Over a year ago, I discussed Moon Knight’s appearance in Marvel Spotlight #28 (Jun. 1976) as part of a broader Moon Knight post. During this discussion, I mentioned buying Marvel Chillers #5 (Jun. 1976) at nearly (or possibly exactly) the same time. Well, I figured now would be as good a time as any to get back to that issue of Chillers, which carried the story “Cat and Mouse,” written by Tony Isabella with art by Will Meugniot and starring Tigra the Were-Woman.
And what a star turn this was—or at least my child-self considered it such. The cover was a total grabber:
Then the opening title page grabbed me even more:
The story line got its start two issues (and three months) earlier, in Marvel Chillers #3 (Mar. 1976), “Holocaust Is Our Business,” also by Isabella and Meugniot. In between issues #3 and #5, we got a fill-in by Chris Claremont and Frank Robbins in Marvel Chillers #4 (May 1976) that saw Tigra tangle with Kraven the Hunter. A fun little story, but getting a fill-in for the second issue of a run when you’re just launching the character in a new regular series—and interrupting your opening, ongoing story in the process—was really sabotaging nearly any chance of success a book may have had back in those days.
Of the two primary creators who kicked off the opening storyline, writer Tony Isabella is well known in comic circles; Will Meugniot less so. This is because Meugniot has had a much deeper career in animation and film. In strictly comic-book terms, he is probably best known as the co-creator of the DNAgents with writer Mark Evanier. Since Will Meugniot would do virtually no more work in comics for the next seven years (until DNAgents came out in 1983), I’m guessing he had trouble producing his art (at least at this point in his career) on the demanding comic book publishing schedule, and that this was likely what necessitated the fill-in. After this, they switched to a bi-monthly schedule, perhaps to better accommodate Meugniot, but this likely further hurt sales.
After that gorgeous, full-page splash to open the issue, we get two pages of recapping how this storyline got started in Marvel Chillers #3 (Mar. 1976)—a wise idea, given the three-month gap in the narrative created by the fill-in. While I could simply reproduce these two pages here, I believe a more detailed recapping from myself would probably be more useful.
“Holocaust Is Our Business”
This third issue got its proper start with the villainous Rat Pack raiding the Kepkeville U.S. Army Research Center and grabbing some experimental serums. (Note that Isabella named the base after his then girlfriend and eventual wife, Barbara Kepke.) The first and only prior appearance of the Rat Pack had been in Captain Marvel #2 (Jun. 1970). Here, in their second appearance, they have a new leader named Joshua Plague, a long-haired and long-bearded hippie-type dude with a mysterious and nefarious vibe.
Fun fact: The cover of Chillers #3 was done by Howard Chaykin and Berni Wrightson, one of just a handful of jobs Wrightson contributed to Marvel in his career.
Meanwhile, Tigra and her mentor, Dr. Joanne Tumolo, are on the last leg of a four-day car ride to meet up with Professor Leon, a disguised Cat Person living among humans who has apparently developed a way for Tigra to change back to her human form at will, which is why the two ladies are meeting with him. Waiting for them when they arrive is Jules Bannion, an old friend of Tumolo and ally of the Cat People. After pleasantries are exchanged, Bannion has bad news: Leon was injured in the Rat Pack’s earlier attack on the Kepkeville Center and reverted back to his Cat Person form after being knocked unconscious. Authorities captured him assuming he was one of the Rat Pack.
Tigra frees Leon and then hitches a ride on a police copter in an effort to find the Rat Pack. She catches up with them as they’re attacking a Native American village, where they recover a tribal artifact called the Soul Catcher. Tigra tries to stop them and does well against the bad guys at first, until Plague swats her aside with a single blow. When she awakens, she resumes her pursuit of the group. Red Wolf then appears in the final panel, watching as Tigra runs off and vowing to track her down and uncover her involvement in the attack. “If she be the cause of this,” he says, “she will answer for her murderous deeds to . . . Red Wolf!”
“Cat and Mouse”
Still on the trail of Joshua Plague and the Rat Pack as Chillers #5 opens, Tigra quickly manages to catch up with two members of the Pack: The mysterious Number 1 and his cohort Number 2, aka Madame Menace.
