COMICS' FIRST TRANSGENDER CHARACTER?
29 Dec 2022
The first arch-villain Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster devised to challenge their hero was a bald, middle-aged scientific
genius. No, not Lex Luthor - he came later and originally had a full head of red hair - but the Ultra-Humanite (real name never revealed).
He's described as "a foe who gained from a scientific experiment the most agile and learned brain on Earth...a foe who seeks to
dominate the world!" Ultra-Humanite appeared in almost a third of ACTION COMICS' first twenty-one issues. However, it's not his first
four in issues #13, 14, 17, & 19 (June - Dec 1939) that concern us here but his final two in issues #20 & 21 (Jan & Feb 1940).
Because in those issues the character changes their gender.
ACTION COMICS #20 opens with a vacationing Clark Kent visiting a movie studio and saving actress Dolores Winters from a would-be assassin. In return
for him saving her life she agrees to be interviewed by him at home. However, when Clark turns up at her Hollywood mansion the following day
she has her butler turn him away. The day after that she announces her retirement, and throws a big farewell party on her yacht that same evening.
It turns out this is a ruse to get the cream of Hollywood together in one place so she can hold them to ransom - though rather than releasing
everyone she plans on killing them all when the ransom is paid. Superman stops her, of course, and discovers the reason behind her sudden turn
to crime. She's actually the Ultra-Humanite, and survived her apparent death during their previous meeting thanks to a brain transplant:
Having assistants capable of performing such an operation and then fully recovering overnight with no visible sign any surgery has been
performed is pretty impressive. The 'scientific experiment' which gave Ultra super-intelligence could also have rendered their brain resilient
enough, I suppose, but what of Dolores Winters's flesh? Anyway, the villain escapes and next shows up the following issue where she seduces
a male scientist, intending to steal the atomic disintegrator he's invented.
Once again she's thwarted by Superman, apparently leaping to
her death in a volcano at the end of the story. Four decades will pass until she next appears in a comicbook story.
In the intervening years, DC Comics consigns its Golden Age characters to Earth-2 in a parallel universe, its then current day tales now taking
place on Earth-1 which has the Justice League of America where Earth-2 had the earlier Justice Society of America. However, since Superman and
Batman had been members of the JSA it was eventually decided that their pre-Silver Age adventures must also have taken place on Earth-2. In
ACTION COMICS #484 (June 1978) writer Cary Bates relates the story of the Earth-2 Superman's wedding to his Lois Lane. No date is given for this
event, but as drawn by artist Curt Swan it clearly occurs in the early 1950s. This spawns the series 'Mr & Mrs Superman',
and the instalment in SUPERMAN FAMILY #201 (May-June 1980) finally sees the return of Ultra-Humanite in a story written by E. Nelson Bridwell
and illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger:
She's still Dolores Winters, and even given the elastic nature of comicbook time has to have been for several years. Having kidnapped Bruce Wayne
she now plans on transferring her brain into his body. She doesn't succeed, of course, but
the following year writer Gerry Conway picks up the baton in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #195 (Oct 1981) and has Ultra-Humanite
appear in the present day, now in the mutated body of a giant white ape. In his version of events, the character has had their brain
transplanted in many different bodies, both male and female, in the intervening years and this is supposedly their final form. Beauty has now become
the beast, and this is the version of Ultra-Humanite that DC will most often return to in subsequent years. It's not too hard to see why, particularly
given that great George Perez design, but everything from Bridwell's story onwards is a retcon (itself a word whose meaning has, ironically, been retconned) which served to
bury how revolutionary Siegel and Shuster's character was.
There's nothing in Siegel and Shuster's tales to indicate they intended the brain transplant to be anything other than a one-off or that
Ultra-Humanite is in any way unhappy with her new body. Later writers
have suggested Ultra chose a female body because men typically underestimate women, or that hers was the only body available for
some reason, or that Dolores Winters was kidnapped in error. None of these hold water. As she states (emphasis mine):
"My assistants, finding my body, revived me via adrenalin. However, it was clear that my recovery could be only temporary. And so, following
my instructions, they kidnapped Dolores Winters yesterday, and placed my brain in her young vital body."
