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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An insincere form of flattery. Part 1: Moon Girl

In the wacky world of comics you can hardly throw a rock without hitting a copy, parody, or homage to Superman, and every writer at one time or another seems to feel the need to do their own take on Batman, but historically, Wonder Woman clones have been fewer and further between. One of those few was Moon Girl, and the only interesting thing about her was her struggle to find an identity.

If Moon Girl were published now she would be an Alan Moore post-modern superheroine who skipped from one genre to the next in a loving commentary on the history of comics while examining the woman as symbol and possibly metaphor, not to mention giving him an excuse to write in a variety of period styles. In fact he could have saved making up Promethea at all and just obtained the rights to Moon Girl. He could have even reused the original covers.

It was 1947 and the first wave of the Golden Age was receding. EC comics had yet to establish an identity as the home of horror and were trying a variety of different genres. Almost their only foray into superhero comics was Moon Girl, and they didn't waste any expense on originality. Her origin is a complete steal from Wonder Woman: Princess of an exotic foreign land with a tradition of powerful women wins a contest and moves to America where she fights crime in a costume composed of red, yellow, and blue. With moons instead of stars on her pants, and greek sandals. She even had a cheap copy of Wonder Woman's robot plane. It was far from invisible, but it was remote controlled by her own mental commands like a well trained dog... that, er, flies.

The writing is so clumsy that at times it feels like you are reading a translation by someone for whom english is not a native language, and Moonie is a bland cypher with all the depth of the paper she appears on. In her secret identity of a teacher with the somewhat obvious name of Clare Lune she seems to randomly move jobs to wherever the dictates of the story require, her sidekick/boyfriend trailing behind whenever she remembers to tell him where she's going. And she's even worse than Wondy for explaining the plot out loud while alone. Her only vaguely original aspect is her magic moonstone, which increases her naturally high strength to whatever level is required by the plot, but fails to affect her intelligence. Thus to prevent a rocket hitting a large skyscraper, she picks up the skyscraper and moves it out of the path of the rocket rather than stopping the rocket before it gets there. It seems to have a variety of other powers as well, becoming all too reminiscent of Green Lantern's ring at times. And of course she invariably loses it at some crucial moment in order to add some tension to the story.

And then in issue #7 the title becomes Moon Girl Fights Crime following the popular trend of tough crime comics, and two issues later it takes an unexpected turn into romance stories, attempting to catch another trend. And it's here that we see the only real stroke of genius as a minor alteration completely changes the meaning of the title as it becomes A Moon, a Girl... Romance.

In fact Moon Girl does even more genre hopping than this. Issue #2's cover featured "The Battle of the Congo" is a jungle story, and issue #4 contains possibly EC's first ventures into the realms of horror with "Vampire of the Bayous" followed by "Zombie Terror" in #5. Based on the information available I'd speculate that she even slipped into science fiction territory at times, and if I found her in a western it wouldn't surprise me for a second.

The chameleon nature of the title could have given Moon Girl a niche in history as the symbolic hybrid who embraced all the genres (she even appeared in a funny animal book) of the comics world in the days when it had genres - A renaissance golden (age) girl. Sadly, the universally dreadful standard of the writing and the bland pedestrian art, whatever the style du jour might be, condemmed her to obscurity as a cheap Wonder Woman knock off.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Shrödinger's Cat Toy

So as I understand it the thing about collectables is that you can't actually open the packaging to read the comic or play with the toy or whatever because if you did that then they are no longer in mint condition and therefore not collectable. And these collectables, particularly toys such as action figures include special variants that are basically the regular version with a minor cosmetic difference such as a slightly different paint job, to artificially create a much rarer collectable at minimal extra cost. For this market I have now created the ultimate collectible: Shrödinger's Cat Toy.

For those that are unaware, Schrödinger's cat is a seemingly paradoxical theoretical experiment devised by Erwin Schrödinger. The experiment proposes that a cat be placed in a sealed box. Within the box is a device that will kill the cat (such as a canister of poison gas) which is attached to a trigger that will operate randomly with a 50% chance of going off in an hour. According to quantum theory at the end of the hour the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened and the result observed. Thus the observer becomes an integral part of the experiment.

The simplicity of the Cat Toy lies in its collectability. Ninety nine out of one hundred Shroedinger's Cat Toy boxes are empty. Only the hundredth contains the actual toy. But the packaging is constructed so that it is impossible to tell the difference between the one containing the actual toy and one without, as they are exactly the same in size and weight. The packaging is also constructed so that the only way to open the box to find out whether it contains the toy will destroy the packaging beyond repair.

Thus it is impossible to ever know whether you have the ultra-rare real Cat Toy without opening the box. If you open the box it is no longer in collectable condition, regardless of whether it contains the toy or not. And so according to Schrödinger's theory this therefore means that every box simultaneously contains the toy and doesn't contain the toy.

It's a quantum collectable. It'll drive collectors insane...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Surfing Sappho!

I'd been planning to write something about Sappho, the greek poet who Wonder Woman characterises so often as "suffering", but I got kinda sidetracked, so this isn't that piece. My curiosity led me off the main topic of Sappho and into her famous island home, Lesbos.

Lesbos is an island of eastern Greece in the Aegean Sea near the northwest coast of Turkey. Well, it used to be. It's called Lesvos now, which means that strapping greek hunks of manhood don't have the confusion of being called lesbians, just because they are geographically challenged. In fact it is the name given to a prefecture of Greece that covers several islands, as well as being the name of a specific island in the cluster, kind of like New York, New York, I guess. And if you were thinking that it was a tiny rock with a picturesque, sunny, rural village where olive skinned amazons made out inbetween milking goats and suchlike, it might surprise you to know that the island has around 110,000 people, cash machines, internet cafes and an airport.

Surprisingly, Lesvos does not seem keen to embrace its heritage and encourage tourism in the way most countries do. There is no Lesbian theme park or sapphic tourist center. In fact some lesbian related cruise ships have been denied permission to dock by the conservative authorities, although whether they are against single sex 18-30 cruise ships depositing hot babes who will scare the locals by making out on the sunny beaches, or just cruises composed of saddos with video cameras but no life whose idea of a vacation is spying on hot babes making out on the beaches is unclear.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Who's That Girl part 1a revisited: Mystery solved

Way back in Part 1a of the ever expanding Wonder Woman v1 commentary I speculated that feminist Gloria Steinem was deeply devoted to the idea of Wonder Woman, but rather less interested in the actual comic, and that in her drive to re-empower the symbol of her childhood, she actually prevented Wonder Woman from becoming a true feminist icon.

I am now delighted to be able to report that I have evidence to support this theory. I don't normally quote so extensively from articles readily available elsewhere on the web but this is so relevent I feel I have to. In an interview with Random House, writer Samuel Delaney says:

One of the glories of the late sixties comic book field was what were then called "relevant comics." In reaction to the freedom and daring of the then-burgeoning "underground comics," commercial comic books of the era began to take on far more mature themes and problems--social topics that had some punch: racism, child abuse, drugs, and what-have-you. The leading writer in this movement was Denny O'Neil and the leading artist, Neal Adams. It was an exciting moment in comics. The New York Times Magazine even devoted a Sunday cover article to them.

