Thursday, May 5, 2016

The first Superheroines in comics

It is common to think the superhero genre is dominated by male protagonists, and it is. It has been that way since the beginning... although not as much as we think. A little googling and some listing can show us that there were a lot of golden age superheroines (or mystery women) and that they were as talented and independent as their male counterparts.

After reading a bit about Lady Luck, the theme picked my interest, and since the last month, I've been doing this list on my free time. It covers superheroines of the golden age of comic books (c. 1936 - 1953) and provides basic info on each character (publishers, first appearance, general premise), as well as some comments I make about their innovations, influences, originality, fashion sense, impact, and influence.

This is a really long post and I don't expect anybody to read the whole thing. However, it has many sections about different characters, so it's a "pick your favorite" sort of situation. The advantage is that having all of it in one post allows us to compare and see the relevance of each character.

Good girl art, superheroines, censorship, and feminism

By comparing superheroines with their male counterparts, we can get an idea of their equality. It's clear that publishers were just cashing on the "good girl art" (drawn pin-ups with a focus on their "headlighs" and other female parts —the term was coined later by David T. Alexander), which resulted from making female versions of popular male superheroes, without realizing the positive implications for equality and feminism. They were creating fictional women who were not only equal to regular men but epic superhumans, such as Tarzan, Buck Rogers, The Shadow, The Phantom or Superman.

A little context is necessary. The golden age of comic books coincided with the Hays Code, which moderated the amount of violence or sex (or even cleavage) movies could show, and was enforced from 1934 to the late 1950s. Since pulps and comics were largely uncensored back then, they became the biggest outlet for that kind of content. And the fastest way for publishers to serve it was drawing women in Tarzan or Flash Gordon mini-costumes beating thugs.
I think this image is making a commentary about its readers.
One could certainly argue that such representations objectified women —titillating male readers and indulging their escapism, and they certainly do all of that—, but they also made them look like their counterparts: admirable men in even fewer clothes. If Sheena, Mysta or Namora wear skimpy clothes, Tarzan, Flash Gordon or Namor wear even skimpier ones, and the six of them have skills beyond normal men. This is the rationale that made feminist Gloria Steinem ask DC Comics to bring back Wonder Woman's star-spangled bottom.



The platinum age and some prehistory

Before getting on with the list of golden age superheroines, a little prehistory is necessary.

Superheroines as we understand them —a female heroes with double identities, tights or super-powers— first appeared during the golden age (c. 1937 - 1953), but the archetypes that inspired them first appeared during the platinum age (c. 1897 - 1937), the era of the newspaper comic strips, before there were comic books.

Superheroes are a mix of three popular archetypes found in prose or comics during the platinum age: the super-powered metahuman (John Carter, Popeye, Hugo Danner, Mandrake),  the skillful and adventurous übermensch (Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Mowgli, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Doc Savage, Flash Gordon), and the masked vigilante (Scarlet Pimpernel, The Gray Seal, El Zorro, The Shadow, The Phantom). They come from prose fiction and many of them wear costumes inspired by Robin Hood and Jules Léotard (a real-life daredevil of the XIX century).

Before the Victorian era, female leads, often rooted in mythology and fairy tales, are rarely heroic. Snow White, the Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and their likes are mostly damsels in distress and need rescuing from a prince. Exceptions like Beauty or the Little Mermaid show some heroism, but it comes from compassion and sacrifice rather than taking proactive action against danger.
One of the closest examples of an early heroine is Maid Marian. Even though she is a supporting character in most versions of the Robin Hood mythos, in a few she is the main character and in many she matches him in combat while cross-dressing and becomes part of the Merry Men. Many of the most well known love interests of the most popular superheroes share her attitude.
Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party, by Sir John Tenniel.
Coinciding in good degree with the First-Wave Feminists, some clearer heroines started to appear in the late XIX century and became more as time went on.  Good examples include Alice (1865), Loveday Brooke (1894), Dorothy Gale (1900), jungle girl Rima (1904), Atalanta (1904), Hilda Adams (1914) and the senior Miss Marple (1927).
Dorothy Gale and the Wicked Witch, by W. W. Denslow.
Alice and Dorothy Gale follow a tradition that can be tracked to the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. The huge difference is that they don't need rescuing. Wendy Darling (from Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, 1904) is not really a heroine, but it's clear that the only rescuing she needs is caused by the hero, Peter Pan, who seems exciting to her until she outgrows him.
Loveday Brooke by Bernard Higman.
Mystery fiction had lady detectives before the Victorian era was over. A good example is Loveday Brooke, a lady of society who takes a job at a detective agency after losing her wealth. This kind of heroine helped the idea of making female counterparts of male heroes, like Sherlock Holmes, in this case. Later, during the interwar period Miss Jane Marple became the most iconic amateur detective of all time, all-male counterparts have to be compared with her. Both characters were created by female mystery fiction writers, Loveday by Catherine Louisa Pirkis and Miss Marple by Agatha Christie, the "Queen of Crime" herself.

Many supporting characters of this era contributed a lot to the early superheroines. Mina Harker (from Dracula, 1897) is portrayed as hiding a great intellect that helps the development of the action and Jane Porter (Tarzan of the Apes and the Tarzan series, 1912) complements Tarzan's skills rather than depending on them.
This is new, but I bet nobody expected these two together. 
Other female characters make more debatable contributions. Irene Adler (from A Scandal in Bohemia and other Sherlock Holmes stories, 1891) is said to be capable of outsmarting Sherlock Holmes, she is completely independent and uses her beauty in her favor, and yet, she is a bit of a man-eater in the tradition of Delilah or Lady de Winter. By contrast, Dejah Thoris (A Princess of Mars and the Barsoom series, 1912), is all kindness and emotional virtue, but she is John Carter's perennial damsel in distress. There's nothing wrong with having women in non-heroic roles, but this post is about superheroines, and they require both goodness and independence.
The very explicit nudity of Dejah Thoris and every Martian in the Barsoom series is very bold statement for its time. Having everyone naked (give or take) without a very sexual attitude makes a good point about perception of modesty, and it influenced dozens of other sci-fi naturalist heroines (including female ones like Dale Arden, Barbarella, Vampirella, Starfire, and so on). However, it took about half a century for somebody to illustrate the Martian nudity; in the illustrations of Burroughs times Dejah is always wrapped in sheets.


Connie

Women are rare among early heroes of comics, but Connie, the first one, was key for the transition of all heroes. 
If the idea is to explore the earliest superheroines, we have to pay tribute to Connie Kurridge, the young aviatrix that started it all. She doesn't have super-powers or a secret identity, but she is an adventurer just like Terry Lee, Flash Gordon or Doc Savage (übermensch types), and her comic strip was the first to feature the realistic style commonly used in the superhero genre.


As initially created by Frank Godwin in 1927, Connie's early stories were conventional for an adult girl, but after the debut in comics of Tarzan and Buck Rogers on January 1st, 1929, her adventures took inspiration from all sorts of genres. She looks way too girly and delicate, but there is no enemy tough enough or adventure big enough for this epic go-getter. Her strip became proof that a female could lead in comics.

Connie is also a big influence on several leading women with their own features during the golden age and beyond it. Her legion female followers include career women like Brenda Star, Lois Lane or Modesty Blaise; adventures like Sheena, Gale Allen, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil or Nyoka the Jungle Girl; as well as superheroines like Miss Fury, Wonder Woman or Black Canary. Connie is the mother heroes in comics.

Jane Porter, Wilma Deering, and Dale Arden.

Other forerunners of the superheroine archetype were the girlfriends of the male adventurers of comic strips. Within the stories of Tarzan (1912), Buck Rogers (1928)  and Flash Gordon (1934), their respective girlfriends Jane Porter, Wilma Deering, and Dale Arden are shown as heroines rather than mere damsels in distress. One way or the other, their skills make them equals to their boyfriends.
These three share characteristics with many superhero girlfriends, some career women like Diana Palmer or Lois Lane, and some superhero partners like Bullet Girl or Hawkgirl.

The archetype of the strong female lead is old and can be tracked to characters as old as Maid Marian. However, Jane and Wilma introduced it to the comic strips in 1929, and with it the aesthetics of superheroines. Jane Porter wears a loincloth like her husband and a skin top. Maureen O'Sullivan's costume as Jane in Tarzan and his Mate (1934, pre-Code) influenced the look of dozens of jungle girls that came after her in comics and films, starting with Sheena, in 1937. As for science fiction, Wilma Deering and Buck Rogers were responsible for introducing skintight outfits, inspired by those of real-life acrobats and circus performers following the tradition of Jules Léotard.

Flash Gordon is almost a copy of Buck Rogers created directly for comic strips. Both he and his love interest, Dale Arden, introduced the idea of combining the futuristic skintight outfits of the Buck Rogers characters with the lack of clothes seen in John Carter of Mars —the whole tradition of seminaked people in space can be blamed on Edgar Rice Burroughs.

All the superhero fashion (male or female) was directly informed by the clothes wear by the characters of TarzanBuck Rogers, Dick TracyFlash Gordon, Mandrake, and The Phantom. Not only because the comic book artists were following a trend, but because they were often swiping (copying) drawings from the newspapers. Unlike Hal Foster, Lee Falk, Milton Caniff and the rest of the guys hired by big print syndication companies, comic book artists couldn't really afford to pay models, so they copied and modified the work of others.   


Pat Savage

Patricia Savage (created by Lester Dent in Brand of the Werewolf, in January 1934) is the first pulp fiction character to be both a relative and a female version of the hero of the story, in this case, Doc Savage. She is both physically similar and has equivalent skills, but this doesn't make her a sidekick. Mary Marvel, sister of Captain Marvel, and Namora, cousin of Namor followed this trend, which spawned many more cases after the golden age.
Pat also popularized the use of breeches. They contributed to making her look more like Doc, but that kind pants were very usual for male or female pilots, explorers, and equestrians. This look would be followed by Valkyrie, Black Angel, and Liberty Belle.


The Dragon Lady

One of the most common types of heroines is the one who start as a villain. In fiction, keeping evil a beautiful woman is hard —like Alexandre Dumas did with Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers. As the cliché goes, there is always sexual tension with the hero, and she needs to show some goodness in order for us readers to believe there actually is a possibility.

This is the case of femme fatales like Sherlock Holmes's Irene Adler (from A Scandal in Bohemia, June 1891), Arindam Bosu's Jumelia (Mayabi, 1902) or, in early comics, the Dragon Lady, a pirate queen from Terry and the Pirates (who first appeared in December 1934). She goes from being a stereotypical Asian femme fatale (like the daughter of Fu Manchu), to a more complex character and a romantic interest of Pat Ryan, mentor of the main character of the strip.

Various golden age comic book villainesses followed the path of the Dragon Lady, becoming heroines. Catwoman is the most famous, but the list includes Valkyrie, The Black Phantom, Harlequin, P'Gell, Sand Saref, Silken Floss.

List of golden age superheroines

Now, to see those platinum age influences in action.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle

Like Tarzan, but with decent makeup and jewelry.
First appearance: Wags #1 (Editors Press Service, January 1938), 
reprinted in Jumbo Comics #1 (Fiction Hoise, September 1938).
Created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.
Current publisher:  Dynamite Entertainment (licensed by Galaxy Publishing).

