Golden Age Showcase: Olga Mesmer

When writing about the Golden Age of Comics, one of the fun little treats is discovering and sharing the origins of the tropes and ideas that permeate the genre to this day.

Batman was the the first superhero to have his parents killed,

Image result for golden age batman

Doll Man was the first superhero who used his ability to change size as a superpower,

Image result for golden age dollman

Superman was the first hero to have a secret identity,

Image result for golden age superman clark kent

the list goes on.

We’ve talked at great length about the impact that female characters have had on the comic book industry, and while Wonder Woman may be the most famous super heroine of the Golden Age,

there were several lady superheroes who came before her and a woman named Fantomah is considered to be the first female superhero in a comic book.

Image result for golden age fantomah

However, today’s entry comes from a time before we knew what superheroes were.  Heck, it comes from a time when we didn’t even know what comic books were.

Today we are going to talk about a woman with strange and mysterious powers and who some consider to be America’s first super heroine: Olga Mesmer.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

Origin and Career

Before comic books were a thing there were comic strips, serialized stories that were published in newspapers across the country and could range from a strip with a few panels,

Image result for early comic strips

to grand and complex illustrations that could take up an entire page.

Image result for the adventures of nemo in dreamland comic

While the comic strip industry laid the groundwork for an entire generation of comic book artists, it was the pulp magazines that laid the foundation for the themes and tropes that would define the future of superheroes.

Image result for pulp magazines

The pulps were fiction magazines that were really popular for the first half of the 20th century.  They got their name from the cheap pulp paper they were printed on, one of them many ways they cut corners and lowered production costs.

They made up for the cheap quality with lurid and fantastic stories that helped influence the heroes that came after.  The Shadow was a pulp vigilante who prowled the streets at night and hunted criminals,

Image result for pulp magazine the shadow

and John Carter was a war veteran who found himself transported to Mars, where the planet’s gravity gives him superpowers.

Image result for john carter pulp

While it’s impossible to pinpoint it exactly, it’s easy to see how the creators of Batman and Superman must have been influenced by their popularity.

Olga Mesmer was an interesting case.  She was a comic strip that was initially published inside a pulp magazine.  Specifically, she appeared in a magazine hilariously titled Spicy Mystery in September of 1937.

Image result for spicy mystery magazine mesmer

The book was published by a company called Culture Publications.

As for the art itself, nobody really knows who created the artwork or wrote the stories, since old timey publishers didn’t give a damn about creators rights or credit.  However, we do know that the artwork was contracted out to an art studio known as Majestic Studios, which was owned by a man named Adophe Barreaux.

Image result for adolphe barreaux trojan

Barreaux was a well known and established comic book artist from Charleston, South Carolina who worked for several ad agencies and drew other comic strips for Spicy Mysteries such as the raunchy “Sally Sleuth”,

Image result for adolphe barreaux sally sleuth

and his own syndicated strip: “The Enchanted Stone of Time”

Image result for adolphe barreaux the enchanted stone of time

As for Olga Mesmer herself, her origin story is actually quite interesting.

Image result for olga mesmer

She was the daughter of a royal family originally from the planet Venus and ruled a secret kingdom under the Earth.

It’s really interesting to see how people in the past were convinced that there was a whole different world underneath our feet.
Image result for john quincy adams mole people

Olga’s mother was the queen named Margot who had been removed from power during a coup d’etat from a villain named Ombro.  She lost her memory in the escape and met a scientist named Dr. Hugo Mesmer.  The two fell in love, married, and had a child together.  But while she was pregnant, the Doctor began to suspect that his wife was different and his curiosity led him to exposing her to “soluble x-rays”, which left her blinded and bedridden.

Yeah, real father of the year material there.

Margot eventually recovered and discovered that she had the ability to see in the x ray spectrum and could see through walls.  This gift wound up killing her husband (people didn’t really understand x-rays back then) and Margot fled back underground.

Olga was born shortly after and inherited her mother’s ability to see through walls and super strength.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

It’s worth mentioning that there aren’t any pictures of Olga where she doesn’t have ripped clothing.  In fact, there aren’t that many pictures of her at all.

