I’d like to talk about characters whose gender transitioned either as a disguise to fight crime, or changed during the course of being crime fighters.
In 1939, Centaur Comics’ Amazing Man #5 introduced a new type of disguise for a crime fighter — gender swap. In the feature “Cat Man“, Barton Stone was framed for crimes committed by men he thought were friends. Each dies with only one thing in common — a scratch from a cat. Upon serving twenty years, Bartons was released and took his revenge against his so-called friends by dressing up as an old lady, and having his cats (whose claws he has painted with a poison) scratch the bad guys. Later he used this same MO to deal with Gangsters.
Next came Centaur Comics’ “Headless Horseman“. Debuting in April, 1940, The Headless Horseman was Miss Betty, a school marm who became frustrated with lawlessness around her living in 1800’s Colorado. Betty fashioned a disguise with a straw-stuffed wooden frame to make it appear she was a headless horseman.
Madam Fatal is often attributed as being “the first cross-dressing hero” when in fact, he was the third. Debuting a month after The Headless Horseman, and a year after Cat Man, Madam Fatal first appeared in Quality Comics’ Crack Comics #1. Theatrical actor Richard Stanton lost his wife and daughter in the same day. His daughter was kidnapped, and the shock caused his wife to have a heart attack. Fearing the kidnappers would recognize his famous face, Stanton disguised himself as an old lady to spy on his foes. Stanton never found his daughter, though he did manage to find the man behind the kidnapping. The fact that Stanton continued to fight crime even after not finding his daughter and seeing the man who took her locked away, has led to speculation that he preferred living as a woman and was in fact transgendered. I would use “she” if this aspect was confirmed, but since it hasn’t been, it’s just speculation.
Ma Hunkle had started off as a supporting character for a feature in All-American Comics‘ “Scribbly” in June of 1939. It wasn’t until after more than a year later that Ma adopted her costumed identity of “The Red Tornado“. Because of her husky build, people often thought the Tornado was a man, and Ma did nothing to disspell the notion.
Now for a more offensive character. Appearing in Boy Comics #9, 1943, He-She was supposedly: “half-man/half-woman and all-bad”. A nemesis to Crimebuster, He-She had tricked a wealthy woman into marrying him-her in order to get at her money. This sad character appeared (thankfully) only once in Lev Gleason’s publication.
In Sensation Comics #59, the daughter of a scientist decided to use her father’s freezing apparatus for criminal purposes. So she adopted the masculine guise of The Blue Snowman and faced Wonder Woman’s wrath. The Blue Snowman only made a few appearances in the golden age, and even fewer in modern times.
It wasn’t until 1983, a full forty years after He-She’s one and only unfortunate appearance that we saw comics’ first truly gender fluid character. Cloud debuted in Marvel Comics’ Defenders #123 in the form of a young girl who could taken on cloudlike form. It was later revealed that she was in fact a sentient cloud that could take on human form. Cloud eventually fell in love with Moondragon and decided to take an older male form to woo her.
Danny the Street made his debut in Doom Patrol vol. 2, #35 in August of 1990. Danny was a sentient street with a decidedly camp male personality and given to doing drag. Named after famous British drag queen Danny La Rue (La Rue meaning “the street”), Danny often spoke in Polari, a British gay slang. Grant Morrison was the mind behind this truly delightful creation.
In 1994, a wild and wonderful character named Lord Fanny first appeared in The Invisibles vol. 1, #2. Also created by Grant Morrison, Lord Fanny had been raised by her grandmother (a powerful witch) as a female because only females could become witches and she wanted to pass on her lineage to her grandchild. Fanny’s personality was so charming she melted the hearts of Gods and Demons alike.
Next up, we’ll discuss modern day characters that handle the issue of transgenderism in a more serious manner.