Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Thundra looked like a poster child for Amazonian superheroes but in terms of history the Valkyrie takes the prize for being Marvel Comics' first heavy-hitting heroine. Even in the 1940s Marvel's ancestor "Timely-Atlas" doesn't seem to have any heroines on the level of Wonder Woman, and though many post-feminist complaints about the inefficacy of 1960s heroines like Wasp or Invisible Girl were not entirely fair, it must be said that few of Marvel's costumed femmes were especially formidable. Villainesses like Umar, the Enchantress and the Norn Queen were the only femmes who ascended to that rough power-level.
I won't deal with Valkyrie's complicated history here, though I'll note that it's only in her second appearance, INCREDIBLE HULK #126 (April 1970), that Valkyrie is definitely shown to be have Wonder Woman levels of strength. Writer Roy Thomas doesn't quite get adventurous enough to have her equal the titular monster-hero in power, but her ability to fight, rather than being forced to use indirect energy-powers, is central to her character.
Despite the Valkyrie's puissance, I've seen very few good extended battles with the character going toe-to-toe with either male or female antagonists of comparable strength. A battle with Thor in some AVENGERS ANNUAL was handled pretty tiresomely, and a lot of times she ends up being pitted against characters not in her strength-class, which reflects poorly on her reputation as a badass. Nevertheless, her running battle with the super-agile Lunatik in DEFENDERS #56 is a fun fight as essayed by writer Dave Kraft and artist Carmine Infantino. The tongue-in-cheek combat comes across with a bit of a Batman-vs.-Joker vibe, with the super-serious Val continually trying to chase down the elusive nutjob. The moment (not shown) where Valkyrie leaves off her Asgardian magniloquence and just yells "SHUT UP!" at Lunatik while punching him out makes for a cool climax (even though the villain manages to get away for another day).
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thundra first appeared in 1972's FANTASTIC FOUR #129,courtesy of Roy Thomas and John Buscema, replacing Medusa as the distaff member of the villainous Frightful Four (even as, around that same time, Medusa displaced the Invisible Girl from the starring hero-team). Despite her alliance, Thundra had no particular interest in being a super-criminal, or doing anything except proving female superiority by beating the stones off the orange carapace of the FF's strongest member, the Thing. However, a lot of these early fights were pretty short of duration, as if editor Thomas was trying to keep the two combatants from having any prolonged bouts, perhaps to whet the fans' appetites for more. Not until MARVEL TWO IN ONE #56, about seven years after Thundra's premiere, did the redheaded amazon and the orange-skinned "idol o'millions" have a fight of a respectable length of roughly four pages (as I recall; can't find the damn issue). And even here, collaborators Gruenwald, Macchio and Perez gave Thundra a bit of a handicap, for as John Byrne's cover shows, the Thing has to fight with one arm in a sling. It's still the best Thing-Thundra fight I've seen, though.
Thundra's one of those characters who never quite seemed to find her mission in the Marvel Universe, possibly because of being retroactively tied in with the futuristic "Femizon" race that had first appeared, Thundra-less, in SAVAGE TALES #1 (1971). The tie-in seemed a cute continuity-nod at the time, but it may have handicapped the character's development. Recently an alternate-world version of Thundra used a kind of artificial insemination to give birth to the Daughter of the Hulk (who's under consideration for an entry on this blog). It would be ironic if the character of Thundra has become better-known in present-day Marvel for the quintessentially-feminine aspect of maternity than for being a world-class butt-kicker.
Monday, August 9, 2010
This was the third encounter of Green Lantern with his amorous enemy Star Sapphire, who served as a good reflection of the hero's own attitude toward women. The Lantern didn't want to marry Carol Ferris unless she loved his alter ego more than his heroic super-identity-- basically a reworking of the Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane threesome. So thanks to some helpful space Amazons, Carol Ferris is transformed into Star Sapphire, who, in addition to being able to manipulate energies like Green Lantern, wanted him to quit being a hero and become her "consort" while she ruled over the space Amazons. So for once what the cover copy calls a "super-battle of the sexes" has both physical and psychological significance.
The battle itself isn't that long-- probably a little under two pages. But given the fact that the hero swears to become eternally whipped if he loses, the conflict has more resonance than those from the earlier two appearances of Star Sapphire, scripted by her co-creator John Broome. Here scripter Gardner Fox provides the script while SS's artistic co-creator Gil Kane furnishes one of his most striking covers of the period.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
To cite my next choice I have to qualify the last post's promise to focus only on "'tearing down the house' donnybrooks" insofar I do think there are some worthy contenders for the Top 50 "honor" where the fight-scenes may be more abbreviated, yet may also have more significance in other ways.
Take 1968's Shooter-Swan tale from ADVENTURE COMICS #368, "Mutiny of the Super-Heroines." For once in a DC comic of this period, the cover scene is accurate. The heroines, given brainwashing and amped-up powers by a futuristic "feminazi" dedicated to converting Earth into a matriarchy, do indeed kick the male heroes out of their own clubhouse. That fight-scene lasts only a page, but one might assume that there's a little more struggle going on between the panel-borders, not least because a couple of characters are never even seen engaged in fighting (Ultra Boy and Dream Girl, if you care). Then the next and final fight lasts even less than a page, whereupon the villain's plan is defeated thanks to one of the heroines, namely Supergirl, breaking her brainwashing.
One interesting development is that for once, the male heroes are totally unequal to the threat. After they get their butts kicked the first time, leader Invisible Kid suspects something weird's going on but neither he nor anyone suspects that their new guest from a matriarchal culture just might have something to do with it. And when said villain is standing around talking up her girl homies into making Earth into a matriarchate, do the guys consider the option of, say, avoiding a direct confrontation with their brainwashed comrades, capturing the villainess and forcing her to undo the brainwashing? Ah, that would be a "no." They waltz in the second time, as if to avenge their male pride, and promptly get their butts kicked all over again.
I suppose that ultrafeminists would cavil at the motivation given as to how Supergirl breaks her enslavement: jealousy does it when another heroine, Shadow Lass, openly fancies breaking Supergirl's old boyfriend Brainiac 5 to her will. But that seems a petty complaint to me.
It's also significant that the very physical means of this gender conflict contrasts with an earlier Legion story on the same theme. In 1964 Jerry Siegel crafted "Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires," in which the girls fell victim to the hypnotic influence of a Queen Azura from the planet (not making this name up) "Femnaz." Here too the girls beat the guys, but all of them used Delilah-esque methods to romance the guys and lure them into traps, rather than fighting them. Even Supergirl uses a trap to conquer Chameleon Boy, which seems like gilding the lily since with her powers she could have tied any shape he assumed into knots. But those were the times...
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Some time back I contemplated the idea of compiling a best "female vs. male" fights in the comics, since I've argued before that comics show a penchant for depicting such conflicts that are for some audiences harder to credence in other media (particularly those using living actors). So in the future I'll seek to chronicle the 50 most hard-hitting "tearing down the house" donnybrooks between the inhabitants of Mars and the denizens of Venus that I can find in the comics. "Comics" here includes not only American comic books but also manga and comic strips, though I doubt that the strips will have much representation beyond Modesty Blaise and Mammy Yokum.
(Oh, and though I've styled this "#1," none of the 50 is appreciably better than the other 49, as is implied by those godawful AFI countdown-listings.)
The first selection is from SUPERBOY #2 by Tom Grummett and Karl Kesel, in which the titular hero has his first rip-snorting rhubarb with the equally-strong Knockout. As often happens when the hero first encounters an opponent, this adventure ends with a win for the villain. The two continued their masochism tango throughout the early years of the series but in this case, the first time was definitely the best time.