She wound up rescuing a man named Rodney Prescott from a group of assailants, which she dealt with by casually killing them.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

However, Rodney was seriously wounded and was only saved by a blood transfusion from Olga, which granted him a small measure of her power.

Yeah, people didn’t really understand blood transfusions either.

The two became a duo, traveling underground to rescue her mother and defeat the evil machinations of Ombro.

The story ended in 1939, with the two traveling back to Venus and being proposed by a prince of Mars named Boris.  Apparently the two planets were at war with each other and their union would hopefully bring peace to the two cultures.

I have no idea what happened next, although I would like to assume everything wound up fine.

So what happened?

Action Comics #1 came out in 1938 and pop culture and entertainment was changed forever.

Image result for action comics #1

Comic books became the new literary fad for young boys and girls and while comic strips continued to exist through syndication, the age of the pulp novel as a dominant cultural force was over.

Adolph Barreaux went where the work was and wound up producing comic book art for a whole bunch of publishers.  He ended his career in 1953 after working as a children’s book illustrator for a company called Trojan Publications.

Olga Mesmer is less than a footnote in pop culture history.  She played a small part in a fairly small magazine that was part of a culture that preferred to read her stories and then throw them away.  Even her status as America’s first super heroine is up for some debate since she doesn’t display many of the tropes we associate with heroes today.

However, it is my honest opinion that Olga Mesmer was a hero and that she deserves far more recognition than she is currently getting.  Plus, it’s kind of cool to see a woman from the 1930’s kick so much ass.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

Advertisements

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Kaiju Gods

Full disclosure: this project contains work by Frankie B. Washington, an artist who has done work for this site.  No money or special favors were exchanged for the writing of this article.

Today we’re talking about a Kickstarter project entitled Kaiju Gods.  

 

Image result for kaiju gods kickstarter

This is an anthology book featuring stories about the Japanese giant monster genre of movies known as “kaiju” movies.  At the time of writing this project has 20 days left and has raised $4,960 of it’s $16,000 goal.  Funding ends on March 16th.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/208514895/kaiju-gods?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=kaiju

Why I like it

GIANT MONSTERS AND ROBOTS PUNCHING THINGS!

Raiderman by Jay Piscopo

UNBELIEVABLE DESTRUCTION!

Sloan by Daniel Warner and Chris Enterline

MONSTROUS ROMANCE!

Story by Garrett Gunn and Nicolas Touris

HUMAN ANTS TREMBLING AT IN THE PRESENCE OF A VENGEFUL GOD!!!  ALSO…BANANAS!

Banana Katana by Kevin Roditeli and Rottsteak

Sorry…got a little carried away there.

I am a sucker for stories about big things punching other big things and yes, Pacific Rim was a great movie and I am eagerly awaiting the release of Pacific Rim Uprising.

Image result for pacific rim 2

As you can tell from the artwork posted above, there is a huge amount of creativity and passion on display here.  In fact, if you got to the campaign page and read it through, you’ll find that the guy putting the anthology together had no trouble finding people willing to participate.

Now, while I am a big fan of big things being punched, I will admit that there is the possibility of it getting…boring.  Thankfully, this anthology has gathered a wide and diverse pool of talent utilizing different backgrounds, art styles, and story techniques to tell a wide range of stories that deal with the kaiju monsters.

There seems to be a story where a samurai fights a kaiju with nothing but a bow and arrow,

Image result for kaiju gods kickstarter

I don’t know any of the specifics, all I know is that it looks awesome.

Why you should donate

Because kaiju are the perfect metaphor for our time.

We live in a massive, interconnected, and increasingly complicated world that is in the process of changing in ways that we can’t possible imagine.

Image result for interconnected

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather live here and now instead of anywhere else, but when times change the chaos can be incredibly destructive.

The internet and social media may have given the individual a greater voice and reach bigger and bigger audiences, but all that noise and activity and be so overwhelming that it drives us to become more and more isolated and withdrawn.

Image result for isolation

Globalization has allowed millions of people to be lifted out of poverty, but has reduced millions more to jobs where they are nothing more than cogs in a very large machine that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

Image result for third world factory workers

To top it all off, the Earth’s climate is changing, creating an uncertain future where we are unable to sustain our current lifestyle and doom entire countries to ecological and environmental disaster.