At this point in his artistic development, Meugniot’s figures can be a bit awkward in a few spots, but his line work is already very clean, even shiny and slick—very appealing to the eye. And the action is well done. As a very young and new reader of comics, I was captivated by Meugniot’s work here.
As I’ve mentioned often before, my child-self lived for comic book action, particularly karate-type action like this.
. . . And scenes like this one, immersed in animal savagery and terror, also set my imagination afire as a wee lad.
And then we get right back to the fighting, with even more karate-style combat. I was in heaven.
Sidebar: Several years later, Machine Man would fight a villain named Madame Menace in his own self-titled series. In my own headcanon, she’s the same character that fought Tigra here.
Unfortunately, Number 1 has to get into the middle of this, spoiling the awesome one-on-one showdown between Tigra and Madame Menace/Number 2. He gasses Tigra, but this doesn’t really take her down, she’s just playing possum. Only when Number 5 shows up and cracks Tigra’s noggin with a crowbar does the fight finally end. The unconscious Tigra is then taken to Rat Pack headquarters.
Back at the scene of the Native American community attack, Red Wolf, with Lobo at his side, speaks with the cops, along with Leon (in his human form), Tumolo, and Bannion. Red Wolf and Lobo then take up Tigra’s trail. At Pack HQ, Tigra awakens and the fight is on once more, until Plague zaps and paralyzes her with the Soul Catcher. The other Pack members begin expressing concern amongst themselves and question how Plague gained such powers from the Native American relic and what his ultimate plan may be.
An alarm announces Red Wolf’s arrival. By Plague’s orders, the Pack chains up Tigra and rigs their HQ to blow. Tigra breaks her right hand free of one chain, but her left remains bound. This is when Red Wolf and Lobo show up, with Red throwing his tomahawk at Tigra the second he sets eyes on her—a great cliffhanger ending to a comic book story that was great fun. Many years from now, when I’m even more decrepitly old than I am now (assuming I live so long), I’m sure I will still remember this comic book with great fondness.
And as long as we’ve come this far, we may as well finish off this storyline, right? Just to see how it all ends up.
The prior issue was Meugniot’s last art assignment for this story line (and, as previously mentioned, his last work in the comics business overall for several years). With Marvel Chillers #6 (Aug. 1976), John Byrne takes over illustrating Isabella’s story. Resolving that sweet cliffhanger, Red’s tomahawk whizzes past Tigra and breaks the remaining chain on her left arm. Now freed, Tigra mentions that she thought Red had suspected her of being in league with the Rat Pack. “I did,” Red tells her, “until Lobo told me otherwise.”
Red Wolf’s appearance on the cover of that fifth issue surely added to the appeal of the comic for me when I found it on the spinner rack at the old Smoke Shop. As I’ve touched on before, I loved dogs and anyone or anything even remotely canine in nature, so I was naturally drawn to Red Wolf; Lobo even more so. And Isabella’s use of Lobo throughout this story line was magnificent—this was no ordinary wolf, folks. Unfortunately, none of this was ever built upon by later writers or even referenced again, to my knowledge. And that’s a shame.
At any rate, almost immediately after our heroes have teamed up, the Rat Pack HQ self-destructs and the roof caves in. Our heroes survive by making it underground, where they take one of the Pack’s rocket sleds to resume the chase.
Cut to Tumolo and Leon back in a lab, working on that formula to allow Tigra to transform into the human again Greer Nelson again. At the end of this brief interlude, readers learn that Bannion is working for Joshua Plague.
Checking in with the Rat Pack, we find several of the Rats demanding answers from Plague. Plague responds to their demands by zapping them with the Soul Catcher. Then our heroes arrive, with Tigra tackling Plague while Red Wolf battles Number 5. After getting fried by an electric cable, Number 5 is revealed to be a robot. Then an even bigger reveal closes the issue, as Plague reveals himself as the Super-Skrull!
“The Masque of the Green Death”
Fun Fact: I missed the previous issue when it was originally published, so I went straight from Red Wolf tossing his tomahawk at Tigra to end the fifth issue to this one, Marvel Chillers #7 (Oct. 1976), with Tigra getting punched in the mush by the Super-Skrull on the opening splash, while Red Wolf and Lobo battle the robot Number 5 in the background. Quite a jolt to my senses at the time. Picking up the creative reigns this issue was Jim Shooter as writer and George Tuska as penciler.
