The Cat #1

  • Writer: Linda Fite
    Artists: Marie Severin & Wally Wood
    Letter: John Costanza
    Editor and Co-Plotter: Roy Thomas
  • Marvel Comics, 1972

So I wrote one of my typically snarky reviews of The Cat #3 written by Linda Fite, thinking I was oh so clever and funny. I picked it apart, every silly line of Linda’s, each ridiculous premise, heaping scorn on it as I’m apt to, snickering all the way.

Then Linda Fite emailed.

I was mortified. And not just because of how awkward it was, but because I really do love The Cat. I was first introduced to the character in my youth in Stan Lee’s The Superhero Women. Stan seemed to really like the character and so, therefore, did I. You can’t argue with Stan, can you? Even beyond Stan’s endorsement, I thought she was cool.

If you aren’t familiar with the Cat’s origin, and let’s face it, you probably aren’t, you should know that she was a product of feminism. Young Greer Nelson was newly married to a cop who kept her subservient and dull, but he was killed in the line of duty. Starting her life over, she becomes a lab assistant to a woman, Dr. Tumolo, a scientist working on creating the perfect woman. The unsurprising thing is that Greer became that perfect woman. Lab assistants in comics have only two fates, horrific death or super powers. The surprising thing was that in this case “perfect woman” didn’t mean huge boobs and a serpentine spine. There was another woman going through the process, but not for herself, but at the behest of man who was trying to create a big boobed, serpentine spined chick for him to control. The process failed dramatically with her as she fell to her death while Greer’s self-motivation — her desire to better the lives of all women and not be something for a man — brought Greer true betterment until she was able to defeat the man responsible for the other woman’s fall without even touching him. He killed himself rather face her.

Greer got her powers by embarking on a training regimen and treatment that put her at the pinnacle of strength, agility, and endurance. Her senses were enhanced so that she could see in in the dark and feel empathically the emotions and pain in others. Additionally, her mind was enhanced. She became a genius with a perfect memory, extraordinary reading speed, and an intuition that allowed her to, among other things, immediately understand and repair machinery. Sort of a combination of Capt. America’s body, Dr. Mid-Night’s senses, and Reed Richard’s mind.

I loved that first issue, but as Stan told me, the series didn’t last long. Years passed, but I never forgot The Cat, and when I grew up, I bought the entire run of the series, read it in one sitting, still loved it, and then ridiculed it mercilessly in a Queer Eye on Comics review.

Then Linda Fite emailed me.

Of course, if I hated the series, I’d have replied, “Screw you, Linda! You suck!” But I took one look at that email address, and the blood drained from my face with a sickening, “Oh, crap.”

Fortunately for me, Linda Fite is not just a much better person than I am, she’s a better person than I deserve. She was a remarkably good sport, and said she was just pleased that someone was still thinking about the character. She even said I could ask her some questions that had been on my mind literally for decades.

Phew.

It occurred to me that the writer I poked fun of the most in these Queer Eye reviews was Stan Lee himself, so Ms. Fite was in the best of company. There, see? I’m not terrible after all! And about a year later, I screwed up enough courage (chutzpah?) to ask her the questions. Again, she couldn’t have been nicer.

I told her that some of the things I appreciated about the character were that unlike Captain America, who has a very similar origin story, i.e. scientist creates the perfect person, Greer’s origin included a more well rounded perfection, improving her intellect and her empathy. It’s telling that in comics creating the perfect man meant creating someone who is great at kicking ass, but the perfect woman of feminism is also smart and felt others’ pain. Further, Greer had to work for her own improvement, training and studying, not just lie back and be bombard with vita rays from the electrical onmoiveter. Greer was a participant, Steve only a recipient. I asked Linda if those differences were intentional. She confirmed that they were. And I think they were great choices. They elevated qualities that women bring beyond manly strength and suggested that women’s empowerment is going to come through their own efforts, not from some outside savior.

She told me the idea of naming the character the Cat was Stan’s and Roy Thomas’s idea, but she was against it because of the connotations associated with cat terms and women, e.g. cat fight, sex kitten. As it turns out, her concerns were well founded.

If you are familiar with the character of Greer Nelson, it’s probably as Tigra, who’s now appearing in Avengers Academy. In Giant-Size Creatures #1 starring Jack Russel, the werewolf by night, it was revealed retconned that Greer didn’t get her powers because of feminism, but because she was given werecat powers by an underground race of cat people. Later, she turned hyper-sexual, purring and rubbing up against the male Avengers with more gusto than that drunk guy in the bar that night. You remember the one. You thought, “I’ll bet he’d be great in the sack if it didn’t look like he was about to pass out. And where did his pants go?” Him. Tigra’s hormone fueled personality made him look like one of those right wing Christy prudes on TV, while she acted like one of those right wing Christy prudes in an airport restroom. Of course, she also became more violent too, snarling, clawing, viciously fighting, barely outside a murderous frenzy and barely inside a skimpy bikini. In short, a cat-fighting sex kitten.

Greer’s transformation from fully realized woman into super pussy (yes, I do mean that both ways) is so complete that to imagine Greer now acting as if she had a genius intellect seems more outside her character than her coughing up a fur ball or working a pole in Bangkok.

Mind you, I don’t mind comic book bimbos as a rule. Some straight guy wants to fantasize about having a tiger in bed? Sure, why not? Lord knows I’ve had my share of Wildcat fantasies and wouldn’t mind a lot more beefcake shots of him. (By the way, DC, wildcats have whiskers so Wildcat should be unshaven, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with my mustache/beard fetish; it’s science, sexy, sexy science!) But to diminish Greer into that kind of sex fantasy at the expense of her original intention seems especially egregious. She went from a woman’s fantasy of the perfect woman to a straight guy’s fantasy of the perfect piece of tail. (You can do your own tail joke, right?) She’s more of a role model for cats than women now. It’s a shame.

Thinking about what happened to Greer is kind of sad. At least I can take some comfort in finding out how gracious, intelligent, and kind Linda Fite is … who emailed me … and friended me on facebook! Great, right? And entirely better than I deserved. I may have lost perfect woman in Greer, but found her in Linda Fite.

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