THE MANY LIVES OF CATWOMAN: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale by Tim Hanley makes the interesting point that Catwoman has become a successful, long-running DC character despite never having had a single, iconic look the way the Joker or Penguin (or for that matter Batman) have, as witness the renditions by J. Winslow Mortimer, Carmine Infantino and Darwyn Cooke below
She’s also never had a single, consistent characterization: she’s been antihero, hero, gang boss, jewel thief, supervillain, love interest and man-hating dominatrix. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that she became a serious love interest for Batman rather than a sexy bad girl. Nevertheless she’s immensely popular both as a character and as Batman’s lover (even during a period DC retconned out all romance between them, the Bat and the Cat wound up together in several Elseworlds.
While I knew a lot of her history, Hanley covers a lot of stuff I wasn’t aware of, including tracking the long stretches she vanished from comics for one reason or another. He points out, for instance, that while the pre-Crisis Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, she sees herself entirely as Batman’s heir — her mother apparently had no influence on her at all, other than getting killed to inspire Helena to turn hero. Despite a couple of minor errors, very good.
FEMME FATALE: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari by Pat Shipman looks at how teenage Dutch girl Margaretha Zelle went to colonial Indonesia with her much older husband, then returned to Europe, divorced him (two promiscuous people with zero money-management skills proved a bad recipe for marriage) and reinvented herself as the exotic dancer Mata Hari (claiming her dances were sacred mystic temple rites let her elevate near-nudity to serious art). Unfortunately, when WW I began, Zelle became a target: traveling across Europe and having many lovers in multiple countries made it easy for French security officials to frame her as a spy; Shipman suggests a mixture of contempt for her casual affairs and the need to justify their jobs by a big score gave them an incentive to ignore her innocence and claim her evil schemes had sent 50,000 Frenchmen to their deaths! As Mata Hari is one of those figures I know of but not about, this was most interesting
Despite putting Cleopatra first in the title, CLEOPATRA AND ANTONY: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World by Diana Preston doesn’t focus on Egypt’s queen as much or as well as Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s Cleopatra. That said, Preston does an excellent job of putting her in context, covering the Ptolemaic dynasty’s history in Egypt, the Roman imperial ambitions and power struggles that brought first Caesar, then Antony to her door (in this era Egypt was both an agricultural and cultural superstar) and the internecine Roman power struggles that led to Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor. Dry, but satisfying.
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