The Matt Signal – Episode 15: The Cat and The Claw Part I

Plot summary: Catwoman and Batman cross paths for the first time and sparks fly. Also bullets, fired by the menacing Red Claw terrorist group.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘The Cat and The Claw Part I’

Directed: Kevin Altieri (6)

Written: Sean Catherine Derek (4) & Laren Bright (2) (story) and Jules Dennis (3) & Richard Meuller (3)

Original Air Date: September 5th, 1992

Despite ‘On Leather Wings’ being written as the pilot, this episode pre-empted it on television to capitalise on the popularity of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns.

To that end, Selina Kyle’s appearance was stylised after the movie, hence her being blonde when she’s generally been a brunette in other media.

Kevin Altieri uses this episode to teach storyboarding, specifically the little rooftop chase between Batman and Catwoman.

Recap

Catwoman scales a wealthy apartment complex, cutting a hole in a window large enough for her cat, Isis, to fit through. The snoozy kitty is able to see the infrared lasers protecting an expensive necklace and thus retrieves it for Catwoman without setting off any alarms. Isis is the real MVP.

Batman is shocked that Gotham’s famous cat burglar is a woman. Yikes. The two have a flirtatious standoff, with Catwoman calling him magnificent. She hurries away, tumbling across the rooftops thinking she has evaded him, but there he be, looking all menacing and whatnot.

An impeccable chase ensues, taking the two down to street level. Batman takes exception to being cut by the thief’s claws and then gets totally owned by her pushing a stack of trash cans onto him. Like an actual stack. A pyramid of trash cans. I have never in my life seen such a thing.

Catwoman gets away but forgets Isis, who almost gets hit by a truck but Batman intervenes. She recalls her little partner in time with a… cat whistle, I guess? Is that a thing? For that matter, are dog whistles actually a thing or were they made up for TV and movies???

At a charity bachelor auction Bruce is the belle of the ball, with bidding starting at $500 for an evening of his company as a litany of Extremely Horny women trip over each other to raise the stakes.

A blonde in a red dress loudly bids $10,000, with the auctioneer announcing her as Selina Kyle. Bruce gets the 411 on his date, who is said to be sponsoring a mountain lion reserve. Is that a thing? Sorry, I’ll stop.

Bruce introduces himself to Selina, who says she has no interest in him, only the animals. Oh, it’s an animal charity bachelor auction, sorry. Very weird behaviour IMO. Bruce agrees, and stops her from leaving. They agree to lunch, when all of a sudden: sirens.

Batman swings into action as a group of gunrunners open fire on the GCPD in an attempt to flee. Bruce quickly takes their truck down in an uncharacteristically dangerous stunt (for this show at least). While the GCPD arrest the criminals Jim Gordon meets with Batman in an alley and lets him know that an organisation called Red Claw have come to Gotham.

The next morning Selina’s secretary, Maven, prods her about her impending date with Bruce, but Kyle is far more interested in Batman. Bruce arrives with flowers, but Selina’s attention turns to a phone call from her lawyer who informs her that a land deal she had been intending to acquire for her wildlife sanctuary has been snapped up by the cartel. The life the other half live, eh?

Selina loses interest in lunch, joking about him being able to get her a meeting with ‘Multigon International’. To the surprise of nobody except Selina herself, Bruce does exactly that. The Multigon CEO insists the deal is done and the land will be used to build a luxury resort. After Bruce and Selina leave a big muscular babe with a tattoo of a red… claw… orders the CEO to keep an eye on them.

Later that night Batman interrupts a mob meeting and demands information about Red Claw. It’s at this point the word “terrorists” is casually used to describe the group, making it painfully clear when this series was made.

The Red Claw leader (irritatingly it’s both her name and the group’s) briefs her men on an impending shipment of viral plague confiscated from them. There’s a shockingly good piece of animation here with Red Claw moving around in front of a projector that I’m not sure how they pulled off in 1992.

Catwoman breaks into the Multigon office to gather evidence, blissfully unaware she’s been caught on camera by Red Claw.

One comically slow chase scene through some vents later, Selina’s rooftop escape attempt nearly ends in disaster, but Batman swings in and saves her, earning himself a kiss in the process.

Bruce is initially stilted, but gets very into it and tries to remove her mask. Selina pushes him away and tosses him off the damn roof! Ladies, take notes: this is how you rebuff unwanted advances.

Selina reports back to her secretary about the evidence, unaware she is under surveillance from a Red Claw agent.

