Batman: The Animated Series – “Catwalk”

Catwalk titleEpisode Number:  74

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1995

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Batman:  The Animated Series has done a great job of elevating some of Batman’s lesser known villains. It’s really a big part of the show’s legacy. And the well-established villains like Joker and Riddler did just fine as well. One notable exception though is Catwoman. Perhaps the most famous foil for the caped crusader not wearing clown makeup, Catwoman has struggled when finding herself on-screen. Her debut, which was the show’s broadcast premiere, “The Cat and Claw” established her character as a cat burglar with an animal rights activist bend. She stole to help fund her efforts there, and also for fun. She also instantly fell for Batman, who’s alter ego Bruce Wayne found himself infatuated with Selina Kyle, the alter ego of Catwoman – naturally. This dance played out over two episodes with Batman and Catwoman finding a common enemy in Red Claw before everything ended with Gotham saved, and Catwoman behind bars.

Since then, Catwoman has returned, but really only in the role of victim. She needs to be rescued by Batman in all three of her return engagements, though at least in “Almost Got ‘Im” she can boast that he was only returning the favor. It’s been a rather toothless portrayal for a character that should be able to stand on her own, be she thief or vigilante or something in between. And the show really couldn’t decide what she was. She’s basically another crime fighter in “Almost Got ‘Im” and I hypothesized during my write-up that she was shoe-horned into the role of Robin so that the episode could end with its punchline. Her character is left uninteresting by season one’s conclusion, and it’s clear she needs a fresh approach.

Enter Paul Dini. Dini did not receive a writing credit on any of Catwoman’s prior appearances, though as one of the credited show creators it’s likely he had some input on virtually every episode to air. This is his first real try at course-correcting the character and it’s one that is going to bring Catwoman back to her thieving roots. It’s a sorely needed direction, the only question being is the character worth salvaging at this point so late in the game?

sad selina

Selina misses her old life.

The episode opens at a museum exhibit. Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) is staring forlornly at a stuffed leopard and thinking back on her life as Catwoman. She’s basically bringing the audience up to speed while placing some of the blame on her Catwoman-less existence for the first time on Batman, a common sentiment amongst his many enemies. Bruce Wayne and Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) are also attending the same function and approach Selina. Vreeland tries to make small talk by mentioning her grandfather donated much of the display, but that doesn’t sit well with Selina. She accuses Vreeland’s grandfather of hunting many of these animals to extinction. Suggesting this place isn’t for her, she leaves while Veronica and Bruce can only stare with mouths agape. Bruce catches up to her to admonish her for her rude behavior, but Selina seems to feel no shame or need to apologize for the cat in her. She thanks Bruce for inviting her along (Yup, he’s still barking up that tree, or maybe I should say scratching at that post), but tells him she doesn’t fit in here and takes her leave.

selina abducted

The gangster puppet is back again.

As Selina leaves a rather large individual grabs her and tosses her into an ominous black car. It’s Rhino (Earl Boen) who is apparently still in the employ of one Scarface. He and The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) are free from Arkham. If they were released or escaped, it isn’t explained. Selina is quite amused by the talking dummy, but Scarface has a job for her. Or rather, a job for Catwoman. Scarface wants to steal from the Vreeland family, and he’s apparently aware of Selina’s feelings towards them. Either he was spying on her just now or his intuition is remarkable. Selina is unable to resist the urge to not only get back at the Vreeland family, but also to be Catwoman once again. She takes the job.

Catwoman returns to the museum and is able to sneak in undetected. As she goes for the jewels, a so-called business partner has other plans. It’s Scarface and his crew, and they’re making a brazen assault on the museum by detonating some explosives inside, which not only attract attention, but foil Catwoman’s escape. The security, and eventually police, key-in on Catwoman forcing her to make a daring escape while Scarface and his men have a much easier go of things. It’s obvious now Scarface only wanted to use Catwoman as a cover, but for what purpose we don’t know.

batman and selina

He sure looks smug.

Catwoman is able to make it back to Selina Kyle’s penthouse. There she has a visitor in the form of Batman. Nothing happens in this town without Batman knowing, and he seems concerned for Selina. She makes up a story about wanting to return to the museum to apologize for her behavior earlier, and finding a robbery in progress, she decided to infiltrate the building as Catwoman in a bid to stop the perpetrators. Batman is insistent that she tell her story to the proper authorities and the two return to the museum. Once there, Catwoman notices that some rare extinct animal mounts are missing and assumes that’s what Scarface was really after. Batman can tell she’s not revealing the full truth. And just like that, the old Catwoman is back. She attacks Batman with what may be a kick to the Wayne family jewels, but the angle makes it unclear. It’s a good kick though since it gives her some time to ascend onto what appears to be a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. Batman meets her there, and the two make a pretty big mess and Catwoman ultimately escapes. Batman flees to the roof and pulls out a tracking device – he apparently bugged the Catwoman.

fighting on a whale

It’s been awhile since we had a good Batman vs Catwoman confrontation.

