The tenuous “straight-and-narrow” path for a lot of Batman’s villains is based entirely on their scarred and often warped psyche. They’re usually either faking their desire to play by the rules or they really DO want to play by the rules but can’t because they’re compelled or driven to be criminal again. But in the case of Selina Kyle, known most everywhere as Catwoman, she sees being on the up-and-up as a cage, a box she doesn’t feel comfortable in, and it’s only when she’s jumping around on rooftops, stealing things, and tussling with Batman that she feels alive. This isn’t anything like we normally see on Batman: The Animated Series and we didn’t until the third to last episode, entitled “Catwalk.”
Written by Paul Dini (of course) and directed by Boyd Kirkland, “Catwalk” is the final episode in the unofficial series of villains going straight but not really that TAS did so well, and like the best of them, this one brings in a lot of interesting pathological things about the villain in question. Catwoman is never depicted as a true baddie on the show; she never has enormous machinations and in fact is often the antihero, working with Batman or Batgirl against whoever the actual muahahahah type villain is. She’s somebody for whom we can always sort of root, and who Batman always wishes would join his side for good. But, again, the allure of the criminal life often proves too enticing for her.
The episode begins with a dream/flashback sequence in which Selina, thinking to a stuffed panther in a museum, describes her once-perfect life of Catwomaning which was ruined by Batman not wanting to play anymore and her either getting sentenced to lots of jail time or lots of not being a criminal anymore time. We then fade to the fundraiser for the museum’s new extinct animals exhibit she’s attended as Bruce Wayne’s guest. She laments being in the jail cell of righteousness when everybody’s least favorite socialite, Veronica Vreeland, happens up and takes Bruce and Selina into the wing of the museum dedicated to her grandfather, whom Selina knows all too well as someone who hundred lots of defenseless animals. She leaves in a huff but is quickly picked up by a car.
In the car, we see that her “captors” are the Ventriloquist and Scarface, whom Selina promptly laughs at and derides for the whole car ride. The long and short of this is that Scarface wants Selina to be Catwoman again to break into the museum and steal some priceless jewels. He’ll split the take with her 50/50 and she’ll have the added pleasure of ripping off Veronica Vreeland. Selina initially balks, but agrees. She wants to do this after all. That night, she puts on the cat suit, brings her cat Isis, and tricks her way into the museum and begins stealing the jewels. Unfortunately, Scarface is only using her to get what he’s really after and fires gas cartridges into the museum, setting off the security alarms.
Catwoman narrowly escapes and makes it home, where Batman is waiting for her. He wants to know why she’s up to her old ways, and she lies and says she saw someone else robbing the place and went to investigate. Batman plays along and they go back to the museum to look for clues. Catwoman notices several of the stuffed extinct creatures, like the dodo and the Tasmanian Tiger, are missing from the display case. Batman wants Catwoman to talk to the cops, but she kicks him and gets away.
Eventually, after a big huge fight with Batman in the museum that causes what is probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in damages, Catwoman makes her way to Scarface’s layer where he’s busy attempting to sell the stolen animals to various people over the phone (he tries to sell the dodo to the Penguin, for example). There’s a lot of fighting where she’s almost cut in half by a giant sawmill, and then Batman comes in and they continue to fight, and eventually Scarface is crushed and the Ventriloquist is devastated. Batman once again tries to stop Catwoman from returning to her life of crime, but it’s too late. She’s been awakened again. She goes off into the night, alone, as Batman shakes his head sadly.
While the episode eventually devolves into a regular action storyline, the characterization of Catwoman remains strong throughout, with Adrienne Barbeau giving one of her best performances in the role. The way she plays Selina Kyle’s utter laughing contempt of Scarface, even pretending to have a hand puppet of her own at one point, is much more self-aware than the show usually was. Once again, we get a great sense of Catwoman’s plight, being one of the few criminals on the show who is one just because they like it. She and Batman are the great unrequited love of comic books and The Animated Series has always done a great job with that. A very solid episode all the way across.
Next week, something nobody ever thought they’d see happen: Det. Harvey Bullock asks Batman for help. Whaaaat?!? Well, it makes sense given that some horrible mob boss had put a price on Bullock’s head. “A Bullet for Bullock” is next, the second-to-last episode of Batman: the Animated Series ever.