Mike Madrid, a featured contributor at GeekGirlCon for three years running, returns this year to bring us a panel inspired by his forthcoming book Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics.
Whet your appetite for this romp through the seedy side of the Golden Age with Wendy Whipple’s book review.
Photo source: Heaven4Heroes
By Wendy Whipple of Plastic Heroines
Cover image courtesy of Exterminating Angel Press.
Mike Madrid (The Supergirls; Divas, Dames & Daredevils) has a new book due out this October called Vixens, Vamps & Vipers. Written as a companion book to Divas, this book looks at the bad girls in those Golden Age comics, whose stories ran from the late 1930s through the mid 1950s.
I love heroines; that’s certainly no secret – my basement is filled with of hundreds of action figures of heroines from movies and comic books – but I adore the villainesses. In reading Madrid’s stirring introduction, dipping into the psychology of villainy, frankly, being bad sounds like a lot more fun. (At least until the Comics Code Authority ruined all their fun in 1954…) But until that dark time, these were “[w]omen who were bad because they wanted to be.” Being bad was a conscious decision; it was, in fact, agency. These were women who were taking charge of their own destinies. Whether we, as readers, agree with their decisions is an entirely different question.
As in Divas, Madrid splits the comics section into themed chapters:
- Vicious Viragos – these femmes fatales were dangerous, unprincipled, and often sexy, a wicked combination! From deadly accuracy with a whip to hypnotic persuasion to a very brazen granny, this is a selection of ladies like none you’ve probably seen before.
Photo source: Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers
- Beauties & Beasts – from faces that don’t reflect the evil inside to bitter monsters, these women are not to be trifled with. A beautiful face is no guarantee of a beautiful nature.
- A Rainbow of Evil – heroines were depicted as white, but that restriction didn’t apply to villainesses. The stereotypes may be offensive by today’s standards, but at least there were women of color on the page, and viewed from their perspective, were they really even the villains of the story?
- Crime Queens – these pulpy stories are the sort that eventually led to Senate hearings about violent content in things children were reading. But until that happened, Crimes By Women was a sensational title featuring some truly dreadful villainesses.
Photo source: Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers
Aside from the awesome villainesses, the comics do contain some pretty spectacularly awful racial/ethnic stereotypes. Comics of the 1940s, in particular, were not known for their kindness toward Asian people; keep that in mind while you’re reading. The world was in turmoil, and open xenophobia was even more rampant than it is today. The Comic Code Authority banned the practice of making fun of racial or religious groups, but all that really did was erase them from the comics altogether.
My only real criticism of the book is that the comics are reproduced in black and white. Color printing is expensive, and I completely understand the decision, but seeing these villainesses in all their bloody glory would have been even better. (If you’ve read Divas, you’re already familiar with that same publishing decision.)
As always, Madrid’s commentary is insightful and interesting. His affection for the heroines in Divas is readily apparent; so too is his respect for the villainesses in Vixens. “They were in control of their own destinies,” he says. And who doesn’t want that?
As a reader who is still fairly unfamiliar with Golden Age comics, I found some of the selections Madrid used for this book astonishing and eye-opening. The drama is tight, given that the stories are so short and typically not continued on into the next month’s issue like we’re used to in today’s comics. If these are the gems he selected, what else lurks in the dusty recesses of comics history? The heroines in Divas, Dames & Daredevils were exciting and intriguing, it’s true, but my heart is still pounding over some of these very bad Vixens, Vamps & Vipers. Sometimes it just feels good to be bad.
Find Mike Madrid on Twitter, @heaven4heroes.
Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics
© 2014 Mike Madrid
Forward by William Kuskin, Ph.D.
ISBN: 978-1-935259-27-5 (print)
This review is of an uncorrected proof and there may be changes to the book between the publishing of the review and the book; I have no control over that. Please see my reviews of The Supergirls and Divas, Dames & Daredevils. For more Golden Age comics in full color, please visit the Digital Comics Museum.