MISS FURYMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Bell Syndicate
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Tarpé Mills
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and Fantomah, if they count). And she wasn't the first to break into the higher profile world of newspaper comics, either (tho of the two earlier ones, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil wasn't packaged as a regular superhero, and Lady Luck was only barely a newspaper comics character).
But Miss Fury was the first created by a female cartoonist. Tarpé Mills, like Dale Messick (creator of Brenda Starr), altered her name to avoid sex discrimination. She dropped her first name, June, in favor of her gender-neutral middle name. She'd had some success in comic books as early as 1938, drawing stories for Prize Comics, Centaur Publications, Famous Funnies and others, before starting this, her most famous work. The Bell Syndicate (which handled Mutt & Jeff, the political cartoons of Rube Goldberg and other venerable toons) launched Miss Fury as a Sunday page on April 6, 1941.
Unlike the more famous of the 1940s superhero women (such as Wonder Woman, The Black Cat and especially Phantom Lady), Miss Fury wore a costume that showed very little skin. Instead of the equivalent of a bathing suit, she wore a panther skin that covered her from head to foot, with only the lower part of her face exposed. Readers looking for a little kinkiness in their action stories weren't disappointed, tho, as the feature abounded in whips, spike heels, female-on-female violence, and lingerie scenes — and besides, that panther skin fit very tightly. But the series also had enough solid characterization and storytelling to hold the interest of readers for more than a decade, far longer than most 1940s costumed crime fighters.
In everyday life, Miss Fury was Marla Drake, a wealthy socialite whose pre-Fury life was so empty, she regarded it as a major crisis when she heard another woman was planning to attend a costume ball in an outfit similar to hers. At the suggestion of her housemaid, Francine, she switched to the panther skin left to her by her uncle, which had previously been worn as a ceremonial robe by an African witch doctor. Oddly enough, it fit perfectly — very, very perfectly. But she never arrived at the party, because she got involved on the way in an adventure with an escaped murderer. Newspaper coverage of the event dubbed the mystery woman "Black Fury" (no relation). After a few weeks, she brought her superhero monicker in line with the title of the feature, and became Miss Fury.
The panther skin didn't confer any noticeable super powers on Marla, but it did conceal her identity. Apparently, tho, it contributed certain intangibles to her outlook, as Miss Fury habitually did things most bored society women would never dream of. Supporting characters included her two confidants (Francine and Cappy, doorman of the building where she occupied a penthouse) and Detective Carey, who was constantly trying to find out who Miss Fury really was, because he wasn't quite sure which side of the law she was on.
Miss Fury also had a brief career in comic books. The company now known as Marvel Comics reprinted her adventures in a series of eight comics, published between 1942 and '46. That was her only contemporary venture outside the Sunday papers, tho — no radio shows, movie serials, Big Little Books, etc.
The Miss Fury Sunday series ran until 1952 — a very respectable run, considering the brevity of most superhero newspaper strips. After it ended, Mills mostly retired from comics (tho she did dabble from time to time, and her work was seen in a romance comic book as recently as the early 1970s). Miss Fury was next heard from in 1979, when Archival Press reprinted some of her early adventures in graphic novel format, with a new painted cover by Mills. (Archival had earlier done similar editions of Basil Wolverton's Spacehawk and the work of Berni Wrightson.) In 1991, a very minor comic book publisher did a four-issue Miss Fury series whose star was supposedly the granddaughter of the original. Still later, Archival's reprint was repackaged by another small publisher, in comic book form.
As one of the earliest of the female superheroes, Miss Fury is not likely to be forgotten — even tho the majority of today's comics fans have never had an opportunity to read one of her stories.