So, after last week’s entry on the bizarre Dynamite Thor, I opted to see if I could find another forgotten Golden Age hero. I looked over a couple online lists for potentially interesting characters, and oddly enough, something from Comic Book Resources caught my eye. Oh, not for the reasons I was looking for. No, their list of 10 heroes included the graphic I made up for the Captain Triumph Misplaced Hero column. I mean, all I really do is resize and caption stuff I find on Google Images, but that still happened.
However, that doesn’t write this week’s column. And one character that popped up on multiple lists was Olga Mesmer, the Girl with the X-Ray Eyes.
OK, so, why Olga Mesmer? Surely there were other forgotten Golden Age heroes, so why her? X-Ray Vision isn’t that interesting as superpowers go. That’s just, like, one of Superman’s.
Well, the short answer is, she may actually pre-date the Golden Age of comics because she didn’t really appear in a comic book. She appeared in a comic strip featured in the pulp magazine Spicy Mystery Stories. And though her adventures lasted only a little over a year, notably from August of 1937 to October of the following year, that means she predates superheroes in general. Keep in mind Superman’s first appearance was in April of 1938, so she beat him to the punch by a couple months.
Now, in the past, I’ve speculated that Phantom Lady and Fantomah might have been the first female superheroes. Well, if Olga counts, then I she not only is the first female superhero, she might be the first superhero period. Now, that might depend on how we define the superhero. Certainly print characters like Tarzan, the Lone Ranger, and John Carter have certain things in common with the masked superhero, with Carter even possessing what passes for powers in that his adventures took place on a lower-gravity planet, giving him what amounted to superstrength by Martian standards. Heck, Popeye’s adventures started off as single page comic strips. He could be the first superhero, though that famous sailor first appeared in 1929 and the spinach thing was more for the cartoons than the comic strips he appeared in.
But regardless, we still have Olga, and she fit some of the criteria of the superhero. She had superpowers in the form of the aforementioned X-Ray vision, superstrength, and she may have had a literal killer glare. Her mother, Margot, was the deposed, human queen of Venus. Her father was a mad scientist type named Dr. Hugo Mesmer, and his experiments are why his daughter had superpowers.
But unlike costumed heroes, she kept her abilities secret, did not wear a costume, and did not have a secret identity. Frankly, from what little artwork of Olga that still exists online, it is arguable that she wore much of anything as her adventures seem to have a lot of bondage type stuff going on.
So, that was basically Olga. She had a love interest, and her big story involved going to Venus in a skimpy outfit to find her missing mother. Whether or not she is the first superhero might depend on how you define what a superhero is, and Wikipedia’s entry on Olga does quote a historian that points out Olga has many of the characteristics of a superhero, but so do other characters, and given the publication date, she probably had very little influence on Superman, the character that finally brought all the different superhero qualities–most notably the secret identity–together in one package.
So, that was Olga Mesmer, a character who seems more interesting based on what she might be than anything she actually did. Come back next week when I find someone else who may hold those exact same qualities.