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Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of…

Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics

by Mike Madrid (Editor)

Other authors: Matt Baker (Illustrator), Charles Biro (Illustrator), Lance Blackwood (Author), Ann Brewster (Illustrator), Al Bryant (Illustrator)17 more, Jack Cole (Illustrator), Reed Crandall (Illustrator), Chuck Cuidera (Illustrator), Will Eisner (Illustrator), Erwin (Author), Lou Ferstadt (Illustrator), Fred Guardineer (Illustrator), Vernon Henkel (Illustrator), William Kuskin (Foreword), Mort Meskin (Illustrator), Ruben Moreira (Illustrator), Irv Norvick (Illustrator), Willis Rensie (Author), Jerry Robinson (Illustrator), W. Morgan Thomas (Author), Robert Webb (Illustrator), Dan Zolnerowich (Illustrator)

Series: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics (2)

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Mike Madrid's follow-up to Divas, Dames & Daredevils, which I've read but not yet reviewed, focuses on female villains of the Golden Age of Comics. Its array of characters feels a lot less diverse than the female heroes of the previous book-- I suppose there's only so many criminal plots in the Golden Age model one can come up with-- but it's still pretty enjoyable at times.

Some of these comics are terrible, of course, but some are genuinely good: it's obvious why Will Eisner (Espionage starring Black X: "Night of the Living Bombs") and Jack Cole (Plastic Man: "The Figure") are the artists we still know today, because they stand out head and shoulders above the other ones collected here. Even in 1940, Eisner is already starting to do cool stuff with panel borders and the conventions of the medium, and Cole's figure work is just fun. I don't remember DDD having any contributions by latterly-famous artists, so it's a nice touch on Madrid's part. Shame about the actual story of the Black X installment, though!

Once you get beyond the stereotypical superhero tales (especially the World War II-influenced ones), there's some good stuff here. "Crimebuster meets He She" (by Charles Biro) has a half-man, half-woman as a villain, though their means of operation is completely implausible: at one point, they swindle a woman of her fortune by marrying her, which requires He She to make sure the woman never sees their left side! There are a lot of smart and active women here-- you have to be both to be a villain, after all-- which as Madrid points out, defy some of our expectations of Golden Age comics women, mostly formed (I suspect) by the girlfriends in superhero comics. Some just seem evil, some are jealous, and many turn to crime when society leaves them little choice.

The section on race features a diverse range of villains-- Nepalese, African, Indian, Japanese-- though of course some of them are pretty distasteful, such as Merlin the Magician's adventure "Temple of the Man-Eating Spider" by Fred Gaurdineer, where Merlin (evidently a modern British adventurer who knows magic, not the Actual Merlin) semi-randomly decides to steal a Nepalese diamond so he can give it to Churchill to fun the war effort; for the offense of trying to stop him from stealing from them, he blows up their temple. Rulah the (white) Jungle Goddess versus Maya the (black) Nazi sympathizer in "Bloodstained Fangs!" (by Matt Baker) primarily seems to be an excuse for some woman-on-woman bath-wrestling action.

The best stories here are definitely the "true crime" ones, all collected from a 1948-51 series called, delightfully, Crimes by Women. These are the most lurid, are the most fun, and feature the most interesting villains. "Belle Guness: The Monster of Laporte," by the mysterious one-named Carter, is about a woman who kills her abusive husband in a moment of frustration... and then realizes how much money one can make by killing husbands over and over. "Madame Muscle: Maid of Steel" (move over, Supergirl!) is about a circus strongwoman who's manipulated into going bad, but then turns the table on her manipulators with a series of increasingly audacious heists; she's so ridiculous, you have to love her, I think. At one point she wrenches the door off the car she's in and throws it at a pursuing police car!

Best of all is "Mable Reine: Queen of the Jungle" (unlike with Rulah, it's a metaphor), about a girl raised by train-jumpers... until one of the train-jumpers is killed by the police, and she decides to start a societal revolution and raises an army. She loses, of course, but atta girl! You can see why these true crime stories were so popular, and these small doses of them definitely hold up today. If the rest of Crimes by Women is this fun, I'd definitely read a whole collection of just that!

Fans of the DC universe should note that this volume actually contains four stories that I think would have been (or could have been) in continuity during the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths/pre-Flashpoint era, when many of the Golden Age comics later acquired by DC were considered to have actually happened when they were published. The first of the many Manhunters, Dan Richards, faces "Red-Haired Kate" in a 1943 story by Al Bryant. The original Doll Man takes on "Beauty and Her Beasts" (her plan is to kill or disfigure all women more attractive than her) in a 1946 story also by Al Bryant. A postwar Blackhawk Squadron is beset by "Madame Butterfly," a Japanese spymaster out for revenge for the death of her lover during the war in a 1949 story by Bill Woolfolk, Reed Crandall, and Chuck Cuidera. And Plastic Man faces "The Figure," a woman with a great figure who's great with figures in a 1950 tale by Jack Cole. There's no reason these Golden Age tales couldn't fit into the pre-reboot DCU as far as I can see!
  Stevil2001 | Sep 18, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics
Compiled and annotated by Mike Madrid
Exterminating Angel Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

