Now more then ever we are seeing our favorite heroes on the forefront of the entertainment industry. With big budget movies, television mini-series and comic books highlighting our needs to be empowered and inspired. The world will always be fascinated by the heroes of generations past and future.
So what is it that draws us in..?
Maybe its the tall tales of the mighty “Man of Steel” or the legendary crusades of Gotham’s “Dark Knight” to the interplanetary adventures of the “Green Lantern Corps”.. Our heroes have managed to engrave their history into our everyday civilian lives, leaving us hungry for more epic installations. As time went on we found that our beloved heroes would always find a niche in each generation, conforming to our timeline and adapting to our needs.. So as we hit open the doors into the 21st Century we wonder and wait for what is yet to come for our female heroins.
One June 11th, 1934. one of our first recorded heroes was created by a syndicate newspaper named..
“Mandrake The Magician”
According to comic historians, hero creator and writer for the “King Features Syndicate” Lee Falk was the first illustrator and script writer to incorporate a super hero identity into a wide range publication..
With Falk’s huge success with “Mandrake The Magician” it was soon after that he then created “The Phantom” which debuted in newspapers on February 17th, 1936. The Phantom later appeared in many forms of media, including television shows, movies, and even video games..
“The Phantom – Original Work”
So where is it in our heroic timeline, that a female hero would take front and center stage..? In an era and economy where the female identity was put second to that of a mans, it was clear now more then ever that women needed a figure to empower them..
Women have been portrayed in American comic books since the beginning, with their portrayals always the subject of controversy. It was clear that women were being continually stereotyped. Finding themselves incorporated into plot lines as supporting characters, or potential leaders constantly trying to be accepted but with no official success. So in a world where heroes exist and anything was supposed to be apparently possible, why was it so hard to create a leading female superhero..?
It wasn’t till the 1930’s to late 1940’s that women would begin to see a transformation in comic strip media.
FUN FACT: Through the 1930’s to 1940’s women were recorded to be reading more comic strips then men.
As comic books themselves began to fill the shelves of storefronts and newspaper stands on every block. This is what some historians would call the beginning of “The Golden Age of Comics”..
The Golden Age (1938-1950)
Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Superman debuts in Action Comics #1, published by DC Comics predecessor Detective Comics, Inc., in 1938. Superhero comics subsequently take America by storm.
Marvel Comics predecessor Timely Comics formed in 1939.
Following Superman’s wildly successful debut, Bob Kane and Bill Finger create Batman in 1941.
Harvard-educated psychologist William Moulton Marston creates Wonder Woman in 1941. As one of the few strong female characters appearing in comic books, she becomes an icon of the liberated woman.
Countless superhero tropes (alter ego, origin story, rogues gallery) are forged.
DC Comics’ Justice Society of America makes its first appearance in 1940, launching the super-team concept.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby create Captain America in 1941. The character fight’s America’s enemies, including Adolf Hitler, through World War II.
Comics serve as a cheap source of entertainment during World War II. During the Golden Age, it is not uncommon for a single comic book issue to sell over one million copies.
Sales decline after the war and a number of superhero titles are cancelled as publishers focus on genre comics.(science fiction, horror, western, romance)
As the Golden Age ends, fears of juvenile delinquency lead media critics and legislators to scrutinize the role of comic books in American life.
With new publications surfacing left and right, one to be iconically noted was the infamous “Archie Comics”.
Though the “Archie” comic series was one of the first to cater to a female audience, most of these roles were more notably portrayed as career girls, romance-story heroines, or perky teenagers. With the comic book industry aiming to connect to their female readers, they had hoped that these relatable and likable female positions would leave women feeling connected to these characters and the purpose they had within the plots of these titles.
Even though characters such as “Nellie The Nurse” (America’s Red-Headed Riot) and “Millie The Model” (The Blond Bombshell) were memorable comic characters, they still portrayed women to be the selfless beauties or no more then a second hand character.
“America’s Red-Headed Riot”
“The Blond Bombshell”
So when was it that women in America and around the globe would feel the power and connection to a female heroin..?
As I did my research for this article, I came along some information that was all quite conflicting. It seems that to this day comic historians and fans have debated on who’s introduction came first. One to note was the classic character “Sheena: Queen of The Jungle” who reportedly made her first appearance in Joshua B. Power’s British magazine Wags #1, in 1937.
