Miss Fury was ahead of her time. The superhero moniker and nickname of Marla Drake, she was less a femme fatale, cast aside by the males that shared the comic page as with other contemporary tales, instead planted in the center of the action. She was a true heroine, who, while maintaining her sex appeal and motherly nature (adopting a child during the series run), she was a strategic thinker and always the most cunning person in the room, despite male dominated conventions of the 1940s. In fact, despite some handsome and well-intentioned male friends and companions, it’s the women of the series that are the most interesting, with oafish and blumbering men left for the supporting roles.
June Tarpé Mills was ahead of her time. Serving as story writer and artist for the popular nearly decade running Miss Fury comic strip, she created the first costumed super-heroine when Superman and Batman were just getting their footholds in the fantasy realm. Her character drawing is incredible and modern readers might compare her comic art style with modern-day Wonder Woman artist Cliff Chiang, her compositions with Alex Ross, and her glamour with Adam Hughes. All of these comparisons are accurate and compliment each of these artists. Mills’ story arcs collected in Tarpé Mills & Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944 – 1949 anthology hardcover from IDW Publishing are intriguing and compelling–so much so that you could overlook the detailed “costuming” of Mills’ men and women. But what you would miss. Men were dressed appropriately in snappy suits, her women sport a historical catalog of designs, fabrics, colors, and styles, as well as a variety of 1940s hairdos. Miss Fury might as well be a sourcebook for clothing historians.
Mills accomplished something many modern comic book readers beg for–less costumed character stories (i.e. Batman stories) and more secret identity doing the detective work out of the costume (i.e. Bruce Wayne stories). In fact, you will hardly see Marla Drake appear in her catsuit in the pages of Miss Fury. And it won’t bother you one bit.
Mills’ stories are chock full of content for the medium, with plenty of snappy dialogue, interweaving plot threads, action, suspense, and not too many weekly canned serialized cliffhangers. Less Alfred Hitchcock noir than say the works of John Huston, Michael Curtiz, Fritz Lang, or Raoul Walsh, Mills’ gangster stories have a surprisingly fresh and modern feel. Her storytelling isn’t all that linear despite the confines of typical 1940s block panel art storytelling. If it is soap opera-esque then consider it primetime soap worthy. And when her characters get mad, they swear, using @*#@ replacements but it conveys the point, with readers left to use their own imagination.
Sure, her adventure stories are similar to other comic strips of the day. Yet Mills’ stories were likely seen as on the fringe for mainstream audiences. We meet an ugly mob boss who dresses in women’s clothes to avoid the cops and others on his trail. Our main character does not appear in the pages of the story for several issues–it’s hard to think anyone could get away with that today. Yet she was replaced with equally strong and exciting characters. Full of the dark world of reality, kids, women, and animals are seen being beaten by adults to convey the ruthlessness of the villains. Miss Fury is seen kidnapped and held in chains, and even replaced by a look-alike who almost completely takes over her identity. And she included supernatural elements, like a young, handsome man who was actually 200 years old.
Tarpé Mills & Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944 – 1949 reprints approximately the last half of the Miss Fury series, leaving Miss Fury stories going back to 1941 for a future–and much-needed–follow-up anthology, that thankfully will be released this November, as Miss Fury Sensational Sundays: 1941-1944. A historical introduction by 1960s comic book creator Trina Robbins provides the barest remaining historical references to June Tarpé Mills and her work (Mills dropped the June so readers wouldn’t overlook her work for being created by a woman). So we will never know why Miss Fury so often appeared in lingerie, stockings, and leopard prints–did editors push her in that direction for sex appeal? Or did she do it because there was no reason to hide character’s femininity? We’ll never know the full story of whether Mills realized her place in comicdom as a progressive creator years ahead of her time. And who was behind all the paper doll cut-outs of Miss Fury characters she created?
As fiction, Tarpé Mills & Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944 – 1949 is a fun read. As historical reference for comic fans, it should be on everyone’s bookshelf. Tarpé Mills & Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944 – 1949 is available from comic book stores and online at Amazon.com. Miss Fury Sensational Sundays: 1941-1944 is available for pre-order at a steep discount now at Amazon.com. Dynamite Comics has a current monthly reviewed here earlier at borg.com you might also want to check out.