So it's quite clear this was a *choice* and not a mistake. Middle-aged scientist Ultra-Humanite *wanted* to be a beautiful young woman. Given
how abruptly Ultra-Humanite disappeared after all the work put into establishing an arch-nemesis for Superman, you have to wonder if maybe
the character had become too transgressive for editors of the time.
Cleveland SF fans Jerry Siegel
and Joe Shuster ushered in the age of the superhero when they created Superman, something for which they're rightly celebrated. They also created
one of - if not the - first transgender characters in comics. That's something for which they also deserve to be celebrated.
(artwork copyright DC Comics)
DARK SEID STORY
10 Dec 2021
Several days ago, in response to a post elsewhere about the recent film version of 'West Side Story',
I suggested the above half in jest. But only half. Because actually, if you think about it, a musical
version of the forbidden romance of Barda and Scott Free based on 'West Side Story' is not at all a bad
idea, with Apokolips and New Genesis replacing the Sharks and the Jets. And though they'd have to do
some digital de-aging on her in close-ups, the obvious person to
play Barda, someone who has the height, the acting chops, and the singing skill, is Hannah Waddingham.
(see Ted Lasso) - (artwork by Jack Kirby, copyright DC Comics)
17 Jan 2020
I was in town yesterday and took a bunch of photos of Amazon's temporary takeover of Piccadilly Circus
Underground station to advertise their forthcoming 'Picard' TV series. Note big video screen
in first photo, which was showing the trailer on a loop. And, yes, all those small ads on
the escalator walls were also for the show.
There were also a whole load of ST-themed announcements. If memory serves (I should've taken
notes) these included:
"Please allow passengers to disembark from the starship before attempting to board."
"Please take care when using the escalators, lifts, or transporters."
And in the entrance hall the voice of Patrick Stewart himself urged you to exit the space
This beat the stunt Amazon pulled on the New York Subway a few years ago for 'Man In The
High Castle'. All that fascist imagery did not go down well.
10 June 2019
Back in February, I spoke at the University of Westminster in the vast hall pictured above at a conference on - of all things - duplicator
technology. Recently the organisers uploaded a short video distilled
from the two days of proceedings. I appear around the 8.50 mark:
UPS AND DOWNS
8 December 2018
I was on a bus yesterday when I saw this. I'd always assumed UPS vans had a low centre of gravity and weighed a fair bit, but perhaps not. I can't tell whether it's been stopped from tipping over entirely by the car on the other side despite that car not sustaining much damage as a result, or if that one has been placed there to stop a complete tip over.
BRUCE CASTLE GESTETNER EXHIBITION
1 October 2018
On 29th September, along with Pat Charnock and Dave Langford, I attended the opening of the
Gestetner exhibition in an upstairs room at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham. This was opened by the mayor, the grandson of the founder was in attendance, and it included material loaned or donated by us. The exhibition runs until the end of January 2019 and is well worth visiting. Below are a selection from the photos I took on the day.
Bruce Castle Museum
Jonathan Gestetner, Oscar Mac-Fall
Viewing fannish fanzines
More fannish fanzines
Mint guides and stylii
The company in-house magazine
The 200 series duper from my cellar
Me examining it (photo Dave Langford)
MY VISIT TO THE DEATH STAR
9 April 2016
Earlier today since I was riding the Jubilee Line on the London Underground anyway, I stepped off at Canary
Wharf and took the following photo on the platform:
Why did I do this? Well yesterday I got to see the first trailer for the movie STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE, which will
be released in December. One scene in that trailer takes place inside what is presumably the Death Star. However,
it was instantly recognizable to me (and many others) as Canary Wharf. Below are two stills from that trailer so
you can see for yourself:
In the second picture note in particular the way they've concealed the hanging signs and the structures
they've devised to drop over the stone seats with the big underground signs. These are particularly clever
because as well as doing their job of concealing they also fit in with the general design aesthetic of
that universe, too.
So now I can claim to have visited a Star Wars set.
TO TRILOGY, OR NOT TO TRILOGY
20 March 2016
It seems to me that Marvel missed a trick by not turning the Kree-Skrull War into a trilogy, because
as it stands it could greatly benefit from both a prelude volume and a follow-up volume. The case for
the former is simple and the contents obvious. When the Kree-Skrull War was written in 1971 (45 years ago,
remember) the Marvel universe was barely a decade old and readers could be assumed to have a reasonable
grasp of it. This is not such a safe assumption to make now that universe is closing in on 60 years old.
