Wednesday, June 13, 2012
YEAR 1971: THE BUTTERFLY
Although Marvel's Storm remains the best-known black superheroine, the first one appeared in a backup strip in HELL RIDER #1, one of a handful of black-and-white comic-magazines from Skywald Publications, which took its name from publishers Sol Brodsky and Israel Waldman. Brodsky, formerly the production manager for Marvel Comics, would seem to have been most responsible for the feel of the HELL RIDER magazine, which was that of regular Marvel superheroes infused with the mildly transgressive sex and violence possible for the non-Code b&w magazines.
The Butterfly appeared in two backup strips in the two issues of HELL RIDER, as well as participating in a crossover between her, the titular Hell Rider, and the magazine's third feature, "The Wild Bunch." The Butterfly was never given a formal origin, but was simply presented as singer Marian Michaels, who fights crime in a costume that includes a jet pack to give her flight and wings that radiate light to blind evildoers.
The Butterfly almost certainly takes her cue from the growth of "blaxploitation" cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s, though Skywald was slightly ahead of the curve purely in respect to creating a memorable black femme formidable. Not until 1973 would cinema come out with two vehicles for black action-heroines, Pam Grier's COFFY and Tamara Dobson's CLEOPATRA JONES. To be sure, Pam Grier made two appearances as a formidable femme in two 1971 WIP films-- WOMEN IN CAGES and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE-- but she isn't the star of either production, and it seems unlikely that the Skywald creators had her on their minds when they created the first black costumed heroine.