Miss America to the rescue. Artists: Charles Nicholas and Ken Bald.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1943
Creators: Otto Binder (writer) and Al Gabriele (artist)
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In the the wake of Superman (who started in 1938), American comic books became rife with superheroes. But after a few years, they started losing ground. By the …

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… mid-1940s few new ones were being introduced. The company later known as Marvel Comics was toying with funny animals, and would later go whole-hog into westerns, horror and other genres, including a lot of comics with sexy young women as their stars. They even combined the latter with the fading superheroes, in such characters as Sun Girl, The Blonde Phantom and Namora (a Sub-Mariner spin-off). Among the most successful of these superhero women was Miss America.

Marvel's Miss America was an early example of the company's penchant for appropriating the names of defunct characters whose owners were unlikely to sue over the the issue (cf. Ghost Rider, Captain Marvel) — tho it's not likely to have been as intentional as it obviously was with, say, the later Daredevil, as they could easily have forgotten the original, assuming they'd ever noticed her in the first place.

The first character of that name (not counting the Atlantic City beauty queen, who had been around since the 1920s) was vanishingly obscure at the time. Decades later, she was later incorporated into the DC Comics Universe, and even retro-fitted into The Justice Society of America). But in 1943, she was a long-gone former occupant of a few back pages in Military Comics, where Blackhawk overshadowed everything. She'd been in the first seven issues, which Quality Comics published starting in 1941. The last of the seven was dated February, 1942.

Marvel's version, however, achieved a modest degree of fame. She spent more than four years in the back pages of Marvel Mystery Comics (tho she never made it onto the cover — those were monopolized at the time by The Human Torch), got her own title after only six months, and was a member of the company's short-lived All Winners Squad. In fact, years later, she was retroactively made a member of The Liberty Legion, a group published in the 1970s but set in the '40s, which contained several of Marvel's World War II-era heroes.

She was originally Madeline Joyce, beautiful teenage ward of radio tycoon James Bennet. Even before getting super-powered, she was passionately devoted to the cause of justice, and didn't mind an occasional fistfight to achieve it — and she wished she had a man's strength, so she could achieve more. In Marvel Mystery #49 (November, 1943), she and Bennet visited a Professor Lawson, whose experiments with electricity Bennet was underwriting. Lawson claimed to have gained awesome power when lightning struck a strange contraption he had built. That night, during a thunderstorm, Madeline (no relation, by the way) tried to duplicate his feat. Lawson found her unconscious and, unable to face Bennet, destroyed the device and himself with it. But Madeline recovered quickly, as powerful as she'd hoped, and soon embarked on her career as a scourge of evildoers.

The story was written by Otto Binder (whose other female superheroes include Mary Marvel and Supergirl) and drawn by Al Gabriele (The Black Cat). Later creators associated with Miss America include Ken Bald (best known for his work in newspaper comics, including Dr. Kildare and Dark Shadows), Sid Greene (who later spent years at DC, working mainly for editor Julius Schwartz) and George Klein (who also drew for ACG and DC Comics).

Miss America's own comic began with a Summer, 1944 issue — but, tho that title remained on Marvel's schedule more than a decade, that was the only issue where Miss America herself was the sole star. With the second issue, it was converted to magazine format (early issues of which had photos of women wearing a Miss America costume on the covers). It still ran comics, at least in the beginning, but Miss America was only one of the characters featured. The second issue introduced one that would long outlast her — Patsy Walker, whose teenage adventures continued until the 1960s.

In Marvel Mystery #79 (September, 1946), the Miss America story was the beginning of a seven-part serial full of spies, saboteurs, surviving Nazis and other would-be world conquerors. Despite the fact that it was a continuing story, the feature began skipping an issue here and there, ending in #85 (February, 1948). That was Miss America's last appearance.

But, like most of the old superheroes, she was eventually brought back. In her case, tho, it was as a corpse in an unmarked grave. Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August, 1974) told how she'd married The Whizzer (also an All Winners Squad member), and died in childbirth years earlier. It was also alleged that her children included a couple of Avengers members, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch. Like much of the biographical information on comic book characters, the parentage issue was later revised.

Despite death, she made an appearance in a 1997 episode of Spider-Man's animated TV show, as one of several '40s retreads (others including The Destroyer and The Black Marvel). There, her voice was done by Kathy Garver (Mom in Marvin's TV special).

Miss America remained in superhero heaven for quite some time. She came back to life briefly in 2006, but otherwise looks fairly reliably dead.


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