is really an ensemble piece as Selina builds a crew to pull off a difficult heist. That heist involves a train carrying a large amount of cash. To me, there isn’t anything more exciting than a train heist and Cooke imbues the story with a lot of wit, charm and vibrancy.
Genevieve Valentine’s run – Catwoman Vol 4 #35-46:
The New 52 Catwoman run was very up and down, but towards the end, there came a truly great run. This was the work of Genevieve Valentine, who took Catwoman in a totally new direction. Following the Batman Eternal series, the keys to Gotham’s underworld kingdom came into Selina’s hands. Most modern Catwoman comics try to play up her heroic side, positioning her as a hero for the oppressed. But Valentine ran in the opposite direction, thrusting her further into a life of crime. This series was essentially a mobster comic with Selina struggling to fit into her new position. It’s a very different position for her character and Valentine utilizes it for some incredibly compelling stories. How does a character who fights for the little guy operate in the big leagues? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out.
Wednesday Comics #1-12:
Now this one’s a little weird. Wednesday Comics was essentially a 12 issue experiment by DC in 2009. It was a weekly series that operated somewhat like a newspaper. Each issue had various stories with prominent creators with only a page each issue. So reading can be a bit stop start but thanks to digital comics, it should be easy enough to get through. The reason I recommend it is because of a fun Catwoman/Demons story by Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze. Catwoman isn’t a character you usually see team up with Etrigan the immortal Demonic hero but it somehow works. This is Catwoman being wrapped up in an occult fantasy story, which is about as far outside her element as she can get. It’s also very much a Demon story tonally and aesthetically but Selina is used in a really fun way. It’s basically a brief 12 page Catwoman team up that has a bizarre pace and structure. So I don’t think it’s a beginner’s recommendation but for someone wanting something a bit out there, this is one to check out.