Well, five or six years before that, Wonder Woman's writers had found themselves with the "Superman problem": Because she was so powerful, none of the villains could really offer any resistance, and Wonder Woman--nee Diana Prince--had been reduced, for several years, to Saving the Entire Earth from the Blue Meanies of Mars, or other equally mindless adventures. So, finally, the editors had done the only sane thing: Most of her super-powers had been taken away, and she was now just you ordinary black-belt karate expert and generally super-brave kick-ass heroine type--a sort of female Steven Seagal. She was still pretty damned heroic. Instead of the flag bra and blue bikini briefs, she wore a white karate gee with a black belt. Certainly it made it easier to come up with reasonable plots for her, and alone made it possible for the plots to have some relevance to the real world.


Once the new relevant comics came along, they editors decided an area they wanted to tackle was women's problems. By that time Denny was editing Wonder Woman; he asked me to write a series of scripts for Wonder Woman that would touch on problems of actual women. (You might have thought, if they were really serious, they would have gotten a woman writer. But that, I suppose, was a bit too radical.) I came up with a six-issue story arc, each with a different villain: the first was a corrupt department store owner; the second was the head of a supermarket chain who tries to squash a women's food co-operative. Another villain was a college advisor who really felt a woman's place was in the home and who assumed if you were a bright woman, then something was probably wrong with you psychologically, and so forth. It worked up to a gang of male thugs trying to squash an abortion clinic staffed by women surgeons. And Wonder Woman was going to do battle with each of these and triumph.


Well, we only through two issues--and the first was a matter of writing Wonder Woman out of the last adventure she was in and getting back into her Lower East Side Neighborhood, which is where Diana lived by then anyway.

One day about six weeks after I had come on board, Gloria Steinem was being shown through the D.C. offices. Proudly they showed her the new Wonder Woman. Steinem hadn't looked at a Wonder Woman comic, however, since she was twelve. Immediately she exclaimed: "What happenned to her costume? How come she isn't deflecting bullets with her magic gold bracelets anymore and tying people up with her magic lasso?" Steinem didn't get a chance to read the story of course. But she complained bitterly: "Don't you realize how important the image of Wonder Woman was to young girls throughout the country?"


She had a point, I admit.


But, a day later, an edict came down from management to put Wonder Woman back in her American-flag falsies and blue bikini briefs and give her back all her super powers. Well, that's what happened--and she went back to Saving the Entire World from the Blue Meanies of Mars . . . There was no way I could work those in with the relatively realistic plot lines I had devised. So my stories were abandoned, and I was dumped as a writer--and Wonder Woman never did get a chance to fight for the rights of a women's abortion clinic.


It's a case of the world being over-determined--and over-determined in some destructive ways. But Steinem had no idea of the stories her chance comments were used to scuttle.


I think he may be exaggerating the time period involved a little for dramatic effect, and he seems unaware of Steinem's subsequent WW related activity. It seems a little hard to believe that Gloria Steinem could have caused the direction of the comic to be so radically changed in a single day, with a "chance comment", unless her influence at DC was far greater than anything I've found anywhere else has suggested, or it had already been decided to make this change. Her Wonder Woman related activities (the MS. cover and the reprint collection) always suggested to me a campaign to raise support for the classic Wonder Woman image. There would have been no need to come on so strongly if the publisher had immediately agreed to her suggestion.

What does support Delany's claim here is that however long it took for Steinem to persuade DC to change direction on the comic so radically, the actual change was implimented in a very short space of time, and with no warning. Issue #203 is entirely absent of any hint of change, even including a "next issue" box carrying on the current plot, so for that all to be changed after the issue was sent to the printers must have left a very short time indeed to create an entirely new comic. I can't help wondering how much of the art was completed on the original version and what became of it. And it makes me think that perhaps the reason they brought back Kanigher to write it was not just his experience on the title, but also because of his famed ability to produce at very short notice.

Delany is correct in essence, though. Her interest in Wonder Woman was entirely superficial, and once her goal was achieved she moved on without a backward glance to see what effect her interference had caused.

He may be the world's greatest detective but he sucks at first aid



Yes, after saving your stupid life from a collapsing building and being unconscious, having suffered head trauma from the falling bricks, your best solution is to carry her around with her head unsupported, dump her in the back of the Batmobile, and race back to the Batcave because she needs emergency treatment fast, rather than, oh, I don't know, taking her to a hospital. Or better yet, not moving her at all and just calling for an ambulance on your bat-radio.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Power Girl's Problem



"Superman's pal. Clark says he's the nicest guy you'll ever meet."

"But he's still a guy."

"Which means his eyes won't be looking at mine for long."

"They all take a quick glance down. Some of the women too. I caught Crimson Fox once or twice."


Yes, Karen. They all want to know why you have no nipples, which would be at least partially visible in that outfit.

The Marsha Chronicles

As a special favour to Scipio I present Lois Lane's roommate Marsha Mallow!

Lois Lane #121 – 130

As part of the big DC shakeup of the early 70's Lois Lane quits her job at the Daily Planet and goes freelance. This reduces her income and gives her an excuse to bring in three other girls to share her apartment. These are Julie Spence (who had been a supporting character for a while), Kristen Cuttler, and Marsha Mallow.


From the outset Marsha is portrayed as struggling with her weight. Her big problem is that she enjoys food too much. For several issues subsequent to the new characters' introduction they appear for a grand total of one page per issue in a brief domestic scene entirely unrelated to the main story. Marsha is usually eating or encouraging others to eat. Her other main interest appears to be dyeing her hair.

Despite struggling with her food obsession, Marsha does appear to grow slimmer over time, so her diet must be working. None of Lois's roommates ever seem to be interested in getting boyfriends, though. Even the thin ones. Either they are intimidated by the nearness of the masculine ideal of Superman, or maybe they are gay.

Eventually Marsha and the Kristen do get to participate in the main story, being hypnotised by clowns and going on dangerous hikes in the country. But then what else would they expect when hanging out with Lois Lane, a woman who can't stand near a window without falling out of it.

Oversharing there, Marsha

And that's about it. The last we see of Marsha and Kristen is in Lois Lane #130, with Marsha in typical form suggesting Lois get over her nightmares with some comfort eating. But she's looking quite good herself, now.


After that the roommates are referred to off camera, but the only scene that takes place in the apartment shows Lois alone. And then the comic is cancelled after #137 with Lois moving to Superman Family. Does Marsha go too? Her absence from the last 7 issues of Lois Lane suggests not.

EDIT: One thing that occurs to me on reflection is that Marsha doesn't really seem to mind being fat. She is under a certain amount of pressure to lose weight, and agrees that it's a good idea in principle, but she doesn't stress about it, and the reason I think she finds it so hard to stop nibbling is that deep down she doesn't really care. Of course she blatantly uses food as a crutch to alleviate problems, but I don't see that's worse than widely used alternatives such as drink, drugs, or obsessive blogging...

Comment verification

Apologies but I've had to switch on comment verification, which means that anyone wishing to post a comment will have to type in a word they are given. This is to prevent all the automated crap that was starting to spam the comments box.

Please don't let this stop you responding to what you find here; I love to get comments. Just not the spammy ones.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who's that Girl? Part 4a: Not exactly her Finest hour

World's Finest #244 - 250

With the appearance of the TV show DC made the obvious move of giving Wonder Woman a second comic. Well, sort of. They gave her a back up spot in World's Finest, backing up the traditional Superman/Batman teamups along with Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Vigilante (later replaced by The Creeper) which was at that point running to 80 pages and bimonthly.

The Wonder Woman stories featured here are written by Gerry Conway (regular writer on WW by this point) and are uniformly awful. WW gets to fight horribly disfigured mad nazi spies(1) dressed in an even more ludicrous costumes than the ones in the main comic,only this time mostly set in London between April and August 1942(2).