To be continued…

Best Performance

Kevin Conroy clearly had some fun being smitten with Selina, and it’s another strong showing for him as both Bruce and Batman, but I think I have to tip my hat to the object of his affections: Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman.

It’s always nice when female characters have atypical voices in fiction, and this deeper, more assertive Selina is extremely engaging. Her playful dynamic with Batman is joyous, and her rage towards the businessman who screws her over ensures it’s a multi-dimensional performance. She exhibits a great deal of control over the audience’s emotions in that we have fun when she does, and sympathise with her cause when she gets angry.

Ranking

I understand the network’s desire to get a Catwoman episode on the air as soon as possible as Batman Returns was an incredibly popular movie, but running SIX episodes between this one and part two is utterly bonkers. It’s not like the Two-Face episodes where several in-world months pass between the two parts, this episode ends on an explicit cliff-hanger.

That weird decision aside, this is a fun if unspectacular caper. Batman and Catwoman’s flirtationship has been money for 80(!) years at this point. Not a typo. She was created in the first place with the intent of spicing up Batman’s “rather sterile life”. Much has been written about Batman’s fear of sex, and despite this being a children’s cartoon his attitude towards Poison Ivy earlier in the series ring trues in that regard.

Seeing Bruce enraptured with somebody is fun, and the tried and true dynamic of neither being aware of the other’s secret identity even more so. They’re horny for each other in costume, but Selina could take or leave Bruce Wayne. Smart lady.

It’s not all sex games though, as the elaborate chase scene during their first encounter is perhaps the most visually interesting action scene in the series to date. Batman taking down the gunrunners is likewise pretty extreme by the standards set so far. Catwoman’s escape near the end isn’t quite as thrilling, but it’s all good fun. Fun is probably the best word to describe this episode in general.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Two-Face Part I
  3. On Leather Wings
  4. Two-Face Part II
  5. Pretty Poison
  6. It’s Never Too Late
  7. The Cat and the Claw Part 1
  8. P.O.V.
  9. Christmas with the Joker
  10. Be a Clown
  11. Nothing to Fear
  12. The Last Laugh
  13. The Under-Dwellers
  14. The Forgotten
  15. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) (first appearance)

Is she even a villain? Sure, she’s a thief, but she uses the money from her jobs to fund her endeavours as an animal activist (a nice wrinkle to give her character btw).

Morality musings aside, Selina has been such an enduring character in superhero fiction for good reason, and this iteration more than holds its own. I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I much prefer this to Michelle Pfeiffer’s version. I just always found it a little offensive how thick they lay on Selina’s sad sap pre-Catwoman existence. Also she licks her latex-covered hands, which is a little gross.

Anyway, that’s a whole different thing. Cartoon Catwoman is not only a cool, capable jewel thief with a suspiciously well-trained pet, she’s sassy in and out of the costume and isn’t impressed by Bruce’s wealth. Her number one priority is protecting animals and she won’t take no for an answer on that front because she a Boss Bitch.

But for as fun as she is, she’s definitely not as interesting as the top trio on the list so far. The difficult decision is whether to place her ahead of her fellow Gotham City Siren, Poison Ivy. They share a lot of the same DNA, leading double lives that see them exploit their sexuality to further their true aims of helping nature. They also both get the drop on Batman. I think Ivy was a hair more interestingly written in ‘Pretty Poison’, but both are going to make future appearances, so there’s plenty of opportunity for them to swap places.

Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew) (first appearance)

I really dig the design, but there’s really not much to Red Claw as a character in this episode. She has a vague Eastern European accent and her group are described as terrorists, which as I mentioned earlier, is kind of wild to hear 30 years later. It’s not that terrorism is a taboo topic – far from it – but I don’t think children’s cartoons are still allowed to touch on it given American history in the 2000s.

I can’t in good conscience put her higher than Man-Bat. Penguin is likely to surpass her later, but sucked in his debut.

  1. Mr. Freeze
  2. Joker
  3. Two-Face
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. Catwoman
  6. Scarecrow
  7. Rupert Thorne
  8. Arnold Stromwell
  9. Man-Bat
  10. Red Claw
  11. Penguin
  12. Sewer King
  13. Boss Biggis

Plugs

While the movie is only 30% finished that didn’t stop me from writing a list of 10 Hopes and Fears for The Batman

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies has just covered Short Term 12.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, uploads new episodes every Thursday.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus continues this week with a run of road trip movies, starting with Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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