CCI: Comic Character Investigation #291 janvier 2013
[ENGLISH] This month: Black Venus. 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.
Agent: Black Venus
You would think readers and viewers alike would get tired of the same old concept but when something works, it works. Black Venus was sexy, all in black as her name suggested and could hold her own on high-flying missions, a femme fatale from the skies.
In contemporary television we have seen femme fatales put to good use most recently in the CW’s Nikita with Maggie Q and further back in ABC’s Alias starring Jennifer Garner. Both of these actress were or are portrayed as sensual, tough females who can get any job done and when required, anywhere in the world. They know the terrain and speak the languages and have all the skills they need. But such women did not propagate overnight and out of nowhere. They have their genesis in characters like Black Venus who blazed a trail across skies, seas and land to give 21st century kickass good girls a headstart. She was not with us very long, enjoying only a four-year run and eleven issues in Contact Comics.
From 1944 through the spring of ’46 various artists penciled the lovely Mary LeRoche (AKA Black Venus) including Rudy Palais, L. B. Cole, Maurice Whitman, George Gregg, Nina Albright and the quite familiar Harvey Kurtzman. It is foggier concerning who wrote the series or who even created the black-haired WWII pilot who was at first an aviator sporting airman goggles in her blue-tinged, mainly black costume. As Mary LeRoche she worked in a bar in the South Pacific which catered to many including her boyfriend, a pilot and lieutenant named Bill Evans.
Unlike many comics (until the game-changing Gwen Stacy death) this short-run comic delivered realistically in that Bill Evans is killed by Black Venus’s enemy, Agent X before she can save him. Agent X shoots him out of the sky and later Black Venus fights the villain, to find out surprisingly after unmasking her that she is also a woman, but fighting for the other side. The fight ends when Black Venus sends Agent X out a window resulting in her death.
While not game-changing as our Silver-Age creator story in that fateful Spider-Man comic, this is a telling event of its time. Black Venus came out in the last years of the WWII effort when death was part of everyday life. No one, not even Black Venus would necessarily be spared the loss of her loved one. Bill Evans death was put to effective use in the series by demonstrating that the realities of war cannot be glossed over and that no one is immune to its devastation.
Aviation Press had put out a character which lived up to their masthead, a daring avaiator who was a mixture of Amelia Earhardt, the good girls of the time and an equal among the regular soldiers.
The storylines further illustrated the times by having her become a scourge against all Japanese war efforts in the Pacific. Even when the war ends she fights against any fascist villains she can find who are working to topple the U.S. of A.
Unfortunately in the forties a lack of consistency, especially with lesser-known characters seemed to creep in, most likely to get whatever spark the company could get out of a character before they retired it. In the final issue at Contact Comics, Mary LeRoche still wears her black costume but her ties with aviation are gone. The far-flying pilot is reduced to basic crime fighting which while respectable in its own right is not what she was created to do. She was meant to take to the skies, not be grounded.
The art which portrayed her varied in effect but readers could sense her in action, feel that appeal they get from sensual and tough female fighters whether they be agents, aviators or in Black Venus’s case a little of both.
The war is over now and we have plenty of femme fatales to choose from in comics, movies and television. Black Venus is no longer needed but she was in her time and she gave new characters to us whether she was trying to inspire them or not. No Agent X can rise again without getting knocked down by one of her progeny. So if they’re smart, they won’t even try.
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.