Author Mike Madrid is no stranger to Golden Age comics, having written two previous books on the subject, THE SUPERGIRLS: FASHION, FEMINISM, FANTASY, AND THE HISTORY OF COMIC BOOK and DIVAS, DAMES & DAREDEVILS: LOST HEROINES OF GOLDEN AGE COMICS. In many ways, Madrid’s latest book, VIXENS, VAMPS, & VIPERS: LOST VILLAINESSES OF GOLDEN AGE COMICS is a companion book of similar format to DIVAS, DAMES & DAREDEVILS. Instead of focusing on the heroines of Golden Age comics, this volume examines the villainesses with some textual analysis along with complete black and white reprints of the comics in which they first appeared.
Kuskin, an equally good if all-too-brief introduction, a conclusion, and introductory text in each of the four major chapters (Vicious Viragos, Beauties & Beasts, A Rainbow of Evil, and Crime Queens). Each of the chapters includes reproductions of the complete Golden Age comic origins of female villains, all from the period 1940-50. If you’re a casual fan of Golden Age comics like me, you’re unlikely to be familiar with many of these characters (and to be clear, most were one-shot villains, either being killed off or imprisoned at the end of their origin stories). The characters included were: Madam Doom, Texa, Idaho, Fräulein Halunke, Red-Haired Kate, Her Highness, Lady Serpent, He-She (very gender-bendy), Nadya Burnett, Beauty, Skull Lady, The Figure, Nang Tu, Queen Tuana, Veda the Cobra Woman, Mava, Madame Butterfly (not the one from Puccini), Belle Guness, Madame Muscles, Winsome Wanda Bailey, Mable Reine, and Shoebox Annie French. As was typical for the era, they are a real mix of just-plain-nasty-but-otherwise-normal people and those with some kind of strange origin that gives them some ability beyond the norm.
I have to admit that I was surprised at how violent or dark some of the stories were (nothing particularly graphic by twenty-first century standards, of course). Most are pretty hokey; that’s probably to be expected from the 1940s, but some actually hold up fairly well. The individual stories’ art also varies considerably, with a few being on the crude side, with most actually pretty darn good. All the stories are interesting as historical artifacts in any case.
I read an advance uncorrected copy for this review, but I’d just like to briefly note that the scans of some of the comics need to be cleaned up for the final version as they are a bit muddy or indistinct in places. The quality is not so bad that it makes it impossible to read and enjoy the comics, but it does detract. It’s understandable that undoubtedly many of the comics surviving this period are in relatively rough shape, but there is always the possibility for post-scanning clean-up, so I hope the publisher makes an effort to do that.
Recommended if you’re interested in early depictions of female antagonists in comics or a big fan of Golden Age comics in general.
Review copyright © 2014 J. Andrew Byers