Image result for natural disasters

If it all seems a bit overwhelming it’s because it is.  Our brains are incapable of processing tragedies that affect so many people, so we simply shrug our shoulders and write off the suffering of millions as just “something that happens”.

That sort of dehumanization is terrifying, and it is that kind of horror that the Japanese knew all too well as they watched their cities being bombed into oblivion by the seemingly overwhelming and alien force that was the United States military.

Image result for american firebombing of japan

One man who understood that horror well was a little known director named Ishiro Honda,

Image result for ishiro honda

and in 1954 he gave that horror a name: Godzilla.

Image result for godzilla 1954 poster

We can look back at the past and admire how far we’ve come, we can look towards the future and eagerly await what’s to come, but it is important to look at where we are in the present and realize just how small and insignificant we really are.

Image result for kaiju gods kickstarter

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/208514895/kaiju-gods?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=kaiju

 

Golden Age Showcase: Waku Prince of the Bantu

Did I go and see the Black Panther movie this weekend?  Of course I went to go see the Black Panther movie this weekend!

Image result for black panther movie poster

It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it yet than you need to stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie right now, you can read this article while you’re watching the dozens of previews attached to the movie.

But I’m not here to talk about how this movie is important, other people are doing a better job of that than I can.  While he was the first black character in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first black character to star in his own series.

That was Waku, Prince of the Bantu.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

Origin and Career

Waku made his first appearance in Atlas Comics’ Jungle Tales #1 in September of 1954.

Image result for atlas comics jungle comics #1

Yes, the title says “Jungle Action” we’ll get to that.

The character was created by artist Ogden Whitney,

Ogden Whitney Self Portrait.jpg

who worked as a fairly successful artist for several comic book companies and is most famous for co creating a hero named Herbie Popnecker.

It’s pretty clear that the comic is following in the footsteps of the old Tarzan stories, which makes sense because this book came out during a time when comics were moving away from super heroes and into alternate genres such as romance and westerns.

Image result for 1950's romance comics

Image result for 1950's western comics

It was also released at a time when race relations in America weren’t at their best.

Image result for 1950s america racial segregation

What’s interesting about comics is that black people have actually been part of the comic book landscape since the beginning.  It’s just that the way they’ve been portrayed hasn’t always been…

Image result for ebony white golden age of comics

well let’s be polite and say “sensitive”.

Waku was the first black character to star in a series of stories as the main lead.  Not only that, but the stories featured a predominately black cast.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

Certainly sounds familiar.

The character was the head of a tribe living in the depths of South Africa, and it is worth mentioning that there is some respect paid to actual history here.  The Bantu Migration was an actual historical event and is widely considered to have played an important role in developing African politics and identity.

Image result for the bantu migration

You can read more about it here.

The character’s first adventure has him inheriting the leadership of the tribe from his dying father, who tells him to forswear violence and govern with kindness and wisdom.  This proves problematic when he refuses to participate in ritual combat in order to take his place as king and loses his throne to a greedy and ambitious rival, who tries to sell his people’s services to “white hunters” at great personal profit.  Waku winds up killing this usurper and is about to kill himself in penance for what he’s done when his father appears as an apparition and frees him from his vow.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

The character would go on to appear in seven more issues and in each issue he would fight off some challenger to his throne or threat to his people.  This ranged from wrestling lions,

G-840 The Pool Of Doom Page 1

to evil shamans capable of raising armies of the dead.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

In all of his appearanc

So what happened?

Jungle Tales lasted seven issues and was later changed to Jan of the Jungle.

Image result for jann of the jungle

I guess it’s true what they say, sex sells.

Normally changing a title like that hints at some serious problems for the publisher but this time it wasn’t the case.  Atlas Comics re branded in the 60’s as the more familiar Marvel Comics.

Related image

I’m sure they need no introduction.

Marvel rode the coattails of a little known writer who had been working for them since the 30’s and an artist with an incredible work ethic and a penchant for smoking cigars: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Image result for stan lee and jack kirby

For the handful of people that don’t know their names, these two men basically invented the entire Marvel Universe that we know and love today.