Premise: Sheena Rivington grows orphan in the jungle, developing jungle skills and the ability to communicate with animals. She becomes queen of a tribe, meets Bob Reynolds, and chooses him as her mate.

Mother of all superheroines! To Will Eisner's credit, Sheena is not only the first jungle girl, but the first superheroine, and since she was created in 1937, she also older than Superman. A great start for female superheroes. She got her own book in Spring 1942, a season before Wonder Woman got hers.

Superheroes were born in the Jungle. Before Sheena, their history goes back through the Phantom, Mandrake, and Lothar, all the way to the comic strip adaptations of Buck Rogers and Sheena's main predecessor in comics, Tarzan, who is part of a trend of feral people in fiction. His predecessors include Rima, Mowgli, and Ayesha.
Sheena in her first appearance.
Will Eisner and Jerry Iger had a comics packager, and they created Sheena for an English tabloid called Wags. Her name is a nod to H. Rider Haggard's book She (1886 - 1887), which is about Ayesha, the first jungle goddess pop culture. In her early stories, Sheena is very similar to her.

After a sales call, Iger convinced Fiction House —a publisher of pulps— to go into the brand new business of comic book. Their first title, called Jumbo Comics, featured reprints of Wags, including Sheena (you can read it here), who soon became Fiction House's most popular character.

Some time later, Sheena became less like Ayesha, and more like a female Tarzan (only eloquent and polylingual). Perhaps a big influence was Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane in Tarzan and His Mate, a skillful female Tarzan wearing very little clothes.
Jane Porter before and after the Hays Code.
The original director of the movie wanted her topless
the entire movie, with props blocking the view.
As silly as it might sound, skimpy clothes play an important part in the history of superheroines. Maureen's jungle costumeTarzan and His Mate  was so provocative for 1934, it caused a public outcry that ended in the enforcement of  the Hays Code. Logically, Sheena, the next jungle girl to wear something so skimpy appeared comic books, a medium that wouldn't have censorship for several years. At first, her clothes were more modest, but in their tenth or so adventure, she fights a leopard and makes her famous V-neck outfit out of his skin. Since she started to appear on all the covers of Jungle Comics  just after that, it's safe to assume that it was a hit with the boys, and the equality it implied would be a hit with the feminists, years later.
She can speak with animal, but
I don't think anybody's attention is on that.
Impact: Several appearances, her own title, two TV series, and a movie. Not only she inspired the dozen of independent jungle girls and goddesses in comics (and dozens in all media), but all independent heroines in comic books. She is the one that proved a leading female can sustain a feature and even her own book.

Lois Lane, Girl Reporter


First appearance: Action Comics #1 (Detective Comics, Inc., June 1938), as Superwoman Action Comics #60.
First appearance as Superwoman: Action Comics #60 (May 1943).
First backup seriesSuperman #28 (Detective Comics, Inc., May–June 1944).
Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Lois Lane is reporter and co-worker of Clark Kent. She is in a two-person love triangle, rejecting him but liking Superman. 

Lois Lane is not known as a superhero, but a regular adventurer. However, in Action Comics #60 she dreams she gets Superman's powers and becomes Superwoman; in Superman #45 (March-April 1947) she is conned into believing she gets Superman's powers and tries to become Superwoman; finally, in Action Comics #156 (May 1951) Lex Luthor temporarily transforms her into Superwoman. There have been various stories like that, but Lois never keeps her powers. The most recent is Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman (February 2006).

Without her Superwoman persona, Lois can still be counted as a heroine. Back in the 1930s, being a reporter was the only role in which a woman could be almost equal to men. According to Laura Siegel Larson, daughter of Jerry Siegel, her father based Lois on Torchy Blane, a fictional fast-talking, rough-and-tumble, no-nonsense, wisecracking reporter who solves crimes before her detective boyfriend in a B-movie series of the 1930s. The character was usually played by Glenda Farrell, but Lois Lane is a reference to Lola Lane, who played her in Torchy Blane in Panama. So, being a hero was in Lois's DNA, as it shows in the golden age stories and in the modern ones. 

Lola Lane as Torchy Blane and Joanne Siegel.
Siegel and Shuster's hired Joane Carter to pose as Lois, and she became Siegel's wife in 1948. 

Being a crime-solving reporter like Torchy Blaine is not what qualifies Lois for this (before her Superwoman powers), but being one that solves super-crimes, even if her superpower is Superman watching over her.

Brenda Starr, Reporter, a comic strip about another fierce reporter like Torchy or Lois, appeared from June 30, 1940, to January 2, 2011, in comic strips and compilations. Four years after its success, Detective Comics, Inc. started Lois Lane, Girl Reporter a spin-off and companion of the Superman Sunday comic, which featured Lois without Superman. They published twelve strips between October 24, 1943, and February 27, 1944. A feature with the same started in Superman #28 (May–June 1944), which lasted until 1946.


Impact: Lois Lane has appeared as a recurring character in almost every Superman publication, film or TV series. This makes her one of the best-known DC characters, possibly as famous as Wonder Woman and Catwoman, if not more. As a protagonist, Lois has had a newspaper comic book strip, some backup series, limited series, and even her own title during the silver age.

Lois is an influence on almost every superhero romantic interest.

Fantomah

Yikes! I bet no thug wants to face that in the jungle.
This one nobody can accuse of being male pandering.
First appearance: Jungle Comics #2 (Fiction House, February 1940).
Created by Fletcher Hanks (a.k.a. Barclay Flagg).
Current publisher: Public domain.

Premise: A mysterious woman protects the jungle that she loves by turning into a blue, skull-faced vindictive monster with any super power, pretty much like the Spectre, from DC Comics. Later, she dropped the transformations and became more of an Egyptian witch.

I like the concept of some female Hulk or Ghost Rider serving justice in the jungle. This is the stuff of true horror stories. It also makes Fantomah the earliest heroine with a clear superpower. For some people who don't consider Sheena's communication with animals good enough, Fantomah is the first superheroine.

Too bad Fiction House wasn't able to reproduce the success of Sheena with this one. Fantomah was so obscure in her own time, she never appeared on the cover. In her later adventures, she stopped using the monster body, to make her more of an average white goddess of the jungle.

Impact: 49 features in the 1940s, and a few appearances in recent comics. While she put an original spin on the Sheena archetype and proved that a comic book heroine can have over-the-top powers, it's hard to argue that Fantoma has any direct imitators. Most of the later super-women were rather female versions of male superheroes.

The Woman in Red

First appearance: Thrilling Comics #2 (Nedor Comics, March 1940).
Created by Richard Hughes and George Mandel. 
Current publisher: Dynamite Entertainment (the character is public domain, though).

Premise: Policewoman Peggy Allen fights crime as the Woman in Red to circumvent the system's deficiencies. Pretty much like the original Blue Beetle.

Like Fantomah, she is an obscure character, she doesn't appear on any cover (not during the golden age), and her claim to fame is being the first superheroine in some sense. Unlike Sheena and Fantomah, she doesn't have super-powers, but she is the first female masked vigilante with a secret identity.

It is note-worthy that she doesn't use much of her sex appeal, and her costume covers most of her body. Her impressive height and her huge breasts should still be a dead giveaway, but then again, we are talking about superheroes, and glasses are more than enough to sidetrack the supporting cast.

Impact: 33 appearances in her 1940s own feature, and a few appearances in recent comics. Although not very successful or directly imitated, she got the ball rolling by being the first female costumed vigilante.

Catwoman


First appearance: Batman #1 (Detective Comics, Inc., Spring 1940).
Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: The Cat, later renamed Catwoman, is a jewel thief with a great attraction for Batman. Her name was eventually revealed to be Selina Kyle.

More than a superhero, Catwoman is the first femme fatale of comic books. During the golden age, she was a thief with a complicated relationship with Batman. She wasn't a hero, even if she wasn't really evil (for instance, she never murdered) and eventually retires from crime and helps fighting it now and then. A path followed by other golden age femme fatales like the Dragon Lady (her predecessor from comic strips), or Valkyrie. However, she is on this list because she is incredibly famous, she did became a hero in modern comics, and had her own book.


Bob Kane wasn't much of a designer, but he and certainly knew how to look for inspiration to cook great ideas. Catwoman was inspired by three real women: Hedy Lamarr, Bob's cousin Ruth Steel (here is a great 2011 video with her talking about Bob and Catwoman after minute 7:30), and Jean Harlow. Besides looking exactly like her in the early comics, Lamarr exudes the class and sex appeal commonly associated with Catwoman, even Anne Hathaway's portrayal was directly inspired by her.
Hedy Lamarr, the real-life Catwoman.
Another famous influence is claimed to be The Dragon Lady, her femme fatale predecessor in comic strips; however, even then their common traits (physically attractive, ethically unreliable, cold and manipulative) were a common stereotype in pop culture. They could be tracked at least to Fu Manchu's daughter and Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes's impossible love. 

Finger got the Lamarr characterization right, and Kane did a good job capturing her features, however, her sense of fashion is not really present. After presenting her as "The Cat", his first attempt to make he a Cat-woman was way too literal (and it lasted from 1940 to 1942!). 
"Hey, Bill. Let's make her a Cat-woman: head of a cat, body of a woman.
Get it? Cat - Woman. Like a mermaid, but the other way around. Kids will love it". (J/K) 
Then there is the costume we all know. Her dress was fine, Kane tried to make her superhero-like, but the shrouded cowl and especially the cape, never quite fit the purple dress she kept.


The dress alone is something typical femme fatales like the Dragon Lady or Catwoman would wear, but only in comics or pulp covers. From 1934 to 1954 the Hays Code restrictions made it almost impossible for actresses like Lamarr or Harlow to continue to wear that kind of cleavage movies. Comics and pulp became the outlet to see that kind of skin, and while Sheena introduced the skimpy outfits to comic books, Catwoman made them an urban thing.

Impact: A permanent recurring role in comics, two solo series, appearances in animation, live action, and four films. Today she is one of the most recognizable comic book characters and one of the most prominent examples of femme fatales in fiction. 

Gale Allen

As always, Gale is trying to figure out the most uncomfortable pose to fight crime.

First appearance: Planet Comics #4 (Fiction House, April, 1940).
Created by writer Douglas McKee and artist Bob Powell.
Current publisher: Public domain.

Premise: Back in the distant future of 1990 (at some point after we conquered space and established royal families in other planets, I guess), Gale Allen is a Venusian princess, and she becomes an agent of the Universal Space Patrol, commanding the 40th Women's Space Battalion, better known as the Girl Squadron.

Gale is the first female protagonist of space opera in comic books, and likely, the first princess. Unlike Connie, Gale is born within a world of super science. She is also the first non-jungle girl to wear tight and revealing clothes in comic books. A tradition started by Flash Gordon's Dale Arden in the comic strips.

