Of course there is more to Catwoman’s appeal that the physical. You can’t throw a batarang in mainstream comics without hitting a beautiful and voluptuous woman. What made Catwoman particularly well-suited to the role as the Batman’s romantic foil was her playful free-spirited disposition. In an era that was finally acknowledging that sex is fun, the Bat/Cat titillation reached its zenith in Batman #324 when Selina awoke naked in the Batcave after her costume had been torn to pieces. Batman tosses her a replacement saying she was lucky he’d kept one of her old costumes in his trophy room, and she responds—just barely covering herself with the sheet—that she “got lucky in more ways than one.”
Approved by the Comics Code. And that’s probably what made it so much fun: the tingle of being bad, of getting away with something a little naughty. It is the appeal of Catwoman, and in scenes like that, the reader got a taste.
And therein lies one of the essential elements of a successful Catwoman portrayal that has often eluded DC Comics. We can make a simple comparison of the merchandise dating from Denny O'Neil’s day as Bat editor, where it seemed to be a mandate that her features be distorted by a hostile snarl, to the turning point when a Japanese company, Yamoto Toys, released a limited edition figurine based on manga artist Kia Asamiya’s design. The sexy come-hither pose and naughty grin sold out in days in many U.S. comic shops and was voted Sexiest Batman-related Action Figure by Wizard's Toy Fare magazine. After a second equally successful figurine from Yamoto, again featuring the Jim Balent costume with an appealing pose and smile, DC appears to have got the message. Recent offerings of the Balent costume from DC Direct have certainly featured an attractive pose and naughty grin.
But the detour into snarling hostility illustrates how, like Cleopatra, Catwoman has undergone reinvention after reinvention reflecting the insights, fetishes, or fears of those doing the re-imaging. Consider her Bob Kane origin, from "The Secret Life of Catwoman,” as an airline stewardess who suffered amnesia after a plane crash. (Yes, amnesia. It’s a comic book.) In the 1940s and '50s, stewardesses were incredibly glamorous figures. Beautiful, svelte single girls, traveling the world, meeting exciting people and working side-by-side with pilots! It is in this story that Catwoman’s real name is revealed to be Selina Kyle. Selina meaning “daughter of the moon.” Kane clearly gave his Catwoman a glamorous and romantic cachet befitting her status as the Queen of the Night in Batman’s world. This Catwoman, despite her criminal activities, was far from evil. She bargained away loot to save Robin from Joker, and on regaining her memory, worked with Batman to bring down a crime boss and ultimately her own criminal brother.