More Moxie: The Rise, Fall, and Riotous Return of an American Icon — Part 1
The turbulent history and enduring legacy of one of the most popular superheroes ever created and the fascinating lives of the talented people who brought her to life.
A Golden Opportunity
More Moxie Comics was founded in 1939 by cartoonist Ellen Goldman and financier Henry ‘Hank’ Bloward during the Golden Age of superhero comic books. Goldman had been producing illustrations for various pulp magazines under the pen name ‘Alan Gold’ for the better part of a decade and it was by that name she would be credited throughout her tenure at the company.
More Moxie Comics’ flagship title showcased the adventures of Margot Miller, who fought injustice by day as a hard-boiled crime reporter and by night as the eponymous masked hero Moxie Gal. She had the power of ‘superhuman moxie’, which allowed Goldman to imbue her hero with whatever fantastic abilities the story required each month.
Moxie Gal’s alter-ego was named for Margot Curtis, Goldman’s aunt and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, who had taken responsibility for raising the infant Ellen when her parents died during the 1918 influenza epidemic. The uncompromising attitude and egalitarian philosophy Goldman learned from her aunt growing up would greatly inform everything she did in life, especially her work.
No shrinking damsel in either identity, Moxie Gal was known for her fierce independence and dedication to justice, serving as a champion of the downtrodden. She was unique among superheroes of the day in that she never had a regular love interest, despite a well-developed and -for its time- diverse supporting cast. Margot Miller’s most intimate relationship was with her friend, confidante, and occasional sidekick, socialite Iris Delaford. Later scholars would see this friendship as a coded lesbian relationship, clearly inspired by Goldman’s own partnership with Marla Covington, the woman with whom Goldman lived happily from 1938 until Covington’s death in 1982. Though Marla was known publicly as Ellen’s “live-in assistant” for many years, the two women were more open among trusted friends.
Goldman’s bold artwork and imaginative storytelling made “Moxie Gal” a runaway success, especially among the growing number of women who’d discovered their own independence as members of the workforce in the wake of the draft. The company shortened its name to Moxie Comics in 1943, and within a few years, “Moxie Gal” was consistently among the top five selling comic books nationwide. As the war raged on in Europe and the Pacific, forcing young male creators to trade their typewriters and pencils for machine guns and bayonets, Goldman kept the company afloat entirely on her own with a prolific creative output. Between 1940 and 1946 she expanded the titles published by Moxie Comics with heroes like Kid Lightning, The Id, Miss Falcon, The Signalman, and Captain Virtue, eventually bringing them together as the Adventure Society.
After the war, as former soldiers came home to resume their normal lives, all of Goldman’s titles save “Moxie Gal” went to a growing “bullpen” of male writers and artists. “The Adventures of Captain Virtue” — a typically low seller that Goldman later admitted she created as a joke — enjoyed a surge in popularity when the title character was reinvented as a paragon of American patriotism by writer Ted Falk and artist John Regal. Humor cartoonist Ed Wilkins turned “The Rampaging Id” into a poignant and hilarious exploration of the human condition. “Adventure Comics”, the team book that showcased the Adventure Society, was taken over by Burt Winkman and Al Johnson, creators of the popular new character Detective Shade. Their first act on the title was to transition Moxie Gal, established by Goldman during her run on the book as the team leader, to the role of secretary. Miss Falcon was written out entirely after her book was cancelled and Detective Shade joined the team in her place.
Winkman and Johnson also introduced the concept of Moxie Gal losing her powers if she were kissed by a man against her will, and only the kiss of a male teammate could restore them. Most Adventure Society adventures from this era would usually involve at least one scene of Moxie Gal being kissed by a villain and tied up, requiring rescue by the rest of the team and a power-restoring kiss, usually delivered by new team leader Captain Virtue. Though Goldman refused to even acknowledge the concept in the regular “Moxie Gal” title, it became a fixture of the character in other media, such as her radio show and movie serial. Later scholars would interpret it as a heavy-handed assertion of dominance by the new male staff over a woman who’d had the audacity to not vacate a space to which they felt entitled. This was borne out at the time when Goldman protested the new development with great vehemence, only to be ignored by the other creators and the company leadership. It was a sign of things to come.
Goldman’s working relationship with Hank Bloward, once a trusted friend of her inner circle, had grown colder and more combative due to an ongoing dispute over royalties owed to her from the radio show and movie serial. Their fractious relationship finally came to a head in the early 1950s after a scathing attack by anti-comics crusader Fredric Wertham. The psychiatrist and activist accused the “Moxie Gal” comic, and the Moxie Comics company, of ‘promoting subversive attitudes and lascivious behavior among impressionable young women while undermining the core values at the heart of the American Family.’
Sales were also down. The feisty independence of Moxie Gal’s strong-willed protagonist, once so popular with America’s young wartime working women, held decreasing relevance in the conservative suburban enclaves of post-war America. As pressure mounted from inside and outside the company, Goldman was forced out.
Hank Bloward made an offer to Goldman for her share of Moxie Comics and the rights to all the characters she’d created, including Moxie Gal. It was not insignificant, but still far less than the co-founder of the company and creator of nearly all its intellectual property deserved. According to an interview with Ellen Goldman conducted shortly before her death, Bloward’s offer came with an implied threat that he would reveal the true nature of Goldman’s relationship with Marla Covington if she refused. She felt she had no choice but to accept, and in December of 1954, Ellen Goldman exited the offices of the company she helped build for the last time, walking away from fifteen years of hard work and all she had created.
Though Ellen Goldman had left comics behind, seemingly forever, her story, and that of her most popular creation, was far from over.