Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Catman--Batman's Swipe of Blackhawk?

This one requires a bit of explanation. Last fall, I reviewed Blackhawk #148, and pointed out several areas of similarity between those stories and some earlier/later Batman stories. Given that Jack Schiff was editing both magazines, it seemed reasonable to assume that plots and characters had been swiped wholesale in some cases.

So it is with the Catman. Before we get into the history of the character, let's just post two covers that show the swipe:

In the original, Blackhawk #141 (October 1959), the Blackhawks encountered a boastful pilot/crook called the Catman, who announces he's going to commit a daring crime, and who then gives his location. The Blackhawks arrive just in time to see the Catman crash his plane, but when they land:

Catman conveniently explains that he has already used up four other lives prior to meeting the Blackhawks, so he has four remaining. Whether he is telling the truth or not, the countdown starts at four for the purposes of the story. He intentionally races through a deadly fire (three) and deliberately causes a landslide (2). But when Blackhawk proves that Catman also used up a life getting over the electrified fence, the crook gives up rather than relinquish his final life. At the end there's a bit of a hint that perhaps Blackhawk fooled CM:

Note as well that the credit for the pencils in the Blackhawk issue go to Dillin; want to guess who drew the covers for the first two Catman appearances in Detective? Yep. As far as I know, those are Dillin's only work on the character (outside of the Justice League), although he did not do the cover to Detective #325 shown above; that one's by Moldoff.

The introduction in the Batman mythology came with Detective #311. Catman (yes, they spelled it with the hyphen, and no, I will not) debuted in that issue and more important, he was one of the rare Batman characters of that time who was not created by Sheldon Moldoff:

Jim Mooney did the interior artwork for the first two Catman stories in Batman, while Moldoff did the last issue.

There is a key subplot in the story that appears shortly after the revelation that Catman is attracted to Batwoman. I'm reading Submariner and Sue Storm, but it's especially interesting because the story mentions him being inspired by the Catwoman, who has been gone from the Batman universe for years and would not reappear for another 3+ years (well after her first appearance on TV).

At the end of that story, the Catman (apparently) dies. It's an obvious plot development, and the next appearance, in Tec #318 actually gave us the return of the Catman and a new Catwoman:

In this story, the Catman returns. Batwoman chases after him, but is stymied when his kitty-car jumps over a ravine. She crashes and looks likely to fall from a ledge, when the Catman comes to the rescue:

Batman may be the world's greatest detective, but he clearly doesn't understand women. Batwoman confesses to having mixed feelings about Catman. Part of it no doubt was the truth of what he told her after saving her life:

"Batman will never marry you! You're a fool to waste your time on him!"

Later, a clumsy mistake by Batwoman results in the Catman getting away. This echoes some of the early Catwoman tales, where Batman would apparently allow her to get away. This leads to an argument between Batman and Batwoman, covered enthusiastically by the newspapers. Batwoman bails out one of the Catman's henchmen and asks to be taken to the Catman, so that she can become his Catwoman. But it was all a plot to locate the Catman's hideout, and a homing beacon that Batwoman carried resulted in Batman and Robin arriving. At the end of this story, Catman is again apparently killed.

His third (and as far as I know, final) appearance is in Detective #325, the cover of which is shown near the top of this post. The story is basically a swipe of the idea from Blackhawk #141, that the Catman has nine lives. Instead of getting his extra lives from an African witch-doctor, he gets it from the cloth that was woven into his cape.

But Batwoman learns this secret when she examines the Catwoman costume she had worn in Detective #318:

Somehow she senses that it's nine lives altogether for her and the Catman combined, so she uses up a couple of them while wearing the Catwoman outfit so that next time they face him, he'll be on his final life. And here's a real rarity in the Silver Age: Robin finishing off the villain:

I think I'm going to have to read more Blackhawk issues to see if I can find similar swipes. I seem to recall that the old Boy Commandos and Robin villain, Crazy Quilt, appeared in a Blackhawk story in the 1960s.

Update: See also this terrific post by Bill Jourdain, that we might call, "When Batman Swiped Robin".

Update II: Bill also did a podcast a few years back on the Golden Age Catman, a character from the Holyoke line of comics. I should also note that there was a one-shot Batman villain in the GA called the King of the Cats who turned out to be the Catwoman's brother.