“The Cat and the Claw”
Story by Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright
Teleplay by Jules Dennis
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Welcome back to What’cha Reading’s retrospective on Batman: The Animated Series. As we count down to the March 2016 film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, we thought it’d be fun to look back on the influential series that we had for The Dark Knight and Superman. You could find all of our previous recaps at the bottom or with a quick and simple search on our site using Batman: The Animated Series. We hope you enjoy.
Up next on episodes we’ve viewed is “The Cat and the Claw Part 1.” While this was the fifteenth episode to be produced, “The Cat and the Claw Part 1” was actually the first to be shown when the series originally aired. This was chosen to air as the pilot on September 5, 1992 as Batman Returns had just opened that summer. With a Catwoman redesigned to look more closely in line with Michelle Pfeiffer’s version, “The Cat and the Claw Part 1” was and is still considered by many as a great way to start the series.
One of the aspects that works so well with this episode is the story and teleplay. Interestingly, some of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series were written by women. “The Cat and the Claw Part 1” is a terrific balance between honoring the Batman mythology and the darker tones that fans had come to know predominantly through the Tim Burton series. While the animated series never ventured into as gothic a territory as 1992’s Batman Returns did, the series consistently managed to be darker and more adult based than your usual cartoon. The episode begins with Catwoman scaling a building as she makes her way to her mark. The Shirley Walker score adds a certain sexiness and mystery to the scene as she steals jewelry with help from her feline friend Isis. Catwoman manages to escape, but Batman is revealed to have been following her. They encounter one another and we already see a familiarity to their relationship that many would recognize from Batman Returns.
The first part to “The Cat and the Claw” perfectly establishes and develops Selina Kyle/Catwoman. We also may very well get our best look at Bruce Wayne, as well. While they’re both presented as socialites with Bruce being more of a cool and aloof playboy, we see that Selina Kyle is determined and poised. She couldn’t be any different that Bruce Wayne. We learn that she’s also an animal activist trying to buy land for a mountain lion reserve. While many have praised this episode, the Selina Kyle being an animal activist has been criticized. This must have been my third or fourth time seeing the episode and I can’t really declare this as a fault in the Sean Catherine Derek, Laren Bright story. The depiction of Selina Kyle/Catwoman is a great representation of the character and the only other version that, I believe, came close to how she was portrayed in the comics was that of Anne Hathway’s in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. It’s interesting to know that the animated version of Catwoman is modeled around Michelle Pfeiffer, similar to the way Penguin was modeled after Danny Devito. Other than her blonde hair, there are not many other similarities.
The villain of “The Cat and the Claw” is “the most ruthless terrorist leader in the world”, the Red Claw. Voiced by Kate Mulgrew, she’s an original villain for the Batman: The Animated Series and only went on to appear in Part Two and a later episode. She’s great here as an excellent and imposing figure for both Catwoman and Batman. While The Dark Knight investigates the Red Claw throughout Part 1, her never surmises that it’s a woman. In an earlier conversation with Commissioner Gordon, who refers to Batman as a “friend”, no one really knows who the Red Claw is other than being dangerous. The idea that both men believe they’re going after another man provides an interesting twist when Batman finally meets the Red Claw. She manages to escape during a military train heist and Catwoman is the one to save Batman near the end.
There are several classic elements of this episode that make “The Cat and the Claw” so much fun. Outside of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, we get Commissioner Gordon and the mob. Around this time and in the late eighties, the mob was a major part of the more noir based stories by Frank Miller. Batman’s interrogation and ways of dealing with them are always exciting as he relies more on instilling fear than actual combat. We see that depicted here and the animation and voice work is top notch. Particularly Kevin Conroy (Bruce/Batman) and Adrienne Barbeau (Selina/Catwoman) are highlights in this episode. They way they switch from socialite to vigilante is perfect and while we’ve had four actresses play Catwoman at this point in time for the 1992 series, Barbeau very much makes the role her own.
Stay tuned for “The Cat and The Claw Part 2”, as we explore more of what makes this two-part episode a particular standout among the first season of Batman: The Animated Series.