Grateful Prisoners of Eros


It really is, Diana.

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. 1.

By Sam Hurwitt

Looks like someone needs to learn railroad safety.

Sensation Comics #10, DC Comics, October 1942.

Having made a few too many major life decisions just to follow Steve Trevor around already, Diana turns into a straight-up stalker in this issue. (Let’s not forget that they’re not even dating; Steve loves the unattainable Wonder Woman but doesn’t even notice her in her mortal guise as Diana Prince, who’s always mooning over him.) When Diana finds out Steve has an appointment with a redhead, she follows him around, making jealous, catty remarks to herself. Of course she does this as Diana Prince, because that sort of behavior would be beneath her as Wonder Woman (or so I’d think, but this story will soon prove me wrong). She spies on Steve having drinks with a redhead—and kind of falling all over her—and listens in to his calls, and when she overhears that he’s taking a train to follow a “clue,” she follows him there too.

Somehow the Fatal Attracting thing is much scarier when you remember she can bench-press a tank.

Rather than buy a ticket she just barges into Steve’s room, opens his window a crack and marks it with lipstick on the outside of the train, and just runs after it as Wonder Woman and pries the window open while it’s in motion. Cheapskate. She pops in on Steve only to passive-aggressively confront him about catting around with other ladies only to disappear again when the redhead, Dolly, comes in.

The train gives occasion for one of those unfortunate outrageously racist stereotypes of an African-American porter that show up occasionally in these earliest stories by William Moulton Marston and artist H.G. Peter. Weirdly, this one wasn’t altered to look less offensive for the Wonder Woman Chronicles vol. 2 paperback the way previous examples of the same thing had been in vol. 1. I don’t know if DC decided to quit cleaning up the past for this volume of if this one was overlooked because the big clown lips weren’t colored pink like the previous ones were. Either way it’s for the best; we can’t learn from past mistakes if we pretend they didn’t happen. And Dolly’s working for another stereotype, in fact, a sinister Japanese spy with hissing esses.

You can tell Marston’s a Yankee, because he doesn’t know “you-all” is always plural.

The train is to New York, where Steve tales a room at the Baldorf Wasporia Hotel (can’t imagine what that might refer to) only to find Diana Prince showing up as mysteriously as Wonder Woman did. Of course, it would ever occur to him to put two and two together. She tries to warn him that Dolly’s planning to betray him—we have no idea how she knows this, because we didn’t see her spying on Dolly, but I guess she has her ways—but Steve isn’t buying it and locks her in her room while he goes out to met Dolly. What a guy!

That Steve, he’s a prince. And holy crap, look at that underground city.

From her room next to Steve’s, Diana overhears some goons searching his room, so she follows them as Wonder Woman to an elaborate subterranean labyrinth underneath Park Avenue. She’s following right behind them talking to herself, but they don’t seem to notice. She follows them to their secret underground headquarters, which looks suspiciously like a normal brick building, with windows as if it were above ground.

Doesn’t it look like she’s peering in the 4th-floor window of a building? How is that underground?

She just happens to learn that Dolly is a showgirl named Dolly Dancer starring in a show, so she goes to the theater to watch Dolly’s act and then upstages her by doing tricks with her magic lasso, ensnaring audience members and making them confess embarrassing things. She spots Steve in the audience and tries to lasso him, but he dodges away, seemingly with something to hide. What can it be? Well, never underestimate the doggedness of a jealous Amazon princess to find out.

She follows Steve to a rendezvous with Dolly, who gets him drunk and makes him give her his secret intelligence code key. Wondy’s friend Etta Candy and all of her sorority sisters randomly show up—we get the impression WW must have sent for them, but we didn’t see that happen either—and she has them watch the building for spies while she confronts Dolly, who knocks her out with drugged perfume.

The hissing Japanese spy, Ishti, says it’s useless to tie her up. What’s this? A Marston Wonder Woman story without gratuitous bondage? How can this be? But never fear: he has someone in a welding mask weld chains to Wondy’s bracelets—which is bad news because if a man does that to any Amazon, she loses all her strength. She can only hope that whoever was behind that mask wasn’t a man.

You gotta love the mystery welder whom they just happened to find.

The spies torture her for the usual vague information: Who sent her? Who knows about them? They chain her to an electric current, but she cleverly pulls a lever with her teeth to change it from deadly alternating current to a harmless direct current. Science!  She taunts them with how ineffectual their torture is.

Diana laughs at your puny torture! Laughs! And “Jappy”? Really?