Conway does make an effort to tie in some golden age continuity here, as he does in the main series. In this case it means bringing back villain Doctor Psycho for an inevitable WW team up adventure with Sgt. Rock.(3) Though throwing in some aliens from a 15 year old issue of Mystery in Space (4), duped into working for the nazis by Dr Psycho is probably overdoing it for a single story, even a two-parter.

And after the big anniversary crossover with the other World's Finest feature characters, Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary, which once again Wonder Woman is doomed to forget(5), the stories revert to present day Earth 1 adventures. Presumably they must have assumed anyone reading World's Finest was also reading Wonder Woman as there is no explanation given here for the change of scene.

Next: As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by World War 2...

Notes
1. No wonder the nazis lost the war if their idea of inconspicuous was someone who was grotesquely disfigured and wore a bright yellow nazi uniform. And what kind of strategy is german high command using to pick their lead field agents that results in deformed freaks with horrible dress sense, anyway? Couldn't they find anyone more normal looking who was qualified to do the job?


2. A busy period for her, what with having to pop back to America in June for WW #239.


3. The funny thing is that long time WW writer Robert Kanigher was also the main writer on Sgt. Rock, but never got the opportunity to get them together himself.


4. Actually the aliens referenced in Mystery in Space #73 are never seen there and have in fact died out a million years previously, and their only notable characteristic (their legacy of a superweapon) does not feature in the WF story, so I am at a loss to understand why they are linked to this story or even mentioned at all.


5. Poor thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Poor Etta

I've always felt that Etta Candy was poorly treated by writers of Wonder Woman. She was always the pretty girl's fat friend; usually little more than a caricature obsessively stuffing her face with chocolates regardless of the situation, but now I find that not only is there much more to this, but it is all apparently Wonder Woman's fault!

In the Wonder Woman newspaper strip Diana meets Etta for the first time as a patient in the hospital where she works as a nurse. Etta is wasting away, having been unable to eat since an appendectomy. For some reason Diana feels that stuffing her with 10 pounds of chocolates is the answer to her troubles.


Etta obviously takes it to heart when Diana tells her that Wonder Woman says the chocolates are good for her, and thus she starts on a lifelong obsession.

And yet within hours she has ballooned up in what is clearly some kind of allergic reaction, and thus begins a struggle with addiction that lasts for the rest of her life.



Poor Etta.

Monday, August 22, 2005

My first Wonder Woman

It wasn't my first comic, and possibly not even my first DC, but the earliest memory I have of Wonder Woman is reading a story in which she grows to giant size, eats a huge pizza, and gets fired off into space tied to a rocket. I'm not sure how old I was, but even then I remember wondering what happened to all the food she had eaten when she shrank back to normal size.

It was Wonder Woman v1 #136 and after many years (not that many. It was old when I first read it) I finally got to read it again today. I was surprised when I saw the cover, as it rang no bells at all. Which is odd, because it's quite memorable. Far from accentuating her giant size, the composition of the cover showing her stuck between two skyscrapers makes it look more like she is being eaten by a giant alligator-like mouth.

The elements I recall are all there; WW growing to giant size, the huge pizza, and the rocket ride. But I had completely forgotten about the robot aliens that caused the problem and their planned invasion. Not to mention the stilted "wear a seatbelt" message page where WW catches a car that is overturning and tells the kids inside that it wasn't her who saved them, it was their seatbelts. In point of fact it is an open top car and if WW hadn't have caught it the occupants would have all been crushed when it landed upside down, seatbelts or not. But that's just nitpicking.

Some stories are timeless. I enjoyed it at the age of 8 and I enjoyed it again today. Because it's a big, exciting, very silly story where everything comes right in the end. We could do with a few more like this now.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Who's that Girl? Part 4: All the Twos

Wonder Woman v.1 #224 - 243

With all the loose ends tied into a big knot at the end of #223 you might think that Wonder Woman was now in a position to boldly stride forward into new adventures. In fact all we get is several thin stories that range from forgetable to nonsensical. Elliot S Maggin drops by for an issue to whip up a story so stupid that it would probably take longer for me to list the faults in it than he did to write it. Martin Pasko is back next issue and he has been reading up on his mythology, introducing a new refuge from the greek pantheon in the form of Hephaestus, god of fire, who is working for Ares AKA Mars. Sadly Pasko hasn't been reading up on Wonder Woman as Mars/Ares' appearance is inconsistant with his previous appearance in WW #215, and you'd think it might be relevant in a story featuring Hephaestus to at least mention that he created WW's golden lasso. The rest of the story isn't much good, either.

Even the initially interesting subplot about Steve Trevor coming to terms with his new lease on life nosedives into stupidity as we are expected to believe that a man with no credentials of any kind and the fingerprints of a dead man can talk himself into a job in a government department of National security that monitors the work of other security departments (such as the CIA and the FBI). Meanwhile, Diana Prince has been promoted, if you can call it that, from being a troubleshooter in the UN Crisis Bureau to liason for a movie being made about the UN.

But in fact this is only the warm up for "The Strangest Wonder Woman Story of All!" An ambitious cover claim that would not convince anyone who had read a few Kanigher issues. In one of those abrupt changes of direction that are by now familiar to anyone who's read this far, our heroine bumps into a kind of cut-price Iron Man (who wears his bright red nazi uniform over his armour) and gets dragged into Earth 2 during World War 2, where she meets up with her Golden Age counterpart. Disappointingly, Earth 2 Wonder Woman is not wearing her Golden Age costume, but in fact one identical to her Earth 1 twin (minor cosmetic changes were made in subsequent issues to address fan complaints on this subject, but it still wasn't much like the Golden Age version). The only way this is at all forgiveable is that the whole deal is designed to complement the Wonder Woman TV show as it is at this point in our story that Lynda Carter twirls into action.

Personally I think the idea of altering source material so that it better fits an adaptation is fundamentally wrongheaded, but that's just me. It's easy to understand DC's wish to appear closer to the TV version, since this would likely bring in a lot of new readers, and compared with the current situation where a big screen version of Spider-Man or X-Men brings in readers who are liable to be bewildered by the variety of alternative versions of their heroes available in comic form, none of which bear much relation to the movie versions, it's positively inspired. So as Wonder Woman returns through the time/space warp at the end of WW #228 we get to stay and follow the adventures of her Golden Age analogue in World War 2 (that being the setting for the first season of the TV show) for a while.

It is also at this point that Wonder Woman gets a second series with a regular feature in World's Finest from issue #244. This also features the golden age Earth 2 Wonder Woman. During this period Earth 1 Wonder Woman can only be found in Justice League of America and a couple of guest spots.

Despite the claim that this is the golden age Wonder Woman whose adventures we are now following, it is in fact a heavily retconned version. Not only is the costume wrong for the period, but the only recognisable member of the supporting cast is Steve Trevor, Diana Prince is in the wrong job, and her invisible plane remains incongrously a jet until it magically develops a propeller in the two hour flight that takes place between the end of #234 and the beginning of #235.

In fact without Julius Schwartz looking over his shoulder, writer Martin Pasko seems to lose the plot. In #229 he throws in one of Kanigher's most idiotic additions to Wonder Woman's story that says if an Amazon removes her bracelets she will go berzerk. A piece of nonsense that is refuted in the very same issue, since Wonder Woman does not wear them in her Diana Prince identity.

Pasko goes on to introduce an ancient egyptian alien called Osira in #131. Seems he has been reading again, but a little too much Eric Von Daniken(1) and not enough egyptian mythology, or he might have picked the name of a female god rather than a male(2) as the basis for this villain.

