Madam Fatal gives 'em what-for. Artist: Art Pinajian.

MADAM FATAL

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Art Pinajian
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The Red Tornado has racked up a fairly impressive number of "firsts". She was DC's first ongoing female superhero (tho a few months too late to be quite the first altogether). She was also the first superhero parody, and the first to use red long …

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… johns as a superhero outfit. But despite popular impressions, she has only a clouded claim, depending on your definition, to being the first cross-dressing superhero. If Madam Fatal, who debuted in the first issue of Crack Comics (May, 1940, six months before the Tornado) qualifies for the genre by virtue of fighting crime in comic books while wearing an identity-concealing costume, then Madam Fatal was the first cross-dressing superhero.

Madam Fatal's first story, written and drawn by cartoonist Art Pinajian (who also created Hooded Justice, aka The Invisible Hood, for the same publisher, Quality Comics, and The Wasp for Lev Gleason) told how actor Richard Stanton had turned to transvestism to further his crime-bashing activities. Years earlier, while he was amassing his vast fortune, he married the woman loved by gangster John Garver. Two years later, the jilted Garver got his revenge by kidnapping Stanton's daughter, which caused his unnamed wife to die of heartbreak. Stanton retired from the stage and disappeared from public view for the eight years it took just to track down Garver's address. Garver was killed in the ensuing fracas, but the equally unnamed daughter still didn't turn up.

"Madam Fatal" wasn't exactly a secret identity for Stanton in the usual sense. He was actually living as an old woman all that time with no companion but a parrot, Hamlet, while his real identity dropped off the face of the earth. (Later stories, however, showed him switching between identities.) His reason for the masquerade, and why he continued it after Garver's death, was unrevealed. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that the good ideas for superheroes were rapidly getting used up.

Pinajian continued to write and draw Madam Fatal as long as the series lasted — which wasn't all that long. The character's final appearance was in #22 (March, 1942), after which she was replaced with Pen Miller. Meanwhile others that went back to the first issue, including The Black Condor, The Clock and The Spider, were still going strong. Quality never featured "her" in another comic book story.

And DC Comics, which bought properties from Quality in 1956, never put her in a story at all. The only one who did was comix writer/artist Kim Deitch (Hollywoodland), who did a new story in 1972 that purported to be about Madam Fatal. But inasmuch as she did things in it that it's hard to imagine a mainstream comic book character doing, there could be some question about the character's identity.

DC did, however, once mention her in a story. A 1999 Justice Society of America story had a scene at The Sandman's funeral, which took place at the cemetery where the transvestite hero had been buried earlier. Wildcat mentioned the earlier funeral, at which, he alleged, nobody showed up but the touring cast of La Cage aux Folles.

How he knew is another thing that wasn't explained.

— DDM

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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.