With her upcoming animated series, lot of folks are suddenly talking about the superhero called Vixen for the very first time. Though her planned 1977 solo title was cancelled before it ever got off the ground, The Vixen was bound and determined to make her way to the DC Universe. Still, her first appearance may not be exactly what you’re expecting… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Action Comics #521 awaits!
ACTION COMICS #521
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: John Constanza
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 50 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $15.00
Previously in Action Comics: The story of DC in the mid-to-late 1970s is one that can be shocking to the modern reader, a time when sales were in a slide and the company teetered on the precipice of complete oblivion more than once. As the cost of printing comics rose, the profit margins lowered (inflation was a mighty force then, as it is now) and the price of comics went up threefold in the space of ten years. DC Comics had seen upstart Marvel overtake them in sales and put their eggs in the basket of expansion, a linewide upgrade with many new titles called ‘The DC Explosion.’ Unfortunately, prices continued to rise, and a massive blizzard in 1977 made it even harder for the books to get anywhere and sell. DC Comics made the unprecedented decision to cancel nearly HALF of the titles in their line, a decision which has become known to fandom as ‘The DC Implosion.’ One of the books cancelled was ‘The Vixen’, a showcase for DC’s first female black hero, and only the second time a black character had headlined his/her own book. Fortunately, Gerry Conway, Vixen’s creator, wasn’t going to let her fade off into history, and by 1981 Gerry was the regular writer of Action Comics, home of that one guy with the red cape, leading to the sight of a strange, vulpine shadow on the rooftops of Metropolis…
Mari Jiwe McCabe is a fashion model, and clearly understands the concept of couture-as-art, because, unlike her later orange/brown/red catsuit, her first uniform is clearly meant to be impressionist fare. One imagines that, being backless and such, it allows her greater range of motion, and she has the sense to not wear heels in her nocturnal super-dupering. Knocking out the warehouse workers (and, let’s be honest here, the lateness of the hour kind of makes their activities seem a little suspect right up front), Vixen escapes with the truckload of furs, racing off into the night, and creating the kind of hubbub that means only one thing in the city of Metropolis: A job for Superman! The Man Of Steel intercepts the speeding truck, but Vixen shows her cleverness, lashing the wheel down to keep the vehicle from careening out of control and taking the fight right to Big Blue!
Vixen doesn’t hold back, nor is she intimidated by the first and most powerful superhero, even slashing Superman’s invulnerable skin, thanks to the magic of her Tantu Totem, vanishing into the night having completed her primary objective: Destroying the truck full of furs. But why would she have such hate for a delivery of seemingly innocent animal skins?
In the year 2015, wearing real animal fur is often a controversial act, but in the 1970s it was still a mark of wealth to be able to afford such luxuries. With the knowledge that illegal hunting is going on, Superman returns to his other life, the world of Clark Kent, which triggers his most powerful super-ability: Plot-related coincidence!
Thanks to Morgan Edge, owner of Galaxy Communications (at this point in the 1970s, Clark Kent was not just a reporter, but a television newscaster and the Daily Planet was owned by the GBS conglomerate), Clark Kent and Lana Lang are sent on a fact-finding mission to report on the very poaching operations that Superman bumped into earlier in the day. As for the mysterious Vixen, we find that it is actually her behind-the-scenes manipulations that put the bug in Morgan Edge’s ear to begin with, thanks to her day job as supermodel…
Clark and Lana make their way to New Delhi (the depiction of which might not resemble reality, but Curt Swan does a really good job of making sure it’s not just Metropolis with a few tents and turbans), and Lana gets mixed up with goons of evil poacher Mordecai Mule (whose major motion picture starring Johnny Depp wasn’t a big hit, I gather). Mule gets an unexpected hitchhiker in the form of Vixen herself, but we quickly find that Superman is following her! Wheels within wheels, man…
Interestingly, the heroes take the time to talk things out rather than the usual slugfest, and are quickly caught up in an elephant stampede set off by Mule to murder Lana Lang in cold blood. Fortunately, that ain’t happening on Superman’s watch…
While the Man of Tomorrow takes care of fifty tons of stampeding elephant, Vixen goes mano-a-garra with
Marlon Brando from ‘Apocalypse Now’ Mordecai Mule himself, using her animal agility to easily out maneuver the portly poacher…
This last sequence is a bit weird, making me wonder if the earlier lack of hero-to-hero combat was about Vixen as a “lady fox”, as her battle with Mule ends with him literally falling over without her so much as laying a golden evening glove on him. Given her later adventures and her reputation as a hands-on punch/slashy hero, it feels a little bit odd to me. 1981 is, it would seem, a foreign country. The issue wraps up with a team up, a short tale featuring the team of Aquaman and The Atom…
The backup slot of Action Comics rotated between Aquaman, Atom and the lesser-known second Air-Wave, each of whom would appear for an issue or two alone, then team-up with the next before handing the backup slot off to him. It was a pretty cool format, although many of the tales (including this one) were pretty forgettable. Vixen’s early appearances are pretty sparse, and it really isn’t until 1984, when Conway brings her into the Justice League lineup for JL Detroit that the character gets any traction, and it’s probably no coincidence that such traction came with a new look. Still, Action Comics #521 does introduce an important heroine to DC canon, and for any strangeness of plotting, it has a really strong art job by the damn-near-infallible Curt Swan, earning a solid 3 out of 5 stars overall. Interestingly, in the digital age, the Implosion-cancelled first issue of Vixen (collected in the legendary ‘Cancelled Comics Cavalcade’) can be easily viewed, albeit in an unfinished state, and in the issue she kicks, punches and slashes her foes without any problem, so I’m not entirely sure why the only strike she gets in here is against Superman himself. Either way, I kind of miss her weird fox-head mask…[taq_review]