Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Golden Age Throwbacks: The Woman in Red

It's time once again to revisit the Golden Age of Comic Books and take a look at another female member of the Golden Age Throwbacks now in the public domain, The Woman in Red. According to author, artist and comic book historian Trina Robbins, The Woman is Red was in fact the very first costumed female superhero, predating the better known Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel. That fact is somewhat debatable, as she doesn't have any actual superpowers per se, but nevertheless a worthy candidate for the distinction (after all, Batman doesn't have any superpowers either). The Woman in Red never had a cover spot devoted to her character, but she did have a decent run in both Thrilling Comics and America's Best Comics as a secondary feature from 1940 up until 1945 when she was finally dropped and replaced by Miss Masque (whom we examined earlier).

The Woman in Red was the secret identity of Peggy Allen, a metropolitan policewoman and undercover detective. She would usually work undercover, disguised as a maid or a nurse. When actively investigating a crime or pursuing a lead, she would don the persona of The Woman in Red and dress in a floor-length coat and wear a red mask and hood. This allowed her to work without the legal restrictions and limitations placed on police officers - she effectively became a street vigilante. She knew jiu-jitsu and was a pretty good shot with a gun too. Only the police commissioner (who was never given a name) knew of her dual identity. The stories were usually murder mysteries that followed a similar formula where the reader (and sometimes Peggy Allen herself) was lead to suspect one character only to find out in the end it was someone else responsible for the crime. Memorable villains included Voa and the Black Death. She even had a rival and comic foil, the bumbling Inspector Cavanaugh, who would often muddle up a case that Peggy was working on.

For a time period where male characters dominated the genre, the concept of a female action hero was a refreshing change, and I can only assume her inclusion in Thrilling Comics was an attempt to attract young girl readers to comic books in the age of Rosie the Riveter. Peggy Allen was a police detective - a highly competent woman in a traditionally male cop role in the 1940s. This progressive notion of The Woman in Red was further served by contrasting the crime-fighting female vigilante with her more stereotypical female undercover roles of house maid and nurse. The appeal to a female audience must not have been enough for Nedor Comics because in 1945 The Woman in Red was finally dropped in favor of Miss Masque, another female superhero whose costume was clearly designed to appeal to young adolescent boys (although the two characters were very similar in other ways).
The Woman in Red vs. The Black Death!

Origin: None
Real Name: Peggy Allen
First Appearance: Thrilling Comics #2 [Nedor Comics March 1940] 

Prowess  4
Coordination  6
Strength  4
Intellect  3
Awareness  3
Willpower  3

Stamina  7
Determination  5

Peggy Allen
  • Acrobatics
  • Criminology Expert
  • Investigation Master
  • Deception Expert - Disguise
  • Law (Police Procedure)
  • Martial Arts (Jiu-Jitsu)
  • Stealth Expert
  • Blast 5 (Shooting) - Colt .45 Semi-Automatic Pistol
    Peggy Allen and
    the Police Commissioner
    • Identity: Undercover Police Detective
    • Connections: The Police Commissioner
    • Catchphrase: Two can play at this game!
    • Catchphrase: Talk fast or I'll drill you!

      Inspector Cavanaugh
      • Enemy: The Black Death
      • Enemy: Voa
      • Social: Lady Cop in a Man's World
      • Rival: Inspector Cavanaugh
      Point Total: 40

      The Woman in Red was originally created by writer Richard E. Hughes and artist George Mandel and first appeared in Thrilling Comics #2 (March 1940) published by Nedor (a.k.a. Standard) Comics.


      1. Havent said it before, but I am really enjoying these.

      2. Thanks! I'm really enjoying reading scans of the old comics as part of the "research" phase of writing these up. It really was an amazing era.