Galle Allen sounds a lot like Dale Arden (only three consonants change) and she dresses the same way. She is also a Princess, like Aura or Deja Thoris, even though her role is that of a hero, like Flash Gordon. She was created by Fiction House, the same creators of Sheena (a female Tarzan who looks like Jane), which makes it easy to speculate that they repeated the switching formula with the Flash Gordon characters.
An instant Martian and three instant Flash Gordon reverse clones.
Fiction House repeated the Gale Allen mold with Mysta of the Moon and Futura. The three of them were essentially forgotten after the golden age, save a team-up of the three as Star Fems, an erotic comic in 1980.

Impact: 36 appearances in her own feature during the 1940s, and 3 more in recent decades. Gale inspired some imitators of equal fame in the 1940s —none that survived that decade. The only space vixen to reach mainstream exposure would be Barbarella, created as a comic book character in 1962 (and Ripley, although Alien is no cheesecake).

Lady Luck


First appearance: The Spirit (Register and Tribune Syndicate, June 2, 1940).
Created by Will Eisner and Chuck Mazoujian.
Current publisher: ?

Premise: Wealthy socialite Brenda Banks fights crime as Lady Luck, her secret identity. Like the Green Hornet, she is chased by the police (even if she is in love with the chief) and only her chauffeur knows her secret.

Three months after The Woman in Red, Will Eisner gave comics its second female masked vigilante. A female Green Hornet, complete with chauffeur, green clothes, and a secret identity as a socialite. This started a trend among the following female non-super masked vigilantes.

For a creation of Will Eisner, Lady Luck's costume is uninspired. Just some green dress with a cape and a veil. Too bad he didn't have the internet to google "1940s cape" (or hat, or veil).

Impact: A Sunday newspaper from 1940 to 1946, reprinted in Smash Comics by Quality Comics, which became her own title, Lady Luck, for five issues. With that kind of exposure, Lady Luck played a big part in the superheroine boom that came two years after her. However, she faded before the late 1940s.

Invisible Scarlet O’Neil

Scarlet O'Neil, probably the first plainclothes superheroine.
First appearance: Invisible Scarlet O’Neil (The Chicago Times, June 3, 1940).
Created by Russell Stamm.

Premise: Thanks to a special ray created by her scientist father, Scarlet O'Neil gets the power of invisibility which activates by pressing a nerve on her wrists —and just to make things not fun, that also makes her clothes invisible.

This one is rather from comic strips. Scarlet is not a costumed vigilante, and she has no secret identity, but she is the first female adventurer with a conventional superpower and the first to have one in an urban context. It makes sense considering, she can turn invisible. That's interesting for a change. However, Scarlet is really soft on the action.

Impact: A daily strip from 1940 to 1956, a Sunday strip, both reprinted in comic book format in Famous Funnies (Easter Color Printing) and a revival in 2008 by Russell Stamm, Jr. That's great staying power compared with other superheroines. She seems more like a possible inspiration for characters like Samantha Stephens, Jeannie or the Flying Nun.

Miss X


First AppearanceAction Comics #26 (National Comics, July 1940)
Created by writer Ken Fitch and artist Bernard Baily.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Miss X is a mysterious woman who helps Tex Thompson in some of his adventures, she might be Margaret Janice "Peggy" Maloney, daughter of the District Attorney.

Miss X is the first DC Comics costumed vigilante, even she is a bit of a femme fatale, her whole costume was just a hat, a trenchcoat, and shades, and she only appeared in six issues as a supporting character of Tex Thompson (who later becomes the masked vigilante Mr. America). Her whole situation as the daughter of the DA is very similar to that of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl.

A new Miss X appeared in Multiversity as part of Earth-35 (based on Alan Moore's Supreme), although she doesn't seem to have anything to do with the original character.

Impact: Minimal. About 6 appearances as a supporting character of Tex Thompson. And that's it.

The Black Widow

The first superheroine to wear a skintight outfit with a logo
(a purple spider holding her purple boobs).
First appearance: Mystic Comics #4 (Timely Comics, August 1940).
Created by George Kapitan and Harry Sahle.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: Claire Voyant is a psychic who served Satan, after her murder he turns her into her superpowered agent, with the mission of killing sinners so that he can claim their souls.

Does it count as a superhero if she serves Satan? She is the first woman to be a costumed urban vigilante with a double identity (like The Woman in Red or Lady Luck), wear a skinsuit (like Wilma Deering or Dale Arden), and have a super-power (like Sheena, Fantomah or Scarlet O'Neil), that's the full package... too bad she is an anti-hero in the vein of Spawn, killing sinners to please her master. She was also so obscure she only appeared five times, each with a different costume (why should she limit herself, anyway?).

Impact: Minimal. 6 appearances in her own feature. Being a property of one of the two publishers that survived the golden age goes a long way. Her name was used for the famous silver age superhero of Marvel and she got a revival in recent years.

Red Tornado


First Appearance: As Ma Hunkel,  All-American Comics #3 (All-American Publications, June 1939); as Red Tornado, All-American Comics #20 (All-American Publications, November 1940).
Created by Sheldon Mayer.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Abigail Mathilda “Ma” Hunkel a big, brawny, "no-nonsense" mom, and supporting character of Scribbly becomes the costumed vigilante Red Tornado when her daughter is kidnapped and the cops and Green Lantern wouldn't be available to help.

The Red Tornado is the second female vigilante of DC,and she wears a skintight outfit to conceal her identity, only it's supposed to be a spoof that makes her look like a man. Consequently, she is the both the first superhero spoof and the first cross-dressing superhero. She is also the first established character (a supporting one for Scribbly) who becomes a masked vigilante over the course of a series.

Impact: Red Tornado took over the feature in which she first appeared, and continues to be a supporting character within the DC Universe. Every superhero spoof comes from the tradition Ma Hunkel started, and her character inspired a second Red Tornado, only a straight hero, this time.

Miss Fury


First Appearance: Black Fury (Bell Syndicate, April 6, 1941, reprinted by Timely as book)
Created by Tarpe Mills.
Current publisher: ?

Premise: Wealthy socialite Marla Drake becomes the masked vigilante Black Fury by wearing a panther-skin catsuit that gives super strength and speed.

Miss fury is the first superheroine to have all the elements of the stereotype: She has a secret identity, a skintight outfit, and super-powers. She was also the first one to have a female creator: Tarpé Mills. However, she's from comics strips, even if Timely reprinted them as comic books.

Miss Fury's outfit design is the most elegant and timeless of the golden age comics. It's also very innovative, I think it might be the first full unitard (like those of Wildcat or Flash II) without trunks over it. Casual fans might actually confuse her with Catwoman, who has had at least a couple of outfits inspired by her. Maybe even Wildcat's outfit was inspired by hers.

Newspapers often complained about the portrayal of women wearing little clothes and got the strip in trouble. The nature of her panther-skin catsuit as the source of her powers implied lots of cheesecake scenes, but remember, at the time the Hays Code wouldn't allow the same in the movies. Despite so, her run didn't end until 1952, not bad for a golden age character.

Bulletgirl

Bulletgirl is possibly the first to wear a futuristic outfit (like those
of Wilma Deering or Dale Arden) in a regular 1940s urban context. 

First appearance (as Bulletgirl): Master Comics #13 (Fawcett Comics, April 1941).
Created by Bill Parker and John Smalle.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Susan Kent is the girlfriend and eventual wife of Jim Barr, who is secretly Bulletman. She becomes Bulletgirl when he gives her an anti-gravity helmet like his and the elixir that gives him his superpowers.

Bulletgirl is a super-powered, skintight costumed vigilante like Miss Fury, and she is from comic books, but she doesn't have her own title and is a sidekick girlfriend in the tradition of Wilma Deering and Dale Arden. She is like Dale Arden and Miss Fury rolled into one, and she is the first one to combine both stereotypes. This formula will be followed by Hawkgirl and Dollgirl.

In recent years, Grant Morrison created Bulleteer, a character with the look, super-powers and theme of Bulletgirl, but completely independent.


Hawkgirl 


First appearance (as Hawkgirl): All-Star Comics #5 (All-American Publications, July 1941)
Created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Shiera Saunders is the reincarnation of an Egyptian princess, and Carter Hall the reincarnation of her lover, Prince Khufu. When he touches the nth metal dagger that killed Khufu he gets his memories back, meets her, remembers how to make an anti-gravity belt and becomes Hawkman. Eventually, he makes the same belt and costume for her, and she becomes her sidekick, Hawkgirl.

Hawkgirl would be the first super-powered masked vigilante companion created by DC, reproducing the Bulletgirl formula. Hawkman and Bulletman are also similar in that they also use anti-gravity devices to gain super-powers.

Hawkgirl is the first to wear a swimsuit top out of a beach, jungle (like Sheena) or space (like Dale or Gale) setting. 
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Phantom Lady

I only read her because of her articles. 

First appearance: Police Comics #1 (Quality Comics, August 1941).
First solo title: Phantom Lady #13 (Fox Features Syndicate, August 1947)
Created by Eisner-Iger Studio, re-designed by Matt Baker
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Sandra Knight, daughter of a US Senator, wears a skimpy uniform to fight crime using a "black light projector", which can blind her enemies.
Impact: 23 appearances in her solo feature, a 3-issue team-up, 11 issues of her own title, silver age revival continued to these days, an appearance in animation, and several parodies.

August 1941 is a significant month for comic book superheroes. Besides many of the famous Quality Comics characters (Plastic Man, the Blackhawks, the Human Bomb, Phantom Girl), a number of female characters debuted that month, and (save The Black Cat and Pat Patriot) they were the first to have the complete checklist of the archetypal comic book superheroine: protagonist a comic book feature, independent from male superheroes, completely good, super-powered, wearing skintight costumes to keep a secret identity. The list includes Miss Victory, Miss America, Wildfire and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, but the one with the biggest staying power was, by far, the Phantom Lady.

The Phantom Lady in her original, more modest, costume. 
Another common trait of the Phantom Lady and the superheroines that debuted in August 1941 is that at some point during the 1940s, most of them show the type of cleavage the Hays Code prohibited actresses to show in movies (see he Black Cat, Miss Victory, and Wildfire, as well as the Dragon Lady, Sheena, Spider Queen, Valkyrie, and Futura). The Phantom Lady started wearing her famous V-neck at the end of her first run, so it can be said she doesn't owe her success to that, but Matt Baker surely exploited it during her second. After Frederick Wertham went medieval (as in inquisition) on the character, in her third series she starts wearting a modest version of her costume, which make her look more like a teenager. Finally, after censorship relaxed, the V-neck returned in the 70s and became her trademark.

It may look sexist to expect certain superheroines to wear and extreme V-neck, but remember, even before that funny Samberg and Stiller video, even before Phantom Lady, men did it. And we did it better...
That's right.

The skimpy outfit wasn't the original appeal of the Phantom Lady (or Miss Victory), who was just a clever vigilante. The legendary cleavage first appeared in 1943, short before her feature got canceled. Years later, when Fox Feature Syndicate needed a sexy female lead, her creators revamped her with an even skimpier outfit, which made her the quintessential icon of good girl art, and by far, the most successful as such.
Yeah. That's why nobody remembers that she is smart.
... or that she has actual superpowers.
And she is an interesting character. Control over light and visibility can create a lot of tension within a story, and her ties to the US Senate though her father and her boyfriend can generate some political intrigue.

