Catwoman Throughout The Years (and Batman and Robin, Too!)

Superman‘s tights. Spiderman‘s mask. Batman‘s nipples.

When making a movie based on a superhero comic, there’s probably no aspect of production that will invite greater scrutiny than that pinnacle of all things superhero: the costume. And not to stereotype, but let’s face it, gay and bisexual guys probably have a special interest in superhero costumes. We certainly have a definite appreciation for the often, um, revealing outfits sported by the male superheroes, while many of us can also appreciate the aesthetic styles worn by the women.

Which means that costume designers have to create a look that will somehow both be true to the source material, but is updated while also looking good on flesh-and-blood actors who have to actually move around in the real world.

One thing that designers have learned over the years is that while many comic book heroes look like their costumes were simply sprayed onto their bodybuilder physiques, the use of spandex or other clingy material often appears ridiculous on screen. Even when actors have perfect bodies, the results can end up looking more like a very dicey choice for bicycling attire.

The characters that inhabit the Batman universe have a long and checkered history when it comes to their cinematic wardrobe. And with the long-awaited release of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman costume this past week, we have one more item to add to Catwoman’s gallery of highs and lows.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises”

Catwoman is, quite frankly, all about sex. A character that began as a jewel thief and evolved into a martial artist and whip-wielding antihero, she’s had several filmic incarnations, beginning in the ‘60s on the campy Batman TV show.

Played in turn by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether, the super-cheesy series actually came up with a pretty decent costume, and set down the basic rules that have yet to be broken: Catwoman’s costume is skintight, black, and shiny … and must be inhabited by a woman with an amazing figure.

When Tim Burton made Batman Returns in 1992, his Catwoman, played to psychotic perfection by Michelle Pfeiffer, was a liberal revision of the character. Rather than partaking in thievery, she was instead an insane woman hellbent on revenge against the man who tried to kill her. She also liked to blow a lot of things up.

That costume was, in my humble opinion, the best Catwoman costume to date. Clad head to toe in black stretchy rubber stitched together with thick white thread, it was clear her alter ego, Selina Kyle, constructed it hastily in a manic burst of energy, and as the film went on and she was involved in physical altercations with Batman, it literally started coming apart at the seams, a perfect metaphor for the character’s damaged psyche. Complemented with a whip, the costume had a very clear S&M flair, and oozed sexuality, which Catwoman should. 

Here’s what happens when they try to take the “sexy” angle too far. 2004’s Catwoman, starring Halle Berry, is the subject of almost universal scorn, and deservedly so. What I think irks fans the most is how much it feels like a missed opportunity, because a Catwoman movie should have been one for the ages: a broody, action-packed female version of the Batman films.

Really, everything about this movie felt wrong, but nothing more so than the costume. No one can argue that Berry doesn’t have a body to die for, and I guess they felt they had to show as much of it off as they could in order to please fans. But unfortunately, after shredding off as many layers as they could and still keep a PG-13 rating, what they ended up with looked like a cross between a stripper and a rejected costume from the set of Mad Max. (Not to mention her mask makes her look more like Minnie Mouse than Catwoman.)

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