Gerry Conway takes over as writer at this point, and even though he perpetuates the idiotic bracelet thing and even more bizarrely has Wonder Woman pop over to Germany and liberate two children from a concentration camp between scenes during #234, before flying them out to the mid-Atlantic so their father can see them, and then lecturing them on moral codes after they have watched him die(3). For some reason he also feels the need to address a loose plot thread from Wonder Woman's origin(4), apparently unaware that it was tied up way back in WW #9. And then again in WW #175. What's worse, internal continuity with the ongoing storyline means that Wonder Woman's origin has to be placed a year too early. Except that there is some odd timekeeping going on here; #228 is set in 1943, #230 is described as "a winter eve in 1942"(5) and by #239 it is June 1942.

Once again it is guest star time, as the period setting is just right for bringing in members of the JSA, one at a time. The god of war finally turns up in #239, and he's back to calling himself Mars and wearing the yellow armour he had in #215. It's about time considering the setting.

And then after being stuck for so long in 1942 we flash forward to 1945 and VJ day as the World War 2 sequence winds down ready for the return to Earth 1. It's a shame really, as this issue shows the most characterisation we have seen in the comic for a long time, as the various members of the cast consider what they will do now the war is over. A second crossover between the golden age Earth 2 Wonder Woman and her Earth 1 counterpart returns us to our story in progress and before you can say "Suffering Sapho" we are back in present day(6) adventures.


Notes

1. Chariots of the Gods was a bestseller at this time that suggested that many ancient depictions of gods were in fact records of alien visitations.
2. Osiris was a major egyptian god. A more appropriate name would have been that of his wife, Isis, although that might cause confusion with the Isis TV show for which DC had done an adaptation. Of course that still leaves plenty of other egyptian goddesses to choose from.
3. The heartless bitch.
4. In Sensation Comics #1 Wonder Woman borrows the identity of a nurse in order to be close to Steve Trevor. Not only is the nurse so similar looking that nobody spots the substitution, but she conveniently has the same first name.
5. It must have been a very mild winter since later in the issue we see people in their shirtsleeves taking a river trip on an open sightseeing boat.
6. 1977 in this case.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Big Sister is watching YOU!

Queen Hippolyte uses the somewhat innacurately named Magic Sphere (it's a disc) to spy on anyone in the world she feels like. Wonder Woman has a kind of thought based telephone which can also be used as an invisible surveilence device (depending who is writing at the time), and is often able to receive calls from people even when they don't have one of their own to make the call from. Wonder Woman's main tool is her magic lasso which compels anyone in its grasp to do whatever the holder tells them to, and can even give them post-hypnotic suggestions. In the Golden Age villains (female ones, anyway) are locked up on Transformation Island until they are rehabilitated ie. until they see things the Amazon way and embrace their philosophy.

What with one thing and another, the Amazons had surveilence and mind control down to an art form before George Orwell had even finished writing 1984.

Continuity fun with Wonder Girl

I keep finding new things in silver age Wonder Woman that make me do a double take. Okay, writer/editor Robert Kanigher got up to some bizarre stuff that even he couldn't keep track of, like arranging for younger versions of Wonder Woman (Wonder Tot and Wonder Girl) to coexist simultaneously with her adult form (using one of the lamest plot devices ever), but things got really confusing when Bob Haney decided that Wonder Girl would be perfect for this new series he was working on called Teen Titans.

Either he didn't bother checking with Kanigher, or Kanigher himself had lost the plot by this time; he clearly didn't bother actually reading any issues of Wonder Woman. The result is that you end up with Wonder Woman's teenage self joining a team that is firmly rooted in a time when she is an adult, and going on world spanning adventures before she ever left Paradise Island. Interestingly in the early Teen Titan adventures she is never referred to as anything other than Wonder Girl, while other characters get moments when they are referred to as Dick or Wally; it's as if Haney isn't entirely sure what to call her.

If there is one point that really shows the ignorance of the source material he is working with, it's in issue #1 of Teen Titans, where we get shots of the teens' families recieving messages from them and the one for Wonder Girl gives us an image of Queen Hippolyte and Wonder Woman looking on as a man (no men could set foot on Paradise Island) chips out a message on a stone tablet (despite the ancient greek styling, the Amazons of Paradise Island have advanced science, an air force, and thought-wave radio transmitters).

Kanigher further complicates the issue by doing a little retcon all of his own in 1965 with Wonder Woman #158, which entirely removes Wonder Girl from continuity, but somehow this doesn't stretch as far as Teen Titans, which continues to feature her despite her non-existance. In fact it's only four years later in Teen Titans #22 that Marv Wolfman gives Wonder Girl a definitive origin story that establishes a separate identity from Wonder Woman and a name of her own (as far as I know. I haven't read every issue of TT so she may have been named before then).

Friday, August 12, 2005

Who's that Girl? Part 3: The Newest Wonder Woman of all (so far)

Wonder Woman v.1 #212 - 223

When Julius Schwartz took over the editorial duties of Wonder Woman with issue #212 he was left with something of a mess. in Robert Kanigher's haste to eradicate all vestiges of the "feminist" era he leaves plot holes you could fly an invisible plane through. The letter column of this issue explains that a great deal of work has gone into creating this "newest Wonder Woman of all" which includes contributions from E. Nelson Bridewell, Allan Asherman, Martin Pasko, as well as Schwartz and writer Len Wein. Robert Kanigher is notably not mentioned here.

The result of all this work is another bold change of direction. Wonder Woman bumps into Superman and he asks her when she regained her powers. This causes a certain amount of confusion in Wonder Woman as she has no memory of being de-powered. Queen Hippolyte gives her a rather lame excuse about not having enough data to restore this part of her memory, though it is easy to infer that she disapproves of this period where Diana chooses to be independant of her mother, and this is why she never got around to mentioning that there was a gap in the memory restoration process [1].

As she has no information why she lost her memory in the first place, Wonder Woman is concerned that it might happen again and so plans to resign from the Justice League. At the urging of her fellow members she thinks of a compromise: her next 12 adventures will be monitored by her fellow JLA members and if she completes all successfully then she will consider herself fit to resume active membership. This not only gives the comic a much needed sense of stability with a year long story arc, but it means that every subsequent issue gets to cover-feature a guest star.

While he is tying up loose ends, Wein also moves Diana into a new apartment [2], gives her a more interesting job at the U.N. that takes account of her background in military intelligence [3], rehabilitates a previously seen character to become her new boss but losing his sexist attitude, and even gives us a whole new magic costume transformation sequence [4] that appears to be contractually required to be shown in every subsequent issue. It's very reminiscent and about as realistic as the magic costume change twirl from the TV show, though what it desperately needs is an anime style magical girl transformation sequence with no pseudo-scientific BS explanation. Still, not a bad job for a single issue.

The following issues not only feature a series of guest superheroes but also a variety of creative staff with Cary Bates writing #213 & 215, and Elliot S Magin doing #214, 216 & 217, before Martin Pasko settles in as regular writer in #218. There's not a lot to be said about these issues. It seems to have taken Julius Schwartz a while to find someone to write the comic for any length of time and the result is that these issues lean heavily toward villain-of-the-week stories with narration by whichever JLA member is spying on Wonder Woman this issue, and little to no characterisation or subplot other than the "Twelve Tasks" frame.

