The Shape-Shifting ‘Vixen’ of DC Comics: The Animals She Becomes and the Actresses Who Look Nothing Like Her


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Cautionary tales involving animals run deep in African Folklore. There’s The Snake and the Frog, Anansi the Spider, Clever Jackal Gets Away, and even in African-American traditions there are tales of Bruh Rabbit (as written by Virginia Hamilton). Each story is an allegory for some sort of moral life code with the animal kingdom serving as a euphemism for human behavior. These concepts have even come through when it comes to comic book characters. Enter Vixen, of DC Comics, who has described herself as having all the powers of Africa, and she does. Anansi is actually a part of her origin story.

Mari Jiwe McCabe, aka Vixen, was born in Zambesi, a fictional African Nation (that’s actually a river in real life that flows through Zambia and Zimbabwe) that is myrred in turmoil. The story goes that a warrior named Tantu asked Anansi the Spider to create a totem that would give its wearer all the powers of the animal kingdom as long as that person uses the power to protect the innocent. Tantu used the totem for the aforementioned task and passed it down to his descendents until it reached the McCabes.

Mari got the “Anansi Totem” (or sometimes called “Tantu Totem” or “Spirit Totem”), which was a necklace, after a series of tragic events. First, her mother was murdered by poachers and she was raised by her father until he was killed by his half-brother, General Maksai, who stole the totem. This forced Mari to flee with surviving family to the United States. There, she eventually got into modeling and with her new found wealth traveled back to her native country, stole the totem from her uncle (who couldn’t really use it properly anyway because it would only work for the greater good of humanity) and became Vixen.

The totem grants its wearer the ability to take on the attributes of every animal on Earth. As a result, Vixen can fly, breathe underwater, communicate with animals, camoflage, strengthen her skin to be as protective as a rhino’s, and more. The character first appeared in Action Comics #521 (1981) and has since been affiliated with the Justice League, Suicide, Squad, Birds of Prey, and more. The character has been portrayed on TV as a supplemental character in the Arrowverse and in animation.

In 2015, the CW launched a short-lived Vixen animated series that’s set in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash, primarily taking place in Detroit. The character has also appeared on various CW TV shows like Justice League (played by Gina Torres), DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers), and Arrow (played by Echinkunwoke). None of the actresses are consistent in appearance with how the actual character was drawn, but you know Hollywood casting has been suspect when it comes to Black female superheroes (see Storm, for example). Side eye.

Anyway, fans are still hoping to see a spinoff TV show or at the very least, a Black Lightning crossover. The latter of which seems very possible since Vixen was name dropped in a Black Lightning episode entitled, The Book of Little Lies. We’ll keep our eyes open and hopes high because that would be epic.


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