Monday, September 05, 2005

The Silver Age Comicspeak Glossary

Back in the silver age they used to employ a certain amount of hyperbole in their editorial comments and a lot of the banner headlines used on comics tended towards the extravagant. Stan Lee in particular was a total drama queen, but Robert Kanigher also had his moments. So for those youngsters who may be confused by some of the things you might find on old comics, here's a translation.

Because you demanded it! : because we felt like it but we thought you might not like it, so we are going to claim that it was your idea and we reluctantly agreed to it.

The battle of the century! : a fight scene.

A novel length epic! : a story that fills the whole comic. A hangover from the days when comics were 52 pages and contained several 12 page stories and filler, so devoting the entire comic to one story seemed like a big deal.

A truely titanic thriller in the magnificent Marvel tradition!! : Oh look, Marvel have published another comic.

The greatest action thriller of all time!!!: 12 pages of people in tights hitting each other.

This epic doesn't need any hard sell! It's one of Marvel's greatest! : we couldn't think of anything to say about this issue.

The world will never be the same again! : Oh yes it will.

An imaginary story : An out of continuity story which, had it been written 40 years later would be published as a stand-alone volume at twice the price and labelled "Elseworlds".

Not an imaginary story! : it's all a convoluted trick to fool some alien invaders but we're not going to tell Lois/Jimmy. Either that or one of them is having a bad dream.

Not a dream, a hoax, or an imaginary story! : Everything will be back to normal next issue.

More deadly than ever before! : We gave him a makeover, but he's still going to lose.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Before they were famous: Linda Lee

Two years before she got the Supergirl gig (Action Comics #252), Linda Lee could be found hanging out on beaches, flirting, and wearing big hats.

Superman soon put a stop to that kind of behaviour.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Who needs heroes?

The odd thing is that when there's no superheroes around, somehow the world manages without them. One of the standard plots of recent years is the one where the superhero is completely erased from history and they have to find some way to set things right. And yet somehow all the universe shattering disasters they have averted do not seem to have come to pass without them.

The Earth hasn't been taken over by one of the crowds of meglomaniac super villains bent on world domination, or been invaded by any of the hundreds of alien races that are forever dropping by. It hasn't been eaten by Galactus or used as a staging post in any of the multitudinous galactic wars that seem to be going on, and neither have legions of the undead run riot. In fact it seems that generally the world manages quite well when they are unavailable, just as it did for all the centuries before they appeared.

It seems that there are only two possible conclusions. Either the super heroes in some way encourage conflict, or they are just accident prone. It's true that often a fairly normal person will develop meglamaniac or nihilistic tendencies (along with the necessary abilities to make them a threat) as a response to super hero activity. It's possible to read several years worth of some titles (particularly those titles that include the letter X) without anything occuring that is not in some way a response to the characters' earlier activities, but even so, I personally lean towards the accident-prone theory.

As an example take Wonder Woman v1 #167. A story that lasts a mere 11 pages opens with Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor having a quiet chat on a deserted beach. Within a couple of panels a passing airliner starts to crash. The following day at the same "deserted" spot a high speed police chase occurs, and no sooner than the escaping gangsters have been rounded up an enemy submarine surfaces to offload some saboteurs. Steve and Wondy drive into town only to have a girder from a construction site fall on them, a lion escape from a circus, and bank robbers come charging out of the building in front of which they have just parked.

Stuff like that just doesn't happen to ordinary people. Well, not all on the same day, anyhow. And if it did. it would qualify as being the most exciting day of their life. For a superhero it's barely worth a mention in their diary because every day is like that.

I'd maim for a copy of Sun Girl #2

And give nasty paper cuts for most issues of Moon Girl or Venus.

The Bureau of Madeup Statistics

I have decided to set up the Bureau of Madeup Statistics.

Any time you wish to back up some spurious claim or make it look as though there is some factual basis for your prejudice, just contact me, pay the fee, and I will give you a statistic that you can quote in good faith, knowing that while any accuracy is purely coincidental, it has come from a reliable official source.

In fact 82% of our statistics are 31% accurate. 24% of our statistics look accurate if you squint a bit, and 93% of them would be accurate in an ideal world if you are trying to get people to like what you are saying, or in a post-appocolyptic hell if you want to scare them.

The fee will be $5 per statistic unless you work for the government, in which case it will be $50,000. Or you can join our "Statistic of the month club" and by simply filling out this direct debit form that allows me to take whatever money I feel like directly from your bank account you will get a shiny new statistic every month for the next three million years.

