Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

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And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

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But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

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Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

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How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

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swarms of them.

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You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

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The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

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The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

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Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

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She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

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Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

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Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

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but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

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While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

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Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

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Golden Age Showcase: Miss Masque

It’s been a while since we had a lady superhero on this blog that didn’t have a huge mainstream movie come out this year.

Let’s see…what femme fatale looks good this week?

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Okay, she looks good.

Today we take a look at the comic book superhero Miss Masque and no, she is not a Carmen Sandiago clone…although that would be pretty kickass.

Origin and Career

Miss Masque made her first appearance in Exciting Comics #51 in September of 1946 and was published by Nedor Comics, a division of the company Standard Comics.

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She shared the limelight with her slightly more famous superhero comrade, The Black Terror.

That was the cover of her first issue, this is the double page spread that introduced her to readers:

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

I’m not going to lie, as first impressions go that’s a pretty good one.

As for creators, there are no author or artist credits on any of her stories.  However, artists Alex Schomburg and Frank Frazetta have been credited with supplying several covers featuring Miss Masque.  For anyone who might not know, Alex Schomburg was one of the most prolific and dynamic cover artists of the Golden Age of Comics.

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and Frank Frazetta is the reason why we think Conan the Barbarian looks like a chiseled barbarian warlord.

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Anyway, back to Miss Masque.  Her backstory is simple, she’s a socialite named Diana Adams and she moonlights as a superhero, that’s it.  No tragic event, no dead parents (that we know of), and no lab accidents.

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She’s just an ordinary lady with her wits, two pistols, and a lot of time on her hands.

Her first adventure is a simple one.  After her car breaks down she attempts to get help from a greedy old farmer who is currently engaged in a water dispute with his neighbor.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

The farmer attempts to fix the problem by hiring a bum to burn his neighbor’s property to the ground but the bum attempts to steal from him, the farmer gets violent, and Diana changes into Miss Masque in order to investigate.

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The farmer knocks her out (this kind of happens a lot in the future) and attempts to ditch the evidence by burning his house down.

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All pretty standard evil so far, but he tried to kill the dog and that is unforgivable.

Miss Masque escapes and tracks the farmer down, only to have him drown in a cruelly ironic way.

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That…is not a good way to go.

Most of her stories followed a similar format.  Her stories would open with a massive double page spread,

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and then she would go on to solve the “case of the week” with little to know continuity between issues.

It’s worth noting that she was a pretty capable superheroine.

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She would find a problem that usually involved whoever she was dating at the time, discover some dastardly scheme, and kick all kinds of butt and have the situation wrapped up in a couple of pages.

The artwork is pretty good too.

The formula must have worked because Miss Masque turned out to be pretty popular.  She got a couple of cover appearances,

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and she even became one of Nedor’s top three characters along with the Black Terror and the Fighting Yank.

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It’s worth mentioning that she underwent a costume redesign around 1947 where she showed off a bit more skin.

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Sometimes it’s important to remember that stereotypes about women in comics exist for a reason.

So what happened?

Nedor Comics must have been undergoing the same troubles the entire comic book industry was suffering through in the late 1940’s because they were consolidated into their parent company Standard Comics in 1949, which went under itself in 1956.

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It almost seems like a broken record at this point but Miss Masque most likely suffered the same fate that befell most Golden Age superheroes in the fifties when the comic book industry was gutted by parents and lawmakers worried that comics were corrupting their children.

If I had to make an educated guess she was doomed from the start since her initial publication date of 1946 lines up with the decline of the superhero genre in American comics and it’s pretty safe to assume she was created as an attempt to boost sales.

However Miss Masque, along with most of the Standard Comics’ library of characters, would receive a reboot in the 1990’s when most of them entered the public domain.

She wound up becoming pretty popular at AC Comics, making a couple of cover appearances in their annual issues,

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A team member of groups like Femforce,

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and she even got her own solo series.

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In this new continuity she retained her identity of wealthy socialite Diana Adams only this time her costume is the source of her power and her will to do good, since it’s possessed by a “spirit of justice”.

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I’d also say it was possessed by the spirit of 90’s comic book cheese.

She also appeared in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series in the early 2000’s,

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where she was engaged in a romantic relationship with another character named Fighting Spirit.

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Most recently Miss Masque was part of Dynamite Comics Project Superpowers series from 2008 to 2010.  In this series she got another costume change where she looks even more like Carmen Sandiago,

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she also suffers from amnesia and has actual superpowers this time.  She can replicate other people’s appearances, although her powers seem to be a bit ill defined.

Dynamite even gave her a spinoff solo series in 2009 which lasted for four issues.

Maybe it’s the red and the artists’ fascination with her legs that makes her so popular.

