SEÑORITA RIOMedium: Comic books
Published by: Fiction House Magazines
First Appeared: 1942
Creator: Joe Hawkins, writer, and Nick Viscardi, artist
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Fight Comics, published by Fiction House Magazines starting at the very beginning of the 1940s, sported protagonists with names like Shark Brodie, Kayo Kirby and "Kinks" Mason. In such a testosterone-charged environment, a spy hero called Señorita Rio was a rare whiff of femininity. She was
later joined by Tiger Girl, but when she started out (19th issue, June 1942, replacing Super-American) she was the sole rule-breaker in what seemed like a particularly macho no-girls-allowed club.
As a whole, Fiction House was a relatively equal-opportunity publisher, at least as far as its heroes were concerned. With Sheena (1938) it pioneered in the jungle queen genre; and with Fantomah (1940) it has a valid claim to having introduced the first female superhero. This is less a result of high-minded ideals about gender equality, than of a desire to rope in a lot of adolescent male readers; but the publisher did have a higher percentage of heroic women than its average contemporary.
Señorita Rio was the name given to actress Rita Farrar, as she did intelligence work for the U.S. government in South America. (No word on whether or not her name inspired that of Rita Farr of The Doom Patrol.) Her Hispanic ancestry enabled her to come and go in that region without attracting attention; and her occupation provided cover for the fact that she traveled a lot.
Rita's first story was credited to Joe Hawkins, undoubtedly a house name. The art has been identified as that of Nick Viscardi, who, under the name Nick Cardy, made an impression on 1960s readers of DC Comics with his work on Aquaman, The Teen Titans and Bat Lash. But artist Lily Renée was probably the one who became most strongly associated with the character.
Rita started in the back pages of Fight Comics, but showed up on the cover of #37 (April, 1945). Two issues later, she became the regular feature in that position, replacing Rip Carson, who had reigned supreme there since 1942. She held onto the cover for two years, finally being displaced by Tiger Girl. She remained in the back pages, at least, until #71 (November, 1950).
Unlike some Fiction House characters (e.g., Kaanga, Wambi), Rita escaped the clutches of Israel Waldman, who, a few years later, becaue notorious for reprinting whatever wasn't nailed down, regardless of rights. But she did get scooped up in the 1980s by AC Comics, which seemed to be on a mission to keep any '40s character whose publisher wasn't in a position to prevent it, from falling completely into obscurity. Rita's granddaughter, also named Rita Farrar, got involved with AC's Femforce under the name Rio Rita. The original Rita became a supporting character.
And so, life goes on for an adventurer whose publisher last used her more than a half-century ago.