The Secret Lives of Villains #222

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Golden Age Showcase: Hippolyta

So this little movie is coming out in a couple of weeks.

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I’m excited.

The funny thing about this movie is that it promises to be huge but strangely enough, DC and Warner Brothers aren’t doing a whole lot to market and promote the film.

Granted, there is a precedent for this lack of marketing push, but I like to think that part of the reason why the film isn’t getting a lot of love is because the producers and film makers are banking on the hoards of angry nerds who are so desperate to see a female superhero succeed that they are willing to give this film a bunch of free advertising.

Thankfully, I am incredibly desperate and angry and I intend to do my part and contribute to the madness.  For the next couple of weeks leading up to the release of Wonder Woman I intend to devote this blog to Wonder Woman and her supporting cast.

And since yesterday was Mother’s Day, I thought it might be fun to talk about Wonder Woman’s mother: the Greek Amazon Hippolyta.

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Origin and Career

Unlike almost all the superheroes of the Golden Age, who can trace their origins to the popular culture of the day, Hippolyta has one of the most accomplished and famous pedigrees in comic book lore.

In fact, probably the only modern day superhero who has changed less than DC Comics’ Hippolyta is Hercules himself, and that’s only because Hercules is an integral part of Hippolyta’s story.

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Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons, a group of savage warrior women who claimed to be descended from Ares, the god of war.

As part of his twelve labors, Hercules was tasked with stealing an item called the Golden Girdle, a belt that gave Hippolyta incredible strength.  Hercules was successful in seducing Hippolyta into giving him the belt,

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but sadly perished when he goddess Hera convinced her battle sisters that Hercules was kidnapping her.

This story must have struck a chord with a man named William Moulton Marston,

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because he used this exact myth to inform the creation of Hippolyta in All Star Comics #8 in October of 1941.

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We’ll save the specifics for later but for now all you need to know is that the story of Hipppolyta remained relatively unchanged from its classical roots.  Hippolyta was the queen of her people and the mother of the book’s main character so she was tasked with talking to the ancient gods, looking after the welfare of the Amazons, and trying to control her daughter without much success.

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So what happened?

What do you mean “what happened”?  She went on to have an illustrious career as the mother of one of the most successful superheroes on the face of the planet!

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Granted, there have been some changes to her story.  Various versions of the character have her as a blonde badass,

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and at one point she actually took up the mantle of Wonder Woman,

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(yes that is actually Hippolyta and not Diana with a different hair do)

Her origin story with Hercules was changed up a bit in 1987 by writer George Perez.  It was a bit more…uncomfortable than the original with the new version of Hercules forcing himself on Hippolyta after he drugged her and her Amazons.
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It’s worth mentioning that he did this after she beat him in fair combat and attempted to reason with him.

Hippolyta has played an integral part in the DC universe, both in the comics and in other forms of media as well.  She has made regular appearances in a whole bunch of cartoons and animated movies,

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and is often treated with the respect and reverence that a queen and leader of her stature deserves.

In the upcoming movie the director decided to go the blonde route and have her played by the actress Connie Nielsen.

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To list every achievement and important event that Hippolyta has been part of would take forever and I highly encourage you to do more research on your own.  All that I really have to say is that while Wonder Woman is considered to be one of the greatest superheroes in existence, she would be nobody without the strength and wisdom of her mother behind her.

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Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Golden Age Showcase: The Green Turtle

WARNING: This article contains offensive portrayals of Black and Asian people and discussion of legitimate war crimes committed by the Japanese Army in China.  You have been warned.

Today I want to talk about diversity in comics.

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Yes, I know this is probably the last subject that anyone wants to talk about, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit late to the party on this one (for the record no…I don’t think diversity is killing Marvel’s sales, it’s event fatigue and constant relaunches), but this is a blog series on the Golden Age of Comics and while there were a fair share of non white characters in early comic books,

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they weren’t exactly…acceptable for modern audiences, or any audiences for that matter.

With that being said, if there was one specific group of people who were blatantly targeted during the Golden Age of Comics, it was the Japanese.

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This sort of propaganda was quite prevalent during the 1940’s and I’m sure people made excuses for it like “there’s a war on”,

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and “they attacked us first”,

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but calling an entire country of people animals,

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and unfairly imprisoning thousands of American citizens because they were suspected of being saboteurs,

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is just wrong.

The funny thing is, during the Golden Age of Comics there were a small number of Asian American artists working in the industry, and one of them even created a superhero that actually portrayed the Japanese with a small semblance of humanity.

Today were going to talk about the first Asian American superhero: The Green Turtle.