Her design is fine for old comic book standards; however, her colors and never quite suited her powers and concept. I'd tune that a bit, replacing the green of her classic costume with black, making the belt a double gun rig (a nod to the Phantom), and turning the cape into an invisibility cloak with a hood and a skull-shaped brooch to activate it. That way, she is either invisible like a phantom or showing too much of her lady figure, and that would look fun in the panels.

Black Cat



First appearance: Pocket Comics #1 (Harvey Comics, August 1941).
First solo titleBlack Cat Comics #1 (Harvey Comics, June 1946).
Created by Alfred Harvey with art by Al Gabrielle.
Current publisher: Lorne-Harvey.

Premise: Linda Turner is a stunt woman (judo, riding, acrobatics, etc.) turned actress who dons the Black Cat costume to fight crime. 
.
Less is more. Her costume is simple and iconic (even though it probably features the first long cleavage of the golden age), and her backstory implies she just loves the adrenaline. It isn't surprising that they barely change her in modern versions.
This is the first page featuring the Black Cat. 
Well, nobody makes a perfect start. In her early years, she uses red trunks and boots. The trunks are black by September 1943, and the boots by May 1945, but the deep neck was there from day one. However, I think I've seen that costume somewhere else...

Not only her looks, but her bad-ass attitude and skills precede Black Canary (who has plenty of her own merits —besides her silver age super powers) and, to a lesser degree, some versions of Catwoman.
Bad-ass.

Impact: She appeared 42 solo features, besides 36 issues of her own title, a team-up, a revival in the 1960s, and another (drawn by Murphy Anderson) in 1995. And around 2005 Michael Uslan wanted to make a movie about her. From the other Black Cat to the Birds of Prey, every female masked martial artist owes something to the original. 

Miss Victory 


First appearance: Captain Fearless #1 (Holyoke Publishing, August 1941).
Created by Charles Quinlan and unknown writer.
Current publisher: Public domain (her original comics are available at Comic Book +). AC Comics publishes new stories.

Premise: Joan Wayne decides to be a masked vigilante. She is super strong and almost invulnerable because reasons...

You know what? I like that for a change. No origins. I think people are sick and tired of origin stories in the superhero movies. Let's cut to the chase (don't expect much, though, it's just a golden age comic book).

Miss Victory, Miss America, and Pat Patriot are the first flag-themed superheroines, a tendency taken to fame and perfection four months later by Wonder Woman, and started by the male superhero The Shield. This was basically World War II propaganda. According to historian Paul Hirsch, "comics were uncensored, propagandists could use levels of violence, racism, and sexuality unthinkable in more official types of propaganda. Suddenly, the fact that comics were crude and packed with vicious imagery became an asset to the government – it enabled the creation of incredibly aggressive propaganda."


And if flag-superheroes were a good idea, imagine super-powered USO Girls (showgirls that entertained the troops like those of the Captain America movie).

Like Miss America, Miss Victory changes her look quite often, never making the right choice. When she first appears her chest logo is a star, and it looks like her trunks have uncolored stripes. The star and the stripes go by her second appearance (Captain Fearless #2, September 1942). A 'V' chest symbol appears when her feature returns for the third time (Captain Aero #7, June 1942). Her extreme V-neck (V, as in victory... get it?) first appeared in Captain Aero #16, August 1944, but  the skin was colored as blue fabric, so it was clearly shown the next issue (October 1944). In modern versions, everything changes but her cleavage showing.
Miss Victory' has one of the earliest flag themed costumes
(it's the thing around her cleavage).  
If the idea is to pull some good girl art with the cleavage, it is not that bad (considering she is invulnerable and doesn't need protection). However, that doesn't mean she has to be such a constant fashion disaster.

AC Comics revived the Miss Victory as the leader of FEM Force, an all-female team that also includes the descendants of Señorita Rio, the Phantom Lady and Black Cat (the last two remained, due to copyright reasons).

Impact: 28 solo features, and an ongoing revival as part of FEM Force, which started in 1984.

Miss America 


First Appearance: Military Comics #1 (Quality Comics, August 1941).
Created by Elmer Wexler.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: On the ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty, after thinking about the good a person could do if only "they had the powers that the Statue of Liberty must possess", Joan Dale falls asleep. In her dream, the Statue answers, and —I'm not making this up— when she wakes up, she discovers she can create, destroy or alter matter. So she quits her job at the Daily Star and joins the FBI to fight Nazi spies.

I don't think many popular superheroes have transmutation as their main super-power. It's elegant in its simplicity. Like a combination of Green Lantern and Firestorm. An original touch of Miss America is that she gets in costume by transmuting her clothes, and she has a different outfit every time.

That being said, WTH? A dream and that's it? Superheroines arrived in August 1941, but the flag-wearers were not even trying.

Impact: Minimal. 7 solo features in the golden age, the character has been revived, and now she is Miss Cosmos.

Pat Patriot


First appearanceDaredevil Comics #2 (Lev Gleason, August 1941). 
Created by Charles Biro and Bob Wood.
Current publisher: None, the character is public domain.

Premise: After participating in an amateur play dressed as a female Uncle Sam, Patricia Patrios stops Axis agents who were trying to steal plane motors. When the press prints her story they misspell her name as "Pat Patriot".

"Patrios"—that might make her the fist greek superheroine and the first one to wear the flag colors. Although she's more like an adventurer with a stage name and no secret identity or super-powers, Pat is the last of the three flag themed comic book superheroines from August 1941, and by far, the one with the best costume. To sum up: A USO Girl with awesome fighting skills (for some reason).
In Daredevil Comics #10 Pat decides to modify her dress to
show some extreme cleavage like Miss Victory and the rest.
I'm going to guess that didn't go well with her fans.
Impact: Minimal. Appeared 10 times in her own feature.

Wildfire


First AppearanceSmash  Comics #1 (Quality Comics, August 1941).
Created by Robert Turner (writer) and Jim Mooney (artist).
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: When Carol Vance loses her parents to a fire, the Lord of Fire made spares her life and turns her into a mistress of flames. Her powers include pyrokinesis and flight, and she uses them to fight crime.

Her costume is just a bikini —probably not the type of bikini a woman could wear in public in the 1940s—, and her powers the same as the Human Torch, Fire or Firestar.

DC never revamped this Wildfire. Roy Thomas tried, but editors told him a character from the Legion of Super-Heroes was already using the same name (and somehow that was a complication with Earth-2). However, Bruce Timm created a suspiciously similar character for the DC Animated Universe.

Premise: 13 appearances in her solo feature. Perhaps enough to inspire an animated revival.

Nelvana, of the Northern Lights


First appearanceTriumph Adventure Comics #1 (Bell Features, August 1941).
Created by Franz Johnston and Adrian Dingle.
Current publisher: ?

Surely the most original and interesting creation of August 1941. An early superheroine, the third Canadian superhero, the second princess superheroine, the first demi-god superhero, and, along with a fellow Native American character named The Bronze Terror, the first non-white superhero. Not only that, she has one of the classiest designs of the golden age, her original design is flawless. 

Impact: Transcendental breakthrough character. After her, 44 appearances in her solo appearance, and one in her own book a great door was opened for female minorities. If she is public domain, publishers should include her among their characters.

Spider Queen


First AppearanceThe Eagle #2 (Fox Features Syndicate, September 1941)
Created by Louis and Arturo Cazeneuve.
Current publisher: Public domain.

Premise: Some thugs kill Sharon Kane's husband, so she arms herself with the first web-shooters of comic book history —an invention of her husband—, puts on the skimpiest outfit of comic book history —yes, that blouse is see-through, buttonless and skin-tight around the torso—, and goes on to fight crime for about three issues.

A weird character. Her name makes her sound like a Tarzan villain, but she is a masked vigilante with the super power of shooting webs. She is the first web-shooter, but that's a silly power without the other stuff Spider-man does. Furthermore, her appearance is hard to relate to a spider, a queen, or a spider queen (what is it with comic book artists thinking blue and red are spider colors, anyway?).

Her costume seems desperate, considering nobody used such thing during the 40s outside a brothel. Fox just copied Wildcat's extreme V-neck and tried to top it by making her blouse see-through.

Impact: Minimal. Only 3 appearances in her solo feature. However, since Marvel wanted a disposable golden age villain, they adopted the character.

Wonder Woman


First Appearance: All Star Comics #8 (All-American Publications, December 1941).
First Solo Title: Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942).
Second Solo Title: Wonder Woman #1 (Summer 1942)
Created by William Marston with art by Harry Peter.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Diana is an Amazon Princess who goes to America to fight for justice as an ambassador of peace. She has a natural super strength and is armed with a magical lasso and special bracelets. 
She is not the first anything, just the best everything.
The American flag has never looked better anywhere else.

Lady Satan


First appearance: Dynamic Comics #2 (Harry “A” Chesler, December 1941).
Created by unknown George Tuska.
Current publisher: Public domain.

Premise: A woman loses her husband in a cruise sank by the Nazis, so she seeks revenge as Lady Satan.

The unnamed only appeared 3 times and returns years later with magical powers fighting against the occult. No explanation was given for the change. Either way, the character didn't put anything new on the table, even her look seems borrowed from the Woman in Red.

Impact: Despite Lady Satan being a vaguely defined character with only 7 solo features, Dynamite Entertainment revived the character and integrated her to it's shared universe.

Yankee Girl

Can you tell how much this stewardess wanted to fly?
First appearancePunch Comics #1 (Harry "A" Chesler , December 1941).
Creators unknown.
Current publisher: None (public domain, you can read all her features at Comics Book +).

Premise: Stewardess Kitty Kelly wants to become a pilot so bad she develops flight and super strength.
At first, Kitty Kelly was just a stewardess who packed some punch for spies of the Axis, but later she kind of became a superheroine. Yankee Girl was just a moniker, her costume featured her own initials, K.K., in its logo. 

Oddly enough this character only pandered to the nationalist sentiment with the name and stories and didn't go to the USO Girl cliché.

Impact: 8 appearances in her solo feature. The odd thing is that her moniker became the superhero name of another character created by the same company during the same decade.

Spider Widow 

Dianne looks like Myrna Loy, and I can't believe this image is from the 1940s! 

First Appearance: Feature Comics #57 (Quality Comics, June 1942).
Created by Frank Borth.
Current publisher: Public domain (you can read all her features free at Comic Book +).

Premise: Wealthy, beautiful and athletic socialite Dianne Grayton discovered she can control spiders, so she decides to use her superpower to fight crime, disguised as an ugly witch.

Yet another socialite fighting crime. It seems like it was a trend even withing fiction, many like her don't even have a tragic origin story, which is not entirely a bad thing. Is is really needed? However, as original as her origin might or might not be, her approach to fighting crime as a witch makes her original enough, and she was probably the first mutant of comics. No weird accident or invention, just born that way.

Her partner was The Raven, one of the earliest examples of a male superhero as a supporting character, just like the Elongated Man.


