Tentacle Tuesday: The Silver Age of Wonder Girl, Part II

in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I, we covered the cephalopods of Wonder Woman issues 112 to 126. Today’s post opens with issue 150 and continues until 166. Just like last time, all of the following is scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito. This time around, it’s not only Wonder Girl that’s involved – some of these stories are about Wonder Woman.

We begin with a page (and a panel) of The Phantom Fisher-Bird!, published in Wonder Woman no. 150 (November 1964):

I’ve never heard of an octopus using its tentacles by sticking them out of the water and forming a cage, but I suppose that’s the least of our worries.
I say, let ’em die! At least the octopus won’t have to decide whether to have fish or fowl for dinner.

Two panels from Battle of the Boiling Man, published in Wonder Woman no. 154 (May 1965):

This octopus is incidental, but handsome!
That’s ‘Gesundheit’ with an S, thank you.

Page from I Married a Monster, published in Wonder Woman no. 155 (July 1965):

This story is just its very own kind of special, and I’ve talked about it in Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors.

While looking for tentacles, I came across this panel (from ), which greatly amused me:

And good riddance to Steve’s brain – he didn’t know how to use it, anyway.

A page from The Sinister Scheme of Egg Fu, the Fifth!, published in Wonder Woman no. 166 (November 1966):

And on that cheerful note – “This octopus reminds me of my darling Steve!“, I bid you adieu — until next week.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Woman in the Silver Age

Wonder Woman is probably my most recurring area of focus when it comes to TT posts – although this is just the third, as it turns out, despite feeling like the fifteenth. The first two were devoted to the Golden Age Wonder Woman (Tentacle Tuesday: H.G. Peter and Wonder Woman lend a hand and Tentacle Tuesday: More Golden Age Wonder Woman Wonders!), and having more-or-less exhausted the GA’s tentacles, we move on the Silver Age (which, in my assessment, is considerably less interesting, but sometimes has quite nice art).

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.

Page from The Stamps of Doom!, scripted by Bill Finger (credited as Charles Moulton). printed in Wonder Woman no. 108 (August 1959).

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):

To reiterate: man is sitting on a rock. One wouldn’t think that this is a particularly dangerous activity. And yet one minute he’s contemplating the injustices of life (sitting!), and the next he’s sinking (at the speed of a locomotive) into sea, right into the welcome arms of an octopus. I think the octopus planned it.
The guy’s suffocating, but he’s still fretting about Merman as a rival for WW’s affections.
This is Wonder Woman no. 128 (February 1962). Cover by Andru and Esposito.

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!

Two pages from The Academy of Arch-Villains!, published in Wonder Woman no. 141 (October 1963).
In comics, swordfish are often pitted against octopuses (one doesn’t have to go far for examples – just look at the previous story), but I wonder how often that happens in real life…
Page from War of the Underwater Giants, published in Wonder Woman no. 146 (May 1964).
Page from The Olympics of the Doomed, published in Wonder Woman no. 148 (August 1964).
Page from I Married a Monster, published in Wonder Woman no. 155 (July 1965).
The Sinister Scheme of Egg Fu, the Fifth!, published in Wonder Woman no. 166 (November 1966).

~ ds

Into the Inky Shadows With Jerry Grandenetti

« 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 KubertRuss HeathJohn 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.

Opening splash from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Sabina the Sorceress, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 56 (Dec. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Special no. 2, Aug. 1986, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was recoloured by Steve Oliff.
Page 3 from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Curse of the Mandibles!, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 55 (Oct. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 4, Dec. 1985, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was most tastefully recoloured by Steve Oliff.

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.

