Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story went on sale this week and Grantland has a giant excerpt from the book. There are interesting tidbits about politics and character creation, but I liked this about Marvel’s attempt to attract female readers.
Although he was no longer president, Lee remained publisher of Marvel Comics â€” and, once Chip was gone, publisher of the magazines, too. Increasingly, though, it fell to Roy Thomas to bridge the widening gap between business and editorial interests. One of Thomas’s first responsibilities as the new editor in chief had been to bring further diversification to the Marvel Universe. As the company’s initial attempts to entice a black readership (the Falcon, Luke Cage) sputtered along with middling sales, now a similarly clumsy effort was made to reach female readers, with the launch of three comics ostensibly about feminist empowerment.2 For added authenticity (or gimmickry, depending on one’s level of cynicism), each of the three new titles was to be written by a woman. Unfortunately, there was none presently writing for Marvel, so Thomas improvised. He drafted his wife, Jeanie, Hulk artist Herb Trimpe’s new wife, Linda Fite, and comic conventioneer Phil Seuling’s wife, Carole. Lee came up with all three concepts the same day, and the titles spoke for themselves: Night Nurse, The Claws of the Cat, and Shanna the She-Devil. In the year of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and the launch of Ms. magazine, Marvel’s tales of candy stripers, cat-suited sexpots, and jungle queens could hardly be called revolutionary.3 (Lee later suggested that the title Night Nurse was a final legacy of his former boss: “Martin Goodman always thought there was something inherently sexy about nurses. I could never get inside his thinking there.”) It was a disappointing lineup from the beginning. For Fite, a former Marvel secretary and the only one of the three with writing experience, the problems began with the name of the series she was writing. “Why do we have to name it The Cat, Roy?” she asked. “Is it a catfight?”