Comic Books #7: Bill Bryson, Asbestos Lady and the End of an Era

Well, I've been on a business trip for the past week and was unable to find the time for retrospace. Anyway, while I was gone I spent a lot of time in airports and managed to read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, an excellent and hilarious chronicle of the late 1950's from the perspective of a child. While reading it, there were a couple things that I made a mental note of to research when I got back. One of which was Asbestos Lady.

Bryson talks at length about his infatuation with a certain comic book heroine called Asbestos Lady. I thought that surely Bryson couldn't be right - there was no way there was a comic book character with a name like that. I stand corrected, Asbestos Lady was real, and she had the special power of having a fire proof costume.

From the book: I remember feeling an unexpected but entirely agreeable hormonal warming at the first sight of Asbestos Lady, whose cannonball breasts and powerful loins were barely contained within the wisps of satin fabric with which some artistic genius portrayed her.

Bryson goes on to explain that many of his favorite comics had been "sexed up" so to speak. For example, Marvel jettisoned Captain America's sidekick Bucky in favor of "a leggy sylph named Golden Girl..."

Golden Girl, real name "Betsy Ross"(!), is featured in the picture on the left. It wouldn't be long, however, till the heroine ditched the cap and mask in favor of a costume that must surely have given Captain America a sales boost. (see below)

Unfortunately, Bryson tells us that nothing so good could last. Dr. Fredric Wertham would publish Seduction of the Innocent which argued that comics promoted violence, torture, criminality, drug-taking and rampant masturbation (though not presumably all at once). I explore this sad episode in comic censorship in detail in an earlier post.

From the book: Grimly he noted how one boy he interviewed confessed that after reading comic books he "wanted to be a sex maniac," overlooking that for most boys "sex," "mania," and "want" were words that went together very comfortably with or without comic books.

Alarmed and fearing further regulatory crackdown, the comic book industry abandoned its infatuations with curvy babes, bloody carnage, squint worthy shadows, and everything else that was thrilling. It was a savage blow.

Bryson makes mention of a certain James Hargis, considered a founder of the Christian Right and campaigner against sex and Communists. More importantly, he is the author of my favorite book title (actually a pamphlet) of all time: Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?

Hargis founded the Christian Crusade Anti-Communist Youth University, but eventually came undone when it was revealed that he had had sex with several of his students, male and female alike.

For more on topics like this, the Red Scare, and the Atomic Bomb, I highly recommend Bryson's wonderful memoir of the 50's. It made my week in airports bearable.

Oh, and as for Asbestos Lady - according to the Marvel website, she contracted cancer and is believed to be dead.


  1. I can't believe abestos lady died of cancer. tragic. i loved the style that woemn were drawn in old comics and comic covers. i ahve tons of art and covers, more than i know what to do with. i may start slipping some in as filler posts, along with more movie posters and album covers. nice eye candy as you say. my googel analytics shows my most visited pages are some with the least text: my bettie page post, my julie newmar post... etc... in other words, posts with babes. also my girls with guns photo pages come in 3rd now, so maybe time to exploit that sub-genre a bit more. give 'em what they want.

  2. willy- no surprises on the babe posts winning the popularity contest. My most popular post now is the one about spanking women in those old movies. I'm sure it's because a bunch of perverts think it's some spanking fetish site, not realizing it couldn't be further from the truth. Not surprisingly, my mini skirt post comes in second, and "sex, drugs and custom vans" comes in third. Notice a trend? Meanwhile, some of my most researched and interesting (but non sex/drugs sounding) posts don't come anywhere near in hits.

    Could it be that most people are on the internet to look for hot babes?.... naahhh

  3. I was going to make some sort of joke about what might of killed Asbestos Lady. I can't believe they actually had a female superhero with that name. Wow! I do love all these sexed up comics. They know the way to a guy's heart. :-) Definitely some nice eye candy. I do hope that if comics had some negative influence a guy wasn't committing all those nefarious acts at one time. lol I had wondered where you were at. I didn't know if you were sick or not. Hope the trip went well. Have a good weekend.

  4. To the Editor:

    I must protest Mr. Bryson's use of use of language. "Cannonball breasts and powerful loins" of Asbestos Lady? Please--maybe during the Eisenhower administration. But compared to the days when Stan Lee had everyone (who mattered) saying "Make mine Marvel!"? First, everyone knows that REAL comic book boobs must EACH be larger than the character's head. Second, don't EVEN talk to me about loins, unless there are rippling quads under that long underwear. I offer as Exhibit One, The Black Widow--a sometime sidekick to Dare Devil (at least, that's where I saw her).

    Next, I have to take issue with "Dr." Wertham's research. As don Gilligan quotes Mr. Bryson, there are two types of boys: those who want to be sex maniacs--and fucking liars. Regardless of comic books. There's always the lawnmower ads....

    In jr. high, this was my favorite joke (that I read in Readers' Digest, for gods' sakes): Two boys were talking, as they were leaving a health class. "You know, what the teacher said about how adolescent boys have a sexually related thought every fifteen seconds--that's kind of hard to believe."
    "I know," the second one said, "What do you think about all the rest of that time?"

    (Insert rim shot here).

    I'm also a little surprised that Asbestos Lady's outfit ("Lady"--I can't stop laughing) is green. Asbestos is a dirty grey. The Hulk was supposed to be greyish, but the inks in the coloring wouldn't work--so they made him green. Maybe that's the same reasoning...But the limeish green does go well with the Princess Grace-like yellow blonde hair.

    I remain:
    Bill Abendroth