How many teenagers in western society are obese from eating nothing but fast food and cake? 72%. What is the percentage of people having sex under the legal age? 64%. How come fat kids are getting so much sex? I couldn't tell you, I just do statistics.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Who's that Girl? Part 5: Strange Changes

Wonder Woman #243 - 251
World's Finest #251 - 252
Adventure Comics #459 - 461

Jack C. Harris was the writer elected to bring Wonder Woman back to the present day. Although the main plot of the first couple of issues is a clumsy 2 dimensional James Bond by numbers snorefest of kidnapping and pursuit, he uses this to remind the reader of the state of play back in issue #228, before we got sidetracked into World War 2. He also starts to lay the groundwork of new suplots involving an army investigation into Steve Howard and his connection to the "dead" Steve Trevor. Then there's a brief change of pace as we get that old standby of the evil witch in the apartment next door(1).

Then it's back to secret organisations as we find that Washington is honeycombed with tunnels forming a secret base that would put your average Bond villain to shame, complete with secret entrances straight out of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (or maybe Get Smart). Steve (Trevor) Howard is taken here by agents of Army Intelligence and he is questioned for many hours before they get around to checking his fingerprints and washing the dye out of his hair. But then the head of the investigation is a loony who has found some huge dead monster in a cave at the bottom of the secret base that apparently went unnoticed when they built it. He hooks Steve up to the monster with some Frankenstein surplus fiendish machines and struts about wearing a hooded scarlet cloak and sunglasses(2).

Wonder Woman inevitably breaks in to the secret base, whose defences are as poor as you might expect when the commander is given to worshiping dead monsters while wearing sunglasses in a cave, but after more of a workout with the monster, reanimated using Steve's life force, it's time for Steve to drop dead once again.

Over in Adventure Comics #460 we find that Wonder Woman's lasso has yet another magic power to its credit, as she uses it to open a portal to the Underworld in order to go looking for Steve Trevor's soul. Apparently her religious convictions are at a low point here as she defies Aphrodite to do so, and immediately picks a fight with Pluto once she arrives. But it's all a waste of time, since Hera has arranged for Steve's soul to be "placed among the stars" (3).

But life goes on, and shaking off Hawkwoman's attempts to console her and the attempts of Steve Trevor's "brother"(4) to kill her, she gets a job at NASA. They must have been so impressed with her resume as nurse, military intelligence agent, boutique owner, interpretor, and movie liason, that she seemed a natural for the space program.

In fact it becomes clear that the entire sequence since the storyline returned to the present day has all been designed to ease us into yet another change of direction, and although it hasn't been particularly well written, at least it's not as absurdly abrupt as #204.

To celebrate Wonder Woman's 250th issue we get a dramatic twist as another amazon, Orana (5) challenges Diana's claim to the title of Wonder Woman under an ancient law that nobody has ever mentioned before. Though how ancient can a law be that is designed to cover the specific issue of who gets to be Wonder Woman, since the position was only created quite recently?(6)

So once again the amazons compete in a great tournament to decide who will become Wonder Woman, only this time the contest is a mad, over the top event that requires them to hold their breath underwater for an hour at a time, float in the air for 12 hours, and as the climax, get flown into space (7) to race by jumping meteors that are falling to Earth. Queen Hippolyte declares Diana the winner because she takes the trouble to prevent the disloged meteors from doing any damage (8) but the host of olympian gods pop up for the first time en masse to interfere and say that Orana is the winner, regardless of the fact that her behaviour throughout the contest has demonstrated that she is entirely unfit for the role. (9)

Orana, of course, is totally hopeless as Wonder Woman. She has spent far too much time training to win the contest and none at all on considering what will happen if she does. Her ignorance of America is so profound that you have to assume that the only way she found the place at all was by setting the invisible robot plane to autopilot. Diana inevitably sneaks out after her, breaking some other ancient law they just made up about only one amazon being allowed out at a time, steals a rocket and flies home just in time to meet up with the man from NASA who has come to see her about being an astronaut. (10) The dumb plot with one of the stupedest two dimensional villains you are ever likely to see plays out, climaxing in an aerial shootout as the idiotic villain tries to prevent Wonder Woman from stopping his neutron bomb missile from detonating.