Miss Masque is one of the best female superheroes to come out of the Golden Age of Comics.  While we tend to look back at that time as a place where men ruled and women were considered to be side props, it’s important to remember that there were people out there who thought much differently and were willing to put a lot of time and effort into creating capable and well written female comic book characters.

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Golden Age Showcase: Etta Candy

WARNING!  THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FOUL LANGUAGE USED FOR COMEDIC EFFECT!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Today is the third day in our coverage of the new Wonder Woman movie, which comes out this Friday!

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I am so goddamned pumped for this movie!

Now, while it would probably make sense for us to talk about Wonder Woman this week we’re not going to.  Don’t worry, an in depth discussion of Wonder Woman is coming next week but for now I want to talk about a member of our heroine’s supporting cast.  She’s a redheaded (sometimes blonde) powerhouse who takes no lip from anyone and if this was any other comic book movie she would probably be the focus instead of the heroine.

Today we’re talking about Etta Candy.

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Origin and Career

So remember when I said there would be foul language in this article?  It’s mostly here.

The character was conceived by Wonder Woman’s original creator, William Moulton Marston.

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She made her first appearance in Sensation Comics #2,

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the issue that also gave us Dr. Poison who we talked about last week.

Her backstory is pretty simple.  She was  skinny, scrawny girl who Wonder Woman met in a hospital, waiting to get her appendix removed.  When she was cured she put on a few pounds.

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How do I describe Etta as a character?  Simple.

Etta Candy gives no fucks.

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Etta Candy takes no shit.

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Etta Candy once helped defeat an ENTIRE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMP with nothing but a box of chocolates because she heard there were starving children being held there.

Etta knocks out a Nazi guard as she takes down the power grid.

Etta Candy is amazing.

Some of the more eagle eyed readers might observe that Etta Candy is a rather large women, some might even say she isn’t all that attractive.

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Etta hears your comments and doesn’t give two shits about what you think.  She’s large and damn proud of it.

You will also notice that Etta has something of an…unhealthy obsession with sweets.

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I love how in this universe filled with super humans, monsters, and legitimate gods that walk the Earth, Etta takes it all in stride and treats it just like nothing is out of the ordinary.

She needs no gods or men,

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chocolate is the only god she needs.

Despite her awesomeness, even Etta realized that she can’t take on the entire Nazi war machine alone, so she brought along some help in the form of her sisters from the fictional Beta Lambda sorority of Holliday College.

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Naturally, Etta was their leader.

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The girls proved to be incredibly helpful to Wonder Woman’s mission and kicked all sorts of ass.

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They would have given Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos a run for their money.  Why the Allied war effort even bothered to send regular troops to Europe is completely beyond me.

We even got to learn a bit more about Etta’s life after the war.  It turned out she had a family who lived on a Texas Ranch.  She even had a boyfriend.  His name was Oscar Sweetgulper.

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Are you picturing these two getting it on?  Because that is what I’ve been imagining for the past week.

Naturally, Wonder Woman brought Etta back to her home, where she was adored by her sister Amazons.  Also, she had no trouble going up against the more mythological creatures and villains of the comic series.

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In short (pun not intended) Etta was one of the greatest sidekicks in the early days of comics and remains one of Marston’s most fantastic creations.

So what happened?

You see this man?  The one smoking the pipe?

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That’s Robert Kanigher, a comic book writer who took over writing the Wonder Woman comic from Marston when he died in 1947.

Now, Kanigher is pretty well known and did some cool stuff over his career.  He wrote some of the early Blue Beetle adventures and he wrote what is widely considered to be the first Silver Age comic, which saw the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.

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However, when Kanigher took over Wonder Woman not only did he barley use Etta, he changed the character to the point where she was no longer the leader of her sorority and she was insecure about her weight.

To make things even worse, she was relegated to the position of idiot secretary in the Wonder Woman tv show, where she was played by actress Beatrice Cohen.

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BOOOOOOOO!!!

POOR FORM!

WHAT THE SHIT DC?!

She became so obscure that I can’t find a picture of her from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s.

Thankfully, the writers and creators at DC realized what they had done and managed to bring Wonder Woman’s best friend back from the grave…sort of.

In 1987 artist writer/artist duo Greg Potter and George Perez revamped Wonder Woman for the modern age and brought Etta back.

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She was no longer a large woman, but she was a capable Air Force officer and an aid to Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s former love interest.

I say former, because Etta and Steve wound up getting married.

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She still had reservations about her weight and even developed an eating disorder.

During the New 52 revamp, DC brought Etta back again.  This time she was a black lady who was Steve’s secretary and close personal friend.

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She would also make a comeback in DC’s Rebirth series, where she’s still Steve’s secretary.

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That’s how she’s appeared in the main continuity of DC comics.  Some of it was good, most of it made it seem like DC was embarrassed of the character which is just…a crying shame.

