Shades of Orange Is The New Black! Welcome to Women’s Detention Facility in lower Manhattan! Felicia is one of several female prisoners being held in a single prison cell. Tough acting, tough talking Felicia is the de facto top dog of not just the women in her cell but the entire prison, and she’s the one who “greets” a demoralized Valkyrie (of the Defenders book) who’s been processed after her arrest for destroying a restaurant. Valkyrie doesn’t behave the way Felicia wants and starts a fight to teach the costume-less Defender a lesson or three. A powerful slap and hair pulling are moves Felicia resorts to using on Valkyrie, and as tried and true as they must’ve been for her in the past, they fail her this time. The other prisoners are shocked to see Felicia lifted off the floor by her throat and dangling in the air. Taking action against a woman is a violation of Valkyrie’s mystical powers and she painfully pays for it. Note that in the caption Gerber describes Felicia as “bull-like” and Valkyrie as a “frail”. That’s as close to calling the character a “bull dyke” as Gerber can get under the then watchful eye of the Comics Code Authority. Artist Sal Buscema did his part as well with infusing her appearance with negative stereotypes.
The incident gave Felicia one more reason to despise the new prisoner. In the following issue more violence and intimidation follows with Felicia stomps on a weakened Valkyrie after she refuses to wake up for breakfast in the cafeteria. The sight of cell mate Shirley sitting alone with Valkyrie in the cafeteria another day infuriates the woman and she decides to isolate her by intimidating Shirley and doubles down for good measure by putting out her cigarette in Valkyrie’s bowl of stew. Tit for tat, as the old saying goes. Valkyrie dumps the bowl over Felicia’s head and the guards have to break up the two women to prevent a brawl. Valkyrie gets blamed for it all and is taken to the warden who, after some unwillingness to comply with orders, has her put in solitary. This move proves to be the catalyst for the women to rally around Valkyrie. It breaks into a riot with Felicia in the lead. They soon takeover the entire complex with Felicia making demands with the police over the phone. Just because Valkyrie’s transfer to solitary was the breaking point means that Felicia has stopped hating her. If anything, it’s made her even more determined to hang on to her power and status, such as they are. What follows is a fight that would be right in place in a movie like Caged or any other Women in Prison type movie. Poor Felicia loses all her cred after Valkyrie throws her into a wall and knocks her out. This issue isn’t titled “Riot In Cellblock 12” for nothing!
Alas, the riot ends with the appearance of Luke Cage, Nighthawk, and Red Guardian, Having filled their purpose, Felicia, Shirley, and the other women disappear into comics limbo.
Steve Gerber is not the first writer to insert a coded lesbian into a Comics Code approved comic. Two earlier examples are a Mike Sekowsky affair from Wonder Woman #185, published in 1969, with its lesbian gang including Top Hat, Pinto, and Moose Mama; and Liz from “That Strange Girl” story in Young Romance #197, cover dated January-February 1974. Other such coded LGBT characters are the “Anonymous Fashion Guys”, Jasper Dewgood, and women’s fashion designer Anton Previn.
Created by Steve Gerber, Mary Skreenes and Sal Buscema. Felicia first appeared in Defenders #36 (vol 1) and continued to appear until this sub plot’s resolution in issue #39. Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson. Mary Skreenes collaborated with Gerber on the Hard Time series, notably the issues focusing on Cindy Crane.
You can read the entire prison sub plot and a lot more in Essential Defenders vol 3.
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