Gotham City is certainly no stranger to strange romance, but with recent developments in Rebirth’s Batman ongoing, the on-again-off-again dynamic between Batman and Catwoman might be getting more complicated than ever. Are there wedding bells in the Dark Knight’s future? Could a marriage for Batman even work? Haven’t we been down this road before?
Well, as you probably guessed, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “it’s complicated,” all the way across the board.
So let’s break it down, and illuminate some of the murkiest parts of the Bat-and-Cat story, starting at the very beginning.
The strange relationship of Batman and Catwoman has gone through its fair share of incarnations since Catwoman’s original introduction in Batman #1, back in 1940. Selina was one of three featured supporting characters in that issue, and the first official female supporting character for Batman’s mythology. Her origin story was muddled and drenched in the same cavalier “just put it on the page and sort the details out later” attitude endemic of the Golden Age, but her purpose was actually twofold: she was placed in Gotham to simultaneously attempt to draw female readers into the book (similar to the way Robin was made to appeal to young readers) and to give the book a layer of sex appeal.
However, as you might imagine, only one of those missions was ever really served, care of the book’s exclusively male creative teams (a problem that would go on to haunt Selina for decades after her creation). The goal of making her appealing to female readers didn’t necessarily vanish, of course, but it never quite escaped the incredibly misguided and male-oriented grasp of people like Bob Kane who would explain that Selina’s cat iconography was due in part because he found both cats and women to be “hard to understand” and “cool, detached, and unreliable.”
And so, the initial relationship between Batman and “The Cat” was just that -- the interplay between a hero and a femme fatale as imagined by men who openly admitted to being unable to really wrap their heads around the mysterious and arcane minds of the women in their lives.
In short: things weren’t all that great. Even by the incredibly loose standards of Golden Age proto-continuity, Selina’s stories were hastily pasted together and often directly contradictory. Her “romance” with Batman was often times just given as an assumption, to be pulled in when convenient and forgotten when it wasn’t -- or, in the case of the mid-1950s and the crackdown of the Comics Code Authority, written out entirely rather than adjusted to fit the stringent new rules.
Selina’s rocky, malleable and often muddled foundations afforded creative teams the building blocks to construct increasingly disparate incarnations of both her character and her relationship with Batman and -- surprise! -- not all of them were successful, or even engaging.
The most important thing to understand is that while there is “canonical” ground to be tilled for Bruce and Selina dating back to the 40s, not all of it was worth planting. So what makes a romance between The Bat and The Cat work? Well, to really answer that question we’ll need to take a look at what make them not work.