A month ago, when David Bowie passed away, I thought about my favourite song of his: “Putting Out the Fire” which was the theme song for Cat People. Which inspired this article about cat-themed characters of the golden age of comics. I find it ironic that my favourite Bowie song is “Putting Out the Fire” when the man ignited so many people’s fires for music. Here now are some Cat People for your enjoyment…
The Black Cat first prowled onto the scene in Pocket Comics #1 in 1941. Movie star Linda Turner (an obvious send off of real life actress Lana Turner) uncovered a Nazi spy’s plan and decided to utilize her considerable skills to become a costumed crimebuster named The Black Cat. Those skills included unarmed combat, acrobatics, lariat throwing, and javelin tossing, to say nothing of her stunt woman experience. An unusual developement took place towards the end of her early run when she took on a boy sidekick named Black Kitten. A female superhero taking on a male sidekick was unique and remains so today. Similarly, Holyoke’s Cat-Man had a female sidekick named Kitten.
Black Lion took pride in debuting in Fox Feature’s Wonderworld Comics #21 in 1941. Big game hunter George Davis became bored with his everyday life and decided to hunt criminals instead of animals. Though it is never stated Davis has superhuman abilities, he is shown have catlike agility and surviving wounds that would prove fatal to others. George’s cousin Larry joined him on his quest as his sidekick Cub. Their adventures weren’t a roaring success and they were cancelled after seven stories.
The Cougar appeared in Ace Magazines’ Super Mystery Comics V4 #1 in 1944. The Cougar was secretly Fritz Martin, who was blackmailing an older man who had been jailed before he married. The older man had twin sons, Tom and Tim, one of who had witnessed his father handing off a payment and recognized Martin’s identity. Later, dressed in a black cat costume, Martin now calling himself the Cougar snuck into the family’s house and killed Tom and tried to kill Tim since he didn’t know which twin had spied him. This put him on the radar of the hero known as Mr. Risk. Their battle doesn’t end well for Martin/Cougar, as he thrown under an ambulance by Mr. Risk.
Jaguar Man padded his way into All Great Comics #1 published by Fox Features in 1944. Able to leap great heights, communicate with big cats, balance like a cat, and commit acts of great strength; zookeeper Steve Lane donned a cat-themed costume and fought crime with the assistance of his pet jaguar Ebony as Jaguar Man. In his second (and final) appearance, the zookeeper’s name was now Murray Mane and his feline friend was now Ja-Go. after which he pussy-footed it into obscurity.
The Manx made his one and only appearance in Mystery Men Comics #26 in 1941. A costumed villain whose real identity we never learn, the Manx was a blackmailer who attempted to extort money from a killer-for-hire. Alas, the Manx ran afoul of the hero The Green Mask who sent him off to jail after killing the assassin. Possessing no super powers, the Manx’s main weapon was a big, green claw he kept on a wristband around his right wrist.
Miss Fury first slunk her way into the public eye in Bell Syndicate’s newspaper strip of the same name on Sunday, April 6, 1941. Rich socialite Marla Drake found out that another young woman was wearing the same outfit to a party. So she did what anyone in the same position would do – she donned the pelt of a black panther that her uncle willed to her. Her friend warned her that the skin was meant for a witch doctor, but she ignored them. On her way to the party she wound up helping capture an escaped criminal. The press dubbed her “Black Fury” but she later informed them it was Miss Fury. While her costume was supposed to be enchanted, she had no superhuman abilities to speak of. Miss Fury was a trained acrobat, climber, and unarmed combatant, her only weapons being the claws of her costume, a whip, and sometimes spiked heels.
The Purple Tigress pounced her way into comics in All Good Comics #1 in 1944. A wealthy socialite named Anita Morgan wore a purple tiger striped costume and called herself The Purple Tigress. Not much is known about the extent of her powers (if any) though she is said to have cat-like eyes that see in the dark. She is seen to be an able fighter who can perform acts of great athleticism. Though her costume had no mask nor any other means of disguise, no one seemed to recognize her as being both Anita Morgan and Purple Tigress, much like other crimefighters of the day like Black Condor and Doll Man. After only two tales of feline feats, the Purple Tigress was never heard from again.
Wildcat is by far the best known cat-themed crimebuster, first appearing in Sensation Comics #1 in January of 1942. Heavy weight boxing champion Ted Grant was wrongly accused of the murder of his crooked manager and the cops sent to investigate the crime. Grant escaped, and inspired by the costume crimefighter Green Lantern created a black cat costume and hunted brought the true killers to justice. Wildcat/Grant possessed no true superpowers for most of his career, but was later retconned into “having nine lives”. Grant’s most formidable skill was his boxing and peak physical condition. Wildcat has made appearances on Batman – Brave and the Bold, Justice League Unlimited, and on the live action TV series Arrow.