Monday, December 2, 2013
In one of the JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN, the ape-man kills one of the native tribesmen who have been his enemies since they killed his adoptive mother. Tarzan then debates with himself as to whether or not he should eat the flesh of a dead man, just as he does with most of the animals he kills. Since there's no rational way that Tarzan could decide against cannibalism, author Burroughs fills him with an instinctive revulsion at the idea of eating man-flesh, and there the matter ends.
In 1946 Al Capp created a feral female with no such convenient inhibitions: the Wolf Gal, who lived in one of the forested areas neighboring Dogpatch with a pack of wolves. She and her human-eating pack perpetually prey on any humans who venture too close to their territory, and though Wolf Gal could speak as well as any Dogpatch hillbilly-- which isn't saying much-- she thinks of herself as another wolf and considers all other humans her enemies.
Up to this point Capp had created many predatory females, but their mode of predation concerned attempting to seduce Li'l Abner Yokum before his true love Daisy Mae could link him to her in marriage. Wolf Gal has some leanings in that direction, but the thing that gets her on Abner's trail was somewhat more involved. When Wolf Gal turns eighteen, she and her pack manage to corner an old crone in her secluded cabin. Bargaining for her life, the crone reveals that she knows Wolf Gal's nature: that at birth she was born with a "wolf's heart" despite the otherwise normal natures of her hillfolk parents. A nearby wolf-pack senses that the child is a kindred spirit, so the pack attacks and devours her parents-- much to the delight of the infant child. In addition to revealing Wolf Gal's origins to the lupine Amazon, the crone also makes a prediction: that Wolf Gal will only know the meaning of "love" under certain circumstances. Wolf Gal, stung by curiosity, begins to study human mating rituals, as well as catching her first sight of Abner. She interprets the prophecy to mean that she must kill Abner to learn what love is.
There follows one of the quickest transformations from "nature" to "culture" ever shown in fiction. Wolf Gal decides that the only way she can get close to Abner in his Dogpatch milieu is to educate herself in the ways of women-- and not hillbilly women, but "sassiety ladies." She journeys to some big city, locates a finishing-school, and by threatening the teacher's life forces the woman to give Wolf Gal the appearance of a well-bred woman.
I won't dwell on the details of her plan, except to note that of course Abner does not get killed, nor does Wolf Gal manage to devour him in any less grisly manner. After the plan fails Wolf Gal returns to her wild life and continued to make occasional appearances in the ABNER strip. Her last, to the best of my recollection, was in the 1960s. By that time Abner had finally married Daisy Mae, which on one level should not have prevented other women from chasing him. Yet for some reason Capp dropped that device with respect to Abner: it was almost as if the suspense was gone once Daisy Mae managed to "pluck his cherry," so to speak. However, to generate a new source of romantic suspense, in 1954 Capp introduced Abner's kid brother "Tiny," who like Abner was a big dumb cluck who ignored all the women who pursued him. This included Wolf Gal, and she didn't take rejection well. She fattened him up with lots of food and tried to ship Tiny to her wolf-brethren for a full-course meal. Like Abner Tiny too survived and Wolf Gal faded from the scene.
In addition to commanding her wolf-brothers, Wolf Gal had an appropriately savage way of fighting: she bit chunks of flesh out of anyone who opposed her. I thought it was pretty strongly implied that she consumed humans as a matter of course, allowing for some comic scenes in which she straddles her victims, who think she wants sex rather than food. Al Capp seemed to have a thing for powerful female figures, underscored by this dialogue exchange between Wolf Gal and her finishing-school teacher:
WOLF GAL: "Are there any other girls who look like 'ladies' on the outside and feel like she-wolves inside?"
TEACHER: "Yes! Oh (sob) yes-- Most of them!"
Sunday, December 1, 2013
The Blonde Phantom is most famous for sporting one of the most non-functional superhero costumes of all time: high heels and an ankle-length red evening gown.
However, if one takes away the costume (so to speak), what's left is a perfectly serviceable action-heroine. Strangely, I've seen one online critique claiming that the character couldn't fight at all and depended upon her sort-of-boyfriend to defend her. In addition to the panel posted above, I've seen at least one story in which the Phantom defends herself quite ably against a gang of hoods, thus undercutting their expectations about easily conquering a female opponent. So clearly her creators-- Stan Lee and Syd Shores, who introduced her in ALL SELECT #11-- meant the Phantom to be a tuff girl. However, of the smattering of Blonde Phantom stories that I've read, a number of them are rather low-key, mundane mysteries in which neither the Phantom nor her boyfriend display much activity. It's likely that those who have dismissed the character have not encountered her more action-oriented stories.
The series' running gag was clearly a riff on Siegel and Shuster's SUPERMAN, in which the hero(ine) appears to be a button-down type in the workaday world, only to break free and become a daredevil in a costume. As Louise Grant the heroine worked as a secretary for P.I. Mark Mason. but she donned her pumps and her red gown to fight crime and lend assistance to her handsome boss. Naturally, Mason nursed a passion for the mysterious crimefighter but tended to take his dowdy secretary for granted-- though I do recall one story in which he showed a certain possessiveness toward both of them. I suppose one could take the standard feminist interpretation, that the Phantom was more helpmate than heroine-- but only a close reading of all the Golden Age stories could confirm or deny that verdict.