The First Patsy Walker Story

MISS AMERICA MAGAZINE had started out as simply MISS AMERICA COMICS, solo-starring the patriotic character then being featured in Timely’s MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS as well. But buying tastes were beginning to change in the marketplace, and so publisher Martin Goodman switched gears, transitioning MISS AMERICA into a hybrid magazine aimed at girls. The super-heroine would continue to appear in comic book stories (at least for the next issue or two), but much of the content would be comprised of text features such as “Don’t Be a Pin-Up Girl” and “Are You Having Date Problems?” These pages were largely printed in two colors, which represented a small bit of savings on the printing bill while also making the release look more like a genuine magazine. Even the cover was different, with 15-year-old Dolores Conlon modeling a homemade Miss America costume.

But the big surprise hidden away in the back pages of this second issue was the inaugural story of a character who would go on to have a surprisingly long publishing life, and even switch genres successfully along the way. This was Patsy Walker, a typical American teen-age girl who was clearly conceived as a distaff equivalent to MJL’s Archie, which had been growing in popularity and circulation. The character had been conceived and this first story written by Stuart Little (no, not the mouse), the husband of the magazine’s new editor, Bessie Little. It was illustrated by Ruth Atkinson.

Like Archie before her, Patsy Walker became popular pretty straight away, despite debuting in the back of the magazine. It wasn’t long before she graduated to a series of her own (while still maintaining her berth in MISS AMERICA.) Eventually, as the tastes of the audience shifted and ten humor comics such as hers came into greater vogue, Patsy would end up starring in additional series, comics with titles such as PATSY AND HEDY and PATSY AND HER PALS. She survived long enough to transition from the midst of the Golden Age of Comics to still being a going concern in the Silver Age, even after the rise of the new Marvel Age of super heroes. In fact, Patsy became an early crossover character when she and Hedy appeared briefly at the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm in FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3.

Eventually, though, as the comic book industry began to contract and genres beyond super hero titles began to face hard times (as well as increased competition from other media) Patsy could no longer support her own series. PATSY WALKER ended in 1965 after 124 issues, and PATSY AND HEDY made it to late 1966 (with a cover date of February 1967) and issue #110. But still, this wasn’t quite the end for America’s Teenage Sweetheart. Because if there was one proposition that the new wave of fans-turned-writers were all about in the 1970s, it was connecting dots throughout comic book history.

And so it was that, needing supporting players to fill out the cast of the Beast strip that he’d inherited that was running in AMAZING ADVENTURES, writer Steve Englehart decided to bring back Patsy Walker, now married to her longtime boyfriend Buzz Baxter, who had served in Vietnam and was now providing security for the notorious Brand Corporation, where Hank McCoy, the disguised Beast, was employed. The Beast strip was short-lived, however, and Englehart didn’t quite ever get to wrap up the ongoing plotlines that he’d begun in it–so, undaunted, he decided to bring the Beast into AVENGERS as a new member, as it was a title that he was by then scripting. And right behind him came Patsy Walker.

In AMAZING ADVENTURES, Patsy had learned that the Beast was really Hank McCoy, and was using this knowledge to blackmail him. What she wanted, it turns out, was to become a super hero like him. And in one of those comic book coincidences that were a lot more commonplace and forgivable back during the Bronze Age of Comics, during their subsequent adventure, the Avengers come across the uniform which had once been used by the defunct super-heroine the Cat, and decide for no good Earthly reason to present it to Patsy. Thus attired, she became known as Hellcat, and transitioned over to DEFENDERS where she was a long-tenured member in good standing.

Enough time had gone by at this point that Patsy’s earlier stories couldn’t possibly have happened to the same person (not if Patsy was going to be as young as she was portrayed) and so it was revealed that many of the earlier Patsy Walker stories were just that–stories written by Patsy’s mother about the future she envisioned for her newborn little girl. (How Mom was able to correctly predict that Patsy would grow up to have a friend/enemy named Hedy Wolff and date a guy named Buzz Baxter can only be chalked up to precognition.) And Patsy, as Hellcat, remains a player within the Marvel Universe to this day.

8 thoughts on “The First Patsy Walker Story

  1. SOME OF THESE OLD PATSY WALKER STORIES DESERVE A MODERN REPRINT!!!

    In various Hellcat stories, there were enough references to Patsy’s background in her as a comic book character that it made me want to chase some of these books down to get some context for what they were really like. Of the issues I found, a lot of the stories were pretty one-dimensional and formulaic, BUT there were a few I read that really stood out that showed how much the creators were playing with the format in ways that even Deadpool could respect.

    In Patsy Walker #14, in “Affair of the Heart,” there are narration captions that speak to the reader, readers are drawn into the comic, and Hedy responds to them. Some thought balloons are just illustrations that amusingly convey the character’s inner emotions rather than using words, and a running gag about covering up panels with a “censored” panel.

    While the later stories I read felt a little “sanitized,” some of the early comics had these characters behave in a kind of unapologetic meanness (but in an amusing madcap way) towards one another. It gave a few of these stories a bit of a sharp humor that I hadn’t expected.

