Happy New Year! Let’s start this new year off with learning all about Vixen! I’ve always liked this heroine with animal-based superpowers, and I had a conversation this week with a comic fan who didn’t know her, thus sealing the deal. She was going to be DC’s first African American female superhero back in 1978, but the comic was canceled before it could come out and she didn’t appear until 1981. So who is Vixen, where did she get her powers, and what exactly do they do? Let’s find out!
Long ago, a great warrior named Tantu went to the spider trickster god Anansi and requested the power to defend the innocent. Anansi agreed that this was a deed worth doing, and he created a totem blessing the user with powers from animals. Run as fast as a cheetah, claws as brutal as a lion, flight like that of a hawk, tough as a rhino, and stubborn as a mule (yes, really, and I’ll show you later) to name just a few powers that can be granted. It is believed that this may be the same power that Animal Man draws upon, and whether or not Anansi is an alien or if the aliens were Anansi, gotta love those trickster gods. Tantu would become the first superhero of Africa, and the totem would be handed down throughout his line, and so now we get to Vixen.
Born Mari Jiwe of “a tiny African village” (Thanks, comics, it’s not like Africa is gigantic and made of a bunch of countries or anything. Not even a country? Can she be from Chad? I love Chad.), she was raised by her father Reverend Richard Jiwe, priest of the village. Her mother had been killed by a poacher by the name of Kwesi; he’ll become important later. It seems that Richard was the new holder of the totem of Anansi, and his half-brother, General Maksai, was envious of this. Maksai would kill Richard, causing a young Mari to flee for the United States where she’d take on the name Mari McCabe and become a successful fashion model.
After accumulating much wealth in her career, Mari would travel the world and go back home to her village (I’m going to name it Vixenopolis for the sake of the article) where she’d steal back the totem from Maksai. Now wielding the totem, she began to reluctantly fight crime, gaining the attention of the Justice League and joining them. While with the JLA, Maksai would return and steal the totem from her, but since its purpose is to protect the innocent and Maksai was most certainly not going to do that, it made him a raging beast. Maksai would die battling with Mari, and shortly after this battle the JLA would disband.
No longer in the Justice League, Mari would go back to modeling, but this would have a tragic result in that many of her model friends would be killed by drug smugglers during a Caribbean photo shoot. Mari would ask the government for help, and they’d send in the Suicide Squad. Mari would join forces with them to stop the drug kingpin, whom she killed in a rage. This worried her, so she decided to stay with the Suicide Squad so she could stop these animal instincts.
The Squad would eventually disband, and she’d model again and start a successful clothing line (Mari knows fashion like nobody’s business). When the Suicide Squad asked her to join their new team, she declined since she had dated then broken up with fellow teammate Bronze Tiger. Upon seeing that she might be able to help Tiger with his own issues, she did join the team momentarily until realizing Tiger would never get help from her until he realized he needed help first.
Checkmate would draft Mari into doing undercover missions for them. This would draw the attention of Oracle, and she’d begin working with the Birds of Prey going undercover into a cult. Mari would end up getting mind controlled by the cult leader, and nearly killed Huntress when she tried to save Mari. Thankfully, Mari was able to get out of the control (by using the stubbornness of a mule power, I love comics), then she and Huntress were able to save the other prisoners of the cult.
During the Identity Crisis while fighting alongside Firestorm against the Shadow Thief, Mari would witness Firestorm’s death and be the key witness in Shadow Thief’s trial. All the while Mari’s powers would be supercharging, causing her to have more animal instincts going on as she worked. During the time that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman were missing for a year, Mari got a note from who she thought was The Question, but it turned out to be a trap to kill her and take the totem. She’d escape but lose the totem, which was the straw that broke all of her control of her powers, causing her to experience memory loss for a time. She’d eventually recover her memories and then the totem, which had been used to make the latest version of the super android, Amazo.
This battle with Amazo brought her onto the new Justice League team, but it would soon be discovered that her powers were no longer animal-based; she was taking her powers from her teammates. When the League finds out that her new powers may be draining the group’s powers, she is told to leave the group and find out how to gain control of her new powers.
Mari goes to Zatanna for magical aid, but they realize this is bigger than any one mage, and seek out Animal Man who is tied to the Red, an energy field that all animal life on Earth is tied to. The Justice League, Animal Man, and Mari then learn they can enter the Tantu totem and are trapped inside by Anansi. Anansi proceeds to create a new history in which the current Justice League does not exist. Mari escapes and teams with this new JLA to fight Anansi. When Mari threatens to destroy the totem, Anansi admits this was all so she could be better prepared for when he’ll need her help, and he returns the world as it was with Mari regaining her old powers, letting her know that he will one day call upon her. Trickster gods, am I right?
Returning to her home town, she learns that Kwesi, the poacher who killed her mother, has gained control of the area around the Zambezi river (Hey, we’re getting better at figuring out where Mari’s from!). When Mari confronts him, it turns out Kwesi was granted powers by Intergang, making him a formidable opponent. He poisoned her and she escapes to get the aid of the Justice League. After a dangerous battle, Mari and the Justice League were able to come out on top.
With the New 52, it is only being said that Mari was a founding member of Justice League International. Where she goes from there, who knows? So that’s Mari Jiwe McCabe, fashion model/designer/superhero. She travels the world with a cool set of super powers and helps protect the innocent, just like Anansi wanted.
Action Comics #521
Justice League of America
Vixen: Return of the Lion