GOOD GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN AGE
HOW BRIGHT WERE MY HEADLIGHTS
(A non-PC post)
One of the highlights of collecting Golden Age comics is the wonderful amount of Good Girl art that exists. By ‘Good Girl’ I mean those sexy, finely proportioned, frequently scantily clad ladies that populate the pre-code books of the era. They also decorated many great covers, some of which it’s hard to imagine being displayed on the public newsstands of the time. Almost every genre had an outstanding (no pun intended) female character worth a closer look (pun in-tended).
Probably the best known and most sought after (her books I mean) Good Girl is Phantom Lady. The Lady is crime fighter Sandra Knight, debutante daughter of Senator Henry Knight. She has no special powers, but can kick butt with the best of them, especially after blinding her opponents with a black ray flashlight. Her crime-fighting outfit, made up of a cape, halter top, and shorts, is truly memorable, if barely (pun intended, of course) practical. She wears no mask, but is never recognized, possibly due to overuse of the flashlight, or, no one ever looking up. She first appeared in Quality’s Police Comics 1 (1941) and lasted until issue 23. I 1947 Fox Comics resurrected her with her own series. The artwork is mainly by Matt Baker, one of the premier good girl artists of all time. Under his masterful pencils her halter got smaller, and her breasts larger, and, along with an occasional penchant for bondage became one of comics most notorious figures (I think you get it by now). Baker was one of the few African-American artists working in the business at this time. His death at an early age left a void, but his legacy endures.
As far as Glamour Girls go the best undoubtedly is Torchy, a tall, sexy blonde with no visible means of support (workwise and clothes wise), but with plenty of boyfriends and hangers-on. Created by Bill Ward, who, like Matt Baker, was a good girl specialist (he later became famous for risque one-panel men’s magazine cartoons) Torchy first appeared in Modern Comics 52 alongside Blackhawk and his team of fighters (what did you think they were fighting for?) Three years later she had her own book which, unfortunately, only lasted six issues. Most of the art in the books is handled by the more than capable Gill Fox, with a few stories and covers by Ward.
Inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the tropical themed books and movies of the time, jungle comics quickly became a popular mainstay of the Golden Age. Most of them had a girl, dressed in a leopard-skin bra and shorts (with the occasional one-piece), lithely running down jungle trails. Some were the mates of such heroes as Ka’anga (Ann Mason), Jo-Jo (Tanee) orZago (Wana), and some had their own books (Zegra, Rulah). The first, and most famous, is Sheena, who debuted in Jumbo Comics #1 (Fiction House) in 1938. Originally created by the Iger/Eisner shop in 1937 for a British tabloid, Sheena quickly gained popularity. She started as the white queen of a fierce native tribe who, in the first issue, capture Professor Van Dyke and his young companion Bob Reynolds who’ve come searching for a fabled white queen. As the series progresses Sheena learns English, takes Bob as her mate and, in issue 10 first dons the iconic leopard skin outfit. A Sheena story is in every issue of Jumbo up to the last (164) and she briefly had her own book. Her fame lasts until this day.
Western comics have their share of heroines – Annie Oakley and Dale Evans come to mind but few that can be dubbed ‘Good Girl’. One exception is Firehair (she has red hair, in case her nickname didn’t tip you off) who features in 45 issues of Fiction House’s Ranger Comics,starting in 21 (1945). A white girl raised by Indians after her father is killed by outlaws, she spends her days helping to defend her tribe against the machinations of evil white men. Though clad in the usual skimpy costume, this one made of buckskin, she would occasionally remove it to bathe in the nearest lake. The art, at first, is by the wonderful Lee Elias. When he left to work on Black Cat, a female crimefighter in the Phantom Lady mold, Bob Lubbers stepped in, followed by Robert Webb.
Good Girls roamed the Golden Age cosmos right along with stalwart space heroes – Flash Gordon is loved by both Dale Arden and Princess Aura while Wilma Deering aids Buck Rogers. The best place to go for other worldly Good Girl thrills, however, is Fiction House’s Planet Comics. Begun in 1940 Planet featured several series with brave, beautiful and (of course) scantily clad heroines, such as Mysta of the Moon, and Gale Allen. The best (in my opinion) is Futura. An Earth secretary named Marcia Reynolds (no relation to Bob) is kidnapped to the planet Cymrad, where she and other captives are subjected to the evil, big-headed scientist Mentor’s attempts to find new bodies for the brains of his dying race. After several tests Mentor decides Marcia has “possibilities”. He renames her Futura and allows her to escape as a further test. She flees into the planets’ forests and joins a band of rebels. Assuming command , she shakes off Mentor’s influence and proceeds to throw the usual monkey wrenches into his plans. The art by Chester Martin features some rather surprising (though I’m not complaining) panels of near-complete nudity.
In 1954 the spoilsport Comics Code put an end to all this, and, even though Good Girls would return to comics, it’s not quite the same.