The plots themselves are pretty lame, although #215 raises some odd questions about how the JLA deal with foes they have defeated, as it is written in the form of an informal trial held by the JLA with only themselves as judge, witness, and prosecution, at the end of which they sentence the defendant and escort him to prison. Seems a tad undemocratic to me.

The "Twelve Tasks" sequence winds down in #222 with some of the best art and writing we've seen for a while. Okay, the plot is Westworld meets Disneyland, but it somehow has more bounce than previous issues. The coda to the sequence comes in #223 which is basically an excuse to bring Steve Trevor back from the dead in such a blatently contrived way that you have to admire Pasko for his chutzpah. As a final test for Wonder Woman, Aphrodite, who is in a snit because the JLA have been having all the fun, has Paradise Island invaded by men. This is apparently a puzzle for Wonder Woman to solve as the masked men are not men at all, except for the one that is. Tracking down the real man by a process of elimination, she unmasks him to find that *gasp* he is Steve Trevor.

The puzzle was, as far as I can tell, to recognise that it was only a test, and to find the only real man. Why bring someone back from the dead to fill this role rather than use any of the available living men? Aphrodite gives the thin excuse that he had visited there before, and Hippolyte claims that it was "a test of love" which WW passes by asking to keep him - what else is she going to do when faced with her dead boyfriend brought back to life? Say "Nice to see you, Steve, but I've moved on with my life"? Personally I think Aphrodite is giving WW her boyfriend back as a prize for completing the tasks set her, but isn't about to admit it to the "girls only" club of Amazon society. Otherwise the story makes no sense.


Next: Diana 1 Earth 2.

Notes

1. in fact, by #223 we find that she chose to cut out this part of WW's life rather than being unable to restore it, but never explains why. Note that this is not the only time Hippolyte attempts to resolve situations by making people forget things.

2. bye bye multicultural room-mates. We never did catch your names.

3. which ties her new job to her old one in military intelligence.

4. See previous entry Magic Science.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Magic Science

Comics are full of magic science. You might think science is depicted more realistically now than it was in the golden age, but really it's just better disguised. Sometimes.

"But what do you mean by magic science, Mari?" I hear you say. I'm glad you asked. Magic Science is where something impossible happens but a wholely unconvincing scientific explanation is given for it. Wonder Woman is a good example. Yes, you know I was going to relate this to Wonder Woman before long, didn't you. I just happen to be reading a lot of Wonder Woman lately so it's a good source of examples for what I am thinking about, not to mention the reason I was thinking about it in many cases. Don't worry, I'll find something else to fixate on before long. Anyhow, as I was saying...

Wonder Woman is full of examples; the mystical purple ray that cures everything from disease and physical trauma to recent death. It also does a nice sideline in removal of unsightly scars (and you wondered why WW and all the other amazons look so good). The magical invisible plane that could fly to other planets even in the days when it was propeller driven, never breaks down or runs out of fuel, and has an A.I. so sophisticated you wonder why it doesn't get to talk sarcastically or change into a giant robot. And then there's WW's clothes that have been "scientifically treated by amazon scientists" so that all she needs to do is twirl her magic lasso and her ordinary clothes are replaced with her fighting costume.

Come on, guys. That's not science, it's magic and you know it. Unless you are going to explain where her clothes go to and what the whole lasso twirling business is about then don't embarass yourselves with this pathetic non-explanation. She's a character with a magical background, so why not just say it's magic and leave it at that? At least Marvel have that whole "unstable molecules" thing going for them. We all know it's BS but it sounds so much more convincing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What's in a name?

It's probably just as well that Doctor Doom is a super villain, I don't think he'd be very good as an MD. You can just imagine all his patients telling the receptionist that if it's all the same they'd rather see another doctor in the climic as having their illness treated by someone called Doom doesn't leave them feeling very optimistic about his prognosis. Plus the mask and the hood are a little offputting.

Similarly it must be hard to get a date with a name like Doctor Octopus, and job interviews are probably a waste of time when you are called Doctor Psycho, unless you are applying to join a death metal band. Hero names are so much more positive - who could help but feel good around Mister Terrific? And you just know that when Sue Richards is talking with her girl friends about her husband, at some point she has said, with a sly wink "...And they don't call him Mister Fantastic for nothing."

Doctor Doom is never going to get that kind of action. No wonder he's so grumpy.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Nothing so naive

I was just over at http://www.superdickery.com/, which has some very funny stuff. If you haven't seen it before it shows images from old comics and adds amusing comments. A lot of this makes me giggle, but the main assumption seems to be that the creators of these comics were naively unaware of implicit double meanings in their works.

In some cases it is only the perspective of time that gives covers a humourous side (like the war propoganda ones), in others it is the lack of context that makes them funny, but there are some covers where I'm pretty sure that the joke was there all along, and it is only by assuming that previous generations were less sophisticated or worldly that you can poke fun at them for not seeing the joke.

Obviously Wonder Woman gets a lot of stick (oops, bad metaphor) for the sexual symbolism and bondage on display through the years, but to suggest that the creators of the comic were ignorant of this assumes extreme stupidity on their part. After all, Wonder Woman's creater and first writer William Moulton was a psychologist so he would have had to be a pretty bad one not to spot all the bondage going on in his writing. Take the panel reproduced here from Wonder Woman #4 - does this image suggest an ignorance of the bondage connotations, or is the thought bubble a knowing wink to the adult reader?

Similarly I read in an interview recently (I can't remember where) an editor at DC explaining that they did a survey in the 1960's and there were several things that sold extra copies of a comic when depicted on covers. The main one mentioned was apes. Apparently apes made for very popular cover images and sold a lot of extra comics, so that's why there are a lot of gorrillas, monkeys, and chimpanzees in the comic world (there's even a separate ape section at Superdickery.com).

I don't think it's actually stated that images of cute girls tied up also sold extra copies, but it's hardly a stretch of the imagination; back issue listings would hardly specify [bondage cover] if it wasn't expected to make a difference. It's not like I've ever seen a listing that says [monkey cover].

Who's that Girl? Part 2: What Diana did next

The New Original Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman v.1 #204 - 211

Wonder Woman #204 is an odd comic. Robert Kanigher, longtime WW writer and editor had been noticeably absent since the issue before the modern revamp, and his sudden return is quick to dump everything associated with the previous five years of continuity. Unlike the "feminist" era, which although it put the character through such radical changes that it bent your suspension of disbelief into a knot at no point rewrote what had occured previously, this latest change of direction did retcon several elements; some from WW's origin, and some from the era it finishes. It is also full of Kanigher's "don't think too much about this or it won't make sense" hallmark writing.

The death of I Ching and the return to Paradise Island I dealt with in the previous part. The major new elements introduced here are the introduction of Nubia and Diana's new secret identity. Nubia, we are told over the next couple of issues, is in fact Diana's sister. In a revision of WW's origin we are now expected to believe that Aphrodite commanded Hippolyte to sculpt two children from clay, instead of one, and the second infant is black. This and having Diana set up an apartment with a black girl and an oriental suggest that there is some kind of multicultural awareness intention here, but it doesn't really get very far.[1]

Why Aphrodite feels the need to introduce a black girl into the exclusively white skinned amazon society is never addressed, and no one, including the goddess, seems to bother a great deal about her kidnapping. Neither is it clear why Hippolyte feels it necessary to conceal this knowledge from Diana for several issues, other than to add an air of mystery to the plot which it doesn't really rate. But then when Nubia shows up on Paradise Island claiming that she deserves the title of Wonder Woman, there is no real explanation of what it is she is laying claim to; there's no suggestion that she wants to move to the USA and wear a flag themed bustier to fight crime, and if she just wants to establish her heritage as the daughter of Hippolyte then having a scrap with her sister is surely not the most efficient way of proving her claim in a society that continuously spouts off about scorning the violent ways of men.

