Comic Art Friday: Three cats, 9 Lives

Two weeks ago, we took our first peek at artist Gene Gonzales’s spectacular creation for my Common Elements theme, entitled “Catfight of the Bands!” Last Friday, we focused the spotlight on one of the two bands featured, the ever-popular Josie and the Pussycats.

In today’s third and final installment, we’ll showcase the other feline ensemble — a three-piece combo which, in contrast with Josie and her pals’ lengthy career in comic books, TV animation, musical recordings, and live-action feature film, exists nowhere except in the imaginations of Mr. Gonzales and myself.

Catwoman and the Black Cats, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

It was Gene’s inspiration to dub our impromptu trio “9 Lives.” Clockwise from the left, that’s Selina (Catwoman) Kyle on guitar and vocals, Felicia (The Black Cat) Hardy on drums, and Linda (The Black Cat) Turner on bass.

Yes, I realize that we have two Black Cats. More on that momentarily.

Catwoman — known in her earliest appearances as simply The Cat — debuted in the very first issue of Batman’s eponymous comic, way back in 1940. Originally, Selina Kyle was a Gotham City socialite who moonlighted as a (you’re way ahead of me) cat burglar. Throughout the Golden Age, the renamed Catwoman vacillated between heroism — she worked alongside the Caped Crusader on several occasions — and villainy.

She became a full-time member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery in 1966, just in time for the campy ABC television series, in which she was portrayed by two actresses — Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt. (Former Miss America Lee Meriwether, a costar on the sci-fi series Time Tunnel, would assume the role for the Batman feature film concocted to capitalize on the show’s meteoric popularity.) Catwoman would again be established in the public consciousness as a villain, thank to Tim Burton’s 1992 film Batman Returns.

Batman and Catwoman, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Geof Isherwood

In recent years, DC Comics has cast Catwoman more frequently in a positive light. Since the 1990s, she has headlined two separate series in which she has behaved more or less in traditionally superheroic fashion. The second Catwoman series, which was canceled earlier this year, featured a dazzling array of cover art by Adam Hughes.

During her lengthy career, Selina has worn a dozen or more different costumes. The dress/cowl/cape version she wears in “Catfight” is my favorite of her many outfits — and, as it happens, a favorite of artist Gonzales as well. Above, penciler Al Rio and inker Geof Isherwood depict Catwoman in her modern-era catsuit and goggles.

Only a few months after Catwoman’s debut, Harvey Comics — a company better known for juvenile humor titles such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich — presented its own feline-themed superheroine. Movie actress and stuntwoman Linda Turner donned a mask, swimsuit, and buccaneer boots to fight crime as the Black Cat. Linda was often assisted in her exploits by the male version of Lois Lane, newspaper reporter Rick Horne, who — in the manner of the famously clueless Miss Lane — never seemed to tumble to the fact that Linda Turner and the Black Cat were the same woman.

Linda managed to maintain her secret for a decade, until her series was canceled in 1951. A vast assortment of creators chronicled her adventures, most prominently British-born artist Lee Elias, who drew the Black Cat from 1946 through the end of her run.

Although the Black Cat possessed no paranormal abilities, her training in stunt work provided her with a host of handy skills for busting evildoers. Among her most prominent talents was her deftness in handling a motorcycle. Here, penciler James E. Lyle and inker Bob Almond catch the Cat dealing a bad guy a crushing kick from aboard her favorite two-wheeled transport.

The Black Cat (Linda Turner), pencils by James E. Lyle, inks by Bob Almond

As often happens in comics when a good superhero name goes unused long enough for the trademark to expire, Marvel unleashed its own Black Cat in 1979. Though she shared her nom de guerre with her predecessor Linda Turner, Felicia owed much more of her character to Selina Kyle. Like Catwoman, the modern Black Cat began her career as a cat burglar and jewel thief, and was primarily a villain for most of her early appearances. Also like Selina, Felicia eventually reformed — more or less — and recently served as a member of the superteam Heroes for Hire.

Another key commonality between Marvel’s Black Cat and DC’s Catwoman is their love connection to their respective companies’ marquee superheroes. As Catwoman is to Batman, the Black Cat is to Spider-Man. Felicia and the web-slinging Peter Parker have shared an on-again, off-again affair for 30 years — in real-world years, of course. Below, penciler Jeffrey Moy and inker W.C. (Cory) Carani — a duo best known for a lengthy run on Legion of Super-Heroes — portray Spidey and Felicia at their battling best.

Spider-Man and the Black Cat, pencils by Jeffrey Moy, inks by W.C. Carani

A cat may have nine lives, but a Catfight of the Bands requires three weeks of Comic Art Friday goodness. Once again, my sincere thanks to Gene Gonzales for his masterful creation.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Don’t forget… tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Ye best limber yer lips, or Cap’n Swan’ll keel-haul ye!

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