MISS AMERICAMedium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Ed Wexler
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Miss America wasn't the first of the superhero women — that distinction could belong to Fantomah, The Woman in Red or even someone else, but it was definitely taken by the time she came along. Nor was she the first superhero to use the U.S. flag as her costume motif — that distinction definitely belongs to The Shield; and what's
more, Captain America was also in place, and the flood of such heroes was already beginning (tho America had not yet entered World War II) when she came along. In fact, she was only tied as the first to do both at once. Two more female flag wearers, Miss Victory and Pat Patriot, started the same month she did, August, 1941. That was the month female superheroes arrived in a big way, with Phantom Lady, Nelvana, Wildfire and more all debuting at once.
Quality Comics (Plastic Man, Marmaduke Mouse) put out Military Comics #1 with that cover date, introducing Blackhawk, The Death Patrol and The Blue Tracer. And that's not all — deep within its back pages, reporter Joan Dale was waiting to meet someone in front of the Statue of Liberty. She dozed off on a park bench, thinking what awesome powers the Liberty Lady must have, and what good she could do if she had such powers herself.
In her dream, the statue came to life, and bestowed those powers on her. She woke up with all the powers of an inert hunk of metal, which presumably included the power to stand absolutely still for 55 years, which the statue had already been doing by that time.
No, magic power is what she wished for and magic power is what she got. The first thing she did was prove it to herself by making a tree disappear. On the ferry back to the city, an old man was giving an impromptu speech on the virtues of democracy, and was beset by a gang of democracy-hating hooligans. She turned the assailants into doves, and the old man (who thought she'd merely chased them away) expressed his gratitude by calling her the spirit of America the real Miss America (as opposed, one presumes, to the Atlantic City beauty queen, who had been called Miss America for more than a decade by then).
Joan called herself Miss America from that point on, but did her superheroing in street clothes until #4. When she did start wearing a red, white and blue costume, she changed it frequently. In fact, only once was it the same from one issue to the next — which even with magic powers to do the seamstress work, might have strained her design capabilities if her series had run for a reasonable length of time.
But it didn't. She lasted only seven issues. The majority of her stories, including the first couple, were written and drawn by cartoonist Ed Wexler (Zambini the Miracle Man), tho the work of Tom Hickey (who later worked for ACG) was also present. In #8 (March, 1942) she was replaced with another female hero, X of the Underground, and that was the end of her.
The following year, it was as if she'd never been. Marvel Comics, either in an early display of its penchant for absconding with other publisher's characters when nobody's likely to stop them (cf. Ghost Rider, Daredevil), or not having noticed her when she was there, came out with its own, unrelated Miss America in 1943.
The original changed hands in 1956, when DC Comics acquired properties from Quality. Still, Miss America lay dormant — even 20 years later, when several Quality characters, later marketed as The Freedom Fighters, guest-starred in the annual team-up between The Justice League and Justice Society of America. In fact, they gave little indication of even knowing about her before the mid-1980s, when they re-wrote the back-story of their entire universe. One of the minor effects of this was to make Miss America retroactively important.
In the retcon, she largely replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice Society. And other stuff, more complicated, getting her intimately involved, family-wise, with the superhero world. To document her newfound significance, the Liberty Island story was re-told, by writer Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron, Infinity Inc.) and artist Grant Miehm (The Elementals, The American), in Secret Origins #26 (May, 1988).
Apparently believing modern fans would be unable to accept a simple fantasy of a symbol coming to life and creating a hero, Thomas had her abducted in broad daylight, carried to a nearby underground laboratory, and experimented upon by somebody who would be a mad scientist if he didn't work for the U.S. government. Still asleep, and with nobody noticing, she was returned to the park bench, where she woke up and zapped the tree, just like before. And her powers were defined with sciency-sounding mumbo-jumbo, instead of simply being magic.
And so Miss America, once scarcely a blip on the superhero radar screen, faces the future subject to the whims of any DC writer who thinks he can get a fun story out of mucking with her past.