And oho!  It turns out that the obvious was true all along!  Steve was just pretending to fall for Dolly’s charms, and gave her a fake key. Bizarrely, Etta and her girls search the building only to fall through a trapdoor into a railroad tunnel just as the train Steve’s on passes through, falling on his roof. “Ye gods and little fishballs!” Steve exclaims when he finds them, and he’s not wrong. And yes, it turn out that the welder was a woman, so Wondy bursts free to save Steve’s train from being bombed by the spies. His fake code told them that the army chiefs would be on the train, while he and other military intelligence officers would be lying in wait on it instead, but that doesn’t do him any damn good if they blow up the train.  Stupid, stupid plan, Steve. It’s a good thing he has Wonder Woman to save his ass all the time. At the end he asks forgiveness of her: “I only made love to Dolly in the line of duty,” he says.  “You always perform your duties so thoroughly, Steve!” she replies.  You can say that again!

Whatcha gonna do when you get out of jail? I’m gonna have some fun! What do you consider fun? Going back to prison!

Sensation Comics #11, DC Comics, November 1942.

Holy cats, this is a weird one, in which Marston’s bondage fetish takes a trip to crazytown. The little first-page teaser says it all: “Strange ways of living on a planet where women love their bondage and refuse to rule.” Oh, and that planet? It’s called Eros.  Of course it is.

This is also the first time that a Wonder Woman story refers to continuity from another series. By this time Wondy has joined the Justice Society of America, the lead feature in All-Star Comics, and in this story she communicates with Queen Desira, the winged fairy monarch of the planet Venus she met on an adventure with the JSA in All-Star #14. Although created in a Gardner Fox JSA story and living on another planet, Desira will be a recurring character in Marston’s Wonder Woman stories for a while.

Desira gave Diana earrings that she magnetized with her lips so that she could communicate with WW through interplanetary “magnetic hearing.” The queen tells Wondy she’s needed on the planet Eros, and when Diana objects that she has no spaceship, Desira tells her that her astral body can travel wherever she desires while her body’s asleep. What’s more, Etta and Steve can come along in their sleep too!

Just like Peter Pan, only way freakier.

Meanwhile, the army brass becomes worried that both Steve and Diana Prince didn’t come in to work today, and officers dispatched to look for them find Steve in a deep sleep that they can’t wake him up from. At Holliday College, Etta and Wonder Woman are found in the same condition. Also, Etta sleeps in her cowboy hat, which is just weird.  For some reason, people’s astral selves are dressed exactly like their sleeping bodies, but still, that’s just weird.

Conveniently, “the astral mind understands other people’s thoughts without words,” so Wondy and her pals can talk to people on Eros despite not speaking their language. She discovers that on this planet, people are excited to go to prison and despondent when they’re released. In Joyala, capital of Eros, prison is full of tournaments, classes, parties and games, and when people are sentenced to be released, it’s to take leadership positions that they don’t want.

Man! Joyful submission is the best!

But one woman, Rebla, refuses to leave prison and take a position of authority. “I like to submit, to be told what to do!” she pleads, but to no avail. She’s condemned to freedom for her leadership skills. Sentenced to become ruler of Trans Mountania, she has no patience for affairs of government and lets her land fall into a state of war with the central government of Eros just for a change of pace. Who would have thought someone named Rebla would rebel like that?

But she’s a sub, not a dom! Some people weren’t meant to be switches.

Joyala seems to be populated mostly by women, with men mostly acting as prison guards and the like, but interestingly Rebla’s army is all men. Rebla invented a paralysis ray when she was in prison, and the government army of women finds itself outmatched. To help them subdue Rebla, Wondy equips them with…chains!  She gives them shackles similar to her own bracelets, but with dangling chains attached to their metal boots that will ground them and deflect the rays harmlessly when they block them with their bracelets. And really, it’s not at all kinky, except it totally is.

They have nothing to gain but their chains.

Wonder Woman and Steve lead the women of Eros into battle, but unfortunately Rebla’s too smart for them and ambushes their army, paralyzing them with her ray. Most of the them are put into her prison, but she keeps Wonder Woman paralyzed, rightly judging her too dangerous to free. Wondy manages to convince Rebla that if she likes prison so much, she should submit to her own jailers, but she finds prison run by men to be nowhere near the happy place she remembers. Apparently the men of Venus are no more enlightened than those of Earth, and the puffed-up man Dominus who Rebla put in power lords over everyone like a Roman emperor. (As usual, Marston’s character names are very on the nose.)

