Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Vixen #1 in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade #2 (Fall, 1978)

"Meet Marilyn Macabe. Fashion model. Business woman. A lady with places to go and things to do... In one sense, her story begins today, at a Park Avenue studio near the end of a long day's photo session... and in another sense... it began seventeen years ago, in a small African village, to a frightened eight year-old child... Tonight, past and present will come crashing together, and in that cataclysmic joining-- A HEROINE WILL BE BORN!"

Photographer Willie Lockman was trying to sweet talk foxy model Mari with some delicately chauvinistic jive, which Mari totally called him on as a ridiculous act. No future trophy bride, Mari wanted more than the cover of Vogue. In fact, she worried her temporary but lucrative modeling career might mean she wouldn't be taken seriously when she tried to do good in the world.

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Marilyn's oldest, dearest friend and business partner, Peg Potamkin, showed off the proofs for her second photo book. It looked to be as big a smash as the first. Next Mari met with Solomon Samuels, her rich boyfriend and publisher, who'd brought flowers and champagne. Their romantic moment was spoiled when footage of the president of the African nation of D'Mulla appeared on television in relation to an upcoming speech at the United Nations. The press may have lauded him as a peaceful leader and the greatest hope for a unified Africa, but Mari went into hysterics upon recognizing the face from her past. In a nicely played moment, panels switched back and forth between the speech and General C'Tanga Manitoba laughing maniacally while firing a machine gun. The woman screamed and fainted.

A few hours later, Mari woke up in Samuels' apartment after a nightmare involving menacing shapes, voices laughing or screaming, and a large knife glinting in the moonlight. These same dreams had haunted Mari as a child, and their return made Mari question her memories and her very sanity. She retrieved a tribal totem she had possessed since before her adoption as a child, from a time she had no clear recollection of. However, she could just imagine a man giving it to her... someone she had loved very much.

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Soon, Mari realized that the man from her dreams was her father, whom she had seen brutally murdered during the bloody revolution of General Manitoba seventeen years earlier. Among C'Mellu Dantogi's final acts was to give his daughter best wishes and a gift from around his neck. "Here, child... this talisman is yours now. Wear it always-- and one day, perhaps... it will give you the power to free your people. But whatever strength you find in it-- you will also find-- in yourself!" Before being butchered, Dantogi also swore to the general that "Memories can kill, Manitoba. You can stop me-- but you cannot stop my truth!" Macabe had been safe in the United States, with Manitoba unaware that she was even alive, but now Mari swore hers truly was a memory that would kill!

Mari and Peg had been friends since school with their lawyer, Andy Jackson Jones, so he was honest with Mari's chances of bringing formal charges against Manitoba. "Dealing with foreign powers--there's just not very much one person can do. Who can you go to? The U.N.? Hell, they rolled out the red carpet for Yassir Arafat..." Frustrated, Mari was reminded of her father's words about her talisman, and thought she might use it as bait to lure Manitoba into a trap. Still, she needed to know what the thing was exactly, and paid a visit to the New York Public Library.

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Following hours of study, Mari determined that she possessed the Tantu Totem, a priceless piece of African art rumored to posses mystical attributes. Supposedly, a special ceremony could allow its wearer to take on the powers of animals. "Obviously, this is an offshoot of Animalism-- the African religion that worships the spirits of animals!" Mari wondered if that was what her father meant, and felt compelled to perform the ritual. She spoke in a foreign tongue, performed prescribed motions, and called on the aid of the lion, the fox and the antelope to "Let vengeance be mine!" Mari let out a scream, collapsed, and was bathed in an unnatural light. When Mari awoke, she was immediately aware of her heightened senses and extraordinary new abilities. The world might not take a model seriously, but Mari hoped an old Halloween outfit could spook a confession out of a general she supposed was craven and superstitious.

A creature of shadow and stealth, the "flashing figure of ebony, silver and gold" relished the sensations she felt through her body as she covered forty blocks in under ten minutes by rooftop acrobatics. Mari realized that the talisman not only gave her the powers of the animals she requested, but an intrinsic self-assurance to use them. Perhaps this explained her willingness to break into the United Nations, stalk General Manitoba, leap onto the room of his car, and follow him all the way to New Jersey. Manitoba's men had traced the person they believed to be the last living witness to the Dantogi Massacre, the holy Reverend Peak, to a nearby monastery. Shock troops already surrounded the building, and Manitoba promised the men responsible for the capture "a place of high high honor in the new order!"

