[Note for the Second Draft: Just over a year ago, I wrote and posted the First Draft of this. Now I'm offering the Second, with some of the old stuff expanded and revised, as well as some new entries at the bottom of the Timeline to try to outline some recent changes in Selina's life. Also, many of the stories on this Timeline have been reprinted in one TPB or another over the years, and I've added comments on which TPBs those would be in particular cases, in order to make it easier for you to track down copies if you're really interested.]
On one forum or another, I often see people asking questions such as the following:
"Have Batman and Catwoman ever dated before the last couple of years?"
"When did she first learn his secret identity?"
"Has Bruce ever proposed marriage to her?"
"Didn't I hear somewhere that they used to have a kid?"
"Didn't she used to be a prostitute?"
And so on, and so forth.
Those questions are much easier to ask than to answer. Several of them look as if they should only require a very simple, straightforward answer such as "Yes" or "No" or "it all began in such-and-such an issue." But appearances are deceiving: With all the retcons DC has done over the years, it is never that simple!
Any fair answer to those questions would have to start out with all sorts of nitpicking counterquestions and qualifiers, along the following lines.
"That depends. Are you asking about Pre-Crisis or Post-Crisis? If Pre-Crisis, is it the Earth-2 Batman/Catwoman romance you want to know about, or the Earth-1 version? If you're asking about the Post-Crisis continuity, then do you want to know about the Immediately Post-Crisis continuity on such subjects as a possible history of prostitution and whether or not Bruce and Selina's Pre-Crisis romantic moments were still in canon, or would you rather skip ahead to hearing about the later Post-Post-Crisis continuity on those same subjects, or the Post-Crisis-But-Probably-Out-Of-Continuity version that contradicted all previous material and probably only happened in Jeph Loeb's own little world? And you do understand that anything and everything that you vividly remember seeing in the movie with Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer means absolutely nothing as regards the comic book continuity . . . er, don't you?"
So: in keeping with my habit of trying to organize a complicated mess into a Timeline that shows crucial stories arranged by publication dates, I offer this Timeline of key moments in the various Batman/Catwoman Romances since they first met 66 years ago! I have no intention of trying to list every single issue that showed them flirting, fighting, hugging, kissing, or whatever . . . but I do want to hit enough of the highlights to show you how their various romances have progressed, sometimes being retconned to make room for the next one! (And I'm going easy on you! I won't even mention any of the Elseworlds stories that have fooled around with the idea of a Batman/Catwoman romance!)
THE TIMELINE OF THE VARIOUS BATMAN/CATWOMAN ROMANCES
1940. Batman #1. Written by Bill Finger. (Reprinted in the TPB "The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, Volume 2.")
First appearance of a female thief known as "The Cat," although she does not actually wear a cat-costume. She is, however, an expert in disguising herself, and is also quite flirtatious with Batman. She is detected and apprehended - but at the very end of the story, she gets away from the custody of the Dynamic Duo. Robin (Dick Grayson) indignantly accuses Batman of having deliberately given her the opportunity. Batman's quasi-denial is less than convincing. Bear in mind that for roughly the next 15 years or more, at a guess, all references to Batman and Catwoman in comics published at the time will by definition refer to the Earth-2, or Golden Age (GA) versions of those characters.
1940. Batman #2. Written by Bill Finger.
She's back! Now she starts calling herself the Cat-Woman. (The hyphen later vanished, as did the hyphen in "The Bat-Man" that was present in the earliest days of his career.) Over the years she will wear many different costumes, some of which have very little, if anything, in the way of a feline motif.
1950. Batman #62. Written by Bill Finger.
Catwoman takes a nasty bump on the head and claims that it knocked some sense into her. Years earlier, she was a honest young airline stewardess, and then she took a previous head injury that apparently blanked out her previous memories of her law-abiding, ethical life and turned her into the laughing thief, The Cat (later Catwoman). Now the subsequent blow to the head has essentially hit a "reset" button and she remembers her days as a stewardess but nothing about any subsequent criminal career as The Cat, later Catwoman. When Batman explains her own recent biography to her, she feels just terrible about it.
1954. Detective Comics #203. Written by Edmond Hamilton.
Catwoman reverts back to her criminal self. [NOTE: Even before Crisis, this particular development had been implicitly retconned away into oblivion by things we later learned about how the romance between Earth-2's Bruce and Selina had progressed.]
Somewhere around this time, we have:
The Transition from Earth-2 to Earth-1 Continuity in the regular monthly titles
Sometime around the mid-to-late 1950s (I think), the Golden Age versions of Batman and Robin cease to appear in the regular titles being published each month. Instead, we are now seeing the Earth-1 versions (although we only learn this later, after the 1961 story "Flash of Two Worlds" in Flash #123, which introduced the distinction between Earth-1 and Earth-2 continuity when the JLA Flash of Earth-1 came face to face with the JSA Flash of Earth-2. This story was followed by lots of other stuff in the next several years that further developed the idea and sometimes made it a bit clearer which things had happened in one or the other of the Earths instead of on both. To complicate the issue, many of the stories that had happened to Batman and Robin on Earth-2 in the Golden Age also seem to have happened, almost exactly the same way, to their younger Earth-1 counterparts and were occasionally referred to in later comics.
For instance, when Steve Englehart was doing a brief run on "Detective Comics" (with Marshall Rogers illustrating) in the 1970s, in stories collected in the TPB "Batman: Strange Apparitions," he dusted off two villains who had only previously appeared in stories way back in the 1940s - a decade which was definitely "Golden Age, Earth-2" material by anyone's standards. But Englehart wanted to revive the names of Hugo Strange and Deadshot, so he did. Apparently, therefore, Earth-1 Batman had tangled with the Earth-1 counterparts of those Golden Age characters in stories which had been remarkably identical to the events experienced by their Earth-2 equivalents in the comics of the 1940s.
In the meantime, stories published about Batman and/or Catwoman from this era until around late 1986 presumably depict the adventures of the Earth-1, Silver Age (SA), Pre-Crisis versions of those characters except when we are specifically told it's the Earth-2 versions in a particular story. And until 1979, their relationship will be much as it had been in the 1940s - Batman the good guy trying to arrest her; Catwoman the bad girl trying to pull off various crimes, but also sometimes showing a flirtatious interest in Batman.
1977. DC Super-Stars #17. Written by Paul Levitz. (Scheduled to be reprinted soon in the TPB "Huntress: The Darknight Daughter," release date December 6, 2006, according to Amazon.com.)
First appearance of Helena Wayne, also known as the Huntress of Earth-2. Helena is the daughter of Bruce Wayne and his wife, Selina. As far as I know, this story was the one that first informed us that way back in the 1950s, the GA versions of Batman and Catwoman had finally admitted they were crazy about each other, and had gotten married. Unfortunately, this is also the story that establishes that the Earth-2 Selina died.
1979. Adventure Comics #462. Written by Paul Levitz.
Bruce Wayne, the Golden Age/Earth-2 "original version" of Batman, dies in the line of duty.
1979. Batman #308. Written by Len Wein.
Selina Kyle, as herself, no costume, meets Bruce Wayne and assures him she has reformed. I don't know how she avoided going to prison (or had she in fact served time already, behind the scenes or something?). In other stories over the next several years, she will sometimes put on the costume again, but usually for laudable purposes such as helping Batman apprehend vicious criminals - or even capturing a few on her own in stories without his help.
For a while after this, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle date occasionally. She knows that he knows she used to be Catwoman (it was a matter of public record), but he probably thinks she doesn't know that he is Batman.