All pages are scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito, except for the first page from Stamps Of Doom!, which was scripted by Bill Finger.
I bitched about Kanigher WW in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I and Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors. I’m starting to feel like my needle is stuck in the groove, but I will however note one more thing: in my righteous anger about Kanigher’s preposterous depiction of women, I’ve been ignoring that he’s not great at writing men, either. That is… he can write wonderful male characters (see Enemy Ace, for instance), as long as romance is totally off the menu. It’s as if he is saying that romance transforms intelligent, capable men into utter, snivelling dolts (a point of view that one could defend, but within limits). Take a look at what kind of suitors poor Wonder Woman gets saddled with (perhaps their stupidity is one more way of spiting her?) in these panels from Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision, published in Wonder Woman no. 118 (November 1960):
Allow me to drive one more nail into that coffin, and after this I shall forever hold my peace. I stumbled upon this rather entertaining quote, taken from an interview with Kanigher conducted by Tim Bateman and Steve Whitaker in 1989 (read the full thing here). Here it is, with no further comments from me:
« So Ditko […] tried to force meanings where meanings did not exist. But he tried to tell me that I knew nothing about romance, because his idea of romance was professorial, pedantic. I know what romance is, I’ve written more romance probably than anyone alive. Romance is an excess of passion, and I don’t care if there’re a thousand books that says romance is not that, romance is a time period. Tchaikovsky is a romantic. Excessive, that’s what romance is. So to say that my idea of excessive emotion is not romantic…»
And now, I shall remain mum, and let you savour these tentacles in peace!
« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert
Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.
Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe Kubert – Russ Heath – John Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.
In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.
In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.
DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.
This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)
So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!
« Mer-Boy! You’re making me angry! »« You’re beautiful when you’re angry! »
Today’s batch of tentacles all come from the heads and hands of one team: scripts by Robert Kanigher, pencils by Ross Andru and inks by Mike Esposito. I make no secret of my dislike for Kanigher scripts when there are women involved*, but the Andru & Esposito team deliver some very nice art to go with the dubious plotting. Besides, we are concentrating on tentacles… though I can’t promise an occasional plot-jab. 🙄
*My complaints about his scripts are two-fold: that his plots make precious little sense is one, but that sort of nonsense is often fun to read, as long as one doesn’t take it seriously. However, the barrage of misogyny, not so much. I go on about it in some length in Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors, but if you need an immediate example, here are some example of great art and scripting claptrap. I just chose a random, non-tentacle issue from that era… the following panels are from The Cave of Secret Creatures, published in Wonder Woman no. 116 (August 1960).
It’s too bad, because it’s really fun to spend some time with this underwater society of mer-teenagers hanging out, drinking seaweed sundaes, and gossiping.
Anyway, I promised you some tentacles, and by Jove (or by Hera!) I shall deliver. Between issue no. 112 and issue 126, Wonder Girl (occasionally her grown-up counterpart, Wonder Woman) has fought more octopuses than one can shake a stick at.
The reason for that is simple – the daft Mer-Boy (and the adult Mer-Man) is a frequent plot hinge of these stories, either harassing Wonder Girl for a kiss, quarrelling with her other (equally daft) suitors, or being in desperate need of rescuing when his imbecilic antics land him (yet again) in hot water. I guess that’s one thing I can say about the plotting – at least WG is not a damsel in distress… And I by far prefer him to Steve Trevor (the other suitor who often comes up in these things), whose behaviour is exemplified in, for instance, Wonder Woman no. 127 (January 1962) – he tricks Wonder Woman into agreeing to marry him by faking a serious wound, complains about the food she cooks for him, and then flies into a murderous rage when she takes off from their honeymoon to stop a nuclear missile. (Oh, and it was all a dream, by the way!)
As if to emphasize the retrograde nature of these comics, each issue we are treated to a “marriage around the world” page detailing strange customs. For example, from Wonder Woman no. 128 (February 1962):
« Who are these men, Tomahawk? » « My Rangers! We fought against renegades… from Pennsylvania to Kentucky! When the country got too crowded, Moon Fawn and I moved out West… where a man has room to breathe! » — Tom Hawk sums up his change of station.
Inevitably, with the Silver Age and its superhero reascendancy, to the eventual detriment of all other genres, the historical adventure strip’s slow decline set in.
As Don Markstein put it:
« Toward the latter part of the ’50s, practically all DC comics ran aliens, monsters and other goofy sci-fi stuff on the covers, no matter how badly it clashed with the title’s subject matter — even war comics often sported dinosaurs in that position. And so, all through the late 1950s and early to mid ’60s, Tomahawk fought gigantic tree men, miraculously-surviving dinosaurs, mutated salamanders, and other menaces that seem somehow to have escaped the history books. There was even a giant gorilla among them, and putting a gorilla on the cover was also a contemporary trend at DC. »
It all comes down to the editor, and Tomahawk was long edited by Jack Schiff, who just adored that sort of (admittedly fun) claptrap, then by his associate Murray Boltinoff, who at least was more flexible.