This is G.I. Combat no. 77 (Oct. 1959, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler, who recalled, in a 1970s interview: « It was suggested that we start doing washes for covers, and we were talking about doing it for so damned long, but nobody attempted it. I think Grandenetti did the first one, an army cover with someone floating in the water. I think that was the first wash cover that was done. That one ended up looking like a full color painting. »
This is G.I. Combat no. 83 (Aug.- Sept. 1960, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler. In 1995, Robert Kanigher, Grandenetti’s editor on the DC war books and a frequent collaborator, recalled: « Jerry liked to experiment and I had to sit on him to get him to stop it. Especially in his covers, which were outstanding, when I forced him to draw as realistically as possible. »
Original art from The Wrath of Warlord Krang!, smothered in dialogue and exposition by Stan Lee, from Tales to Astonish no. 86 (Dec. 1966, Marvel); inks by Bill Everett. Namor‘s constant random shouts of ‘Imperius Rex!‘ make him sound like a sitcom character with Tourette’s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s possibly been the most annoyingly asinine slogan in comics since Stan stole ‘Excelsior!‘ from Jean Shepherd.
The opening splash from Cry Fear, Cry Phantom, written by Archie Goodwin, from Eerie no. 7 (Jan. 1967, Warren). In the mid-60s, presumably tiring of being pigeonholed as a war artist at DC, Grandenetti made the publishers’ rounds, doing a bit of work for Tower, Gold Key, Charlton, Marvel, Cracked (check it out here) and most memorably Warren where, after ghosting a few stories for Joe Orlando, he unleashed his innovative expressionistic style.

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!)

Page 13 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson. Dig the salute to a trio of real-life spooky writers, all of whom editor Julius Schwartz knew well, having even served as Lovecraft’s literary agent late in his life. By the tail end of the 1960s, Lovecraft’s work was finally making some commercial inroads, thanks largely to Arkham House co-publisher Derleth‘s unflagging diligence.
Page 22 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson.
Page 2 from Men Call Me the Phantom Stranger, written by Mike Friedrich, from Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969, DC); inks by Bill Draut. This story reintroduced an obscure character from the early 50s, which Grandenetti had drawn a couple of times during his six-issue run. The Phantom Stranger has remained active ever since, but most writers (save Alan Moore, wouldn’t you know it?) don’t really know what to do with him. This, however, is my very favourite PS appearance. Draut, a slightly old-fashioned penciller by this time was, as a slick inker, a wonderful fit for Grandenetti’s confidently loopy layouts.
Page 3 from The Haunting!, written by Jack Oleck, from House of Mystery no. 183 ((Nov.-Dec. 1969, DC). Grandenetti pencils and inks: undiluted!
Page 2 from Eyes of the Cat, written by Robert Kanigher, from House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC); inks by Jerry’s fellow Will Eisner ghost Wallace Wood. The inspired combination of Grandenetti’s adventurous layouts and the velvety unctuousness of Wood’s finishes are a match made in heaven, but one Woody wasn’t fond of. Oh well.

So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!


Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I

« 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).

The pretty mermaid’s suggestion is to make Wonder Girl jealous by inviting her to a party and then proceeding to ignoring her altogether. Monumentally stupid? Yes. Is Firra being obtuse on purpose? It’s very possible. Remove the fantastical monsters and the whole superpowers thing, and these stories will read like a hackneyed romance comic.
What’s the point of bathing in perfume (yikes, by the way) before going to an underwater party?
More bad advice from the mermaid. Have you ever heard ANY girl say that “girls are all alike”?

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.

A page from Mer-Boy’s Secret Prize!, published in Wonder Woman no. 119 (January 1961).

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.

Restraining order, anyone?

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):

Artist unknown. I tried finding out if this was true and could find nothing at all, so the author of this was either talking out of his ass, or has special connections with Urdu tribes… Better to marry a doormat than to become one, I guess?

O! give me back the days of Wonder Woman depicted by W. M. Moulton and H. G. Peter! *ahem* And now, tentacles.

Page from The Chest of Monsters!, published in Wonder Woman no. 112 (February 1960). “Having to rescue Mer-Boy yet again”, part 300.
Page from Mer-Boy’s Undersea Party, published in Wonder Woman no. 115 (July 1960). Um, yes, rescuing Mer-Boy again.
Pages from Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision, published in Wonder Woman no. 118 (November 1960). Oh, now it’s Steve who’s having problems, for a little variety!

