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Comic Book Legends Revealed #476

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COMIC LEGEND: Jim Balent drew a cat on every cover of Catwoman.

STATUS: True

Last week I discussed how Todd McFarlane hid a spider on his Amazing Spider-Man covers. Well, as it turns out, Todd had company over at DC Comics with Jim Balent’s long run on Catwoman.

I asked Jim whether it is true that he hid a cat on every cover of Catwoman. He explained:

Yes. On every cover. Some are VERY easy to find. Like a cat on the front cover. Others are more difficult… like an ink blot in the shape of a cat or a skeleton of a cat. Sometimes I hide them so well that I can’t find them to this day.

Here are an assortment…

First off, this trio of covers shows what Balent mentioned about how he varied in how obvious they were.

You went from, well, here are a bunch of cats…

catwoman15

to some somewhat obvious cat drawings on the background…

catwoman16

to a cat on a pedestal in the shadows…

catwoman17

Those, though, are far more obvious than a cat on the handle of a blade…

catwoman22

a cat in an air bubble…

catwoman34

or a cat in a strand of Catwoman’s hair…

catwoman52

I was already planning on doing this one this week after the McFarlane one last week, but just to note that commenter Michael Heide suggested it last week, as well. He pointed out a particularly amusing one, when Balent decided to get tricky and drew a CATFISH!

catwoman13

Thanks to Jim Balent for the helpful reply!

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49 Comments

Jim Balent’s Catwoman was a classic. Great, stylish art. He drew a fun, dynamic Selina with a great sense of motion and fluidity, as well as terrific facial expressions. I would love to see his take on Darwyn Cooke’s horrible re-design of Catwoman’s costume.

I know it evolved (devolved?) into kind of total cheesecake, but I loved the Jim Balent run on Catwoman. The stories were light-hearted action and the art was fun, for the most part…

I may be off a bit with my timelines, but I think the reason Madrox showed up where he did in FF was that the X-Men had not yet been rebooted. Mutants were relatively few and far between back.

And don’t forget the name of Sorcerers’ World in Legion: Zerox! (A la Matter-Eater Lad’s world of Bismoll…)

The story was actually originally going to be part of Wein’s run on Fantastic Four, but as it turned out, his run on FF was very short-lived so the story went into the Giant-Size issue instead.

So what is the story behind THAT? Anything interesting? Or was in just a case of Len Wein being too busy to become the ongoing writer of Fantastic Four at that time?

Goldberg’s reluctance to sue may have something to do with the fact that an English cartoonist named Heath Robinson had worked the same gag ten or 15 years before him–so much so that a “Rube Goldberg Machine” is called a “Heath Robinson Machine” in England..

So what is the story behind THAT? Anything interesting? Or was in just a case of Len Wein being too busy to become the ongoing writer of Fantastic Four at that time?

Yeah, pretty much.

Dr. Bob is right–Xmen was still in reprints (#92) when that Giant Size came out.
Brian, I still don’t think Goldberg would win unless MouseTrap etc. ripped off a specific strip of his.

Dr. Bob, you’re right … Giant-Size X-Men #1 came out 3 months after GS FF#4. Making X-Men one of those things that had Len Wein too busy to write the Fantastic Four!

The catfish one is my favorite.

Even with the purple costume, Balent’s Catwoman was more suited to the character than what we have today. Today’s Catwoman looks like mouse-woman in comparison.

The first comment is so blatant that it’s obviously just a troll, but I have seen some fond recollection of Balent Catwoman on the web recently, including the second comic.

Funny how nostalgia works. Are we about to see sincere admiration for 90s superhero books? Pouches and cheesecake and blood-kill-stryke-war-hawk? Shoulder mounted Gatling guns and cigars. Lots of armor. Hooks for hands.

AverageJoeEveryman

June 20, 2014 at 10:40 am

There were usually also at least 4 Ds on each Jim Balent Catwoman cover.

