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Catman—no relation to the Golden Age (1938–1954) superhero of the same name— pounced into Detective Comics #311 (1963). Writer Bill Finger and artist Jim Mooney present jungle-cat trapper Thomas Blake, who pilfers a Polynesian feline idol and its ceremonial drapery, artifacts that reputedly give their owner nine lives. A blasé Gotham City socialite burdened by gambling debts, Blake entertains the notion of becoming a crime fighter like Batman but instead chooses the path of the Caped Crusader's adversary Catwoman, pulling heists as the “Feline Free-booter,” Cat-Man (original spelling). Prancing in a tawdry orange-and-yellow costume (with a “CM” chest insignia) through a handful of feline-inspired capers riddled with cat-puns and cat-weapons (Cat-Man drove Cat-car, wore catclawed gloves, used a catapult, owned a pet panther, and carried a kit-bag instead of a utility belt), Cat-Man's tales often read like lackluster Catwoman stories—without the sexual tension of the Bat/Cat relationship. Interesting, however, was Cat- Man's ability to cheat death, an “invulnerability” afforded him by his cape, cut from the Polynesian cloth he discovered in his origin tale. A 1993 attempt to reinvent the character as a serial killer was ignored by later writers who followed Finger and Mooney's lead. Even the producers of the animated The Adventures of Batman & Robin loosely adapted Cat-Man's 1963 origin in “Cult of the Cat,” a 1998 episode casting Scott Cleverdon as Blake—but not as Cat-Man. By the time Cat-Man crawled out of the litter box of limbo in Green Arrow #16–#17 (2002), Blake was a paunchy putz under the Shade's hire, and after a manhandling by the cantankerous bowman, limped away to lick his wounds. Writer Gail Simone and artist Dale Eaglesham retooled Catman (now spelled without the hyphen) in the six-issue miniseries Villains United (2005). Gone was Blake's blubber—the scantily clothed, acutely muscled thief was now an unshaven hottie with rock-star hair and ghastly claw scars on his bare chest, communing with lions in the Medikwe Game Preserve. Blake returned to civilization to join the Secret Six, standing in opposition to a congress of supervillains led by Lex Luthor, against whom Blake harbored a grudge. At odds with fellow Sixer Deadshot, Catman now wears a modified, muted version of his original costume, to which he has added a lethal set of machete-like claws. His cape's former property to grant him nine lives (most of which he had depleted in the previous continuity) is apparently being ignored in the 2000s.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.