Another wild brawl to kick things off, which left me very happy as a kid. The nerd in me might question how Tigra could believably go toe-to-toe with the Super-Skrull, but the action is too fun for me, even as an adult, to get bogged down in such nerdity. Besides, Super-Skrull does smack our heroes around without much trouble anyway. In fact, he’s about to waste Tigra when Lobo picks up the Soul Catcher and runs off with it, forcing the Super-Skrull pursue him. This allows Tigra to lend Red Wolf a hand with Number 5, tearing the robot apart with her claws.
This is when Bannion shows up in the background, completely confused. After failing to see Joshua Plague anywhere, he decides to make a hasty exit. The rest of the Rat Pack have also long since scurried away, like the figurative rats they are.
As Tigra and Red Wolf run out after the Super-Skrull and Lobo, what’s left of Number 5 makes its way across the floor to a self-destruct button. Another Rat Pack HQ blows up just as our heroes make it out of the building.
The Super-Skrull corners Lobo in alley and appears to disintegrate him with flame. Red Wolf and Tigra arrive in time to witness this, but Red does not appear at all upset by it. Then we learn why, as Lobo turns up right behind them, unsinged, and with the Soul Catcher in his mouth. How did he escape? Again, this is clearly no ordinary canine.
Cops round up our heroes just as the Super-Skrull has seemingly disappeared. But when they try to take Lobo, Red Wolf orders his wolf companion to flee. Cops open fire on the courageous canine, but their bullets don’t stop him. “I—I hit him,” one of the officers remarks. “I know I hit that wolf five times an’ look at it go!”
Our remaining heroes are taken in by police. Then the captain wants to question Tigra and Red in his office, alone. After getting Red Wolf to surrender the Soul Catcher to him, the supposed captain throws his desk over, revealing the body of the real captain, while the fake captain reassumes his true form of the Super-Skrull. Action once more, as their battle appears to wreck the police station (or at least the captain’s office).
Tuska does a great job here—a superhero clash in the grand style of King Kirby (who happened to pencil the cover to this issue, by the way). I particularly love that third panel, with that wild slash of her claws Tigra takes and the animal rage in her expression, which even in profile feels palpably powerful.
Naturally, Super-Skrull is too much for our good guys to handle and all seems lost. But then, when Skrully tries to use the Soul Catcher to destroy Tigra, the artifact turns on him and appears to wholly absorb the villain, body and soul. Red grabs the Soul Catcher and escapes with Tigra before the cops can grab them again.
After all this action, our final page is dedicated to characterization and its wonderfully done. Red, Lobo, and Tigra are out in the wilderness sitting by a campfire, discussing everything they’ve been through, and Tigra shares her concern that her savage, animal nature is taking control of her. She posits that this may be the reason the Soul Catcher didn’t take her—maybe the animal creature she’s become no longer has any human soul to take. Red tries to reassure her.
And that’s how it ends—ambiguously, with a glimpse of hope. A fun story with some strong character touches to end things on.
So What the Heck Is a Were-Woman?
I really liked (and still like, actually) the “Were-Woman” moniker. It’s probably the alliteration that makes it so pleasing to my ear. But in terms of pure language it makes no sense at all.
The term “were-woman” was clearly derived from the term “werewolf,” which itself was derived from wer, meaning “man,” (or “human”) combined with “wolf.” In other words, “werewolf” means “man wolf” (or “human wolf”) or “wolf man.” Ergo, “were-woman” means “man-woman” (or “human woman”)—which, of course, as I said, is senseless.
In more recent years, they’ve taken to referring to Tigra as a “were-cat,” which makes a lot more sense in terms of language, but it doesn’t tumble off the tongue with quite the same flair as “were-woman.”
Greer Grant Nelson
Tigra got her start as Greer Nelson (née Grant), a young widow of a cop who later became the superheroine known as the Cat. She made it through four issues of her own title, The Cat #’s 1-4 (Nov. 1972-Jun. 1973), before cancellation struck. Aside from one other adventure fighting alongside Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #8 (April 1973), that was it for the character.
A year later, the Cat was shot with an “alpha radiation” gun and her mentor, Dr. Joanne Tumolo—who was revealed to be a member of this race of beings called the “Cat People”—had to turn Greer into Tigra in order to save her life. This took place in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (May 1974), in a story written by Tony Isabella. The revamped character would appear again in “The Serenity Stealers” from Monsters Unleashed #10 (Feb. 1975), in a plot by Isabella, script by Claremont, and luscious art by Tony DeZuniga. Then came these five issues of Chillers.