With Batman out-of-the-way, Catwoman is free to zero-in on her new prey:  Scarface. He’s holed up with his men at a sawmill and when we check in on him he’s speaking on the phone to The Penguin about a bird mount he swiped. Also with him is a rare Tasmanian Tiger that is being billed as the last of its kind. Catwoman enters, but not entirely successfully as the guards take her out. She ends up in a cliché, unconscious on a conveyor belt heading towards a whirling saw-blade. This time it’s her cat Isis who makes the save by licking her face to bring her to consciousness. She rolls away just in time, but now has Scarface and his men to deal with. She’s outnumbered and having a tough go of things, but Batman soon arrives to even the odds. He takes on Rhino, while Catwoman goes after Scarface.

catwoman captured

The artists always seem to find a way to get a butt-shot into every Catwoman episode.

She corners the maniacal puppet and his “dummy,” The Ventriloquist, in the command room of the mill. Scarface apparently never got around to reacquiring an adorable, tiny, tommy gun because he’s unarmed and unable to really do anything when confronted by Catwoman. She snatches Scarface from The Ventriloquist and tosses him on to the same belt she was on minutes earlier. She seems to enjoy how The Ventriloquist begs and pleads with her to let him help his beloved Mr. Scarface, but she’s not going to let that happen. He turns his back to her and grabs the Tasmanian Tiger and hurls it at Catwoman. When she moves he races in and shuts down the machine sparing his boss’s “life.” This proves to be a brief reprieve as Catwoman just pulls a crane release that drops a bunch of logs onto the machine smashing it, and Scarface, in the process.

bye byre mr scarface

The animators at Dong Yang do a great job of making The Ventriloquist look pained throughout his confrontation with Catwoman.

As The Ventriloquist weeps Catwoman smiles gleefully, but then things take a turn. She confronts The Ventriloquist with claws exposed and starts tearing at his clothes. When he insists that he and Scarface are two different people, she just reminds him that Scarface is locked inside him and her thirst for revenge has apparently not been sated by merely crushing the dummy. By now, Batman has finished tangling with the likes of Rhino and is able to put a stop to this. Catwoman insists he cease his actions so she can take her revenge on The Ventriloquist for costing her her freedom. Batman reminds her she did it to herself, and when he asks why she insists because she couldn’t live without being Catwoman. By now, the wreckage of Scarface has caught fire somehow and Catwoman tosses the Tasmanian Tiger into the middle of it (a Hell of a throw). She tells Batman he can’t let it burn because it’s priceless and the last of its kind. He apparently agrees as he swings in and snatches the mount from the flames, but by doing so allows Catwoman to escape. We cut her to her perched on a building and a voiceover from Catwoman declares she’s a cat who walks alone.

catwoman alone

I find it interesting that the title card of this episode is essentially a mirror image of its closing shot.

And so we have Catwoman essentially brought back to where she was when this series started. The only difference is the whole world knows who she is so she can no longer live the swanky lifestyle enjoyed by Selina Kyle. How she’ll manage to get by as a criminal on the run is a tale left for another day. For what this is, it’s successful and I do prefer a Catwoman who is a villain of sorts as opposed to an ineffective vigilante, or whatever she was. It will be a challenge to integrate her further into Batman’s foes, but it’s better than what had become of the status quo. As for Scarface, his use here was suitable. Some liberties were taken this time with his performance as one scene featured The Ventriloquist using both of his hands to manipulate Scarface’s arms, while his mouth continued to flap away. He was seated in The Ventriloquist’s lap so maybe he found a creative way to utilize another appendage? My only real issue with Scarface is the unexplained nature of his arrival on the scene. I get that it would be tiresome to always see how the villains manage to escape Arkham, but a throw-away line about The Ventriloquist getting a clean bill of health would have sufficed.

Batman, once again, proves how poor he is at managing Catwoman. Perhaps it’s an intentional weakness by the writers as even Catwoman points out he lets her get too close. I’m not sure I buy the concluding scene where Batman opts to “save” a dead and stuffed animal rather than apprehend a criminal. My own take on the scene is that Batman really didn’t want to arrest Catwoman, and when given an out, he took it.

catwoman flirts

Batman always letting Catwoman get too close, and this time she calls him out on it.

This is a good-looking episode for Dong Yang. We get some new backgrounds and the museum is a fun setting for a little skirmish between hero and villain. The fight scene at the mill is perhaps brief, but visually entertaining. Batman and Rhino for a moment take on a slightly rubbery, toon look at times. It’s not a look I’d want for every episode, but when it pops-in here and there it’s a bit fun as most of this show is rather rigid. Best of all though, they did a really nice job during the scene where Catwoman is essentially torturing The Ventriloquist as he watches Scarface near another untimely demise. The Ventriloquist has no pupils, so it’s a challenge to make him convey emotion, but it’s done well here and I almost pity the man as a result. Catwoman, on the other hand, looks positively evil in her enjoyment of the whole thing. It’s actually refreshing to see her embrace her dark side and helps to sell the overall narrative of the episode.

“Catwalk” is a good return to form. It has a few stumbles, but nothing serious. It feels like a stepping stone for Catwoman, though unfortunately I’m not sure it really pays off. Catwoman will make another appearance before this season ends, but from what I recall it doesn’t really refer back to this episode (it doesn’t even feature Batman). The bulk of her additional time will be spent in The New Adventures of Batman where basically everyone feels like they received a reboot. And by then, Catwoman will practically be a different character, but that’s not the fault of this episode. For what it’s worth, this episode is probably the best depiction of the iconic feline the show has.


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