My next subject in this series differs from my previous ones in that she is actually a sidekick and not the feature character. Her name was the Kitten and she was the “girl wonder” to Cat-Man. This series brings with it tons of ancillary situations, that often times I find more fascinating than the comic strip itself.
In 1940 Holyoke Publishing introduced a new character that they called Cat-Man. David Merrywether was the child of American circus performers and was orphaned when bandits attacked their caravan in the jungles of Burma. Alone in the tropical forest, he is adopted by a tigress and becomes a feral child learning the ways of the great cats. (Shades of Tarzan!) This jungle life leads him to develop incredible strength, agility and the keen night vision of his four legged brethren. Eventually he leaves this adopted homeland and returns to America. Perhaps remembering that criminals caused the destruction of his human parents, David puts on a cape, mask and cowl to do battle against those who prey on the innocent.
Now it seems to me Cat-Man’s very name would be enough to throw up flags to the DC Comics attorneys for possible infringement against their Batman character. But that situation is further exacerbated by Merrywether’s costume, which is clearly patterned on the dark knight’s. True the coloring is far different but jeez, both hoods include the little ears! Despite these similarities, I am unaware of any such legal actions occurring and Cat-Man enjoyed a reasonably long run in the Golden Age.
In CAT-MAN COMICS #5 he meets 11-year-old Katie Conn, who like himself is the child of circus folk. She lost her parents in a fire and was living with an uncle that was forcing the young girl to use her acrobatic training to commit robbery. As Cat-Man he intervenes and her uncle is sent to prison. This leaves her without a guardian and David steps in to assume that role. He confides to her his dual identity and brings her in as his crime-fighting partner. Here is that climactic page.
Okay, lets step back a moment and wallow in the ‘W-T-F’ factors. Yeah I know it’s just comics and all but in order to successfully get people to suspend their disbelief in larger things like super powers, you do need to ground them in reality a little bit. So lets examine what’s wrong with this picture. Sure once again Batman provides a precursor with Bruce Wayne’s guardianship of Dick Grayson. That strip gets a pass on this for a couple reasons. Wayne is a notable figure in the community and clearly has the financial means to successfully care for Grayson as a single parent. These same funds give Wayne the services of high-powered attorneys that most surely could orchestrate such an unconventional arrangement. Merrywether lacks neither stature nor means to accomplish this and further he is an active duty member of the US military. How would any judge reasonably grant him custody of Katie? Now maybe it’s just a modern affectation on my part but does anyone else out there feel that there is something fundamentally creepy about the living arrangements between ‘Kitten’ and ‘Uncle David’?
Here is a typical early adventure as drawn by Charles Quinlan. I remarked upon him previously on the Miss Victory posting for MHA.
Another controversial issue raised by the Cat-Man strip is child endangerment. Sure it’s one that’s skirted by virtually all strips that feature adolescent sidekicks. But Cat-Man seems to place Kitten in some pretty extreme circumstances. Witness this more lurid episode as drawn by Don Rico. If you found the character of Hit Girl in film Kick-Ass to be shocking, then let me know your feelings about the last page of this tale.
The final example is from late in the run. This one’s drawn but the great Bob Fujitani. Under his draftsmanship Kitten seems a bit more mature and grim.