So a volume that includes the salient tales would be very helpful for those not steeped in that history.
I give you:
Vol 1 - The Road to Kree-Skrull War:
These are, as I say, obvious. In fact it's a bit surprising this volume doesn't already exist. These are the
stories that set up the Kree-Skrull War and they also introduce new readers to the Kree, the Skrulls, their
rivalry, the Sentry, Captain Marvel, Ronan, Carol Danvers, the Super Skrull, and the Inhumans. The AMAZING
ADVENTURES stories are also a direct prequel to Kree-Skrull War and feed into it. (For reasons discussed
later, AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 & 10 should definitely *not* be included.)
THOR #146 - #149: The first four Inhumans back-ups
FANTASTIC FOUR #64 & #65
MARVEL SUPERHEROES #12 & #13
CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 - #3
AMAZING ADVENTURES #5 - #8: the Inhumans stories
Because Kree-Skrull War wasn't originally conceived as a story to be collected in a single volume, it
ends untidily with the fate of Clint Barton still in question. So, naturally, any 'aftermath' collection
would have to start with the following tale in AVENGERS #98 - 100 in order to resolve this. But what
else would make up such a volume? Here's my suggestion:
Vol 3 - Kree-Skrull War: Aftermath:
The first ILLUMINATI selection is the one shot done for 'Road to Civil War' that shows the
formation of the group in response to Kree-Skrull War; the second covers their attempt to
warn off the Skrulls. The FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL features the war continuing on the moon by means of
single combat between a Kree and a Skrull and also features the wedding of Black Bolt and Medusa.
The Watcher declares a tie and hopes, naively, that this is now the end of the war. The X-MEN ANNUAL
is the one selection here that might have people scratching their heads but it is in fact the *perfect*
epilogue to the saga. In Kree-Skrull War, the Supreme Intelligence makes a big deal of the fact that both
Kree and Skrulls are evolutionary dead ends who can develop no further. The final page of the
X-MEN ANNUAL reveals why this is so, picking up that thread and so tying the whole thing together.
AVENGERS #98 - 100
NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI - first 10 pages
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #18
X-MEN ANNUAL #11
The only possible addition to the contents for this volume I might make is the addition, between the annuals,
of the sequence from FANTASTIC FOUR #257 (and 2 pages from the previous issue) showing the destruction of
the Kree homeworld and the death of Princess Anelle.
Which brings us to the Inhumans. When the Inhumans movie comes out a few years from now Marvel will undoubtedly release a
pile of Inhumans comics collections to complement it. This is good, except there's a problem with the
Inhumans run from AMAZING ADVENTURES as it stands, which is supposed to lead into AVENGERS #95.
Marvel acknowledged this at the time, issue #10 finishing: "..a tale now on sale in the unlikely, uncanny
pages of AVENGERS #95! We'll fill in the rough gaps between those two sagas at some near-future date!"
