As I discussed in an earlier post, pre-Comics Code comic books are full of fascinating women superheroes who’ve been more or less forgotten in the decades since WWII. Born in the era of Rosie the Riveter, when there was a national campaign to get women into workplaces, these costumed heroines were brassy, hard-assed, snarky, and sometimes just plain weird. They displayed remarkable grit and independence, and were portrayed as better crime-fighters than the inept, sexist cops that got in their way.
Even removed from their intriguing, important place in sociocultural history, these stories are compelling bits of pure comics nerdery - eg, the fact that 1941’s Spider Queen was almost certainly the unacknowledged inspiration for Spider-Man. These characters deserve to be better known. Happily, the astonishing www.digitalcomicmuseum.org hosts full-issue scans of scores of public domain pre-Code comics. Which means you can read these comics right now, for free!
Here are a few of my favorite lost superheroines from the 1940s. Click on a character’s name to access an archive of their adventures!
FANTOMAH - Arguably the first woman superhero, and to this day one of the strangest. Fantomah is a near-omniscient (blonde) jungle spirit with incredible magical/psionic powers. She is always threatening her enemies with “a jungle death!” and she turns into a green skull with beautiful hair when she’s angry.
LADY SATAN - Sometime Nazi-killer, sometime occult detective, Lady Satan roams the land in her stylish automobile, using gun, garrote, and fire magic to take out Reich agents and child-snatching werewolves.
MOTHER HUBBARD - Looking like a cartoon witch, speaking only in rhyme, Mother Hubbard uses her bizarre occult powers to battle everything from fifth column saboteurs to Disney-esque dwarves that steal kids’ eyeballs.
THE WOMAN IN RED - A gun-toting jujitsu expert, the Woman in Red is a sort of costumed private detective. She’s the bane of both criminals (especially those who prey on women) and inept male cops. But to the women she saves she’s quite…tender.
THE SPIDER QUEEN - A chemistry lab assistant becomes a wise-cracking costumed herowho uses wrist-strapped web shooters to swing around the city and tie up bad guys. But this is 1941, and our hero is a woman.
THE VEILED AVENGER - Although she’s the frilliest-looking of 40s superheroines, the Veiled Avenger might be the hardest. She uses her crop to make criminals shoot each other…and themselves. And in her civilian life as a District Attorney’s secretary, she scolds dumb cops who endanger witnesses.
Sadly, these heroines all disappeared by the 1950s. As the national project of getting women out of the workplace took hold, bold self-sufficient superheroines became scarce on the ground. Despite some great work by amazing artists over the years, comics still doesn’t have enough of them.
“No matter how obvious Black Widow’s eventual solo stardom may seem to those who look at the evidence found in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” there will still be those unable to recognize the character’s potential just because they can’t see past Johansson’s pretty face. Those people are going to have a hard time with “The Winter Soldier,” a film with three “pretty faces” all on board to kick ass and not be a damsel in distress/love interest/set decoration. Anyone who refuses to see the immense contributions Maria Hill, Agent 13 and Black Widow make to this film will find their viewing riddled with as many holes as Nick Fury’s SUV. These women cannot be ignored, and their place in these films will age significantly better than the reviews of film critics more concerned with Natasha’s makeup routine than her inner conflicts.”—Brett White (Comicbookresources)
A barbarian single-mother battles for her life and the lives of her children in the twilight of a dying Earth. Ravaged by forbidden sorcery and forgotten science, it is a world of crumbling empires and post human monsters. A world of merciless warlords and evil gods. Surviving by her ruthlessness and cunning, she will live or die by the blade.
I put up an Una the Blade Pinterest page where I can post art from myself and contributors as well as image inspiration.
One of my favoriteguest posters, Tim Hanley, has taken his love of comics to a new level. This week his book about Wonder Woman becomes available. I’ve read a copy and if you like Wonder Woman or woman in comics, you need to read this book. Buy it here.
To celebrate the release, Tim is guest posting again and this time he takes on some misconceptions about Wonder Woman and her world.