How stupid is this? Let me count the ways:

1) It's a neutron bomb. Since the fight is taking place above the target it can't be that far from ground zero. The villain, Warhead (11) is supposed to be an international arms dealer, and yet he is too stupid to realise that sitting over a nuclear explosion is a bad idea.
2) The bomb is dropping from orbit. It has to be traveling at least as fast as 320 kph/200mph (12) and yet Diana not only spots it as it drops out of the sky towards her, but manages to maneouver her plane underneath it so that she can catch it.
3) Diana might be strong enough to catch the bomb but she is standing on the wing of an aircraft at the time. Even if the robot plane is so absurdly strong that she wasn't driven through the wing, the impact should have rolled it over.
4) Diana then throws the bomb at the bad guys and it explodes, causing about as much damage as a hand grenade, rather than a nuclear weapon (13).

You are left with the feeling that the writer does not really have much of a clue what a neutron bomb was, and he was just using a popular buzzword of the time. But then his grasp of aerodynamics and basic physics is considerably lacking too.

As for Orana, it turns out that she hasn't put enough practice into the game of bracelets and bullets and dies semi-heroically (14) And since no one else feels the need to get shot at on a daily basis, Diana gets to be Wonder woman again (15).

And there we leave the amazon princess once again. I had expected to get a bit further in this installment, but all that inanity took up more space than I expected, and it's looking like things are going to get complicated from next issue so it seems like a good point to pause.

Next: Fly me to the Moon

1. Not for the first or last time.
2. Your tax dollars at work.
3. whatever that means
4. I don't believe he is really Steve Trevor's brother, since he has never been mentioned before or since. I reckon he's just some nut job who thinks he is Steve's brother.
5. Why is it always the red heads?
6. it's hard to be specific time-wise with anything to do with a superhero's origin as it is constantly revised to be 3 - 5 years ago
7. the amazons have an advanced space program, obviously
8. Orana is so careless
9. It's an interesting method of choosing your ambassador that I'd like to see more nations employ, but as soon becomes evident very quickly, it's not the most practical.
10. why she would even want to become an astronaut escapes me, since her invisible plane is capable of reaching orbit without all that faffing about with booster rockets.
11. he's got like a missle for a head. I am not making this up. Look at the picture.
12. terminal velocity
13. Doesn't she have some sort of code against killing?
14. she's snipping at Diana and refusing to take advice that would have saved her life, but she is, after all, fighting the bad guys.
15. the whole rocket stealing and leaving without permission things presumably having been swept under the carpet. But that's what you get when your mother is queen

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mouse of History

Back in the golden age there were many different kinds of comics as new titles appeared to follow every popular fad of the day, and Moon Girl wasn't the only one to cross the genre boundaries in hopes of finding an audience. But while Marvel singlemindedly co-opted every other genre and made superheroes out of them (cowboy superheroes, funny animal superheroes, horror superheroes, kung fu superheroes...), other companies produced more inventive hybrids such as Cowgirl Romances and Weird War Tales.

Today there is little of this creativeness beyond such niche wonders as Supernatural Law, but something that appeals to a variety of audiences could really revitalise the comics industry. In fact I have the perfect cross genre title all ready to go. It's a sure winner. I can see it now: Resident Evil - Codename Betty and Veronica.

Will the *real* real Diana Prince stand up?

The problem with starting in the middle of the series, as I did, is that you don't always spot connections to earlier stories. Not that the writers were making these connections either. So when I saw Gerry Conway addressing a loose end from Wonder Woman's origin in Wonder Woman #237 I was initially impressed. That was until I found that it had been tied up quite nicely within a year of the origin being published, way back in Sensation Comics #9. And then I found that it had also been tied up in Wonder Woman #167. Both later stories are incompatible with the original and each other, but it is interesting to see how three different writers in three different decades tackled the same plot point.

To remind you, the setup is this: Wonder Woman has delivered Steve Trevor to the military hospital but wants to remain close to him. She finds a nurse who is weeping over being parted from her fiance who has gone off to South America because she cannot afford to join him. Wondy offers to finance her trip if the woman named Diana Prince will trade places with her since, not only do they have the same name but they are also conveniently near identical to look at. The somewhat naive nurse then agrees to hand over all her identity papers to this strange foreign woman in exchange for sufficient money to take her far away, and never considers that this is not the most appropriate thing to do when your country is at war, and meanwhile nobody in the hospital notices the substitution, or even that one of the staff has acquired muscles and a foreign accent.

So what is to become of the real Diana Prince?

In Sensation Comics #9 (1942) we find her returned to the city now married and with a small child. Her husband is trying to sell a new kind of artillery shell he has invented but is so far unable to interest anyone and so real Diana Prince (now Diana White) contacts WW Diana Prince to say she wants her job back. After all sorts of fun with enemy spies, WW gets the husband's invention taken up by the military, and so Real Diana Prince can go back to being a full time mother and getting her hair restyled so they don't look so similar.

