The third verse in our ballad covers the lowest period in Patsy's life. Her character's epic arc had curved into the so-called Dark Age of Comics - in this case, 1983 to 1993. She, along with all the other inhabitants of comic book fantasy, now found their world to be a bleak, angsty dystopia where it rained all the time. Everyone was wearing overcoats, hating themselves, and getting killed off horribly. Patsy - whose own career had closely mirrored the rise and fall of superhero comics - would be dragged down with the rest of them.
When we last left Pats, she had taken a break from superheroing to go indulge a bit of self-searching. She had recently befriended a new Defenders member, called Gargoyle. Originally he had been one of the demons trying to kill her; after Patsy 'freeded' him from his satanic side he became a loyal ally. It turns out he knew of one Joshua Walker, who - as a stunned Patsy discovers - may actually be her father, long presumed dead.
However, a certain infernal fiend who had claimed, in the past, to be Patsy's father, had to pop in on her YET AGAIN to exposit a few things.
It turns out this was all part of a big handwave by Marvel. By the early 80's they were getting a bit leery about using Satan in their comics. So they shoehorned this whole story into Patsy's life for the purposes of clearing up their demonic cosmology.
What follows is turgid and pretty unreadable (and worth skipping), but a basic point is made. This "Satan" and his merry red cohorts are just another bunch of godlike beings; not the definitive Satan of Judaeo-Christian belief. There are, it seems, a thousand hells and a thousand entities claiming to be Satan. It's just that THIS particular one is a colossal pain in the arse, and uses the name to get some attention.
And with that, he's gone (for the time being at least). Patsy finally got to have a lucky break, too; as she discovered Joshua Walker was indeed her real father.
So Pats suddenly got a whole family in her life. It certainly made for a brief up-beat moment, especially after that business with her devil-worshipping mother (no wonder Joshua left). It was a brief ray of light, I suppose, before the deluge.
These changes seemed to please that most implacable of people - the readers. Prior to the Internet, nerds actually had to write a real letter and send it to the comic, if they wanted to air their "opinions". One interesting letter, from this 1983 period, is worth looking at:
That satanic rewrite went down well for this guy, at least. (Isn't "darksome majesty" a great phrase? Although he sounds kinda Christian, I bet this guy was cranking some Sab at the time). He also adds this comment:
She really had come a long way.
With this all now neatly resolved, Patsy returned to the Defenders to settle some other unfinished business - her relationship with Hellstrom, the "Son of Satan". Unbeknown to them, two people are watching (and narrating) over this all like some kind of galactic soap opera - Doctor Strange and the Overmind. They have, not a scientific curiosity, but rather a magical one, in how this relationship will work out.
Pats and Daimon get a blissful little period where they can hold hands and pretend they're normal for a while. She also mentions at this point she's working on a book. This will become the "Hellcat Chronicles", the first of three books she will ultimately produce (as of this date).
This prompts Daimon to get all serious. He and Pats had never actually done a good job of examining just what their relationship was about, making this as good a time as any for them to deal with it.
Well, the course of true love never ran smooth, and so forth; especially in the case of two characters with as much baggage as Pats and Daimon. But this is also indicative of a mass general personality meltdown which took place in the mid-80's.
In 1986, two 'watershed' comics were published - Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen". They totally overturned the established precepts about superhero comics, and prompted a dramatic change throughout the genre. The problem was, other comics picked up the style, but not the substance, of those two great works. "Watchmen" and "DKR" did a great job in depicting anti-heroes in a complicated way; lesser works just reproduced the sex-and-violence-and-wangst without any irony. A whole style of cheesy, excessive superhero comics came into development; and acting like a total dick was the order of the day.
This applied to Patsy, now all moody because of her demon-boy troubles. She promptly takes it out on her old gal-pal Valkyrie:
(You can also note a new tone slipping into the writing - the rhythmic nonsense of the 70's now replaced with a purple, pretentious, English-Lit sensibility).
This naturally prompts Val to have her own meltdown. Her struggle with her two halves - the blonde cheerleading college girl Barbara, and the castrating warrior goddess Brunhilde - had definitely become an issue. The latter had all but overwhelmed the former, detaching her more and more from humanity.
But a heart-to-heart girltalk worked the trick, as it had so often in the past. Although now it had, of course, that slightly darker edge. Nothing seemed straightforward anymore.
Settling down to write her book, our Pats manages to make an Anais Nin reference. (That's an interesting place for her to be coming from - and I can't help feeling it's that same 80's thing rearing its head again). Also, the fact her and Daimon still have something to resolve is brought up.
She gets a whole bunch of Luke-on-Dagobah-type wicked dreams screaming "Daimon's in trouble!". Naturally this prompts her to enlist her best friend Beast and go looking for the AWOL Hellstrom. She also shows off a bit first.
What is boils down to, is that Hellstrom is battling a force called the Darksoul. It's the bad mojo which makes him 'demonic'. Naturally his father, the Not-Satan, wants the Darksoul to take over so he can finally get his heir. But with the help of the rather impressively powerful Overmind, Pats is able to destroy the Darksoul and free Daimon from his satanic heritage.
With the Darksoul gone, Pats and Daimon get to have their one classic moment; the best two pages these kids ever had. It marked a whole new stage in both their lives.
