Mari McCabe was born in Africa (though the actual country is often changed depending on the story.) She is the daughter of Reverend Jiwe who later possessed the magical Tantu Totem. This is a magical artifact, supposedly created by Anansi the Spider, the African trickster god, which bestowed the wearer the same powers as Anansi. Soon, Mari found herself as an orphan after her mother was killed by poachers and her father was killed by Maksai, his half-brother. She then moves to New York City where she began a career as a model. She later returns to Africa to reclaim the totem.
Vixen was originally slated to become the first African American female superhero to lead her own series, yet the series was canceled before its publication (though these issues were later printed in a collection). This was during an event known as the DC Implosion. Although her series had been canceled, the character was not and eventually made her first appearance in the DC universe in Action Comics #521 in 1981, created by Gerry Conway & Curt Swan
Despite nearly being the first female African character to be featured in her own comic book series, Vixen was subsequently characterized somewhat stereotypically as a stock African American character for the period after her eventual introduction into the DC Universe. Undoubtedly, one of the most important moments for the character was her induction into the Justice League of America. At the time in the early 1980s, the comic book industry was dominated by youth oriented series. The main source of this was at Marvel where the X-Men were leading sales across the entire industry, but at DC the Teen Titans were equally one of the best sellers. With this formula in mind it was decided to relaunch the Justice League of America with a younger and less mainstream cast. While most of these new characters were entirely new creations, Vixen was one of the more experienced of the new members, and one with a publication history (albeit limited) prior to her joining.
Despite the attempt to give the title new life, this version of the League (dubbed by many as Justice League Detroit as it was based in Detroit) was not popular as fans did not take to the disappearance of the traditional League members very well. Soon after, the series was canceled, but Vixen did not stay in the background for long as John Ostrander chose her as a member of his new Suicide Squad. This version of the character was a bit grittier as she wrestled with the fact that despite being a hero she had killed for revenge against some drug dealers that had killed some of her modeling colleagues. Despite this, she eventually found peace with her past and became a valued member of the team, and during this time developed one of her most enduring relationships, Ben Turner. After the dissolution of this version of the Squad she would stay mostly in the background, appearing only during company-wide crossovers, until she rejoined the post Infinite Crisis version of the team in 2006.
Major Story Arcs
During her first appearance in the League, the team battled many threats, among the most daunting the Overmaster’s Cadre and Despero. During her time with the Suicide Squad she partook in a majority of the missions, being a major player in such storylines as the hunt for Rick Flag and Senator Cray and the Janus Directive. At one point Vixen worked with Wally West to take down Gorilla Grodd, who was using a machine to give the animals of Keystone City advanced intelligence and turning them against the humans. During the battle, Grodd would use his machine on Vixen, forcing her to become largely useless animals, such as a slug. Luckily Wally broke free of the cage and defeats Grodd.
Justice League of America
After her departure from the Squad she would occasionally work with Animal Man. She would return shortly to the Justice League during the events of Infinite Crisis. During the events of One Year Later the Justice League is reformed once again behind the direction of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. She was not initially considered as a member but everyone who partook in the story arc The Tornado’s Path was offered membership as the spontaneous nature by which the team came together was considered a sign. Her role in the story arc was small but key. Amazo had been using her totem to channel his energy, and as she regressed to a more animalistic nature she sought only its return, the end state of which was her defeating Amazo almost single-handedly. During her time with the team though she did take part in numerous story arcs, the most relevant one being between her and Animal Man after she had started to steal the powers of other superheroes. This was later revealed to be the work of Anansi.
Sinestro Corps War
During the Sinestro Corps War, Vixen was with the Justice League when they tried to capture Professor Zoom, to question him about Sinestro. She was also with the group on the Watchtower, in Earth's orbit, when Cyborg Superman attacked. Later she was part of the team of superheros who tried to bum rush Superboy Prime before sunrise and failed.
Final Crisis & Blackest Night
She was soon after featured in her own miniseries, Vixen: Return of the Lion. In this series she returns to Africa to hunt for her mother’s murderers, but discovers new focus when using her powers. It is also revealed that Intergang is interested in her. She later plays a small part in Final Crisis. Following Final Crisis, the Justice League is forced to go on without many of its key members and a smaller and less powerful team is maintained with Vixen as its leader. During Blackest Night the League takes part in the action, but she is injured and takes a leave of absence.
Justice League International
With the reboot of the DC Universe into the New 52, Vixen was a founding member of the new Justice League International. Vixen is shown as one of the many heroes chosen to join the Justice League.
Powers & Abilities
Originally Mari required the Tantu Totem for her powers. This allowed her to channel the abilities of various animals to giving her access to their unique abilities. The totem will only work when being used for the benefit of mankind. She has been shown to channel this power for various purposes and from various animals, though the most common applications are for speed, flight, enhanced senses, and strength. It is later revealed that she does not need the totem itself, rather that it focuses her own innate power, which she later learns to control. She has been shown to channel the power of the animal abilities into pure power and create a force field, though this ability may be non-canonical. She can also occasionally use the healing abilities of certain animals and has even been seen to fully transform into animals.
Vixen originally could only assume the abilities of one animal at a time. However, she has been seen in one instance using the speed of the cheetah, combined with the durability/momentum of a rhinoceros, and the dexterity of a Capuchin monkey against a member of the Royal Flush Gang, and in another instance holding onto the traits of an entire forest of animals to get her comrades to safety. It has been thought that the totem increases her natural range for mimicking animals to 150 feet; however, as seen in her own mini-series, Vixen: Return Of The Lion, she does not require the totem.
For a period Vixen was able to mimic the powers of other superhumans, though this was due to Anansi’s influence, and she can no longer do this.
She possesses razor sharp claws which she is skilled in using in combat. She also possesses some abilities in animal control.
Justice League Unlimited
Vixen was a relatively common member on the television show Justice League Unlimited, appearing for a time as the girlfriend of John Stewart. She appeared in the episodes “Initiation,” “Hunter’s Moon,” “Wake the Dead,” “Shadow of the Hawk,” “Grudge Match,” and “Ancient History."
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Vixen also appeared in the television show, Batman: Brave and the Bold, where she began a relationship with B'wana Beast.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
An evil version of Vixen called Vamp appears in the movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
Teen Titans Go!
Vixen makes a cameo appearance in the Teen Titans Go! episode "You're Fired!" as one of the superheroes auditioning to replace Beast Boy.
DC Universe Online
Vixen also appears in DC Universe Online, a computer game based in the DC universe.