You probably have never heard of the superheroine Vixen before. Unlike Batman or Superman, she's not quite as famous. Although she was set to star in her own series in the late 1970s, the first issue of her comic debut was abruptly cancelled. It wasn't until July of 1981 that DC Comics introduced her in the Superman-centric title Action Comics #521. Gerry Conway and Bob Oksner are credited with creating the character, one of only a handful of African American women to appear in superhero comics. An international hero, Vixen uses a totem that allows her to access the abilities of nearly any creature from the animal kingdom.
African-born Mari Jiwe McCabe grew up in the fictional nation of Zambesi. At a young age, her mother tells her the legend of something called the "Tantu Totem." Mari's mother is then killed, apparently by poachers hunting in the area. Mari is raised by her father Richard, a village priest. Unknown to her, her father possesses the totem her mother told her about. Her uncle, a corrupt general named Maksai, kills Richard to possess the totem's power. With both her parents dead, the orphaned Mari moves to America. While in New York City, she is "discovered" and becomes an international supermodel. Becoming wealthy beyond her dreams and traveling the world for a few years, she eventually makes her way back to Africa. After encountering her uncle Maksai, she regains the totem. Using it's power to channel animal spirits, she adopts the superhero identity of Vixen.
At the start of this story, Vixen is assisting the Justice League of America in shutting down an Intergang weapons cache. Batman discovers from Intergang's records that they bribed a small-time warlord in Zambesi. He learns that this warlord, a man named Aku Kwesi, is the the one responsible for murdering Mari's mother. After Superman informs Mari, she departs the league to return to Zambesi. She hasn't been back in over 10 years. Reconnecting with some of her childhood friends in her village, Kwesi soon finds her. A confrontation ensues, and Vixen is nearly killed when he displays metahuman powers.
Staggering into the African desert, Vixen nearly perishes. She is saved by Brother Tabo, a monk who has a deep connection to animals and to nature. He teaches her to access her power without relying on the totem's physical presence. Superman, who is worried about her, decides to mobilize the Justice League to help Vixen in Zambesi. They uncover an Intergang headquarters where both Superman and Black Canary are poisoned. Intergang is able to gain control of the two heroes and pit them against the rest of the league. Vixen's timely intervention causes the distraction the team needs to free Superman and Black Canary from Intergang's control.
Vixen then faces Aku Kwesi again. After a long, drawn out battle, she stands victorious. With her mother's death avenged and her village safe, she returns to America with the rest of the league.
Winner of the Glyph Fan Award for Best Comic, it's easy to see why G. Willow Wilson's Vixen: Return of the Lion is a fan favorite. Vixen is a character you root for. Her story, both her return home and her ultimate goal of avenging her mother's murder, make you forget that heavy hitters like Superman and Batman are relegated to only supporting characters. In this trade paperback, Cafu's realistic artwork acurately depicts everything from a detailed African landscape, to an intense superhero battle, to the emotional turmoil of Mari's situation. I recommend Vixen: Return of the Lion both to those who love superhero comics and to those looking to start getting into graphic novels for the first time.