Patsy Walker, A.K.A Hellcat #1, written by Kate Leth and illustrated by Brittney L. Williams, with colors by Megan Wilson and letters by VC’s Joe Sabino and Clayton Cowles, follows the titular heroine as she starts a new life after she loses her job as She-Hulk’s legal assistant. The idea of a superhero struggling to find a job is certainly one that I can relate to at this point in my life, but is it good?
Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat #1 (Marvel Comics)
There’s never been a better time for a new Patsy Walker/Hellcat comic. With the success of recent series’ like Ms. Marvel, Howard The Duck and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Marvel has helped foster a climate of readers demanding similarly quirky, funny, and smart superhero books by fresh, hip creators with impressive resumes that previously did not feature any superhero work.
In addition, many readers are still mourning the loss of Charles Soule’s run on the most recent She-Hulk series, an excellent, unique comic that ended too soon. Shulkie’s supporting cast was one of the book’s greatest strengths. Patsy Walker was a part of that with a major role as Jennifer Walters’ legal assistant, friend, and occasional crime-fighting partner. I don’t know if I had ever heard of Hellcat before, so I don’t know if Soule brought anything new or different to his characterization of Patsy but by the time I read She-Hulk #12, I knew she was a great character.
But easily the biggest thing to happen to the character recently was her major role on Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, portrayed by Rachel Taylor as Patricia “Trish” Walker, a former child star turned successful radio talk show host. While she’s written well on that show, and Taylor works well with the material that she’s given, it’s more than a little disappointing that she wasn’t characterized as a goofy costumed superhero with the ability to sense mystical energy, a power that she gained by going to literally going to Hell.
Other than an uneasy relationship with her mother (in the comics version of Patsy’s teen years her mother penned a series of romance comics starring her own daughter), the live-action version of Walker has little resemblance to her comics counterpart. She doesn’t even have red hair! I get that that version of the character may not have fit in with the gritty, relatively realistic approach that the Marvel Netflix shows are going for, but if you’re going to stray that far from the source material, why not just create a new character entirely? It worked in Netflix’s Daredevil show with Claire Temple, who has more in common with Night Nurse than Trish Walker has to Patsy Walker.
While this drastically different version of Walker may confuse some readers who discovered the character through her Jessica Jones appearances, I think they are in for a pleasant surprise. This is an energetic, fun, and thoroughly well-crafted comic by two relatively new creators that deserve to become big names in the industry.
What’s most immediately striking about this comic is Brittney L. Williams’ art. We live in a wonderful time in which similarly clean lined, effervescent approaches to visuals that appear to be inspired by animation aren’t hard to find. Babs Tarr’s work on Batgirl comes to mind, standing in stark contrast to all the rough lines, heavy shadows, and idealized anatomies that defined many superhero comics in the last decade or so thanks to the influence of artists like Jim Lee and David Finch. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the former approach, but it’s nice to see the Big 2 embracing more diverse styles with books that aren’t so aggressively masculine in both art and writing.
Despite my comparisons to other artists that I find similar—comparisons that I mean to be compliments—Williams still has her own tricks up her sleeve that set her apart. Her art is cartoony not just in the sense that she emphasizes expression over stark realism, but that she bends the “reality” of the comic. Patsy’s wordless thought bubbles are childishly illustrated in the best way possible. A star jumps out of her eye when she winks. And occasionally, out of nowhere, Williams draws a panel in a chibi style, once again reminding us that comics can reject realism to enhance our experience.
Kate Leth is just as impressive. Ever since the success of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye run, it seems that Marvel has been trying to recapture that same vibe, and Leth proves, just as several other writers have, that there’s more than one way to be quirky. Paired with Williams’ art, Leth’s writing helps provide a great Scott Pilgrim-like feel to the whole operation, with relatable characters and goofy humor that still feels grounded in real-life.
I love the way that Leth portrays a character that turns out to be gay. I mean, I love the fact that she has a gay character at all in a book that she describes as “all-ages” (despite the comic being rated “T” for “Teen”). But more importantly, he implies that he’s gay in a single off-hand remark, and Hellcat’s reaction is perfect. It’s not treated as some huge “reveal,” and I think that as much as efforts towards diversity should be celebrated, it’s also great to see a fictional world in which people accept homosexuality so easily. I’m interested in seeing if this character’s sexuality becomes more of a plot point in the future, but if Leth continues to not make a big thing out of it, that’s cool too.
Leth’s writing has a light, breezy feeling that makes it easy to forget that she’s packing in a lot of information, especially for a single issue. This issue does everything that a first issue should do. Sure, it’s a little on-the-nose in the way that it establishes its new mission statement, but subtlety is sometimes overrated in superhero comics. Similarly, the idea of a superhero “starting a new life” has been done to death, but as long as you can find a new angle for it, as Leth does, who cares? I love the idea of a superhero on a job hunt, as I’m sure any superhero fan that has ever been in a similar situation will.
Is it Good?
Patsy Walker, A.K.A Hellcat #1 is a near perfect first issue. While not a masterpiece, it’s a charming, fast-paced, and consistent comic that will have you coming back for more with the next issue.