Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Saga of Liza Warner

In September of 1974, Police Woman debuted on television. This spin-off of Joe Wambaugh's fact-based Police Story series starred Angie Dickinson as Sgt. Pepper Anderson, an undercover officer for the LAPD. Shortly thereafter, in the July, 1975 issue of 1st Issue Special (a Showcase-like tryout title), DC Comics introduced their own female law enforcement agent: Liza Warner, Lady Cop!


Story by Robert Kanigher, Art by John Rosenberger and Vince Colletta

Liza has a fairly typical "origin" story. She witnesses the murder of her two roommates by a serial killer who leaves playing cards (the ace of spades) at the murder scene; although she could only see his death's head cowboy boots, she vows to find him.



Unlike what most other comics characters in a similar situation would do, Liza does not hone her body to physical perfection, don a colorful costume, and become a vigilante. No, she just joins the police academy, as a relatively sane but somewhat committed (or even driven) person might actually do.

In the academy, she is taught firearms skills and hand-to-hand techniques comprising "three karate kicks -- three judo throws -- the wrestling tactic of "bridging" -- boxing -- [and] defensive blocking." (I don't know why the martial arts curriculum is so limited; maybe this was a low-budget academy.) Liza proves her mettle at the graduation ceremony when she stops a disgruntled flunkee from distrupting the ceremony with a grenade.



With congratulations from the chief, Liza's five-page origin story is over - now Officer Warner can shine in her own 15-page saga!

Warner walks a beat in a tough inner-city neighborhood (where else?). In short order, she rescues a young girl (who quickly disappears) from manhandling by a local thug and his main goon (taking the latter out with a serious head-butt); buys an ice cream cone for a poor child; stops a knife-wielding robber with her hat; and gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the robber's victim, a grocery store clerk. All on her first shift.

Y'know, I was a cop for almost six years and I never did any of those things. But then, I didn't walk a beat in a tough inner-city neighborhood.



After a break for a beach-date with her honey, Hal ("Here's where the cop becomes a lady!"), Warner is back on the beat, and finally finds her vanished victim. The young girl is has been in hiding because... well, let Lady Cop fill you in:



Yes kids, we used to call it VD, not STD, and while it was still a threat, it could be cured with antibiotics - and its spread could be prevented with sylvan metaphors! Well, while things weren't really all that simple, pre-AIDS sexuality was indeed a different thing than it is today.

Anyway, Warner's PSA sets the girl and her father straight, although Warner does have to take a left hook to the jaw (without flinching) in order to get dad's full attention. And all's well that ends well.

Oh yeah - except that the head-butted goon from the first fight comes back to mess up Warner with a chain. He obviously doesn't know who he's dealing with: she promptly and casually throws him into the harbor, where he would have drowned without her intervention and the timely arrival of a police boat. (If this had become an ongoing series, I would like to have seen that guy return every issue to get his clock cleaned in a different fashion each time. It would have made a great running gag. And then he and Warner could have had a cup of coffee together for the Christmas issue.)

So, the story actually ends with Officer Warner wondering - of course - if she will ever find the killer in the cowboy boots. As far as I know, she never got the chance to look - Lady Cop made no more appearances.

I like this book. While it suffers from all the faults of silver-age writing and has not aged very well, it was obviously an attempt to portray what would have been called at the time "a liberated woman," and is thus redeemed to a degree. Liza Warner gets respect and camaraderie from her fellow officers, without condescension. On their date, Liza is given grief by Hal for being a career woman; in response, she is unapologetic and doesn't give an inch. Liza Warner is tough, smart, and compassionate - as unrealistic and as admirable as any comic book hero ought to be. I wish she had had a longer career - I'll bet she could teach those folks at Gotham P.D. or the Metropolis Special Crime Unit a thing or two.

A few other notes:

Although Liza is seen at the firing range during the academy sequence, she is never shown handling or even carrying a gun after she graduates. I don't know if this was in Bob Kanigher's script or if the artists just left it out.

The city in which Liza lives is never named, but the police uniforms say "NYPD."

Liza is referred to as "chick" seven times in the story.

12 comments:

Ragnell said...

Does she get to deck everyone who calls her "chick"?

Walaka said...

In point of fact - yes! Everyone who refers to any woman as "chick" gets decked, except the mysterious killer in boots.

Scipio said...

"Liza does not hone her body to physical perfection, don a colorful costume, and become a vigilante. No, she just joins the police academy"

Huh. Obviously sort of a lunatic.

Scipio said...

"Underground river"?

"Forest fire"?

If she wanted, she could be:

Metaphora, the Analagous Avenger!

MarkAndrew said...

One Short Box..

And you kept "Lady Cop."

I'm speechless.

Ragnell said...

She is automatically cool because she punches out peopel who call her "chick." I must find this book!

Anonymous said...

Re the comment by the speechless person above, I presume you kept the book because of its police milieu. Is this true? And if it is, would you care to elaborate? I think it would be fun to comment on how police are portrayed in comics.

Walaka said...

I kept this comic not so much because of its police milieu, but more because it was - and remains - so strikingly different from traditional comics fare.

The portrayal of police in comics would be an interesting topic. It would be easy to nitpick, the way Suspension of Disbelief does law and archery and some miscellaneous topics. More interesting would be an analysis of the relative impotence of traditional security in the superhero world (a meta-justification for superheroes?).

Anonymous said...

Nice Artwork, who penciled/inked this?

Anonymous said...

Nobody can draw women like Vinnie Colletta. Yowzah!

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