Madame Doom. Fraulein Halunke. Skull Lady. Veda the Cobra Woman. Shoebox Annie French. These are only a few memorable women featured in Mike Madrid's new book, Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics. The Golden Age existed from "the late 1930s [to the] mid '50s." As Madrid asserts in his opening essay, "These women were surprisingly emancipated for what we today think of as a more conservative age." Vixens acts as a companion piece to Divas, Dames, & Daredevils, a collection that explores lost Golden Age superheroines. Comics, long decried as an inferior medium, offers an illuminating reflection on the issues of the day. The Golden Age comics, unhampered by the Comics Code Authority of 1954, possess a strange cocktail of female liberation, schlocky romance elements, and downright unsettling racial stereotypes.

To focus on the craft and execution of the writing and art can sometimes obscure other more fascinating issues. In an anthology like this, Madrid preserves what would otherwise be considered ephemera or trash. Truth be told, for every stand-out example of comic book craftsmanship, there's more than enough examples of mediocre art, cardboard characters, and lame plots. What can we discover about society's mores from these examples?

Included in this collection is a strip about the detective Black X foiling the plot Madame Doom. With art by Will Eisner and Dan Zolnerowich, Black X discovers the Madame Doom's terrorist plot using human bombs. Eisner's Black X has a faithful Indian sidekick named Batu. The Black X comic is illustrative of the trope where the villainess must repress her romantic desires for the hero. Batu is not the only non-white sidekick, but he comes across as the least cringe-worthy in this collection.

On the issue of race, "Rulah: Jungle Goddess" presents a downright vertigo-inducing example of World War 2-era race politics. Rulah, the heroine, rules over her jungle kingdom with benevolence. She's white (natch) and her subjects are black. Her enemy is Mava (black) who is having an affair with a Nazi officer. Mava wants to use Nazi flying bombs to take over Rulah's jungle kingdom and liberate the African tribes. Since this is a comic book written in 1941, the difference between good and evil is stark and obvious to the reader. To the modern reader, it is a confusing mess of benevolent racism (good guys) and a black woman befriending a Nazi (bad guys). Some comics age like fine wine. Others age like mayonnaise on city pavement in the middle of July. For all of its bewildering, migraine-inducing race politics, gung ho patriotism, and imperialist condescension, "Rulah" is a worthwhile object of study.

The Golden Age offers numerous other examples. Unlike the predictable white bread superheroines, the villainesses were racially diverse. This racial diversity was one of the first casualties of the Comics Code. Beyond defanging villainesses, the enemies of the heroes became less violent, less diverse, and less interesting. Thank you, Frederick Wertham, for destroying art and turning Eisenhower's America into a hellscape of blandness. It is fascinating how similar American and the Soviet Union were in their desire to suppress allegedly dangerous artistic expression.

One of my favorite comics in this collection was "Mable Reine: Queen of the Jungle," by an unknown artist. The jungle in this case wasn't the same one occupied by Rulah and Sheena, but the hobo jungles of the Great Depression. "Mable Reine" reads like a cross between Gangs of New York and The Lord of the Flies. Mable is orphaned after a plane carrying her family crashes. She's the only survivor, receiving food and aid from a pair of hobos. After she gets arrested, she sharks her way up the criminal food chain. Mixing the skills of a criminal mastermind and a revolutionary leader, she leads hobo assaults on small towns. It's like The Dark Knight Rises, except that Bane is a teenage girl and a hobo. Forget Marvel and DC, Hollywood should make this movie right now!

Despite the crudeness of execution, the comics collected here presents a fascinating snapshot of America at a different time. The book can work as an object of personal amusement, a portable archive, and raw material for academics investigating American sexual and racial politics. It's also fun to read.

Out of 10/9.0

http://www.cclapcenter.com/2015/01/book_review_vixens_vamps_viper.html ( )
1 vote kswolff | Jan 9, 2015 |
Women have not often been portrayed in comics in the most positive light, if even at all. It is only in recent years that we have seen the emergence of strong female characters who were not spilling out of every stitch of skintight leotard they put on. Many times, they are shows as assistants, secretaries, or the damsels that need our hero's saving. Not so, in Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers!

Looking at comics published before the implementation of the Comics Code in 1954, Mike Mardid's Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers shows us that while these Golden Age comics in no way promoted sexual equality, they did give us many strong characters, especially the baddies! These women were cunning, ruthless, smart, seductive, independent, diverse, and very outspoken. Everything we think women of the 1940s were not! Mike Madrid's brilliant and thoroughly researched commentary makes these characters come alive in the context of their times, but also how they relate to and helped influence today's female villains and heroines. In addition, stories referenced for each character are reproduced in full, giving the reader a wonderful insight into early comics, the 1940s, and brilliant stories they may have never seen otherwise.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in comics history, women's studies, or mid 20th century history and culture. ( )
  chensel477 | Oct 20, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Author Mike Madrid is no stranger to Golden Age comics, having written two previous books on the subject, THE SUPERGIRLS: FASHION, FEMINISM, FANTASY, AND THE HISTORY OF COMIC BOOK and DIVAS, DAMES & DAREDEVILS: LOST HEROINES OF GOLDEN AGE COMICS. In many ways, Madrid’s latest book, VIXENS, VAMPS, & VIPERS: LOST VILLAINESSES OF GOLDEN AGE COMICS is a companion book of similar format to DIVAS, DAMES & DAREDEVILS. Instead of focusing on the heroines of Golden Age comics, this volume examines the villainesses with some textual analysis along with complete black and white reprints of the comics in which they first appeared.

