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,
Doll Man was the first superhero who used his ability to change size as a superpower,
Superman was the first hero to have a secret identity,
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.
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.
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,
to grand and complex illustrations that could take up an entire page.
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.
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,
and John Carter was a war veteran who found himself transported to Mars, where the planet’s gravity gives him superpowers.
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.
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.
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”,
and his own syndicated strip: “The Enchanted Stone of Time”
As for Olga Mesmer herself, her origin story is actually quite interesting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.