Because Wonder Woman is the most famous heroine in comic books, most people assume that she was also the first. However, this was not the case. By the time Wonder Woman made her debut in 1941, a number of other powerful heroines had already paraded across the comic book pages. But with the passage of 70 years most of these trailblazing women have been forgotten.
The comic book industry was born in the late 1930s. Modern day comic book readers might be surprised at the broad spectrum of heroines that appeared in those very early days of comics, from masked vigilantes and intergalactic warriors to crafty reporters and jungle goddesses. At that point there weren't as many established rules about how women should or shouldn't act. As a result, the heroines of the day were fearless, intelligent, and even dangerous. In their pursuit of justice they acted as judge, jury, and sometimes, executioner. These gutsy women could crack a joke one minute and a crook's jaw the next. They were, in a word, badass. Let's take a look are ten badass lost heroines that I am particularly fond of. To read more about the adventures of these lost heroines and others like them, look for my book "Dames, Divas & Daredevils" (Exterminating Angel Press, 2013).
1. THE WOMAN IN RED
The Woman in Red is considered by many to be the first female costumed crime fighter of comic books. Debuting in 1940, Detective Peggy Allen was the police commissioner’s secret weapon, assigned to handle his most baffling cases in her own special way. While many of her fellow heroines wore scanty costumes, The Woman in Red looked like an elegant Angel of Death in her long, red monk’s robe and matching mask. With blazing pistols and sardonic quips, The Woman in Red battled the criminal underworld, and later spies, in "Thrilling Comics" and "America’s Best Comics" until 1946.
2. MARGA THE PANTHER WOMAN
Comic book jungle queens were a dime a dozen in the 40s and 50s. Marga was unique. She had been nursed by panthers, which gave her the strength, speed, and agility of the great jungle cat. She also had the claws and savage nature of a panther. For years, modern day comic book fans have been thrilled by the violent temperament and killer instinct of Wolverine, the sharp-clawed member of Marvel’s X-Men. With her own sharp nails and “primitive emotions,” Marga could have given Wolverine a run for his money. Marga the Panther Woman stalked the jungle in "Science Comics" and "Weird Comics" between 1940-42.
3.BETTY BATES, LADY AT LAW
There were a number of daring career women in early comic books––reporters, photographers, pilots, even a tugboat captain The most unexpected was Betty Bates, Lady at Law, a beautiful but tough attorney with jiu-jitsu skills. This lady lawyer spent more time investigating cases than she did in the courtroom, and often wound up taking the law into her own hands. Two-fisted Betty hadn’t completely left her working class roots behind, and wasn’t afraid to punch a crook in her role as “purveyor of justice.” Eventually Betty became a crusading district attorney and enjoyed one of the longest careers for a female hero, appearing in "Hit Comics" for an impressive run from 1940-50.
4. THE MAGICIAN FROM MARS
Jane Q-X 3 was the daughter of a Martian father and an Earth mother. Blessed with miraculous powers, Jane devoted her life to protecting the citizens of Earth as the enigmatic Magician from Mars. Because she could access 100% of her brain capacity, The Magician from Mars could fly, reshape reality, “destroy time and space,” and keep herself young and beautiful forever. Quite an impressive résumé. The Magician’s adventures offered readers epic adventures, as the heroine battled rampaging monsters or led armies into battle. Sadly, she only made five appearances in "Amazing Man Comics" in 1940.
5. MADAME STRANGE
When Madame Strange was described as “mysterious, beautiful and cloaked with an unknown identity,” they weren’t joking. All readers knew was that Madame Strange was an “American girl reporter” who travelled to exotic locations to relentlessly hunt down spies. But all you really needed to know about Madame Strange was not to mess with her. “Talk fast or I’ll snap your arm!” she declares, as she grapples with an opponent in her first appearance in 1941’s "Great Comics." Madame Strange may have dressed like a showgirl, but she packed the punch of a prizefighter. "Great Comics" only lasted three issues, and with its demise went one of the most fearless fighting females of WWII.
6. LADY SATAN
Many heroines of the WWII era fought the Nazis to preserve freedom and democracy. Lady Satan’s motive was revenge. “Everything I loved, destroyed by those tyrants. I swear henceforth to devote my life to their destruction.” With this fateful vow began the career of the elusive spy known only as Lady Satan. Wielding her deadly chlorine gas gun, Lady Satan was a relentless nemesis of the Nazis. Good thing she always dressed in head to toe red to hide the bloodstains left behind by her doomed foes. The wartime Lady Satan appeared in "Dynamic Comics" in 1941-42.
7. SPIDER WIDOW
The concept of a beautiful woman transforming into an ugly hag to fight crime is a novelty in comic books. But that’s what debutante Dianne Grayton did when she vowed to protect the innocent from spies and criminals as The Spider Widow. Donning a witch’s mask and aided by her black widow spiders, The Spider Widow was known as the “Grandmother of Terror” and “the most horrible dispenser of justice of all times.” The witty Spider Widow used fear as her greatest weapon, and had fun doing it during her run in "Feature Comics" from 1942-43.
8. JILL TRENT, SCIENCE SLEUTH
What’s more badass than a brainy gal? Jill Trent was the original girl geek of comics––a scientist who spent her time in the lab concocting fantastic creations like x-ray glasses and indestructible cloth. Jill always got mixed up in criminal cases, which she solved using her inventions, along with the pistol she always seemed to be packing. Jill didn’t have a boyfriend, but she did have her best friend and trusty assistant, Daisy. Sometimes the girls were shown sharing a bed, suggesting this series may have been ahead of its time in more ways than one. Jill Trent, Science Sleuth appeared in "Fighting Yank" and "Wonder Comics" from 1943-48.
Forget Catwoman ––Pussy Katnip was the cat’s meow¬¬ of comics. She was a cocktail swilling, crime fighting feline in a strapless evening gown. This sultry feline was the proprietress of a café in Mut-Town, where she also entertained as a torch singer. A pack of criminal weasels and foxes was always cooking up trouble for Pussy, forcing her to take the law into her own…paws. A cocktail of the mysterious “Katnip Fizz” transformed Pussy into a “crime-fighting feline” possessing superior strength, intelligence, detective skills, artistic talent, and even clairvoyance. That was one powerful drink! The bizarre exploits of Pussy Katnip appeared in titles such as "All Top Comics," "Ribtickler," and "Zoot Comics" between 1944-46.
"Ginny Spears leads a double life. By day she’s the district attorney’s secretary. By night The Veiled Avenger, exotic enemy of evil.” Thus were readers introduced to the lethal whip-wielding vigilante in 1944. They never learned why Ginny first took on the role of The Veiled Avenger, or how she had learned mastery of the bullwhip. But one glimpse of Ginny in action told readers that she was deadly serious about her war on crime. The ruthless Veiled Avenger seemed to take pleasure in smiting the guilty with deadly force. A knife-pleat skirt never looked so menacing. The Veiled Avenger made only four appearances, in "Spotlight Comics" and "Red Seal Comics."