The Cat #3 features two fetishes common in the geek community: a) chicks in spandex with sashes/belts, and b) heroines in nets. But for me, it's all about Commander Kraken.
Everybody has that one villain or hero that they love regardless of logic, good taste, or popular opinion. For some, it's The Shaggy Man. For others, Clock King. Me? I'll take Commander Kraken. I was devastated - inconsolably devastated - when Commander Kraken was gunned down by Scourge in the Bar With No Name in Captain America #320 along with a host of lame villains. I guess I had been hoping beyond hope that there would be a Commander Kraken renaissance and my favorite villain would finally take his rightful place alongside Marvel's arch-villains. I mean, Kraken didn't deserve to die on the sawdusty floor of that nameless bar, his blood mingling with that of frickin' Bird-Man. He deserved more, damnit!
Commander Kraken was first a Sub-Mariner foe, but fought Iron Man as well. As you can see, his supervillain stock was falling in the early 70's because he ended up fighting The Cat - and losing. Ouch. I'll bet he didn't put that fight on his resume. Kraken was a malevolent metrosexual, a diabolical dandy, a gentleman pirate who committed nautical supercrimes with the help of a crew of buccaneer flunkies. In true pirate style he had a hook/claw thing on one hand that delivered electric shocks, and a boss Fu Manchu meets Dracula hairstyle. I'm so fond of him that I made a custom Kraken character for the PC game Freedom Force who was just ridiculously tough. Somebody made a Kraken skin for the game, so I can't be the only fan out there.
But enough about Commander Kraken. The Cat was a short-lived series about Greer Nelson, a feline crimefighter who wore a bright yellow outfit with blue accesories. Marvel's answer to Catwoman, The Cat never really took off, although she's been kicking around as a minor heroine in the Marvel Universe for years. These days she's called Hellcat (I believe)* and she still wears the same distinctive yellow bodysuit - you know, for stealth. I think a more appropriate moniker for her would have been "Day-Glo the Traffic Safety Werecat." She could teach kids the importance of wearing bright or reflective clothing while riding a bike. Of course, she'd have to lose the cat ears and wear a blue bike helmet, but I think she could pull it off.
This issue stands out to me because 3 out of 5 members of the creative team were female. Linda Fite wrote this torrid tale, with Paty Greer on pencils and Bill Everett on inks. Paty Greer was a fill-in penciller for this issue - I always thought that was a pen-name, but I Googled her and I guess I was wrong. I really like the art in this issue, particularly Everett's fine inking.
The story? The Cat investigates some strange sonar noises coming from the bottom of Lake Michigan, where she is captured by the unusually garbed occupants of a high-tech undersea lab that she assumes are members of the U.S. Navy. While she's captive, Commander Kraken and his men take over the lab. The Cat joins forces with her strange captors and drives the invaders away. Grateful for her help, the weird Navy guys let her go - only then does she realize that she's been helping aliens! D'oh!
Let's take a look at a page from the book. Kraken, who suddenly has lovely tangerine eye shadow, has taken over the lab. Unseen in her bright yellow costume, The Cat lurks above...
I have to say, Linda Fite's script doesn't make The Cat seem very bright. She gets knocked out not once, but twice, and she assumes the aliens are working for the Navy because as she's sneaking around the lab she finds a closet full off Navy uniforms. WTF? After Kraken has been run off she asks the aliens, "Why didn't you just tell me you're working for the U.S. government?" That's the kind of assumption that you'd make on a sitcom, where characters are required to be dumb in order to advance the plot. At the end of the book, she watches the subaquatic laboratory blast out of Lake Michigan - it was really a spaceship! At least The Cat realizes how dumb she's been: "I let my pride rule me... assuming that I knew all there was to know... and -- I don't." I think I spoke those very words after a history mid-term in college.
The Cat #3. Not a great comic, but it had a lot going for it: Commander Kraken, nice inking, and a superheroine with a sash around her shapely hips. I think modern comic book creators could learn a lot from this issue. Where are the sashes? Where are the heroines in nets?
And most importantly, where is the love for Commander Kraken?
*Correction! Patsy Walker is now Hellcat, in Greer Nelson's old outfit. Greer Nelson is now Tigra, formerly of The Avengers. My bad. Thanks to Prof. Fury for the save!
** Update!!! Thanks and praise be to Milo George, who pointed out that this issue has a fan letter from none other than Frank "The Tank" Miller, circa 1972. Here it is:
Wonderful! At last, a woman character with character. I, for one, am sick of the helpless female types which have cluttered up comics for so long. While I do think they are necessary and nice to look at, they don't have to be the only kind.
The writing is good; the art, excellent. Keep it up!"