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When is a Catwoman not a Catwoman?

The internet went bat-crazy this week over the release of new images from the set of The Dark Knight Rises featuring Anne Hathaway and her stunt double. Interest around the Batman of the Nolanverse is always extremely high, and it's understandable why this infamous character is attracting far more attention than the equally impressive but less well known Bane (Tom Hardy).

But let's be clear: this particular shot was not released as an image of Catwoman in costume, but as an image of Selina Kyle who happens to be wearing bike gear. Himself the master of misdirection, Christopher Nolan has declined to refer to the character as anything other than her plain clothes name, and given that in Batman Begins, it was Bruce Wayne rather than Batman that ran the show for the most part, and in Dark Knight, Two Face only showed up for the final chapter, it's fair to assume that the image that has created such mass hysteria this week, is not necessarily a costumed Cat.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle

To be fair, it could go either way. Nolan's best trick has always been to keep the fans guessing, and in doing so keeps the hype machine turning. However, a woman on a motorbike in black leathers does not a superhero costume make, and certainly an image of Bruce Wayne in black on a bike would not lead to similar cries of "what's with the new look Batman?!". Will Selina be Catwoman in the film? Anne Hathaway thinks so but Nolanverse actors have been wrong before. Will she only be Catwoman at the end? Will she simply be a master cat-burglar with the media name of Catwoman attributed to her? Catwoman did start out life as The Cat after all. Has she stolen that bike from Bats or borrowed it from Bruce? Is Batman just experimenting with a new look? Who knows, this is the Nolanverse and anything could happen. Apart from that last one.

What is interesting though, is the level of attention this particular image has garnered. The sneaky peeks at Bane have been intriguing, but hardly registered outside the fandom. Superman's new muted colours did receive some attention but then a) he's the biggest hero in the world (sorry Bats), and b) that image does definitely illustrate a costume tweak (pants or no pants?!). Rarely does anyone care too much in advance about what the bad guys in the next Arkham Asylum/City game will look like, yet images of Harley and Catwoman are pounced upon.

Well it is more realistic...Ah yes, the previous Nolan Batman costume.

Clearly costumes matter far more when it comes to female heroes than it does with men. It taps into the media obsession with what women wear, while male heroes need only contend with the ever present continuity checks. Women on the other hand must contend with the outspoken female fan contingent, as well as pleasing the many male audience members. Superman need not be sexy, but woe betide Anne Hathaway if she doesn't pull off the sultry slinkiness that Michelle Pfeiffer dazzled us with in 1992. Despite Bruce often (in the last two films) being engaged in action outside of his Batman persona, the media have decided that this image of Selina in action can only be Catwoman.

Having had that taste of Bane, it's understandable that fans are desperate to see what a Nolan Catwoman will look like, but that doesn't mean that is what has actually been delivered. Selina is the biggest new character in the upcoming film, and as such has big Joker shoes to fill and a huge audience desperate to see a glimpse of any Catwoman portrayal. Knowing this, and with the film release date almost a year away, Nolan is savvy enough to know that it's better to tease than reveal.

Tom Hardy as BaneWho's afraid of the big bad Bane?

The fan mantra has long been "in Nolan we trust", which is actually wearing a tad thin. Yes, Batman Begins worked Lazarus restoration on the franchise, and of course, The Dark Knight was an incredible film with Heath Ledger's magnificent Joker stealing the show. But if there's one thing Nolan shouldn't be trusted with, it's the portrayal of women in his films; Christopher Nolan has long been known as a big lover of stuffing women in refrigerators. Of his films that I've seen, Memento sees two women killed as male plot points while the remaining woman is a manipulative baddie, Insomnia has just the one dead woman thankfully and even some non-evil women (huzzah), and Batman Begins has only one female character, Rachel, who is alive but a bit wet.

Don't worry though, she was killed in The Dark Knight (for multiple male plot points!), while the other women are traitor and useless respectively. Oh and blown up. The Prestige has one living woman, the others are killed (for the men!), while Inception has one dead (for the... oh you get the idea) while the other is an audience surrogate.

