July 3, 2008

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #1 (Marvel) isn’t bad. It’s got a punchy, stand-alone story by Kathryn Immonen about a C-list heroine as a stranger in a strange land, and it’s got attractive art by David LaFuente Garcia. Immonen takes the “less is more” approach to continuity, focusing on her protagonist’s abilities and personality rather than her convoluted backstory. In other words, she tells you everything you need to know, and barely a scrap more.

Patsy is a refreshingly angst-free heroine, and when Iron Man gives her a gig as the official super-heroine of Alaska, she accepts with a minimum of grumbling. Her mandate is vague, so she follows her (quasi-psychic) intuition to identify a potential trouble spot in the vast, forbiddingly beautiful, largely unpopulated landscape. Trouble is duly found, and that’s about that.

Immonen’s Hellcat seems almost like a Marvel Adventures version of the character. Her noteworthy traits are what they’ve always been when the character as been put to best use – spirited, likeable, a chatterbox, and game for anything. The chatter is cute, but not always coherent. The dialogue seems like it would flow better if it was performed than read off of a page, but there are cute bits.

I also wonder if Immonen might have stripped things down a bit too much. Patsy’s background is positively byzantine. She started as a mainstay of Marvel’s teen romance comic line, resurfaced as a spunky divorcee who became a super-heroine through pure luck and force of will, had a healthy run as a member of Marvel’s weird super-team, The Defenders, got married again, died, and came back to life to resume her career as a super-heroine. There’s no need to reference even a fraction of that, but a sense that she’s an experienced adventurer and had gone through some serious crap with her outgoing optimism intact might have added some appealing layers to the book, which tends to skate on charm.

Now, if you want to read some really delightful Hellcat stories, I strongly recommend you start with the Avengers: The Serpent Crown collection, written by Steve Englehart and drawn by George Perez. This is where Patsy went from wannabe to perfectly legitimate candidate for the Avengers. (I’ve always wondered what would have happened with her fictional career if Englehart had stayed on the title.) Then move on to Essential Defenders Volume 3, by a whole bunch of people. In addition to the best Defenders story ever (Steve Gerber’s bizarre, long-form arc pitting our heroes against the manipulations of the Headmen and an interstellar self-help guru), you’ll also get Hellcat’s introduction to the team, which is followed by a very snappy tale of the Defenders versus a new incarnation of the Zodiac. That arc also features what now might regrettably be called a “bromance” between Nighthawk and Moon Knight, who apparently found abiding solace in the fact that they were both guys with glider capes, sarcastic personalities, and not much else to acquit them.