Today, Shelby and Ryan are discussing Patsy Walker: A.K.A. Hellcat! 4, originally released March 23rd, 2016.
Shelby: I don’t have a lot of female friends. I know, I know, girls love to say they’re the kind of girl who only hangs out with boys, but it’s true; I’ve always had more close friendships with men than with women. I’m sure in my salad days it was a matter of not wanting to be a girly girl, of assuming there were two kinds of girls in the world and wanted to be the cool girl instead of the girl girl. Now that I’m both older and wiser, I’ve learned that there are as many kinds of women in the world as there are people who identify as women, and there is nothing wrong with having a strong lady crew for both hair/makeup-doing and whiskey/beer-drinking (Selene, girl, I’m lookin’ at you *wink!*). Unsurprisingly, Patsy Walker: A.K.A. Hellcat! has got me thinking about the juxtaposition between being a girly girl and one-of-the-guys girl, and how it’s perfectly all right to be both and everything in between.
Four issues, three jobs: Patsy is still trying to find some kind of employment to tide her over until she can get her super-powered temp agency off the ground. This time, it’s at Wishful Inking (a tattoo parlor I wish were real because adorable), owned and operated by Tara Tam, friend of Howard the Duck and secret Patsy Walker Fan. Meanwhile, we finally get to meet the elusive Casiolena, who is indeed recruiting the newly super-powered for her villain squad. Bailey, our magic bag thief from Patsy’s brief stint in retail, is sent to abduct Patsy with predictable results.
Patsy texts Valkyrie, and together they take Bailey the Bag Lady back to Casiolena, who handily captures the lot of them and monologues a while about how, thanks to her eager recruits trying to impress her with their supercrimes, she’s already winning. Patsy’s capture means that not only does she have to listen to her super-powered nemesis, she also is missing a very important meeting with her civilian nemesis Hedy Wolfe.
Flash Fact: everything I know about Patsy Walker/Hellcat I learned in these last 4 issues. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a wholly unfamiliar superhero book from one of the big two, and I’m rather enjoying the experience. Sure, a big part of me wants to hit up Wikipedia to find out what exactly happened between Patsy and Casiolena back in the day, but instead I’m going to learn with the rest of Patsy’s team as she reluctantly tells her history. I’m tremendously impressed with the way writer Kate Leth is handling that history; Patsy Walker has been both a young romance-esque star and a powerful superhero, and Leth somehow manages to give us both in one book. The weirdest part is, it works; Leth easily takes us along with Patsy as she tries to find steady employment, talk to cute boys, go out for drinks with girls, and battle a Norse demigod with a score to settle. Even weirder: the exact same situation exists in the book itself. We live in a world where Patsy Walker was a character in a romance book for teen girls before she was a superhero, and Patsy lives in that exact same world. It’s meta and tremendously clever.
The art team on this book is equally clever. Artist Brittney L. Williams and colorist Megan Wilson deliver a super cute, candy-colored universe that somehow suits both the romantic and superhero sides of the issue. The best part is the attention these ladies pay to the background details in each panel. Look through the book, and you’ll find panels with mini B-plots unfolding in background. While Casiolena discusses her grand plan with Bailey the Bag Lady, behind her we see henchman Poppo open a bottle of wine for his mistress, get said wine spilled all over him, and sadly accept a towel from another henchman.
None of that has anything to do with the actual story; it does, however, serve the purpose of adding some action to an otherwise uneventful bit of exposition. Williams and Wilson are very successfully doing their part to keep this story both a romance book and a superhero book. My absolute favorite panel, though, is one in the tattoo parlor. Patsy is chatting with Howard, but it’s the background action that drew my eye. In case you were wondering, yes she is shaving that woman’s arm before she tattoos it, and yes that is what happens before you get a tattoo, regardless where it’s located on your person.
But what really struck me this issue was the difference between Patsy’s and Casiolena’s motives. They’re both working towards the same end: collecting young, disenfranchised, newly super-powered people. But where Patsy wants to do it by helping others to help themselves, Casiolena is all empty promises of power and a better life.
I can’t help but think of the world’s most hated, most heated, most orange presidential candidate. That’s the most succinct description of what Trump did to create his following that I’ve ever read. Casiolena is rich (not as rich as she says), powerful (not as powerful as she says), and really good at convincing others they can be as rich and powerful as she pretends to be. Compare that to Patsy, who has nowhere near the resources and is only trying to create a community of people able to support themselves with the talents they already have. Leth has given us a book that is both young romance and superhero punching, both light-heartedly cute and an allegory for our terrible presidential election. To cleverly reference back to my opening paragraph, Patsy Walker is every kind of girl. Ryan, what did you think of the issue; did you notice the election similarities as well, or am I just burned out on politics?
Ryan: Casiolena as Trump is perfect. I’m especially into it because I like Patsy’s chances at beating Casiolena and I take my surrogate catharsis where I can get it. Whatever happens with Trump’s campaign, I’m not sure whether we will ever get as crsytallized a moment of disappointment from his supporters as we do when Bailey bellows about her student loans.
Separate from the villain’s resemblance to a current candidate, there is an underlying politics to the entire series. Hellcat’s mission is a battle for the soul of the millennial. Patsy is trying to corral her fellow young people into meaningful work and away from her embittered elder who offers money and power in place of altruism. She works a series of jobs for which she is over-qualified, while maintaining her passion project and trying to articulate her search for authenticity.
There is an inter-generational dynamic happening here. Yes, Howard is an alien and Patsy has lived through four decades of super-heroics, but, in the panel above, he is a concerned fogey in a fedora who doesn’t understand why Patsy would give up a stable job. She, on the other hand, is wearing a spiked leather jacket, gets an impromptu tattoo and may or may not be wearing bike shorts under her skirt. I’m not certain about the bike shorts thing, even after re-examining all the pages at the tattoo parlor and feeling like a weirdo from staring at Patsy’s thighs. Though, if she isn’t wearing shorts, she is awfully close to giving Howard a show in the above panel. Aside from this potential flashing incident, Patsy’s tattoo is kind of the only thing that “happens” in the first half of the issue.
For a young person figuring out where they belong, the personal is political. Patsy’s choice to get the cartoony Hellcat face permanently drawn onto her body is an affirmation about that part of her life. One of the things that makes this such a fun book is that Patsy has no angst about being Hell-Cat. It’s just the rest of her life that she needs to figure out. Williams and Wilson again do great work here, contrasting the silly Hellcat image with the more realistic texture of Tara’s gloves.
Shelby, to your point about the duality of Patsy’s civilian and hero lives, I love that she is able to both be an “every kind of girl” and uniquely herself. Patsy doesn’t compartmentalize her personality. She isn’t a bubbly girl with her friends and a dour bad-ass with the bad guys. Instead, she is able to be the same bubbly bad-ass in all situations. Leth’s characterization of Patsy is so consistent that only four issues in, I know I can depend on a certain verve and spirit from Patsy, no matter who she is dealing with. Her emotional openness and honesty draw people to her. Leth writes her in contrast to a character like Bailey.
Bailey’s pathetic attempt to list her super-villain bonafides just make me wanna shake my head and say “oh honey” because she is trying so hard to be something that she’s not. The art underlines the distance between Bailey and the image she tries to project. As Bailey lists her minor crimes, the background becomes pink polka dots. Bailey is about as dangerous as the lining of a Kate Spade purse.
Given that I just referenced the details of a handbag, it’s safe to say that I am a girl girl. Shelby, as you said, there are millions of ways to be a woman. What Patsy shows us is that it’s most important to be yourself.
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?