While it may seem simple enough, the term “superheroine” is actually a rather ambiguous one. There’s a very thin line between the superhero genre and sci-fi and fantasy. Not all superheroes have alter egos, superpowers, and a colorful costume. That’s why it’s difficult to denote the first true superheroine in comics. Instead, I’ve decided to highlight a few of the characters most likely to merit the recognition as the first superheroine in comics.
Olga Mesmer, the Girl with the X-Ray Eyes
Olga Mesmer first appeared in a featured titled “The Astounding Adventures of Olga Mesmer, the Girl with the X-Ray Eyes,” in the August 1937 edition of the pulp magazine Spicy Mystery Stories published by Culture Publications. This debut predates Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 (June 1937) by ten month. So not only is Olga arguably the first superheroine in comics, but also the first superhero.
In the feature, Olga wields superhuman strength and x-ray vision due to experiments performed on her mother by her mad scientist father. She eventually discovers that her mother was actually from Venus and travels to the planet and ends an interplanetary war.
It’s hard to say whether Olga is a superheroine or just a sci-fi heroine. She doesn’t wear a mask or costume, but she does have superpowers, an origin story, and she engages in heroic feats. However, if you accept that the superhero genre started with Superman, then characters that predate him can’t truly belong in the genre.
Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle
Fantomah made her debut in February 1940 in Jungle Comics #2 published by Fiction House. Despite being blonde and white, Fantomah is presented as the mystical protector of the African jungle.
Like Sheena (who also appeared in Jungle Comics), the argument can be made that Fantomah is more of a “Jungle Girl” than a true superheroine. However, unlike most of the other “Jungle Girls,” Fantomah does have superpowers.
Her ill-defined power set includes the ability to fly, teleport, levitate objects, turn giant spiders into normal sized spiders, and do just about anything else the situation calls for.
She doesn’t wear a costume, but her face does transform into a blue skull when she uses her powers.
The Woman in Red
The Woman in Red first appeared in a March 1940 feature in Thrilling Comics # 2 published by Standard Comics under their Nedor Comics imprint. She may not have any superpowers but unlike some of the other ladies on the list, the Woman in Red is the first comic heroine with a solely “superheroine” feel.
Peggy Allan is a police officer who decides to create a costumed persona for herself after becoming frustrated by the limitations of her badge. As the Woman in Red, Peggy fights crime and is an excellent detective. She’s kind of like a gun-toting Batman.
She’s also notable for the fact that her character is free from much of the objectification that plague other heroines of her time. Her costume actually covers and de-emphasis certain anatomical features that many other heroines’ costumes are designed to emphasis.
Comment and let me know which character you think merits the recognition of being the first superheroine in comics!
And please join me next Monday when I’ll discuss the Red Tornado, the first crossdressing superheroine.