Say what you will about Balent’s Catwoman, but that run was the last time I had any desire to follow the character…

and if i’m not mistaken he had an unbroken run through his 70+ issue tenure ……. for a DC or Marvel Comics i cant seem to think of another modern era 70 issue run with no fill ins

Brian- I emailed you a few years back about another legend involving Madrox’s first appearance, and how he was (allegedly) also set to appear in Giant Size X-Men #1 before being left out. I’d love to see that one featured!

The Xerox copyright was also mentioned in an issue of the 90’s series of Wonder Man (#18, I think). Simon’s not-quite-kid-sidekick, Spider, gained the ability to duplicate himself and whatever he was holding. He wanted to call himself Xerox, but Simon’s agent said that the word was copyrighted. So the agent suggested the name Stat, since the generic name for a Xerox machine was photostat (even though Photostat started out as a trademark earlier in the century). It probably isn’t a stretch to think that the Wonder Man writer was directly referencing the Xerox/Madrox connection when writing the Xerox/Stat exchange.
I also always thought it was funny to copy the powers of a character whose power is making copies of himself. It seemed redundant on so many levels.

Jim Balent’s costume was a reflection of a cheesecake time. The new black leather catsuit/goggle costume designed by Brubaker is iconic. They have used it for video games, movies and it has endured for almost 15 years. So I have no idea what people are saying about that purple aerobics leotard design that makes no sense for a cat burglar.

The first Catwoman series had a lot of great writers too. It’s a wonder that DC don’t reprint it, I think Balent’s Catwoman is a lot more accessible to new readers than, say, Brubaker’s Catwoman.

@Joe,

Excuse me?? Not a troll, just a big fan of the Balent-era Catwoman.

AJ, you are indeed right. In fact, Darwyn Cooke appears to have ripped off Jim Balent’s design of the character Mouse who appeared in Catwoman #28-30.

“Brian, I still don’t think Goldberg would win unless MouseTrap etc. ripped off a specific strip of his.”

Given that he has a brand-name board game in direct competition with them, I think he could mount a pretty reasonable argument about them causing deliberate confusion in the marketplace which is diluting his legal brand. Not saying he’d definitely win, but a lot dumber cases have won.

Nillyville, Catwoman’s current, Darwyn Cooke-designed costume is fugly. It’s bulky and the googles are dreadful. The purple catsuit is indicative of a time when Catwoman was a fun character who travelled the world (and Gotham’s underbelly) pulling off heists. Selina used to be a fun, fun-loving character but Brubaker absolutely torpedoed that characterization, unfortunately, making her just as grim as Batman.

Solid Snake, I totally agree. Some issues of the original Catwoman series are reprinted in various trades (like Knightfall, No Man’s Land, etc.), but I wish the whole series had been collected (even though I own all of the single issues). Actually, there is trade of Chuck Dixon’s The Catfile storyarc, but it’s long out of print. The Balent-era Catwoman is more in line with the thief we all know and love. Not sure why Brubaker wanted to turn her into a Batman-lite anti-hero. Selina had much more personality back then.

“and if i’m not mistaken he had an unbroken run through his 70+ issue tenure ……. for a DC or Marvel Comics i cant seem to think of another modern era 70 issue run with no fill ins”

I’ve got two for you, right off the top of my head: Mark Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man (111 issues) and Charlie Adlard on The Walking Dead (121 issues and counting).

Bill I think it was 77 issues :3
and then jumped into his own company
now for 14 year- never a late issue ;)
please visit us at http://www.jimbalent.com

“‘and if i’m not mistaken he had an unbroken run through his 70+ issue tenure ……. for a DC or Marvel Comics i cant seem to think of another modern era 70 issue run with no fill ins’

I’ve got two for you, right off the top of my head: Mark Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man (111 issues) and Charlie Adlard on The Walking Dead (121 issues and counting).”

