|Editor's Note: Plugged In associate editor Paul Asay believes that a study of Batman lore can teach Christians a thing or two about ourselves and our faith. In his book God on the Streets of Gotham, Paul talks about the Dark Knight's batty calling, his struggles, and even how adversaries such as Scarecrow, Two-Face and Bane can represent sin and temptation in our own lives. In this article, Paul takes a closer look at Batman's feline femme fatale, Catwoman, and what fuels their love-hate relationship.|
Batman has trouble hanging onto a girlfriend. While Superman and Lois Lane have been together longer than Laurel and Hardy, the Dark Knight seems to reboot his love life with each film. Only one woman seems to have truly made a lasting impression on our man in black, one strong enough to bedazzle Batman for more than 70 years: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.
It's curious that the two of them get along so well. Batman is a paragon of virtue and goodness. Catwoman typically treats virtue and goodness like so much kitty litter. That Batman and Catwoman don't try to kill each other (more often) is akin to Rush Limbaugh confessing a "thing" for Cher. I mean, opposites attract and all, but really?
Perhaps it's not completely outlandish. Batman's favorite feline friend is one of superherodom's most ambiguous villains. If we examine the line between the good guys and the bad, we find that Catwoman often walks it like a tightrope. If she spends more time on the evil side of the ledger, it's not from any particular conviction. Rather, it's because she thinks it's a little more fun. She can do good things for bad reasons and bad things for the best of motives. Even her past is precocious: her backstory morphs every time she updates her outfit, and she has more getups than Lady Gaga during awards season.
Batman and Catwoman are, in some ways, two sides of a coin. While they both share a fondness for alter egos and a propensity to prowl at night, the motivating purpose behind the pair couldn't be more different. Batman uses his costumed persona to take a stand against the forces that created him. Catwoman stands for nothing. Traditional morality? Can't be bothered. Catwoman is all about the immediate, the sensate. If she wants something, be it a diamond necklace or a date with Bruce Wayne, rarely does she question whether she should, but whether she can and how quickly. She's the Cyndi Lauper of the superhero set: girls just want to have fun.
No wonder she tempts Batman. Her philosophy is enticing—and increasingly popular. Granted, society's not rushing out to the streets en masse to steal twenty-four-karat baubles, but more than a few folks express serious disdain for society's norms. They preach a life of "no limits," brag about how they're the type to break the rules, to break boundaries, to break the law, if necessary. "After all," they tell us, "what good is a free society if we can't be completely free? Why get married if we prefer sex with no strings attached? Why not lie if it gets us out of an uncomfortable conversation? Why not cheat?"
And Catwoman also seems to be able to do something Batman hasn't quite mastered: she can have a little fun. In a time when Gotham seems to suffer under a perpetual haze of gloom, Catwoman can be vivacious and charming and crack wise with the best of 'em. Despite all her obvious faults, maybe Batman sees in Catwoman one of God's most challenging directives: to live in the moment and enjoy life as it comes. We're supposed to enjoy the gifts God has given us, life most of all.
So it really is too bad that Catwoman, so busy relishing life, has completely forgotten its Author.
Catwoman is a live-and-let-live sort of woman, not inclined to take orders and not inclined to give them. She won't judge you for smoking weed or cheating on your boyfriend, so don't get on her case for stealing that necklace. Do you like Jesus? "Dandy," she'll say. Hare Krishna? "Whatever floats your boat." Her god is Catwoman, and she's rewarded in this world, not the next. If you asked about her thoughts on salvation, she'd likely tell you it's up to us to save ourselves—and any rewards to be had are taken, not given. So grab them while you can and let the moralists burn. A pox on rules, regulations, justice and mercy. Live for today. Live for yourself.
In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller writes, "[I] wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want." Which brings us to an interesting counterpoint: If Batman is attracted to Catwoman because of her freedom, Catwoman must be drawn to the Dark Knight because of his stability—stability coming from his sense of purpose. And their relationship helps show us the best way to go.
Batman may be attracted, or even tempted, by Catwoman's carefree life. But he never seriously considers leaving his own calling. The same cannot be said of Catwoman: The attraction of Batman's sense of purpose is very strong, and all the fleeting joys of flicking whips and robbing jewelry stores can't compete. Actually, in one of DC's alternate universes, she reforms permanently and marries him. But mostly she staggers between her two natures: She reforms, then backslides, reforms again, and backslides again. She longs for the stability Batman has found and wants it for herself, but she can't seem to escape the prison of her self-styled freedom.
Lots of us are a little like Catwoman. We're drawn in by the lure of the world. We do things we ought not do, go places we ought not go. We drink or party or sleep around because, hey, it's fun (we tell ourselves). We feel free and alive and so comfortable in our own skin and we think for a moment that those skin-deep pleasures, those sensate moments, are what life's all about.
But then most of us (though not all) grow up. We get a little older and maybe a little wiser, and we gradually come to a realization that we find a little shocking: what we thought was so much fun really wasn't. We just kind of thought it was for a while. What we mistook for freedom was actually the opposite. What we took to be the joy of life turned out to be simply a placeholder—a momentary blip in a life that was meant to be so much more.
I think Catwoman feels, at times, the same compulsion that's locked away in all of us: the desire to do what we were made to do. For Catwoman, that desire is in a wrestling match with her more superficial, sensate passions. And chances are, she'll never get full resolution. But if she were to turn into a full-time good guy, following Batman's example and living unselfishly, I think she'd find that the division inside her would begin to heal.
Black costumes. Secret identities. Nocturnal pursuits. At first glance, it may be hard to tell these two apart, but beneath their masks the Bat and the Cat couldn't be more different.
Adapted from God on the Streets of Gotham by Paul Asay and used with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188, copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.
Published July 2012
Defenders of Truth Always Look a Little Different
What Is a Worldview?