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Revisiting ‘Batman, The Animated Series’: ‘The Cat and the Claw’ (Parts 1 and 2)


Spoilers ahead.

Although “The Cat and the Claw” is a two-parter fifteenth and sixteenth in production, Part One served as the series premiere, with Part Two airing a week later. This story, which introduces the Catwoman, is a mixed bag on multiple levels.

As with the Penguin, Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau, of “Escape From New York” and “Maude”) does not get an origin story. In both cases, the studio may have wanted to avoid confusion so close after Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” (1992), especially because this Selina Kyle — the burglar’s alter ego — is blonde like Michelle Pfieffer and unlike her usual black or brunette hair in the comics.

Yet Selina is depicted here as a wealthy businesswoman. This serves the plot in terms of bringing her into Bruce Wayne’s world, but departs from canon. In the comics and the movies, Selina tends to come from a lower-class background, with Catwoman serving as an antihero with a Robin Hood streak.

Moreover, Catwoman’s visual design is inspired by the comics of the 1980s, not the Burton movie’s famous catsuit. Bruce Timm put his own stamp on the character’s look (one of his animation hires, Darwyn Cooke, would bring this look into the comics during the early 2000s).

When Catwoman (or Selina) is onscreen, these episodes are compelling (save for the introduction of Isis, a super-smart cat with unreal eyesight). The voice work from Barbeau and Kevin Conroy create the chemistry needed to believe the immediate romantic tensions required for 22-minute episodes.

Unfortunately, “The Cat and the Claw” also introduces a secondary baddie, the Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew, doing a weak Eastern European accent she also uses in episodes of “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Orange is the New Black”). Red Claw wants to be a Bond villain, but seems more like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. She has a plan she alters on a whim and an overly elaborate method of trying to kill Batman.

Red Claw seems inserted to hammer the feminist messaging of these episodes. Also, Selina is portrayed as an animal rights activist. The core creative team wanted to avoid message stories, but this story was co-developed by Sean Catherine Derek, who liked injecting social issues. The conflicts almost derailed the series before it began; Derek was ultimately replaced as the series’ story editor.

The animation and direction is similarly mixed. Sunrise’s animation in Part One is fluid and cinematic, fully supporting Kevin Altieri’s direction; it is a joy to watch. Dick Sebast’s less inspired direction of Part Two is hobbled by the animation from Akom (who would later be dropped as a supplier for the show).

Part One opens with Catwoman using Isis to steal a necklace from a highrise. Somehow, Isis can see all the infrared alarms. Batman interrupts the heist, resulting in a spectacular chase across Gotham rooftops and fire escapes. Once Batman gets over his surprise the thief is a woman, their banter turns flirtatious. Catwoman escapes when Batman saves Isis from an oncoming car; she summons her pet with an ultrasonic whistle.

Later, at a charity bachelor auction to benefit animal preserves, Bruce Wayne is in demand. Selina Kyle outbids everyone, but tells Bruce she is giving for the cause and not interested in the date. Bruce is very interested in the date, which she makes a lunch.

This talk is interrupted by a police chase outside. (The animation conveys the weight and speed of the vehicles realistically.) Batman foils the robbery of a military truck hauling an arms shipment. Afterward, Commissioner Gordon tells Batman the Red Claw — a global terrorist — is believed to be in Gotham.

The next day, Selina prepares for lunch, telling her secretary Maven she would rather date Batman. After Bruce arrives, Selina takes a phone call informing her land she was purchasing for a mountain lion preserve has been snapped up by Multigon International.

Bruce ingratiates himself with Selina by arranging a meeting with Multigon’s CEO. Chairman Stern rebuffs Bruce and Selina and explains Multigon’s plans for a resort (which Selina does not believe, given the remote location). Stern says Multigon will take care of the mountain lions “one way or another,” causing Selina to threaten action from environmental groups. After Bruce and Selina leave, Multigon is revealed to be a front for the Red Claw, who orders surveillance on Selina.

That night, Batman breaks up a mob meeting to tell them he wants information on the Red Claw. Catwoman breaks into Multigon for dirt on the company’s plans. Red Claw briefs her team on a plan to steal a deadly virus from a military train and extort the government into paying ten billion dollars in gold bullion. Red Claw is interrupted when the security system shows Catwoman photographing the contents of Stern’s safe (which reveal bunkers at the remote site).

Catwoman escapes to Multigon’s roof and jumps to the ledge of a neighboring building. Red Claw fires a heavy shell that knocks Catwoman from the ledge. Batman rescues Catwoman with his grappling gear. On a nearby roof, Catwoman kisses Batman to thank him for saving Isis; Batman asks whether it was more. Catwoman acknowledges there is something between them. Batman replies that the law is between them. She angrily flips him over the side of the building to escape.

In Part Two, Batman meets with the mob boss, who relays rumors about a train heist. Commisioner Gordon has no information on valuable train shipments. Batman deduces it is likely a classified military train.

When Red Claw and her team board the train, Batman is following with his glider (this sequence is the best-animated of Part Two). Red Claw steals the virus while Batman fights her underlings. After declaring Batman must be surprised she is a woman, Red Claw threatens to release the virus. Batman lets her to escape by helicopter.

Bruce and Selina make another try at lunch. Red Claw’s team attempts to force Bruce’s car off a bridge. Bruce outdrives the terrorists and forces them off the bridge. He covers with Selina by mentioning his racing hobby. Bruce takes Selina home and asks her to confide in him, but she is not used to playing the damsel in distress.

In the Batcave, Bruce searches for the link between Selina and Red Claw. Alfred finds it in the form of an unusual cat hair (belonging to Isis) on Bruce’s coat. Later, a Red Claw goon’s attack on Maven is foiled by Batman. Maven caves in, revealing Catwoman has gone to the Multigon site — and is in love with Batman.

At Multigon’s remote site, Catwoman gags and hogties one of Red Claw’s guards. She infiltrates the facility through the ventilation shaft and photographs Red Claw’s arsenal. She is briefly caught by a guard and freed by Batman, but both antiheroes get trapped behind a gate by Red Claw.

With Batman and Catwoman tied back-to-back, Red Claw decides to expose them to the virus and use a placebo for her extortion plot. She drops some acid onto the virus canister before leaving the building.

Catwoman’s claws free her and Batman from their ropes. Batman urges Catwoman to escape while he stays to kill the virus, which he does with a gasoline truck and a grenade. The Multigon site is consumed in explosions and fire.

Red Claw’s team is intercepted by the Gotham police. Red Claw skips a helicopter escape to pursue Catwoman into the nearby hills. Red Claw attacks from behind, but fails to finish off Catwoman due to the intervention of a mountain lion.

Catwoman returns home, where Batman is waiting. The Caped Crusader admits his feelings for her before slipping the batcuffs on her.