Our previous installment of Batman: Remastered and Rewatched outlined a high point for the series. If you thought that meant Batman: The Animated Series was hitting its stride, you might be unpleasantly surprised by this week’s offering, which introduces Catwoman, a weird and unlikeable version of Batman, and a villain that sits among the animated series’ very worst characters.
“The Cat and the Claw” – Parts I & II
Some of Batman’s most interesting and memorable allies and adversaries are the female characters that live in his world and can stand toe-to-toe with him. It’s a surprise, then, that the series takes 15 episodes to get to Catwoman. It’s worth noting here that the series, which aired severely out of order, actually started with this episode – and then didn’t air the second part until a full week later, putting four episodes in between. That includes the first and second parts of Clayface’s debut. TV is weird.
This two-parter starts strong, though, by introducing us to Catwoman in media res. She’s snatching an expensive necklace out of the high-rise penthouse of a sleeping woman, and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She carefully cuts through the glass of the window and lets her cat, Isis, in through the small opening. The cat, who can apparently see infrared laser beams (they can’t), trots in, dodges the beams, and steals the necklace. I love the shot of the cat’s eyes, the pedestal holding the necklace, and the laser beams here.
But here’s where things start to get weird. Batman, it seems, has been following this unknown thief for some time, and this is the moment he makes a first sighting.
“It sees our new cat burglar is a woman,” he says, as if that’s a novel thing. And immediately, the show focuses on their attraction. It does this extremely detailed shot of Batman’s face and then Catwoman’s breathless reaction.
But then the chase starts, and we quickly see that Catwoman can, indeed, go toe-to-toe with Bats. There’s a great sequence where the camera pulls out and watches the pair dash across the rooftops. We don’t often get to see Batman move at a distance like this, and the shot both humanizes him – he has to go down stairs, too – and reminds us just what Batman is capable of.
Then, they get to the ground where Batman is foiled by the most dangerous thing in Gotham: A large stack of trash cans.
After saving Isis from a speeding truck, in which there’s a shot of Batman and Isis with some great lighting, Isis scrambles up to the roof through a drain pipe to Catwoman. From the ground, Batman whistles. Who is this version of Batman?
The next day, Bruce is on the auction block; a date with him for a donation to animal protection. Who walks in but Selina Kyle, dropping the winning bid of $10,000 as if it’s mere pennies. There are two fun things about this moment. For the first, it puts not only Catwoman on equal footing with Batman, but Selina as equal to Bruce. If their love wasn’t so star-crossed, they would indeed be able to meet each other on all levels.
The other fun thing is the way they introduce Selina. We hear her voice before we see her face. This makes it unquestionable that this woman we’re about to meet is definitely Catwoman and it also lets us bask for just a moment in the awesome voice of Adrienne Barbeau, who you might remember from the first Swamp Thing movie, Escape from New York, and as the fixation of Captain Murphy on Sealab 2021. She gives Catwoman and Selina the perfect balance of confidence and cat-like throatiness. There’s so much good voice work on Batman, and Barbeau is no exception.
After she wins the auction, Kyle tells Bruce what he’s off the hook, and here’s where things get weird again. He grabs Selina’s arm and tells her how she’s not off the hook and he’s going to get his date. We also get our first taste of Bruce’s bedroom voice and it sounds way too silky-smooth and seductive for this Bruce (and this cartoon, for that matter).
The conversation is cut short, however, when gunshots outside summon Batman to the scene. The two reconvene for the promised date, and there’s a great line-shot twofer when Selina opens the door just after saying how she wishes it were Batman behind the door, only to unknowingly reveal Batman right then. I’m always a sucker for moments like those.
Selina’s proposed purchase of some land inhabited by wildcats goes sideways as Bruce arrives, and he steps in by helping her get a face-to-face meeting with the CEO of the company who owns the land, Multigon, which goes as well as you’d expect considering we’re mid-episode. This is also the reveal for the boss of the terrorist organization Batman has been tracking, Red Claw. Red Claw is – gasp – a woman. She has an indistinguishable European accent and an outfit that would look more at home in The Warriors or Zardoz than in Batman. Catwoman is back that night to do what she does best, which is apparently to be caught stealing, based on the evidence so far. As she photographs the organization’s documents, about 30 cameras catch her from virtually every possible angle.
What the heck, Bruce?
Catwoman narrowly escapes thanks to some quick thinking and the use of some really brazen cat-themed caltrops that seem like they would be both expensive and extremely incriminating. Then again, Batman brands literally everything he owns, so maybe she’s just taking after him.
Speaking of Bats, a well-timed shot from Red Claw sends Catwoman hurtling toward the ground, but luckily our Dark Knight is there to catch Catwoman, giving her a chance to thank him with a kiss.
He, as you’d expect, shows his appreciation by trying to take off her mask.
The next episode kicks off with the unveiling of Red Claw’s big plan, which is to use a plague virus to hold Gotham hostage, for which she needs the secret military base under the land Selina wanted to save. Because reasons? To get the plague, they need to rob a military train, when Batman shows up on his very fast hang glider to try to foil them, though they get away.
After, we get one of those little looks at the divide between Batman and Bruce Wayne as Kevin Conroy puts on his Batman voice while Bruce drives to meet Selina for their second date. Scenes like these are rare, and a reminder of how different the two voices are – while sounding totally natural. Also, Gordon has a phone that he keeps in his desk drawer specifically for Batman. It’s not red like the one on the old Batman live-action, sadly.
As the two drive away from Selina’s high rise, they’re pursued by some of the goons that were spying on Selina when she arrived home as Catwoman the night before. I have to wonder in this scene if Selina isn’t getting an inkling that her two square-jawed suitors are the same person.
Afterward, Bruce finds a cat hair on his suit that gives him the clue he needs to turn his two dates into the same person. After stopping a thug from kidnapping Selina’s assistant, Batman joins Catwoman at the military base, where the two end up tied up while acid burns through the plague container, which Red Claw has decided to use on two people instead of ten million.
This whole plotline, honestly, really sucks. None of it makes any sense. What was the point of the military base? Why do flames shoot out from the exploding helicopter like lasers? Why does the cougar (not that kind of cougar) know to protect Catwoman from Red Claw?
And that’s kind of this whole two-parter in a nutshell. The plot holds together by the most gossamer of threads. Batman and Bruce do and say some stuff that wouldn’t hold up on a show trying to be similarly serious today.
When it first aired back then, the questionable elements – the handling of all the female characters, in particular – probably stood out a lot less. These days, it’s harder to miss.
Also hard to miss is the miserable animation. There are some truly abysmal scenes in this pairing of episodes, and it feels like a huge contrast after “Heart of Ice.”
That’s not how fire works
The most disappointing part is that this is Catwoman’s debut. In some ways, it really works. I love the tension between Batman and Catwoman despite the weird vibes some of their interactions give me. I love the Mr & Mrs. Smith vibes from their various encounters. I love that the first enemy Catwoman fights is another dangerous and skilled woman.
I don’t love that they have to constantly point it out. I feel like it’s pretty obvious. I don’t like the threadbare plot. The art is really bad.
It almost feels like they took the intentions of “Heart of Ice” but paired them with the writing and budget of “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement.”
Also, Batman has Batman-themed handcuffs and that’s definitely a thing someone has thought about.
If you need more BTAS commentary now, we have every episode of the series ranked from the worst to the best!
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