Miss Fury

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Miss Fury

(pop culture)

Several superheroes started life in comic books before going on to be adapted for newspapers. These include heroes that are household names today: Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman. Unusually, Miss Fury’s creation was the other way around. Her first newspaper appearance was in April 1941, and she is considered the first major costumed superheroine in comics history, beating the likes of Wonder Woman, the Black Cat, and many others into print. Her creator, Tarpe Mills, was a pioneer herself, being almost certainly the first woman to work on a superhero strip and certainly the first to create one. She was involved in some of the very earliest comic book series in the late 1930s, working on the likes of The Ivy Menace, Drama of Hollywood and The Purple Zombie for titles such as Centaur’s Amazing Mystery Funnies and Star Comics. Mills was born June Mills but adopted the more ambiguous forename Tarpe so that her predominantly male readership would not realize that their favorite strips were drawn by a woman.

Like Mills, Miss Fury had an alter ego; in civilian life she was (in best Bruce Wayne fashion) wealthy socialite Marla Drake, who makes a fateful decision when on her way to a costumed ball: Discovering that someone else is going to the ball wearing the same costume as hers, she desperately hunts for a suitable replacement and settles upon an African ceremonial costume made out of a panther skin that had been used in magic rituals. The figure-hugging, all-black outfit, with ears, claws, and a tail, was certainly one of the most striking to be seen in the early days of comics. Right from the start, it brings our heroine adventure and peril. With athletic prowess, keen detective skills, and a super-costume bar none, Miss Fury is equipped to take on America’s hoodlums and crooks.

In her first few months of publication, the superheroine met the dashing detective Dan Carey and the seductive spy Erica von Kampf, as well as assorted criminals, con men, and damsels in distress. At the outset of World War II, many of Miss Fury’s adventures were set in Brazil, where she fought the bald, monocled General Bruno—the very personification of a Teutonic villain—and his Nazi battalions, hidden in a hollow mountain. Another frequent nemesis was the glamorous Era, with her guerrilla fighters, and the ever-present von Kampf could always be relied upon to pop up with an evil scheme or two. But Miss Fury was every bit the femme fatale herself, and had a string of allies including Gary Hale, Fingers Martin, Albino Joe, and her admirer from afar, Detective Cary.

Mills may not have been as polished as some of her contemporaries, but she was nonetheless a fine storyteller, and her never-ending cliff-hangers (in many ways, the strip was one long narrative) moved along at a frantic pace. Mills appreciated glamour, and the feature was characterized by its succession of beautiful women in elaborate, fashionable, and often risqué clothing. She was something of a glamour girl herself, posing seductively for press releases, complete with her ever-present white cat, and she closely resembled the star of her strip, Marla Drake. With its bold linework and action-filled plots, the Miss Fury series was a natural for the burgeoning comic book industry, and Timely Comics (better known now as Marvel Comics) released eight issues of Miss Fury reprints between 1943 and 1946, with pin-ups and cut-out dolls thrown in for good measure.

Miss Fury ran for a very respectable ten years, outlasting most of its superhero rivals but also courting controversy. In the strip’s later years, Marla Drake adopted a child rescued from the clutches of the evil Doctor Diman, little knowing that he was the son of her weak-willed ex-fiance, Hale, and her arch-nemesis von Kampf. Just as daring was one 1947 exotic costume that was so revealing (by the standards of the day) that thirty-seven newspapers promptly canceled the strip. At the height of its popularity, the feature was printed in hundreds of newspapers across the United States, as well as in Europe, South America, and even Australia, but in 1952, like many other adventure strips, it was finally laid to rest. The taste in newspapers was increasingly leaning toward sophisticated soap opera strips and humor features, and Mills retired from comics.

In later years, Miss Fury was introduced to curious newcomers through further reprints, including a 1979 book collection from Archival Press and a short-lived series from Adventure Comics in 1991. —DAR