On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments, including Greg Rucka’s run and the current “New 52” era. We’re now looking at the earliest Wonder Woman stories by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and artist H.G. Peter, as collected in the paperback Wonder Woman Chronicles Vol. 3 or the hardcover Wonder Woman Archives Vol. 2.
Sensation Comics #15, DC Comics, March 1943.
I’d say this is a weird one, but with early William Moulton Marston Wonder Woman comics, that’s pretty much a given. Diana Prince is just sitting in her office being girly, comparing how pretty she looks as Wonder Woman to her drab business attire in her secret identity, when she notices a bomb in the drawer of her desk. However, she also hears someone at the door, so rather than do anything about the bomb she quickly hides any trace of her superhero gear, so Steve walks in just as the bomb goes off.
Fortunately it’s a burn-all-her-clothes-off bomb rather than a kill-everyone-in-sight bomb, so rather than Steve being blown to smithereens he just sees Diana in her Wonder Woman costume. And for once, his reaction isn’t, “Wonder Woman! How’d you get here? Where’s Diana?” but he actually figures out that the two are the same person. Wondy quickly figures out an almost clever lie, saying that Diana was blown out a window instead.
Thinking fast, she rolls up the carpet and wraps it in Diana’s coat and hat, making it into an incredibly unconvincing dummy. Fortunately Steve doesn’t get a good look at it before Wondy whisks it away “to a hospital,” but he points out that her arm looks broken because one of the empty sleeves is flopping around. So to keep up the ruse, Diana Prince shows up at work the next day with her arm in a cast.
But who planted the bomb? Steve gives the staff lie detector tests—technology based on principles Marston helped invent, by the way—but finds no rat among them. He skips testing Diana, which seems foolish but fortunate for her because she’s lying her ass off at the moment.
Steve keeps up his penchant for bizarre exclamations throughout the story, like “Great gadzooks!” and my personal favorite, “By the great horn spoon!”
Hearing that an agent in the field is dead, Diana deduces that she was probably targeted because that agent told her that he was looking into a Nazi fleet that may be primed to attack New York, and it looks like he was right. But who knew that she knew?
Right on cue, the shoeshine guy comes in, talking in a suspicious foreign accent. Diana quickly deduces that he must be the spy because, well, he has a suspicious foreign accent and was indeed hanging around when Diana was chatting about sensitive military information on the phone, now that she (belatedly) thinks about it. Whereas another secret agent might play her cards close to her chest, observe the guy’s behavior and maybe see what he does and where he goes next, Diana just says straight out, “Tony, you’re an Axis spy!” And what can Tony say to that, really? Not to be outdone, Tony says, “No spikka da Eengleesh!” Touche, Axis Tony. Well played.
Oddly enough, Tony doesn’t take his duplicity being exposed with resignation and grace, but tries to kill Diana, stuffing her in a car trunk and driving the car off a pier. Holy Chappaquiddick! Of course she busts out fairly easily but doesn’t swim to the surface right away, instead taking the time to change to Wonder Woman and make sure her hair looks okay. A girl’s gotta have priorities.
A clue she found in the shoeshine spy’s equipment takes her to the office of a lawyer named Simon Slikery, who seems to be the same guy as “Tony.” But, being a lawyer and all, he quickly has her arrested for assaulting him. The cops don’t even question Slikery’s claim that she’s an imposter, and they try to get her to confess to pretty much every crime in town until she’s finally had enough and clobbers the cops. No sooner has she come out swinging than she submits to the cops again, though, allowing herself to be strapped into a straitjacket. Mind you, this is the fourth time she’s let herself be bound in this story alone: tied up by Tony, handcuffed and then chained to a chair by the cops, and now straitjacketed. And the day’s young!
Fortunately being bound hand and foot doesn’t prevent Wondy from sending a “mental radio” message to Etta Candy to have her and all of her sorority sisters go investivate Slikery’s yacht, which they immediately do, because they major in danger. But Slikery’s too slick for them and has them captured as soon as they board the boat. And the Holliday Girls express their dismay with Etta—in song!
