The Marvel Super Heroes Podcast Episode 018

Reintroducing Patsy Walker: 70 Years of Marvel’s #1 Hellcat Heroine

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Face Front, True Believers! This week Illegal Machine, Mister Fixit, and Diabolu Frank explore arguably the most successful female protagonist of Marvel/Timely’s Golden/”Middle” Ages, Patsy Walker! “The Girl Who Could Be You” starred in the comics section of Miss America: Teen-Life Magazine, whose 1946 covers boasted it as the largest selling teen-age magazine at “More than 1 MILLION COPIES” (emphasis theirs.) Within months of her 1944 debut, “The Prettiest Gal in Town” gained her own eponymous comic book series, which led to a slew of spin-offs across 23 years of continuous publication from the end of World War II through The Human Be-In. Patsy’s only rival for the #1 lady of Timely/Atlas spot was Millie the Model (1945-1973,) and the only hero to lay such a claim was Kid Colt (1948-1979.) However, of the three only Patsy found a second life in the mainstream Marvel Universe proper (just five years after her series ended,) first as a supporting character to The Beast, then as the costumed heroine Hellcat. We trace her tortured, byzantine, fabulous path through publication lo these past seven decades! In fact, we were so irrepressibly ecstatic, we ran longer than any previous episode and posted two tumblr galleries, here and here!

Patsy (seated at center) and Pals (clockwise from left) Nancy, Hedy, Ronnie, Buzz and Tubbs.

How much was Patsy Walker influenced by Archie Andrews? The cover of Patsy Walker #7 even references a “Riverdale Charity Drive.” It took a while to settle on her red hair though. She’s a brunette on her first eponymous cover, then again for #9-13. She transitioned to auburn on #2-5, strawberry blond on #5-6, and blond on #7-8. Auburn returned from #14, with varying shades thereafter, and she didn’t commit to being a proper ginger until 1950. A possible contributing factor was that her first regular gig was in Miss America Magazine, which routinely featured photo covers of blond and brunette young women. It was only after they switched to illustrated Patsy Walker covers that both series consistently featured her as a redhead. Even when they went back to photo covers, the models’ hair shifted spectrum.

According to Marvel Masterworks Resource Page, the earliest Patsy Walker stories were “written by Stuart Little (the husband of ‘Miss America’s editor for volumes 1-4, Bessie Little).” Their message board has a post featuring sample scans from issues of Miss America Magazine you might like to give a look. It appears that the very first Patsy story page is offered, introducing Buzz Baxter and the Walker family featuring Stanley, Mary, & Mickey. In the postcast, we identified the mother as “Betty,” though we don’t know if that’s an error or just another indication of inconsistency in the parents’ names. Also notice a mention of shopping in Farmdale that makes us wonder if that was Walker’s first hometown name or perhaps a neighbor city to Centerville. 1947’s Miss America Magazine #37 was the first issue to feature Patsy Walker’s name (in the form of her enduring logo) prominently as a sales draw, where it would remain for most of the rest of the run.

Comichron.com reports that in 1962 Patsy & Hedy ranked #45 in all comics sales for that year with an average reported sell through of 139,855 copies, marking it as Atlas/Marvel’s #2 title behind Modeling with Millie‘s 143,476. Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery were relatively close behind. The Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor and Ant-Man were all active that year, but the sales numbers for many of them are unknown in their early years. Comichron’s 1963 rank saw Patsy Walker rise to #29 overall at 174,375 copies on average, though she fell in rank within the Marvel family behind Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt Outlaw, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Journey into Mystery as super-heroes like Iron Man, Human Torch, Wasp and the X-Men ascended, though Patsy did nudge Millie the Model out of the top girls’ humor spot. Comichron 1964 is especially spotty in its reportage, as most super-hero titles remain absent. Strange Tales reported 215,090 for top spot of those listed. Not on the list was Patsy Walker, but our copy of #115 offers sales of 174,300, placing it in the top 50 of books with available numbers. 1965’s Patsy Walker #120 listed average circulation of 195,000, though the issue nearest to filing date sold 211,400, likely due to the course change toward romantic drama. The similarly revised Patsy & Hedy: Career Girls #99 rose from an annual 199,765 to 229,400. That would place them in the bottom third of the top 100 per Comichron, and quite a bit lower than Millie the Model‘s 219,427. Patsy Walker was cancelled by 1966, though Patsy & Hedy: Career Girls #105 posted 199,826 average with a nearest issue surge to 245,175. Well within the top 100, it still wasn’t enough to save the book from the ax in 1967.