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Origin and Career

The Green Turtle made his first appearance on the cover of Blazing Comics #1 in June of 1944.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

You’ll notice a couple of things about the cover such as the shadow figure with the eyes, the fact that the Japanese soldier being strangled has actual eyes instead of slants, and that the hero’s face isn’t showing.  All of that is there for a reason and I’ll explain it later.

The character was created by Asian American artist Chu F. Hing.

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Hing was born in Hawai’i, studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and was part of a small group of Asian American artists who were working in American comicbooks at the time.

The comic itself was an anthology title and was published by a small collection of publishers known as Rural Home.  The specific company that published Blazing Comics was called Croydon Publishing.

The comic takes place entirely in the Pacific, and the Green Turtle exclusively fights Japanese soldiers and leaders.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

What’s really interesting is that all of the action takes place in Japanese held China.  The Japanese soldiers attack Chinese civilians, the entire supporting cast is Chinese, and America is never threatened or even mentioned in the comic.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

While the Green Turtle had no actual superpowers, he did have a cool looking jet called “The Turtle Plane”.

The man swoops in and saves the day by machine gunning a bunch of Japanese soldiers, rescuing a boy and his mother, and roasting two more soldiers with his jet engines.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

Holy crap!  He actually cares for the civilians and actively tries not to kill them!

So, the Green Turtle works in China, protects the Chinese people, and lives in a mountain in Tibet.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

So did that mean that the Green Turtle was a Chinese superhero?

Well…did you notice that in those pages above you never saw the hero’s face?  That’s something of a common theme throughout the comic.

It’s widely believed that Hing was locked in a battle with his editor over the ethnicity of the Green Turtle.  In all likelihood, Hing wanted to make him Chinese but his editor was resistant due to the infamous “Yellow Peril” that produced many of the offensive stereotypes that permeate our culture.

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So while the Green Turtle spoke English and had pink skin, as opposed to yellowish orange like the Asian characters,

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

Hing subverted this by never showing his face in the comic, even when they slapped an image of his face on the cover of the next issue.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

The kid on the cover was the Turtle’s sidekick and the same kid he rescued in the first issue.  His name was “Burma Boy” because if you wanted any amount of success in the Golden Age of Comics you needed a kid sidekick with a wacky name.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the Green Turtle’s origin story and what is that weird shadow with a face?  Sadly, the comic never gave an origin story or an explanation for the shadow.

Something that makes this comic especially noteworthy is Hing’s portrayal of the Japanese.  Unlike many Japanese soldiers in other American comics Hing wrote and drew like…humans.

Which is especially hilarious when, in the VERY NEXT STORY IN THE ANTHOLOGY, there is an American soldier who manages to convince Japanese soldiers that he is one of them by smearing mud on his face.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

However, It is worth mentioning that while Hing’s portrayal of the Japanese was substantially less racist that his American contemporaries, they were still portrayed as monsters.  While Hing’s Japanese spoke perfect English and had visible eyeballs, they weren’t above bayoneting women and children,

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and torturing prisoners.

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This could be chalked up to war time paranoia and Hing’s Chinese heritage, since Japanese soldiers had a well documented history of brutal and horrific war crimes in China.

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(side note: why the Japanese committed these crimes is a discussion for another day.  All that I will say on the matter is that many of the Imperial Japanese military officers responsible for these crimes were tried and punished, many Japanese officials have apologized for them, and it still remains a very sensitive and painful memory for a lot of people to this day.)

So what happened?

The Green Turtle disappeared off of the face of the Earth after issue #5.  I can’t say exactly what happened, but my research showed that Croydon only published 10 books from 1944-1946, and I am speaking from personal experience when I say that the publishing industry is not kind to small time publishers.

The Green Turtle would remain obscure for decade until 2014, when American cartoonist Gene Luen Yang and Malaysian born artist Sonny Liew created a six issue mini series that told the origin story of the Green Turtle called The Shadow Hero.

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It definitively makes the character Asian and gives an explanation for the shadow and why his skin is pink.

I actually remember reading it in 2014, long before I decided to start this blog.  It’s a really good story and I highly recommend it.

The Green Turtle was definitely a special case for the Golden Age of Comics.  In an industry dominated by white men and white superheroes here was an Asian creator doing his absolute best to create an Asian hero in a time where it wasn’t socially acceptable.  It would be understandable to think that Chu Hing was upset and angry about this, but I don’t think that was the case.

At the start of Blazing Comics #3, Hing has some Chinese characters on the left side of the first panel.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #3

It’s an old Chinese saying “Four oceans, one family”, which could be interpreted as the author stating that even though China and America are worlds apart in culture and distance they’re still brothers in arms and a common cause.

That…is remarkably open for a comic book coming out of the 1940’s and is something that deserves our attention and respect.

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