Image result for marvel comics characters

And in 1966 they  introduced the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52.

Image result for fantastic four 52

After a couple of guest spots with the Fantastic Four and Captain America, Black Panther was given his own solo series.  The title of the book?  Jungle Action.

Now, I’m not saying that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used Waku as a direct inspiration for Black Panther, there isn’t any evidence of that and any allegations made would be unfounded and unprofessional.  But it’s worth considering that both characters were kings of African nations and tribes, both of them were capable warriors, and both Lee and Kirby were working for Atlas at the time Waku was being published.

I’d say that is one hell of a coincidence.

Is Waku a better character than Black Panther?  Not really.  Should Waku have been the face of black characters in comics? No.  But Waku was the first black character who was the star of his own stories and he was treated with respect and dignity.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

He was a good man, a capable ruler, and a good starting point for Marvel’s long and storied collection of black comic book characters.

Golden Age Showcase: The Eye

Last week we talked about a superhero known as “The Hand”.

Image result for the hand harvey comics

Everyone seemed to like it so here’s a write up about another body part that decided to become a superhero.

Yes, there was more than one of these, and this one was actually a bit more successful.

Say hello to The Eye.

Image result for the eye centaur comics

Origin and Career

The Eye made its first appearance in Keen Detective Funnies #12 in December of 1939.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The book was published by a company called Centaur Publications, one of the earliest comic book publishers in American history and the company that helped Bill Everett get his start in comics.

Bill Everett is the man who helped create Namor the Submariner and Daredevil.

Image result for bill everett comics

The character itself was created by a man named Frank Thomas.

Image result for frank thomas animator

You may not know the man’s face, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re an animator or a Disney fan you know his his name and his work.

The man was one of the original animators on Walt Disney’s creative team when the company was just starting out and helped produce some of the most recognizable classics in modern animation history.  One example?  He animated this scene from Snow White.

Image result for snow white being carried by the dwarfs

 

He also helped write a book with a colleague of his named Ollie Johnston called The Illusion of Life,

Image result for frank thomas disney animation

a book that remains one of the most important milestones in 2D hand drawn animation to this day.  In fact, the two men were so influential that they were given a cameo appearance in The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies of all time.

Image result for frank thomas the incredibles

Basically Frank Thomas was a big deal, and The Eye was his contribution to the comic book world.

As for The Eye itself, his first adventure starts with the whitest Afghani family on the face of the planet.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The old man laments that he was once a prosperous businessman but had his livelihood stolen from him.  Suddenly, a disembodied eye appears in the room.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Meanwhile, in Kabul we’re introduced to the vain and pompous villain of the story, a man named Herat, who wants the old man dead.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

You know, I can’t help but wonder how differently this story would play out if it was published today.

Anyway, the villain tries to hire two hitmen to take out his rival.  Fortunately The Eye stops them with his ability to travel anywhere and shoot heat blasts out of his…well eye.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Boy, I know red eye flights are a pain…but this is ridiculous.  (wait don’t go…come back!)

The story resolves itself quickly and just in the way you would expect.  The villain is defeated, and justice is served.  The Eye has saved the day and the old man and his daughter are free to return to their business.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The Eye would go on to become something of a regular back up feature in the comic.  The stories weren’t connected, it was more of an anthology tale where The Eye would drop in on a group of criminals committing a crime and use one of his many ill defined powers to save the day.

Image result for the eye centaur comics

He was also given a sidekick, a young attorney named Jack Barrister who would assist The Eye whenever it needed a hand.

Image result for the eye centaur comics jack barrister

The Eye ran for eight issues in Keen Detective and must have been popular because he was given his own series in November of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Detective Eye #1

So what happened?

The Eye may have been popular enough to get his own series, but his publisher wasn’t so lucky.  While Centaur may have been one of the first comic book publishers ever, poor distribution and business sense saw the company go under in 1940.

While the company folded, it did retain something of a legacy.  In 1987 one of his stories was reprinted in a book called Mr. Monster’s Hi Shock Schlock by Michael T. Gilbert.

