Hooked on a Feline, Don’t Stop Me-ow, and Careless Whisker(s) collect all seventeen issues of Kate Leth and Brittney Williams’ comic Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat!
Granted an open-ended, unpaid leave from her duties as an investigator, unwilling to go back to life as a costumed adventurer, Patsy “Hellcat” Walker boldly embraces a new career:
With a side-order of retail.
Walker opens a temp agency. It survives (despite her lack of seed capital) because its central idea — that there is a substantial population of superpowered beings in New York City who, like Walker, have no interest in conventional heroics or crime, whose powers have useful mundane applications — is correct.
Just because Walker is done with the costumed life doesn’t mean the costumed life is done with her. Her temp agency offers her workers rewarding, if ephemeral, jobs, but requires them to turn down long-term stints as minions to hard-working evil masterminds. Masterminds do not appreciate competition for the superpowered labor pool. Walker also seems to have a knack for running into homicidal nut-jobs, which does rather complicate business.
But Walker’s greatest foe may be her own past. Not only were both of her ex-husbands supervillains with anger management issues, Walker’s mother used her daughter as a character in a popular romance comic. The rights for the comics are now in possession of Walker’s frenemy Hedy Wolfe. Hedy will stop at nothing to retain those rights, even if it means subjecting her former friend to endless harassment.
Even if it means sending Patsy Walker to Hell.
Ah, the Marvel Universe.…
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
In the case of Walker and her friends, that translates into Bad Bosses who generally escape consequences and good bosses who either lack funds or in the case of Walker’s friend Walters, consciousness. What keeps the series from being an unrelentingly grim sequence of setbacks and humiliations are the charms of Walker’s network of friends. The author of the series was also pretty darn good at writing comedy set in what is a dark little universe.
Hellcat is all too chirpy for someone who is sleeping in a storage closet when we first meet her. But we have to look at the context: by that point, her teen years had been monetized by her mother, she’d been sold to a devil, gained (or discovered) her super-powers, married and divorced twice, was driven to suicide and consigned to Hell1. Being reduced to living in a fairly spacious stockroom is not so bad by comparison2. Her friends aren’t much better off — roommate Ian was abused by his ex, former X‑Man Jubilee seems to be a vampire now, and Howard is still a Duck — but that’s the cost of living in the Marvel Universe.
I was reminded of Molly Brooks’ Power Ballad. A lot of what makes this series work is Leth’s skill at either avoiding the stock traumas doled out to female characters in comics or (when previous writers force them on her as part of the back story she inherited) dealing with them in creative ways. And the humour! This is a comic whose characters often smile, as odd as that may seem in a modern comic.
It’s all too easy for promising series to be derailed by the company-wide crossovers like Civil War II. Leth manages to avoid having her series sabotaged by editorial decrees from above while at the same time incorporating events from Civil War II—Jennifer Walter’s injuries — in a way that enhances the story Leth wants to tell.
Another checkmark in the like column: the cast is mostly women. There are a few men, but aside from Ian and Tom, most of them are minor characters or antagonists. Hellcat seems to be done with men for the nonce: there’s no Obligatory Romance Plot. I’m not saying that all comics have to be like this, but it’s sure nice for a change.
Marvel has had success with grim and gritty series like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. I wonder if the TV world has room for a series whose characters are actually happy? Whose essential outlook is optimistic?
1: You may ask “since it’s clear she escaped from Hell, why would someone think sending her there again would be more than a temporary inconvenience?” In his defence, her second ex-husband Daimon “Son of Satan” Hellstrom is kind of an idiot. At least he doesn’t shed as much as Walker’s first husband, Robert “Mad Dog” Baxter.
2: As I often remark to my coworkers at the theatre, it’s pretty unlikely the worst case scenario for my current job is me being reduced to an organic slurry. That was a possible ending to my first job at UW.