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Comics Herstory: Fantomah, the First Comic Superheroine

FantomahThough female characters have appeared in comics since the very beginning. While the medium evolved and men became superheroes, women were generally portrayed as secondary characters and relegated to roles like career girls, or heroines for romance comics. It’s believed that it wasn’t until 1940 before women took the role of superhero.

Currently, it looks like the first female superhero is Fantomah who made her debut in Jungle Comics #2 in February 1940 from Fiction House and by the pseudonymous “Barclay Flagg.”

Created by Fletcher Hanks, aka Barclay Flagg, and after her debut she continued as a backup feature in the comic until issue #51, over four years later. Hanks only wrote her for a little over a year and was succeeded by a writer with another pseudonym H.B. Hovious with art credited to Robert Pious.

fantomah 2There were two versions of the character. The first was a women with supernatural powers who protected the jungle and would inflict harm an anyone who hurt its people or animals. When she uses her power she transformers with her turning blue and her face looking like a skull, though her blond hair remained. She had a lot of magical abilities and they changed based on the plot of the story. But she was able to fly, transform objects, levitate objects, humans would mutate, you name it.

A second version of the character was created by Hovious and artist George Appel. That version debuted in Jungle Comics #27 in March 1942 and the difference was she was an ancient Egyptian princess who was revived to protect the jungle.

The character isn’t completely lost to history. She appeared as recently as 2011 in Hack/Slash #5.

You can read her adventures through Comic Book Plus. She debuts on page 60.

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