Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! 1

Today, Ryan M. and and Spencer are discussing Patsy Walker: A.K.A. Hellcat! 1, originally released December 23rd, 2015.

Ryan M.: A first issue in a series is sort of like a first date. You don’t need the full origin treatment. It’s really a matter of figuring out if you enjoy each other’s company. It provides a sample that hopefully indicates what’s to come, but cannot necessarily lay all of that out. After Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! 1, I am ready to invite this series to my place for a home-cooked meal.

The issue opens with Patsy’s presentation for a new business venture that doubles a sales pitch for the series as a whole. The rest of the issue is a flashback showing how Patsy came up with the idea for a temp agency for powered people. Immediately, writer Kate Leth establishes an upbeat and playful tone. Patsy narrates her own story in third person, explaining Hellcat’s backstory over several eras with moments of commentary.

That's me!

Artist Brittney Williams also contributes a few cutesy flourishes, including the shape of each panel resembling the Hellcat symbol and Patsy posing for a selfie in her cat print sweater. At only two pages in, the tone of the issue has been made clear. The central image is of a smiling Hellcat, her hair flowing behind her. There is also a varied color palette in the page above. Every color in the rainbow is represented in Patsy’s pithy description of her past and present.

Patsy’s present is not so great. She loses her job, her childhood trauma is back in print, she gets kicked out of the building where she has been squatting, and she is about to start a job in retail. She faces each of these challenges brightly. There is nothing that some quality time with her bestie and a beer can’t solve. By showing us Patsy’s reaction to conflicts that range from personal to professional to familial, Leth reinforces Patsy’s resistance to bitterness and cynicism.

Patsy’s energy and verve exude from the page, but it’s her new roommate that solidifies the staunchly optimistic perspective of the issue. When we meet Ian, he has just robbed a bank. Not for nefarious reasons, simply because he needed to pay his bills. The minute someone is ready to discuss musicals or give him a chance to do a kind thing, he has a change of heart and reveals his inner good guy. Even the “villains” of the issue are treated with kindness. Aside from Ian, who is pretty much a full-on good guy by issue’s end, the treatment of Hedy is quite kind. After revealing that Hedy has essentially stolen Patsy’s image and reopened adolescent wounds, Tom notes that Hedy has been going through a some stuff. We are already set up for Patsy’s nemesis to be worthy of empathy. There is no yin to Patsy’s positive yang, except for maybe “r u old” Joe from Patsy’s dating app. That guy is offered no redemption.

insert of pw phone

The panel above is an indicator that, while the issue concerns the life of a decidedly adult woman, the humor is all-ages and clean. The messages read like a series of Instagram comments and the profile pics all imply that the world is a safe yet goofy place. I especially like Cherp, the guy whose pic highlights his pecs and who uses the ever-creepy endearment of “mommy.”

There is nothing prurient about the book, but there are still bits of silly adolescent humor. The primary location for these kinds of jokes is “Burly’s Books.”

butts vol 9

The look on Patsy’s face when she gets recognized while reading Butts Vol IX is so vulnerable and also immediately relatable. I mean, that’s definitely the look on my face when someone calls my name while I am reading the ninth installment in a butt-themed series. The books in the second panel above  (“Let’s Be Brief” and “So You Cut Your Hair”) are both inane and funny without creating a distraction from the story happening in the foreground.

Spencer, what do you think of this debut? Obviously, I found Patsy’s personality charming, but I’d love to know what you think of her in this issue. Is a temp agency for super-powered people a feasible business? On top of that, was the throwaway mention of Heroes-for-Hire enough to discourage further comparison? Also, do you know where I can buy a “Bear with Me” poster?

Spencer: You buy it at Burly Books, of course! And just let me say that I love Burly Books as a setting. Williams and Leth infuse this humble Brooklyn LGBT-themed bookstore with a boatload of personality, both architecturally and in terms of the items it stocks.

beer with a queer

I could probably spend hours pointing out all the fun background gags here — it’s a level to detail few artists put forth, but in just one issue Williams has already established Hellcat as a book that rewards readers with dense panels where even the backgrounds tell a story. Just take the sequence in the bar. As Patsy and Jen talk, in the background we see the three bros notice them, talk amongst themselves, and finally approach the girls; all-in-all, their approach encompasses four panels before they even speak to the girls!

