For today’s Obscure Marvel Woman (OMW) of the Original Marvel Universe (OMU), we have the tragic tale of the Super-Villainess Who Never Was. The unfortunate pawn of a scheming megalomaniac, her untimely demise paved the way for not one, but two future crimefighters. Although she never actually had a code-name, I’ve given her the most fitting one for my own convenience.
Shirlee Bryant was born in Chicago, Illinois around 1940, and from a young age, she was devoted to the cause of physical fitness. As a child, she excelled at gymnastics, and in her teen years she began to explore the martial arts as well, attaining a black belt in judo. She also served as captain of her high school cheerleading squad, where her good looks and smart-ass sense of humor made her very popular. The adults in Shirlee’s life encouraged her in these endeavors, for they realized she was hardly gifted academically. In fact, Shirlee was not terribly bright, and had a somewhat shallow and vacuous personality.
After high school, Shirlee found employment teaching yoga, judo, and other fitness classes at the local YWCA. She was determined to marry into wealth, so even though she had many suitors, she refused to take any romantic relationship very seriously. After a few years, Shirlee caught the eye of the eccentric millionaire and avid sportsman Mal Donalbain, who attended a martial arts exhibition in which she participated. Immediately, Shirlee was offered a job at Donalbain’s upscale fitness club, and she was thrilled when he subsequently gave her a great deal of personal attention. She decided that Donalbain, a former executive of the Brand Corporation, would be a good catch. Within a few months, Shirlee and Donalbain became quite intimate, although she discovered that he had an extreme aversion to physical contact and would not allow her to touch him. Still, their relationship developed a sexual component as he would watch her pleasure herself, often verbally directing her movements. Shirlee accepted this arrangement, deciding that Donalbain’s vast wealth more than made up for his eccentricities.
In the summer of 1964, Mal Donalbain learned of a research project being conducted at the University of Chicago by Dr. Joanne Tumolo, a noted biochemist, that sought a means to scientifically enhance women to their full mental and physical potential. Donalbain, who also suffered from delusions of grandeur, noticed similarities in Tumolo’s work to the legendary Project Super-Soldier of World War II, and, inspired by the recent advent of costumed heroes and villains, believed he could use Tumolo’s research to create an army of superwomen with which he could conquer America. As such, he offered to finance Tumolo’s project, and since the scientist was in need of new funding, she accepted his patronage. Then, without revealing his true motives, Donalbain convinced Shirlee to serve as Tumolo’s test subject, and, excited by the prospect of reaching the ultimate in physical fitness, she agreed.
Thus, at the beginning of the academic year that autumn, Donalbain took Shirlee to meet Dr. Tumolo at her laboratory. However, Dr. Tumolo initially rejected Shirlee as a suitable candidate, based on her flighty personality and limited intellect. However, Donalbain demanded to have his way and threatened to withdraw his funding, so the scientist relented. Shirlee was then introduced to Dr. Tumolo’s lab assistant, Greer Nelson, who walked her through the enhancement process and the equipment they would use.
For the next six months, Shirlee submitted to the project’s various conditioning treatments, chemical and radiological baths, and training regimens, although she often found it tedious and therefore had difficulty concentrating. She soon began to feel annoyed that Dr. Tumolo always seemed less than impressed with her progress. She also suspected that Greer Nelson looked down on her. However, Shirlee felt she had one up on them, as she began using her newly-enhanced memory to enable Mal Donalbain to build an exact duplicate of the project in his own private lab. Meanwhile, Donalbain had contracted the Brand Corporation to build a special costume to his specifications, as well as to develop a will-nullifying collar that would keep his army of superwomen subservient to his wishes. He decided the costume should have a sexy feline theme, and planned to dub Shirlee’s new identity “The Catspaw” as a private joke. As such, he had the engineers at Brand add a “cat’s paw” emblem to the uniform’s chest. When the suit was ready, Donalbain ordered several dozen.
Finally, in April 1965, Dr. Tumolo’s project was completed, and Shirlee reveled in her newfound strength, agility, coordination, memory, and reflexes, all raised to nearly-superhuman levels. Then, meeting with Donalbain and his bodyguards one rainy evening, she was instructed to don the “superhero” costume that her lover provided for her. The shimmering gold catsuit showed off her sleek, muscular form, and the black gloves and boots had claws incorporated into them, as well as a grappling-hook-and-line apparatus. She agreed to wear the outfit’s cat-themed headgear, which artificially enhanced her hearing and night-vision, although she began to feel silly. When she was fully dressed, Donalbain then instructed her to put on a studded collar, which Shirlee assumed was to take the kinky “kitty cat” theme to its logical conclusion. However, she quickly learned the collar actually served a far more sinister purpose, for it rendered her unable to resist Donalbain’s commands, effectively making her his slave.
Laughing, Donalbain declared Shirlee to now be the perfect woman: sexy, subservient, totally obedient, and with the strength and agility to perform any feat he desired. As the first test of her abilities, Donalbain ordered Shirlee to fight his bodyguards. She had no choice but to obey, and using her martial arts skills and enhanced physical abilities, she easily defeated the burly men. Immediately, Donalbain ordered her to use her claws to climb six stories above the floor and then use her grappling hook to swing across the cavernous room. She made the ascent and let fly with her hook-and-line, but, due to the mind-numbing effects of the control collar, Shirlee misjudged her leap and fell to her death.
First and Final Appearance: The Cat #1