Mari Jiwe McCabe has been one of those characters who I’ve loved since I first came across her. A superheroic supermodel who fights crime with the powers of the animal kingdom channeled through a gorgeous, totemic necklace with years of family history and legacy tied into it? How could I not love her? Unfortunately, though DC Comics has tried off and on to make her happen, at least in recent years, the character was never quite able to make it. I can’t put my finger on why, because she was great in her Birds of Prey appearances, amazing when she appeared in the Justice League Unlimited animated series (hands down the best Vixen we’ve had…until now, but more on that later), and her storyline in the Justice League of America series that launched in 2007 was really great, and worked to move her forward a little bit. Her miniseries, Vixen: Return of the Lion written by G. Willow Wilson back in 2009 was also a great preview into what could be with Vixen, but it was sadly never followed up on.
Then the DC Universe does one of the things its become best known for in recent decades, and it had a Crisis and reset itself. The Vixen that appeared in relaunched Justice League International series didn’t last too long on panel – in short order, she was rendered comatose and moved off the board.
What seemed to revitalize the character was the DCTV Universe – specifically the animated shorts shown on CW Seed, set in the same continuity as Flash and Arrow. At the time, Vixen nicely rounded out the DCTV trinity that the CW seemed to be going for, with Arrow as the Batman archetype (badass normal, street crime, no powers) and Flash as the Superman archetype (superpowered, full of hope and brightness, doing the right thing, a counterpoint to Arrow’s overbearingly grim grit.) Vixen, of course, was the Wonder Woman archetype. She brought the magic and the myth into the universe, the mysticism which it had until now lacked. A strong, independent woman trying to find her place in the world, a newcomer who balanced out both Arrow and the Flash. The animated series revitalized her, gave her some new family conflict, played up the role that the mystical Tantu Totem played in her family and culture, and added some layers to her. In a word, she was amazing.
The new Vixen in Justice League of America Rebirth: Vixen #1, written effortlessly by rising stars Steve Orlando (Midnighter, Supergirl) and Jody Houser (Faith, Orphan Black) and with art by Jamal Campbell (easily one of the best cover artists working today, who absolutely shines on interiors here), takes everything that’s been great about Mari Jiwe McCabe and consolidates it into a fantastic first issue.
At the beginning of the issue, Mari is set up to be a supermodel, reality star, animal activist, and media darling. Right off the bat, she’s a strong, powerful, accomplished woman who wears a lot of hats and already uses her celebrity for good. She’s a little bit Tyra Banks, which is not a mean comparison. But the thing with Mari is that she’s also a little bit out of touch with the world around her, with the world that she came from. She’s gotten so busy with all of her various projects that she’s not exactly one-hundred percent present with all of them, and this is brought to her attention when she guests on a national talk show hosted by Angela Chen (familiar to longtime watchers of Superman: the Animated Series.) A surprise guest named Charlotte Frank comes on the show and blames Mari for not paying enough attention to the programs, for not being there for her when she was needed, and for ignoring the cries for help when Charlotte’s mom was missing and Mari was Charlotte’s last hope. It’s a slap to the face for Mari, but instead of seeking out redemption on social media and ignoring the truth, Mari ends up springing to action, realizing that she can do so much more for the world than she already is. The key to that? Believing in magic – a belief Mari lost long ago after her mother’s death, as we find out in a flashback – and picking up the mythic Tantu Totem that connects her to all of the animal kingdom.
The page where Mari connects with the animal kingdom – “Let’s connect.” – is drawn beautifully. The Totem emits a warm, red glow (hinting that Mari is connecting to the Red, the mystical force that connects all of the animal life in the DC Universe), and suddenly Mari is surrounded by holographic images of all manner of animals.
From here onwards, Mari starts her detective work, trying to figure out what happened to Charlotte Frank’s mother. What follows is a fairly standard plot – Mari comes across a villain naming himself Spiderbite, he’s held a bunch of people prisoners because he was once a prisoner himself, and this was his way of getting revenge. But despite the standard plot – and this is a one-shot origin story, so it’s absolutely understandable why the writers went this way – the story works. We see Mari step up to the plate, embrace her heritage and her destiny, and save people. We see her do the heroic thing, righting a wrong both personal and social, and redeem herself.
At the end of the issue, Mari makes her first public appearance after her rescue mission, announcing that she’s stepped back from the day-to-day management of all of her brands. She makes it her mission to reach out to people who need her, truly need her, and with it, she’s taken on a new name, one which she ought to have taken up a long time ago (which makes me wonder if perhaps her mother had also used this name) – Vixen.
The script by Orlando and Houser is a good, solid introduction to Vixen. It sets up who she was, where she comes from, what her mission is, and who she is going to become. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but then it doesn’t have to. This issue does exactly what it needed to do – reintroduce Vixen to a new audience, show who she is and what she is capable of, and whet our appetite for more. After all, Vixen was already a great character, all she needed was a little rebooting. This reboot also comes with the addition of a new costume design that melds together the silhouette of her classic costume with a slight nod to her JLU costume by way of her belt and a nod to her current DCTV costume by way of the black color blocking on the top of the costume. The costume – it really works. As does the rest of the story. Orlando, Houser, and Campbell treat the character and her history with a lot of respect while guiding her into a new era, and it’s wonderful to see.
With this refocusing and reimagining of Vixen, the stage is set for Vixen to finally shine, and I look forward to seeing where Steve Orlando takes her when Justice League of America launches next month.