The partners eventually teamed up with the Phantom Lady. Despite the existence of the Justice Society of America, back then, team-ups were not a common thing.

Impact: 17 appearances in her solo feature, including a team-up with the Phantom Lady. Both the Spider Widow and the Raven would make good supporting characters for the Phantom Lady —although the mask could be redesigned.

Señorita Rio


First appearance: Fight Comics #19 (Fiction House, June 1942)
Created by Joe Hawkins and Nick Viscardi.
Current publisher: Public domain (you can read all her features free at Comic Book +). 
AC Comics publishes new stories.

Premise: Rita Farrar is an undercover, intelligence agent of the U.S. government in South America.

Her Hispanic ancestry si supposed to make her blending easy for her, but, white Hispanics blend about as much as much as regular gringos in real life. Nevertheless, with her character Fiction House continued to contribute with diversity to comic books, not only with the genre but with cultural background.

Her fashion sense makes her look like a cross between a bond girl and El Zorro's Lolita Pulido. Too bad Lolita's style isn't contemporary anymore. 

Impact: 52 appearances in her solo feature, some covers. She has been revived since the mid-1980s by AC Comics as a recurring character. Not bad for the firs female Hispanic spy.

Valkyrie


Note to myself: Idea for a new classic character with staying power:
Attractive woman with large cleavage. She is a pilot or something. 
First appearanceAir Fighters Comics #2 (Hillman Periodicals, November 1942).
Created by Fred Kida and Bill Quackenbush.
Curren publisher: Image Comics?

Premise: A German and a Nazi, Liselotte von Schellendorf is trained since childhood to become "the most alluring and evil of all women" and "the most skilled and deadly of all pilots", but when her squadron is to be tortured, she switches to the side of the Allies.

Valkyrie is the main rival and love interest of Airboy, and she is a villain that becomes a supporting hero in her first appearance. She is a sexy Nazi pilot version of the "Dragon Lady", with a steamier relationship with Airboy than Catwoman with Batman (at least during the golden age). 

If August 1941 was the month of the USO Girls, for some reason, November 1942 was the month of the aviatrixes. Both Valkyrie and Black Angel are pilots created by Hillman Periodicals, and while National Comics's Liberty Belle doesn't fly a plane, she shares their love for jodhpur trousers.

While the cleavage is unrealistic even by today's standards, Valkyrie's look is timeless —and clearly an influence on Bruce W. Timm's artistic rendition of Talia Al Ghul.

Impact: 7 appearances as a supporting character, and a big revival by Eclipse Comics during the 1980s.

Black Angel

That fire must be really cold.

First appearanceAir Fighters Comics #2 (Hillman Periodicals, November 1942)
Created by John Cassone. 
Current publisher: Image Comics?

Premise: Sylvia Manners is an English society lady who lives in an ancient castle with her aunt, but when danger threatens from the air, she slips into the castle's underground hangar, puts on her costume, and flies her special plane against Nazi enemies.

A female British version of Fawcett Comics's Spy Smasher. Her style is a cross between Miss Fury and Valkyrie.

Impact: 20 appearances, and a revival in the 80s.

Liberty Belle 


First Appearance: Boy Commandos #1 (National Comics, Winter 1942).
Created by Don Cameron and Chuck Winter.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Libby Lawrence, a radio reporter and hero who crosses the English Channel to escape the Nazis after they kill her father, becomes Liberty Belle, a heroine who can be called by ringing the Liberty Bell.

In bronze age stories, he got super strength and speed whenever she heard the bell.

While still a generic patriotic superhero —the second of DC after Wonder Woman—, her creators clearly sought originality by focusing on the Liberty Belle, rather than the flag, and by using aviator fashion rather than more spandex. She also had the particularity of being a great role model for women even without her double identity, as Libby she is a great achiever.

It's also worth noticing that Liberty Belle is one of the few superheroines of the 1940s with a modest costume. The only flaw that I see is that the bell always looks awkward due to her chest.

Impact: 52 appearances in her solo feature during the golden age, revival in the 1980s as part of the All-Star Squadron, and regular appearances to this day.


Mary Marvel 


First Appearance: Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (Fawcett Comics, December 1942).
Created by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise:  After discovering Billy Batson is her brother and that he becomes Captain Marvel by saying Shazam, Mary Bromfield tries the same and becomes Mary Marvel, a superheroine with the same super-powers.

Mary Marvel is the first preteen girl to get her own feature and title (and possibly the first superheroine who doesn't rely on sex appeal or even mature situations). Usually, female versions of male superheroes were their girlfriends, this is the first time she is a sister or a relative (like Namor, Superman and Hulk cousins or Booster Gold's sister in later decades). This is probably patterned after Pat Savage, cousin of Doc Savage.

Contrary to regular sidekicks like Robin or Speedy, or girlfriend-sidekicks like Hawkgirl and Bulletgirl, Mary Marvel was independent of her mentor figure and had adventures of hero own. This model would be imitated by  in the silver age with Supergirl (also created by Binder) and Batgirl, which continue their solo adventures to this day. Too bad the original doesn't have that kind of staying power these days.

That is a nice touch for equality. Mary might not be self-inspired, like Wonder Woman, she is equal like Hawkgirl but independent from her male counterpart.
Judy Garland.
Inspired by a great American icon of the time, Mary goes in a completely different way from the other superheroines. Instead of relying on her curves to sell, her physical design appealed to a different kind of sense of beauty, going back to the style of Connie or Dorothy Gale.

Her costume design is fantastic. It was so timeless it only received a few obligatory changes with the New 52 continuity in recent years. The only major change is that in the modern age, when Mary transforms, she becomes an adult, like Captain Marvel; in the golden age both she and Captain Marvel Jr. stayed preteens.

Impact: 31 appearances in her solo feature, 28 issues of her own book, and 89 in Marvel Family, plus regular appearances since the 70s. She started a trend that continues in superhero families to this day.

Miss America



First appearance: Marvel Mystery Comics #49 (Timely Comics, November 1943).
First solo title: Miss America Comics #1 (early 1944).
Created by Otto Binder and Al Gabrielle.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: Madeline Joyce Frank, the niece of a millionaire who was financing electrical experiments, wishes to have a man's strength to get some justice done. One of his uncle's scientists tells her he gained a lot of power when he received a discharge through a device, she repeats the experiment and, after a week in a coma, she wakes up with super strength and flight.

I knew that look was familiar. Miss America is a Binder character (this might also explain the early look of Supergirl). At this point, it's clear that exploiting sex appeal is not the only way to sell adventures of superheroines, and none of Timely's do, at least not to the degree of characters like the Phantom Lady or Wildfire.

After the creation of the short-lived Black Widow, Timely (Marvel) didn't create more superheroines for almost three years. From late 1943 until the end of the decade, there was a drop in superhero debuts in general (male or female); however, Timely goes the other way around with superheroine debuts.

Miss America is also the earliest example of Marvel recycling and registering available names. Quality's character of the same name was last seen almost two years before Madeline was created. They later did the same with Daredevil, Captain Marvel, Ghost Rider, and Black Cat, all available trademarks when they created their versions.


Something about Miss America's costume doesn't convince me. It looks a bit like a pajama. However, Marvel recently created a new incarnation: Miss America Chávez —and her style is undeniable. 

Impact: 44 appearances in her solo feature, 2 issues of her own title, recurring appearances to this day and a legacy character.

Mysta of the Moon


First appearancePlanet Comics #35 (Fiction House, March 1945).
Created by artist Joe Doolin.
Current publisher: Public domain. (you can read all her features at Comic Book +).

Premise: Mars, the god of war, destroyed all the universities of Earth's, but a scientist stores all human knowledge in the mind of the girl: Mysta.

Another Fiction House girl from the future, what she wears (or doesn't) could be exchanged with Gale Allen. They probably turned Mysta's hair white because nobody could tell them apart when she was blonde. Not a bad idea, it evokes the moon and I believe it makes her the first superheroine with white or any non-realistic hair color.

The big difference with Gale is that she is actually a superheroine. She has a super-knowledge, she is a techno-empath, and she eventually gets a secret identity as Ana Thane.
And she kind of has the best fashion sense out of the three.
I'm a fan of her fin helmet.
Impact: 23 appearances in her own feature during the 1940s, and 3 more in recent decades. Possible influence on Barbarella, the most famous space queen.

Futura

Futura clothes were always ragged. This is why artists never gave her a nice uniform. 
First appearancePlanet Comics #46 (Fiction House, July 1946).
Created by writer Chester Martin and artist Raphael Astarita.
Current publisher: Public domain (you can read all his features at Comics Book +).

Premise: Marcia Reynolds, barely an above average girl the late 21st century, is abducted and tested for survival. After escaping, she becomes a space adventurer.

Her adventures were told in the style of the Prince Valiant strip. Unlike Mysta, she doesn't have a superpower, and she doesn't have a squadron, like Gale (or Buck Rogers); Futura is on her own in alien worlds, and her stories are about surviving... And she also had the skimpiest outfit of the skimpiest outfit of the golden age.

Impact: 21 appearances in her own feature during the 1940s, and 3 more in recent decades.

Yankee Girl (II)


First appearanceRed Seal Comics #17 (Harry "A" Chesler , July 1946).
Created by artist Ralph Mayo, and an unknown writer.
Current publisher: AC Comics (public domain —you can read all her features at Comics Book +).

Premise: Lauren Mason learns that by saying the words "Yankee Doodle Dandy," she changes into Yankee Girl, a superheroine with super strength, flight, and invulnerability.

This one came very late to the party. By July 1946, nobody was doing the "girl in flag taco" shtick anymore, and only Wonder Woman remained as a super USO girl. And she didn't even bother to mask her face. This explains how come she only had two appearances.

The anachronistic look is odd enough, but Yankee Girl makes the list for two reasons. Firstly, she is the first character to be a revamp of an older one created by the same company. This makes Harry "A" Chesler is the first publisher to pull the Barry Allen. Secondly, one of her two appearances wasn't distributed until 1964, and yet, she was revived by AC Comics, which made her a recurring character, integrated her to F.E.M. Force (it's all-women superhero team), and even made a graphic novel about her. 

Impact: 2 solo features and one cover. However, Yankee Girl was revived in the 1990s by AC Comics.

Miss Masque



First appearanceExciting Comics #51 (Nedor Comics, September 1946).
Created by unknown.
Current publisher: Dynamite Entertainment (the character is public domain).

Premise: Diana Adams is a wealthy socialite, and she puts on a mask to become Miss Masque,

And again with the coincidences. For some reason in September 1946 debuted two long haired blondes with domino masks, dressed in red, and stealing Lady Luck's schtick: Miss Masque and, to a lesser degree the Blonde Phantom.

Miss Masque's original costume was an improvement over Lady Luck, as it has a clearer design and it captures the noir feeling of the likes of the Green Hornet or the Sandman. The "M M" logo could have been improved; however, in later appearances the short trench coat and the hat are gone in favor of a crop top with shorts.

Impact: 16 appearances in her own feature, but with various covers, most notably, Exciting Comics #53. Despite her short life, Miss Masque has been revived and has become a recurring character in Dynamite Entertainment and AC Comics since the mid-1980s.

