From Mystique and Magneto to Ma-Ma and Mysterio, these are the best comic-book movie villains of all time
Comic origin: Batman #1 (1940)
Played by Michelle Pfeiffer
“Wait until you get a load of Michelle Pfeiffer’s ravishing kitten with a whip,” purred Rolling Stone, perhaps a little too excitedly (you can almost hear the journalist rubbing his thighs), back in 1992, when Tim Burton’s freaky-deaky sequel to his 1989 smash hit Batman arrived to stain multiplex screens dark as night.
Before Pfeiffer and her skin-tight, sewn-on latex suit, Catwoman, on page, had enjoyed a long, meandering (meow-dering?) history that went right back to the first solo Batman comic in 1940. Introduced as a mysterious burglar and jewel thief, Catwoman was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane to both antagonise and attract Batman. The idea was to add sex appeal to our antihero’s rather sterile world while also enticing more female readers, and Catwoman soon proved herself an expert in claw-to-hand combat, a dazzling gymnast, and so adept with a bullwhip that she’d have Indiana Jones reaching for his gun.
“Cats are cool, detached and unreliable,” said Kane, who based the character on his cousin Ruth Steel and 1930s movie star Jean Harlow, who he deemed to “personify feminine pulchritude at its most sensuous”. He then went on to offer a statement that was considered a little chauvinistic then, let alone now. “Cats are as hard to understand as women are… You need to keep a woman at arm’s length. We don’t want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that.”
Pfeiffer’s Catwoman certainly has pulchritude to spare, along with intelligence and a wit as sharp as her claws. She begins the movie as Selina Kyle, mousy assistant to evil tycoon Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), and is soon left to die by her boss when she learns of his unholy alliance with the Penguin (Danny DeVito). Only alley cats lick her back to life and she returns with a vow of vengeance. She also decides to frame Batman along the way, but they of course fall for each other – there just aren’t that many nutjob vigilantes dressed all in black in Gotham.
“How could you, I’m a woman,” Catwoman quivers when Batman strikes her. He begins to apologise and she hits him back, hard. “As I was saying, I’m a woman and can’t be taken for granted. Life’s a bitch, now so am I.”
Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is as purr-fect as Heath Ledger’s Joker, and makes a huge impact in a movie that boasts two other bad guys played by supreme actors. Think ‘Catwoman’ and it is Pfeiffer who leaps to mind, despite the character also being played on screen, sometimes very successfully, sometimes not, by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether (in the 1960s TV series and 1966’s Batman: The Movie), and by Halle Berry (the godawful Catwoman). Anne Hathaway, of course, played Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, and Camren Bicondova impresses as a young Selina in the TV series Gotham (Lili Simmons portrayed an older version of Kyle in the series finale).
Likewise, Selina/Catwoman has enjoyed at least nine different lives in the comics, fighting Batman, helping Batman and marrying Bruce Wayne (on the parallel world of Earth-Two in the ’70s comics). Not bad for a character who disappeared from DC’s comics from September 1954 to November 1966, when the Comics Code Authority considered her attributes out of whack with how women should be portrayed.
“I felt this tremendous responsibility,” said Pfeiffer in ’92 as she promoted the movie. “People were going to be really mad at me if I didn’t do a good job.” And delighted if she smashed it out the park.
Most Dastardly Moment: Back-flipping into the middle of a confrontation between the Penguin and Batman, offering a sultry “Meow!” and slipping away as a store explodes.
Killer One-Liner: “I am Catwoman. Hear me roar.”’