Bowling for Saboteurs



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. 2 or the hardcover Wonder Woman Archives Vol. 2.

By Sam Hurwitt

Note who’s winning the race. The “fastest man alive” can suck it.

Comic Cavalcade #1, DC Comics, Winter 1942.

Running alongside the adventures of the Golden Age Green Lantern and Flash, Wildcat, the Ghost Patrol and the Black Pirate in this anthology comic, this story meant that Wonder Woman was now appearing in four comics at once: the monthly Sensation Comics, the quarterly and soon to be bimonthly Wonder Woman, as part of the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics, and now the quarterly Comic Cavalcade. Not too shabby!

Steve Trevor and Diana Prince are sent to Boston on the vague assignment “to stop spies and saboteurs from landing.” While sightseeing at Bunker Hill, they see promptly see a periscope lurking in the waters off the coast. Or rather Diana sees it, almost blowing her secret identity mere seconds after she says that she’s very nearsighted. Her wisdom of Athena must have been on the fritz. As usual, Steve has some priceless exclamations: “Pilfering pups!” “By Jinkins!” There are a lot of reasons to love William Moulton Marston’s early Wonder Woman comics, but the weird dialogue is definitely up there somewhere.

Nice job guarding your secret identity there, Diana.

Diana meets a couple of poor half-starved children whose brother is missing, and though she thinks she doesn’t have time for this, she agrees to help them find him.  Not to worry, Diana—the way these stories work, finding him is sure to help solve the case you’re here for, even if at the moment it seems totally unrelated.

Tommy disappeared going to buy bread, so she goes looking around at the deli where the family buys food. (Diana had just bought them some food herself, but I guess she and the kids got it from somewhere else.) Finding the shop locked, she breaks in stealthily and finds men huddled around a shortwave radio. Thinking they look German, she comes in saying she’d like to buy a loaf of bread (never mind that the door was locked, which seems to have been forgotten). Then she tricks them into revealing their Nazi stripes with a completely hilarious ploy: All of a sudden she lifts her arm and yells “Heil Hitler!” When they instinctively respond in kind, she knows she’s got them. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if they weren’t Nazis?

Actually, that’s how she greets everybody. It’s kind of awkward at JSA meetings.

Their cover blown, the Germans immediately grab her, tie her up (it wouldn’t be a Marston comic without some bondage), and put her in a sack to smother to death. That’s apparently kind of their thing. We find out that poor little lost Tommy lost his mom’s last dime on the way to the store, and when he came to the store anyway asking if he could maybe work for his bread, the German shopkeeper Mr. Kipp sent the kid off to die in a little rowboat, figuring the rugrat had to be a spy. Oh, Germans, so killy!

Tommy runs right into that U-boat you might have forgotten all about by now, and when they greet the kid with “Heil Hitler” (that’s their answer to everything) and he doesn’t play along, they plan to drown him, but then they realize they have no idea where they’re going and make them navigate for them. Serendipitous little boys are always a good substitute for planning (or, you know, a map) in the espionage business.

You tell ’em, Tommy!

While her captors aren’t looking, Diana breaks out of the sack and turns into Wonder Woman—so far, so expected. But then she does something totally amazing. She constructs “a perfect woman’s figure” out of three hams stuck on a broom and puts it into the sack in her place. The Germans don’t suspect a thing! So remember, fellas, if you want to compliment a woman’s figure, just say, “Damn, girl, you’re like three hams stuck on a broom!” You’re welcome.

The ham gambit may be the best thing I have ever seen in my life.

Wonder Woman follows German spies as they toss her hammy body of a pier, and when they meet the saboteurs from the sub she captures them all in her magic lasso and forces them to tell her their plan—to blow up the Salem shipyards, with little Tommy guiding them! Wondy searches the saboteurs’ little fishing boat and conveniently finds exactly what she needs, “a waterproof listening set” that she uses to find the U-boat underwater.  And, being Wonder Woman and all, she quickly outswims the sub, catches up to it and straight-up tears it apart. (She mentions that the crew can just sit tight in a waterproof compartment, just so we don’t think she just sent them all to a watery grave. Good to know, though it is war.)

That’s what I look for in my comics: random literary shout-outs.

Meanwhile, Tommy leads the saboteurs not to the shipyards but to the House of the Seven Gables—yes, as in the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, but it’s also a real place that’s now a tourist attraction, and thus has people looking after it. The spies tie up the two young women who take care of the place—gagging them and binding them to the bedposts, in case we haven’t had our required dosage of kink. They also managed to knock out Wondy with an anchor and chain her up, but she quickly busts them all free as soon as the Germans are out of the room and they escape through the house’s secret passages. The Germans are still really into killing this kid, ready to bomb the place with him in it, but Wondy soon puts a stop to that.

Mama spank!

Oh, I forgot to mention that wayyy back when she was in the sack, Diana sent a “mental radio” message to her sorority-gal pal Etta Candy was back in Washington, DC, and she sent Steve a distress signal by firing a gun into the air back when she tied up those saboteurs, and they both arrive at the shipyards just as they’re being bombed. They catch the bombers, but a half-built aircraft carrier starts to slide into the sea. Fortunately, Wonder Woman shows up in the nick of time and manages to stop the aircraft carrier with her bare hands. I think that should be the measure of her strength from now on. How much can you bench? Oh, you know, an aircraft carrier.

Fortune favors the bowled.

