Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Cat (1972) [COMICS]

Marvel's short-lived 1972 series The Cat holds an interesting place in comics history, as it was one of the company's interesting, well-intentioned, and perhaps naive attempts to combine standard super-hero stories for a largely male audience with the women's liberation movement.*

Written by Linda Fite, the first issue of The Cat tells how Greer Nelson, the young widow of a macho, controlling cop killed in the line of duty, becomes the lab assistant for the brilliant Dr. Tumolo. Tumolo is working on an experimental device to help bring women to their full physical and mental potential, but the university is unwilling to give her enough funding to continue the project. She brings in an outside investor named Mal Donaldbain, but Donaldbain secretly oversees the construction of another copy of the device, planning to use it to create an army of amazons to run a new chain of health emporiums all over the world, which he can then use to help . . . I'm not sure--conquer the world or something? This part of the comic didn't make much sense.

But anyway, Greer undergoes Tumolo's experimental process and gains somewhat vague super-powers: impressive athletic ability, increased intelligence, and a new "women's intuition" sixth sense. Later, Dr. Tumolo stumbles upon Donaldbain's nefarious plan and he (apparently) has her murdered. Dressed in the guise of The Cat (complete with climbing claws), Greer confronts Mal and takes advantage of his phobia of being touched, driving the man to suicide by gunshot! A surprisingly dark ending, and not the sort of thing I associate with early 1970s Marvel super-hero comics. In an epilogue, Greer does feel torn about what she's done. Except for the ludicrous motive of the villain and the somewhat hackneyed origin story, it's actually a pretty decent comic.

In the second issue of The Cat, Greer visits the surprisingly still-alive but unconscious Dr. Tumolo at the hospital. Somehow, Greer's "women's intuition" super-power allows her to psychically communicate with Tumolo and learn that Tumolo's supposed "nephew" also visiting her is actually a fake! It turns out, actually, that he's an agent for mildly-obscure super-villain and frequent Daredevil foe, The Owl. The Owl sends henchmen to kidnap Tumolo for the purpose of draining her intelligence and memories into an artificial databank of the world's greatest minds that only he can access. Aren't comics fun! As The Cat, Greer rescues Tumolo, but not before The Owl drains the poor doc's memories and then escapes.

The third issue takes place weeks later, with Tumolo a virtual vegetable from having her mind drained. Greer's women's intuition power allows her to detect strange sonar signals. Investigating further, she discovers a massive underwater dome she believes is being operated by the Navy. The villainous Commander Kraken attacks and tries to take over the dome, but Greer and the dome's crewmen fight him off. Later, after Greer leaves, it is revealed that the inhabitants of the dome aren't Naval personnel at all--but space aliens! Yes, I could gave been reading Shakespeare instead of this, but Shakespeare didn't include enough space aliens and Commander Krakens in his work to make it worth my while.

Due to scheduling conflicts of some sort of another, the fourth and final issue of The Cat combines a shorter-than normal Greer story with a reprint back-up featuring the X-Men's Ms. Marvel. In the main feature, Greer is having an afternoon out with an old high school friend named Sally when the two stop for lunch in a tavern. Greer rebuffs a lecherous patron who accosts them, but it turns out that lech is actually the Man-Bull! They have a very truncated fight at a stockyard, in which the Man-Bull is quickly knocked unconscious. The end.
There's no acknowledgements in the letters' page that this would be the final installment of The Cat--indeed, it even talks about what will happen "next ish." Wikipedia says a fifth issue was drawn but never released.

A somewhat pathetic ending, then, for a series that tried to accomplish something good. Linda Fite successfully managed to outfit The Cat with standard super-hero tropes (costumed adversaries, outlandish plots, etc.) while at the same time imbuing the title character with a feminist outlook on life that avoided the shrewish caricatures many male writers had portrayed feminists in the past (and would continue to do so in the future). Unfortunately, mainstream comics have simply not had much success with female headliners, much less female headliners that don't walk around in skimpy costumes and anatomically-impossible large bosoms. As for the fictional Greer Nelson, she's had an interesting history--two years after The Cat ended, Tony Isabella transformed her into Tigra, while another copy of her cat suit was found and donned by Patsy Walker, who assumed the identity Hellcat.

* As a sign of the times, the back cover of the first issue of The Cat is an advertisement for LaSalle Extension University, a home-correspondence course school. In a big list of programs available, there is a smaller list titled "Careers for Women", including, among other things, Dental Office Assistant, Interior Decorating, Secretarial, and Stenotype--absent are presumed male-only fields like Business Management, Law, and Diesel Mechanics.

1 comment:

Darci said...

Like you, I lament the changes made to Greer since her short-lived series ended. The story promised at the end of issue 3 was “The Cat — Spawn of the Devil? So cries — the Witch!”, written by Linda Fite and at least partially drawn by Ramona Fradon. Trina Robbins’ “The Great Women Superheroes” (Kitchen Sink Press, 1996) includes a glimpse of what might have been.

Instead, issue #4 was filled with the Man-Bull story and Marvel Girl reprint. There’s an untold story there, which perhaps someone could get Linda Fite or Roy Thomas to tell, about what went wrong.

BTW, the filler in #4 was from X-Men #57 (June 1973) (and did not star Ms. Marvel (it featured Jean Grey)). Also, the villain's last name was Donalbain (no "d" in the middle).
Hope this helps!