Blonde Phantom 


First appearance: All-Select Comics #11 (Timely Comics, September 1946).
First solo title: Blonde Phantom #12 (January 1947).
Created by Stan Lee and Syd Shores.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: Louise Grant works as a secretary for private detective Mark Mason, but on her free time she takes a more proactive role as masked vigilante the Blonde Phantom.

The Blonde Phantom seems to be a copy of Lady Luck, but on a closer look, she is rather copying another Timely character, the really obscure Silver Scorpion, who only appeared three times. Both characters moonlight as masked vigilantes to solve the cases of their detective bosses, who can't figure out their double identity, for some reason. However, Louise is also in a two-person love triangle with her boss (just like Superman, Lois, and Clark).

Stan and Syd clearly intended the Blonde Phantom as eye candy for male readers, only they went for class and elegance instead of just doing atomic V-necks and bikinis. Her dress is perhaps the golden age's best combination of evening wear with a vigilante costume. Catwoman and Lady Lucks dresses don't really match their capes and masks, but the Blondie has a gorgeous dress with a simple domino masks. Less is more. (That being said, evening dresses are not the best outfit to fight crime).

Impact: 22 appearances in All-Select, which became her solo titles, and in solo features of Sub-Mariner Comics, Marvel Mystery Comics, Sun Girl, and Miss America magazine. She is still a Marvel Comics recurring character.

Namora


First appearanceMarvel Mystery Comics #82 (Timely Comics, May 1947).
Created by Ken Bald and an unknown writer.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: Aquaria Nautica Neptunia is Namor's cousin, and she decided to become Namora (which means "avenging daughter") after criminals wiped her underwater community.

After Miss America and the Blonde Phantom, Timely continues its enthusiasm for females with both her first female version of one of its superhero characters and the first one to be a relative.

Impact: 3 issues of her solo title, several appearances in her solo feature and a publication history, which extends to this day. Namora is one of the few characters Marvel used during its superhero revival during the 1950s.

Black Canary 



First appearance: Flash Comics #86 (National Comics, August 1947).
Created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Current publisher:  DC Comics.

Premise: Dinah Drake, wants to become a police detective like her father, but the academy rejects her, so she becomes the Black Canary, a masked vigilante who steals from the criminals —Robin Hood style. 

Wow. What a way to debut for one of the most prominent figures of comic books: Carmine Infantino. Oh, and Black Canary too. Her outfit is just terrific. In a way, her look makes her a forerunner of the silver age's more integrated fashion style.

Although Dinah arrived late to the golden age, National Comics surviving the 1950s to become DC Comics, and the nice mix of elements that Kanigher and Infantino used for her character allowed great staying power. Like Bulletman, she is rejected by the police; like Plastic Man or the Black Widow II, she starts on the wrong side of the law; or like Red Tornado or Mysta, she is a supporting character that takes over as the lead of her feature.

Black Canary can also be taken as a symbol of the marriage between the golden age and the silver age. Once Flash made it clear the silver age characters live in another reality, DC created new versions of successful golden age characters, like Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom. Black Canary rather crossed from one reality to the other and became a couple with the silver age Green Arrow.


Impact: 40 appearances during the golden age, in her solo feature, or as part of the Justice Society of America. Black Canary continues to be a prominent character of DC Comics and has been appearing, since 2002 in other media as well.

Moon Girl


First appearance: Moon Girl and the Prince #1 (EC Comics, Fall 1947).
Created by Max Gaines, Gardner Fox, and Sheldon Moldoff.
Current publisher: Public domain.

Premise: Ignoring that she comes from long line of unbeatable women, the Princess of the Moon sworn she would never marry a man unless he defeats her in battle. After defeating her only suitor, Prince Mengu, she follows him to America, and takes the false identity of Clare Moon, working as a teacher like him. They both use their real identities to fight evil.

EC Comics stand for Educational Comics... em, Comics (comics creators liked to repeat the word 'comics', I guess). And education had been a concern of Max Gaines, the guy who invented comic books, and hired psychologist so that they can achieve their educational potential. The result was Wonder Woman. I guess that's the reason Moon Girl is so much like her.

This was Gardner Fox's take on the amazon princess archetype. He had been with National and All-American since their early days, at this point Gaines made him the chief writer at EC Comics —later, he'd move on to revitalize Batman and make the Elongated Man a solo along editor Julius Schwartz and artist/god Carmine Infantino.

Moon Girls costume looks like a cross between the golden age Wonder Woman and something Gale Allen would wear.

Impact: 11 appearances in her own title. The has been a recent revival by ComiXology.
.

Golden Girl 


First appearance: As Betsy Ross, Captain America Comics #1 (Timely Comics, March 1941); 
as Golden Girl Captain America Comics #66 (Timely Comics, December 1947).
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: Betsy Ross was Steve Roger's girlfriend, who is Captain America. After his sidekick Bucky was wounded, he* told her his secret identity, gave her a bulletproof cape and made her his new sidekick.

*In a retcon, instead of Steve Rogers, it was Jeffrey Mace, the third Captain America, and they end up married.

This is a bit like the Bulletgirl formula, only more clearly intended as a sidekick rather than an equal. She is not the first girlfriend to become a costumed sidekick, but she might be the first to do so after a long while as a supporting character.

Again we see the modesty of Timely's superheroines designs, This time, it makes her look like a bit dorky, though.

Impact: Several golden age appearances, the characters continues to be recurring within current Marvel Comics stories.

Merry, The Girl with 1,000 Gimmicks


First appearance: Star Spangled Comics #81 (National Comics, June 1948).
Created by Otto Binder and Win Mortimer.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Merry Pemberton, adopted cousin of Sylvester Pemberton, figured he is the Star-Spangled Kid and decided to follow his example, becoming the odd Gimmick Girl.

After WWII, superheroes became passé, and publishers were trying teenagers, funny animals, western, educative and other genres. Timely and National went with superheroines, only with less sex appeal. With Mary Marvel, Merry belongs to the trend of superheroines looking like regular teens. Adult characters like Golden Girl, Sun Girl and Doll Girl followed the same aesthetics. Eventually, even Phantom Lady would lose her legendary V-neck.

Impact: 9 solo features. She became a recurring minor character in the DC Universe. Grant Morrison created Jacqueline Pemberton who is her estranged daughter and goes by the alias of Gimmix.

Sun Girl


First appearance: Sun Girl #1 (Timely Comics, August 1948).
Created by Ken Bald.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: Sun Girl is a great acrobat and martial artist, and she has a gun that shoots sunbeam rays. That's it.

The innovation with Sun Girl is that she didn't have an origin story, she is just a superhero and has been around since the 1920s —apparently, without much aging. In 1990, she was given a contradictory background as Mary Mitchell, secretary of Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch.

Her name and futuristic but modest costume make her look like a legionnaire from the silver age.

Impact: 15 appearances, including three team-ups with the Human Torch and three in her solo title.

Venus


First appearance: Venus #1 (Timely Comics, 1949).
Created by Ken Bald.
Current publisher: Marvel Comics.

Premise: The goddess leaves her planet to move to Earth under the double identity of Victoria Starr, and became an editor at Beauty magazine. She uses her free time as a match-maker and superhero.

Venus was perhaps the second superhero-goddess, after Nelvana, and the first at the publisher that would become Marvel (preceding both Thor and Hercules). She was also the first genre bender within comics. Timely was trying to diversify outside the male superhero genre, and with Venus, she mixed it with teenage humor and romance.

At the time, Timely had some superheroines like Miss America, the Blonde Phantom, Namora and Sun Girl; some teenagers like Patsy Walker (1944) and some young adults on a job Tessie the Typist (1942), Nellie the Nurse (1945) or Millie the Model (1945). Venus was a synthesis of those traditions, and at least she wasn't called Gillie the Goddess.

Her original goddess dress had a timeless elegance. It's in modern times that it was turned into cheesecake with the sideboob showing and the see-through fabric. Her original hair color was silver, before her, only Mysta of the Moon had that hair color.

Impact: 19 appearances in her eponymous title. Venus challenged convention no only by mixing superheroine archetypes, but comic book genres. She continues to be a recurring Marvel character to this day.

Doll Girl


First appearance: As Martha Roberts in Feature Comics #27 (Quality Comics, December 1939), as Doll Girl  Doll Man #37 (Quality Comics, December 1951).
Created by Will Eisner.
Current publisher: DC Comics.

Premise: Martha Roberts is the longtime girlfriend of the Doll Man. Eventually, she convinces him to share his formula so she can become a more active partner.

Along Golden Girl, Martha's long time as a supporting character before becoming a costumed sidekick makes her an obligatory reference for all movements like that. Before them, there Bullet Girl and Hawk Girl —clear influences on Doll Girl as identical girl versions of their boyfriends— do the same, but they do it shortly after being introduced. Lois Lane also becomes Superwoman before Golden Girl and Doll Girl (in Action Comics #60, 1943) but the first time is a dream, the second a hoax, and the many times it is for real, her powers are always gone by the end of a story.

Susan Kent, Shiera Saunders, and Martha Roberts share in common being accomplices and adventure partners of their boyfriends in their double identities before becoming Bullet Girl, Hawkgirl and Doll Girl. This, in turn, comes from the tradition of partner-girlfriends like Jane Porter, Wilma Deering, and Dale Arden, whose boyfriends or husbands didn't use double identities.

Impact: Continuous appearances between 1939 and 1953, and recurring after the Quality Comics characters were integrated into the DC Universe in 1973.

The Black Phantom


First appearance: Tim Holt #25 (Magazine Enterprises, 1951).
Created by Frank Bolle.
Current publisherAC Comics (public domain —you can read all her features at Comics Book +).

Premise: Helena is The Black Phantom, a train robber who becomes an enemy of Tim Holt, a.k.a. The Red Mask, before she becomes her partner.

Comics transitioned out of superheroes, but not out of ridiculously attractive female leads. The Black Phantom is likely the first female version of the Lone Ranger. Within that setting, The Black Phantom is the western equivalent of The Dragon Lady, Catwoman or Valkyrie, only she got her own title before any of them (even if it only lasted for an issue).

Her initial look was that of a conventional cowgirl, with a domino mask as her train robbing disguise. Later, her clothes became dark blue (the black of golden age comics), which is the look she keeps in her revivals.

Impact: 31 appearances, her own solo title, and a modern revival by AC Comics.

Cave Girl


First appearanceThun'da #2 (1952, no cover date).
Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Bob Powell.
Current publisher: None, public domain character.

Premise: Right after a jungle tribe murders her parents, young Carol Mantomer is rescued by an eagle who flies her into the Dawn Lands, where prehistoric [non-dinosaur] creatures dwell. There the wolf Kattu raises her.

The first superheroine of the golden age is a jungle girl, the last one might be one as well —that depends on the year you consider the end of the golden age, or if you think an "atomic age" should be considered. There were plenty of comic book jungle girls or queens between Sheena and Cave Girl, but none really put anything new on the table. Cave Girl, however, is the first to be placed in a jungle with prehistoric animals, even if they are not dinosaurs.