In that same scene, as Patsy and Ian talk, we also see Tom and Jen have an arm wrestling match in the background. These two just met on the previous page, and Jen obviously isn’t going to lose, but despite that, they’re up for a quick, friendly match anyway, and seem to be having fun — clearly, these are both characters who are down for a good time and don’t take themselves too seriously. None of these details are strictly necessary, but they do wonders to flesh out these characters — be they main or throwaways — and make them feel real and three-dimensional.

These same kind of details can be used to establish location as well.

doghead boy

This shot may not describe this exact location to a t, but it’s a fascinating microcosm of Hellcat‘s New York City setting as a whole, all distilled down to a single panel. Just look at the sheer variety of characters walking through — Williams takes no shortcuts, and seeing this many unique characters in a single panel makes Hellcat‘s NYC feel like the real deal, in all its bizarre, diverse glory.

(Also, I want to read a whole series about that kid in the dog hat. He looks like he’s going places.)

It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but this skill obviously translates to larger details as well. Under Williams’ pen Patsy’s very form shifts depending on her mood and the tone of the scene; Patsy can go from being a fearsome superhero to a stunning “romance comic” character to an adorable “chibi” from panel to panel, and it never feels jarring because it’s always true to who Patsy is at that exact moment (and that’s exactly who Patsy is — a character who lives in the moment). Color artist Megan Wilson gets in on the fun as well — along with some clever flourishes (such as the explosions and sound effects surrounding She-Hulk all being green), she expertly uses color to dictate character, mood, and emotion.  For example, Wilson generally gives us a bright, sunny palette, but is willing to drop that when Patsy gets darker or more introspective.

how does your hair do that?

The choice of the black background is appropriate, but what I really appreciate is that even the yellow on Hellcat’s costume in the flashback panel is muted; this was a dark time in Patsy’s life, and Wilson makes that as literal as possible. I also love how Patsy’s hair is levitating a bit here, but is completely back to normal in the next panel — is that her mystical powers, or is her imagination just running away on her? With Hellcat, who’s to say?

Ryan, you asked of a temp agency for superheroes is a feasible business idea. I’d say so, but more importantly, it’s a brilliant plot engine for this comic. Working retail and running a temp agency opens Hellcat up to a wide variety of comedic plots — throw the “superpowered” bit into it, and suddenly you’ve got the set-up for what could be some fun, unique action plots as well. Then there’s Patsy’s past as a romance comic star — watching a character so absolutely determined to start over and live in the present be forced to confront their past should provide a powerful, perhaps even poignant emotional core to these stories. I guess what I’m saying here is that Leth and Williams may have just come up with the perfect premise for a Hellcat series. I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

I will admit that, if anything about this series gives me pause, it’s how similar it feels to many of Marvel’s other offerings. In the comments of our some of our recent articles, some of our readers have mentioned how the majority of the “All-New All-Different Marvel” books focus on whimsy and humor. That’s certainly true of Hellcat, and it’s easy to see this book drawing inspiration from titles like Hawkeye and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Is that a bad thing? I’m sure a few readers might think so, but honestly, with an end result this fun, I’m going to answer that with a resounding “no.” There’s nothing new under the sun; as long as the execution’s good than I’m all in, and man oh man are Leth and Williams nailing the execution right now. If they can keep this level of quality up, then we can skip right past that second date — I’ll be ready to propose.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

10 comments on “Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! 1

  1. I love the “first issue as a first date” simile. I wish more writers got that — we just want to get a sense of personality, not a catalogue of the minutia of your day job or family history. Tell me about the seminal moments that defined your life after we’ve gotten to know each other; for now, I just want to know if we like the same movies or whatever.

  2. I’m not going to disagree with anyone here. This was extremely well done on the surface. To me, it was just such a sad and twisted comic about a truly broken character. I haven’t gotten this out of other reviews either, but it really was disturbing to me.