This never happened, and now never will, with the result that when these tales are collected with AVENGERS #95 -
as they have been and should be - it makes for a very unsatisfactory reading experience. Black Bolt's young
companion Joey is abducted in AMAZING ADVENTURES #10 yet is by his side in AVENGERS #95. Also, what happened
to Medusa, Gorgon & Karnak? If you move AVENGERS #95 so that it occurs before AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 & 10
rather than after them these problems go away. Now it reads so that it's seeing Triton in AVENGERS #95 rather
than Medusa in AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 that restores Black Bolt's memory, and when he leaves Attilan at the end
of AVENGERS #95 it's to retrieve the trio he now knows is looking for him. The only problem this reordering creates is that we
now don't know how Black Bolt got his costume back. But then we don't need to - these things are regularly
handwaved away as something that happened between issues. AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 & 10 now require a few minor changes
to dialogue and captions to smooth over the reordering, but I believe this is worth doing. (Personally I'd also
drop the page in #10 where Joey gets abducted, too.) There are three pages needing this in #9, to whit:
Before on page 8:|
After on page 8:|
Before on page 11:|
After on page 11:|
Before on page 18:|
After on page 18:|
There are also only two pages requiring minor alterations in
wording in #10, thus:
Before on page 4:|
After on page 4:|
Before on page 16:|
After on page 16:|
19 March 2016
So I traded in my collection of Frank Miller Daredevils for the recently published deluxe hardback collection of
same and noticed a surprising omission: WHAT IF? #35. The story follows on from DAREDEVIL #181 and is titled 'What If
Elektra Had Lived?'. Its splash page is even a witty call back to the splash page in that issue. I can only imagine
Marvel believes it shouldn't be included because it's tonally wrong for the collection, but I disagree. In fact I'd run
it directly between issues #181 and #182, which is where it both fits and belongs. When these issues are read that way, as
I recently reread them, its presence deepens and helps explain Matt Murdock's breakdown in #182. Of course, I also
usually reread this sequence with Miller's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #15 slotted in before DAREDEVIL #181, since then
we see how the Punisher ended up in prison alongside Bullseye. Given that the second season of the Netflix Daredevil
series dropped today, featuring both Elektra and the Punisher, it occurs to me that a useful collection to offer now
would consist of the following:
DAREDEVIL #168 - first Elektra
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #15
WHAT IF? #35
DAREDEVIL #182 - #184
Why would Marvel offer such a collection when they've so recently published their (almost) complete Frank Miller
DAREDEVIL? Well, they wouldn't. At least not as a printed collection. But what about a digital one? Seems to me
that any number of collections could be assembled to tie-in with specific events that only come together in
digital form. Many of Marvel's Big Events could benefit from a 'Road To' collection (see above). If properly
curated by someone who knows their Marvel comics history these could be both transient *and* profitable.
16 March 2015
Occasionally, I'll read something that makes me do a double take. As
a long time SF fanzine fan, these comic panels did that for me:
Then there's this one:
And this one:
ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #11 (Jun'93): 80.000+ streets in London, and he chooses that one?
JULIE SCHWARTZ: THE EARLY YEARS
16 March 2014
While THEN: THE ARCHIVE has had new material added on a fairly regular basis, it's been
a while since I last updated this part of my site. Four years, in fact. This blog is where
I post the occasional comics-related post. Like this one.
In the mighty effort he has put in to securing the photo collections of old SF fans before
they get lost, as all too many have, my buddy Peter Weston has also hoovered up quite a few
pictures from the early days of US fandom. Since our interests lie mainly with the history
of UK fandom we haven't really made much use of these as yet. I was looking through them
again earlier and thought comics fans might get a kick out of the two below, which come
from the collection of the late E.J. 'Ted' Carnell. First there's this one, presumably
taken in New York:
L-to-R: Jack Darrow, Julius Schwartz, Conrad Ruppert,
Don Wollheim, Julius Unger
And then there's this one (clean up by David Hathaway-Price):
Superman's Julius Schwartz, Edmond Hamilton,
& Mort Weisinger
close-up of newspaper
Both are undated, and not being a fashion expert I don't know if they date from the 1930s
or the 1940s, though I'd guess the latter. Can anyone confirm this? Do Weisinger's
white-topped shoes tell us anything? It might be possible to
date the second one very accurately if the edition of the newspaper Weisinger is holding
could be identified. A long shot, but stranger things have happened.
UPDATE: The guy on the far left of the first photo has been identified to me as
Jack Darrow, and on going through Ted's photos again I found one of Ruppert and so
can positively ID him as the guy on the far right. I also found another photo with Julie
Schwartz in it I'd somehow missed. Since he has more hair in this one, I'm guessing this
is the earliest of the three. According to the caption, the photo was taken outside the
offices of THRILLING WONDER in July 1937:
L-to-R rear: Jack Williamson, L. Sprague de Camp, Dr. John Clark,
Frank Belknap Long, Mort Weisinger,
Edmond Hamilton, Otis Adelbert Kline...
L-to-R front: Otto Binder, Manly Wade Wellman, Julius Schwartz
UPDATE 2: Going through J Michael Rosenblum's photos - as supplied by his
son Howard - while looking for something else entirely I came across yet
another photo of Schwartz from, I'm guessing, the early 1940s.