Cave Girl was created by Gardner Fox, a legend who contributed to both the silver and the golden age, this was after his time with EC Comics and before his return to DC Comics. She was drawn by Bob Powell, and her design, as well as the quality of the art of her stories, are a clear sign that comic books were approaching the silver age. This is the reason she is still remembered.

Impact: 9 appearances in solo features, including 3 in her own title.



Superheroines after the golden age

After the war, the superhero genre started to decline, and many comic book publishers disappeared or went into other genres. National Comics remained in the game, but after the 1940s, diversified its genres and only kept a handful of superheroes and created a few new ones against the stereotype, including King Faraday, Dr. Thirteen, Rex the Wonder Dog, Phantom Stranger, and Detective Chimp. 
What's wrong with this picture?
The entire comic book industry took a major blow in 1954, all the violence, sex and horror portrayed by the golden age comics became the target of the infamous book Seduction of the Innocent by Frederick Wertham against comics. That same year, the comic book industry instituted the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which enforced a code largely based on the Hays Code, which started to lose force at the time. 

To make things worse for comic books, television became the primary medium for entertainment during the 1950s. However, its content was heavily regulated by the Television Code. In order to gain an edge to compete with that, movies started to bend the Hays Code. So, while TV became the most accessible medium, and movies the most appealing and less censored, comics were left to work with little. 

Unable the show concealed weapons, corrupt authority figures, any form of gore, sexual innuendo or even good girl art, many comic book publishers went bankrupt, and the remaining limited their focus on superhero to do funny animals, teenage humor, romance and western stories.

During the first years of the CCA, the publishers adapted their remaining superheroes to the code the best they could. Ajax-Farrell Publications, for instance, had the rights of The Phantom Lady and modified her appearance, covering her now trademark cleavage and making her a modest younger girl. 

National Comics's Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Arrow survived by facing goofy threats in their stories —mostly aliens, perfectly killable kaijus, and weird transformations— along amusing pets, annoying imps, or even stalky groupies, which leads us to Batwoman.   

Seduction of the Innocent targeted Batman and Robin due to what Wertham perceived as an implied homosexuality. Since it also criticized any portrayal of crime in a good light, using Catwoman as the romantic interest of Batman was out of the question and the character was retired, and in Detective Comics #233, July 1966, Bob Kane put Batwoman in her place. Like Batman (and most of the female masked vigilantes of the golden age), she is a socialite fighting crime for altruism. The difference is that she also does it to attract the attention of Batman, the inspiration of her superhero identity. 
Mera (right) and Arrowette (on the other right).
Later, Arrowette (World's Finest Comics #113, November 1960) and Mera (Aquaman #11, September 1963) were created following the Batwoman formula to make sure Mort Weisinger's Green Arrow and Aquaman  (also long-time single men with young, male proteges) had a love interest. Mera, of course, had enough differences to make her a partner to Aquaman —like Dale Arden or Dejah Thoris— rather than a mere imitator like Batwoman, the first Batgirl or Arrowette, which might be the reason she survived the silver age and they didn't. 

National Comics —then colloquially known as "DC", because of its logo said "DC - Superman"— made various attempts to redefine and revitalize the superhero genre. In 1955, the first new superhero in a while was the Martian Manhunter, who had a double identity, superpowers and tights, but added a twist to the formula: his green skin revealed his non-human nature. 

In October 1956, with the introduction of the new Flash in  Showcase #4, editor Julius Schwartz, artist Carmine Infantino, and writers Gardner Fox, John Broome and Robert Kanigher figured out how to tell appealing superhero stories without breaking the code. They developed cleaner art and sharper, more conceptual costume designs. This was the beginning of the silver age of comic books.
Like Flash, most of the silver age superheroes were civic-minded superpowered good guys, who assist the authority against extraordinary criminals (who never use torture or lethal force), and have conventional lives with their secret identities. Most of them had the same square personality, and their stories put emphasis on their amazing superpowers and the odd traps set by their enemies, who were often supervillains or aliens.
Ray and Jean, Supergirl in a Carter and Shiera sandwich,
Diana (and Steve is so dead), Dinah and Ollie, Phantom Stranger, Sue and Ralph,
Mera and Arthur, a guy, Iris, and Barry, and Carol and Hal. 
Even though most of these new heroes have formal girlfriends —usually career women, modeled after Lois Lane—, and the older ones got female counterparts as supporting characters and love interests —like Batwoman—, female characters had a reduced role during the silver age. DC's editorial guidelines procured so:
"The inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged. Women, when used in plot structure, should be secondary in importance, and should be drawn realistically, without exaggeration of feminine physical qualities" (National Comics's Editorial Policy Code).
A good instance of this is Jack Kirby's Challengers of the unknown. He created them in Showcase #6, February 1957, as an all men quartet in identical uniforms fighting supernatural menaces. The next issue an equally talented woman, June Robbins, but she was only an honorary member of the all boys club.

Following the example of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (1954 - 1974), Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane started in March - April 1958, but she was written like the women of comedy or romance titles. The focus on the character went from being Girl Reporter to Superman's Girl Friend. Then again, from the start Lois adventures often included gaining temporal superpowers, and the title evolved with the times. It included the debut of the silver age Catwoman in 1966 and became progressive like all the titles of the bronze age.

There were was one big exception to DC 's rule about women: 

Unlike most of the golden age superheroines or the All-American male superheroes (including the Flash and Green Lantern), she survived the golden age. After William Moulton Marston retired 1947, Robert Kanigher took over the Wonder Woman title. Eleven years later, he revamped the character in issue #98 (May 1958) and redefined the origin of her powers in #105 (April 1959). Instead of explaining to them as based on super-science, as the most popular DC characters of the silver age, Kanigher made her powers even more magical and mythology based, they became blessings she received from the greek gods ("beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, and swifter than Hermes").
Saturn Girl debuted in one of the most parodied covers of history.
The next exception to the rule started with a very low profile —just a month before Wonder Woman's origins were revised—. in Adventure Comics #247, April 1958. In a Superboy story, Saturn Girl debuted  along the then three-member Legion of Super-heroes, the first superhero team of the silver age. They are teenagers from the 30th century, and they visit Superboy to recruit him as the fourth member.
The story was written by Otto Binder, who did a lot of teenage superhero characters in the past, and created Mary Marvel, Miss America, and Mary Pemberton, and would create Supergirl. This explains the modest look of Saturn Girl.

DC didn't intend to use the Legion of Super-Heroes again, but the fan response was enough to see them return over a year later, and then another after that, and another until they got their own backup feature in Adventure Comics. Since it was the first superhero team to feature characters created as part of it, and they were initially just supporting ones —within the Superboy and Supergirl stories—, there was a lot of creative freedom, which allowed a couple of innovations: almost half its membership is female at several points, and it featured the first female superteam leader in superhero history.

In Adventure Comics #304 (January 1963 —an issue that also features one of the earliest superhero deaths), Saturn Girl is elected the second Legionnaire to be the team leader, and she is reelected for a second consecutive term in Adventure Comics #323 (August 1964). That is one of the longest leaderships of Legion of Super-Heroes, and it explains her popularity; however, all the following leaders after her were male, until Dream Girl, in the 1980s.
The earliest silver age slumber party.
After Saturn Girl, the first three female members appeared because in the story Supergirl was sad about not having female friends. This initiated the high proportion of female Legionnaires, which in the silver age includes:
  • Triplicate Girl, the fourth member
    (first appearance: Action Comics #276, May 1961);   
  • Phantom Girl, the fifth member
    (first appearance: Action Comics #276, May 1961);  
  • Shrinking Violet
    (first appearance: Action Comics #276, May 1961);  
  • Supergirl, the eleventh member
    (first appears in Action Comics #252, May 1959,
    joins in Action Comics #276, May 1961);  
  • Lightning Lass
    (first appearance: Adventure Comics #308, May 1963);
  • Dream Girl
    (first appearance: Adventure Comics #317, February 1964); 
  • Princess Projectra
    (first appearance: Adventure Comics #346, July 1966); 
  • Shadow Lass
    (first appearance: Adventure Comics #354, March 1967).   
Which leads us straight to...
Excluding Wonder Woman and Batwoman, the early superheroines to appear during the silver age were often very similar to Mary Marvel in personality, wholesome attitude, appearance, and modesty. Many were female versions of male superheroes, and their names tend to end in "girl" instead of "woman". Supergirl was the next after Saturn Girl —although she gained popularity much faster.

Along Superwoman and Superboy, DC registered the name Supergirl, only they never used it properly. After several supergirls that didn't survive their debut issue, the definitive one came during the early years of the silver age, created in Action Comics #252 (May 1959) by Otto Binder (again, the creator of Mary Marvel, Miss America, and Saturn Girl). 

Batgirl, Arrowette, Mera, and Hawkgirl were all supporting characters and love interests. Later, in 1965, Wonder Girl, sister of Wonder Woman, appeared as part of the Teen Titans, a team of sidekicks. 

Legion of Super-Heroes featured a superheroine, but the again, before the sixties they only appeared twice as supporting characters of Superboy. Its debut in The Brave and the Bold #25, September 1959, makes the Suicide Squad the first silver age comic book team to feature a woman, and the first to have her (Karin Grace) as the girlfriend of the leader (Rick Flag, Jr.), likely a formula to circumvent DC's guidelines against including women. However, since they don't have superpowers, they are action heroes, rather than superheroes.

In Brave and the Bold #28 (February.- March 1960), just after recreating Green Lantern, as they did previously with the Flash, DC teamed them with the Martian Manhunter and with its main four surviving golden age superheroes to recreate its premier team from the 1940s, the Justice Society of America. Only this time they called it "the Justice League of America" and Wonder Woman was featured as a prominent member instead of just the secretary of the team.

The Success of the Justice League of America led Marvel Comics to try something similar. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby conceived the Fantastic Four, a team of superheroes with awesome superpowers, including a superheroine, like the members of the Justice League; however, they didn't work alone, wear identical uniforms and have a membership limited to four, like those of Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown.

