CCI: Comic Character Investigation #231 juillet 2012
[ENGLISH] This month: Senorita Rio. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.
Latin and Lovely: The Sultry Senorita Rio
Many female characters are well known in the world of comics, some not so much. Yet it would be unjust for Senorita Rio to miss out on her fair share of attention for as sure as her better-known counterparts she has enticed readers within her time. A couple of things set her apart from the rest of the sexy femme fatales and heroines. For one, she was a movie star, a presence in popular culture within popular culture.
Her alter ego Rita Farrar was a glamorous screen icon and considering the time in which she made her first appearance (circa 1942) that is right on the money. For this was a time when beauties like Jean Tierney, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth were gracing Hollywood screens. It was not a stretch then that a fictional silver screen actress would make a fitting addition to espionage tales on more two-dimensional pages of the era. (Hollywood has always contributed to comic characters such as films like The Mark of Zorro which influenced Superman’s cape and was even the movie Bruce Wayne watched with his parents on that fateful night by Crime Alley). So it was fitting that such beautiful starlets of the celluloid universe influenced such a creature as the sexy, red-garbed Senorita Rio.
Drawn by Nick Viscardi (better known as Nick Cardy to fans) as well as Lily Renee, Jack Kamen, Jerry Grandenetti and Bob Lubbers the series displayed some high talent. Joe Doolin produced some fine art as well working only covers in the series, one which ran fifty-three seductive stories of the Latin Lovely’s escapades in defending democracy against fascist enemies in different parts of the world (all Latin of course) such as Mexico, Central America and South America. The stories ran in Fight Comics #19-71, bringing a decade of Rita’s adventures to readers, a series brought to us by legendary Fiction House.
To set the stage for her new “role” as a spy, Rita pretended to commit suicide (a grim cover to be sure) so that she could drop out of newspaper articles and popularity and go where she needed to go without the world’s newsworthy attention being paid to the screen goddess. Ironically the series has her using her film star status to enable her more easy access to other parts of the world because she could be less suspicious than regular agents (I guess it was okay that foreigners knew she was alive). Comics were not always perfect after all, but Rita’s appeal did not suffer in ten years of print runs anyway.
It was the United States Secret Service that recruited her for these missions. It didn’t matter that it was unrealistic to assign a woman whose only qualifications was acting, beauty and a Latin heritage, as if these three things would make her some kind of ultimate spy in select nations. As with all comics, it was meant to be taken as fun, adventurous and sexy in an impossible kind of way. Remember, off-the-wall, implausible movie serials were being made at the time which would make Rita Farrar’s exploits look deadly serious and realistic. And in some ways they were. She was in the spy game, years before the likes of even James Bond would make his first appearance, a mere slip of a screen star running into trouble head on in her red outfit with pistol in hand to take out her enemies.
The artists in the series made it come alive because they ensured a sensuality to the spy world which could compete with any of the “good girl” books that were out at the time. But Rita was not just a spicy Latina heroine titillating hordes of reading fans. She was an agent of adventure and daring, and became something larger than even a screen icon by pursuing a path of less renown but one with more purpose in helping the world.
And that world must have been grateful because decades after those fifty-three sultry stories saw their end, AC Comics would gather them up in a new trade paperback in 1994 called Rio Rita. Maybe they changed the name to protect the sensual, but
don’t let the name change fool you. As the bard showed us a rose by any other name smells just as sweet.
Where Senorita Rio is concerned we are in for a fond and rosy aroma from another era, one in which comics and movies complemented each other for the first time, and where we met the Latin beauty in her only time.
Adios, Senorita Rio but know this….we remember you.
James Parducci (www.jparducci.blogspot.com) is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.