~ by Sammie Wetherell ~
Before the likes of Wonder Woman, Black Widow and my main girl Captain Marvel, there was one woman that came first, one woman that started it all. Now you guys got your first taste of a hero in the alien from Krypton, Superman. Us girls had to go straight into the wilds for our first heroine. She’s not a household name, she isn’t in publication today, and she certainly was hard to find, but the first ever female superhero came to us at the close of 1939 during the Golden Age of Comics, and not too long after the dawn of her male superhero counterparts.
Fantomah, the Mystery Woman of the Jungle graced the covers of Fiction House Comics, her first appearance being in Jungle Comics #2 (cover date Feb. 1940). She was created by cartoonist Fletcher Hanks, or should I say Barclay Flagg, which was one of his many pseudonyms at the time. Fantomah, Daughter of Pharaohs, descends from ancient Egypt and often had her pet panther Fury as company. This blonde-haired vixen was a protector of the jungle, and punished those who dared threaten the people and the animals that lived there. When she used her powers her beautiful face would disappear, and in its place would be a blue skull. I can imagine this is how most men picture us women when we lose our tempers. Her powers saw her fly, transform objects into something else, and cause humans to mutate. Basically, for me, she is a cross between Doctor Strange and Skeletor from Masters of the Universe. Now that’s an image I would rather not have in my head!
I said in my last column that I would be looking at the women from Marvel & DC comics starting back from the Golden Age to modern times, but I couldn’t not go back and not find out who the first woman superhero was. Wonder Woman would follow Fantomah a year later in 1941, but the mystery woman of the jungle has the little-known distinction as the first published super-heroine of comics. Fantomah’s run in comics has seen her in and out of them since 1940. She has been used in recent publications from Devil’s Due Publishing in a series called ‘Hack/slash’, and Fiction House has reprinted her series over the years.
Researching Fantomah is hard as there is very little of her on the Internet, but I wanted to do it anyway, I was compelled to provide a look at the first woman superhero and how that legacy was built from the momentous advent of her. I do like that even in the 1940s her creators were not scared to make her different when she used her powers, to look like she had strength behind her to back her words up. That must have been very daring for the publication to do for those times, as women were looked at as mothers, caregivers and housewives. Of course that particular image would soon change in 1941 when a a certain wonder arose in the comics world.
Next issue will be a deeper look into the woman who really broke boundaries and the creator behind her, the one and only Woman Woman.
Until next time . . .
Peace, Love & Peanut Butter.