Saturday, August 16, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #3 - Hellcat

Character: Patsy Walker (Hellcat)

Creator: Ruth Atkinson

First appearance: Miss America Magazine #2

First encounter: It's somewhere in the first six issues of the Busiek/Larsen Defenders series. I'm thinking #3.

Definitive writer: Kathryn Immonen. I haven't read any of Patsy's years as a the star or her own sort of Archie line, or her stint on the Avengers. I have read a fair chunk of her adventures with the Defenders, between the first and second volumes, but Immonen wrote the Patsy Walker: Hellcat mini-series, and then used her again in Heralds, so her version tends to dominate.

Definitive artist: If the costume he designed for her in her first Hellcat mini-series (coming right after her resurrection) had stuck, I'd say Norm Breyfogle. It mostly reversed the blue and yellow, which was fine with me (yellow is one of my least favorite colors). But she got shifted back to her original costume immediately once the Busiek/Larsen book started up, so it's that outfit I tend to envision (unless I'm thinking about Norm Breyfogle's art). Given that, I'm going with David LaFuente, who drew the aforementioned Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Favorite moment or story: It's a silly one, but in Patsy Walker: Hellcat #3, she's supposed to capture a snow lemming as part of her group, but shortly after that, inadvertently starts a fire. In the snow. Well, it's magic fire, all right? As she rushes to put it out (by having the lemming bite onto her scarf and twirling it over her head before slinging it outward), she narrates to herself. 'I can see the headline now: Hellcat burns down Alaska. Iron Man says, 'Not my fault.' 'Is too,' says Hellcat.' I laugh at that every time. And she did put out the fire.

What I like about her: By the time I encountered Hellcat, she'd already committed suicide, gone to Hell, and subsequently been rescued (though Hawkeye thought he was rescuing Mockingbird). Then she'd gone through an Englehart/Breyfogle mini-series where she grappled with whether she really wanted to be alive or not, while getting mixed up in some big power struggle for control of the various Hells involving Mephisto, Dormammu, and her ex-husband Hellstrom. By and large that didn't come up a lot in that Defenders series, so I mostly knew Hellcat as one of the less powerful members of the team, but also one of the ones that helped hold it together. Nighthawk helped because being a Defender was something he believed in, but with Patsy, I think she mostly enjoyed it, and people liked being around her. The Hulk listened to her. Namor and Dr. Strange were a little more relaxed around her (well, Strange was). She's one of those people that helps the loads of others feel lighter, maybe. Funny, considering the load she was under. Also, I think it was a place where each of them felt they belonged. Which is a common theme with the Defenders, for all the talk back in their conception of them as a non-team, it seems more like a group of anti-social types and loners who somehow mesh well together.

After that, I tracked down that Engelhart/Breyfogle mini (I think because The Fortress Keeper mentioned it once), bought the first 4 volumes of Essential Defenders, and picked up the two mini-series Kathryn Immonen wrote that prominently featured Hellcat. Which presents a wide variety of perspectives on her. In the older stuff, she's constantly playful, mostly excited to be away from Moondragon and all her training, but also occasionally in over her head. She gets torn up pretty badly during the fight with the Zodiac because she underestimates Leo. A lot of the time, she doesn't seem aware of the dangers, but when things start to go really badly, she can get actually scared. Which was a genuine reaction, and it didn't stop her from trying, which was the important thing. It's valuable to show fear isn't a bad response to danger, as long as it doesn't control the person.

In the Breyfogle/Engelhart joint (seen above), the "happy-go-lucky Hellcat" is at that point a facade she abandons early on, because there's no one need to maintain it. She's been in Hell, and even though she's among the living again, that isn't an easy thing to get over, especially as she knows she'll wind up back there again, and expects it to happen soon. She's more focused, more vicious, because even if you're already dead in Hell, that doesn't mean you can't suffer, so that's something to avoid if possible, and that's what it took to avoid it. It's an odd contrast to her almost indifferent attitude, an external representation of a struggle within her. Her desire to live, versus the resigned air she's trying to effect, because she's afraid to hope she can avoid Hell again. It was a different take, but a nice statement on being willing to take a chance on hope, and it didn't hurt that her many friends were working desperately to try and help her back on Earth. I'm big on friendships.

