On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Oh hey, it’s the Third of July! Maybe I should do this here comic with Uncle Sam on the cover, because that seems patriotic. And it has two beloved heroes on the cover facing off in their patriotic costumes of red, blue and, um, yellow.
Superman vs. Wonder Woman, DC Comics, 1978.
One of the comics I recently bought on eBay or Amazon or something was All New Collector’s Edition #C-54, far better known as Superman vs. Wonder Woman, published in 1978. It was recently reprinted in Adventures of Superman: José Luis García-López, which is a great selection of Superman comics, mostly team-up stories from DC Comics Presents, by one of the greatest artists to work on the character. But that collection reduces the art to the size of a normal comic, and there’s no substitute for reading the comic in the original super-sized “treasury” format of a whopping 10” by 13”.
One thing you wouldn’t know by looking at it, because I guess it wouldn’t have been a selling point at the time, is that this was not the then-current Superman and Wonder Woman who were fighting, but their Earth 2 counterparts in a story set during their heyday of World War II. This may not have been quite as much of a bait-and-switch as it seems, however, because in 1977 and early 1978 pretty much all Wonder Woman stories were set in the 1940s. Since season one of the 1970s Wonder Woman TV show with Lynda Carter was set during World War II, DC decided that her comic series had to be set in that period as well, to avoid confusion for any new readers, so the focus abruptly shifted to untold tales of the Golden Age Wonder Woman of Earth 2. Usually the Earth 2 Superman was distinguished from the more familiar Earth 1 version by the more old-fashioned S-shield on his chest, similar to the one he wore in actual 1940s comics, but García-López shows both heroes as pretty much indistinguishable from the 1970s Earth 1 counterparts.
Written by Gerry Conway, a prolific scribe for both DC and Marvel, the story is one that really benefits from the period setting. In short, Wonder Woman finds out about the Manhattan Project and is determined to shut the atomic weapons program down before someone’s actually crazy enough to use it, and Superman is determined to stop her because he trusts America to do the right thing always. You know, like it does! I guess he was down with the Japanese American interment camps as well.
García-López’s work always looks fabulous, but it’s stunning in this oversize format (see also Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk), and there are a whole lot of full-page and double-page spreads to show it off.
The year is 1942, early in the US involvement in the war. Superman is going about his business, destroying Japanese planes and subs, when he stumbles upon a Japanese/German plot to sabotage the Manhattan Project—whatever that is! It’s the first Superman’s heard of it.
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is in Washington, DC, saving a professor leaving the White House from an attack by some Nazi agents who helpfully wear giant swastikas on their chests and backs.
She trails a car that had been lurking there watching the action to Grand Central Station, where the men from the car, considerably more undercover than their compatriots, attack Albert Einstein! Can’t have that!
Diana smells something fishy about all the secrecy surrounding this Manhattan Project, so she does some digging, and suffice it to say she doesn’t like what she finds out. Not one little bit. And she decides she’s just got to put a stop to it before these foolish men destroy everything.
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the bad guys. First there’s Baron Blitzkrieg , a Nazi supervillain Conway had created the year before in World’s Finest. Then we meet Sumo the Samurai, a brand new character who, oddly enough, was brought back later as a recurring villain in All-Star Squadron and The Young All-Stars. I say oddly because a samurai named Sumo? Seriously? But then those series were written by Roy Thomas, who was pretty determined to use every World War II-era character he could possibly think of. (He’d done the same at Marvel with The Invaders, but that was a model of restraint compared to All-Star Squadron.)
BB and Sumo plan to steal the two halves of the atomic fission reactor that the Americans are working on at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, which will enable their own countries to—dare I say it?—rule the world! So, if you’re keeping track: Baron Blitzkrieg and Sumo the Samurai want their respective countries to have this technology, Superman wants to keep it in American hands, and Wonder Woman wants no one to have it at all. The battle lines are drawn!
And now of course comes the main event. Wonder Woman is seen beating a Chicago building into rubble with a streetlight—to destroy the nuclear reactor being built inside—and Superman flies in to put a stop to it. So she just has to put a stop to his face.
She says what her beef is, and Superman quickly determines that they’re not going to agree on this (even if he’s basically totally wrong), so the best he can do is suggest a change of venue for them to pound the crap out of each other away from vulnerable bystanders. To the moon, Diana!
They find the ruins of some ancient civilization on the moon, and Wonder Woman’s inclined to investigate, but Superman came here to fight and basically suckerpunches her. That’s OK, though—she gives as good as she gets, and then some.
But wait! The ruins are radioactive! With the ol’ wisdom of Athena, Wonder Woman leaps to the conclusion that whoever lived on the moon must have killed themselves in an atomic war. Oh, the irony! Superman isn’t hearing it, though, consumed as he is with berserker rage.
While they’re thumping on each other (note the T at the start of that verb, pervs), unbeknownst to them Baron Blitzkrieg and Sumo are raiding the two research compounds and making off with the reactor components. In fact, they don’t even know these two guys exist. But they will! Knowing somehow that the heroes are fighting on the moon, the US military arranges for lights all over the country to flash simultaneously to form an SOS in Morse code. Easy-peasy.
Whatever their differences on whether the US should have this weapon, Supes and Wondy easily agree that the Axis shouldn’t, so they go after the bay guys. Sumo never showed for his rendezvous with the Baron because, really, fuck that guy, so it’s two separate battles: Superman vs, the übermensch and Wonder Woman vs. the samurai. Of course, the good guys win, and they drag their vanquished foes and the stolen reactor components to a meeting point for our heroes to resume their sqabble. But wait! Blitzkrieg uses his mental powers to activate the separate reactor halves and transform them into some undefined death-weapon weirdly unlike its usual function.
But Sumo attacks Blitzkrieg, and Superman, being basically an idiot, disrupts the weapon, setting off a nuclear explosion. Nice going, dude! Of course, Superman and Wonder Woman escape while the bad guys continue their battle into mutually assured destruction. (They were both seen later, though, so I guess nukes are harmless after all!)
The teammates’ spat is resolved by a visit to FDR, who assured them that the United States would never use the atomic bomb as long as he’s president. And he’s going to be president forever, so I guess that settles that! It’s a happy ending all around.
Happy Fourth of July, y’all! Enjoy the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air. ‘Cause there’s nothing more American than that.