The Patsy Walker Baxter Hellstrom Reading List (1944-1989)

  • Miss America Magazine #2-83 (November 1944-March 1953) which was reprinted in Canada by Superior Publishers Limited
  • Patsy Walker #1-124 (Summer 1945-December 1965) which was reprinted in Canada by Bell Features
  • Georgie Comics #8 (November 1946)
  • All Teen #20 #20 (January 1947)
  • Teen Comics #21-35 (April 1947-May 1950)
  • Cindy Comics #30, 34, 36 (August 1948, April & August 1949)
  • Patsy and Hedy #1-110 (February 1952-February 1967)
  • Patsy and Her Pals #1-29 (May 1953-August 1957)
  • Wendy Parker Comics #1-8 (July 1953-July 1954)
  • Girls’ Life #1-6 (January 1954-November 1954)
  • Hedy Wolfe #1 (August 1957)
  • A Date With Patsy #1 (September 1957)
  • Millie the Model Comics #103 (July 1961)
  • Millie the Model Comics #107 (March 1962)
  • Patsy and Hedy Annual #1 (1963)
  • Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965)
  • Modeling with Millie #43 (November 1965)
  • Patsy Walker’s Fashion Parade #1 (1966)
  • Amazing Adventures #13-15 (July-November 1972)
  • The Avengers #139-144 (September 1975-February 1976)
  • The Avengers #147-151 (May 1976-September 1976)
  • The Defenders #44-57 (February 1977-March 1978)
  • Spidey Super Stories #39 (March 1979)
  • The Defenders #59-81 (May 1978-March 1980)
  • The Defenders #83-101 (May 1980-November 1981)
  • The Savage She-Hulk #12-14 (January-March 1981)
  • Spidey Super Stories #53 (July 1981)
  • The Defenders #103-104 (January-February 1982)
  • Captain America #268 (April 1982)
  • Fantastic Four Roast #1 (May 1982)
  • The Defenders #106-111 (April-September 1982)
  • The Defenders #116-122 (February-August 1983)
  • The Defenders #125 (November 1983)
  • The Defenders #148 (October 1985)
  • The Incredible Hulk #277-279 (November 1982-January 1983)
  • The West Coast Avengers Annual #1 (1986)
  • West Coast Avengers #14-16 (November 1986-January 1987)
  • Solo Avengers #9 (August 1988)
  • The Avengers #305 (July 1989)
  • Marvel Comics Presents #36 (December 1989)
  • Avengers Spotlight #27 (Mid-December 1989)

Read Siskoid’s take on RAMPAGING HULK #7, Marvel Comics, February 1978!

As you can tell, we love a fierce conversation and a pretty picture, so why don’t you socialize with us, either by leaving a comment on this page or…

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9 thoughts on “The Marvel Super Heroes Podcast Episode 018

  1. Thanks for this episode as some serious knowledge was obtained. I knew vaguely about the pre-super-hero stuff with Patsy Walker but it was great to learn the nitty-gritty and hear reviews of some actual stories.

    I suppose I lean more with Mr. Fix-It in that the portrayal of these girls in the comics. They were in the crowd I did not run with in high school. I was pretty poor and definitely not cool. And yet, I would probably have read these stories and liked them because as much as I disliked being on the outs with that crowd, I definitely wouldn’t have minded being in that crowd and usually pined for those girls. (sigh)

    As for Hellcat, my earliest recollections of her are in the Defenders in issues numbering in the 90s to 100. I thought she had a cool look, the bright yellow suit just visually slick, especially in contrast of the usual ‘cat slinking in the shadows so wearing black’ usual outfit for feline-inspired characters. And, as a young boy approaching adolescense, I was also intrigued by her eventual transformation into an actual hellcat in Defenders #100. She was hot … literally! (I’ll tweet some pics.) Defenders #100 was also a mind-trip for me at that tender age. Daimon Hellstrom actually fights Satan! Bizarre.

    Thanks to the podcast, I know get why Satan had a hold on her! And the whole mother in comics writing her stories in comics who wrote comics sounds like Hellcat Inception!

    She recently has been a co-star in Charles Soule’s She-Hulk where she plays a sort of impetuous, playful, but very tough hero.

    Thanks again!

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  2. Possibly my favorite episode yet. It was hilarious as well as informative. And I love Hellcat, just never saw any of the original teen humor/romance comics. Now I have to seek them out too! At the end of the 00s, there were a number of fun and charming Hellcat/Patsy projects I’d be happy to recommend: the 2008 Hellcat mini-series has her as the only hero in the Avengers Initiative sent to Alaska. It’s weird and filled with Inuit mythology, but it also has Patsy pages, with advice for girls, love diaries and such. I wish it had gone to series. The next year, she was a member of Marvel’s “Sex and the City” cast in Marvel Divas, another mini full of charm and character. Mostly a comedy, but it did deal with real issues, like Firestar’s cancer scare (when you’re a human microwave, you know). Like Anj said, she’s popped up in She-Hulk as Jen’s P.I., and her appearances have been great.

    Did you mention Valkyrie? Despite appearing in the all-female Defenders a little while ago, she’s full of untapped potential. Could she be up soon on #FranksAgenda?

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  3. What a fantastic podcast, one of my favourites of the year. I knew a little of Patsy’s pre-superhero set-up, but you gave us so much more fascinating information. I have to say, though, that the dismissals of Peanuts from a point of (nice-sounding synonym for ignorance) need correcting. There’s a heck of a lot more to the adventures of the L’il Folks than simple, repetitive gags. OK, there were a hell of a lot of repetitive gags, but the variations were sublime. How many times did Lucy pull that American football away? How many times did the Great Squash fail to show? Yet year after year, Charles M Schulz surprised millions, made them laugh. To compare it to the ultra-lame Family Circus, that’s just upsetting! Do me a favour, try one of the two-week daily strip sequences; Sally Brown and the school wall, say, or the sacking of Miss Othmar? I find them gloriously wonderful little stories. You may not, but at least give them a chance.

