Friday, October 25, 2013
The original Valkyrie only made a handful of appearances in Hillman Comics' AIRBOY feature, debuting as an enemy to the titular pilot-hero in AIR FIGHTERS v.#2, no.#2.
In that debut she leads an all-female squadron of fighter-pilots on behalf of the Nazi cause during WWII, and proves instrumental in capturing Airboy and delivering him to a Nazi commander. However, some of Valkyrie's fellow pilots try to liberate Airboy, so the commander orders them whipped for their disloyalty. Displaying the sort of ideological flip-flop characteristic of Golden Age comics, the German lady pilot instantly decides to betray her country and to help Airboy escape, if he helps liberate her friends. It's such an extreme about-face that I can't help but wonder if there was something else going on between Valkyrie and her all-girl squad-- something with an affinity to those famous lesbian pilots of pop-fiction, "Pussy Galore and her Abro-Cats."
Pussycats aside, Valkyrie quickly transfers her affections to young Airboy within that same story, sealing their bargain with a big smooch-- and in her subsequent appearances during the WWII years, she remained in a loose romantic relationship with the hero. Her last two Golden Age apperances following the war recast her as a Communist agent who had no continuity-ties with the original version.
The character was revived in the 1980s by Eclipse as support-cast for their new AIRBOY comic, and even received her own mini-series. Given that her outfit and demeanor were pretty bitchin', this was definitely one of the best revivals of a forgotten forties character thus far seen in the comics medium.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Since Quality Comics' "Miss America" character died on the vine, their competitor Timely felt comfortable utilizing the name for a new character, who would enjoy a more noteworthy career. Starting in MARVEL MYSTERY #49, Madeline Joyce received super-powers as the result of a lightning strike, and immediately took up crimefighting as "Miss America." Aside from the one constant ability of flight, Miss America's powers varied wildly, ranging from super-strength to X-ray vision. Some versions had her running around wearing glasses in her superhero identity, a clear reverse-riff on Clark Kent's schtick of doffing glasses to become Superman.
This online reprint of a "Miss America" story suggests that in her 1940s incarnation she was just a middling-to-fair superheroine. Without getting into her later incarnations at Marvel, the original character's greatest distinction may have been her charter membership in Timely's short-lived superhero team, the "All-Winners Squad."
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The only female star of Hillman Comics' AIR FIGHTERS COMICS was the redoubtable "Black Angel," a British socialite who assumed a secret identity in order to carry on her private war against the Axis. By some reckonings she was the only character in AIR FIGHTERS that might be deemed a "superhero," given that she wore a skintight costume. Like many other superheroes from Superman on down, she had the mysterious ability to run around with her bare face hanging out, and no one (to the best of my knowledge) ever recognized her. So many comic-book heroes-- in contrast to their pulp forbears-- ran around without masks that one must wonder if many artists simply didn't like drawing them. To be sure masks do cut down on the expressions one can conjure with. In the illustration above the Angel certainly looks a lot more pissed with no mask than she would with one.
Speaking of pulps, most of the features in AIR FIGHTERS shared with the pulps an affection for fast-paced, rip-roaring, lurid adventures with only a marginal plotline. The Black Angel's adventures against foes like the Baroness Blood, Madame Claw and the Hag from Hades all contributed to a strong Gothic atmosphere. The Angel, like all the heroes of AIR FIGHTERS, was a superb fighter-pilot and showed a high level of martial athleticism on the ground as well.
Like most Hillman heroes she disappeared after the war, but her character appeared in Eclipse's 1980s AIRBOY titles. She had aged normally and passed on her secret ID to a younger woman, who was a more literally "black" Angel.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Introduced in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18, Mary Marvel was the second major spin-off from the Fawcett Captain Marvel, as she was preceded by "Captain Marvel Jr" in 1941. Unlike Junior, the superheroine was literally related to her perceptor's true identity, as Mary was introduced as the long lost sister of orphan Billy Batson. The most interesting aspect of her origin-story revolves around Billy figuring out how she could possibly summon the powers of the all-male coterie of transhuman beings who made up his magical anagram "Shazam." As shown above, it was decided that a girl hero should get her power from female transhumans, even if the writer had to make up a female goddess named "Zephyrus."
In general the Fawcett "Mary Marvel" tales-- appearing in WOW COMICS the year after she debuted-- shared with the rest of the Marvel Family strong if simple plots and winsome humor. The Mary stories are a tad more violent than one expects for stories of a preteen girl. Given that Mary was one of the few heroines to be a "heavy hitter," she showed a remarkable tendency to beat the hell of her villains, though to be sure the other Fawcett heroes are about the same. Given that the company avoided overt sexualization-- Mary remains a flat-chested juvenile for most of her original run-- maybe the violence was a compensating factor.
Mary would continue to appear in DC's adaptation of the Marvel Family, as well as making her television debut in the 1981 SHAZAM! cartoon.