Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat!, v. 1: Hooked on a Feline
Collects: Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat #1-6 (2016)
Released: June 2016 (Marvel)
Format: 136 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781302900359
What is this?: After being let go from her private investigating job, Patsy Walker (the superhero Hellcat) comes up with a new business idea but has to deal with particularly feckless villains.
The culprits: Writer Kate Leth and artists Brittney L. Williams (#1-5) and Natasha Allegri (#6)
Last week, I praised Squirrel Girl in general and the latest volume of the series, Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now, specifically. This week, I’ll go from one animal-themed Marvel superhero humor book to another …
Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat!, v. 1: Hooked on a Feline follows Patsy Walker, last seen as She-Hulk’s private investigator in the recent short-lived She-Hulk series. But at the beginning of Feline, She-Hulk has to let Patsy go, and to support herself, Patsy comes up with a new idea: a super-powered temp agency, matching those with powers with jobs that suit those powers.
Patsy triumphantly presents at the beginning and end of #1, at least, but we see very little of the execution in the rest of Feline, save for a recommendation to an adversary and a page of bookkeeping in #6. In other words, it takes five issues before she even begins working on her grand plan, and that’s indicative of the book’s level of focus.
Writer Kate Leth makes the wise decision to not get into Patsy’s history as Hellcat, since Hellcat continuity is a bit involved. After all, any story in which you say, “I spent some time dead” will tend to derail the narrative a bit. Leth leaves nothing relevant out and retains enough plot hooks to give herself a lot of potential storylines.
Unfortuately, Leth can’t seem to focus on any idea. As I mentioned, she avoids Patsy’s business idea — the idea presented in literally the series’ first panel — for most of the book. The book’s largest conflict is the decision by her former teen rival, Hedy Wolfe, to reprint the romance comics Patsy’s mother wrote and based on the lives of Patsy and her friends. This should be a story that develops throughout the book, but five issues after the conflict is introduced, I have no idea whether Hedy had any right to reprint the stories without notifying or gaining permission from Patsy. She-Hulk, Patsy’s lawyer, says Hedy doesn’t have a case, but Hedy clearly has a contract — literally, she possesses a piece of paper with “CONTRACT” written across the top of it — that she puts a lot of faith in. Then again, Hedy hires a private investigator (Jessica Jones) to dig up dirt on Patsy, so maybe she realizes her case isn’t so great. The one face-to-face interaction between Patsy and Hedy is a great moment of tension, with Hedy insulting Patsy and Patsy coming up empty in response. The book could have used more close-quarters conflict between the two.
Leth and artists Brittney Williams (#1-5) and Natasha Allegri (#6) are trying for a breezy, fun tone, which explains why the story might lack focus. But for this concept to work, Feline has to be funny, and it just doesn’t.
Take, for instance, issue #2, in which Patsy gets a job working retail — for “research,” she says, although all I can see that she learns is that she’s awful at working retail. She can’t relate to the customers or the merchandise at the hip-but-cheap clothing store she works at; she’s baffled by the garments’ logos and the customers’ reasonable requests. She’s constantly interrupted by friends and enemies, keeping her from getting any work done. Her cluelessness and poor results are frustrating rather than funny. By the end of the issue, I would have preferred to follow the adventures of the supervisor who gave Patsy the firing she so richly deserved.
The closest thread Feline has to an overall arc is the threat of Casiolena, an exiled Asgardian who entices various low-powered superhumans into committing crimes. Casiolena is an ineffectual villain, and that’s supposed to be funny, but she comes across as more petulant than humorous. She wants inspire superhumans to sow chaos, destabilizing New York, but she’s too lazy to do a good job or research the Midgardian quirks she needs to know to be successful. Hellcat and Valkyrie don’t take her seriously, even when Casiolena has captured them both, and the villainess makes unachievable promises to her aspiring minions. As soon as the heroes reveal that Casiolena’s promises can’t be fulfilled, her movement falls apart, and she’s easily captured.
The superhumans who turn to crime at Casiolena’s call aren’t bad people. They’re just … well, maybe they are bad people, in a banal way. They turn to crime as a shortcut to making their lives better, and that’s a horrible choice. None of them seem to be in desperate straits; they appear to prefer to work legitimately, but if legal work is not simple to find, crime’s fine. Patsy goes easy on them, which I don’t mind; the more quickly they get off the page, the more quickly I can forget about them forever.
Well, maybe not all of them — I do like the design of Bailey, a minor adversary who has a handbag of infinite capacity. She looks like a cute witch wearing bike shorts, and while I’m not sure how that fits thematically with “bag of holding,” I’m not the artist! And it’s good that I’m not the artist because I’m bad at drawing.
On the other hand, I’m not fond of Williams’s art, either. In the one opportunity she has to cut loose, the book’s big fight scene in #5, she fails to make an impression. Her tight, careful line and cartoony exaggeration does seem well suited for broad character work, and if the book were funnier, perhaps the art would mesh well with the story. But her detail-oriented art often makes her panels seem to cramped, and I don’t understand her visual vocabulary, at times; for instance, I can’t figure out what it means when Patsy suddenly shrinks to two-thirds size and shows her pointed teeth. (Is she feisty? Angry? Adorable? All of these? What does it mean?) Her Howard the Duck is misshapen, and her Hedy … When she comes to mock Patsy at her retail job, Hedy does not dress in a way that says, “I have room to mock those who work at the mall.” Instead, she looks like she should be picking up the kids at soccer practice in 20 minutes. That’s not how Hedy would dress on her way to insult Patsy.
I won’t discuss Allegre’s art in #6, as it makes me irrationally angry. Let’s just say that any comic that makes Arcade look like a cute teenager and She-Hulk appear unimpressive has a problem.
I do like Williams’s She-Hulk, though: she’s large without being grotesque, physically impressive without losing her attractiveness. The supporting cast and cameos from the rest of the Marvel Universe are the most appealing part of the book, actually; She-Hulk is a great friend to Patsy while being allowed to get angry at her, and the scenes with Howard the Duck (art aside), Dr. Strange, and Jessica Jones are all effective. The scene in which Patsy texts all her female friends, leading them to believe she’s in danger when all she wants is a consolation burger with them after getting fired, is a good illustration of why I would prefer to read about almost anyone in this book other than Patsy: they all excuse her mistake with a shrug. They realize you just have to put up with that nonsense with Patsy, which I do not want to do. She has a good heart, but she’s not that interesting or fun to be around.
And honestly, what kind of person gets a tattoo of themselves? And not a representative one, but a sort of a manga-version of their alter ego? I mean, Alex Rodriguez, who just retired from his baseball career, was seen as a narcissist, but I bet even he did not have a manga-style tattoo of himself in his Yankees uniform.
Rating: (1.5 of 5)