In case you’re wondering what the Impossible Decision is, Wonder-Woman has to choose which of her suitors to save. Personally, I would let both of them plummet.

In a previous story, Wonder Woman has to choose between saving Steve or saving a whole world, so I think she’s no stranger to fucked-up situations, thanks to Mr. Kanigher.
Two excerpts from Amazon Magic-Eye Album! published in Wonder Woman no. 123 (July 1961)
Admiring the action from a polite distance, Mer-Boy is useless as usual.
A page from The Unmasking of Wonder Woman! This story was published in Wonder Woman no. 126 (November 1961).

After Wonder Woman rescues the octopus from some bloodthirsty sharks, they become friends! Perhaps because for once, no suitor is involved.

I’ll end Part I on this positive note.

~ ds

Hot Streak: Joe Kubert’s Son of Tomahawk

« 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.

Tomahawk was created in 1947 by writer Joe Samachson (later co-creator, with Joe Certa, of J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars) and artist Edmund Good. The series was distinguished by its setting, the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and it appeared both as a back-up in Star Spangled Comics (until it switched to an all-bellicose format and became Star Spangled War Stories in 1952) and in World’s Finest (at first intermittently, from 1949, then steadily from 1953 to 1959). And Tomahawk had been spun off into his own book in 1950.

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.

This is Tomahawk no. 131 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC). Inside: Hang Him High!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne. I like how nonplussed Hawk is at the prospect of doing the Brand New Tennessee Waltz.

This is Tomahawk no. 132 (Jan.-Feb. 1971, DC). Inside: Small Eagle… Brother Hawk!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

This is Tomahawk no. 133 (Mar.-Apr. 1971, DC). Inside: Scalp Hunter, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

This is Tomahawk no. 134 (May-June 1971, DC). Inside: The Rusty Ranger, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

This is Tomahawk no. 135 (July-Aug. 1971, DC). Inside: Death on Ghost Mountain!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, and the powerful Spoilers, written by Jerry DeFuccio and illustrated by John Severin. This was my admittedly random introduction to the series.

This is Tomahawk no. 136 (Sept.-Oct. 1971, DC). Inside: A Piece of Sky!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus an extraordinary Firehair tale by Kubert… but then they all are.

This is Tomahawk no. 137 (Nov.-Dec. 1971, DC). Inside: Night of the Knife!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus a selection of fine reprints.

This is Tomahawk no. 138 (Jan.-Feb. 1972, DC). Inside: Christmas, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, as well as an assortment of worthy reprints boasting artwork by Nick Cardy, Sam Glanzman, Norman Maurer and Mort Drucker.

This is Tomahawk no. 138 (Mar.-Apr. 1972, DC). Inside: Death Council, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus a clutch of reprints illustrated by Fred Ray, Gil Kane, and none other than Frank Frazetta.

This is Tomahawk no. 140 (May-June 1972). Inside: The Rescue!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne. Gaspar Saladino‘s brand new logo, a rare misfire, was unveiled just in time for the book’s cancellation.

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!


Thanks to their production manager, Jack Adler, DC had the finest, most nuanced colouring in the field in the late 60s and early 70s.

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. »

DC attempted an update of the character back in 1998. It wasn’t *atrocious*, but basically a rehash of Jeremiah Johnson with a sheen of ‘Magical Native American‘ sprinkles.


Tentacle Tuesday: Ahoy, Sea Devils!

« The tentacles are like steel vises, Dane! Can’t break their hold!

*Heh, heh* Try harder — HARDER! »

Greetings! I have just come back from a vacation, and I’m too tired to ramble on the way I usually do. Fortunately, if an image is worth a thousand words, this post is equivalent to a decent novella. Here’s what you need to know about the Sea Devils, here’s our take on the wonderful artist Russ Heath, as well as my complaint about Robert Kanigher’s scripts. Okay, we’re all set now!