Immonen's Patsy is kind of a merging of the earlier forms. Patsy's life up to that point seems to be her gaining things either she thought she always wanted, or that other people would consider a dream come true, but nothing quite working out as she'd hope. Being a big teen celebrity, marrying the hometown football star, being a model, that turned out to be kind of dull, and the marriage wasn't the fairy tale she might have envisioned. OK, try being an Avenger, or a Defender, even meet a new guy. But superheroing is dangerous, painful, the person who appointed herself your teacher is cold, arrogant, and impossible to please. And the new guy in her life drove her mad. It's been disillusioning, but also taught her a few things. You see it at times, not Patsy bemoaning her fate, more as she's trying to help someone. When she convinces Ssangyong going back to live with her mothers won't be so bad, you can tell she's drawing on her bad experiences. She doesn't dismiss the girl's concerns or frustrations, or play the "You think you've got it bad?" card. She simply tries to be a comforting presence who understands, and is proof these things can be endured and you can reach better things.

Patsy's gained a lot of perspective from all this about what's worth getting riled up over. When she found out Iron Man was assigning her to a state for the Initiative, she got really excited at the prospect of going to Florida. When she finds out she's going to Alaska instead, she allows herself one moment of distress, then shrugs it off and inquires who she'll be working with. It turned out to be nobody, because you want to send a single hero who can't fly, teleport, or run super-fast to guard the largest stare all by their lonesome. Because Tony Stark is a genius. Anyway, Patsy has this very breezy way of going about things where she refuses to allow small obstacles to get to her. In just last month's issue of She-Hulk, she brushed off Tigra going nuts and nearly killing her as part of the biz. After all, Tigra didn't mean to, and Patsy didn't actually die, so no harm, no foul. She actually was more angry when she thought Jen was trying to protect her because she doesn't have powers, in the sense She-Hulk has them, anyway. She doesn't waste time on self-pity, so she can't stand pity from others.

She me of an issue of Spider-Man Ann Nocenti wrote where Spidey dies briefly, and on the other side reflects on how he never stopped to appreciate life, how he was always sweating the small stuff. Being a few minutes late for dinner, breaking the bottle of steak sauce he was supposed to bring, stuff like that. Basically, Patsy has developed into the exact opposite of that, which seems like an excellent approach to take. If something is really serious, then she gets serious. But if a bunch of old ladies need her helps rescuing their daughter, she doesn't hold it against them that they attacked her with a giant squid to get their attention. Especially when they magically return all the luggage she lost on the trip. Or that she needs to make nice with the antlered bear that tried to kill her earlier. I'm envious of her ability to take those things in stride and accept them and move on.

She finds enjoyment where she can. Maybe it's a result of all the big dreams blowing up in her face, so now she doesn't pin her hopes for happiness on such things, she just finds things that can make her happy right this moment. This is a character that got extremely excited when a disaster at a SWORD facility gave her the chance to punch completely harmless clones of Einstein and Oppenheimer (as drawn above by Tonci Zonjic). Because when are you going to get the chance to punch one of those guys? She gets She-Hulk to come with her and find a secret AIM lab and take it out, even though they're both a little tipsy. She thinks nothing of throwing a big wad of cash at that cute guy she just met so he'll take her on a snowmobile ride to find suspicious bears. If Devil Slayer gets killed in some big battle to save reality from a demon incursion, well, no reason to let his cool cape go to waste. It has some sort of interdimensional space you can draw weapons from! It responds to her thoughts! Why leave it lying around? I can see how that attitude could get annoying after awhile, especially if you're someone like me and tend to obsess over small details, but as it's presented, it's quite endearing. She occasionally teams up with the more somber heroes and works as a nice counterpoint. Other times she hangs out with characters who have similar viewpoints and they have a great time together, partying or beating up AIM guys, or whatever. Either way, she seems like she's having a lot of fun.


SallyP said...

Patsy has been a lot of fun in She-Hulk. She does have this unfortunate habit of marrying total jerks however.

CalvinPitt said...

Hmm, this is true, though she doesn't seem to be currently involved with anyone seriously. Maybe she's learned a valuable lesson from the divorces and the time spent in Hell and all.

Or she hasn't met the right guy, whoever that would be in the Marvel Universe these days.

SallyP said...

With her luck, it would be Doctor Octopus.