L-to-R: Oswald Train, Lloyd Eshbach, Julius Schwartz
Other early photos of American SF pros and fans can be found elsewhere on this site:
MARVEL: THE FINAL DAYS OF THE THIRD REICH
16 January 2010
At some point, someone will tell the story of the final days of the Third Reich in the Marvel Universe.
Whether they will take the time and trouble to research what has already been established over the
years for that period is another matter. Here, in 13 pages taken from a bunch of different comics
is what we know to date. If you know of something significant I've missed please let me know.
NEW NAME, NEW PREMISES
16 January 2010
With the move to a new website I figured it was time to move my very occasional blog here, too.
Previously called FRIDGE MAGNET - a name made up on the spur of the moment when I first had
something I wanted to post - I'm taking this opportunity to retitle it. I found the new
name in one of my old apazines along with an explanation of why it would be a good
one for me to use. I agreed with my earlier self, so here it is. Why BRASH NEON should
be appropriate is left as an exercise for the reader.
PREVIOUS BLOG ITEMS (formerly at FRIDGE MAGNET):
8 March 2009 * link
I've been a Londoner more than half my life now and in that time I've gotten to know
the city pretty well, but there are still....
THINGS ABOUT LONDON I LEARNED FROM COMICS
1) When flying in from the US, airliners routinely land on the River Thames:
2) Charing Cross has cobbled streets, medieval houses, and is surrounded by woods:
3) Despite Ireland, the Irish Sea, Wales, and a fair chunk of England lying between them,
you can smell the Atlantic from the docks:
Incidentally, if you're wondering how the character shown covered ten miles in three minutes,
well being a vampire he did it by turning into a bat and flying there.
Images copyright DC Comics and Marvel Comics. More geographical insights as I uncover them.
6 April 2007 * link
This is, I suppose, a blog. I had no intention of ever starting one, honest. It
all began when someone asked see this illo by Neil (see item below), who
gave permission to post it saying he'd quite like to see it again himself. I've had
a website for years, though I rarely update it, so I had somewhere to post it. Only it
didn't seem right to just post it bare without at least a little bit of explanatory
text to provide context. Then, of course, it struck me that the combined illo'n'text
really needed to be embedded in some sort of larger format rather than just standing
alone. Fire up a text editor, type out some vanilla HTML, and in not much time at
all there was the skeleton of this page. Having created it it seemed a shame not to
add in a sidebar with a few links and, well, here we are.
This is somewhere to post the occasional thing I want to point others to. I
don't see it as something I'll be adding posts to very often, but if I do I'll
probably spruce up the design a bit.
A few days ago, in a comment thread on the Nielsen Hayden's MAKING LIGHT, Neil
Gaiman wrote that:
I'm pretty sure my first published illustration was a Watchmen gag in an Avedon Carol
fanzine, unless my memory has gone...
This caught my attention because:
Neil -- That very illo has been pinned to my office notice board - about a foot from where I'm
sitting - for years. You dated it, too - 29/9/86. I used to keep a diary back then, but
a quick look at the appropriate page has no mention of you at all. Seems I spent the day
visiting various museums with Stu Shiffman, over from the US. We used to see you pretty
often back then so I suppose we could've all met up at a pub afterwards. Strange that
my diary doesn't mention it if we did, though. The thing is, I was there when you drew
that picture, and it was either in a pub or at a con. The nearest entry I can find that
mentions you is a week earlier at UKCAC '86, the only comics con Avedon and I ever
attended. Perhaps you drew it there and misdated it? Curious.
Rereading my diary from that period for the first time since I wrote the entries,
that was quite a socially busy and interesting few weeks. Much more hectic than
the more sedate social life I enjoy these days. Neil replied to my comment thus:
Rob -- I remember meeting Stu with you, so my guess is that it was done in the pub that
evening. I'm pretty sure I didn't do it at UKCAC. I interviewed Alan and Dave about
Watchmen there, though. In a suit, as befitting the occasion.
This is probably what happened, and when the drawing was done. Anyway, one of those
reading the thread asked to see the cartoon, Neil was happy for it to be posted, so here it
is, two decades after it was drawn. And it occurs to me that if it gets linked to it
will be seen by many more people than the maybe couple of hundred who saw it in its
original fanzine appearance.
Avedon Carol *
Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden *
Roz Kaveney *
Neil Gaiman *