Rebla note to self: This submission jazz is way more fun with a kind mistress than a harsh master,

Rebla sees the error of her ways and frees Wonder Woman, who of course brings the whole place crashing down. And, the happiest of all endings, Rebla is found to have been unfit to rule after all, and gets to go back to the prison she loves so much. Hooray!

Wondy’s taking the expression “blown out of the water” way too literally.

Sensation Comics #12, DC Comics, December 1942.

Now we’re back to a more conventional adventure, in which Wonder Woman goes to Hollywood! A producer wants Wondy to star in a movie about herself, essentially a propaganda flick called America’s Guardian Angel, and writes to Army Intelligence to convince her to do it. Wondy demurs at first, but when she’s told that her dreamboat Steve Trevor is in Los Angeles, she readily agrees, just as long as her pal Etta Candy and her army of sorority girls can be in the picture too. She also has Diana Prince appointed her personal secretary so her absence back at work won’t be missed.

When Diana goes west to make arrangements for WW’s arrival, she immediately notices that the maid’s uniform has unseasonably long sleeves. Clearly she’s hiding wrist scars from her manacles and is a slave of the fiendish Baroness Paula von Gunther!  Never mind that she was last seen presumably killed; she never stays dead for long. But wait, the maid also sees the bracelets under Diana’s sleeves! Fortunately instead of figuring out that she’s Wonder Woman, the maid assumes that she’s also one of the baroness’s slaves.

Manacle scars are the handkerchief code of the slave network.

When she makes her big arrival as Wonder Woman, the movie director, Ben Black, says he knows enemy gents are after her but that he’s checked out all her staff and she can trust her maid, Yvette. For some reason Wondy concludes that he’s an idiot, and not that, you know, he might be in on the plot. Yvette tries to drug her, a plot Wondy easily foils, but in the process the maid notices her bracelets and becomes the first person to figure out the obvious—that Wonder Woman is Diana Prince!  Good thing she dies in the very next panel, when Wondy threatens to make her tell her secret and she drinks acid to avoid betraying her mistress. And oops, Diana accidentally didn’t save her. Ah well.

Yeah, that’s a little TOO convenient, Diana.

The director has Wonder Woman do an undersea escape act from a trunk, and she just happens to notice that it’s attached to a live mine with a trigger wire inside the trunk.  Now, you’d think she’d disable the mine or at least refuse to be tied up in the trunk, but Wondy rarely passes up an opportunity to get tied up.

The lady knows her knots. I guess she would by now.

Nazis pretending to be actors pretending to be Nazis hogtie her and put her in the trunk, with the tripwire bound to the ropes so she can’t free herself without tripping it. But of course she does. Steve, meanwhile, is on the hunt for spies, and on a hunch he follows some people from a Chinese laundry that he suspects of being Japanese spies. At least, despite Peter’s somewhat grotesque caricatures, Steve acknowledges that Chinese and Japanese people don’t look that much alike, which puts him ahead of, say, the makers of the Memoirs of a Geisha movie. He follows them to a tiny deserted island where he finds the boat but not its passengers. Going back there later, he finds the boat but no island!  But the island reemerges under his boat quickly, rising up like the submerged submarine it actually is, and he’s taken prisoner by Japanese agents.

It’s like a mini-Brigadoon! Well, not really.

Wonder Woman tries to go to the rescue, but she’s waylaid by a gaggle of starlet extras whom she happily lets tie her up with garlands of flowers—which are of course drugged.  Too bad she didn’t notice their long sleeves!  Of course they’re also slaves of the baroness, and both they and the director are working for von Gunther and another old foe, hissing Japanese spymaster Ichi (presumably the same as Ishti from a couple issues ago). Good thing WW had the forethought to leave her magic lasso with her pal Etta (for the first time ever) so she can use it to interrogate the director to find out where the baroness is hiding. Good thing too that that’s exactly where Wondy is being held. Von Gunther has WW chained up but still hasn’t quite figured out exactly how that makes her helpless—sometimes she gets it right, sometimes she doesn’t—so Wondy breaks free only to find (oh no!) that Steve’s in a death trap.

Etta really is badass, besides being a confection-crazed sadist.

Just as it looks like Wondy will have to become one of the baroness’s slaves (again), it’s Etta to the rescue! She and her sorority girls swam down into the hidden island to give those Nazis what for. Once von Gunther’s captured, Wondy wants to brainwash her into being good with her magic lasso, but Steve insists on taking her prisoner in a more conventional, legal manner.  He never lets her have any fun.

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