Sea Devils no. 1 (September-October 1961). Cover by Russ Heath.

The Sea Devils vs. the Octopus Man! is scripted by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Russ Heath.

The same team returns to tentacles with Sea Devils no. 6:

The Flame-Headed Watchman!, scripted by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Russ Heath, was published in Sea Devils no. 6 (July-August 1962).


Now we unfortunately have to leave Heath behind and walk over to the territory of Howard Purcell, whose art is not nearly as striking, but still quite serviceable.

Sea Devils no. 17 (May-June 1964), cover by Howard Purcell.

The Impossible Maritime Menaces is scripted by Arnold Drake, penciled by Howard Purcell and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.

Sea Devils no. 19 (September-October 1964), cover by Howard Purcell. Is it just me or does the guy on the left look like a Ditko villain?

The Sea-Devil Robots is penciled by Howard Purcell and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.

Sea Devils no. 21 (January-February 1965), cover by Howard Purcell.

The Forty-Fathom Doom!, scripted by Jack Miller, penciled by Howard Purcell and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, boasts quite an assortment of tentacles:

Everybody is almost in identical position as on the cover – but the octopus has lost his baby blues and gained a pair of poached eggs.



And, in case you’re wondering where that quote at the top of this post comes from… The ‘heh, heh’-ing octopus is Dr. Quad.


~ ds

Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors

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.

Wonder Woman #125
Wonder Woman no. 125 (October 1961).

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.

Wonder Woman no. 143 (January 1964).

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.

Wonder Woman no. 145 (April 1964).

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.»

Wonder Woman #151
Wonder Woman no. 151 (January 1965).

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!

Wonder Woman no. 155 (July 1965).

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.

Wonder Woman #169
Wonder Woman no. 169 (April 1967).

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.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: H.G. Peter and Wonder Woman lend a hand

« 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.

Page from “The Tigeapes of Neptunia“, scripted by Joye Murchison (the first female writer of superhero comics) and drawn by Harry Peter, published in Wonder Woman no. 15 (Winter 1945). Read the issue here.

Page from “The Drugged WAC”, scripted by Joye Murchison and drawn by Harry Peter, published in Wonder Woman no. 18 (July-August 1946). Read the issue here.

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.




In the varied arsenal of Wonder Woman’s bondage instruments, tentacles are definitely to be reckoned with.

Sensation Comics no. 22 (October 1943). Cover by Harry Peter.

~ ds

Russ Heath and The War That Time Forgot

« 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.

Star Spangled War Stories no. 122 (Aug. – Sept. 1965). Grey toning and colour by Jack Adler.

Star Spangled War Stories no. 123 (Oct. – Nov. 1965). Dinosaurs love those orange skies, which set off their scales to fine advantage.

Star Spangled War Stories no. 130 (Dec. 1966 – Jan. 1967). The first Japanese-American “Enemy Mine” team-up, but the Japanese guy gets no redemption before dying. Grey toning and colour by Jack Adler… probably my favourite cover of the lot.

The Bird-Man provides a new wrinkle to bloodthirsty war criminal Curtis LeMay‘s « Bomb them back to the Stone Age » pronouncement. Star Spangled War Stories no. 131 (Feb. – Mar. 1967).

Star Spangled War Stories no. 132 (Apr. -May 1967).

Star Spangled War Stories no. 133 (June – July 1967).

Star Spangled War Stories no. 134 (Aug. -Sept. 1967). Once more, grey toning and colour by the indispensable Mr. Adler.

Star Spangled War Stories no. 135 (Oct. – Nov. 1967).

Last call! Star Spangled War Stories no. 137 (Feb. -Mar. 1968).

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).

What do dinosaurs care about the American Revolutionary War? And yet the poor, noble Pteranodons all perish in the end… « for the cause » . Tomahawk no. 109 (March-April 1967), cover art by Bob Brown.