I’ll throw another at you…Sal Buscema. When he returned to SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN in 1988, he went 78 issues before the first (and only) fill-in during his, almost, 9 year run on the title.

Jeff Nettleton

June 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm

@Tim Hundley

Xerox has a trademark on the name, not a copyright; they’re two different things. Trademarks protect brand names. The machine itself was protected by patent rights. Copyrights cover written works. Common mistake.

I only read a few Catwoman issues of the Balent era; but I wasn’t a fan of the exaggerated anatomy. The redesign made more logical sense for a cat burglar, though I always liked the classic design and the 70s reinvention of it. Not a fan of that tv show-era redesign, though, or the next version. Also not a fan of Frank Miller turning her into a prostitute, which seems to be a theme with him, judging by Sin City.

Count me in with not wanting to relive the worst excesses of the 90s comics, especially visually, unless we are talking about things like Starman, Astro City, Grendel Tales, Leave it to Chance, Nocturnals, Hellboy, Monkeyman and O’Brien, etc…

About the Catwoman costume: Folks, bear in mind that when she FIRST appeared in costume*, she wore a full-length gown and a cape, and a cat-head mask (image at http://cedar-and-willow.blogspot.com/2012/09/more-on-batman-and-catwomen.html ). Talk about both unappealing AND impractical.

*In her very first appearance, she was just your basic everyday jewel thief. She simply wore regular clothes (I wouldn’t really say “street clothes” but there was no real costume to speak of).

@Bill: I think TPT’s comment was intended to refer to artists working for DC or Marvel. Adlard’s work on “The Walking Dead” hardly qualifies–any more than Stan Sakai’s ~200-issue run on “Usagi Yojimbo” (albeit broken over several series) or Dave Sim’s 300-issue run on “Cerebus.”

Bendis and Bagley wanted to have the longest uninterrupted run on a Marvel published book with Ultimate Spider-Man (beating Kirby and Lee on F.F.) but Marvel published Groo the Wanderer for 120 issues. So I think that gives it to Aragones and Evanier.

RE: Balent’s Catwoman,

It was fun, but it was marred by Balent’s inability to render a realistic female figure.

@ Sean- if he had come out with the game first, sure. But I agree it’d probably have to be a direct image rip-off to succeed. He’d have a hard time owning the rights to “all complex machine ideas.” He’d have to sue Dr. Suess too.

Add me to the votes for the Balent costume. It took what post-Miller Catwoman had morphed into, and the movie influence, and kept the more practical motif while still harkening back to the original, without the dress problems. The latter version was just Emma Peel with goggles. It was drawn really well, but it wasn’t an inspiring creation. Heck, Dark Knight Rises draws as much from the tv series as that.

I,uh, actually like Catwoman’s current costume.

Willie Everstop

June 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm

I prefer the fun impractical purple leotard to the gritty broken zipper and goofy goggles.

I’m not sure which Catwoman costume is her most current one, but I think every Catwoman costume I’ve seen has at least one element to it I really don’t like. I actually like the headgear on Balent’s (I prefer long hair to short on Catwoman, and mask to goggles) and I don’t mind the purple, but the thigh-high boots and operal-length gloves just look … awkward. Like they’d be such a pain to put on and take off that the only reason she’d keep them for more than one or two outings would be if someone made fun of them when she first put them on and she felt like she had to keep them to avoid admitting that person was right. I’m kind of surprised to see the Balent covers don’t have her in high heels – for some reason I thought Balent drew her in heels.

I think the look I like the least is when she has the headgear that covers her hair entirely and leaves her face uncovered and connects under the chin, but that’s drawn as unconnected to her bodysuit, with her neck uncovered. In other words, the kind that looks like she’s wearing a leather baby bonnet. That’s just creepy.

If it were up to me, I’d go with the Julie Newmar/Anne Hathaway style mask with her hair uncovered, or the style where it loos like her headwear is connected to her bodysuit (even if it isn’t and just looks that way because her bodysuit is zipped up all the way and covers her neck). But that’s just me.

