SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for multiple Marvel and DC stories!
For thousands of years, human beings have enjoyed — some would say endured — a healthy fascination with cats. Big cats, small cats, tall cats, short cats, angry cats and cats in hats; there are few animals that evoke the same sense of stealthy mystery and untameable spirit as our feline friends. They inhabit our dreams and legends, roam the last vestiges of our wild places and somehow manage to capture our hearts and homes, despite their innate aloofness.
October 29th marks National Cat Day and to help celebrate our ongoing love affair with the finicky feline, we’ve drafted a list of the coolest cats in comics. Sleek, strong and oh so dangerous, these 15 heroes and villains embody everything we love (and sometimes hate) about cats.
15. Angel Catbird
Who better to start our list of the 15 best cat people in comics, than a hero dedicated to protecting felines everywhere?
Soaring into our hearts, fresh from the rich imagination of beloved speculative fiction author Margaret Atwood, the final entrant on our list serves as the face of a real-world initiative called #SafeCatsSafeBirds. Partnering with freelance editor and fellow Canadian, Hope Nicholson, and Nature Canada, Atwood and artistic collaborators Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain created Angel Catbird to promote awareness of the dangers to outdoor domestic house cats and the millions of songbirds they prey upon each year.
A young, vivacious hero of hybrid cat-owl origin, the appropriately named Angel Catbird is the product of misguided science and inhabits a vibrant fictional universe peopled by a variety of other were-folk. A gorgeous, whimsical book that embraces everything that is ridiculous about comics, “Angel Catbird” also represents the medium’s potential to reach new audiences, and reaffirms its undeniable ability to educate and inform its readers. Scattered throughout the book, illuminating “Cat Facts” provide current information about feline health and the dangers that await our furry friends every time they venture outdoors.
14. Cat-Man and Kitten
Long before the fan-favorite Batman villain of the same name (minus the hyphen) burst on the scene, the heroic Cat-Man fought crime in the pages of his eponymous series during the Golden Age of comics. Along with his female sidekick Kitten, Cat-Man enjoyed a respectable run, his adventures published by Holyoke until 1946.
In 2008, Dynamite Entertainment, along with Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, revived the originally-hyphenated and heroic Cat-Man as part of Project Superpowers. In this incarnation, both Kitten and her mentor emerged from their imprisonment in Pandora’s Box much-changed. Separated from her partner, Kitten embarked on a quest to locate him, which would take her deep into the South American jungle. There she discovered a more powerful, bestial Cat-Man, imbued with all of the abilities of his predatory namesake. Although their reunion was all-too brief, Kitten was finally able to make contact with her friend’s human side, just long enough to reassure her that he was happy in his new existence.
Conceived during the heady days of Rob Liefeld’s tenure at Marvel, the mutant known as Feral seemed like just a variation on a theme; i.e., the female Wolverine, only with… y’know… “cat powers” (and a really long tail). And for a time, that’s all she was, X-Force’s resident berserker. Later writers would develop her character and reveal a back story of ongoing parental abuse, addiction, and rage-fueled murder. Her time with X-Force was rocky from the start and eventually her fickle nature led her to betray her friends to the Mutant Liberation Front.
During the events of M-Day, both Feral and her sister Thornn (who had similar feline-based powers) were depowered by the Scarlet Witch. The pair ended up confused and directionless in Mutant Town. Eventually, they would hook up with Wolverine, who was on the trail of the murderous Sabretooth. After the sisters were kidnapped by Wolverine’s nemesis Romulus, their feline appearances were re-established as part of a ruse to lead the group to a Weapon X facility. The alterations were shown to be merely cosmetic though, after Sabretooth killed Feral with little effort.
The product of generations of selective breeding and mystic ritual, Thomas Fireheart was granted the mantle of the Puma to protect his Native American tribe from outside threats. According to ancient prophecy, he was born to fight an impossible battle against the omnipotent cosmic being known as the Beyonder. In his spare time, he hired himself out to the highest bidder as a super-powered mercenary, in an effort to break the tedium of life as the CEO of his own Fireheart Enterprises.
Although he’s run afoul of Spider-Man on a number of occasions, Puma ultimately became the wallcrawler’s staunch ally. Eventually, Fireheart’s continued mercenary activities undermined his tribe’s confidence in his commitment to their protection and they stripped him of his powers right in the middle of a job. The sudden loss of his powers would lead Fireheart to embrace his heritage and legacy, after which he seemed he regain his cat-like abilities. However, it was revealed that Nightshade had injected him with a werecat serum that mimicked his original powers. Puma now acts as one of Nightshade’s operatives in an effort to raise enough capital to re-establish his lost business interests.
Tigorr originally debuted as a member of an interplanetary resistance group called the Omega Men, fighting against the Citadel’s oppressive regime in the distant Vega System. During Tom King and ’s critically-acclaimed New 52 reimagining of the Omega Men, Tigorr and the rest of the resistance are repositioned as hardened revolutionaries, who are viewed as terrorists by many on both sides of the conflict. Violent, desperate and dangerously self-righteous, the Omega Men seemingly crossed the line when they murdered White Lantern Kyle Rayner in cold blood during a pirated intergalactic broadcast.