Stan also added an element of tragedy, in that ono of its members is horribly disfigured, and another of conflict, in that teammates were like a bickering family. With the success of the Fantastic Four, came more and more superheroes from Marvel, and they all carried that kind of tragic situations and conflict: Bruce Banner can't control himself as the Hulk, Spider-man is socially awkward and carries guilt over his uncle's death, Daredevil is blind, the X-men are society rejects, and so on. 
With the Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl (first appearance The Fantastic Four #1, November 1961), Marvel Comics started a trend of supeheroines with their own original superpowers and awesome designs (many of them by Kirby), but appearing only as part of a super team or romantic interest. Sue Storm and Jean Grey are both, and their names couldn't be more symbolic of the invisible role of the silver age marvel girls (coincidental as that might be). 
Invisible Girl appeared a year after her namesake, Sue Dibny, who married her own elastic and super intelligent husband, the Elongated Man, before her. The big difference is that —modeled after Nora Charles— she was anything but invisible. Her only super powers were a mighty credit card with lots of money, great fashion sense and her super-pluckiness, which made her chief of the Justice League Europe in the 1990s.
The stellar early appearances of the most popular marvel girls:
Invisible Girl, The Wasp, Marvel Girl, Black Widow, Lady Sif and Emer--Scarlet Witch. 
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the other Marvel creators followed the Invisible Girl formula over and over. The list includes 
  • the Wasp, Ant-man's partner, and later wife
    (first appearance: Tales to Astonish #44, June 1963); 
  • Marvel Girl, one of the five original X-men, live interest of Cyclops, also a symbolic name
    (first appearance: The X-Men #1, September 1963); 
  • Black Widow, originally an antagonist of Ironman
    (first appearance: Tales of Suspense # 52, April 1964); 
  • Lady Sif, the Asgardian love interest of Thor
    (first appearance: Journey Into Mystery #102, March 1964); 
  • the Scarlet Witch, originally part of an evil superteam, but soon part of a good one
    (first appearance: X-Men #4, March 1964); 
  • Clea, love interest of Doctor Strange
  • (first appearance: Strange Tales #126 (November 1964); 
  • Medusa, originally part of a supervillain team, then member of the Inhuman Royal Family and wife of Black Bolt (first appearance: Fantastic Four #36, March 1965);
  • Crystal, member of the Inhuman Royal Family and sister of Medusa
    (first appearance: The Fantastic Four #45,December 1965).
  • Agent Carter, love interest of Captain America during the 1940s
     (first appearance: Tales of Suspense #77, May 1966); 

Following that example, DC created its own token superheroines:
  • Platinum, member of the Metal Men, and awkward love interest of their creator, professor Will Magnus, (first appearance: Showcase #37, March–April 1962);
  • Elasti-Girl, member of Doom Patrol and love interest and eventual wife of its leader, Mento, (first appearance: My Greatest Adventure #80, June 1963);
  • Wonder Girl, member of the Teen Titans,
    (first appearance: The Brave and the Bold #60, July 1965);
  • Dumb Bunny, a member of the inferior five (first appearance: Showcase #62, May – June 1966).
  • (The golden age Black Canary returned as part of the Justice League of America in September 1969 (JLoA #74) to substitute Wonder Woman as the token woman. However this was at the beginning of the bronze age). 
Unlike Marvel's token superheroines, DC's often have a way to be outstanding within their teams: Platinum is the only member of the Metal Men with emotions, Elasti-Girl often dominated the covers as a giantess, and Dumb Bunny, drawn with "exaggeration of feminine physical qualities", is likely the only memorable member of the Inferior Five besides Merry Man.
Charlton Comics (a minor player during the silver age, later acquired by DC) created Nightshade in Captain Atom #82, September 1986. Originally, she was the Eve Eden to Captain Atom's Allen Adam (a supporting character and a romantic interest with a matching name). However, she soon graduated to her own backup feature in the issue #89. In the early 1980s, AC Comics's made the female token of Sentinels of Justice, a team that also features Captain Atom, the Question, Blue Beetle, possibly an inspiration for Watchmen.


Zatanna (created by Gardner Fox in Hawkman #4, October-November 1964) debuted as a supporting character of different male superheroes, asking their help to find her father, Zatara (National Comics' golden age version of Mandrake). Despite always being helped in her quest by a male superhero in their titles and then together in Justice League of America #51 (Hawkman, the Atom, Batman, Green Lantern, the Elongated Man), she is the first —and maybe the only— silver age superheroine replacing a golden age male superhero. Her saga was one of the earliest crossover story arcs of American comic books.


The return of the independent superheroines


...Meanwhile, in Europe... Comic books were less restrictive, which allowed Jean-Claude Forest to create the first comic book series labeled as "adult", Barbarella, who first appeared in Spring 1962 in V-Magazine. While Marvel was doing token females and DC female super-relatives, the French were doing a space hero in the spirit of Gale Allen and Mysta of the Moon, but sexually liberated. And like the golden age Wonder Woman, she was a deliberated statement.  Her breakthrough inspired the creation of several liberated heroines, most notably like Modesty Blaise in England, Uranella in Germany, and Vampirella in the US.

The next year, British comics writer Peter O'Donnell created Modesty Blaise, a girl from the streets turned crime boss, turned international adventurer. Even though she is heroic, she has a criminal past and enjoys a life of glamor and leisure because of it. While she has a perfect partnership with Willie Garvin, an associate from her former crime syndicate, both have several lovers who come and go.


Back in America, with the creation of other minor superheroines like Enchantress (Strange Adventures #187, 191, 200  April 1966 — May 1967) or Dolphin (only seen in Showcase #79, December 1968), DC tried to push the envelope by making them independent superheroines without ties to male superheroes; just like the ones from the golden age.

The second Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (created in Detective Comics #359, January 1967), represented clearer feminists ideals. She is a career woman with a Ph.D., she's completely independent of men and has no interest or relationship with Batman, her male counterpart. In her first adventure, she apprehended Killer Moth on her own —he might be a joke these days, but remember that in the silver age he was an evil version of Batman.

In Showcase #77, September 1968, DC published Angel and the Ape. Angel O'Day, is a gorgeous detective who solves crimes along her partner Sam Simeon, who is also a gorilla who moonlights as a comic book artist. Among many others, Lois Lane came way before Angel as a career woman with her own comic book title, but the interesting thing is that Sam's role was diminished with every issue-
Around 1969, as superheroes start to deal with social and relevant issues, the silver age became the bronze age. 


In Wonder Woman #178—203 (October 1968 — December 1972), Denny O'Neil depowered Wonder Woman and, trained by the mysterious I-Ching, she starts to fight crime in plainclothes. However, Gloria Steinem and other feminist urged DC to restore the character back to the basics and her classic costume.

Wonder Woman was such a feminist icon that she appeared on the first cover of Ms. magazine (July 1972  — and in the anniversary issues of 1997, 2007, 2012). On that issue Steinem wrote:
"Wonder Woman's family of Amazons on Paradise Island, her band of college girls in America, and her efforts to save individual women are all welcome examples of women working together and caring about each other's welfare. The idea of such cooperation may not seem particularly revolutionary to the male reader. Men are routinely depicted as working well together, but women know how rare and therefore exhilarating the idea of sisterhood really is. Wonder Woman's mother, Queen Hippolyte, offers yet another welcome example to young girls in search of a strong identity. Queen Hippolyte founds nations, wages war to protect Paradise Island, and sends her daughter off to fight the forces of evil in the world... Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women's culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of "masculine" aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts."

Robert Kanigher returned and with artist Don Heck, based on the classic costume, introduced the most popular version, with her original boots and the swimsuit bottom. 
The Wonder Woman TV show started in 1975 and actress Lynda Carter portrayed her wearing the Don Heck version of her costume.
Ok.. Perhaps the costume is not that practical,
but hey, feminists like it.
Since 1964, Warren Publishing managed to circumvent the CCA with format technicalities. While Marvel and DC adapted their content for kids, James Warren targeted the adult audiences with comics magazines, which would be placed on magazine shelves (not too far from the likes of Playboy), and feature more violence, horror and women in sexy outfits audience than the golden age comics. 

Taking his cue from Barbarella, Forrest J. Ackerman (what's with forests and "ladyrellas"?) created Vampirella for Warren, a 'vampiri' from planet Drakulon who fights evil on Earth. She appeared in the first issue of her eponymous magazine in September 1969.

In January 1971, the Comics Code was revised to gain some flexibility. However, in May 1971, following a request of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Marvel Comics did a Spider-man about drugs, which broke the Code and pushed it for further revisions. This opened many doors and women were portrayed more liberally. 

With the bronze age fashion sense improved, art became more detailed, spandex became tighter, and modesty became relaxed. The new superheroines debuted following the spirit and sex appeal of their golden age predecessors, only this time, many of them were deliberated statements for female equality.   

Today, male superheroes still dominate comic books, but superheroines being their equals is a given.

References

  • The publication details of most of these characters are available at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Before passing away, he left quite an encyclopedia of American comic and animation characters. This is by far my main source. 
  • Wikis are good to get the general ideas and references, but the content always needs some fact checking. 
    • Wikipedia often has great details about the publication history of the popular characters. It provides a big picture. I recommend the articles about the Hays Code, the Comic Code Authority, and Portrayal of women in American comics
    • Good details of the fictional histories of DC and Marvel characters can be found at DC Comics database (careful, this one often confuses versions) and Marvel Database
    • The basic publication info on the characters from defunct publishers is available at Public Domain Super Heroes. However, like Wikipedia, it requires fact checking.
  • Many of the comics from defunct publishers are available and free at The Digital Comic Museum and Comic Book +

Notes

This post is quite extensive, and English is not my mother language, so editing has been really hard. Any observations on its writing are welcomed and appreciated.

6 comments:

  1. Excellent article, man; very informative! Bears thematic similarities to a video I made; check it out, if you're interested:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVnjfwc8kyc

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thank you. It's been doing well, but I wonder if I should have split it in three.
      By the way, It's all research. From your video I get the impression that you actually read all the matierial you showed. How did you do that? I could only get access to the public domain stuff and a couple of issues here and there.

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    2. There are many places online devoted to posting Golden Age comics; one I make particular use of is the Digital Comic Museum, which has a huge amount of public domain stuff. Also, 'Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine' is a pretty reliable source of good stuff, public domain and otherwise. It's all over the place; it just requires knowing what to look for.

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    3. I guess so, but the ones that pick my interest are not public domain.
      By the way, from what I gathered, my top ten would probably include:
      10. Mysta Moon
      9. Lady Luck
      8. Phantom Lady
      7. Miss Fury
      6. Black Cat
      5. Red Tornado
      4. Mary Marvel
      3. Sheena
      2. Wonder Woman
      1. Connie
      But it's really hard to limit the list to 10. It doesn't seem right to leave Miss America, Sun Girl, Blonde Phantom, Black Canary, Hawkgirl, Bullet Girl, Gale Allen, Liberty Belle and so many others.

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    4. Well, for the ones that AREN'T public domain, it can be tricky, yeah. It's a lot easier when the character you're looking for scans of is well-known - Wonder Woman, for example, has her original material posted all over the place, and, to my surprise, I recently discovered a whole treasure trove of scans featuring the original Vigilante - but when you're looking for more obscure material, it's basically a matter of luck and persistence. The scans I used of Liberty Belle, for example, were acquired via searching and re-searching the Internet using every combination of search terms I could think of - and even then, I had to get creative. It works, most of the time, but it's awfully tedious.
      Yeah, that's also a pretty decent listing of characters - really, the Golden Age was such a vastly prolific era that narrowing a list down to a Top Ten ANYTHING is pretty difficult. (I've considered adding a Part Two to mine sometime in the future.) I'm not sure if I've heard of Mysta Moon and Gale Allen or not - they sound familiar, but I don't think I've read any of their stuff.

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    5. Gale Allen, Mysta Moon and Futura were created by Fiction Hose, the same guys who did Sheena, Phantomah and Señorita Rio. They have just a couple of recent appearances as Star Fems, one very bad in the 80s, and another in the 2001 by AC Comics, which I have not read.

      I think they reduced the scans online. There were collections of Sensation comics, buy I never read them and now I can't find them.





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