Writer(s): Tarpé Mills ed., Trina Robbins
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Based on the brief bio provided by collection editor Trina Robbins, Miss Fury creator Tarpé Mills has the feel of a character ripped from Chabon. A Brooklyn native who pursued a career in fashion design, only to see it derailed after nearly accidentally asphyxiating her boss after encasing him in plaster, this fashion plate channeled her fashionable and adventurous spirit into the frequently risqué newspaper strips featuring her leopard skin-clad doppelganger, Marla Drake (a.k.a, the titular Miss Fury). Mills, who according to Robbins had never been farther than Bermuda in her entire life, frequently wrote Miss Fury as a globe-trotting adventurer, besieged by Nazi threats, romantic entanglements, catfights, curses, and gangsters—hardly a clear frame of reference for the almost fashion designer Mills.
But then, much of Miss Fury is sort of instructive if you want to get into the head of this artist, who was perhaps restrained by health (periodic bouts of asthma coupled with arthritis) but nonetheless unencumbered in her level of imagination. If this collection is any indication to go by, Mills put sexy women on the page that women wanted to be and that men wanted to see—we call that a crossover work, if ever there was one. She beat Wonder Woman to the funny pages by six months and had a healthy 10 year stretch where people wanted to read stories about her—can you name five female comic characters today that enjoy that level of solo longevity?
Also, how many today are as unabashedly sexy? Miss Fury shows off a fair amount of skin—enough to apparently earn condemnation from various religious organizations and folks interested in tossing “objectionable” material on pyres. Fury and other female characters in the cast can be seen peeling out of clothes and into more revealing attire—this was a Sunday strip, remember—and I’m sure there were plenty of young male readers at the time who would steal away the funny pages and secure them away for a couple of minutes’ heaven with the socialite in skin-tight leopard skin.
Moving on to the strip proper, our real introduction to the world of Miss Fury comes via Erica Von Kampf, the platinum blonde Nazi moll who was also Miss Fury’s nemesis. Apparently, for a nice, long stretch there, Fury enjoyed a hobby of occasionally punching evil Nazis in the face (or getting them blown up). Mills apparently took particular delight in writing the uberfrau Von Kampf, a tempestuous vamp who was equal parts vamp and weepy lover (as you can see in the panel below).
Yes, it’s a breathless style of prose that might not fly today, but it sure is energetic. And I dare you to tell me that those characters don’t simply jump off the page at you. What’s particularly interesting is how sure and steady the female characters are (confident, conniving, brave), and how emotionally weak many of the male characters are by contrast (jealous, prideful, blustering—they’re all messes). I don’t want to ascribe any more motivation to Ms. Mills than I have (as has her editor, Ms. Robbins), but it would seem that Mills didn’t have time for no weak-willed man.
This volume contains about five years’ worth of stories—the introduction notes the difficulty in collecting and ordering the strips given varying numbering schemes across publications and the simple chore of finding the source material. However, we’re assured, this doesn’t preclude a future volume down the line with earlier and later adventures of the leopard-skin-wearing heroine.
Now here’s the part where I should talk about the actual reproduction and presentation—alas, this review is based on a .pdf sent over by the publisher (shipping’s expensive, y’all), and as such, I had to rely on some decidedly lo-res images to gather my impressions about the volume. From what I can see (and I had to squint a little) the restoration team at IDW was very kind to the work on display, and the colors pop off the page (no mean feat for works that are nearing 70 years old). I had to struggle with the dialog a bit given the digital reproduction, making me want to get my mitts on the actual volume sometime down the line.
Those complaints aside, if you’re fortunate enough to pick up a copy of this volume, I heartily recommend it—not only as a snapshot into another age of comics, but as a reminder (unnecessary and at the same time essential) that we need our sexy (not simply sexualized), strong female characters back, skin-tight leopard-skin suits and all.