Thankfully there were plenty of spin offs and interpretations of Wonder Woman that brought Etta back into her original role.

For example, here she is in the non continuity of DC’s Earth One timeline.

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and more recently the comic series The Legend of Wonder Woman brought her back to her original Golden Age appearance.

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She will be portrayed by British actress Lucy Davis in the Wonder Woman film,

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and if the trailer is any indication, I think she’ll be amazing at it and do the character justice.

Etta is an amazing character and a good friend to Wonder Woman.  In an industry that gets a lot of flak for not being very friendly to women, especially large women, Etta takes those critiques and smashes them over the head.  All with grace, poise, and a box of chocolates in hand.

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Golden Age Showcase: Lady Satan

I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while, but I just couldn’t find the right time.

But now, I figured we’ve gone long enough on this blog without talking about a lady superhero so let’s talk about one of the more interesting, and quite frankly more terrifying, lady heroes who donned a mask and kicked some ass in the Golden Age of Comics.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Lady Satan.

Origin and Career

I’ve talked time and time again about how this blog was created to showcase the early superheroes who didn’t make it past the 1950’s and Lady Satan is the textbook definition of that kind of heroine.

One of the most interesting things about her is the story behind her creators.  She was part of one of the earliest comic book producers out there, a man who was actually pretty important to the comic book medium: Henry A. Chesler.

 

While Chelser got hist start in advertising he is actually something of an important figure to the comic book medium because he is regarded as being one of the first comic book “packagers” in the business, founding a studio which would develop and produce comic book material to sell to publishers.

One of his first publications was Star Comics first published in 1937.

It was a fun, relatively harmless piece of work for kids and Chesler did well as a comic book packager.  Then everything changed in 1938 with the arrival of Seigel and Shuster’s Action Comics #1

Being the prudent businessman, Chesler seemed determined to ride the superhero hype train and created his own publishing imprint Dynamic Comics in 1941.

A month later Dynamic would publish their second issue, featuring the debut of the heroine of the hour.

Her backstory was a simple one (one of the great hallmarks of the Golden Age is that someone’s backstory didn’t need entire issues, they could tell the entire story in a page or less): she was on a cruise with her husband in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and her ship was sunk by soldiers who aren’t technically Nazis but come pretty darn close.

Unlike many other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog, Lady Satan didn’t waste a single second guarding the homefront from saboteurs and spies, she went straight to Europe and started spying for the forces of democracy.  She wasn’t afraid to use her…feminine wiles to get close to the enemy,

and she was not afraid to get violent either.

Basically, during the war she was the female equivalent of James Bond, only with a much better wardrobe and no chronic alcoholism.

Also, she had a chlorine gun that she could use to incapacitate people, which is funny considering that chlorine gas is actually pretty deadly and was banned from use during the Second World War.

She would make her final appearance in Dynamic Comics #3, fulfilling her Nazi kicking quota and disappearing off the face of the Earth for a couple of years.

So what happened?

The heroes that made it out of the Golden Age are some of most iconic and well loved heroes of our time.  They were trend setters and pioneers in the genre that we all know and love.

Lady Satan was not one of those heroes, despite the fact that she would have a pretty good Golden Age career.

Lady Satan was revived after WW2 ended, only instead of fighting Nazis she took after her name sake and adopted a more…mystical theme.

Chesler Productions had taken a huge hit during the war with much of its staff needed for active duty.  While Chesler would continue producing comic books, even doing work for Marvel in the 1970’s, Dynamic Comics was no more and Lady Satan made her second debut in a title called Red Seal Comics in 1946

With that being said, it’s safe to say that Lady Satan was more of a trend follower than a trend setter.  Comic books after World War 2 had taken a turn for the grimmer and darker, preferring horror and crime stories over superheroes.

Lady Satan demonstrated this better than almost any other superhero at the time, with her new adventures she would use black magic to fight and punish occult threats such as warewolves.

Sadly she would only last a couple more issues, no doubt falling prey to the rising tide of distrust and paranoia surrounding comic books in the 1950’s (well, what would you expect with a name like Satan?)

Since then she hasn’t had much of a career.  She’s appeared in a couple of reprints of old issues and while she does have something of a reputation as a bad ass super heroine, she doesn’t quite cut the mustard when compared to the heavy hitting super heroines like Wonder Woman.

It’s worth noting that as far as I can tell she is in the public domain, and she did appear in a low budget action movie called Avenging Force: The Scarab in 2010, so if low budget cheese is your thing feel free to eat your heart out.

Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlmKRDYwvM

Lady Satan was an interesting idea with a cool costume and a lot of potential for fun stories.  It’s just to bad she doomed to be a trend follower instead of a trend setter.