Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat 1
Reviewed by Will Morgan 23-Dec-15
“Batgirling” at its finest, Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat gives new vigour to one of Marvel’s longest-established heroines.
PATSY WALKER, LOLCAT!
Patsy Walker, of course, is no ingénue in the Marvel U. Created by Stan Lee and Ruth Atkinson for the second issue of Miss America in 1944, Patsy and her Pals – a girl-centric retake on MLJ’s iconic Archie teen comedy – rapidly booted the titular super-heroine out of her own comic, and commenced a career lasting until 1967, starring in no fewer than nine separate titles. It was Patsy, together with Millie the Model and Kid Colt, who kept the company that would become Marvel going through the lean years of the 1950s. She gained a second lease of life when Steve Englehart revived her as a supporting character in the Beast’s short-lived solo series in Amazing Adventures in 1972, and she tagged along when the Beast joined the Avengers, leading to her eventual status as a second-hand superheroine, as she acquired the former costume of Greer Grant, a.k.a. the Cat.
She’s had a couple of mini-series, written by Englehart and later by Kathryn Immonen, but mostly she’s just hung about on the fringes, most recently in the woefully short-lived Marvel Now! She-Hulk series as an investigator for Shulkie’s legal practice.
This series more or less takes it from there, as Patsy finds herself being “downsized” (though her ex-boss looks like looming large in the series anyway), and, jobless and homeless, she makes a new start by befriending, rather than clobbering, a telekinetic miscreant (though he’s mostly misunderstood) and becoming his new roomie.
Leth and Williams are clearly aiming this book squarely at the people who squeed about the revamped Batgirl, which itself inspired Marvel’s own Squirrel Girl; light-hearted, but not foolish or trivial, adventures with kickass heroines who network with their friends, have lives outside the mask, and are in the biz, not because of tragedy and trauma, but because they love the idea of doing good. Upbeat and optimistic, it’s been cynically labelled the trend of “Batgirling”, but it’s all too refreshing for those of us who are sick unto death of RAPE and MAIMING and ’ORRIBLE MURDER being the keynotes of every bloody series.
Leth’s script is charming, hitting all the right notes; none of Patsy’s past “didn’t happen”, and one face from that past returns this issue in the form of Tom – formerly Tubs – Hale, once third-string suitor of Patsy’s pal Nancy Brown, now proprietor of “Burly Books” in Manhattan, where Patsy’s glimpsed browsing through a tome entitled Butts Vol IX (but will she be able to appreciate it if she hasn’t read Butts Vols. I -VIII?). The threat of Patsy’s age old frenemy, Hedy Wolfe, looms large, and of course our heroine does have not one, but two, catastrophic ex-husbands lurking around to create shenanigans.
Skilfully creating an all-ages friendly titles that doesn’t patronise or bore, Leth hits the mark, skilfully introducing characters and making us care for them in a surprisingly short space of time, while including enough nostalgic touches to tickle the veteran reader yet not deter the neophyte. And it’s funny, without demeaning or belittling the characters.
Williams’ art is mostly delightful, open, bright and inviting, but she has absorbed the deplorable “chibi” habit of, when our heroine is in an emotional quandary, having her shrink and become squishy for no plot-driven reason. It’s ugly, distracting, and throws the reader right out of the page. Seriously, don’t.
Many would regard this series as itself a cynical exploitation of a trend. Perhaps it is. But I care less about the motivation than about the quality of the results, and on this showing, Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat is a delight, and one I hope to go on enjoying for a long time.Tags: Brittney L. Williams, Hellcat, Kate Leth, Marvel, Patsy Walker