And while I'm being picky, I have to wonder why it is that when Diana's (edited) memories are restored she doesn't return to the army, since this is the last thing she remembers doing, but instead takes on an entirely new cover identity (albeit using the same name). And why is she sent home in a submarine?

The next issue has the most wonderfully tacky cover with Wonder Woman tied to a giant phallic symbol. The story opens with the United Nations holding a beauty pageant (!) and Diana crying over how unfair it is that men don't notice her inner beauty because she wears glasses. [2] Then we move into the main action as masked thugs kidnap a diplomat and we meet possibly one of the stupidest villains of all time, Doctor Domino. This is a gang leader who wears a mask that looks like a domino piece. The diplomat has some information that Domino wants, so Domino threatens to kill Wonder Woman to get him to talk. His evil scheme is to tie Wonder Woman to a missile with a nuclear warhead and fire it at New York, so, oh yes, it will kill a lot of people in New York too.

Domino fires the missile, because he is just that evil. But of course Wonder Woman escapes and manoevers the missile back to Domino with a move that might work on a horse, but on a missile surely defies all the laws of physics. Afterwards Diana is all sad that the diplomat ignores her in her secret identity after he was all hot for her as Wonder Woman, entirely failing to spot what a shallow, sexist git he is.

In issue #206 we finally get the climax of the Nubia story, as she is revealed to be a pawn of Mars who has trained her all her life to fulfil his dreams of revenge against the amazons [3]. Unfortunately his training must have been particularly poor, as she loses all interest in the dark side the moment that the magic ring Mars has given her falls off. But then in the previous issue she is preaching the amazon credo of non-violence through superior force, so you are left wondering what effect Mars has ever had on her life. His influence appears to be that of a distant relative who shows up on your birthday to give you a teddy bear when you are aged sixteen.

With Mars' evil influence no longer affecting her, Nubia and Diana team up to belittle Mars personnel skills, and Diana returns home where Hippolyte finally gets around to explaining that Nubia is her sister. At which point this plotline comes crashing to a halt as apart from an odd guest spot in Supergirl #9 [4], Nubia is never seen or mentioned ever again.


In fact it seems that Kanigher's retcon comes apart before it has hardly started. After three issues of "New Original" Wonder Woman he gives us five issues of stories that are merely redrawn versions of old golden age comics with the scripts minimally altered to allow for continuity [5], although Steve Trevor pops up in #208 despite the fact that he's been dead for five years; otherwise the scripts are in many places identical to the originals.

A note in the letters column [6] claims that "Ric Estrada (pencils) and Vince Colletta (inks) will be recreating the style of the golden age Wonder Woman". This is in fact a lie. Although the scripts are complete steals from golden age stories, the art is a simplistic 1970's style that looks nothing like golden age Wonder Woman, and the picture composition is at times atrocious. Ric Estrada's bland, open pencils would be better suited to Barbie doll colouring books, so long as his art wouldn't be expected to tell a story.

It is at this point that Kanigher vanishes from our story not to be seen again for seven years. Julius Schwartz takes command as editor, and with Len Wein as writer they set out to deal with the various gaping plot holes left by Kanigher when took over.


Next: Part 3: Picking up the pieces

Notes
1. After their initial meeting the two girls appear only a couple of times, briefly. The apartment is only shown in a single panel. Neither girl is ever actually named.

2. She seems to have some odd insecurity problems.

3. Even though he's never mentioned her before.

4. where she is living on Paradise island as Hippolyte's daughter.

5. eg. The Holliday girls are replaced with generic amazons.

6. the header for which still shows Diana in her white feminist era outfit

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Who's that Girl? Part 1a: Wonder Woman's pal Gloria Steinem

The unpowered period of Wonder Woman lasted for five years but came to an abrupt halt in 1972. You may be interested to know why. I know I was. In large part it was because of Gloria Steinem.

I'm not going to give you a potted biography, there's a perfectly good one here. Suffice to say that she was a feminist journalist who had a long association with comics, having worked with Harvey Kurtzman on Help! magazine in the early '60's. Wonder Woman seems to have been a formative influence on Steinem as a child, and William Moulton Marston's original interpretation of the character is a very strong female role model. So when Steinem found that Wonder Woman had lost her powers and her costume she considered this to be a devaluing of the character she loved, and began a campaign to bring back the "true" Wonder Woman.

She got her chance in 1972 when she launched Ms. magazine, which was initially financed by Warner Communications inc, who also owned DC Comics. She was friends with Steve Ross, the head of DC and even though she was busy getting Ms. off the ground, she managed to find time to put together a collection of golden age Wonder Woman stories[1].

In this age of trade paperbacks and graphic novels such a collection hardly seems unusual, but there was more to this collection than meets the eye. Ignore for the moment that this is the only collection of pre-Crisis Wonder Woman produced over her 60 year history other than four thin volumes of Archive[2]; this collection is not chronological, it is not themed in any way other than being stories selected by Gloria Steinem.

She gives us a lengthy introduction but it is not about the stories in the collection; in fact nowhere does she even list which issues of what comics are being included. There is no information given about individual stories at all. The introduction is in fact an essay on what Wonder Woman means to Gloria Steinem, and the stories are very carefully selected to support her interpretation. A second "interpretive essay" by Phyllis Chester continues the theme and gives us a crash course in Greek mythology. In fact 23 pages are taken up with these essays before you get to the comics. This is a collection with an agenda.

If it weren't significant enough that Steinem is able to publish this reprint volume of DC comics as a Ms. book, it is extremely indicative of her influence on DC editorial policy at the time that the first issue of Ms. has a Wonder Woman cover. The interesting thing about this is that far from showing her wearing her golden age costume, as is often claimed, she is actually wearing a version that would not be seen until several months later in Wonder Woman#204[3].

The sadly ironic thing is that the comic had just started addressing feminist issues in a mature way when the plug was pulled. In fact the first result of the change back to "original" Wonder Woman was that the proposed sequel to the feminist storyline of #203 was cancelled, to be replaced with some cosmetic multiculturalism and Wonder Woman in her secret identity weeping over her lack of success with men when she was wearing glasses. I'm not sure that this was really what Gloria Steinem had in mind.

Gloria Steinem once said "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." The truth about Gloria Steinem that I am left with from all this is that she was deeply devoted to the idea of Wonder Woman, but rather less interested in the actual comic.


[1] Wonder Woman A Ms. Book published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston and Warner Books 1972.

[2] Superman has 10, Batman has 11, Legion of Superheroes are up to 12.

[3] You can tell the period of any Wonder Woman illustration from the shorts. In 1942 they are halfway down to her knees, by 1968 they are hot pants, but they are not cut as high as shown on the Ms. Cover until 1972.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What If's we'll never see

There's this bit right at the beginning of the first Thor story where Don Blake is walking along and faced with a fork in the road, he chooses one and thereby heads toward his destiny. But what if he had taken the other road and never found that old stick?

Well for one thing it would have made for a dull story until the Stone Men from Saturn arrived and took over the world. Except, aha! What if someone else had happened along that day? Say they were taking their dog for a walk. They throw a ball for the dog and it goes a little too far, and the dog chases it into a cave. But what's this he finds? Much more interesting than a ball is this old stick. He runs happily back to his master to show him his new toy. But then the sky darkens as flying saucers obscure the sun! The dog stumbles and knocks the stick against a tree. A flash of lightning! Spot is transformed into Thordog!

