In The Brave and the Bold #197 (April 1983, DC Comics) Alan Brennert penned what I consider to be the definitive Batman/Bruce Wayne and Catwoman/Selina Kyle story. One of comics’ longest-running and most storied romances, the Bat and the Cat had already been flirting shamelessly and stealing kisses for more than four decades by the early 1980s. But it took Brennert’s sophisticated, sensitive portrait of these star-crossed lovers to take their relationship to another level. And it wound up influencing comics that came after it, as well as movies featuring the characters.
Taking place pre-Crisis—the demarcation line between DC’s first fifty years of publishing and everything after—the story is set on Earth-2, one of many Earths in DC’s multiverse at the time, and features alternate-Earth versions of the characters. The narrative involves Bruce and Selina teaming up to stop the Scarecrow’s latest attack on Gotham, but Brennert uses this plot to explore the love story between the characters, as they discuss their lives and relationship over a series of scenes that are masterfully, even cinematically scripted by novelist and television writer Brennert, with dialogue that feels accurate to how two lovers in their unusual line of work would talk to each other.
Brennert shows us that Bruce and Selina get married and live a happy life together. Which is why it might seem like anethema to those who expect/want their Batman stories to only be grim, dark, and borderline nihilistic. There’s room for all versions of these characters though, as Grant Morrison so eloquently expressed during his time writing Batman stories. Brennert’s take is as valid as any other, and has clearly had an influence on how the Bat and the Cat have been portrayed since—whether those influenced realize it or not. When Batman reveals the scars covering his body in the Christopoher Nolan films, it directly calls back to the first time this was ever depicted in the comics—in BB #197 when Selina saw the scars from years of crime fighting on Bruce’s back. The ending to The Dark Knight Rises, with Bruce and Selina having left behind the Bat and the Cat to to travel abroad and be together can be traced back to their happy ending in BB #197.
Batman and Catwoman are one of the great romances in mainstream comic book history. Brennert’s tale is clearly one of the high-water marks for the pair, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been interpreteted brilliantly by others as well. From the sweet and sexy flirtation between Julie Newmar and Adam West in the 1960s TV show to Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Keaton in Batman Returns (1992), all the way up to a recent run in comics by Tom King, the characters have been drawn to one another time after time, and writers quite simply love to write about them and their epic romance.
The push and pull of their original good guy/bad girl dichotomy allows for some rich, conflict-heavy storytelling. This is masterfully done in Batman Returns. Their flirtations and amorous feelings for one another, in and out of costume, culminate in a scene with them dancing at a masked Christmas ball that is romantic and sizzling hot. It’s also quite heartbreaking, as Selina and Bruce discover each other’s masked identities, which throws their romance into chaos. “Does this mean we have to start fighting now,” a heartbroken Selina asks, tears welling in her eyes. It’s an icnonic moment in Pfeiffer’s career, and together with Keaton she makes the scene feel truly intimate, beautiful, and tragic.
Whether the Bat and the Cat are portrayed as lovers united or destined to continually come together only to fall back apart thanks to their complicated circumstances, their story has become one of poular culture’s most enduring romances, epic in time and scope, across various media platforms. Creators return to the characters over and over because there’s something special at the heart of their relationship, which offers endless avenues of exploration and discovery.
Long live the Bat and the Cat. Long may they love.