The Scarlet Widow is an elderly woman who runs a crime syndicate. She’s ruthless and innovative and was rightly called the most dangerous woman in the world. I like her and think she should be brought back.
To make Metropolis a seedy-enough place to house the corruption our intrepid reporters fight against, you’re gonna need a crime syndicate or two. Sure, there’s been a few criminal organizations in Superman’s history, some worth using (I’ll probably write about Intergang someday), but the Scarlet Widow is my favourite and since I am always right, that means we have to bring back the Scarlet Widow.
The Scarlet Widow appeared in multiple episodes of the 40s Superman radio show. As I said, she was an elderly woman there, and I liked that. She was Ma Gnucci and Mr. Burns combined with a dash of spider motif. When the movie serials adapted her story for a visual medium, I guess they decided that you can’t let old people be seen, so they cast an attractive younger woman as seen in the picture accompanying this post (and also they called her “The Spider Lady” just to dumb things down, I guess). The internet also tells me that a version of the Superman stage musical also brought the Scarlet Widow back decades later, but I have found limited information on that. In any case, younger Scarlet Widows don’t do it for me. Give me an elderly evil mob boss behind the scenes making Metropolis more dangerous for Superman and his friends. With a criminal career as long as hers, she’d definitely have a history of striking against Daily Planet reporters like Perry White, and she could be behind the creation of a few of the lesser super-criminals who have cropped up since Superman’s arrival.
The Prankster is one of Superman’s longest-appearing regular supervillains. I don’t think he gets a lot of respect from fans, but he’s also “made it” into the pantheon of Superman characters. He’s not one who I feel I need to fight for his inclusion. He’ll continue to show up because he’s tradition.
One of the more recent takes on this character, one I like, is that he’s the guy that other criminals will hire to annoy Superman as a distraction while they do other crimes. That’s a good way to go, because it gives him a lot of freedom to do wacky things. He’s also good for just doing his own crimes, in nice standalone stories with a little twist at the end. And he also gets to team up with the Toyman a lot, which is also fun.
But if I were writing a Superman story right now and wanted the Prankster in there, I’d probably have him go up against the “Truth” aspect of what makes Superman tick. The Prankster could have a vendetta against the Daily Planet and try to harm their credibility with some elaborately staged Fake News pranks and they’d have to step up and prove the worth of journalism. I think that, in this age of the erosion of truth, the Prankster has a relevant role he could play.
I’m gonna spend this week’s Superman Thought on proposing a book I’d like to be reading (and would love to be writing). Over the past decade, DC has had some success making a book based on the Batman ’66 series. I’ve said before how the Superman show from the 50s failed to become as iconic for its star’s cast as the Adam West shows did for Batman’s villains, so a show continuing that series wouldn’t be as much fun if it stayed true to only that source.
But what if we didn’t limit ourselves to just that show? What if we also drew from the Fleischer cartoons of the 40s, and the serials that predated the Reeves show? Heck, let’s even draw from the radio show. Suddenly we have source materials with much more character and vibrancy. I propose that the show could be called Old-Timey Superman*.
Like the Batman ’66 show, Old-Timey Superman could tell simple stories done in an issue or two and free from the continuity of other books in the franchise. With those sources, the stories would be noir-tinged giving the book a style unlike most of the other Superman stuff around these days. For our visuals, I think it would be best to use the cartoons as inspiration as much as possible, but for characters who didn’t show up there we can take what we need from the other sources. Luthor never appeared in the cartoons, but he was in the serials. Bill Henderson and Candy Meyers from the radio have no visuals but the Reeves show provided them. Using all the sources together, we’ve got ourselves a little world as rich as Batman ’66 but different enough to be its own thing.
While there are a handful of villains from the radio show I think deserve a comeback, this would be a fine place to start it, it would also be fun to take characters who have only appeared since those days and create Old-Timey versions of them. Can we imagine what General Zod or Doomsday would be like if they’d debuted in the 40s cartoons? I’d sure like to.
If someone starts a petition demanding that I get to write this, I’m on board.
*That title is not a serious suggestion, but everything else here is.