    Patsy Walker is a fucking super-hero that’s been associated with other super-heroes for years and years. And she’s homeless AND THEN FIRED BY HER BEST FRIEND (maybe? Is She-Hulk her best friend) WHO IS ALSO A SUPER-HERO and shacks up with a dude she just beat up.

    With all of the god-like powered super people in NYC, nobody can get her a home or a meal or anything? I don’t know, it seemed so cold to me. I liked the comic, but her life is so stunningly fucked up. She’s homeless, broke, no job, and goes out for drinks. With again, her best friend, who has to understand her situation.

    She’s being financially taken advantage of by others. She’s displaying signs of alcoholism. She’s seeking vengeance by beating up others that she doesn’t even know who aren’t really criminals, are just shitty ex-boyfriends.

    There was a lot in here that I really found dark. That it was covered with so much fizz and sugar and bubbles (and excellently executed, the fizz and sugar and bubbles took some of the best of modern fizz and sugar and bubbles and mixed it very well) made it even darker to me. I’m not sure this was the intent or not. But it was fucking creepy as hell to me.

    I liked it, but if Patsy Walker was a real person, I’d be afraid for her and of her. As displayed here, she is one fucked up young woman.

    • Well, you’re not wrong, Kaif. Besides those points, there’s also the fact that Patsy is very adamant about shunning her past, be it screwed up trips to hell or a twisted mother, perhaps in denial about it. This Patsy is very mercurial and impulsive and ruled by her emotions, and it’s very fun, but you’re right, it’s not very stable. I don’t expect this title to necessarily become “dark,” but I do wonder if this is something that will come into focus as we get deeper into the series. The creative team does seem to be dancing around some of these facts without necessarily committing to them at the moment, which does make me think that they’re at least aware of them.

      I think the only point there I might take objection to is her moving in with Ian — I took that more as a sign of (both their) generous, friendly personalities and Patsy’s ability to forgive and connect with people if they give her a reason to — it’s the resistance to cynicism and bitterness Ryan mentions in her half of the piece. A lot of stuff falls into place for Patsy because she’s open to new ideas, but it’s also that kind of thinking that probably got her sleeping in a storage room to begin with, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether that continues to be a positive, or if Leth and Williams begin to explore the downsides of Patsy’s personality as well.

      • I think I understand the creators’ intent in having Patsy move in with Ian. I just think both of them are loony.

        Ian: He needs a roommate, so he picks up a homeless girl that has Hell issues, no money, no job. How is this supposed to help him needing a roommate? He needed cash paying roommate, not a companion. It wasn’t empty space he was trying to fill. It really makes no sense. Unless he’s crazy or evil.

        Patsy: Her motivations are at least somewhat pure – She has no home and he seems to have nice stuff. But he’s more powerful than her, he just robbed a bank, and he doesn’t have a job. He’s also not clever enough to use telekinesis to get a job, which maybe is fair in the current state of the Marvel world (of course, he could probably go to Parker industries, as they seem super hero friendly). It seems crazy and dangerous, but I guess less crazy and dangerous than sleeping on the street, which seems the next option.

        I liked the comic a lot. I thought it was creative and inventive and puts another clever and cute comic on the shelves that’s accessible by a large number of non-comic readers. I just think there’s a hugely dark edge, and I’m not convinced it was intentional. We’ll see – I’m definitely reading next issue.

        • Not entirely sure I would call it a dark edge, but I think those aspects are intentional. I mean, these aspects exist in the same book where, Patsy has to deal with a comic about her life being re-released, and everything about that comic has a similar edge. I just keep remembering Gone Girl.

          These aren’t characters that aren’t all that well put together. I do think that despite the bright tone, the book is going for ‘kids trying to deal with their issues even as they have no idea how’ kind of vibe. They are people who aren’t in the perfect place in their lives, they’re a bit desperate, but have the chance to find a good place, if they navigate everything correctly.