Wondy escapes once she finds out that the cops were totally lying when they said they’d send for a lawyer and are taking her to the loony bin instead. She goes to check out the yacht only to find her friends captured, and she has to let herself be chained up again to save Etta and her pals, who are chained to the anchor and threatened with a sudden plunge. This time Wondy’s chained to the prow of the ship and forced to hold the anchor up to save her friends. And of course the yacht is traveling with a German fleet poised for attack—and Steve Trevor’s on the nearest American ship that’s in their sights? How’ll she get out of this one?
Well, in a kind of bizarre way, really. Pretending to be too tired to hold the anchor anymore, she lets it fall and her friends slip into the sea, covertly breaking their chains as they slip past her. Then she frees herself and turns her attention to taking out the whole German fleet. In a miracle of comic-book physics, she dives down and holds a battleship’s propeller, stopping it and letting the ship’s engine rotate the ship upside down instead of the propeller. Freaked the heck out, the rest of the ships surrender. “For the first time in history an entire enemy fleet is captured by one individual,” the narrator gushes helpfully. All in a day’s work for Wonder Woman, who tells a grateful nation that it just goes to show that anything’s possible “if you just grit your teeth and tell yourself I will do it!” In other words, go ahead and try this stuff at home, kids!
Sensation Comics #16, DC Comics, April 1943.
I’ll just go ahead and say it: This one’s a little dull, feeling a bit as if it’s cobbled together from past Wonder Woman stories.
Diana gets a telegram that Etta Candy is engaged and is about to get married in Texas. Of course she and Steve and Colonel Darnell have a good laugh about it, because a spunky fat girl in love? Preposterous! Or as Steve puts it, “Great cannibalistic catfish! How in the name of Rome’s 90 gods did this ever happen?” Steve’s tic of florid exclamations is only getting worse.
Diana and Steve decide to go to Texas to laugh at their friend, and check out some Japanese spy activity along the Mexican border while they’re there—because as we learned in the last Texas-set story, those brown and yellow people are always in cahoots.
Before she even check in with Etta, Diana just happens to stumble upon her friend’s fiance canoodling with another woman and laughing about how he’s just deceiving Etta. What a fine how-do-you-do! Etta’s fella is supposedly a Hungarian prince with the unlikely name of Hylo Goulash (I used to live in Hungary, and trust me, that’s not even close to a plausible name), and the chippie he’s romancing is a French dancer and movie star named Fifi La Strange. Just as she’s about to level with Etta, Diana almost gets hit by a bullet fired by Fifi, who says it’s an accident. Suuuure it is.
Meanwhile, some hooded and masked figure is handing off some mysterious Japanese chemical to sombrero-sporting Mexicans, telling them to pour it around an oil well to make it burst into flames. Not just any oil well, but the Candy family oil well! Etta’s father, named (sigh) Hard Candy, tries to douse the flames, but to no avail. It takes Wonder Woman showing up out of the blue, many miles from her normal base of operations (it’s funny how she seems to follow Diana Prince around), to stop the inferno, and even then it takes two asbestos firefighting suits and a rest break for her to pull it off.
Fifi lures Steve off to get captured by the Mexicans, who take him to the hissing Japanese. Wonder Woman finds Fifi and with her magic lasso compels her to tell where Steve was taken. Wondy enlists Etta’s pals in the Holliday College Band as a posse to go rescue Steve, but of course they all get captured instead. Wonder Woman lets herself get tied up with her own lasso to save her friends, like pretty much always.
With that old wisdom of Athena, Wonder Woman deduces that the Mexicans aren’t Mexicans at all but Italians in disguise. “That’s right—the Japs brought us here because Nips can’t disguise themselves,” one of them says appallingly. I mean seriously, what the hell?
But that’s not nearly enough racism for this story, as Wondy thinks of a cunning plan. Because “all Latins love music,” she has the band strike up a tune, knowing the Italians won’t be able to resist opening up the cells and dancing with their prisoners. After that, well, it’s a simple matter to cage up the jailers and have one of the girls untie Wondy.
Steve’s being held high up on a cliff accessible only by plane, so Wondy has the girls tie her to a kite so she can drop in on the Japanese from above. She and Steve capture his captors, tossing a few ethnic slurs around for good measure, and Wonder Woman tracks down the masked figure who’s…well, exactly who you’d expect it to be. But there’s a pretty crazy revelation about Fifi La Strange that you wouldn’t expect, because, well, you’d have to no reason to, because it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. So yeah, not one of the better early Wondy stories, but they can’t all be winners.