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Miss Fury

Entry updated 13 June 2022. Tagged: Character, Comics.

US Comic strip created, drawn and written by Tarpé Mills, real name June Tarpé Mills (1912-1988). Miss Fury was the first female Superhero created by a woman, introduced in a syndicated Sunday newspaper comic strip entitled The Black Fury on 6 April 1941; the strip and the heroine were retitled Miss Fury in November that year. The newspaper strip ran until 1952; eight comic books (1942-1946) were published, reprinting the strip.

Socialite Marla Drake is about to attend a masquerade party, but on learning another guest is wearing the same costume, she reluctantly dons a black leopard skin instead, a gift from her uncle. Though it was "worn by a witch doctor in Africa as a ceremonial robe", we see Marla in a skintight catsuit (later Miss Fury would wear a cape, but this is not – initially at least – the robe). En route to the party she runs into an escaped killer and her adventures begin. Later she recalls the robe "was regarded as a symbol of justice by the tribe. They claimed it had strange powers and could work miracles ... though often as blessings in disguise", wryly observing that if she has had any blessings "they certainly have been well disguised". However, save for Marla using the claws and tail (the latter as a whip), the catsuit seems to do little more than hide her identity; possibly it boosted her natural agility.

Miss Fury's adventures include a murdered Scientist whose Invention was a compound that turns metal to dust, that story leading into an attempted Nazi (see World War Two) invasion of Brazil. A Nazi spy, Baroness Erica von Kampf, has a swastika branded onto her forehead by other villains: though covered by a skin graft it becomes visible when she is lying or emotional. Doctor Diman Saraf, another Nazi, experiments on the Baroness's child in an attempt to increase its Intelligence (his child handling skills are poor: "Shut up and stop whimpering or I'll pound your head against the wall."). He also invents a chemical that can quickly dissolve everything except metal and glass, and uses the boy's pet rabbit to test its efficacy. Another story includes 200-year-old men and an elixir of youth (see Rejuvenation).

Miss Fury was very popular during World War Two, with Mills becoming a minor celebrity (the resemblance between her and her creation was noticed); but serious illness eventually led to her bringing in other hands to help with the comic strip, reducing the quality. In December 1951 it was cancelled. It has been argued that the strip also fell victim to early 1950s conservatism that wished to pressure women back into more traditional gender roles (see Feminism).

Despite preceding Wonder Woman by several months Miss Fury was not the first female superhero, though pinpointing the first depends on the definition used. For instance, if Tarzan is considered a superhero, then Sheena, Queen of the Jungle fits the bill, but this is not a common assertion. Superpowers are considered essential by some – yet that would exclude Batman; a secret identity and a reasonably extravagant costume are the other significant superhero traits.

There are several options. A strong case can be made for Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle, created by Fletcher Hanks under the pseudonym Barclay Flagg in Jungle Comics #2 (February 1940). Another solid candidate is The Woman in Red created by Richard E Hughes and George Mandel (March 1940 Thrilling Comics #2); though lacking superpowers, policewoman Peggy Allen would don a red mask and costume when off duty, fighting crime in ways less bound by rules and regulations than her day job. Lady Luck (Will Eisner, Dick French and Chuck Mazoujian, The Spirit Sunday comic supplement of 2 June 1940 – The Spirit being Eisner's most famous creation): Brenda Banks, a wealthy socialite, was also without superpowers, but dressed in a green veil and costume. Invisible Scarlet O'Neil (Russell Stamm, Chicago Daily Times, 3 June 1940) lacked a costume, but had a superpower: Invisibility – a result of interacting with an Invention of her Scientist father. The Black Widow from George Kapitan and Harry Sahle (August 1940 Mystic Comics #4) – not to be confused with the later Black Widow who first appeared in 1964 – is only dubiously a superhero, given her employer: murdered psychic "Claire Voyant" is chosen by the Devil (see Gods and Demons) (nude save for a modesty-preserving cape) to murder villains because he is impatient for their souls: he gives her a costume and superpowers, including a touch that kills. Also atypical is Sheldon Mayer's The Red Tornado (November 1940 All-American #20), a superhero Parody: kitted in red long-johns and a cooking pot, robust mother Abigail Mathilda "Ma" Hunkel is assumed to be male when in her superhero guise. More conventional is The Silver Scorpion by Harry Sahle (April 1941 Daring Mystery Comics#7): en route to a fancy-dress party in a superhero costume, the martial-arts trained Betty Barstow solves a crime and gets a taste for the lifestyle; she made only three appearances in all. Bulletgirl from Bill Parker and Jon Smalle (April 1941 Master #13) was Susan Kent, girlfriend of Jim Barr alias Bulletman from the same creators (May 1940Nickel Comics), who amongst other abilities wore a Gravity-regulating helmet that also made the wearer bulletproof; when Susan learnt his secret identity, Jim made her a helmet too (Bulletboy and Bulletdog would follow).

August 1941 was a busy month for debuting female superheroes: The Phantom Lady by Arthur Peddy (Police Comics #1) is the alter ego of senator's daughter Sandra Knight, who uses a Ray that casts darkness as a torch sheds light. Her original run ended in October 1943; a revival in 1947 gave her a scantier costume that earned her an appearance in Frederic Wertham's moral-panic-inducing Seduction of the Innocent (1954). The Black Cat from Al Gabriele (Pocket Comics #1) is Linda Turner, a Hollywood actress who had been a stunt woman and learnt detective skills from her father, skills that help her when in superhero guise. A Canadian superhero, Nelvana Of the Northern Lights by Adrian Dingle (Triumph Adventure Comics #1), was the superpowered daughter of the God of the Northern Lights, her mother being an Inuit. In Wildfire from Robert Turner and Jim Mooney (Smash Comics #25), Carol Vance has the ability to manipulate fire, not dissimilar to Will Eisner's and Lou Fine's The Flame (July 1939 Wonderworld Comics #3) and Carl Burgos's The Human Torch (November 1939 Marvel Comics #1). Ed Wexler's Miss America (Military Comics #1) has reporter Joan Dale falling asleep in front of the Statue of Liberty, whereupon it gifts her with superpowers (though she did not gain a special costume until issue #4). Other patriotic debuts that month were Joan Wayne as Miss Victory (Captain Fearless #1) – artist Charles Quinlan, writer unknown – and Patricia Patrios as Pat Patriot by Charles Biro, Reed Crandall and Bob Wood (Daredevil Comics #2).

Still further early female superheroes include Frank Frollo's The Blue Lady (October 1941 Amazing-Man Comics #24), in which novelist Lucille Martin receives and accidentally breaks a Chinese ring that gives her super strength; she dons a costume and fights crime (though for only three issues). In The Spider Queen (September 1941 The Eagle #2) by Louis and Arturo Cazeneuve using the pseudonym Elsa Lesau, athletic Sharon Kane discovers a fluid invented by her late husband: "As you release it into the air it becomes a thin, adhesive filament ... it sticks like glue – and it's actually strong enough to swing on." Realizing this will help her fight crime, she devises a pair of bracelets to contain and release the fluid; sadly, despite anticipating a certain web-slinger by twenty years (see Marvel Comics), she also appeared in only three issues. Then came Wonder Woman from William Moulton Marston (December 1941 All Star Comics). [SP]

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