Sheena first appeared stateside in Fiction House’s Jumbo Comics #1, and subsequently in every issue (Sept. 1938 – April 1953). It wasn’t until Sheena had been in the public eye for over a year that the publications realized that her success was not as marketable as they had anticipated. With room for improvement they set out to redirect their inspiration to a new and possibly ground breaking character.
In February 1940 “Fiction House” an American publisher of pulp-magazines and comic books finally brought what women around the world had been hoping and waiting for in its #2 issue of “Jungle Comics”..
“Jungle Comics – Issue #2”
With “Sheena: Queen of The Jungle missing its mark it was time for the world to finally be introduced to Fantomah “Mystery Women of The Jungle”.
Fantomah was a fierce and provocative heroine who would use her special abilities to fight and protect the people and animals of her jungle. Some of her more notable abilities would include but are not limited to, the ability to fly, transform objects and even cause humans to mutate into other unusually strange forms.. Fantomah would open the doors to a new era in comics, giving women the power to see that a man was not the only one who could save the day. Nor would she be the last to grace the covers of comic books in the decades to come.
So many ask themselves, what came next..? Or should I say who came next.. As I’ve stated before in my article many comic fans and historians will argue the validity of which female heroin came after our two jungle warriors, or for that matter just how many..?
Over time comic companies set out to quickly create a female character. To this day there are undoubtedly a few whom no longer get the recognition or are even known to have existed. Most of which never really took to the streets and sold enough copies to prove a long lasting interest..
It wasn’t long until I found out about a character who had somehow managed to lose herself in the timeline of comics. Her name was Joan Wayne, a secretary stenographer in the Government department. With her desire to help the war effort her courage led her to don the patriotic guise of Miss Victory: Who wore a tight fitting, red-white-and-blue costume with plunging neckline and a V emblem across her chest.
It is said that her powers were created by a chemical in the comic called “V-47” a compound that when administered would establish super human abilities within the subject. In later years “Miss Victory” came to form one of the first documented and longest running (150+ Issues) female heroine squad called “The FemForce”.
With heroes and heroins flooding the pages of print worldwide, we watched and waited for one who would make a mark in history as our heroes have done now.
American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston first brought to life this character who stood for justice, love, peace, and gender equality. She was strong yet feminine, brave and fearless and clearly catered to every women on the planet. This heroin was known as Princess Diana of Themyscira or better known as Wonder Women.
Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world, Marston wrote. Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.
For the next fifty plus years, Wonder Women would stun and amaze the world with her crime fighting adventures. She would grace the covers of comic books around the globe, showing women that super heroes will no longer be restrained by gender. With the undeniable popularity of this iconic heroin, many writers have depicted Diana in different personalities and tone; between that of a warrior, a highly compassionate and calm ambassador, and sometimes also as a naive and innocent person, depending on the writer. What has remained constant, and is a mainstay of the character, is her humanity: feeling compassion and giving love without discrimination.
Though many received Wonder Women as an “I aspire to be” character. Some still had their own opinions about her looks, powers and even origin history.. One in example was from German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. In 1954 Fredric published a book titled “Seduction of the Innocent”.“Fredric Wertham’s – Seduction of The Innocent”
The book warned that comics were in fact a negative form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book was taken seriously at the time, and was a minor bestseller that created alarm in parents and galvanized them to campaign for censorship..
In his book Fredric claimed Wonder Woman’s strength and independence made her a lesbian. Looking back on the societal progress we’ve made, we see comments like that of Fredric’s which give us an important look at where we once stood and what was then considered taboo is now becoming more of an inspiration to not only gender equality but social equality.
Its safe to say that we look to heroes for inspiration, to keep our dreams and desires safe and alive. Heroes continue to grace our ever day lives in more then just comics. We play them in video games, read them in books and even pay to see them fight for justice on the big screen. But have women really gotten the heroes that they deserve, even with Fantomah opening the doors and Wonder Women fighting for female empowerment.
Will we ever see a equal balance, or a tip to the scale towards more female recognition..?
It’s hard to say for sure, so do we just look back on what was done in generations of comic book development or do we stand and wait for what doesn’t seem to be happening today..