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Mari had been listening the whole time, and thought Manitoba had "taken a page or two from the Nazis!" Mari jumped clear of the limo and began making short work of this wannabe gestapo. "From the shadows, she strikes in deadly silence-- making no sound but a low throaty snarl... Her eyes are no longer human now... something feral has claimed her soul..."

Meanwhile, the Lion of Hell finally confronted Reverend Peak, who like Dantogi before him, stood firm against General Manitoba even in the face of death. "Preaching instead of prayers, no pleading? You disappoint me! For seventeen years you've eluded me. Moving from city to city within this overfed nation-- like the fox before the lion! Now I've run you to earth at last-- and you deny me the pleasure of your protests! No matter! For both of us, this is an ending! Greet your god, minister! Good-bye!" Mari burst through a stained glass window, shouting "NO! I won't let you kill again!"

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"A sleek silver tigress, she is among them in an instant, whirling and slashing, giving no quarter-- attacking with all the primitive fury of a beast of prey! Screams shatter the chapel, echoing the screech of breaking glass... The men have no chance to speak-- They can only cry out, and fall sprawling like broken dolls...! At last, she is done with them. And now she turns, light catching the eyes beneath her mask, gleaming with bestial fire..."

"So this is the mighty man-god Manitoba! A man-god so weak, he prefers to kill old men, while his troops fall like wheat before the scythe! You are nothing, Manitoba! When they hear of this-- your men will spit on your name in shame!"

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The Lion of Hell pushed Reverend Peak aside, advancing with his blade on the woman who dared speak to him in such a manner. "YOU VIXEN! I will split you like a pig!" The Lady Fox kicked Manitoba in the face, slashed his flesh, and evaded all his swipes with the machete. A cunning smile stretched across the Vixen's lips as Manitoba charged her like a bull, timing her diving roll so that the Lion rammed into a towering cross. Crushed under the cross' weight as it fell, "General C'Tanga Manitoba's last breath is a gurgled sigh... Limply, his hands grope for his treasured machete and then stiffen..."

The pair looked on at the passing, then Reverend Peak turned to the Vixen, who he eventually recognized as Mari. "It is regrettable it all had to end with another death... but vengeance was served this night... was it not?"

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The following dawn, Solomon Samuels told Mari about the death of the "dude who freaked you out on the tube... killed by someone called the Vixen!" Mari was surprised the media had bestowed a titled upon her. "From the sound of it, it seems this old town's got itself another super-hero-- as though Wonder Woman and Firestorm weren't enough!"

Solomon found Mari moody, as her mind was miles away, fascinated with the primitive completeness her new powers had given her as "almost a rebirth! I can't leave that behind! The Vixen lives-- and god help me, I love it!" Mari decided to buy her man breakfast...

"The Vixen is a Lady Fox!" was written by Gerry Conway with the aid of Carla Conway, and artist Bob Oksner was inked by Vince Colletta. George Tuska may have had a hand in there somewhere, as well. Original art linked above indicates that the Vixen was almost "The Blue Fox" instead, so at least something worked out for her in the early going.

Many of the comics tossed into the two volumes of Cancelled Comic Cavalcade were later reworked into serialized back-up features or otherwise employed in other titles. For some stupid reason, the Vixen's origin story was never offered this courtesy, even though for my money it was a fantastic first issue. The main problem with the costume was how it was colored, not the actual design, and the art was solid enough. What surprised me upon finally reading this lost tale was how strong the script was. When I manage to enjoy these '70s DC titles, I'm often being charitable with regard to their many flaws, finding potential in the germ of a good idea or some cheesy charm. Here we have an interesting protagonist with an unusual job which would afford her the income and flexibility to be a super-heroine while maintaining the requisite physique as part of her day job. Her origins are relatively unique, and she has a perfect motivation for seeking justice outside the law. A potent, well executed story that anticipated the popularity of '80s anti-heroes. If only it had been published!

The Bronze Age

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