"The Fury of the Femizons"
The Superhero Women, Part I
Writer & Creator: Stan Lee, Art: John Romita
by Scott Anderson
Reading Stan Lee's feminist manifesto The Superhero Women, a hodgepodge collection of early appearances of some of Marvel's famous and not-so-famous females, is a lot like watching The Love Boat. Both debuted in 1977. And just as a Love Boat episode showcasing Julie McCoy at her most competent might seem pro-feminist until you realize the real focus of the episode is Barbi Benton's boobs, so too does Ms. Marvel defeating the Scorpion seem like a blow against chauvinism until you realize that modestly covering her neck with a trés chic scarf does not make up for her Captain Marvel á la tube top and hot pants outfit.
Love Boat episodes left me questioning why that week's washed up actors seemed familiar. ("Riiiiight, he was Pete from The Mod Squad.") Superhero Women made me wonder why The Cat seemed familiar though her book had been cancelled years before. ("Riiiiight, Hellcat wore the same tacky outfit.")
The Love Boat made me scream, "Why the hell is Charo famous?!" The Superhero Women had me shouting, "Who the hell is Lyra: The Femizon?!" Don't recall Lyra? You're not alone, so I think her bizarre inclusion in The Superhero Women deserves a special look.
Before being reprinted here, Lyra only appeared once, in a ten-page backup story in the first issue of Savage Tales, Marvel's black and white magazine aimed at mature readers. The story is entitled "Fury of the Femizons" and takes place in the 23rd Century where the semi-barbaric women of United Sisterhood Alliance reign. These "vicious voluptuaries" - as Stan enlightenedly calls them—seem to have lost all knowledge of guns but have unsurpassed armored brassiere technology. With the exception of a few slaves, men have been banished and turned feral. These cavemen attack the Sisterhood, which seems helpless against them despite being armored in the ironclad D-cups and gauze so popular with "mature readers." (Note: Red Sonja is in The Superhero Women too, wearing that bikini armor that looks as if it were made from the quarter tips she got while pole-dancing in Bangkok clip joints.)
Our story opens with Lyra in gladiatorial combat, standing over a fallen woman. "The weak deserve no mercy!" the Queen exclaims, so Lyra murders her opponent and wins a slave. At this point, most comics would show that Lyra was actually the villain of the story or at least that she felt remorse for killing one person and owning another. Lyra, however, feels only "plagued by doubt… and gnawing discontent" about being "different from the others." We learn this as she strips. Apparently, Stan and John Romita believed no matter how despicable the protagonist, mature readers will root for her if she's naked enough.
Then Lyra learns her new slave is a spy sent from a tribe of men to discover her secret stash of "brain tapes" that show only the brutality of pre-Sisterhood history. After she and the slave watch the tapes filled with nuclear bombs, Nazis, poverty, and pollution that the Femizons have eliminated, Lyra decides to "betray all that I was… all that I am" to help the slave get men and women back together. It's hard to say what Lyra's motivation is for becoming a traitor, but she's in bed with the slave two panels later. Days later, Lyra says to him, "You have never told me your name, my love." Betraying everything to sleep with a guy whose name she hasn't bothered to ask is just the kind of special charm that makes Lyra so endearing.
Despite his tryst with Lyra, I can't help but to wonder about Mogon the slave, and his tribe of "different" men. While most men in the story appear to be hairy, loutish, and horribly unkempt, sensitive Mogon has a stylish coiffure, a gym body, and a waxed chest. He seems oddly concerned with the Temple where the high priestesses store what he calls "the precious sperm supply." When Mogon brings Lyra to meet his compatriots, he ushers her into what looks like a shrouded, pre-Stonewall bar and says, "Never before has female entered these hidden portals." Coincidentally, I've been thinking about cross-stitching that very sentiment onto my jock straps.
Alas, the rendezvous is a trap set up by the police. When Mogon suggests trying to escape, Lyra shouts, "The princess Lyra does not flee!" Seconds later, we can add cop killer to Lyra's impressive resume.
She and Mogon split up and head back to the palace where the head of security accuses Lyra of being a traitor. Lyra sticks to the moral high ground by lying and threatening to kill anyone who further accuses her. The Queen, not quite convinced, tests Lyra's loyalty by having a slave toted in and demanding that Lyra run him through with her sword. The slave, of course, is Mogon. So what does Lyra do?
A. Fight to the death to save her lover, explaining why Lyra had no second appearance.
B. Escape with Mogon to become hunted do-gooders.
C. Kill Mogon.
If you said either A or B, you haven't been paying attention. Those choices would have made Lyra a sympathetic character. Nope, Lyra saves her own neck by killing her lover then says, "Dispose of this carrion! Then, send two more - for the night will be long." To be fair, we all deal with grief differently.
Later, she pines for Mogon and wonders, "What good is a kingdom - which has no king?" That's feminism even the Taliban could get behind!
The caption in the last panel reads, "THE BEGINNING—" Since Lyra had no more adventures, this caption only makes sense if it is explaining that the last panel is actually the first, and like manga, this story should be read backward. This works really well for Lyra because if you read it backward, she finally looks heroic as she bravely saves her lover by extracting her sword from his chest.
That answers who Lyra is, but we're still left wondering why Charo is famous. As it turns out, Charo rose to fame in Spanish-speaking countries because she's an award-winning classical guitarist. Watch The Love Boat closely, and you'll see her perform real art even while the American producers push the kooky bombshell angle. Similarly, in the second part of my review, we'll look beyond The Superhero Women's coochi-coochi and find that it is a real gem, certainly worth more than its recent $1 bid on Ebay. We'll reveal its glories like actual feminist statements, its hard line against powder blue eye shadow, and the surprising secret hidden within its pages: ANT-MAN IS A CROSSDRESSER!
Scott Anderson settled in Queens, New York, after living in various locales across America. Although Scott currently works as a legal assistant, his past jobs have included freelance editing for several science fiction/fantasy authors and assembling sparkly fairy wands.
All images & characters © 1977 Marvel Comics Group. Review © 2004 Scott Anderson.
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