There can be only one!"I'm telling you, we're going to die.  No matter how thoughtful you look."

As ever, I should add the disclaimer that I do in fact enjoy Nolan's films (and female characters) a lot, and that much of the above is symptomatic of a media and cultural problem as a whole. I trust Nolan to create a fun film, perhaps even a great film, but for a main female character such as Selina, I will wait and see and hope for the best.

And finally, let's go with the idea for a minute that this is the closest to a Catwoman costume we will see in The Dark Knight Rises. Initial fan reaction has been one of disappointment, outrage, and a little bit of approval. Boots without heels makes sense (though sturdy heels can inflict ballbusting damage), and a lack of cleavage on show is always a good sign for a substance over sexualisation approach. This outfit is about as far as you can get from the Halle Berry Catwoman costume of 2004, which is a huge relief for Cat-fans everywhere (as ever, I must remind you that the '04 film had nothing in common with Catwoman, Selina, or Gotham other than the feline moniker).

Catwomen through time by Brian Bolland

Traditionally, something cat-like is included.

Black leathers/veggie-leathers makes sense if you are on a bike, or just liable to get thrown around a lot – no lady likes the shredded skin look. Sure, Selina still appears to have emerged from a fetish club but it's a bit less attention grabbing than adding a tail and ears to the outfit. It fits with Nolan's more realistic take on Gotham, though when there's a guy running around dressed as a giant bat, surely some cat ears wouldn't be too out of place? Of course, her stunt double was seen carrying a cat mask... The goggles look very Wayne-tech and probably come with the borrowed/stolen bike, rather than part of a planned wardrobe decision. The lack of headgear makes it a bit of a Clark Kent disguise – ie, not a terribly good one.

Personally, my only major dislike is the hair. It was always going to be near unthinkable that the film would go with a short-haired Selina, but the uncovered long hair is a little jarring – again, sticking with the assumption that this may be the end costume. And on a more shallow note, Anne Hathaway looks even sexier with short hair, mrow.

Darwyn Cooke = purrfect CatwomanIconic, flawless, love her!

We do know that Hathaway was slated to be wearing a Darwyn Cooke inspired outfit, that there would definitely be goggles, that the costume would be less sexy and more robber than rubber. Cooke's iconic Catwoman introduced a more covered up approach to the feisty feline, with sensible ass-kicking shoes, funky goggles, and a zip that was almost always all the way up. It's been a popular look for Catwoman, with the tiniest of cat ears giving her a purrfect edge.

Is it too early to jump on this new photo as proof of what the Catwoman costume will look like? It's never too early to speculate, but the reaction to this image of Selina has really highlighted the difference between male and female comic heroes in the media. Any set shot of Hathaway wearing black from now on will be scrutinised by the media at large, while Hardy could probably pop to Starbucks in his Bane mask without causing that much of a stir.


Further reading:
Catwoman: The Hyper-Sexualisation of a Sexual Woman
Women in Comics: An Overview

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Very nice.. Very nice!

  2. I’m a huge fan of the Bat and have been loving the Nolan films however you make some points I never thought of before! Now that you mention it his portrayal of woman is a wee bit alarming – though taking that into account as you said yourself I still enjoy and will enjoy his movies.
    Anyway on to the costume, it’s true he is rather tricky with what he reveals so it very well may be that this is not the ‘catwoman’ costume (again wasn’t thinking that at all until you mentioned it). Honestly if it’s not I’m cool with that as I don’t have the need to know everything before the movie comes out, but something had to be released to appease fans.
    Initially I was disappointed that they even chose to go down the catwoman storyline as I would have much rather enjoyed a character not explored in the movies or at least one not as much as catwoman but I trust he will put an interesting spin on the character.
    On a side note it’s a shame people aren’t as interested in Tom Hardys Bane — hellooo hello, look at that hunk of muscle ;)

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