Odin has a migraine.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Who's that Girl? Part 1: The "New" Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman v. 1 #178 - 204

It may seem that this is an odd place to start a commentary on Wonder Woman volume 1, but when I first wrote this I hadn't actually intended to do more than review this particular period in the life of the amazon princess. Somehow I just got drawn in...

To fully understand the changes made to Wonder Woman you really need to see what it was like prior to #178. Wonder Woman seems to have been stuck in a Silver Age rut of formulaic stories that include a tame romance with Steve Trevor that never goes beyond a basic kiss, and fantastic plots similar to those found in other DC comics of the time. The issues preceding the revamp are tired and lack the charm found in other DC comics of the period, or even earlier issues of WW. Perhaps writer/editor Robert Kanigher was just running out of ways to say the same old thing, having been writing the title for well over 10 years by this point.

He had tried something of a revamp, himself, in 1965. In Wonder Woman #158 he goes so far as to write himself into the story, summoning the entire cast of the comic into his office to inform them that they are almost all being retired in favor of a “new look” for Wonder Woman, a retro-Golden Age format. After 5 issues the retro look is dropped and we are back to business as before but slightly more bland for having lost a lot of the supporting cast, and the continuity is so confused that even Kanigher can't seem to keep straight what job Diana Prince has and what time period the story is set in.

First order of business for the new team of Jack Miller (editor), Denny O'Neil (writer) and Mike Sekowsky (penciller) was to give Wonder Woman a new hip wardrobe, so in #178 when Steve Trevor is convicted of murder, she goes undercover to locate the missing witness who will prove his innocence. This requires her to get trendy new clothes in order to blend in, of course.

Next to go were her powers, costume, and boyfriend. #179 opens with Steve Trevor going undercover, posing as a traitor in order to get in with new mystery archvillain Dr. Cyber. Remember this is Steve Trevor, high profile hero and well known associate of Wonder Woman, so he's a rather unlikely candidate for the role. He is also more than a little incompetent at it, as he decides to go rogue inside a military base, so he spends the first scene being shot at and jumping through windows.

Obviously when Diana Prince hears about this her first instinct is to rush to his aid (which would have blown his cover), but it is at that moment that she is summoned home to Paradise Island where her mother tells her that after ten thousand years the Amazons must leave Earth and they are in a bit of a hurry so Diana must choose to go with them or stay alone right this minute. Of course she opts to stay and for reasons unexplained this means she must give up her powers and costume, not to mention any fighting skills she previously possessed.

She returns to America and is now apparently homeless and jobless (1), and although she worries that "For the first time in my life I'm faced with practical problems -- like finding a place to live, and earning money for food." these are clearly the worries of a poor little rich girl who feels she is destitute because she can only afford a "cheap" apartment in a high class area along with a shop that she remodels into a clothes boutique which she hardly ever bothers to open (2) and an unlimited expense account for world travel and clothes. Almost immediately she stumbles over an orange skinned Mr. Miyagi type with the unlikely name of I Ching, and in less time than it takes to say "I can do Kung Fu" she is a mistress of the martial arts.

Steve then reappears badly wounded, mysteriously having located her new address even though they have had no communication since before she moved. Apparently Dr. Cyber wasn't convinced by his pretending to have gone bad, either. He then conveniently slips into a coma, but even this was not enough as he is awakened briefly in the next issue just long enough to get shot dead, as new chum private detective Tim Trench is introduced.

We also finally get to meet Doctor Cyber, a female Bond villain who says things like "You are extremely tough, Mr. Trench - and in your own way, intelligent. It is a pity you must die." and who staffs her secret undersea base entirely with hot chicks.

After several issues of James Bond adventuring Mike Sekowsky takes over as editor/writer and penciller, immediately ditching Tim Trench and then after a very brief pause for Diana to spend half a page working in her boutique takes an odd step back from the new style and has her recalled to Paradise Island (3) which has been invaded by the god Mars who wants to learn the secret of dimensional travel so he can invade Earth (4). Deciding to bring in reinforcements to help, and instead of calling her JLA buddies or even staying within her own mythology, she travels through time and space to recruit King Arthur, Roland, and Seigfried, but they refuse and so she has to make do with a bunch of valkyries. And since it's her comic they win the day and Mars gives up and goes home.

After pitched battles with the god of war and James Bond type adventures all over the world, it seems a little bizarre to find that next issue Diana seems almost helpless against the bullying of three local hippies, and it's only due to the help of the mysterious Tony Petrucci that she is able to defeat them. I Ching then turns up again in time to defeat the witch Morganna, which is just as well since Diana can't even beat her without her magic. And then it's back to jet setting around the world again fighting Doctor Cyber. Cyber is accidentally hit with hot coals during this next escapade and subsequently does a kind of cut-price Doctor Doom, eventually even wearing a metal mask.

We then get a little political as Diana liberates a chinese village from the evil government who are going to force them all to work down the mines, escaping to Hong Kong on a Mississippi river boat. The less said about this one the better.

Back home, Diana is moping about so I Ching suggests she go visit her mom. As if by magic an amazon appears to take her home, but she dials the wrong address or something because they end up in the wrong fantasy world and Diana has to lead an army to overthrow an evil queen before Hippolyte arrives to pick her up.

Following this we get several self contained stories including a version of The Prisoner of Zenda, a haunted house, and a bit more spy stuff. And that's the end of the all singing, all dancing Mike Sekowsky show. I don't know what happened at this point but we get two issues of reprints (5) and then Denny O'Neil is back as writer and editor with a convoluted story that leads into Wonder Woman #200 and another confrontation with Doctor Cyber, who is now as mad as a balloon.

Issue #201 signals the beginning of the end of the new era as Diana finally runs out of cash and has to sell her boutique in order to pay for plane fare to Tibet for another adventure. She bumps into Catwoman (6) and somewhat late in the day I Ching remembers that the gem they are after has magical properties that will cause them to have a crossover with Fafhed and the Grey Mouser.

#203 is the last of the "new" series, and the only one that actually has any feminist message. This is a lot better than I remembered, and writer Samuel R. Delany plays with "women's lib" concepts to the point where by the end you are not entirely sure whether he is for or against. The cover is wonderfully wrongheaded - the "Special! Women's Lib issue" banner surmounts a classic bondage image. But at least we don't have Diana in a skimpy corset complaining that she's being treated as a sex object.

And then something curious happens. 203 ends with a minor cliffhanger and a caption saying "What will Diana do now? Don't miss next issue." and a newly titled letters page which is clearly intended to reflect the current style. Apparently the follow up story was proposed but it never saw print.

Instead, Wonder Woman #204 sees Robert Kanigher return as editor and writer. He must have really hated the "new" Wonder Woman. He immediately has a random sniper kill off I Ching, has Diana lose her memory of everything other than how to fly a jet, and returns her to Paradise Island which is now just off the coast of America and not in another dimension. Queen Hippolyte downloads an edited version of her origin into her head that includes no mention of the previous 5 years of continuity and dresses her in a slightly restyled version of her old costume before packing her off to America in a submarine. Wandering past the UN building she is offered a job as a translator and an apartment share with two other girls. And with that the new era is over and Wonder Woman is once more dressing in spandex and getting tied to missiles.

