In Jessica Jones, Marvel and Netflix have given us a remarkably well done adaptation of one of their most complex and adult characters. But at the same time, it pulled double duty in doing an equally fantastic job in bringing one of Marvel’s oldest characters to life: Patsy “Hellcat” Walker.
Suffice to say, there will be some spoilers for Jessica Jones ahead.
First, a bit of background. Patsy Walker—referred to as Trish Walker in the show for reasons that will become clear later, and played by Rachael Taylor in Jessica Jones—is indeed one of Marvel’s oldest characters. She exists from the time before Marvel actually went by the name “Marvel Comics” (their third company name, and only adopted in 1961), like several older superheroes such as Captain America or Namor the Submariner.
But unlike those characters, Patsy holds a record very few comic book characters can claim: she managed to persist throughout the golden and silver ages of comics, as well as Marvel’s evolution from Timely, to Atlas, and ultimately to Marvel comics with a single, continuous series. That series, Patsy Walker, span out of the character’s debut in Miss America Magazine #2 in 1944—and back then, Patsy wasn’t a superhero.
She was the star of teen humor/romance series in the vein of Archie or Buzzy. Patsy Walker ran for 124 issues and ultimately ended in 1965, and its 95th issue was one of the first two comics to be released under the Marvel name. After Marvel reimagined themselves as a company focusing on superhero comics, Patsy Walker was one of a handful of their few non-superhero series at the time.
It was only after the end of Patsy Walker that the character would hop on over to the Marvel superhero universe. As a joke, she and her best friend Hedy made a cameo appearance in the Fantastic Four Annual #3 in the same year her own comic came to a close—but in 1972, writer Steve Engleheart (a self-confessed fan of the character having trained writing romance comics) wrote Patsy into Amazing Adventures as a superhero, and she was eventually re-introduced in the ongoing Avengers series. She adopted the persona of Hellcat: born out of an unwillingness to use Greer Grant Nelson’s hero “The Cat” (Greer went on to become the cat-mutant hero Tigra).
Since then Hellcat appeared in a support role on several teams beyond the Avengers—she was a member of the Defenders throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s (which explored her tumultuous relationship with her mother as well as her past as a teen-humor heroine). After spending a decade or so dead—like any good comic book superhero—she returned and joined the Thunderbolts in 1997, and ultimately the Defenders once more. After a popularity resurgence thanks to an appearance in the Marvel NOW! series She-Hulk, Patsy’s getting her own solo series again in Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! next month.
That’s a lot to take in, which makes it so extremely surprising that Jessica Jones essentially layers in an acknowledgement of all this background throughout its 13 episodes, up to the point that Trish is pretty much one yellow-and-blue leotard away from standing alongside Jessica as a superhero. It speaks to Jessica Jones’ excellently developed side characters that the show ultimately serves as just as great an adaptation of Patsy Walker as it does Jessica Jones herself.
Although a superhero/private Investigator in the comics, the Trish of Jessica Jones is the host of a popular talk radio show—but from the show’s third episode, “AKA It’s Called Whisky” and onwards, the series steadily builds up her eventual path to superheroism, with plenty of nods to her extensive comic book past. We see Trish training in Krav Maga and self defence, like her Martial Artist comic book counterpart, and when we explore Jessica’s decision to try being a superhero in “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me,” it’s clear that the driving force behind Jessica’s decision is Trish’s own desire to be a hero — her own unwavering sense of what’s right and wrong that comes from Patsy’s sheer love of being a hero in the comics.
Jessica Jones goes even further with its set up for the mysterious super-drug plan IGH. When her boyfriend in the show, Will Simpson (himself an adaptation of the comic book villain Nuke), gets amped up on a combat stimulant and attacks Jessica and Trish in “AKA I’ve Got The Blues,” Trish makes the decision to take one of Will’s stimulant pills, briefly granting her superstrength and pain resistance—neither of which she actually gets in the comics, but it’s a dose of superheroism that the show definitely intends to continue in the future, considering the season ends with Trish ready to investigate the origins of IGH.
But on top of that slow development, Jessica Jones weave’s Patsy/Trish’s comic past into her background in a similar manner to how it was actually handled in the comics—most notably in Defenders #89. In the show, Trish’s strained relationship with her mother comes from a childhood spent as a youth star in her own TV series, It’s Patsy!, which Trish grew to hate as her mother, also her agent, became more and more controlling of her life. In the comics, we learn something similar.
Instead of a TV series, Patsy’s mother, dissatisfied with her daughter’s life, wrote a popular series of teen-humor comics with a fantastical, idealised version of Patsy as the star: an in-universe acknowledgement of the Patsy Walker comic series (which the series itself nods to with an easter egg).
And it went even further: in Defenders #94, Patsy gets possessed by a demon, sent to claim Patsy’s soul by her mother in exchange for saving her from dying of cancer. Naturally, it didn’t work: Patsy fought back against the demon’s control after it used her to defeat her fellow Defenders, and Patsy’s mother died, leaving the young hero in a great deal of anguish. It may be that Jessica Jones will never explore this side of Trish’s mother in the series, but the fact that so much of that comic book relationship was in there already, it’d almost—almost!—be a surprise if it didn’t.
Only time—and a second season of Jessica Jones—will tell if Trish will evolve into her current comic book persona on TV. But already, the show has done a great, and surprisingly faithful, job at laying the ground work for Trish and her long comic book history to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We can’t wait to see where it leads for the character.
Just don’t call her Patsy, and you’ll probably be fine.