What inspired this new creative direction? As Isabella described it in 2001, “I had liked the short-lived Claws of the Cat comic book and thought it a shame it had never reached its full potential. I hoped that turning Greer Nelson into Tigra would give her a second chance at stardom.” [“Tony’s Terrors (and Tigra Too!),” Comic Book Artist #13, May 2001, p. 102.]
After this Chillers run (I should actually say “during,” after double checking the pub date, though it still has to be considered “after” in continuity terms), Tigra appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #19 (Sept. 1976). Written by Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo with art by Sal Buscema and Don Heck, this teaming with the Thing would lead to Tigra regularly popping up in the pages of Fantastic Four for several months afterward. This was followed by another appearance in Marvel Team-Up (with Spidey) about a year later, and another solo shot in Marvel Premiere shortly after that.
This story line was very entertaining, but not perfect. In Chillers #5, Red Wolf told Bannion that the Soul Catcher, according to legend, “fell from the heavens. A gift from the Great Spirit.” So was this totem stick a product of highly-advanced, alien tech? Or an object of magical power? I have no idea, as there was never any proper answer offered. It would seem to make more sense if it was alien tech when considering how it would have caught the interest of the Super-Skrull; I don’t see much logic in a skrull knowing of, or taking an interest in, an object of earthly, Native-American mysticism.
Bannion’s relationship with Joshua Plague was also a bit of a head scratcher. There was never any reasoning offered for it and I don’t see where it could have possibly led. Perhaps if the series lasted longer and Isabella remained at the helm, he had a long-range plan in mind for this, but in the context of just what we were shown, it feels pointless. Then again, this kind of thing can happen when a title is suddenly cancelled after a too-brief run, as this one was.
Then there’s the serums. This whole thing started with the Rat Pack swiping some serums from a military research facility and nothing came of this. The serums were never made part of the larger plot, were never used for any purpose, and would barely be referenced again in later issues.
Then on Tigra’s side, her part in all this began with a trip to test Professor Leon’s formula that would allow her to change into the human Greer Nelson again; perhaps even allow her to change back and forth, at will. But once more, this got dropped and was never brought up again. Not within this story line, nor by any other writer that worked on the character afterward.
The Cowardly Cat
In his one-issue fill-in, Jim Shooter did a great job picking up the character threads that Isabella left behind, concluding the Chillers story line with Tigra struggling more than ever over her own humanity and just how much of it she had left in her. This would only serve to make it all the more maddening when Shooter completely ignored such characterization after importing Tigra into the Avengers strip several years later and portraying her as an utterly spineless coward.
In this Chillers arc, Tigra is anything but a coward. In fact, she’s got the opposite problem: her animal nature is making her too aggressive. Shooter seemed to understand this perfectly when he scripted the final issue, #7. So how did she turn into a coward after Shooter brought her into the Avengers strip in issue #211 (Sept. 1981)? I remind you, Shooter’s the guy who scripted that conversation between Red and Tigra on that final page of Chillers. How could the man who wrote that dialogue get the character so wrong just a few years later? Did he somehow forget his earlier work? Or did he willfully twist the character into someone unrecognizable? Just to serve his plot purposes, perhaps? (I say this because he kinda did the same thing with Hank Pym/Yellowjacket at almost exactly this same time.)
I’m not sure where things stand with Tigra today. I know Steve Englehart tried to rehab the cowardly aspects out of her character during his West Coast Avengers run in the mid to late 80s, but he replaced this trait with other traits that were just as bad, if not worse.
If I was put in charge of the character today, I would try to follow the lead of her Chillers run as closely as possible, because this was some good stuff. Yes, I loved it as a kid for the action (and it certainly had loads of that), but re-reading it today I was surprised by the depths the story actually reached, particularly in terms of character and identity. Tigra was not just struggling with who she was throughout this story line, she was struggling with what she was. Was she still Greer Nelson? Still human? Or was she in danger of becoming a mindless animal?
Whatever else one may think of it, I feel I can safely say that this run was easily the best treatment the Tigra character ever received in her comic-book lifetime.