Although the heinous act was revealed to be a ruse to induct Rayner into the Omega Men’s ranks, Tigorr, along with the rest of his compatriots, were shown in less than flattering light throughout the series. Despite honorable intentions, Tigorr’s ideals were subverted by his own bloodthirsty actions during his war on the Citadel. He seemed to learn the error of his ways by the final issue of the series, but it was later revealed by the US government that Tigorr had taken up a new war, seemingly unable to live with peace.
A humanoid tiger who graced the pages of Fawcett’s “Captain Marvel Adventures” as a light-hearted comedic foil for the Marvel Family, Mr. Tawky-Tawny has been the subject of many attempts to reconcile his cartoony existence with the more grounded world of the DCU. Originally, Tawny was a normal tiger in India who was falsely accused of terrorizing the locals. An old hermit granted him the ability of human speech so that he could defend himself against their unfounded accusations. Tawny would then venture forth into the world and eventually become a beloved member of the Marvel Family.
Grant Morrison transformed the typically ineffectual Tawny into a surprisingly effective warrior during one memorable sequence in the apocryphal “Final Crisis” crossover. When a feline-looking Kalibak confronts him during the final battle, Tawny disembowels him and assumes command of his band of Tiger Men, all vestiges of his warm and fuzzy persona subsumed by the primal need to survive and protect his “cubs.” In the New 52, Tawny was returned to his roots as a real tiger, who was transformed by Shazam, during a battle with Black Adam.
9. Bronze Tiger
For years, Ben Turner was one of the most feared martial artists in the DCU. Not even Batman could best him one-on-one in an unarmed combat. Trained by the notorious League of Assassins, Turner spent years as the group’s brainwashed executioner, a role that saw him in constant conflict with former friend and fellow martial arts expert Richard Dragon. Eventually, he was able to break the League’s conditioning and was recruited to Task Force X’s Suicide Squad by Amanda Waller, where he served with distinction on several missions.
A drastically redesigned Bronze Tiger showed up as a League assassin in the New 52, but his most recent post-DC Rebirth appearance depicts him as an inmate of Arkham Asylum. Committed because he believes he operated as an assassin for the near-mythical League of Assassins, his relationship with Batman seems to indicate a return to his pre-Flashpoint persona. After an impromptu and all-too-short sparring match, Batman recruits Turner for his own personal Suicide Squad, hopefully signalling a return to the more classic version of the Bronze Tiger we know and love.
There have been no fewer than four different Cheetahs since the character’s debut in 1943 in the pages of “Wonder Woman.” Setting aside the ill-conceived male usurper in 2001, Cheetah is arguably Wonder Woman’s most recognizable rogue, coming to symbolize a primal, more violent alternative to Princess Diana’s peaceful message of harmony between the sexes. In recent years, creators have attempted to streamline her origin, combining the three female incarnations of Cheetah into one lethal, furry package.
Most recently, Greg Rucka’s post-Rebirth exploration of her past ties her even closer to Wonder Woman and the Amazons of Themyscira. In an origin story that spans two different time periods, Rucka revealed that before she became the Cheetah, neurotic archeologist Barbara Ann Minerva was sent on a quest by the Amazons to rediscover their most ancient secrets. The task places her in the perfect position to help her nemesis Diana find lost Themyscira in the present. Although this plotline is still unfolding in current continuity, it’s a safe bet that her Amazonian quest somehow resulted in the birth of this latest Cheetah. Whatever the case, Rucka’s interpretation of the character brings an intriguing new dynamic to her relationship with the Amazonian Princess.
Created by legendary creators Roy Thomas and Wally Wood in 1972 as part of an initiative to attract female readers, Greer Nelson began her superhero career as the Cat, in the pages of her own short-lived series, “The Claws of the Cat.” Her debut was somewhat lacklustre and the bland Cat was transformed into the sleek, bikini-clad Tigra in the first issue of “Giant-Sized Creatures.” Although she would become notorious for her revealing costumes and fickle affections, Tigra was originally intended to be positive role model for female readers.
A long-time Avenger, Tigra became increasingly marginalized in the Marvel Universe, until she was returned to the spotlight as the victim of a brutal beating at the hands of the Hood. Returned to her roots as a strong, intelligent woman and mother, Tigra refused to remain a victim or seek revenge on her attackers. Instead, she took the opportunity to use her Avengers status to reach out to other victims of violent crime and teach her students at Avengers Academy what it means to be a true hero, after a misguided attempt to exact vengeance on the Hood, on her behalf.
6. Black Cat
Beware the black cat that crosses your path! Felicia Hardy first donned her signature cat-suit as a romantic foil for Spider-Man, but could never quite give up her career as a successful cat burglar. The daughter of a murdered New York City crime boss, Felicia created the Black Cat persona as a form of empowerment and a way to get revenge on all the people who assaulted her throughout life. She gained her signature luck-altering powers from the Kingpin, but soon discovered that prolonged exposure heralded drastic misfortune for anyone spending too much time around her.