Now officially engaged, Pats and Daimon decide to set out on their own as occult investigators, specializing in dealing with people's supernatural hassles. Their teammates have a positive but mixed reaction; nobody ever really trusted Daimon, and a general air of unease hangs about. Valkyrie packs her own sad, as her natural Norse-goddess instincts always prompted her to dislike Hellstrom - and her feelings for Patsy suffer.
So we come to the wedding of the decade! But it turns out our happy couple's special day is going to be a complicated one - not unlike that time Robin Hood tried to get married on Falcon Crest (another glorious 80's moment). An old nemesis of Patsy's in on-hand to crash the event - and he is quite familiar to us:
It is, of course, that freckle-faced soda jockey Buzz Baxter, Patsy's first husband. Boy howdy, he's become a very sick and bitter man in the years since Pats last bested him. Now reborn as Mad Dog, he and a few other Z-grade minor villains decide this wedding will be the perfect chance for payback on the assembled heroes.
The bad guys really wreak havoc - they stun the heroes with sundry mind-tricks, and Mad Dog's poisonous bite incapacitates Patsy. But Pats' old mentor Moondragon is more than able to fighting back, and once she has Mad Dog on the ropes, a very pissed off groom wades in to do some damage. You sure as Hell don't mess with the Son of Satan's girl.
So with that - and the party standing over a bunch of defeated villains - Patsy Walker and Daimon Hellstrom are wed at last.
This marked a real change for our Pats. She was officially out of the Defenders now, and hence had no regular place in any storyline. No specific Pats-and-Daimon comic series was actually produced; they would just guest-star in other titles, or appear in various one-shots.
Pats' life, in 1986, saw her now sporting a Cyndi Lauper 'do, and with her book racing up the bestseller list. Appearing on an obnoxious tabloid TV show to tout the book, she finds things take a rapid turn for the worse on ALL levels.
Obviously short on ideas for Pats, she got Mad Dog thrown back into her life. Remember this is immediately post-Watchmen/DKR, and the first seeds of superhero decadence were being sown.
You can start to get a feel of how this "dark and gritty" thing was going in these panels. I consider the following page to be particularly creepy, as Pats getting casually molested by her twisted ex-husband is apparently no big deal to the writer.
But Mad Dog has to have his big moment; it's all about him being the wangsty villain who must make his big speech. He gets to be really brutal to Pats too, because again, everything's just so
Nonetheless, Pats can still kick his arse easy. Although now she does it with a whole dose of gritty self-reflection, and some sort of attempt by the writer to give her a victim mentality. Hell, it's even raining.
One story Pats got at this time, involved her and Daimon returning to her hometown of Centerville. It was drawn in a homage style to her old 60's comics. Back on her old turf, Pats and her new husband face a lot of grief from her family and the other townsfolk. Basically, these happy small-towners have a REAL problem with their 'heroine' marrying such a dodgy fellow
In the end, though, all it takes is a guy with a demon for a father to give a sitcom speech, and everything is right in the world.
So we fade in to the 90's, and the Dark Age enters its blackest era. Excess was the order of the day, as no-one could be too have too much big hair, too many big guns, or be any more x-treme. (This was also, of course, the period I came on board as a comics fan...so yeah). A fine example of all this wallowing would be the scene of Patsy's death. (To put it in context it may help to have this playing in the background for the rest of the blog).
The book was a 12-part series called "Hellstorm: Prince of Lies". The moving of the 'r' in that name was important - he had deliberately changed it from "-strom" because hey, it's the 90s. The whole title was about establishing him as a kick-arse battler of demons and all sorts of occult horrors. It was a real indulgence of the whole cult of the anti-hero, presenting Hellstorm as something of a sexy bad-boy who played by nobody's rules but his own. At least they got a crack in about his old costume:
Where was our beloved Pats then, in the middle of all this grimness? The answer was a horrid shock if you'd been following her her entire life:
(At least, this means some of her 70's portrayals no longer qualify as her ugliest rendering).
This page was a cold, wet slap in the face purely for shock's sake - the beginning of Pats' turn to be stuffed in the fridge. I hate it.
How did she come to this horrid pass? Over the next few issues, it was revealed that the whole business with the Darksoul had come back to bite our happy couple. Initially Daimon had seemed all normal, and had lost the demonic evil which had caused all the misery in the past. But then he fell sick, and Patsy discovered that the only way her husband could be saved would be to put the Darksoul back in her. Sporting a horrid 90's bodysuit - and ignoring the advice of the Gargoyle - she summons up our old friend the Not-Satan to save her husband.
The whole ordeal brings Daimon back, but - despite Pats' long experience in this stuff - drives her totally insane.
She spends a few more issues running around the house, a wretched creature, babbling all kinds of demonic weirdness. Meanwhile, Daimon is off having a great time and seems heedless of his broken wife.
With issue #12, a new creative team came on board. The writer was Warren Ellis, at the start of his career; and the artist was Peter Gross. These guys are extremely talented, but mad bride that I am, I will forever associate them with the killing off of Patsy. Basically, I think, they just didn't know what to do with her, and sent her the way of all those female characters who become superfluous to their man's plotline.
That's a damn bitter end for a character who was so strong and distinctive. The fact she's killed off (worse, she technically kills herself) just because it's "grim-and-gritty" really does make this the absolute nadir of Patsy Walker's life.
But nothing is ever really lost...with some good sense, Ellis left a little plothook behind that would save Patsy. She was gone not forgotten - and despite the despair the Hellcat would come back again.
(The fourth, and final, part to come).