In Wonder Woman #167 (1967) WW receives a letter from Real Diana Prince once again saying she wants her job back, although this time it is because her fiance (they didn't get married yet in this version) is lost in the mountains and she doesn't expect to see him again. Either this is subtle blackmail (come find my fiance or I'll expose you) or disguised cry for help (if I tell you about my problem maybe you'll come fix it), because taken straight it doesn't make a lot of sense. Wonder Woman of course rushes off to help her. It transpires that Bill, the fiance has been captured by a lost tribe of Mayans, or possibly incans (it's hard to tell as they are a bit generic) who compell WW to undergo several trials in order to save him. Luckily he has found a wealth of rare minerals in the sacred mountain so once again real Diana Prince can look forward to the good life exploiting native lands and doesn't need her job back.

In Wonder Woman #237 (1977) Real Diana Prince has been stalking her double for several issues, having forgotten that they traded places. She has spent a year in South America and returned to find someone else pretending to be her. The fiance is not mentioned. Her double reveals herself to be Wonder Woman in disguise and explains how she took her identity, finishing with the reason that she had forgotten was because WW used her magic lasso to compel her to forget in order to protect her secret identity. Having explained it all and handily done a recap of her origin for the new reader, WW lassos her again and makes her forget once more, leaving her to wander away while she rushes off to battle a monster.

Of the three this is easily the least satisfying, leaving Real Diana Prince as a thinly drawn cypher on which to hang a recap WW's origin story. We never find out what she did in South America, why she returned, or what became of her fiance, and at the end she is just left to wander off. The second version is also really just an excuse to get WW into an exotic location; otherwise the presence of real Diana Prince has little relevence. In fact it is only in the original sequel that Real Diana Prince becomes anything like a rounded individual with a life that has moved on since her first appearance. And that is achieved in half the number of pages of the third version.

Of course I am now fully expecting to find yet another version of this story from the 1950's, but such is life.

An insincere form of flattery, Part 2: Sun Girl

Moon Girl may have been a poor copy of Wonder Woman, but there is evidence to suggest that she had a copy of her own in the shape of Sun Girl. It's entirely circumstancial, but it seems more than coincidence that within six months of the launch of Moon Girl, another female crime fighter should arrive with such an obviously similar name. And then there's the appearance. If you took Moon Girl's top and gave it a higher neckline and a lower waist, it would look very similar to that worn by Sun Girl, and the hairstyle is identical, just different colours.

But there the resemblence ends. Sun Girl, excuse me, The Sun Girl does not ape Moon Girl's origin. In fact no origin is given for her at all. When we first meet her in Sun Girl #1 she is already a famous heroine in the thick of adventuring. Sun Girl has no powers beyond judo training and what appears to be a flashlight built into her bracelet, but despite these limitations she has all the energy and life that is missing from Moon Girl. In many ways this is down to the art of Ken Bald, whose creative and playful panel layouts sizzle with energy, as does Sun Girl herself whenever he gets a chance to show off her long legs.

The only time the fun lets up is in the one Sun Girl story Bald doesn't draw in Issue #3; a leaden, laboured retread of King Kong called "Bokk the Beast", but that may be partly due to the lack of room left to draw pictures under a script so tediously versbose that Chris Claremont would complain it was overwritten. No writers are known for any of these stories, but I am left wondering if this one might be an early work by the young editor, Stan Lee. I can't see any other reason why it would be allowed to lower the standard of an otherwise so entertaining comic. At least the other Sun Girl story in the issue goes some way to redressing the balance with a light (in more ways than one) fantasy of a style that reeks of silver age DC despite being published by Marvel in 1949. But I am also left wondering why the cover to issue 3 does not depict any stories inside. Unlike the more symbolic pin up covers to the previous issues this one is clearly a scene from a specific story.

After three issues of her own title, the least scantily clad superheroine of the golden age (even Miss America had more exposed skin) disappeared into limbo, turning up again for the occasional guest shot in other Marvel titles and a couple of short back ups in The Human Torch. After this she was not seen again until Roy Thomas featured someone supposed to be Sun Girl in his Saga of the Original Human Torch miniseries of 1990. Although this pupports to be a retelling of the Torch's adventures in the 1940's the version of Sun Girl depicted here is unrecogniseable. This sad wannabee Torch groupie bears no resemblence to the sassy, sexy, and self-assured heroine of the golden age.

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...

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.