Comic Art Friday: Tigra, Tigra, burning bright
Within the superhero community, there’s a tiny subset of characters who’ve had the unique opportunity to be two different superheroes at various stages of their careers.
I’m not speaking here of, say, founding Avengers member Henry “Hank” Pym, who’s been essentially the same superhero for decades, but has periodically changed his code name, costume, and the manner in which he used his powers — going from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket, and even becoming the Wasp (a nom de guerre more closely associated with his wife/partner Janet van Dyne) for a time.
No, I’m specifically thinking of someone like Greer Grant Nelson, who began her crimefighting career with one identity and skill-set, and later transformed into something else entirely.
When first we meet Greer, she’s a neophyte vigilante calling herself the Cat. Debuting in Beware! The Claws of the Cat #1 in November 1972, Greer was among the first Marvel Comics heroines to headline her own eponymous series, beating Shanna the She-Devil to the spinner racks by a month. As the Cat, Greer possessed superhuman strength and agility, plus heightened senses and intuition (all as the result of a laboratory experiment), and wore a yellow and blue bodysuit with built-in claws on the fingers and toes.
Alas, the Cat’s campaign against evil ended abruptly, a victim of the most powerful enemy in comics: lackluster sales. Her title was cancelled after a mere four issues. A fifth issue was written (by series scribe Linda Fite) and penciled (by legendary artist Ramona Fradon, one of only two projects she ever worked on for Marvel), but never completed (a handful of pages were inked by Jim Mooney) or published. (An excellent article by Dewey Cassell in Back Issue #46 chronicles the trials and tribulations of the “lost” The Cat #5.)
The fact that Greer’s adventures were written and drawn by women (Marvel stalwart Marie Severin penciled the first two published issues; Paty Greer Cockrum drew the third) was supposed to be the series’ marketing hook, with special appeal to young female readers. Sadly, that hook proved insufficiently hook-y, and the Cat fell into the Marvel background for a year or so.
Then, in the summer of 1974, Greer resurfaced, transmogrified by sorcery (or maybe some kind of arcane science — in the Marvel Universe, it’s not always easy to distinguish the two) into a part-human, part-feline hybrid known as Tigra the Were-Woman. (That moniker never made sense to me. If a werewolf is a man who transforms into a wolf, shouldn’t a werewoman be a man who transforms into a woman?) In her newfound condition, Greer’s body was covered with striped fur, and equipped with razor-sharp teeth, retractable claws, enhanced night vision and other senses, and a catlike tail. Abandoning her Cat costume, she opted instead for a scanty black bikini… you know, like you would. (Tigra appears above, in pencil art created by the talented Edgar Tadeo.)
Following a short run in her own series in an anthology horror book entitled Marvel Chillers, Tigra (who eventually ditched the silly “Were-Woman” business) embarked on a career as an itinerant team player. She hung out with the Fantastic Four for a while, joined the Avengers briefly (a rite of passage for pretty much every Marvel character), then became a charter member of the West Coast Avengers (later Avengers West Coast). In recent years, Tigra served for a stretch as an instructor at Avengers Academy, a training facility for up-and-coming superheroes.
Incidentally, Greer’s old Cat suit didn’t go to waste when she abandoned it for perpetual swimwear. Patsy Walker, formerly the star of her own teen-romance title, eventually picked up the yellow and blue threads and began her own crimebusting career using the name Hellcat (seen below in a Common Elements scenario drawn by Star Wars artist Thomas Hodges). Patsy — or Trish, as she’s known on television — makes a noncostumed appearance in a supporting role in the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones.
A few years ago, I was loitering about at a local comics convention when I overheard two male fans arguing about the proper pronunciation of “Tigra.” One guy insisted that the name should be spoken “TIE-gra,” while the other insisted that it was “TEE-gra.”
Of course, the former was correct. After all, she’s a human tiger, not a human teeger.
Because teegers? Not a thing.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.