Image result for michael t. gilbert hi shock schlock

And in 1992 a company called Malibu Comics revived a bunch of Malibu characters into a team known as The Protectors,

Image result for malibu comics the protectors

and the Eye was cast as a supporting character.

The Eye was a genuinely interesting idea and character for a superhero.  He had an interesting gimmick and he had a legendary creator behind him.  If it wasn’t for his publisher going out of business I’m willing to bet it would have gone on to become a staple of modern comic book superheroes as well.

Image result for centaur comics the eye

It’s a real shame to see an idea like that go to waste.

Golden Age Showcase: The Hand

This one is going to be a short one, but boy is it a weird one.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a giant hand that is used as a metaphor for controlling things.  The hit video game Super Smash Bros. has the “Master Hand” as a final boss,

Image result for super smash bros master hand

Marvel Comics has the super secret group of ninja demons known as “The Hand”,

Image result for marvel comics the hand

and many real life people love to claim that our lives and fortunes are at the whim of the “invisible hand of the market”.

Image result for invisible hand of the market

Yes, the hand is always there.  It’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s completely unknown to we small pathetic creatures.

But did you know that someone tried to take this idea of “The Hand” and turn it into a superhero in the 1940’s?

Image result for speed comics the hand

Told you this was going to be weird.

Origin and Career

The Hand made his first appearance in Speed Comics #12 in 1941.

Image result for speed comics harvey

The comic series was the first comic book title published by Harvey Comics, a relative newcomer to the comic book scene and a company that would become famous for licensed titles such as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich.

Image result for harvey comics

Fun fact: Speed Comics had been bought from a struggling publisher called Brookwood Publications and was Harvey’s entry point into comic book publishing.  Without this title, Harvey wouldn’t go on to become a major comic book publisher.

The character of The Hand was created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, two men who would go on to create the Golden Age version of the superhero known as The Atom.

Image result for golden age atom superhero

Unfortunately, both men would wind up joining the armed services in 1942, and while both men survived they did not return to comics after that.

In his first and longest adventure, the Hand doesn’t fight Nazis or stop saboteurs.  Instead, he stops a couple of card sharks from ripping off a casino.

He is introduced with no fanfare, no explanation, and no backstory.  He just appears and warns two men that they better watch themselves.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

The two men ignore the warning and begin to clean out the house.  The Hand warns management, who takes it all in remarkable stride and agrees to let the disembodied hand help him.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

I like to imagine that the hand belongs to some sort of cosmic being that is actually a child and is trying to act all grown up by helping people.

Why not?  It’s more explanation than the comic gives.

The Hand is also a capable fighter…and capable of phasing through walls.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

However, when the criminals attempt to stop The Hand by confessing, The Hand realizes that they will not be arrested or charged for their crimes.  So he brands them on the forehead so the world will know what they’ve done.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

Apparently, The Hand has never heard of hats.  Which kind of makes sense.

On a side note: this comic issue deserves special mention for the story that came directly after this one.  Since most comics at the time were anthologies publishing short stories of only a couple of pages, we got treated to this one.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

A kid taking out a head of state with a rifle and people being okay with it?  Boy the times really were different back then.

Anyway, The Hand would have one more story in the following issue of Speed Comics where he played the patriotic game and helped the F.B.I defeat some foreign spies.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It was shorter, but had more action.

So The Hand was an established hero with a gimmick and a creative team behind him…

So what happened?

…and that was it, those were the only two issues that featured The Hand as a superhero.

It’s really not that surprising really.  The character was a small backup feature in a series that didn’t last very long and was published by a company that shifted focus away from original characters and into licensed stories.

Image result for harvey comics

Plus, let’s be honest, the two stories that The Hand appeared in weren’t that exciting or good.

The Hand may have been a small time character with boring stories, but that doesn’t mean the concept wasn’t interesting or that he didn’t have any value.  Sure, the creature was a hero and had a sense of agency and purpose, but it always had room for normal people to step in and take over when the time was right.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It appeared that The Hand was some sort of benevolent spirit who helped where he could and allowed normal people to do the right thing, and if that isn’t heroic I don’t know what is.

The Hand had potential, it would be a shame to forget that.