When comic book aviator Airboy celebrated his first birthday, artist Fred Kida gave him a wonderful gift: a gorgeous red-hot cleavage-baring Nazi dominatrix named Valkyrie, a character who totally put the lie to the notion of the “innocence” of Golden Age comics.

 

By the way, you may want to get the kids out of the room.

Airboy as originally drawn and written was a kid of about ten or twelve years old. But in his ninth appearance in the pages of Air Fighters Comics, the art chores on the feature had been placed in the capable hands of Fred Kida who immediately gave Airboy a more mature look. Airboy appeared to be in his late teens and, in Kida’s first tale as artist (Air Fighters v1 #10), Airboy was even seen stepping out for a date with a pretty WAC.

As we’ve mentioned several times over the years in the Big Blog o’Fun, Golden Age comics were read and enjoyed by nearly everyone. Comics did not yet have the “kiddie” stigma that they later acquired in the 1950’s. During the war years the whole family read and enjoyed comic books. In my recent blog post featuring Airboy’s origin story, I referred to Airboy as “someone whom the average kid of the war era could identify with as his or her own best pal”. Hillman Periodicals had certainly established Airboy as just that character during the first year of the feature’s publication. Now it was time to reel in the rest of the family.

The cover of Air Fighters Comics v2 #2 served notice that something new and radically different was about to explode within the book’s pages:

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

If you want to catch the public’s eye with a comic book at the newsstand, that cover’ll sure do it! The neckline of the young lady’s tunic would turn heads even today. In 1943, it was liable to make Dad’s eyes burst into flame and explode from his head like a couple of grapes shot out of a potato cannon. The gorgeous gal’s name was Valkyrie; she was about to become a major character in the Airboy series and start a comic book career that would span decades.

Of course, there was no way to know at the time how resilient the character would become; when reading her first tale you get the impression that Valkyrie might have been intended as a “one-shot” villain, albeit a bit more eye-catching and interesting than most. But the idea of a squadron of badass Teutonic female aviators was just too good to forgo using it again and again. So Valkyrie and her Airmaidens became a more or less permanent feature in the pages of Air Fighters and, later, Airboy (after the book was retitled in 1945).

We need to take a quick left turn here but we’ll be back on the main highway in a moment. Stick with me – I promise this will all come together later.

After Dave Stevens reintroduced the then-forgotten Bettie Page to American pop culture in the 1980’s by featuring her as a character in his landmark mini-series The Rocketeer, you couldn’t swing a stick in a comic shop without hitting some new book, magazine, or piece of merchandise celebrating Bettie, merchandise which included plenty of publications featuring Bettie’s bondage and S/M porn.

You read that right. In case you haven’t heard, Bettie did a lot of bondage porn.

Seriously, no exaggeration, we’re talking here about an insane number of photos featuring Bettie tied up. Sometimes she’s in lingerie. Sometimes she’s nude. Sometimes she’s gagged. Sometimes she’s whipped. I’m not saying that a complete stack of these photos would reach the moon, but I’m pretty danged sure it could knock down a satellite or three. There’s a proverbial metric crapton of it, and it’s the main reason that I never really got into Bettie Page the way a few million other geek culture mavens have done over the last two decades. At the time (circa 1990) that Bettie was “rediscovered” it was really tough to buy a book about Bettie which didn’t feature a goodly portion of her bondage and S/M stuff within its pages. I’m more of a pin-up guy myself, so I gave those books a pass.

We’re talking about hundreds of bondage pics here which featured Bettie. That number doesn’t even include all of the other models who were doing bondage porn shoots at that time — and there were plenty of ’em. Go back and read about 1950’s era erotica and you’ll quickly learn that the Fifties would have been a great decade to invest financially in silk, nylons, high heels, handcuffs, and rope. It’s was a time of “raincoater porn culture”, a climate which paved the way for Hugh Hefner to introduce Playboy magazine mid-decade; although a fair number of people were shocked by the magazine at the time, it was several notches closer to “acceptable” than the typical sleazy backalley porn of the period. Hefner was a pretty cagey guy and made a conscious decision to work the middle of the street, halfway between the newsstand pinup mags and the “under the counter, brown bag” stuff that would alarm your neighbors today if they knew you were perusing it; Hef drew his readership from both camps and became a multi-zillionaire as a result.

