Monday, September 14, 2009

If You Blinked You Missed: Beware! The Claws of the Cat

In 1972 Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee decided that the time was right to initiate a line of comicbooks featuring female leads. Women's Lib was huge, especially in the hearts and minds of the collegiate readers so near and dear to Stan's heart. He didn't wasn't happy with the straight romance comics Marvel was producing because, let's face it, Stan's thing was superheroes, action, and adventure. He dug it, and he knew his fans dug it. So newly-crowned editor-in-chief Roy Thomas was given the task to take the concepts Stan had dreamed up, The Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, and Night Nurse and make 'em into comicbook reality. Stan had especially high hopes for the lone straight-out superheroine in the bunch, Greer Nelson, aka the Cat.

Written by the soon-to-be-Mrs. Herb (Incredible Hulk) Trimpe, Linda Fite with art by the incomparable team of penciler Marie Severin and inker Wally Wood, The Claws of the Cat #1 (August 1972) had all the earmarks of another hit for Marvel. A likable, realistic, tragic lead character thrust into the role of a superhero. Story wise and art wise, The Cat #1 was a wonderfully crafted tale that could have come straight from Marvel's Silver Age heyday, but given a "modern" 1970s sensibility. Fite's plot was heart-wrenching and moody; her dialogue straight from the Roy Thomas/Gerry Conway/Denny O'Neil school of "relevance". The art by Severin and Wood was lush and as moody as Fite's story. It should have been a smash-hit.

Unfortunately, the magic that made that first issue so special quickly began to unravel. When issue #2 (October 1972) hit the stands, Wally Wood was gone, with veteran Supergirl artist Jim Mooney replacing him on the inks. With issue #3 (January 1973), an entirely new art team, Paty Greer and Bill Everett was on board. Issue #4's (March 1973) art was by the combined talents of Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, and Frank McLaughlin. So, while the art on each issue was excellent, it was, mildly put, inconsistent. It's hard to build an audience when the character's look changes--sometimes drastically--from issue to issue. (That's not even taking into account the legendary unpublished Ramona Fradon story.)

The other problem was that, while Fite's writing chops were pretty sharp, her choices of villains left much to be desired. Two "B"-list Daredevil villains (The Owl in #2 and Man-Bull in #4) and a "C"-list Sub-Mariner villain (Commander Kraken) didn't do a thing to help The Cat establish any type of identity. Lack of a good supporting cast also kept the book from living up to its potential.

In Stan Lee's own words (from the Superhero Women, 1977), "We blew it."

Though The Claws of the Cat faded into comicbook oblivion, Greer Nelson wasn't forgotten. Months later she'd be mutated and elevated to the role of Tigra, the Were-Woman and become a mainstay in the Marvel Universe, appearing in everything from the Fantastic Four to Spider-Woman to the Avengers.


  1. Hi Groovy one!
    I agree The Cat, should have a big hit, I like Red Sonja alot also. but I loved the cat, being a cat lover all my life also didn't hurt. I really loved the cover of that first issue as well. It was a groovy montage piece, just like the classic cover to Luke Cage Hero for Hire#1 & A Man called Nova!

    You should do a article on all the similar covers as well one day. The Cat cover & Cage covers back grounds were even dark red I believe. so they looked even more similar. I loved Hell Cat in the Defenders & Tigra in the Avengers as well. But I still missed the original Cat character.

  2. Brilliant! Haven't read that since it was first reprinted in a long ago Marvel UK weekly back in the '70's. Always loved The Cat, and thought she deserved a longer life, and didn't like Tigra at all! Fun feminism / relevance (especially naming your heroine after Germaine Greer!) & and Marie & Woody on top form. That's my favourite Woody cover ever actually, not least because he presented into the Marvel offices with pubic hair & nipples on Greer, prompting Marie & John Romita into a hasty 'touch-up'job...

  3. The name "Greer Nelson" was actually more of a nod to Paty Greer, a Marvel fan who corresponded with Marie Severin and who became Marie's assistant and then--as noted in Groove's post--did some art for Marvel. She may be better known as Paty Cockrum--yep, the late Dave's widow.

    Interesting how Marvel lagged behind DC in terms of headlining their heroines. Testing the waters for the femme comics in Groove's post was the 8-issue Black Widow feature in Amazing Adventures(1970). The Widow's solo feature was a misguided mess, despite the talents of John Buscema, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas and others. In the meantime DC had spotlighted Wonder Woman, Supergirl,and Lois Lane in their own comics/stories for a number of years; also, relative newcomers Batgirl and Rose and the Thorn enjoyed their own features.

  4. The characters seem to take a radical swerve between issues 1 (co-plotted with Roy) and 2 (solely by Linda). At the end of 1, Greer was alone (Shirlee dead, Tumulo dead, Donalbain dead, etc.). Then in 2 Tumulo not only resurfaced, but turned into an invalid Greer had to watch over.

    I've never heard that story about Wood's cover. Was that in Back Issue #17 (July 2006)?

  5. Not sure where I heard that story about Woody's Cat cover, but it was something he did regularly, certainly at EC, and of course, he spent months making Power Girl's breasts steadily bigger throughout subsequent issues of All-Star Squadron, just to see how long it would take before anybody noticed.
    And that's an even better story about Paty Greer / Cockrum, Sharon, I didn't know that.

  6. Pete, Sharon, and Darci: thanks for the excellent conversation here! I should'a mentioned the Greer/Paty Cockrum connection in my post. DOH!

    Thanks, too, for the idea for a "comparing covers" post, Mike! Good one!

  7. Hello,

    I want to thank you this contribution.
    It had been searching this comic for many years.
    You are fantastic.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  8. The Cat might have done very well if she was part of Spider-Man's world like the Punisher. If that was the case, the Black Cat would not have been created.

  9. This Issue was re-printed in Superhero Women (Marvel/Fireside) - I came across it just recently and forgotten it was in my collecting from the (now fairly expensive to acquire (Superhero Women) Book from (Marvel/Stan Lee). Perhaps it didn`t hit off so well back when I was growing up, is a misnomer -- but it`s a classic now! Just re-acquired this issue.



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