May 26, 2024

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #394: Catman

Catman, sometimes a joke, sometimes not. Depends on the creators' mood, I suppose.

The Silver Age was a very, well, screwy time.  Some of those screwy things were later revamped into less screwy things.  For example, the Joker spent the Silver Age as basically just a bank robber who made bad comedy and rarely hurt anyone all that permanently.  Then the 70s (AKA the Bronze Age) came along, and suddenly the Joker’s bits were a lot more lethal.  These days, he’s basically a maniacal serial killer.

However, not every Silver Age character was quite so successfully revamped.  And then there were others like Catman.  No one at DC seems to have made up their minds about that guy yet.

Catman, AKA Thomas Blake, was a big game hunter-turned-supervillain who operated off a cat theme.  This didn’t sit well with Batman, since he doesn’t care much for supervillains, or Catwoman, who doesn’t like some guy stealing her gimmick.  Originally appearing in Detective Comics #311 in January of 1963, he did the sort of stuff that Batman foes did back then with outlandish crimes, often with what seemed to be a combination of Batman’s weapons and Catwoman’s stylings.

So, a character like Catman was probably like a lot of old baddies back then:  he had a gimmick that he used to commit themed crimes.  Such a character could easily disappear from lack of use, and indeed he did for quite some time.  The first time I saw him was in an issue of Batman: Shadow of the Bat in 1992.  That story had a group of Batman foes, led by Killer Moth, that called themselves the Misfits.  The idea was a group of lesser, often see as loser, Batman foes would work together towards success.

That loser label seems to have stuck.  Catman’s next appearance was during writer Brad Meltzer’s Green Arrow run.  The idea was that Oliver Queen was back from the dead, and he had to retrieve a lot of his old stuff.  Meltzer used it as an opportunity to look at what superheroes arrange to happen to their stuff after they die.  Queen, it seems, had Catman, described as a lesser villain, dispose of his things according to a last will and testament.  This version, now an overweight guy past his prime, was an even bigger loser than before.  He ended the story being grabbed by Monsieur Mallah, presumably to be killed by the Brotherhood of Evil.

Instead, Gail Simone got her hands on him for the Secret Six, a group of villains/antiheroes that initially were just six characters left who for one reason or another did not join Alexander Luthor’s Secret Society of Supervillains during the Infinite Crisis and then continuing on to a regular series afterwards where the team line-up did have a few shake-ups but always seemed to have a few characters at its center in the form of Catman, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll, and Deadshot among others.  Catman seemed to be something of a leader on the team in as far as the team had one when it wasn’t Scandal, and he briefly explained that the Brotherhood considered him not even worth the effort to kill, so he got himself back in shape and was living with a pride of lions in Africa until someone killed them, the impetus for Catman to join the Six.

Pictured: Not a loser

Simone, working on both Secret Six and Birds of Prey, showed a real gift for writing these team books, and Catman was probably as popular as he even had been.  He certainly wasn’t a loser anymore, being written as a truly dangerous hand-to-hand combatant.  He was even still there when the Secret Six had their series revived during the New 52 period.  So yeah, Catman is a badass now?

Eh, not really.  He, for the most part, has been missing for a while of late.  But he turned up recently in a Harley Quinn series, one written by Mark Russell, and Russell’s work tends to be more satirical and possibly set in an alternate universe.  Point is, Catman there is getting therapy from Harley because he’s acting more like a cat, such as grooming himself by licking his gloves.

Meaning, he’s apparently a loser again.

Eh, with Catman, it happens.