Kuskin, an equally good if all-too-brief introduction, a conclusion, and introductory text in each of the four major chapters (Vicious Viragos, Beauties & Beasts, A Rainbow of Evil, and Crime Queens). Each of the chapters includes reproductions of the complete Golden Age comic origins of female villains, all from the period 1940-50. If you’re a casual fan of Golden Age comics like me, you’re unlikely to be familiar with many of these characters (and to be clear, most were one-shot villains, either being killed off or imprisoned at the end of their origin stories). The characters included were: Madam Doom, Texa, Idaho, Fräulein Halunke, Red-Haired Kate, Her Highness, Lady Serpent, He-She (very gender-bendy), Nadya Burnett, Beauty, Skull Lady, The Figure, Nang Tu, Queen Tuana, Veda the Cobra Woman, Mava, Madame Butterfly (not the one from Puccini), Belle Guness, Madame Muscles, Winsome Wanda Bailey, Mable Reine, and Shoebox Annie French. As was typical for the era, they are a real mix of just-plain-nasty-but-otherwise-normal people and those with some kind of strange origin that gives them some ability beyond the norm.

I have to admit that I was surprised at how violent or dark some of the stories were (nothing particularly graphic by twenty-first century standards, of course). Most are pretty hokey; that’s probably to be expected from the 1940s, but some actually hold up fairly well. The individual stories’ art also varies considerably, with a few being on the crude side, with most actually pretty darn good. All the stories are interesting as historical artifacts in any case.

I read an advance uncorrected copy for this review, but I’d just like to briefly note that the scans of some of the comics need to be cleaned up for the final version as they are a bit muddy or indistinct in places. The quality is not so bad that it makes it impossible to read and enjoy the comics, but it does detract. It’s understandable that undoubtedly many of the comics surviving this period are in relatively rough shape, but there is always the possibility for post-scanning clean-up, so I hope the publisher makes an effort to do that.

Recommended if you’re interested in early depictions of female antagonists in comics or a big fan of Golden Age comics in general.

Review copyright © 2014 J. Andrew Byers ( )
  bibliorex | Oct 7, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is Mike Madrid’s third book devoted to the females of Golden Age comics. In this volume we are treated to vicious viragos, beauties and beasts, evil foreign ladies, and true crime queens. My favorites are the later. Madrid spotlights five dastardly dames featured in “Crimes by Women” a pre-code era comic. I will be on a look out for this comic

All of Madrid’s books have brought different comic books and characters to my attention. I recommend this book and his two others, “Divas, Dames & Daredevils” and “The Supergirls”, to anyone interested in learning about women in comics from the 1940’s and 1950’s. ( )
  craso | Aug 14, 2014 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Madrid, MikeEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baker, MattIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Biro, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blackwood, LanceAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brewster, AnnIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bryant, AlIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cole, JackIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Crandall, ReedIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cuidera, ChuckIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eisner, WillIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
ErwinAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ferstadt, LouIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guardineer, FredIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Henkel, VernonIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kuskin, WilliamForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Meskin, MortIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moreira, RubenIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Norvick, IrvIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rensie, WillisAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robinson, JerryIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thomas, W. MorganAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Webb, RobertIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Zolnerowich, DanIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 193525927X, Paperback)

“Mike Madrid is doing God’s work. . . . mak[ing] accessible a lost, heady land of female adventure.” —ComicsAlliance

Between the covers of Vixens, Vamps & Vipers, fans will rediscover the original bad girls of comics—as fierce and full of surprises as they were when the comic book industry was born. From murderous Madame Doom to He-She, dubbed by io9 as “the most unsung comic book villain ever,” Mike Madrid resurrects twenty-two glorious evildoers in fully reproduced comics and explores the ways they both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes.

Among the deadly femme fatales, ruthless jungle queens, devious secret agents, double-dealing criminal masterminds, and gender-bending con artists are some of the very first women of color in comics. These women may have been overlooked in the annals of history, but—like their superheroine counterparts in Divas, Dames & Daredevils—their influence, on popular culture and the archenemies that thrill us today, is unmistakable.

Mike Madrid is the author of Divas, Dames & Daredevils, a ComicsAlliance and ComicsBlend Best Book of the Year, and The Supergirls, an NPR “Best Book To Share With Your Friends” and American Library Association Amelia Bloomer Project Notable Book. A San Francisco native and lifelong fan of comic books and popular culture, Madrid also appears in the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:47 -0400)

A rogue's gallery of the most glamorous and dastardly villainesses in Golden Age comics.

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