Today I'm showcasing a character I mentioned last week, one of DC's characters with a whole lot of potential but that so far hasn't quite reached the heights she is capable of, Vixen!
Vixen, in an alternate universe, would occupy a much more prestigious place in comics history... the first black female super hero to star in her own series! This was what DC had in mind for her, but her book never saw print as it was part of what is popularly referred to as the DC Implosion, a rash cancellation of 20 existing books and five that had yet to see their first issues hit stands (including The Vixen).
In addition to Vixen's own stories, her book was set to include a back-up series starring Teen Titans' Harlequin, a character who at various times claimed to be the daughter of The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman, until it was revealed that she was "actually" the daughter of Two-Face, Harvey Dent. (This was later dis-proven.) For copyright reasons, the canceled comics were published in a black and white "ashcan" that was never made available commercially and exists strictly for archival reasons.
The Vixen comic was created by Gerry Conway and Bob Oskner and the first story was entitled "The Vixen Is A Lady Fox." Vixen is established as possessing the ancient Tantu Totem, which grants its wearer the power of all animals, so long as they use their powers to protect the innocent, anything from the strength of an elephant to the swimming ability of a dolphin to the speed of a cheetah. Growing up in a small African village, Mari's father, Reverend Richard Jiwe possessed this legendary amulet and was killed by his half-brother General Maksai. Mari fled to American and adopted the name Mari Jiwe McCabe and became a fashion model. On a trip back to Africa, she stole back the Tantu Totem and became The Vixen!
Gerry Conway went on to introduce Vixen in Action Comics #251. Initially, she is at odds with Superman, after she steals a truckload of furs and drives the truck into the water to ruin them. But later, the two heroes team up against a common foe, poachers in India.
As you can see, Vixen's original costume, which is the one she was supposed to wear in her own series, was kinda... odd. The "fox face" mask isn't very attractive... she looks kinda like a bunny, to be honest. And the baby blue/gold color scheme doesn't scream "animal powers." In fact the blue "bathing suit" over gold tights just screams "Solid Gold Dancer" to me! Her Tantu Totem is much more ornate in this version than it would later be depicted.
Gerry Conway refused to give up on Vixen and brought her back to team up with Superman a second time in DC Comics Presents #68, a series devoted to Superman team-up stories... typically fellow headliners, so Vixen was actually fairly lucky that DC allowed her to co-star in this book versus a more established hero. She's wearing the same kinda silly outfit, rendered by the legendary Curt Swan, with even more pronounced "ears" on her mask, making even more bunny-liscious. This story had Vixen's nephew (???... I need to dig this issue out... I don't recall her ever having siblings!) getting sucked into an arcade video game (back when those existed) by General Cerebus and her once again teaming with Superman to rescue him.
I don't know if the DC Comics Presents appearance was meant in some way to test the waters to see if fans wanted to see more of her.
Meanwhile... in another comic book... Gerry Conway was also writing Justice League of America, as he had for a long stretch of time, but as comic fans got older and comics themselves became more complex, writers and editors of the biggest name heroes started getting very territorial, so that Conway found himself struggling to keep the biggest name heroes in JLA, which was basically DC's flagship book. He CERTAINLY couldn't do anything drastic with the big name heroes... any huge events for them had to happen in their own books! So more and more, he focused on characters that didn't have their own books, placing characters like Black Canary and Green Arrow in more stories than Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Either way, sales of the book were slipping. Marvel's 70s relaunch of The Uncanny X-Men created a new precedent with its sophisticated storytelling, mature themes and cutting-edge characterization. In 1980, DC launched The New Teen Titans, also a much more sophisticated comic than had traditionally been published and it was a smash, quickly outselling every other DC comic book by a huge margin.
It was decided that the Justice League needed a makeover and the book was relaunched. EVERY member with their own series was fired, leaving only Aquaman (who at the time was still starring on the Super Friends cartoon and therefore a bigger name than say, Green Arrow or Hawkman), Zatanna, Elongated Man and the recently-returned Martian Manhunter. These established heroes were then joined by four new, younger heroes. There was Steel, the grandson of Steel the Indestructible Man (more commonly today known as Commander Steel). Commander Steel had also starred in his own series that was wiped out by the DC Implosion.
There was also Vibe a stereotypical Mexican-American teen gang member/break dancer who spoke in what today seems like a racist accent. ("Chu guys are the Chustice League?!") As well as Gypsy, who had invisibility powers and bore more than a passing resemblance to Cyndi Lauper who was big at the time. (She was clearly meant to be the Kitty Pryde of the team.)
Then there was Vixen, and speaking of MTV stars, who was given a hairstyle that looked like Tina Turner's crossed with Wolverine's! She was given a sleeker costume that more accurately capture the "animal" nature of her powers.
This Justice League established a base in Detroit, MI, leading them to forevermore be referred to as Justice League Detroit. Justice League Detroit was a complete failure. The reason fans read JLA was to get all the big name heroes in one book! No one cared about these new-comers. Vixen and Gypsy were the only ones that seemed to appeal to fans, so when this incarnation of JLA was canceled, they both managed to survive, whereas Steel and Vibe were both killed off. (It was later revealed that Steel survived... barely, inside of a healing chamber, in a coma with most of his body destroyed... then their enemy Despero returned and killed him all the way.)
Justice League was relaunched with only the Martian Manhunter returning. Vixen wandered over to the Suicide Squad book where she and a handful of other government sponsored heroes teamed up with super villains to carry out dangerous "suicide" missions around the globe. The villains agreed to go on these missions in exchange for their freedom. In addition to adventuring, Mari began seeing her fellow Squad member Bronze Tiger.
She kind of meandered around the DC Universe for a while. She teamed up with Animal Man and discovered that her powers may actually be from aliens! She popped up in most of the big crossovers as well. She briefly worked with the Birds of Prey.
At one point, she adopted this nondescript purple costume and cut that crazy hair. But like her very first costume, does this really convey her powers? It's just a jumpsuit! It's one step above street clothes.
Writers continued tweaking her powers. Recently, she realized she could fly like a bird. (As stated previously, I don't like this change.) She also discovered that she had telepathy, because The Flash's foe Gorilla Grodd does!
She was included in the lineup for the animated Justice League Unlimited series. Her look on the show is basically her JLDetroit costume, but without the dated Tina Turner hair. The "teeth" on her necklace and belt play to both her African history and her animal powers.
Thanks to JLU, Vixen received her first action figure!
I believe that her appearances on JLU lead to her being included in the Justice League recently. She definitely is enjoying more popularity than she ever had before. She's since received another action figure, a more comic book styled figure in the Justice League line from DC Direct and even a minibust!
She's been long rumored to have a DC Universe Classics figure in the works, but it has yet to materialize.
And most recently, she was featured on Batman: The Brave & The Bold, as the partner/girlfriend of B&B regular B'Wana Beast, a wacky character from the 60s who has the power to merge any two animals into one composite beast!
Unfortunately, in the comics, she's gone somewhat dormant. She was a focal character in Justice League for a while, starred in her own four-issue miniseries and even led the JLA during the Blackest Night crossover. I believe she was intended for inclusion in the current team, but that hasn't worked out.
Still, she's DC's most famous and popular black female character, so here's hoping she gets her just rewards soon!