Madam Satan's true self revealed. Artist: Bob King.

MADAM SATAN

Medium: Comic books
Published by: MLJ (Archie) Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: Abner Sundell (editor/writer) and Harry Lucey (artist)
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The purest, wholesomest, most parent-friendly comic books you can get in today's American market are the ones …

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… published by Archie Comics, the company named after "America's Typical Teenager". Archie and his crew are so squeaky clean, they're the only outside characters ever licensed by Spire Christian Comics (Barney Bear), whose very purpose was to provide completely acceptable reading matter for even the youngest family members. For more than half a century, Archie's comics have been known to one and all as the very symbol of the kind of entertainment adults like seeing their children enjoy.

So what's a nice girl like Madam Satan doing in a place like that?

Give them a break — Archie hadn't even appeared on the scene yet, and she wasn't a very prominent character anyway. Madam Satan was first spotted on the cover of Pep Comics #15 (May, 1941), published by MLJ Comics (same company, earlier name). She was in the background, scarcely noticeable behind Pep's star, a flag-wearing superhero called The Shield. That was her only cover appearance, and her stories were buried deep in the back pages.

Who she was, and why she worked to further Satan's goals, were revealed in the 16th issue (where her actual series started). It seems she'd once been a mortal woman named Iola. The parents of the man she was to marry objected to the union, so she murdered them. But as they died, they managed to tell their son of her guilt, so he turned right around and murdered her. Even in death her beauty overcame him. As he kissed her one last time, he, too, perished. She went straight to Hell, of course, where she became Satan's most trusted servant — and, as suggested by the title of the series, perhaps something more.

Iola's mission was to seduce men into evil, then into death, so her master could claim their souls — and for anyone he might happen to love, death, somewhere along the way, was practically a given. She wore heavy make-up, a V-neck evening gown slit up the side practically to its tight-fitting belt, and no distracting jewelry. She was even kinkier than the Marvel Comics character she was probably imitating, The Black Widow, who merely killed men already well advanced on the Path of Evil.

A recurring foe was Brother Sunshine, another supernatural guy, who dressed like a medieval friar and smiled a lot. He was always trying to capture Madam Satan's evil spirit in a bottle, and came closer to his goal when men found the strength to resist her. He never got far, tho, and was never on the scene long enough to provide much of a distraction from the more interesting goings-on.

The origin story was written by Abner Sundell, who also edited Pep Comics at the time, and drawn by Harry Lucey (who did various features for MLJ/Archie, including Sam Hill in the following decade, as well as some for Lev Gleason publications). Joe Blair, co-creator of The Fox, Mr. Justice and Captain Flag, probably wrote her later stories, while Lucey continued on the art. Lucey did a fine job of putting across the idea that Madam Satan was intensely attractive to the men she targeted, and yet, not the least bit good for them. He got a real chance to shine in the splash panels, which generally depicted lurid scenes of Satan leering and Iola posing.

All this came long before Tales from the Crypt, Crime Does Not Pay and the glory days of Phantom Lady, which exemplified the comics that were widely criticized for outrageous behavior from the middle 1940s until well into the '50s. But Madam Satan didn't last until the era of those comics. In fact, she she was gone within a few months. In the 22nd issue (February, 1942), the space she'd hitherto occupied was taken up by the first appearance of Archie.

And it was Archie, of course, who eventually inherited MLJ Comics. To look at the company today, you'd never guess it once published characters like The Black Witch (in Zip Comics), The Hangman (also in Pep) and Madam Satan.

— DDM

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Text ©2002-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.