Think the Batman-Robin relationship was a little odd? GET A LOAD OF THIS. – Black Cat #28
Everyone having a passing familiarity with comics has at some point stopped and contemplated the strange relationship between Batman and Robin. A reclusive, wealthy bachelor takes a child not related to him into his home, imperils that child’s life at every nocturnal opportunity by involving him in his costumed crimefighting, with the kid flitting around half nude in a garish costume that offers NONE of the camouflage offered by the adult’s dark togs, and we’re supposed to be okay with all that. The closer you look at it, the more off-putting it becomes. And that’s not including the unintentional sexual subtext that makes the Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson relationship NAMBLA’s catamite fantasy-land, which was enough to help send Fredric Wertham into his McCarthyite strafing of an entire industry. Are you or have you ever been a comic book artist?
Kids today with their young adult Robins that have covered legs. They just don’t know how good they have it.
And you know what? When it came to sidekick oddness, Batman had nothin’ on the Black Cat.
In case the above cover (art by Lee Elias, who handles the interiors as well) didn’t make it clear enough, we’re not dealing with Marvel’s white-tressed Black Cat here, but the Golden Age “Darling of Comics” original. And as alluring as Felicia Hardy’s MILFish ways were, the old-timey Cat could hold her own in the sexual comic character Olympics. If you’re unfamiliar, this Black Cat was Linda Turner, a Hollywood actress by day (way to keep a low profile), who fought for truth and justice in boots, gloves and a bathing suit whenever called upon. EXCELSIOR. The character had her start at Harvey Comics in the early 1940s, and for a long while went through her adventures solo, sometimes aided by her reporter boyfriend, Rick Horner, and her father, retired actor Tim Turner.
But that solo career came to an end with this issue. Yes, the Black Cat got herself a sidekick. One that wasn’t all that original, but one that added a new sexual twist to the old Boy Wonder dynamic.
The action (which is split over multiple stories, all chronicling the introduction and incorporation of our sidekick) starts when Rick gets a tip that there’s a fire at a circus (the “heard this before” wheels in your head should be turning already) which was started by a villain called the Fire Bug, and Linda tags along. When they arrive, they learn that a young member of one of the acrobatic acts is trapped in the big top. (Wheels spinning.) This is just the kind of situation where Linda earns her pay, and she surreptitiously changes into her Black Cat attire (YES!!!) and OH GOD SHE’S GOING TO SHOOT HERSELF OUT OF A CANNON MAYBE SHE SHOULD THINK THIS THROUGH OOPS OH WELL THERE SHE GOES:
Yes she is, lad. Yes she is.
Poor judgment be damned, the Cat and the young man, Kit Weston, make it out of the inferno. But the news isn’t all good, as his parents, the rest of the Flying Westons (wheels REALLY spinning now) died. Kit is understandably devastated, and Linda takes him back home to stay with her.
I realize that this book was published in 1951, and adoption standards and foster programs were perhaps different in those early postwar years, but one wonders if there might not have been a little more red tape involved in such an arrangement. Maybe a document to sign or something. So that you couldn’t simply walk away from an orphaning disaster with a shiny new potty-trained child. I mean, even Madonna has to go all the way to Africa to buy a kid.
Nevertheless, off to chez Turner they go. Kit still feels down (that big-ass forehead of his can hold a lot of furrows), but perks up when the Black Cat comes a-knockin’ — and really, who wouldn’t?:
They indeed go on that motorcycle ride, and the reader ponders whether Kit, riding bitch, felt a strange new stirring in his loins as he held tight and pressed himself into the Cat’s bare back.
Right out of the box the Cat — who doesn’t at first reveal her true identity — imperils the youngster, letting him tag along so that he can get revenge on the Fire Bug who killed his parents. They track him down, but he apparently falls to his death (though not before they get his costume and also learn that his true name is Orson Arson, yes ORSON ARSON.) This isn’t the catharsis for Kit that one would hope, as seen in the next panels, as Linda and her pipe-addled father discuss the situation and blithely dismiss the boy’s burgeoning anger issues:
I’m not sure, but “beating up empty clothes” might be a serial killer precursor. “Oh, look, now he’s torturing small animals. For cute!”
All this carries over into the second story, in which Kit makes a sweaty, voyeuristic discovery while poking around the house:
Love the Family Circus view. Makes you think of the Erin Andrews peephole tape.
Kit soon proves his mettle once again, pummeling a would-be burglar Home Alone-style, and this finally convinces Linda that he can be of help in her other line of work. Her idiot father puffs approvingly as Linda reveals her secret and bestows a new and obvious moniker — and some tights — on Kit:
WHY DID THEY FLOP THE BIG COSTUME PAYOFF PANEL SIDEWAYS? I’m sorry that you have to tilt your head to get a look at “The Black Kitten.” It’s not my fault. Really.
Anyway, the comic then slides toward its conclusion with Kit helping the Cat battle assorted foes, include the giant red-bearded pirate seen on the cover. Consider that the champagne-bottle-to-the-prow of his sidekick career. Hey, at least he has pants.
There. Rob- I mean, the Black Kitten.
Okay. Some thoughts:
- THEY COMPLETELY RIPPED OFF DICK GRAYSON’S ORIGIN. Right down to The Flying Graysons. I mean, criminy, could they have made the plagiarism any more blatant? It’s so egregious, I’m afraid DC is going to sue me for just talking about it.
- Cats are widely seen as female creatures — just like dogs are seen as masculine — so it’s REALLY weird to have a young boy called “Kitten.” Maybe I’m committing some horrible post-millennial sin by assigning gender roles to boys, girls and beasts, but I can’t help it. I’d recoil at being called “Kitten,” that’s all I know. Then again, my parents didn’t burn to death in a circus tent. And I might let this broad call me any damn thing she wants.
- There are multiple layers to the sex angle at play here. You have the “hot for teacher” identification going, one that can appeal to Y chromosomes both young and old. The Black Cat’s steamy outfit is going to draw boys who don’t quite understand why it’s so hot and adults who understand all too well, and wish they could be in this Kitten’s shoes. While there’s nothing overtly sexual here, as there wasn’t in the old Batman/Robin relationship, there’s still plenty to be unearthed, especially by jaded 21st century eyes, and the cross-gender tag-teaming stands out and makes you take notice. And let’s be clear: Unwanted sexual advances by an older woman to a young boy are never okay, as Spider-Man taught us all too well. Wanted ones are wrong, too. But to come oh so close is to approach the fulfillment of every adolescent fantasy under the sun. We can all live vicariously through young Kit — he and his tights are right on the border of the promised land.
- For a 1940s-1950s character, the Black Cat was one smokin’ hot mama jama. Godspeed, Kit. Someday you’ll appreciate what you had.
The Black Kitten was a part of the Black Cat’s adventures from here on out, though “here on out” only lasted for one more issue. The title was then changed to Black Cat Mystery Comics and, like her Golden Age repurposed name counterpart, Daredevil, she was booted out of her own book. A few reprints of her hot-outfitted adventures followed in subsequent decades, including some in recent memory, but Linda Turner and her uniquely vivacious brand of crimefighting have languished. I’m not certain whether that’s for good or ill. All I know is that Kit/Kitten was odd, if less creepy than the sidekick of which he was a carbon copy.