    Later on when Stan Lee was on the title, there was a great meta-textual moment in Patsy and Hedy #78 in which Heddy goes to New York to confront Stan Lee and Al Hartly about the comic she was in — insisting they change the stories to make HER the protagonist. This was a couple years before Stan did a similar trick with Doctor Doom visiting the Marvel offices in Fantastic Four #10. Except in this case, the rest of the story was drawn in comic-within-a-comic format with Hedy’s editorial direction incorporated.

    Then there was a great instance of an easter egg crossover — you may recall these old girl-focused comics having “Patsy’s outfit by:” followed by the name of some reader (which might have been real or made-up). Anyway, In an issue of Kathy #14 (kind of a Patsy clone), the characters notice Patsy and Hedy #79 is on sale which is a big deal because Kathy sent in a drawing of an outfit. Cathy is happy because they used it and her rival Liz is resentful because the drawing she sent wasn’t included — until we learn at the end that it WAS used, just in a different issue: Patsy Walker #98. And lo and behold, those real-world specific issues DO actually feature these “Pasty’s outfit by…” these fictional Kathy and Liz characters.

    Which is similar to when Patsy and Hedy learn that Jack Kirby was coming to town to find a model to use for the cover of his Love Romances #106 comic. While they chase down the wrong guy, their brunette friend Nancy encountered Jack independently and he picked her. When Love Romances #106 came out, it did feature a brunette on the cover (mind you, Kirby and Hartley draw women differently, but hey — it doesn’t NOT line up either).

    As this character’s comic went from teen humor to teen drama, there was even a moment late in the series that anticipated her future as a super-hero! In Patsy in Hedy #108, the two frenemies are out on a boat diving for treasure. After being a pill, Hedy dives down and gets her foot caught. Up above on the boat the captain gives a half-assed attempt to save her but gives up because the waters are getting too rough. He surfaces and says there’s no hope. But Patsy shows more grit than the dude and risks her own life to save the “friend” that was berating her just pages prior. I think this issue resonated because after reading a bunch of comics that had light entertaining appeal but were from an era that was decidedly more sexist, it was refreshing to see Patsy display such agency, strength, and self-sacrificing heroism.

    Lastly, there were a handful of painted covers by Louise Altson that deserve a special mention (Patsy Walker #25-28). They have a charming, Norman Rockwell-esque appeal. You may be somewhat familiar with one of these — #26 got a lovely modern homage a few years back by Julian Totino Tedesco in Patsy Walker aka Hellcat #7).

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  2. Y’know, I’d buy a modern reprint of these stories. As a “Brit” I find them absolutely fascinating, especially the perspective / insight they provide on American life (even in an idealized comic form) in the 1940’s and beyond. There’s a thesis in there somewhere for an aspiring social historian.
    Correct me if my memory plays me false, but in the original “X-Men” comics wasn’t Hank regularly trying to go on dates with a girl called Patsy? Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that Nightcrawler also knew a lady of that appellation. Obviously a very popular name / nickname in the U.S.

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    1. George McDonald Fraser of the historical Flashman novels has talked about how amazing 1930s and 1940s films are as a resource for the era (even given they’re not documentaries at all) and how he’d love to have something like them for the Victorian stories he writes. There’s something of the same here.

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    2. In the original X-Men run, Hank dated Vera. Bobby dated Zelda (at least until he met Lorna Dane). And while Warren was part of a romantic triangle with Jean and Scott, once that ended he met his old flame Candy Sothern (later ‘Southern’), named for the novel CANDY, co-written by Terry Southern. No Patsys, unless there was an incidental character by that name.

      [Hank did, as noted above, cross paths with a Patsy later, but it was Patsy Walker.]

      With Nightcrawler, you might be remembering occasional cameos by (and color works by) Paty Greer Cockrum, wife of Nightcrawler’s co-creator Dave Cockrum.

      Still, I wouldn’t assume that a name is popular in the US just because it showed up in Marvel comics — if so, I’d have expected to meet a lot more Hanks. If I’d ever met a Patsy I’d have thought it was a pretty old-fashioned name.

      kdb

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  3. In DEFENDERS, it became known that Patsy’s mother had made some kind of deal with the devil (if I’m not mis-remembering) so get mother having “precognative” story ideas didn’t sound too far-fetched.

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    1. Ugh… stupid autocorrect.

      so HER mother having “precognative” story ideas DOESN’T sound too far-fetched.

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  4. Hi … every once in a while I google my parents’ names and I love finding that their work is still remembered. My mother, Bessie Little, really broke the glass ceiling in publishing as the editor of Miss America and then many of Goodman Publishing’s other magazines such as Screen Stars, Film Stars and my personal favorite, Teen Life, which had a comic character by the name of Teena-a-GoGo. My father, Stuart Little, was a West Point Graduate, Class of 1918, served in WWI and WWII and retired as a Col. when the war ended. He was a writer, humorist and public relations genius. When I think back to my childhood, I have vivid memories of my mother pounding away on her huge Royal typewriter and I’m amazed at her ability to produce so many magazines with just her vivid imagination and work ethic. I don’t know how my father came up with the name of Patsy, but Walker was his mother’s maiden name. Thanks for the memories … Jane Walker Little Platman

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