Catwoman's Origin: Also Multiple Choice (but some choices are better than others)
Recently, the issue of Catwoman's origin came up. Specifically, the post-Crisis Y1 retcon that she was a prostitute, inspired by "real man" Batman to dress up like a loony and follow in his footsteps, or something; the subsequent Zero Hour retcon to something much better; and the innumerable other retcons that ignored the Zero Hour retcon in favor of Miller's take, only more XTREEM, adding rape, underaged victimization, etc etc.
And since everything is more clear with scans, I thought I'd post those two different takes, so everybody can see the contrast for themselves.
Here's the first we see of prostitute!Selina, in the ever-famous BATMAN: YEAR ONE.
Bruce doesn't do totally awesome and Holly and some of the other girls join the fight, causing Bruce to whack Holly, so Selina jumps in. Literally.
That's all we get of her there; Bruce runs off and Selina doesn't show again until two issues later.
Selina and Holly show up at the scene to rubberneck, while Batman and a siamese cat hide out from the cops. Bats fights his way out, clobbering a dude for shooting at the cat. It's unclear how much of this Holly and Selina see, or what they think about it - the extent of their presence or commentary is this:
A month later, Selina decks a guy who's probably supposed to be her pimp (the same guy who was authoritatively hassling Holly earlier when Bruce interfered).
Then a month after that, she jumps inexplicably out a window.
... why on earth did Brubaker like Holly?
Quite some time after that, Selina is inexplicably contemplating possible wealthy targets for theft.
The place she decides to hit, Batman is already at for recon. For no clear reason, she just hops around out front clawing the shit out of people until everyone is down, which is significantly more showy and wasteful than simply scratching one guy in the privacy of his room in proper cat burglar style.
(That's Batman on the roof she's seeing there.)
The only fallout we see:
"Cat burglaries"? Yeah, no. Beating the shit out of everybody in the entire place and then walking out in broad moonlight with valuables under your arm is not "cat burglary," by any stretch of the imagination.
Aaaaand.... that's it. That's the full extent of the New Origin Of Catwoman.
Um. The hell, Miller? In what universe was that Selina? I mean, besides yours, obviously.
Now, Selina as a prostitute is really problematic in and of itself; that's my feminism-informed opinion there. You will find many other feminsts out there who strongly disagree (though the question of being wholly inspired by Batman remains). Sex work, and the portrayal thereof (particularly by people not involved in the trade), is one of the messiest tangles in a messy, tangled movement.
However, here's my biggest thing about this. Even before I'm a feminist, I am a storyteller - and on that count, even above and beyond the gender issue of it, Selina as a prostitute is utter fail because it is simply bad storytelling. It does not make sense! Selina is a cat burglar. Prostitute to cat burglar is no way a logical shift. (And make no mistake, it is very much a shift - she stops being a prostitute and starts being a master thief. This is not an addition to her life or expansion of her habits, this is a complete track-jumping reinvention.) What the hell did seeing Bruce inspire her to change about herself? To step outside the law? Little late for that. To go ahead and take what she wanted from the world, openly expressing her contempt of those who possess the riches she can easily pluck from them? From what we see of Miller's professional domme, she's got that more than covered with her day job. To do something expressive and physical and active with her body? Come on! Even Miller's weirdass take on her here where being Catwoman is all about getting to claw people's faces or some stupid shit like that isn't anything her S&M clients don't offer.
Selina is a sassy, independent thrillseeker and lover of luxury who believes she deserves what she can earn with her unique skills, regardless of what the law says about it. What part of that profile, which of those needs was not already being met by her sex work that being Catwoman was a remarkable improvement on? Assuming, of course, the most favorable interpretation of Miller's prostitute!Selina. If she was freer, safer, and more in control of her life as Catwoman than as a pro, we're right back to indisputable sexist "sex crime victim fights back" tropes (which we were anyway post-Miller, of course, but I'm trying to be thorough, here).
And then there's the skillset itself. Selina's, so impressive and masterful that it can only have been a lifelong effort, is that of the thief: stealth, lock- and pocket-picking, acrobatics, specialized tool use (crampons, glass-cutters, d-cel), and, at this point in her canon, big cat taming - things that one learns for the express purpose of theft, develops through a repeated reliance on theft, or turns to theft as a result of possessing. None of which makes any sense from prostitute!Selina, who never needed or intended theft to be her main source of income and self-satisfaction prior to seeing Batman and most assuredly did not possess the time or resources to master between first seeing Batman and becoming the Catwoman who so easily vexed him.
Not to mention what it does to the romance - nothing says "equal partner" like "would never have found my true calling without following in your shadow," amirite?
To our rescue, though, thankfully, comes Moench and the post-ZH retcon. He starts, appropriately enough, with Selina's early childhood.
Selina is a bit of a problem child, unsurprising from a girl whose mother commited suicide and whose father has not really ascended from his drunken haze since. Her teachers stress that she's smart, and loves gym class (particularly acrobatics), but just doesn't make an effort or engage with anyone.
Her dad doesn't care, exactly. He basically can't. Eventually, Selina finds him dead too, and just walks out of the house, leaving the door open and letting the dozens of cats scatter to the four winds.
She gets caught within a week.
Shockingly, she does not adjust her attitude. She does sneak around a lot, though, and learns the alarm code.
She gets strapped for that, then chucked in solitary confinement in the attic. Which is not even remotely an obstacle for young Selina, but does manage to piss her off.
The director hasn't been finessing the finances so much as cheerfully and blatantly butchering them, putting less than forty percent of the hundreds of thousands in funding from the state to the actual institution and pocketing the rest. Selina confronts her with this knowledge... in very adolescent style, with no clear plan, just a sort of thoughtless implied blackmail. This gets her chloroformed and dropped in the river.
Doesn't stop her, though.
She takes the director's ill-gotten expensive jewelry, turns off the alarm and tells the other kids to scatter, and sets off into Gotham, alone.
(I like how Moench takes a moment here to try to reconcile that Miller scene a bit; the visual of those panels specifically has a lot of traction and has been repeated often, and incorporating instead of trying to bury it was a smart move. Not effective, sadly, but still smart.)
She goes on to have a few tussles with Batman, who can often styme her thefts but never manages to bring her in, and the story finally catches up with the present day, and a Selina who is everything her younger self wanted to be; comfortable, rich, sought after more than seeking... the ultimate cat.
See, now that actually makes sense as a Catwoman origin, and I'd ask where all the sexism went, but you know what? I don't really miss it.
Cooke, Moore and Brubaker did, apparently, but that's a different story, which I have no stomach for telling. Y'all will have to get someone else to take on *that* particular headache.
Scans from BATMAN #404-407 (collected in BATMAN YEAR ONE of course) and CATWOMAN #0 (eight and a third pages of twenty-four).