Hellcat #1 Review: An Unmissable Portrait of Comics' Most Unlikely Superheroine

In the landscape of American comics, Patsy Walker is nothing short of a miracle. Her near century-long journey—from prolific romance heroine, to plucky superheroine, to a reluctant bride of hell—absolutely should not work on paper. Not only does Patsy's story work, but it might be one of the most compelling narrative wells that Marvel Comics has left untapped, outside of the random supporting role or miniseries once every few years. That fact seems to be looming over this week's Hellcat #1, but in a way that fuels the book's unbridled, wonderful sense of spirit. Hellcat #1 is a reverential, but fresh take on Patsy Walker's complicated history, and the most exciting Marvel comic I've read this year.

Hellcat #1 opens with Patsy's new status quo, after she declined Tony Stark's marriage proposal and returned to the West Coast. When someone close to Patsy turns up murdered and she is seen as the potential culprit, her investigation to uncover the truth leads to a larger, incredibly personal, conspiracy.

It's no secret that writer Christopher Cantwell adores Patsy – he previously campaigned to adapt her Marvel story as a long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque television show, and she became one of the most terrific elements of his already-terrific Iron Man run. But across the pages of Hellcat #1, his respect for the character, and the wild journey she took to become who she is today, is overwhelmingly clear. This isn't just apparent in the plot, which overtly traverses the extremes of Patsy's past, but in the pacing of the issue, which unfolds like a Golden or Silver Age teenage comic book. Strings of monologuing narration are balanced out by dialogue delivered with a snappy earnestness, even if the subject matter is brutally macabre, and subplots of romance or massive plot twists unfold with such a lively energy.

In any other context, with any other writer, that kind of tone would fail, but Cantwell's Patsy is so fully-realized that she has readers essentially eating out of the palm of her hand. Across these thirty-something pages, Patsy is endearing and frustrating, reliable and untrustworthy – in other words, she's authentically human. Even if you haven't been following every component of Patsy's past (which, realistically, most readers have not), there's still a profound sense of satisfaction in watching her story unfold. That also makes the series' central murder mystery, which would be downright bizarre in the hands of most other Marvel heroines, so engrossing to follow from Patsy's perspective.

The ambitious challenge of Hellcat is met by series artist Alex Lins, who renders Patsy's complicated world with an undeniable charm. The bloody pulp of the issue's murder victim is given equal aesthetic weight to a glossy romance comic flashback, with Patsy's "normal" existing beautifully within those extremes. KJ Diaz's coloring could not be more perfectly-suited for this series, whether in making Patsy's golden-hued costume stand out, or rendering whatever mystical horror awaits her. It is worth noting that the issue utilizes oranges, teals, and purples brilliantly – which might be an homage to the CYMK format that Patsy's first comics were printed in, or it might simply be a gorgeous aesthetic choice. Ariana Maher's lettering carries the story's beats brilliantly, with a matter-of-fact but spirited approach to every line of dialogue.

Hellcat #1 not only met my expectations, it backflipped beyond them. This issue is a stunning, affectionately-made new chapter for one of superhero comics' truly unique heroines, and a thrilling first chapter in what is sure to be a wild murder mystery. While I'm looking forward to following the complete, fully-realized story that Christopher Cantwell, Alex Lins, and company are creating, the work on display is so wonderful that I would easily and immediately read dozens of issues of it. Even the most casual Marvel fan owes it to themselves to pick up this issue. 

Published by Marvel Comics

On March 15, 2023

Written by Christopher Cantwell

Art by Alex Lins

Colors by KJ Diaz

Letters by Ariana Maher

Cover by Pere Perez and Marte Garcia