For this week’s installment of Nobody Else’s Favorites, we’re going to take a trip back to waning days of the Golden Age of Funnybooks, an odd and transitional period between V-J Day and the public outcry yet to come. While World War 2 helped amplify and sustain the mania for costumed mystery men, that momentum of interest begun to fade well before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were subjected to atomic retribution.
Superheroes were a fad and, like all fad based economic trends, inevitably experienced a sharp market correction which reduced an overcrowded playing field and left a handful of proven performers. As other genres — funny animal, teen humor, crime, horror — rose in popularity, prominence, and (most importantly) profitability, the number of superheroic offerings continued to dwindle even further.
Though the writing for this generational genre cycle was clearly on the wall, there were several post-WW2 and pre-CCA attempts to rekindle audience interest in superheroes who weren’t named “Batman,” “Superman,” or “Wonder Woman.” These efforts may not have succeeded in bucking the trendwinds, but they did yield some interesting obscurities who deserved better than historical footnote status…
…like Sun Girl, for example.
Sun Girl was Mary Mitchell, a late-season replacement for Toro as the original Human Torch’s sidekick. As such, she was part of Timely’s late-war/post-war wave of female superheroes which also included fellow sidekicks Namora (Sub-Mariner) and Golden Girl (Captain America) and solo operators such as Venus, the Blonde Phantom, and Miss America (whose 1943 debut kicked off the trend).
As the Human Torch’s “girl Friday,” Sun Girl hewed close to the traditional tropes for female supporting characters — someone to be rescued, overpowered, or consigned to a relatively minor (and demeaning) back-up role.
Sun Girl’s secondary status in those stories may have been regrettable-yet-not-unexpected, but her appearances both in the short-lived Sun Girl series and her solo tales in Marvel Mystery Comics were another matter entirely. There, the “mysterious beauty” dispensed with frivolous nonsense such as damseling or secret identities to instead concentrate upon beating the bejeezus out of evildoers…
…dishing out ample lashings of common sense to the Powers That Be…
…and speeding off to repeat one — or both — of the above. “Speeding” is not a metaphorical flourish, either. There was no destination so pedestrian or event so lacking urgency that artist Ken Ball didn’t feel a need to render his creation as a Veronica Lane-shaped lightning bolt.
Sun Girl was a highly driven individual, and who can blame her? Those giant apes, mobsters, and goofy-looking aliens weren’t going to crack their own skulls.
I’m not sure I’d make a serious case for Sun Girl as either a proto-feminist paragon or harbinger for a new age of heroism. The stories display a decent amount of craft yet fall well within the duo-dimensional, pretzel-logic realm of Golden Age superheroics.
I will say, however, that there’s something compelling about Sun Girl’s solo exploits in which a sensibly dressed woman conducts her superheroic business in a confident, competent manner…not only in light of when the stories were originally published, but also in the context of the current state of the genre.