The original Catwoman costumes were when she was more a planner/crime boss than a burglar per se, so they weren’t as impractical as on the Selina of the past couple of decades.
I never liked the Balent era Catwoman run. Less the art than the stories–good writers, but they never developed a good enough supporting cast or adversaries for her. Brubaker did both.

I liked the first 12 issues of the “Balent run”, when Jo Duffy was writing it. Once she…left? got kicked off? It became Dixon’s cat pun book.

Giant-Size X-Men #1 came out 3 months after GS FF#4. Making X-Men one of those things that had Len Wein too busy to write the Fantastic Four!

Being that he only did 2 issues of X-Men or so, isn’t it more accurate to say that whatever kept him too busy to do FF also kept him too busy to do X-Men also? I wonder what it was?

Balent was just basically drawing Catwoman as if she were naked, right? I swear I read that somewhere. Plus, just look at her.

I adore Darwyn Cooke/Brubaker era Catwoman, but the little I’ve read of the earlier series was enjoyable.

I guess we are at a time when people are as nistalgic for 90s comics as they were for 80’s comics. Balent’s Catwoman might not look that great, but neither does Claremont’s X-men.

Being that he only did 2 issues of X-Men or so, isn’t it more accurate to say that whatever kept him too busy to do FF also kept him too busy to do X-Men also? I wonder what it was?

He took over Amazing Spider-Man in 1975, so I bet that that was what made him drop FF. He also started writing Thor in 1975, so maybe that’s why he dropped X-Men (as obviously Thor would have been the higher profile gig at the time).

Ethan Shuster

June 23, 2014 at 7:45 am

@Lorrie — Honestly, about 80% of female character costumes, especially then, would basically be banned if they were painted flesh-toned.

Speaking of skimpy costumes, I’ve been rereading the original Justice League International series and surprised that I didn’t remember just how much skin Fire, and to a lesser extent Ice, are showing in their costumes when Kevin Maguire is drawing them. People usually boil that run down to “funny” and overlook that. The 1990s gets a well-deserved reputation for half-naked superheroes, but it was really the ’80s when the art started getting sexier, even in the mainstream. Even though similar costumes were around decades before, the way the characters were drawn — more real, or detailed, or whatever — made it more obvious.

I think you may be onto something with the quality of art getting more photoreal causing things to…uh…stand out. Because it’s not like Ice Maiden and Green Fury were covered up before Maguire got a hold of them.

http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/6/67602/1979244-whos_who_009_11_12_rougher.jpg

Another reason Wein may have bowed out of full-time FF writing was that he became one of the revolving-door editors at Marvel in the mid-70s, a chaotic period by many accounts.

To me, the “real” Catwoman is the purple dress and green cape Catwoman, since that’s what I grew up with. Some of her earlier costumes (like the green version of the TV costume or the blue and red monstrosity that the Mego Catwoman wore) were just plain awful. And the immediately post-Crisis plain grey costume was incredibly bland.

For me, the Balent era Catwoman came the closest to being a compromise between the colorfulness of the Catwoman that I knew and loved and the generic boring costumes that people in Gotham typically wear. So, this was the only post-Crisis Catwoman costume that I ever appreciated and I followed the Balent Catwoman series in its entirety despite not being a huge fan of the Batman sub-category of comics.

The redesign lost me immediately. It harks back to the generic “everybody wears black and nothing else (maybe grey is okay)” that afflicts so many Gotham characters. And since the writer redesigned Catwoman’s personality again as well, that made for a good jumping-off point and I haven’t looked back since.

“Darwyn Cooke’s horrible re-design of Catwoman’s costume.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Slinky, functional, retro.

If people prefer Balent’s art to Cooke’s that one thing. I have never been a particular fan of Cooke’s art, but Brubaker’s Catwoman is written much better than anything during the Balent run.

Joe

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