THE BLACK CATOriginal Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Harvey Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Al Gabriele
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Many comic book buffs believe Wonder Woman was the first female character to wear what amounts to a bathing suit while doing superhero work. Actually, several characters are tied for that dubious distinction — Quality Comics' Phantom Lady and Wildfire; and Harvey's Black Cat, all of whom beat Wondy into print by four months. (And the only reason they qualify for the "honor" was because Quality's Miss America (no relation) didn't have a
costume yet and the others that debuted in August, 1941, Holyoke's Miss Victory, Lev Gleason's Pat Patriot and Bell Features' Nelvana of the Northern Lights, wore just a little bit too much.)
The Black Cat was Hollywood starlet Linda Turner, whose first adventure began when she suspected her director of being a Nazi spy. Trained as a stunt woman, she was an expert on Judo, motorcycle riding, lariat throwing, and other physical skills costumed crime fighters find handy; and her father, an amateur detective, had taught her the necessary mental skills. Knowing her superstitious quarry had a "thing" about black cats, she used that as a theme for her disguise. After smashing his spy ring, she combatted boredom with her glamorous but empty lifestyle by continuing to fight crime as The Black Cat.
The Black Cat debuted in Pocket Comics #1, dated August, 1941, in a story drawn and probably written by Al Gabriele (Sub-Mariner, Miss America). Others who debuted there, such as The Phantom Sphinx and The Zebra, didn't fare so well. That anthology comic book was, as the name implies, small enough to be carried around in the back pocket of a pair of jeans; thus, it was possible to make it 100 pages thick, at the same price as any other comic. Apparently, however, it was also possible to "pocket" it without paying. Newsstand owners objected, and the title lasted only four issues. The Black Cat was among the few characters to survive its demise, transferring to Speed Comics a couple of months later. She was Harvey's most popular wartime character — not just the only one to get her own comic (which she finally did in 1946), but also the one that survived longest.
Gabriele went to work for Marvel while the character was still in Speed Comics. His successors included Pierce Rice (Zanzibar the Magician), Arturo Cazeneuve (Captain Freedom) and Jill Elgin, the latter sometimes inked by Joe Kubert. During the post-war years, she was mostly drawn by Lee Elias, whose sexy female characters, such as Fiction House's Firehair, were strongly influenced by Milton Caniff's work on Terry & the Pirates. Elias also drew The Black Canary for DC Comics.
By the late '40s, very few costumed heroes were able to sustain themselves. In 1948, Harvey tried packaging her comic as a western, but with her still as the main character. In '51, they changed its name to Black Cat Mystery and dropped her. The title continued until 1958, mostly as an anthology of non-series horror/supernatural stories, tho it did reprint a few 1940s Black Cat stories in 1956.
When, in the early 1960s, superhero revivals were all the rage, The Black Cat was the only one Harvey brought back. Between October, 1962 and April, 1963, they published three extra-large issues reprinting Elias's late-'40s work. By then, however, the publisher had positioned itself as a purveyor of oddball kid comics, such as Richie Rich and Little Dot. The revival fizzled, and it was decades before she was seen again.
There were a couple of attempts in the 1980s and '90s to revive her again, reprinting the same Lee Elias artwork in black and white. Those attempts were even less successful than the 1960s one. It seems The Black Cat, fondly as she may be recalled by old-time comics fans, is strictly a product of her time.