Thursday, May 22, 2014


The Black Cat

“Hollywood’s Glamorous Detective Star”, as her covers declared, was secretly silver screen leading lady and former stuntwoman Linda Turner, a red-haired and rough-and-tumble glamour girl who balanced a ritzy but dull celebrity life by day with an exciting two-fisted fight against crime and injustice by night.

"In action" nothin', you're just sittin'
 on your moneymaker, honey.
Loosely built on the “idle playboy” model established by other heroes – The Shadow and Batman, not the least of which – her gender wasn’t the only way The Black Cat managed to invert the conceit of the vigilante superhero. Wildly – if briefly – popular in her day, The Black Cat remains a cult favorite with modern audiences (and has even found her way slyly into at least one ongoing series, despite the fact that – internet claims to the contrary notwithstanding – The Black Cat, unlike other Golden Age superheroes of her ilk, has not lapsed into the public domain. The estate of Alfred Harvey still owns the rights to the character), owing in no small part to her unconventional character.

For one thing, she was the dominant figure in her will-they won’t-they relationship with reporter Rick Horne (haha, more like “Dick Horne”, am I right?), a trait shared with very few other female heroes of the time. Likewise, her unlikely secret identity – she was a leading movie star in her civilian life, and even though her mask is prominent, it didn’t change her hair color or style, at the very least – was shared with her closest confidante, her father, cowboy star Tim Turner, who’d trained her in the ways of stuntwork.

Likewise, although the Black Cat only had her own solo book for a measly five years before it was converted to a cheap loft for cowboy and horror stories, she packed a lot into them: your average Black Cat comic would have a couple of daring adventure tales set in exotic locales or in the glamorous city against all sorts of deadly mobsters and enemy agents, followed up with an enthusiastic (and likely fatal, if exercised at home without supervision) Judo lesson from the athletic Miss Turner,  and then capped off with a light comedy piece – peppered with celebrity lookalikes – highlighting Linda’s exquisite Hollywood hobnobbing.

Pictured: Gary Crant, Hob Bope, Sank Frinatra, Dette Bavis, Goodie Jarland, and now I am tired of this joke.

Putting it in so many words, basically, the Black Cat was a comic that could appeal both to male and female readers, even in the clearly-gendered mid-40s - there was something for every reader, and it just seems like exactly the kind of character who could make a real go of things with a modern audience.

The Black Cat eventually picked up a kid sidekick, and didn't stray far from the Batman-Robin mold in doing so (her ward, Kit, is a former aerialist whose parents are killed by a murderous criminal), although mapping to the popular Caped Crusader tradition didn't help prolong her existence. Although a few revivals have been attempted, they’ve largely concentrated on reprinting the Cat’s original adventures – primarily those illustrated by Lee Elias, the artist most often associated with her stories – without recapturing the unique qualities of the character’s original and entertainingly unique run.

The best comic book panel in the world.


Stergios Botzakis said...

Plus, if I remember correctly, she had how-to pages on karate moves. Educational!

Calamity Jon said...

Judo. I mentioned it in the article.

Scott said...

Which ongoing series is slyly using her?

Calamity Jon said...

The Double Life of Miranda Turner, superbly drawn by George Kambadais from a Jamie S.Rich script.

Scott said...

Thank you!

Adam Rex said...

I got all the way to Goodie Jarland before my brain noticed that there was anything up with the names.

Stergios Botzakis said...

I was so distracted by the celebrity names that I totally missed the judo instructional reference!

Wooly Rupert said...

Jon what would you charge for a commission of that panel, but replacing the grass-skirt-dong-head guy with a mummified robot insect?

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