Catwoman has already had way more than nine lives. From her earliest comic book appearances to the cautionary tale that was Halle Berry’s 2004 film, Batman’s slinky foil has gone through a number of changes, while always retaining her signature bodysuit and con-artist wiles. Anne Hathaway takes on Selina Kyle, the jewel thief who dons the cat suit, in Christopher Nolan’s latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises (opening July 20). She’s unmistakable in the role, even though her Catwoman is never named as such. She’s also likely to stir sympathy, despite her lawless ways: she steals from the rich and she looks good doing it.
In this week’s issue of TIME (available to subscribers here), Douglas Wolk takes us through the history of Catwoman (she dates all the way back to the ’40s), shows how each of her incarnations represents the desires of her age—and how the feline fiend wouldn’t have made it into Dark Knight Rises if it weren’t for her alter-ego.
As Nolan told Wolk: “It wasn’t until I started thinking about her Selina Kyle that I started to see the way that the character could work in our universe.”