    Or just read all of 1968 – that was a fantastic year for the strip.

    Americans really seem to get het up about older guys dating younger girls, bringing up statutory rape at the drop of a hat. If they’re of legal age, anyone can have sex with anyone else and it’s not our place to finger-point. If a May-September thing works, great. If not, it’s a life lesson that hopefully involved fun on both sides. The Patsy Walker strip you were talking about, though, didn’t involves sex, just daft teenagers fancying an older guy, a war hero, and the man being flattered by the attentions. The idea of the swoonsome, sophisticated older man was a common romance theme back then, wasn’t it? This feeds back into Patsy’s crush on Reed Richards.

    Here’s a really interesting article on the history and usage of the word ‘cool’; certainly the term was used in the Fonz sense by the time Hedy was trying out a new bunch of friends.
    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-coo1.htm

    I never realised the Beast’s blue fur was meant to be all black and I don’t think many of the writers did, either – remember all those times he’s been referred to as the ‘bouncing/bounding blue beast’ on panel?

    Anyway, thanks again – I’m especially impressed with the use of music, and sharp editing.

    Like

  4. Great episode, fellas! You never fail to amuse us when one of you comes to a screeching mental halt because of some absurd bit of comics history, even relatively contemporary history. How many times did Mac’s mind break in this episode?

    One of the iconic archetypes that Marvel Studios doesn’t have now is the young, impetuous hero. They don’t have Spider-Man or Johnny Storm, and it would be nice to see this type of youthful energy and inexperience collide with the entrenched Avengers characters. The movie universe could fill that gap with Nova, the new Ms. Marvel, or Hellcat.

    I love your ideas for rebranding Hellcat as the young cosplayer wannabe hero that makes good. It’s a great hook and I think it would appeal to tons of younger fans, particularly young women. Thing is, I think a lot those same characteristics could be used by the new Kamala Khan version of Ms. Marvel. Marvel could tap into that viewer demographic with either one of these young supers-ladies.

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  5. Thanks for the post, Martin! I’ll try to get to the whole thing later, but I’m TOTALLY with you in regards to Patsy and her pals swooning over the war hero uncle. That’s all it was, swooning. To go any further with it is ridiculous. Reading way way way too far into it. That was my point. -Mac

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  6. OK, first I’ll get to what some regard as my pedantry out of the way: The outfit that Patsy, Cap, and Iron Man found at that Brand facility on Long Island was not the Cat’s. The Cat uniforms that Mal Donalbain had made had a “cat’s claw” emblem on the chest, while this one did not. There’s also the matter of Hellcat believing the suit empowered her, which (as you correctly mention) was not the source of Greer and Shirlee’s powers. A few years ago, IIRC on a CBR forum, someone wrote that there was a black-and-white pinup of the Hellcat that described electronic circuitry in her costume that provided her powers. That pinup was supposed to be in a Hulk comic, but I’ve never found it. My in-universe explanation for this is that Brand heard about the Cat second-hand, the same way that Iron Man did (“the rumor in financial circles was…”). This outfit was Brand’s attempt to come up with their own version. In Ghost Rider #27, the Manticore says his outfit was designed “by the same scientist who created the Hellcat costume for Brand Industries.”
    Steve Englehart has said that he disliked the Cat character and felt it was “pandering.” (I’ll assume he meant pandering to feminists.) He had his hands in two deconstructions of the Cat:
    1. He chose the ill-regarded Golden Age/Silver Age character Patsy Walker to take over the costume. Instead of the intense widowed brunette inhabiting the suit, he had the flighty joke-making redhead.
    2. When he got the chance to write the Tigra character, he started having her chase mice, take naps in the sun, and have sex with almost every man she met. When the shortened fill-in story in The Cat #4 ended, the come-on box listed “Next: the Cat meets — ?” No one would have predicted she’d become a nymphomaniac. No one would even have predicted that for Tigra.
    In the Defenders issue where they learn about Dorothy Walker’s deal with the devil, the deal wasn’t Patsy’s soul for success in the comic book industry (intriguing though that sounds). The deal was supposed to be remission of the cancer that was killing her.
    You’ll be glad to know that Patsy wrote ANOTHER tell-all book, “Gidget Goes To Hell”.
    Hope this helps!

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  7. Re: your tangent in podcast #34, the reason you might have missed the news about Rachael Taylor being cast on A.K.A. Jessica Jones is the announcement listed the character as “Trish Walker”. It takes a little figuring to reveal Trish is short for Patricia, who we know from the comics as Patsy. The character is a substitute for Jessica Drew, Jessica’s friend in the comic book series “Alias”, who won’t be in the Netflix series.
    Hope this helps!

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