Comic Art Friday: A tall-walking big Black Cat

Followers of this space know my fondness for vintage superheroines. In fact, I’ve devoted an entire themed commission series, Bombshells!, to female costumed stalwarts who made their comics debuts before I was born.

Bombshell! Black Cat, pencils by Dan Veesenmeyer, inks by Bob Almond

Among my favorite characters from the Golden Age is the original Black Cat, who first appeared in Harvey Publishing’s Pocket Comics #1 in August 1941. (That was a fertile month for superheroines, incidentally. Such legendary figures as Phantom Lady, Pat Patriot, Miss Victory, and Wildfire also stepped onto the scene in books bearing the August ’41 date.) I say “original” because this character bears no relation — aside from code names — to the Black Cat more familiar to comics readers today: Felicia Hardy, the more-or-less-reformed ex-criminal who has alternately bewitched and bedeviled Spider-Man for the past three decades.

Unlike Marvel’s feline fatale, the first Black Cat carried no bad-girl baggage. Linda Turner, a former Hollywood stuntwoman turned star box office attraction, donned a mask, gloves, buccaneer boots, and a bathing suit (you know… like you would) to battle crime, often from the seat of a motorcycle. The skills she’d developed as a stunt performer, including adeptness with a lariat (Westerns being far more popular then than now) and karate, frequently came in handy in her new sideline. Linda even had her own masculine version of Lois Lane in the person of Rick Horne, a reporter for the Los Angeles Globe who never made the connection that Linda, whom he dated in the later years of the series, and the Black Cat were the same woman. (Apparently, journalism schools in the comics multiverse place little emphasis on observational acuity.)

Black Cat, pencils by James E. Lyle, inks by Bob Almond

For most of the Cat’s career, which included five years as the lead feature in Speed Comics before segueing to her own eponymous title in 1946, her adventures were drawn by Lee Elias, a gifted artist who had once served as Milton (Terry and the Pirates) Caniff’s assistant. Ironically, Elias also worked for a time on DC Comics’ Black Canary, the most blatant of the numerous Black Cat imitations that popped up during the 1940s. In the 1960s and ’70s, after a brief sojourn into newspaper strips, Elias illustrated horror titles (House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Witching Hour) for DC, and later, drew Power Man and Iron Fist and The Human Fly for Marvel. He also did some amazing work on the science fiction adventure series The Rook for Warren Publishing, the folks who brought you Vampirella.

What made the Black Cat such a terrific heroine? Aside from the sleek and powerful art by Lee Elias, it was the character herself. Smart, talented, beautiful but tough, and resourceful, Linda was Bruce Wayne without the edginess and gimmickry, or the adolescent boy sidekick. (Actually, she had one of those for a while. His name was Black Kitten. Some stories are best left untold.) The Black Cat proved that a female comics superhero could be both entertaining and successful, paving the way for numerous other characters — including the more familiar Wonder Woman, who arrived on the scene several months after the Cat’s debut.

Black Cat, pencils and inks by Gene Gonzales

Today’s art, from the top: The Black Cat as Bombshell!, with pencils by Dan Veesenmeyer and inks by Bob Almond; Linda kicking a criminal to the curb, with pencils by James E. Lyle and inks once again by Almond; the Cat swings into action, courtesy of Gene Gonzales.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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