Sensation Comics #13, DC Comics, January 1943.

Ah, Wonder Woman. Amazon princess. Defender of liberty. Nazi-fighting dynamo. Champion of peace. Avid bowler. Oh yeah, and also dead. It’s very sad, but apparently Wonder Woman is dead. It’s in all the papers—her body was found in a bombed airplane factory. Steve Trevor is terribly surprised by this news, but not nearly as surprised as Diana Prince. After all, she is Wonder Woman! But it has to be Wonder Woman who died—after all, she was wearing a Wonder Woman costume, and there’s only one of those! Steve is inconsolable. In fact, he bitches and moans so much that Diana is willing to blow her secret identity to get him to shut the hell up.

It’s true, men are fools. Have you thought about, say, subjugating them?

The surprising thing is that the fatal flaw to this whole dead Wonder Woman thing isn’t that it would actually be pretty damn easy to make a fake Wonder Woman costume. No, Diana’s costume has been stolen! Also her magic lasso, and there really is only one of those.  So she can’t prove to Steve that she’s actually Wonder Woman after all.

Diana is brought to police headquarters to indentify not the body—nobody gives a crap about that—but the costume, and it’s hers all right. But it’s being kept by the police as evidence, despite Steve’s attempt to snag it to, um, “help them investigate the case.” Honestly I’m not sure I want to know what he wanted it for. Diana, on the other hand, needs it, so she’ll just have to break into police headquarters to get it. She apparently has the time to create a whole new superhero costume for herself to do it in. Why she doesn’t just reveal she’s alive I don’t know, but for the moment she feels like playing along with being dead. I guess it’s just more fun that way.

Or you could just fight crime in the costume you made for the occasion.

As she leaves with the costume, unseen guns fire at her, and she’s almost snared by her magic lasso, implausibly thrown by an unseen hand. Seriously, just because the person is off-panel doesn’t mean Diana can’t see her. She manages not to be snagged in the rope, but apparently her speed of Mercury is good enough to deflect bullets but not fast enough to just grab her own lasso before it’s gone.

Meanwhile, Steve is actually looking into that bombed airplane factory, and learns, of course, that it was German saboteurs that blew it up. What’s more, they have a mole in Colonel Darnell’s office! Steve and Diana go all out to smoke out the spy, creating a fake code key and watching the paper like a hawk to see who makes a suspicious move. “No sooner does “trusted translator” Olga (totally not a suspicious name when you’re looking for German spies) drop the paper than Diana is there to grab her and drag her off to be strip-searched. They find nothing on her, and yet the information gets passed to German agents.  How can this be?

Real smooth, Steve.

Meanwhile, Olga’s surprisingly cool with being flat-out accused of enemy espionage. As a matter of fact, she invites Diana to go bowling!  And that’s not at all suspicious, because everyone loves to go bowling with people who accuse them of treason. And conveniently, Olga’s team is playing against Etta Candy’s Holliday Girls, so the gang will all be there!  Diana even gets Steve to come by taunting him about his dead girlfriend, which is always nice.

Steve, I know you’re grieving, but you need to shut the hell up.

Diana agrees to go, despite claiming not to know how to bowl, but as we all know, Wonder Woman is an avid bowler. OK, this is actually the first we’ve heard of it, but Etta is devastated that Wondy hasn’t shown up. “She’d never miss a match if she were alive,” she sobs. That’s quite a statement. Apparently gangsters and Gestapo agents can wait to be foiled until after bowling night. Someone should let them know that’s a safe time for crime.

Oh Diana, you loveable sadist.

Olga’s team is in the lead, because apparently the only decent bowler on Etta’s team is Wonder Woman—and honestly, that’s pretty much cheating, when the only reason you win games is because someone on your team has superpowers. Sure enough, Wondy shows up—hooray! she’s alive!—and starts bowling nothing but strikes. Olga gives her a ball to try for her last roll, and Wondy’s pretty sure it’s a bomb but hurls it anyway—throwing it, not rolling it, at the rear wall, exposing a gambling operation behind it. Marston’s colorful exclamations are on a roll here, by the way: “Hepcats of hallelujah!” “Great bats of bedlam!” “Out of my way, fumble wit!”

Olga tosses Wonder Woman’s lasso around Diana, making her confess to murder and bombing and all manner of things—I think this is the first time the lasso was shown forcing someone to lie, but it wasn’t known as a lasso of truth yet—and she, Etta and the Holliday Girls are all arrested by fake cops. Taken to a secret lair, the prisoners find out that Olga’s not just any Nazi spy—she’s one of Baroness Paula von Gunther’s gang and has apparently taken over her gang of slave girls while von Gunther’s in prison. In fact, it was one of these slaves who was found dead in the Wonder Woman costume.

I’m pretty sure Diana just impaled Olga with her high heels.

Olga creates an elaborate system of torture for Wonder Woman in which she has to balance on upside-down Coke bottles to avoid being electrocuted, but Etta manages to save her by untying the magic lasso from around Wondy’s wrists with her teeth. The text says she does his “hidden by the other prisoners,” but Diana’s tottering on those bottles in full view of Olga and her slaves while Etta’s chewing on her bonds, so it’s hard to imagine how they missed that. Anyway, yay victory! And oh yeah, they explain how Olga managed to sneak the code key out of the office, if anyone was still wondering. I actually kind of love Olga and would like to see her again, but there’s already one Paula von Gunther, and I can see how they don’t really need two of them.

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