How one of the most iconic pin-up girls of the 1950’s was exploited in 1990’s comic books.
BETTIE PAGE COMICS 1996 and 1997 Dark Horse Comics
I have been a fan of the divine 1950’s pin up model and actress Bettie Page for many years. Her photo adorns the walls of a bar I visit in Manchester. A recent biopic, The Notorious Bettie Page, explores neatly the complexities of her life as a glamour model and an ardent Christian.
Sadly, though not unexpectedly, the comics turn her into a brainless bimbo, surrounded by men of extremely questionable morals and eager to exploit her charms. The Dark Horse debut adventure, Jumpin’ Jungle Jive, has Bettie lured into a porno movie by a director who is Ed Wood in all but name. He calls himself Glen Wood, and even shares Ed Wood’s fixation on Angora sweaters. He claims to have made a film called Glen & Glenda (an Ed Wood B Movie) and later claims to know Bela Lugosi (as Ed Wood did).
Glen Wood is trying to make a Tarzan derivative movie, hijacking household props belonging to the brother of Johnny Weissenheimer (Weismuller). And the brother, George, is conscripted as the Tarzan figure for the movie, as are members of a jazz band Bettie associates with in her stage acts.
This isn’t really humour or parody, but sheer lack of imagination. Bettie gets to appear in various bikinis and topless while completely failing to see the obvious – that there is no real film or money in any of this.
Her second adventure, Sandbar Skirmish, has little more imagination. Bettie is a guest with a photography club who visit a remote sandbar off the Pacific Ocean US coast for a photo shoot, with Bettie again in a bikini. When she wanders off alone, a lecherous photographer goes with her, and the hapless pair fall foul of jewel thieves who are using the sandbar as a hideout. The problem with this sandbar is its lush vegetation and trees. That is not a sandbar but an island.
A police raid saves Bettie, but the cops haven’t come for the jewel thieves. They are more interested in arresting the photographers and models for their immoral photo-shoot.
The final story has some genuine humour, but still treats the great lady as a brainless woman. While making a B-Movie about aliens attacking the US she mistakes three real aliens for actors and teases them with bondage whips and spanking sessions. They are so terrified; they flee in their real saucer UFO, and vow to never return.
The opening book contains these three stories plus a genuine gem – the editors saw fit to add a four-panel cartoon strip from 1960 – the first true Bettie Page carton feature, called simply a Stantoon Of Bettie. Bettie tries to change her image to get more work. She hides her hair under a ginger wig to go out auditioning for serious parts. She is quickly snapped up for a role as a Bettie Page tribute act and presented with a black wig to go veer her ginger one. She laments in the closing panel that she can never escape from her own identity. The strip does more in four panels to capture the mood and World of Bettie Page than any of the modern Dark Horse takes on her even begin to accomplish.
A year on from the debut trilogy of stories that was issue #1, Dark Horse had learned nothing of how to handle its great heroine. In Spicy Adventure, she is kidnapped and sold into the white slave trade in the exotic east. She is seen as a great prize by a sultan who has already taken Cleopatra, Salome and Delilah among others as prizes for his harem.
Attempting to send Bettie to his hidden lands, his machine goes wrong, removes all her clothes and sends her into the 25th century. After briefly trying to escape with a rocket pack (possibly inspired by her character’s role in The Rocketeer comics), she is recaptured and put up for sale to the highest bidder, who appears to be a particularly ugly repulsive man.
At this point in the already confused mess, Bettie wakes up and discovers it was all just a nightmare. The reader realizes that the comic was probably not worth the purchase price.