Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #144: Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat!, Vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams, and Natasha Allegri

Continuity is a bitch.

For example, how old is Patsy Walker? She first appeared as a teenager in 1944's Miss America Magazine #2, which would make her an octogenarian in 2018. If we use her in-universe high school graduation date -- 1964, after twenty years of high school -- she'd still be in her early seventies.

Even the superhero version of Patsy should be in at least middle age, given that she was on the Defenders in the mid-'70s. Admittedly, she's been dead at least once, which might have provided some rejuvenation -- but, still, there's no reason she should be running around like a crazy Millennial when she's clearly Greatest Generation.

But Marvel Comics has a powerful interest in keeping Patsy Walker as a property they can exploit, and they know well that the Wednesday Crowd doesn't buy comics about old ladies. [1] And there are creators with inexplicable fondness for any random character you could name, which of course includes ol' Patsy.

(And Marvel did realize, not all that long ago, that women are actually half of the human race, and so making more comics by and aimed at women might not be as stupid an idea as they'd insisted for the past four decades. We all know about the backlash to that, because superhero comics fans get really shirty when they get an inkling the world does not revolve around them.)

So, yes, we got a rebirth of Patsy Walker, befuddled Millennial, who seems to have been born no earlier than the first Nirvana album (as opposed to Benny Goodman) and who somehow is still clueless about life despite being a superhero for forty-five real-world years. Hey, it's a living, right?

The first collection of the recent Patsy comics is Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat!, Vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline. It's written by Kate Leth, with the first five issues here drawn by Brittney L. Williams and the last drawn in a radically different style by Natasha Allegri.

It apparently launched out of a She-Hulk series that had Patsy as a supporting character, since she's just been laid off as an investigator as this series starts. (Which is fine, since my understanding is that law firms tend to contract for investigative services as they need them, not keep people on staff as full-time snoops.) And, I guess because "comics for women" these days means "young and free-spirited," Patsy's life is in turmoil -- she was living in a broom closet and has essentially no possessions.

But the young and free-spirited young female protagonist is also indomitable, and so Patsy is equal to all of her obstacles -- quickly finding a new place to live with a new roommate, reconnecting with old friends, and hatching a plan to start a superpowered odd-jobs service. (I frankly find it hard to believe that business services companies and tech start-ups haven't already leveraged superpowered individuals into multiple billion-dollar businesses, but nothing actually happens in the Marvel Universe unless the star of a comic makes it happen.)

Meanwhile, the comics that Patsy's now-deceased mother wrote about a fictionalized version of Patsy and her friends -- which are now, what? the equivalent of The Babysitter's Club in this timeline? -- are being republished, because Patsy's old frenemy Hedy owns the rights. This deeply annoys Patsy, not least because she isn't getting a cent from them.

There's also some actual super-heroing, mostly against a supervillainess who even the plot admits is a cut-rate Enchantress and whose plot is basically to gather a bunch of lousy brand-new powered villains, have them break stuff, and then profit through the miracle of Underpants Gnomes. It doesn't work, of course -- funny, isn't it, how naughty dentists always make that one fatal mistake?

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat  is fun and zippy and youthful and energetic, even if I personally think Ms. Walker should be a lot less youthful than she's shown here. The art is crisp and very colorful -- Allegri has a different, almost chibi-esque style for the last issue here, but the coloring ties it all together and it's art with a similar feel and bounce to it.

Very little of this had to be about Patsy Walker -- any minor superhero with a complicated past would do, and they pretty much all have complicated pasts by this point. But it's a fun story, and doesn't take any of the superhero furniture seriously, and actually tries to find a socially useful purpose for people who can do weird things. That's all good stuff. So, of course, this series only ran seventeen issues.

[1] Although a superhero midlife crisis comic -- where the main character isn't drawn to look late-twenties like everyone else all the time -- could be interesting. We get the "why do I spend my time punching guys with panty hose over their heads" Superhero-No-More! plotline regularly, but it's never tied to the fact that Random Hero X has been doing this for decades like a treadmill.

Patsy Walker could be a good choice for a Lady of a Certain Age comic, with her long history of never being that major and actually being divorced from the Son of Satan -- that catty dialogue writes itself. It's a good question: is she really supposed to still be in her twenties after everything that's happened to her in seventy-four years of comics?

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