Although this period is often seen as "feminist" and female empowering, in fact the women's lib aspect really only occurs in one issue. This era is really more about revamping the title into a jet-setting James Bond/Man From Uncle style. While it does provide a fresh break from the rut the title was stuck in, it fails on many levels and succeeds on few: on the plus side the martial arts skills used are initially portrayed quite realistically, which is good since the art fails to deliver on almost any other level, and is in no way helped by some garish coloring.

The writing is uniformly bad, with many important details glossed over or plain ignored, and basic logic is rarely present. Much of the new style is derivative of popular fiction of the time, and even the attempt to make Diana part of the "hip" culture is continually shot down by her own thoughts about how uncomfortable she is with it. Continuity is entirely out the window and Robert Kanigher's dismissal of everything that happened while he was off the book is just shameful.

If there is one thing this period demonstrates, it is that writers should not be their own editors.

Coming soon: Part 2 - What Diana Did Next: the New Original Wonder Woman

Notes

1. It's not mentioned when or why she left the army.

2. She doesn't get any employees until #185

3. With I Ching in tow. Apparently the law against allowing men to set foot on Paradise Island doesn't extend to little orange orientals named after methods of divination.

4. Never a problem for him before or since.

5. Which suggests that something was not right.

6. Well it's supposed to be Catwoman but she looks nothing like any version I've ever seen anywhere else.

The Lost Supergirl

Or, Nothing you ever really Cared to Know about Cir-El, and Couldn't be Bothered to Ask


Cir-El, AKA Supergirl 2.5 is first introduced in the final page of Superman: The 10 Cent Adventure. Unlike the similar Batman 10 Cent, this is not the kickstart for a big plot affecting all related titles, but a prologue to a story that takes a while to go anywhere. In fact Supergirl appears in 2 issues of Superman doing nothing of any importance before she finally meets him in Superman #192.

Cir-El's biggest problem from the outset was being written by Steven T. Seagle and drawn by Scott McDaniel. Her first major appearence in the 192-193 story exemplifies all the worst aspects:


1) She is supposed to be 15 years old but in fact looks like a bull dyke on steroids (as does everyone else including Lois Lane).

2) she wears the most horrible, drab Supergirl costume ever designed, and it doesn't even have a proper "S" symbol. It resembles nothing more than the sort of thing a Super-wannabe would pull together from their local thrift store and then paint a big "S" on the chest. Some reviewers have suggested that it follows the goth heroic style of things like Angel or The Matrix, but I never saw any of these characters in a black leotard and a cape, and anyway there is no attempt to give her any associated coolness that you find in typical goth heroes. It's just bad.

3) This first story is just so bad that it should win an award for horribleness. Much of the plot makes no sense, and Lois having a screaming fit at Superman for having an affair that produced this 15 year old girl is a gem of stupidity. Superman naively accepts her although not necessarily believing that she is really his daughter, despite the fact that she has been brought to Metropolis by his enemies, despite the fact that she won't explain any details to who she is and how she got there, other than the most absurd, vague statements.(1)

We then get several months of slow burn on the Futuresmiths plot in Superman, while the other main Super titles are busy having multi-part epics in which Earth is either destroyed or conquered, but these events don't even rate a mention in other Superman titles, let alone have any effect in any other DC comics. Cir El must have been on vacation that week because she doesn't appear in either.

The next time we see her she is being shown into Superman's fortress by the Futuresmiths in Superman #197. She stumbles around a bit, trips over a crystal that is apparently part of the phantom zone projector. Or something. It's not very clear. And then there's an explosion as something comes through, which causes her to knock herself out falling against a wall. In #198 we find that she is not related to Superman at all and is the offspring of 2 human parents (2). We also see her transform into her alter ego, who is apparently named Mia.

Her next appearance is in a story in Action #806 - 808 which, confusingly was published several months before Superman #197. Here she comes off much better in appearance and characterisation when being handled by someone other than Seagle and McDaniel. The out-of-costume scene before she gets involved in the action gives her more depth than all her previous appearances put together. And her costume almost looks good. But there are real continuity problems between Action and Superman. In this story Mia has a spiky punk hairstyle and clothes to match. When we next see her these have changed to generic T-shirt & pants and hair, and the highly visible tattoo she had done in Action is never seen again.

In the next issue box of Superman #198 we are promised that Supergirl's origin will be revealed in 199. In fact all we get is one page of Mia throwing a tantrum and Supergirl saying "Daddy" a lot even though she's known they aren't related since the previous issue.

Superman #200 finally does deliver a few answers, but in a bored infodump that lasts two whole panels, and unsurprisingly leaves many questions unanswered. Shortly afterwards she leaps into the time stream portal thing for reasons that I am rather unclear on. Brainiac tells Superman that this will erase her, but since he and Superman both survive the same experience, I fail to be convinced. It's not even very clear where Cir-El joins the party since she was left behind in #199 when Superman first enters the portal, and the big fight happens 100 years and one day into the future, or possibly thousands of years in the future. It's not very clear. She looks and behaves exactly the same as when last seen, but with all this mucking about with time travel, there is really no clue where this fits into her personal time line.

As far as I am aware this is the last to be seen of Cir-El (3), and nobody even seems to remember her by the next month. It's one of the weakest deaths in comics ever. It's only credible because nobody liked her very much and Jeph Loeb's version of Supergirl would appear only a couple of months later.

I've seen some reviews that suggest that Cir-El was initially intended to be a continuing character (4), and her origin was changed to distance her from Superman and set up her speedy removal when it became clear how unpopular she was. It depends how competent you believe Seagle is as a writer. The whole point of The 10 Cent Adventure is for the Futuresmiths (5) to obtain a Superman DNA sample. Then at the end of the story they awaken Cir-El. Although there is some guff about her being from the future, it is all the Futuresmiths telling her. At this point she does not even seem to recognise her own name. My reading of this at the time was that they had used the Superman DNA to clone her and all the "future Supergirl" stuff was just BS they were brainwashing her with.

In fact she is entirely vague about her background until her last couple of issues. And although she is aware of her alter ego, Mia, she doesn't seem to question why she should periodically transform into a normal human girl from the present, or feel this important enough to even mention to "Daddy".

Ultimately the people responsible for her death were the people who created her. They made her ugly and boring and consequently she never really stood a chance.

Notes

1: Which is strikingly similar to Jeph Loeb's introduction of Supergirl 3 less than a year later. She is also immediately accepted by Superman with an unlikely and vague story about being related to him (6). Batman is understandably suspicious for the first issue, but in typical Loeb fashion seems to have forgotten this by the end of the story.

2: Contradicting Superman #195 where DNA test at STAR Labs proved she was Superman's daughter. Was this a continuity error? An indication in the change of editorial policy towards her? Or was this part of the plot all along and it was just written in such a hamfisted way that it looked stupid?

3: other than a guest spot in Superman-Batman #5, but that's Jeph Loeb for you.

4: Presumably to replace the cancelled/retired Supergirl 2. But having her appear so soon after the excellent Peter David version got the shaft annoyed anyone who liked that version.

5: who the heck are they, anyhow?

6: Note also that nobody ever mentions the recently retired Linda Danvers Supergirl while Cir-El is around in the same way that nobody mentions either Linda OR Cir-El during the Supergirl sequence in Superman-Batman.


P.S. If I've missed any appearances of Cir-El or other information about her not listed here, please let me know where I can find them.

First Post

I've been running a blog for a couple of months which seems to be quite popular amongst the few people who have actually seen it, but I find the lack of response to be a bit dispiriting, so this is an attempt to reach a wider audience.

To start with I'm going to rerun selections from my old blog. It's not like you are going to know the difference after all.

Let me know what you think.