Who Was That Masked Woman? Golden Age Heroines and Villainesses

Catwoman, circa 1995’s Batman, Year One
The usual costumed femme fatale.
’Tis the season for tricks, treats and caramel apples, that wild and crazy fall festival and social pact we call Halloween. It’s also the season for superheroes and heroines, masked and costumed do-gooders or do-badders, the time of year when comic book pages leap to life.

So let’s get creative and check out the masked women possibilities for Halloween 2011. Sure, there’s Wonder Woman (who to me will always look like Lynda Carter), and there’s Catwoman (who to me will always look like Julie Newmar), and they remain the most popular and long-lived costumed women still strutting on the page and screen (despite Marvel’s younger but still classic characters like Storm, Jean Grey and Elektra).

Don’t think that the Amazing Amazon or the Furious Feline are your only choices, however. Though there have always been more guys than gals in the mask and tights business, super-heroines and villainesses played a major role in the Golden Age, that hallowed period of comic book birth and creativity from 1939 through the end of the 1940s.

Forget Wonder Woman’s lasso and Catwoman’s ears . . . go for a uniquely retro, sexy look by dressing up as one of these Golden Age greats!

The Super-Heroines

Phantom Lady, circa 1941
Phantom Lady, circa 1941
1. Phantom Lady. She’s currently a DC comics character because they bought the rights to the defunct but great line of Quality Publishing characters (like Uncle Sam, the Black Condor, and Blackhawk) back in the 1970s. But less can be more, and if you compare costumes, her 1940s garb in yellow and green was pretty darn spiffy. There’s also a Fox comics version that came later if you feel like showing a lot more skin (but better make sure you’ve gotten a flu shot first).

2. Black Canary. A DC staple, the original Black Canary—complete with blonde wig, mask, bolero jacket and fishnet stockings—is a heroine right out of film noir … and as a matter of fact, she debuted in 1947 at the height of the art form. The character’s still going strong today, albeit in a different identity. Go with the original costume and speak with a low, husky voice, ala Lauren Bacall.

The Black Cat from Harvey Comics
She’s rough, she’s tough, she’s the Black Cat!
3. The Black Cat, a Harvey comics character, sported one of the most fetching costumes in the business. Don’t confuse her with the Marvel comics character, unless you’re looking for a skin-tight burgler outfit ala DC’s Catwoman. The Black Cat wore a domino mask, gloves, pirate boots and a low-cut one piece bathing suit. See the remark about the flu shot above.

4. Nyoka, the Jungle Girl.  Possibly the easiest costume of all. Nyoka started life as a serial heroine who later starred in her own comics. More of a female Jungle Jim than Tarzan (that would be Sheena, Queen of the Jungle), Nyoka usually wears a cool safari hat, red short shorts and a white blouse. N.B. If you want an excuse to dress up in a leopard print bikini, be Sheena instead.

5. Lady Luck. One of my personal favorites from the era, Lady Luck was created by legendary genius Will Eisner (whom I once had the pleasure of meeting). If you like green, dressing up as Lady Luck is a slam-dunk: she wears a lovely green dress, a cool wide-brimmed Spanish-style hat, and a green veil, and green gloves.  Knock ‘em out!

Super-Villainesses

1. The Cheetah. One of Wonder Woman’s bizarre foes (though not the most bizarre). If you want to wear leopard print but don’t want to catch cold from dressing up as Sheena, try one of the other “cat women” of the era.

The Harlequin, Alan Scott’s secretary in Green Lantern
The Harlequin. Now, she knew how to dress!
2. The Harlequin. As Catwoman was to Batman, so Harlequin was to the original Green Lantern. The recent film used the 1960s character, Hal Jordon; the original GL was actually Alan Scott. A young girl named Molly developed a crush on GL and decides to commit crimes in order to attract his attention.  The Harlequin costume is, of course, based on the Commedia dell’Arte clown character: a mask, a poofy skirt, striped tights, boots, an orange witch’s hat and a ruffled collar complete the look.

3. The Huntress. Another Golden Age DC super-villainess, don her garb if you want to throw over your leopard print for a tiger costume, complete with cape, boots and little ears.

4. The Thorn. An early multiple-personality villain like Dr. Jeckyll and his alter ego, Rose and Thorn (the villain part is Thorn) first appeared in 1947, the same year as Black Canary, and menaced the Golden Age Flash. Her costume is rather prickly, as one would expect—green boots, gloves, high collar, Phantom Lady-like except for the “thorny” edges.

Star Sapphire, circa 1947
No mask, but that thing on her head is blinding!
5. Star Sapphire. The original Star Sapphire was a villainess from the 7th Dimension (who knows what happened to the four in between). She fought Flash in (you guessed it, 1947), wearing a fun “futuristic” costume consisting of a swimming cap, high collar, one-piece bathing suit and fishnets. I wonder if she borrowed Black Canary’s.

So there you have it! Ten possibilities for a very unique comic book Halloween! If you’re reaching for a mask and cape this season, try one of these Golden Age greats! And if you’re really desperate, you can always put a soup pot on your head and masquerade as the inimitable Red Tornado …  one of my favorite comic(al) characters from the ‘40s. Thanks for reading, and for allowing me to indulge my inner comic book fan! 🙂


Kelli Stanley is the award-winning author of City of Dragons and City of Secrets, “starring one of crime’s most arresting heroines: angry, big-hearted, and fearless Miranda Corbie” (Library Journal, starred review). Kelli also writes the Roman noir series (The Curse-Maker, Nox Dormienda). She lives in San Francisco.

Comments

  1. Christopher Morgan

    I feel that Silk Specter I should get an honorable mention, sure she isn’t Golden Age by publication, but she is in spirit.

  2. Clare 2e

    Cool recap of killer costumes. I like Star Sapphire’s color scheme, but Black Cat’s pirate boots have a siren call all their own. Good or Evil, so hard to decide!

  3. Laura K. Curtis

    I’ll take the Harlequin…hers is the only costume that would hide my hips and thighs!

  4. Kelli Stanley

    Ah, Silk Specter. One of my favorite (and most stylish) members of the Watchmen universe! Thanks for mentioning her, Christopher!

  5. Kelli Stanley

    Clare, I can totally see you as the Black Cat! Give in to the pirate boots!! 😉

  6. Kelli Stanley

    Laura, you don’t need to hide under a bushel, girl–you’d rock any of the costumes! (Though the Harlequin is certainly one of my faves.)

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