Cat-Man’s Cradle


DC may have cornered the market on comic-book reboots these days, but the practice is just about as old as the medium itself. Given the fly-by-night nature of many Golden Age publishers and the rapid – but still plentiful –  turnover of readership, modern notions of continuity regarding the super-hero population were less than glimmers in the eyes of the characters’ fans and corporate caretakers.

Take the Golden Age Cat-Man. (Or Catman, depending upon the story. Even the guy’s name is open to interpretation.)

The super-hero is usually listed as a property of the long-defunct Holyoke Publishing Company. The truth, however, is much more complicated. The Holyoke comic-book line grew out of the printing division of a successful Massachusetts newspaper chain. Its owner, Sherman Bowles, entered the funny-book business after he inherited Cat-Man Comics and Captain Aero Comics from Frank Z. Temerson, who owned the struggling Helnit Publishing Co.

(The exact relationship between Holyoke and Helnit is unclear, but some assume Temerson was a client of Bowles’ printing business.)

Although Cat-Man was under the auspices of a new publisher, Bowles’ kept Temerson’s staff – including, most notably, art director Charles A. Quinlan – on board, which ensured that readers couldn’t really distinguish a Temerson comic from a Holyoke effort unless they closely studied the always confusing publishing indicia included with each issue.

(Even then, the information wasn’t always accurate. No wonder comic-book historians are so confused …)

Temerson regained control of Cat-Man after a little more than a year and hired L.B. Cole – who may be better remembered today as one of the leading cover art stylists of the Golden Age – as his art director. The company was briefly renamed Et-Es-Go Magazines before settling on Continental Magazines Inc.

(*Phew*)

Under Cole’s guidance, Catman (no more hyphen) developed a rogue’s gallery that included the likes of Dr. Macabre (who was briefly able to kill a man with a single touch, a la Steve Gerber’s Deathstalker) and the seemingly benign Cardiff Sisters (spinsters who trained killer apes.)

Kitten also matured from a spunky pre-teen to a more, *ahem*, shapely teenager for reasons that I’m sure had nothing to do with the tastes of young male readers at that time.

Most significantly, Cole and Co. changed the title characters’ origins.

Initially, Cat-Man was somewhat of a cross between Batman and Tarzan. He was a young boy who was raised by a tigress after his parents were murdered in the jungle. As he grew, the lad developed the speed, strength and agility of a jungle cat and decided to use these abilities to fight crime in the United States.

From Crash Comics #4 (Helnit, 1940)

Kitten, introduced in Cat-Man Comics #5 (Helnit, December 1941) was originally an orphaned acrobat who was forced to commit crimes by her corrupt uncle. Cat-Man ran afoul of the two and informally adopted the young girl after bringing the crook to justice.

Both stories were tossed out in Catman Comics #27 (Continental Magazines, April 1945). The new origin, which features guest-appearances from long-running Temerson/Holyoke back-up characters The Deacon (a crime-fighting deacon, natch) and his ward Mickey, aims for somewhat of a more adult, film noir edge with strong elements of the supernatural.

Whether or not this approach succeeds – or is even preferable – to the original origin stories is up to readers to decide. I find it an interesting re-introduction of a character that was probably trying to gain some traction in the rapidly evolving marketplace of post-WWII comic books.

Here is the rebooted origin of Catman and Kitten, entitled “The Story Of Rosetta.” The art is by the great Bob Fujitani.

Continental went out of business for good in 1946 and this particular iteration of Catman fell into obscurity. The name, of course, was revived by DC a few years later and the Golden Age Catman eventually returned to comics thorough both AC and Dynamite, making the character’s publication history even more convoluted!

Talk about nine lives …

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