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Queen Duoro & Queen Mulano

From fishnets and top hat to lobster crown and all points in between, the backwards talking spellcaster Zatanna has a following whether from the Young Justice animated series or comics when writer Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson debuted the character in Hawkman #4 way back in the fall of 1964. Many will know of her father Giovanni (John) Zatara though fewer will know that Zatara dates back to the Golden Age, specifically along with Superman in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Fox joined Zatara creator Fred Guardineer in issue #7 with a story titled The Zulu Diamond Mine.

Flash forward to issue #12 (cover dated May 1939). Fox and Guardineer fit a lot into 12 pages. Many movies, novels, and comics relied on the settings of “exotic” locales or themes, however terribly misunderstood, for their plots because, honestly, colonialism is a very strong force. Zatara was no different as titles like The Emerald of Cheops, Zulu Diamond Mine, and The Mad Lama attest. For the Zatara feature in this issue Fox chose the title The Land of the Fourth Dimension. What could be more exotic than a “dimension occupying the same space as ours” according to Professor Sussville, the first earthling to see this world “made up of curves of time different from what we will ever know.” Does that sound a little bit like the multiple earths concept that Fox used as the plot of the Flash of Two Worlds from Flash #123?

Mild mannered Professor Sussville fires up his device to project images from the fourth dimension. Zatarra remarks “It’s a queer world. Is it safe?” and then steps through the portal to find odd plants and a sabre tooth tiger. A woman named Duoro, “maiden of Thrule,” finds Zatarra. Assuming he’s from the warring country of Arren, she orders men to tie him up. Alas, Zatara turns the table on them and persuades Duoro to “take him to her leader,” Xataral. The king of Thrule turns out be a tyrant who tries to coerce Zatara into stealing a revered, magical artifact (the Necklace of Baya) so central to Arren society that its theft would end the country.

Duoro proves her character to be quite different from Xataral who’s been pinned to a wall thanks to Zatara’s magic. Using a Thrulian “allsight screen” she pleads for help by showing Zatara the horror of Allren weaponry against their soldiers and it works. Traveling first by winged horse and then transforming himself into a giant bird (yes, really), Zatara becomes invisible and infiltrates the Queen’s court to observe matters, specifically the Queen as she secretly consults the magic necklace which verbally responds to Mulano’s questions about the war. Zatara persuades the beautiful Mulano to end the war by transforming her into an “old hag” trope and once all the weapons of war are destroyed Zatara and Mulano venture to Thrule where they learn King Xataral has conveniently died off panel – leaving no Thrulian rule to sign the peace treaty. Not to worry! Zatara proposes to make Duoro a queen and that they unite to rule jointly a new nation called Duomal. And so the peace treaty is sealed with a kiss between them and a new era begins in the fourth dimension. Zatara takes his leave back to earth where he informs Professor Sussville he had a most remarkable adventure and he how will someday return to visit the new kingdom.

Of course a return visit never happened.

Both Guardineer and Fox were straight and born in 1913 and 1911 respectively and married women and had children. Both men were young when the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in the United States was ratified. The Roaring 1920s saw the rise of two phenomenon. The first is the flapper craze, an import from the UK, and sheiks as the male counterpart, in which many women scandalized society at large by wearing skirts and dresses short, their hair even shorter, loved jazz, wore lots of makeup, smoked, drove, and had a casual attitude about sex. Not all flappers were straight women either. Take bisexual Hollywood actress Clara Bow for example. The other was the pansy craze which saw a certain type of gay men being seen in public and in media. Author Jim Ellidge in his book The Boys of Fairy Town first wrote of pansies: “[…] some pansies appropriated a few telltale signs of effeminancy, they weren’t female impersonators per se. They expressed themselves visually as part male (their clothing) and part female (the dabs of makeup they might wear and their longish, sometimes bleached hair, as well as effiminate mannerisms).” Ellidge then goes on to write that pansies were easily identifiable and unafraid to be seen in public, unlike many queer men who had legitimate concerns about social and legal reprisals. Ellidge the states that since free loving flappers and sheiks accepted pansies and queer men in general since they were all considered by society at large to be deviants.

Of course it’s speculation on my part to suggest either or both men had much exposure to flappers, sheiks, and pansies, before these movements died let alone what their opinions might have been. Guardineer worked solely in comics until 1955 when he became a government employee. Fox had originally studied law and worked as a lawyer for two years before making a life changing decision to become a writer. His first stories were written for sci fi and fantasy pulps before branching out to Westerns then romance and sports genres. He was also a novelist who wrote under his name and a number of pseudonyms. Some of these novels, under the name Rod Gray, The Lady from L.U.S.T. were just sleazy pulps.

The Lady from L.U.S.T. was a series of books beginning in 1967 featuring Eve Drum as a secret agent (Oh Oh Sex is a play on Bond’s 007) working for the League of Underground Spies and Terrorists or L.U.S.T. for short. Fox wrote Eve as a character able and willing to seduce both men and women. Nor was Fox against titillating readers with the word “lesbian” as the synopsis for book #24 reads:

“DOPE DEATH DIKE & DRUM

The drug market is threatened when a team of doctors discovers Terathon – a miracle cure for heroin addiction. To protect its investments H.A.T.E. orders the deaths of the four scientists and the kidnapping of Eve Drum. The man they hire for the job is a lady. But when the beautiful lesbian tangles with the world’s sexiest spy, Oh Oh Sex comes out on top.”

Taking these tawdry novels that began in 1967 into account I think it’s easy to look back to 1939 when this Zatara story was written and to believe he wrote Duoro and Mulano as lesbians.

This story and Duoro and Mulano as co-regents was first talked about at Comicbooktidbits and then Bleeding Cool. My intents in writing about these two women is to add them to the list of queer comics characters and to provide some additional context which I think moves these two closer to being queer than not.

Duoro and Mulana make their one and only appearance in Action Comics #12 and were created by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer. Art by Guardineer.

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October 29, 2022
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