          They aren’t messed up in dark ways, like, say, Mark Waid’s Daredevil was supposed to be but failed miserably at, but are normal, messed up people trying to deal with being a messed up person. The fact that Patsy has all those problems you mentioned is the point, and her having to navigate all that is the story. The edge you found is the key to the story

        • “Not entirely sure I would call it a dark edge”

          You don’t have to. I would. She’s unemployed, homeless, gets evicted from squatting and becomes more homeless, implies she’ll sleep with a guy she to live with him because his place is nice (“oh, my OWN bed? haha, right. Sure. I’ll need that.”) and he likes showtunes too even though he has no money and just finished robbing a bank and she’s known him for 8 hours, has no money of her own for rent or food but does have money for beer and shopping, her only friend fires her, but at least takes her out for drinks, because THAT will make it better, and it’s all a laugh… haha, whee.

          Nobody else got this read from it except for me. I like this book less every reread, because it’s disturbing to me. This isn’t a light-hearted, funny romp about a young woman discovering herself through some tough times, this is a dark story about a woman trying to pretend to be something while she’s homeless, violent, and alcoholic.

          Does nobody else find it weird that she’s homeless and her best friend, a lawyer/Avenger/Defender fires her and it doesn’t seem to be an issue? The issue is old comic books? Not that she’s penniless and has no possessions? (You don’t need possessions to be happy,and maybe being part of Hellcat means you don’t need to shower or have a bed because you can sleep curled up on the floor, but it’s probably better if it’s your own floor, but I don’t want to judge. I’m not big on possessions, either.)

        • It’s possible Hellcat doesn’t need her own bed because she’s part cat and sleeps on the floor, not implying sex for money. I don’t know. That’s why it didn’t matter she didn’t have a shower, either. She’s part cat, and cats don’t shower.

        • I think you are seriously misinterpreting the bed line. I think the joke there was that she did a speech about why she doesn’t need any more than she has, and how she is always pushing forward, only to be reminded that she is actually missing an actual necessity, which is why they go bed shopping.

          I also think it is unfair to say that She-Hulk fired her. She was made redundant, which sucks, but it is important that she doesn’t lose her job out of anything malicious. Quite simply, her boss her can’t afford to pay her, even as they are still close friends. Is Patsy upset? Yes. But she also understands that it isn’t She-Hulk’s fault.

          The way I see it is that the book is about two people trying to survive in a world where nothing horrible is happening, but they also have lost every hand they have played recently due to no fault of anyone, and are trying to deal with that even as they try and get a win.

          I don’t think she’s trying to be something. She’s just dealing with it, in whatever way she can. Sometimes, she feels like punching someone, other times, she is creating ambitious business ventures in a way to help fix the problems of her and others like her.

          I’ll say it again, as I like how I said it and sums it up perfectly.

          This is a book about two people trying to survive in a world where nothing horrible is happening, but they also have lost every hand they have played recently due to no fault of anyone, and are trying to deal with that even as they try and get a win.

          Though if he want to talk about dark aspects, that is where the comics really come in. There is a reason Trish/Patsy in Jessica Jones was done as a survivor of her mother’s abuse, and there is a reason I am getting Gone Girl comparisons. Those comics are the real dark edge

  3. Trying to work out much to say that you guys haven’t said already. It is a great, charming comic, and I kind of love how the office where Charles Soule works as a lawyer is now an important place in the Marvel Universe. And the inherent humour of Marvel’s only response to the Jessica Jones TV show is a book so different to Jessica Jones that not only is the tone so completely different, but the main character is referred to by a completely different name, a name that has a very nasty association in the show

    Maybe my one problem is with the ending, of Patsy getting a retail job. Considering we have been introduced with her struggling to find her place, in seems weird that it would be easy for her to pick up another job. If it was that easy for her, why did she find herself in a situation where she was living in a store room of She-Hulk’s office building?

    And quite simply, it would have been a funnier and better ending to end on the cliffhanger of ‘Can she find even a simple retail job?’

    Still, really enjoyable comic, and I liked it.

    And on the whole ‘All-New All-Different Marvel books focus on whimsy and humor’ thing, it would be interesting to do a count. Because there is a good number of them, but we also have things like Iron Man, Spider-man, Thor and stuff doing the same old, same old. Is there really a majority focus? Or are we just surprised because Marvel have now committed a small bunch of titles to what what once an ignored market, and we aren’t used to that market being serviced like it is at the moment?

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