Brow Beat

The Cane-Wielding Alter Ego of a Washed-Up Character Actor

All week, we’ll be presenting our favorite half-baked superheroes from comic book history, excerpted from The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris. Out now from Quirk Books.


Created by: Art Pinajian

Debuted in: Crack Comics No. 1 (Quality Comics, May 1940)

Alternate possible aliases: Old Lady Mortality, Grandma Death, that nice Mrs.

Vengeance from next door

© 1940 by Quality Comics

When actor Richard Stanton’s wife passes away and his daughter is kidnapped, the heartbroken but critically acclaimed character actor and master of disguise simply vanishes from public life. Eight years later, Stanton is only a memory. In his place stands Madam Fatal, the little old lady who became comicdom’s first cross-dressing superhero!

Resembling something like a mix of the films Taken and Mrs. Doubtfire, Madam Fatal represents one of the truly unique characters in comics. Women who disguised their gender in superhero identities were uncommon but not unheard of. However, America’s macho culture frowned on the opposite arrangement, making Madam Fatal a singular character, to say the least.

Stanton’s commitment to his alter ego was more than passing. As explained in his debut appearance, he built a comprehensive second life for his elderly, red-clad senior citizen identity. To Stanton’s neighbors, Madam Fatal was a kindly old lady who occupied a quiet apartment with her pet parrot Hamlet, not a superhero vigilante itching for action. Even after Stanton/Fatal confronts his daughter’s abductor, he chooses to keep the disguise of Madam Fatal alive. “John Carver is dead,” he says of the crook, “and the actor’s disguise of Madam Fatal has served its purpose—but this is not enough, for I’ve decided that, as Madam Fatal, I’ll go on fighting crime and lawlessness as long as I can!”

“As long as I can” ended up being another twenty-one issues of Crack Comics, during which Madam Fatal never scored a cover appearance (except for a headshot in the sidebar of the first issue, jammed between such timeless names as “Wizard Wells” and “Ned Brant”).

Lest readers fear that Stanton was in any way dainty, he was portrayed as an all-around athletic marvel in both of his identities; Stanton was an ex-soldier, a deep-sea diver, and an expert swimmer, whereas Madam Fatal swung from rooftops, fought like a lion, and wielded a ferocious cane. As the series progressed, Carver found himself with more frequent opportunities to appear out of uniform; eventually he was set up in the “Sure-Fire Detective Agency” with his pals Tubby White and Scrappy Nelson (although it was Madam Fatal who did most of the two-fisted sleuthing).

After almost two years, the character had exhausted the shock value inherent in an apparent octogenarian knocking thugs around like rag dolls, and Madam Fatal hung up her wig and cane.

Excerpted from The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris. Reprinted with permissions from Quirk Books.