To wit, with issue 116 (May-June 1968) came a change and a relative return to the feature’s roots. First, Neal Adams was brought in to provide covers, and the more outré aspects were phased out. With issue 119 (Nov.-Dec. 1968), the book’s final creative team was brought aboard: writer Robert Kanigher and illustrator Frank Thorne (1930-), eventual creator of Moonshine McJugs. Thorne replaced Fred Ray (1920-2001) who, while he wasn’t a Tomahawk originator, had been chronicling the mountain lion’s share of his exploits since 1947. He would draw a handful of short pieces for DC’s war books before leaving the comics field in the early 1970s, writing historical non-fiction and art directing and illustrating for publications Civil War Times Illustrated, American History Illustrated, True Frontier, The West and Yank (despite the title, not a porno mag).
With the heart of the creative team in place, it was a change of editors that prompted Tomahawk’s final mutation, and arguably its most interesting: Joe Kubert took over the editorial reins, and the action was moved four decades or so forward in time. Tom ‘Tomahawk’ Hawk had settled down with a Native woman, Moon Fawn, sired a pair of sons, and was by then a lanky, crotchety old coot, but not quite helpless. His elder son Hawk was the protagonist, and they encountered frontier-style prejudice, greed, corruption, tribalism, paranoia… you guessed it: it was a ‘socially-relevant‘ comic, but hardly the cringe-fest that was the concurrent Green Lantern/Green Arrow. I daresay that Kubert and Kanigher’s respective politics were rather too complex for that.
As for the interior art, I’d say it’s Frank Thorne’s finest work. The notorious Alexander Toth would of course disagreed, far preferring Thorne’s work when Thorne’s style bore a heavy… Toth influence (here’s an example from 1957.) For comparison, here’s a pair of interior pages from Tomahawk no. 131‘s Hang Him High!
Toth would, in (final) conversation with The Comics Journal publisher Gary Groth, in 1996, froth forth:
« I repeatedly warned Frank: “For Christ’s sake, get the hell away from Kubert. He’s not doing you any good. His influence on you is negative, not positive, so get the hell away from him and stop aping his style and stop putting on all that shit that you lived without for years. You did nice, clean, hard-lined stuff, and it’s been detrimental to your work.” He confessed: “Yes, Joe Kubert and his style are hard to resist.” So, yes he had the influence, and he liked it. Well, good luck. »
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.
« Give men an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves. » (William Moulton Marston, co-creator of Wonder Woman)
We might all happily to submit to Princess Diana of Themyscira, but *she* occasionally has to submit to tentacles, although of course she always manages to fend them off. Might this be a metaphor for unnecessarily grabby male hands? I’m not here to psychoanalyze (that was Marston’s job!), just to celebrate Tentacle Tuesday. Lots of versions of Wonder Woman have grappled with tentacles… but no adventures are more entertaining than the ones depicted by the formidable Harry Peter!
Without further ado, today’s roster of tentacles – whether they’re attached to a Neptunian fish or sprout out of a mad doctor’s ectoplasm.
The following panels are from from “Three Secret Wishes!“, written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Harry Peter. The story was published in Wonder Woman #81 (April 1956). The whole issue is fun, actually, largely thanks to the gorgeous art – read it here.
« Look! An undersea monster! Spearing that torpedo like it was a sardine! It’s a nightmare! »
Writer-editor Bob Kanigher, flanked by artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, drew first blood in « The War that Time Forgot », chronicled in DC’s Star Spangled War Stories beginning with issue 90 (May, 1960). The idea was scarily basic, but it was an irresistible premise, at least where young boys were concerned: let’s face it… soldiers vs dinosaurs. How might a T-Rex fare against a bazooka charge? Well…
The only time the series (what I’ve read of it… Andru and Esposito are no dream team of mine) did anything for me was a tale about two soldiers, one American and the other Japanese, stranded together on « Monster Island » and having to save each other’s sashimi. And this was before Lee and Toshirô got together on their own little slice of Hell in the Pacific, yet! I enjoyed the human interest aspect of the tale.
While I, like pretty much any other kid, was fascinated by dinosaurs early on, I quickly soured on inaccurate and fanciful depictions of the beasts. The War That Time Forgot is just one long, tedious dino-butchering exercise, be they harmless herbivores or kill-frenzied carnivores. Piss-poor palaeontology, that. Give me King Kirby‘s Devil Dinosaur any old time instead: that series runneth over with surreal, freewheeling fun, with nary a claim to accuracy in sight or in mind.
Ahem. The WTTF ran its course in SSWS until issue 137 (February-March, 1968), and was replaced by the far more nuanced Enemy Ace by Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Their all-time high, arguably in the case of Kubert, and without the faintest shadow of a doubt in Kanigher’s case.
So why am I writing about this series if I care so little about it? Well, when Andru (meh) or Kubert (great, true to form) weren’t handling cover duties, Russ Heath was. And while I’m fairly unmoved by Heath’s skill as a storyteller (too static, too measured), he was a first-rate cover artist, most strikingly for DC’s 1960s war books (and hey, Sea Devils) and Atlas’ 1950s westerns and horror titles.
So, in fond remembrance of Mr. Heath, who left us last week at the age of ninety-one, here’s a gallery of his Star Spangled War Stories covers featuring The War That Time Forgot. Thank you, sir.
Addendum to SSWS 131: apparently, « Bird-Man » started a trend, as everyone and his distant ancestor soon was riding a Pteranodon of his own. To wit: Tomahawk #109 (Mar. – Apr. 1967… just a month later).