That leads to a fairly interesting question: why was bondage porn so incredibly popular and lucrative in the 1950’s? Here’s my not-so-terribly-original theory (which will lead us in a couple of minutes back to the main highway where we started – hang in there). Picture a young adult, let’s say aged twenty-five to thirty-five, in the mid-1950’s. Roughly when would that young adult have been hitting puberty? It would have been during the war years, a.k.a. the Golden Age of Comics.

And during the Golden Age of Comics there was plenty of bondage and sadomasochism to be found on comic book pages. Blackhawk was frequently seen bound, whipped, and tortured in the pages of Military Comics, Modern Comics, and Blackhawk Comics. Anyone who’s delved into Golden Age comic history for more than five minutes already knows all about Wonder Woman’s creator (and writer of her adventures for its first several years), William Moulton Marston who, in addition to inventing the lie detector, also lived in a menage a trois relationship with his wife and secretary – and the three of them not only got their considerable freak on in a substantial variety of combinations but also did so with the liberal aid of ropes and handcuffs. Marston’s prurient interests found their way into Wonder Woman’s comic book adventures frequently, and by “frequently” I mean “in damn near every issue”: Wonder Woman is bound, gagged, whipped, and spanked so often during her 1940’s adventures that reading them becomes a laborious exercise in uncomfortability. The comic quite often appears as very skeevy, even by today’s relatively libertine standards. Science fiction comics of the era displayed a cornucopia of bound, nubile, semi-clad women being menaced by hideous aliens on their covers. It happened so often that it’s become something of a joke – entire “coffee table” books are sold today containing nothing but these covers collected in huge volumes. Then there’s Airboy’s first encounter with Valkyrie (to which we’ll return in a moment).

Take an entire generation of young people just hitting puberty (a time which many psychologists argue that one’s later sexual tastes and preferences are established), expose them to a endless parade of bondage displays, and it’s not tough to figure out that a decade later you get a porn industry fueled in large measure by the secret desire to sheepshank one’s wife or girlfriend. I’d offer this theory to anyone reading this blog as the basis for their collegiate or post-graduate thesis, but that old schoolmarm Fred Wertham already beat you to it in Seduction of the Innocent. It’s pretty much the only theme in his generally shrill and hysterical screed against the comics industry in which Wertham came anywhere close to making a valid verifiable point.

Which brings us right back to Air Fighters Comics v2 #2 in which we were given the new character Valkyrie in all her wonderful underdressed glory on the book’s cover and in its interior pages. She’s the leader of a squadron of female Nazi aviators called the Airmaidens; the whole thing is an obvious reference to the valkyries of Norse myth. Val (as she’s known for short even before this first tale ends) is depicted as a raven-haired beauty, despite the fact that the Nazi “Aryan ideal” would have been a blonde Teutonic chick (which itself is pretty weird considering that the Aryans were historically from northern India/Pakistan and the Middle East, not from middle Europe and Scandinavia, providing more evidence of how incredibly dicked up Nazi racial philosophy tended to be [not that any extra proof is needed]. But I digress…).

Val’s the kind of girl any red-blooded male could really go for: she’s a hot-damn pilot, a crack shot, gutsy, competent, keeps her cool in a fight, and she’s waayyyyy easy on the eyes. She’s the German version of Marion Ravenwood, the only female lead in an Indiana Jones movie who didn’t annoy the living hell out of me. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if I was to learn that Val was an inspiration for the 21st century interpretation of Zinda Blake (a.k.a. Lady Blackhawk) on whom I have been not-so-secretly crushing for several years. While you can easily imagine a twelve year old male reader wishing that he could be Airboy, you could likewise imagine his sister wishing she could be an amazing aviatrix like Valkyrie. I’m pretty sure that at the start of this paragraph I’ve successfully enumerated the reasons why Dad would dig Val if he picked up this issue of Air Fighters after spotting its cover on the newsstand.

It’s too damn bad she’s a Nazi.

But then…well, I won’t wreck it for you. Just read the cool story and trust me when I tell you that even though Airboy gets his ass beaten (literally, which is the basis for a significant portion of the post you’ve just read), everything turns out all right by the end of the tale.

The page scans are courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum. Right-click a page and open it in a new tab for a larger, more readable view.

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

 

Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2014, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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