You will notice an ongoing focus on women and kittycats in 1970s comics. Bear in mind that my relevant participation was from 1975 (ages 10-11) through 1978 (ages 13-14) and draw your own conclusions. Judy Blume had my number in Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, though.
The first phase began squarely in the Marvel superheroes, not in the anthology books but in a titled book, Claws of the Cat of 1972. I have discovered in searching for images that I totally read and completely remember the whole thing, not necessarily joyfully (oh my eyes, the Man-Bull). On the one hand, yes, Greer Grant as the Cat is much like Spider-Man with a variety of personal relationships and much acrobatic mayhem – nothing bad about any of that. On the other hand, we have instead of spider-sense “heightened women’s intuition” which I think even then might have been safely scrubbed out, and as it happens, in the four issues, really not much of a plot at all.
When you consider how far ahead comics are written and drawn, I am mighty suspicious at the claim that “sales” killed the title. I’m not saying they were good; I’m saying that ROI at that point simply doesn’t make sense, and also that plenty of dogshit comics that could not possibly have been selling well (Daredevil in 1972? Really?) were retained. I suspect media upgrade to movies and TV were more important management variables, and it’s a lot easier to say “woman hero? Oh look, it’s canceled, shucky darn. Hey, we tried.” It’s also easy to imagine someone like Landau dictating “kill it” out of sheer MCP assholery.
In 1974 this same Greer is written by Tony Isabella to become Tigra the mellifluous if nonsensical Were-Woman (which even the editor pages admitted means “man-woman”) in Giant-Sized Creatures #1 and Werewolf by Night #20, and after what I consider to be a very average start, begins to carve out a new niche as bad-girl pinup who can kick your ass in a way that Shanna the alleged She-Devil certainly never did.
Meanwhile, the parallel saga begins with Patsy Walker, notable for her popular sales through the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in Archie-like titles, now owned by Marvel along with Millie the Model. Her main storyline concerns whether she will ever hook up with the handsome and fascinating Buzz Baxter and lasted all the way until 1967. She shows up in the same pages as superheroes in 1972, with the new-and-hairy Beast in Amazing Adventures #13 (see Stars and garters), where Steve Englehart takes an interest in her and the estimable Buzz, now a military-industrial establishment jerkass. If this isn’t the moment that the long-running Brand Corp enters the Marvel scene, then it’s at least an important step in establishing its noxiousness.
I have yet to find a description of the 70s Marvel female characters which is not completely deaf to the issues as they stood at that time, or the one issue to rule them all: ownership of sexuality. It’s definitely in the context of Long live lib, during that time of most trenchant questioning, before the radical-cultural synthesis. It’s a gimme that men were terribly ham-handed at it but significantly so were the women … and yet in the middle of confusion, audacity opened the door to real thought and real fun, and here the kittycat-supers matter a lot – because they are not merely girls.
Trina Robbins’ Panthea is part of this for sure, introduced in The Comix Book in 1974 (see The way underground), and bringing in every angle of empowerment vs. slave/pet, sexual-animality vs. fetish, and hope vs. establishment that you can think of. I’ve never seen any mention that she and Tigra (i.e. Greer becoming Tigra) were absolutely contemporary and I’d like to know more about that if anyone knows.
Tigra shifts over to the monster titles and the black-and-whites, Monsters Unleashed #10 in 1975 and Marvel Chillers #3-7 in 1976, which are clearly a venue for Marvel writers to investigate whatever issues they may have had with Wonder Woman or Diana Riggs and must be seen to be believed, as discussed in detail and here too. This is all about the sex amidst weird psychological mysticism, and if you ever wondered about the size and shape of Tigra’s nipples, wonder no more. And that’s the not fucked-up part. Meanwhile, Englehart moves Patsy, now married to Buzz, over to Avengers #141 in tandem with the Beast, and she picks up Greer’s old costume (which Greer is definitely not using any more) to become the Hellcat in #144 as I well remember.
There’s still kind of a heroic bad-girl thing going on here, and although Patsy isn’t played as a seductress or hot-pants, she’s been married and definitely is now deciding whether and with whom she’s going to have sex. For those who think this phase of the title was goofy fun, consider that Buzz is the bad guy, and that she, now in costume with claws, slashes his face. I note that the Cat gets included in The Superhero Women (which really had to reach for content; Hela, really?), but not on the cover, and Tigra and the Hellcat don’t. A bit too bad, those bad girls, perhaps. [error of memory: she doesn’t slash his face, just threatens to. – RE]
My impression of the next phase is that they underwent a general and permanent trajectory of dialing down the fun-bad and basically being tamed. Hellcat joins the Defenders in #44 in 1977, which I don’t’ remember at all so I suspect it’s after I stopped buying it, or about then. She turns into a casualty of much badly-written 80s bullshit. Tigra gets hooked back into the superheroes with 1978 Marvel Premiere #42 and Marvel Team-Up (well-described here). I really don’t know exactly when along the line she got her tail. Sometime around 1990 I tried to read the West Coast Avengers which I regard quite negatively, and Tigra was in there, with about none of what I remembered.
Whereas barely a few months after this “taming” set in, in 1979, then who should appear in Spider-Man but this person? It’s Marv Wolfman again, too.
I liked the Black Cat. For one thing, please note yet again that 1970s women characters were not drawn with weird inhuman and unathletic anatomy, and at least some look like they could credibly kick your ass. For another, she is among the female characters in the entire history of Spider-Man who was decently written, sometimes. And she took over the general Marvel role previously held by the Black Widow, which in the latter character had been steadily erased to leave only an outline, that of the semi-villain shady heroine with an uncompromising sexual identity.
I readily acknowledge that I have woefully ignored Catwoman throughout this, but the fact is I don’t know a thing about the character in the 1970s. Feel free to fill me in, which is why I’ve tagged her in.
Links: Comic Art Fans Gallery: Panthea
Next: Medium and idiom: they fight crime!
Posted on October 11, 2015, in Heroics, Politics dammit, The 70s me and tagged Avengers, bad girls, Beast, Cat, Catwoman, Hellcat, nipples, Panthea, Patsy Walker, Steve Englehart, The Comix Book, The Superhero Women, Tigra, Tony Isabella, Trina Robbins, Women's Lib. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
Don’t dismiss 1972’s Daredevil! If you can stand Conway’s convoluted texts, there’s the Colan-Palmer team there…
I don’t have a lot to say about the woman-cat characters, they are in a lot of sf books even before the 70s (Leiber’s “The Wanderer”, Cordwainer Smith’s “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell”, etc.), it’s a rather simple concept (“I like cats, I like women…. mmmm……”), but it’s true that in the 70s they begin to show more… claws
Adding a point which wasn’t part of the topic, as I was focusing tightly on the 70s, but too important after all – it’s likely for the age group of authors in question that Lota the Panther Woman, from the 1932 Island of Lost Souls, is a key influence.
And as long as I’m riffing on the interplay of generations and monsters, I think the biggest influence on my age group was the glow-in-the-dark monster series licensed from Universal Studios (or whichever oil company had just bought them) as well as the simultaneous pickup in a bunch of kids’ shows. Lost Souls was made by Paramount and didn’t have an equivalent presence at the time … pity … can you imagine one of those glow-in-the-darks of Lota? I can.
Yes, a big fan of the blue and yellow Hellcat at the time.
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