It’s hard to admit when our favorite characters become stagnant. We become so familiar with our favorites that when writers start to deviate from the familiar, the audience is always divided in some way or another by what is done. However, sooner or later comes a time when a character needs an overhaul and we’ve seen plenty over the years. If you ask me, not all reworks are created equally. Some seem like repackaging the same character with a younger, edgier feeling. While others are extremely ambitious because writers are smashing the reset button on the character altogether. In either case, I think we can all agree that there is a right way and wrong way to destroy the old and rebuild atop of it. In this case study, we will take a close look at the typically unknown Thomas Blake, also known as Catman…yes I said Catman.
We are introduced to Thomas Blake in the early, super campy days of Batman in Detective Comics #311. Bruce Wayne is in some unknown billionaire cigar lounge schmoozing with the regulars when we meet Thomas Blake, the lion hunter. He briefly mentions that his business is not doing so well because he has simply gotten so good at tracking and capturing lions that he is now bored. One of the patrons makes a joke about Bruce and Tom becoming crime fighters since they seem to have nothing to do. The comic moves on to show us Thomas contemplating becoming a villain with the idea that Batman would be the ultimate hunt. In this origin story we are briefly shown the incompetent, chauvinistic misogynist that Catman grows to be. Flippantly making jokes that because he is CatMAN he surely will do better than CatWOMAN, or making passes at Batwoman after subduing her.
Throughout the years after his introduction, Thomas Blake’s origin story never really changed after COIE. He remained quite laughable until around 1992. As you may have guessed, DC attempted what the entirety of the 90’s did – repackaged a now definite nobody with enough edge to accidentally cut off your own hand.
In his brief run with the Misfits in Batman: Shadow Of The Bat issues 7-9, it was made seemingly just to show off the incompetence of the groups members, further solidifying the absolute joke that Thomas had always been written. Pulled out of purgatory just to be catapulted right back into it on several occasions.
The last time we see him this way, we are shown a Catman that is washed up, overweight, about to abuse his girlfriend in public. During Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest , Oliver Queen and Roy Harper stumble upon Blake in the act, humiliating him further by revealing he still wears his costume under his normal clothes and outright outclassing him in what can barely be considered combat.
Then, inspiration strikes when Gail Simone gets her hands on the character, smashing the reset button on Blake. When last thought to be dead we see Blake once more in Villains United, a six issue tangent leading into Infinite Crisis, turning down an offer to join the Villains Society made by Dr. Psycho and Talia Al Ghul. In shape, humbled, and now with commanding presence, we see something different from the typical arrogance Blake displays…something even Talia notices in their brief encounter. We learn that after some rivals feel he’s not even worth killing, Thomas attempts suicide. Failing to even take his own life, he then decides to live a nomad’s life among the lions he once hunted. Thomas now is full of regret and has a far better understanding of how terrible of a person he once was, attributing his time in the Savannah to a journey into true adulthood, with no desire to bother with anything but his new family of lions he’s been traveling with. The Society had other plans and murders his entire pride, devastating a newly made Thomas Blake into to gearing up against them in his first go as an anti-hero. Driven by revenge and bound by his new sense of honor, Blake joins the Secret Six where we see him flourish as a newly made character. Developing further into the gritty and admirable character we now feel he needed to be the entire time.
This rework is one of the best turnarounds we’ve seen in comics in my opinion. Catman went from being a weakly thought out Batman copycat (he he) to a reverent enigma that I personally couldn’t help but root for in this comic. The short time that Simone took to reestablish his personality was more than enough for us to feel almost sorry for what started out as a very toxic human being. What makes this one so right is the writing was able to turn a hated, laughable character into a nomadic and revered monolith of redemption. If you’re into more than halfway decent reboots/continuations, Catman is definitely a good character to dive into.
Comics to look into:
Detective Comics #311,#509
Batman: Shadow Of The Bat issues 7-9
Green Arrow Vol 3 #20 Archer’s Quest