Over the years, Felicia would play both hero and villain, spending time with Misty Knight’s Heroes for Hire and co-starring in “Marvel Divas” alongside Firestar, Hellcat and Monica Rambeau. Eventually, she would fall off the hero wagon and embrace her villainous side as the leader of a gang of super-criminals. No longer Spider-Man’s fickle feline foil, Felicia attempted to consolidate her growing criminal power base through intimidation and cold-blooded murder, but was thwarted by Gwenpool and Howard the Duck. She was last seen on down-low after a brush with the Avengers during Civil War II.
Thomas Blake was a millionaire big game hunter, who specialized in trapping the big cats who would later become his namesake. When his wealth dried up, he decided to use his skills as a hunter and trapper to become a successful burglar. His cat-themed crimes caught the attention of Batman and it seemed like his career would be spent as a second-rate member of the Caped Crusader’s extensive rogue’s gallery. That is, until writer Gail Simone came along.
As the leader of Simone’s revamped Secret Six, Catman was reborn a confident, competent criminal with a heart of gold. Simone’s inspired reinterpretation went over extremely well with readers, leading to further development of Blake’s character as a complex antihero, who often acts pretty heroically, at least for someone who considers himself a hard-nosed supervillain. The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between. Like a cat, Blake is a study in seemingly contrasting character traits: self-serving and fickle yet loyal and adhering to his own code of honor.
4. Wildcat (Ted Grant)
Although a world champion prize fighter in his civilian identity — as well as being widely regarded as the a man who trained some of the world’s most accomplished hand-to-hand combatants, such as Batman and Black Canary — Ted Grant has always been something of an underdog amongst his more powerful colleagues.
As a senior member of the Justice Society of America, Ted helped train multiple generations of mystery men and women not only how to fight, but how to be heroes. Loyal to a fault and possessed of a gritty stamina far in excess of his actual power levels, Ted more than lives up to his namesake feline. For years, his remarkable longevity and youthful appearance were the subjects of much speculation, until it was revealed he was mystically granted nine lives by the magician Zatara during a past adventure. A man of few words, who prefers to let his actions do the talking, he once defended the JSA mansion from the entire Injustice Society all by himself, wearing nothing but a bath towel!
Thanks in large part to Trish Walker’s star turn in Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” series, Patsy Walker aka Hellcat, is enjoying a surge in popularity unlike any the character’s seen since her debut as the star of her own rom-com series in 1944. In 1975, Steve Englehart re-imagined Patsy as the fiercely independent Hellcat, after she inherited Greer Nelson’s defunct superhero persona, the Cat. Over the years she became a long-time member of the Defenders, marrying teammate Daimon Hellstrom, the so-called Son of Satan.
Throughout her long history, Patsy’s status as a role model for young women has changed with the times. She’s survived abusive relationships, a couple of nasty divorces and even a tour of duty in Hell to become a positive, realistic symbol of empowered women in comics. Her ability to triumph over adversity and to move forward from tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, has become her defining quality. Even Rachel Taylor’s onscreen depiction was anchored around Patsy’s escape from her abusive mother.
2. Black Panther
In Wakanda, the king of the jungle isn’t the lion. It’s the Panther. King T’Challa first appeared as Black Panther in the pages of “Fantastic Four” in 1966, making this year his 50th anniversary. As the first mainstream black superhero ever published, his anniversary is an important milestone in comics history, especially considering ongoing calls for greater diversity in the medium’s representation of different ethnicities, genders and sexual identities. In this sense, Black Panther has, and always will be, just as important a power player off-panel as he is on the page.
His reach within the confines of the Marvel Universe has widened in scope over the years, with creators exploring his role as a globally-recognized head of state and brilliant scientist. A greater focus on T’Challa’s African heritage by writers such as Christopher Priest and Ta-Nehisi Coates has added new layers of cultural depth to the character by building up both his supporting cast and personal comic book mythology. Widely considered one of the most influential people in the Marvel Universe, Black Panther’s power base only continues to grow after the events of “Civil War II,” with the recruitment of his new Crew of heroes in “Black Panther #7”.
Selina Kyle is a woman who needs no introduction to comics fans. For years — until the emergence of Harley Quinn, perhaps — Catwoman was arguably DC’s biggest female star, her popularity outstripping even Wonder Woman’s. Boasting a checkered past that has witnessed her working on both sides of the law, there are few constants in Selina’s life, save for her indomitable will to survive and her deep, abiding affection for her long-time foe and romantic foil, Batman.
As with any character who’s been around for decades, her origins have been retooled, re-imagined, and blatantly rewritten on numerous occasions, most notably during Frank Miller’s seminal “Batman: Year One”. It has been Miller’s version of the character that has provided direction for subsequent creators, including Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s classic contribution, “Selina’s Big Score”.
In the post-Rebirth DCU, it seems Catwoman has been a very bad kitty indeed. Like Ben Turner, Arkham Asylum serves as Selina’s current place of residence. Due to unrevealed circumstances, Catwoman is guilty of over 200 murders and awaits her turn for lethal injection. Her old flame Batman provides a brief respite from the needle, when he recruits her as a member of his personal Suicide Squad.
Who’s your favorite cat-themed comic book character? Let us know in the Comments! And Happy National Cat Day from CBR!
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