Poor Wonder Woman has gone through quite a few transformations during her lifetime. You can read about her kinky-yet-feminist beginnings elsewhere (for an interesting article about how this character was created, read The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman at the Smithsonian; or take a gander at Wonder Woman, the sexualized superhero for a great discussion of how a character can be objectified or empowered by being portrayed in a sexy way) – today I’m concentrating on some goofy Silver Age covers from DC’s long-running Wonder Woman series.
My interest is twofold. On the positive side, I like the team that worked on WW covers in these days – Ross Andru on pencils and Mike Esposito inking. (All covers in this post are by them.) On a more sour note, I have a whole boneyard to pick with writer Robert Kanigher, whose scripts I generally like… as long as they don’t involve women. Who had the bright idea of choosing a hardened misogynist as writer of a major female superhero? (Purely a rhetorical question, I assure you.) Kanigher took over the scripting with Wonder Woman no. 98 (May 1958), “revamping” (as Wiki gracefully puts it) the character, giving her a new origin story and a new cast. It’s not that I object to the idea in principle, but this so-called revamping involved continually trying to marry the intrepid Amazon off to some schmuck, sticking her into stories that don’t make a lick of sense, making her burst into tears randomly – Like a Real Woman™ does – and forcing her to make Sophie’s choices between the lives of boyfriends and family, on random shuffle.
So here’s a gallery of covers I like and cover stories I don’t.
Well, Mer-Man clearly doesn’t have a leg to stand on in this competition. Come to think of it, neither does Amœba-Man. How are these two even standing? And how would either of these consummate the marriage?
The cover story is Wonder Woman — Battle Prize, a good example of the “marrying Wonder Woman off” theme. “Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men” (by Julian C. Chambliss) explains that sort of thing is designed to « affirm [the super heroines’] proper femininity by regularly demonstrating their heterosexuality“. Now he’s right and all, but for that purpose one could easily come up with something more appealing than a romance with an amoeba, a unicellular organism that reproduces mostly by fission. Stay away from pseudopods and fishy scales, Wonder Woman.
The Terror Trees (old Bob clearly liked alliteration) are trees that can move and attack, found on a “sinister, uncharted island”. For some reason there’s a Sun Sword (another alliteration) stuck in one of them, which Wonder Woman must retrieve to defeat some nasty alien invaders. At some point, a tree attempts to crush her, leading to an epic scene in which she whirls her head around, using her tiara (made of “amazonium… hardest metal known…”) like a “circular saw” and slicing her way out of the “ruthless tree”. I’m not even going to summarize the rest of this nonsense, but suffice it to say, the story ends – as it always does – on a happy note. Who’s the lizard on the cover, you may ask? No fucking idea, he’s not part of the plot.
The Phantom Sea-Beast is just such a tangled mess of claptrap that I don’t even know how to summarize it. It also involves some romance between Mer-Mite and Wonder Tot (in which the former tries to trick the latter into marriage), which is a good representation of what Kanigher seems to think as a Jolly Good Time. Bald zoo-keepers! A fight with a T-Rex! Go read Carol A. Strickland’s review of it, from which I shall quote a paragraph:
« Wonder Tot had just gotten out of the whale. As Wonder Tot surfs alone back to Paradise, she sees her family diving off a cliff and goes to meet them. They practice acrobatic stunts. Not only is Diana surfing in heels, as she is wont to do, but Wonder Girl conveniently wears a Wonder Woman tiara as she has never worn (she’ll need it later in the story). The queen’s pointy crown does not impale her daughter’s head. And even more oddly, gravity does not affect Hippolyta’s skirt. What can I say? It’s just a dream.»
In “Wonder Girl vs the Teenage Monster!“, the Glop, a blob-like alien, swallows 100 rock’n’roll records and proceeds to serenade Wonder Girl with regurgitated lyrics, coming up with gems like “Glop… glop… I’m not a mop! I want my pearl – wonder girl!” And by the way, it was all a dream (a convenient cop-out that Kanigher resorts to far too often): Wonder Girl fell asleep while looking through a photo album with Wonder Woman’s “boyfriends” and mourning her own romantic troubles. We hear you loud and clear, Sir Kanigher: women’s pretty little heads can only think of men and all manner of frilly, sweet things, even if the woman in question possesses great power and even greater intelligence.
That being said, this is probably my favourite cover of the lot. I just melt when presented with a blob of goo!
Groan. Here we go again with this ridiculous obsession of marrying Wonder Woman off. After Wonder Woman is hounded by her usual three beaus who practically threaten her with matrimony (including the awesome line, uttered by Steve Trevor, “When are you going to marry me! Better hurry! Before you’re an old maid!“), she encounters Monster Prince, who, as it turns out later in the story, is handsome when he does good, and ugly when he does evil.
A sample of the romantic dialogue that leads to the altar for these two lovebirds:
Monster Prince: « Stop pretending I’m an ordinary man! You almost sacrificed yourself like a driver taking pity on a dog on the road — and risking her life to avoid hitting him!»
WW: « Only a man who thinks like a giant — could have defied a whole army of Amazons as you did before! You raged like a storm! You were magnificent! Anyone who married you — would be lucky! »
And that’s it, they’re betrothed! Except that the Prince ditches her at the altar, claiming that he doesn’t want a beautiful girl to sacrifice her life to a monster like him. Err…?? More nonsense follows. It becomes painfully evident that Wonder Woman is attracted to bipolar assholes who make her feel inadequate. It reminds us once again that according to you-know-who, women are emotional weaklings who need an overbearing male hand to tell them what to do (or where to get off). Brr. Read the full synopsis, if you dare, over here.
You know how sometimes a restaurant proclaims to have a dish so original that it’s only on offer at that particular joint? It sounds like hype, but occasionally the claim is actually accurate… because the recipe in question combines elements that clash so badly that no normal person would think of combining them. This “most unique villain ever created” is in that category: he’s a bloody stupid idea. He’s not terrifying, he’s silly… though I did develop a headache while trying to figure out how he got into that tight outfit with his 8 sets of arms and 7 sets of legs.
Joanna Sandsmark, who wrote a hilarious review of the Crimson Centipede (be sure to read it here!), remarks that « I am thoroughly convinced that the germ of the story came to Bob Kanigher when his wife had a run-in with a centipede. Somehow, he thought it would be a good idea to have Wonder Woman afraid of it, as his wife was. Apparently, he forgot that Diana was a superhero who had all kinds of powers. Lucky for him, she was female. Problem solved! » (I think I’m not the only one who has a low opinion of Kanigher’s female-depicting prowess.)
So there we have it. Is this bigoted balderdash worthy of a man who co-created Sergeant Rock, or Enemy Ace or the Unknown Soldier? Nope. What do these have in common? There’s no women in these series, or at least no recurring female characters. (Well, okay, the other commonality is Joe Kubert.) Metal Men could have been great… but the presence (and more significantly, characterization) of a female character, Platinum, kills it for me. There’s no doubt that Kanigher *could* wrote emotionally resonant stories with complex characters and excellent internal logic. In the case of the Wonder Woman series, he just chose not to, preferring instead to produce a lot of hooey with giant plot holes and pepper it with sad clichés. It’s a pity.
If you want to see Wonder Woman done right, visit Tentacle Tuesday: H.G. Peter and Wonder Woman Lend a Hand.