On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
One of the many troublesome things about Wonder Woman being an undervalued property at DC Comics is that the vast majority of her comics have never been reprinted or collected. Up till now I’ve largely focused on the ones that have been reprinted, just for convenience’s sake, but having reached the end of the mod era I come to a stretch of never-reprinted issues, which in a way are more interesting to discuss anyway.
Wonder Woman #205, DC Comics, April 1973.
Last issue, longtime Wonder Woman writer Robert Kanigher returned to bring about the quick and unceremonious end of the mod era that had unseated his decades-long tenure a few years before. He set up a new status quo that was almost exactly like the old one: same costume, same powers, same relationship with the Amazons back home on Paradise Island. Steve Trevor didn’t magically come back to life (at least not yet), but other than that the only thing that was different from the pre-mod era was Diana Prince’s job as a guide at the United Nations.
Of course, her boss is a complete jerk, who hates the fact that he had to hire a “plain Jane” like her just because she speaks every language known to woman. Of course the idea that Diana would be considered “plain” by anyone is ludicrous, but you know, it’s the Clark Kent effect. Those glasses! And she’s lost all her mod fashion mojo along with all her other memories of that period. In fact, when we first see her in this issue, boss Mr. Keech is taking advantage of a “Miss UN” beauty pageant as an opportunity to rag on Diana about how supposedly homely she is.
Not only that, but this goes on for three pages, as Diana frets and even weeps over how the brilliant diplomat-adventurer Morgan Tracy (not to be confused with Tracy Morgan), called in to judge the beauty contest, would never notice an “ugly duckling” like her.
But no time for tears, Diana! Because a bunch of thugs in ski masks have come to take Morgan hostage. Oh, and they tie Wonder Woman up with her own lasso and try to kiss her, because men are disgusting.
The goons get away with Tracy, but Wondy cleverly deduces that they’re not necessarily skiers just because they’re in ski masks, because one of them used sailor’s knots on her and spoke in colorful nautical jargon. So, rather than researching the nearest ski lodge, she trails them to a nearby ship.
But wait! It’s a trap! Wonder Woman tries to climb up the anchor chain, but it’s been electrified! By the insidious DR. DOMINO! Yes, folks, we now meet a bold new villain for a bold new era, and he’s a guy with a big domino for a head. Someone should tell him that that’s not what people mean when they talk about a domino mask.
And what does the fiendish Dr. Domino want? Why, biological weapons, of course. Only Morgan Tracy possesses the secret of the bacteria cloudburst formula, a weapon for which there exists no defense, and which Morgan was to ensure that it never be used. Knowing that there would be little point in torturing Morgan, because he’s way too manly to succumb to that, Dr. Domino straps Wonder Woman to a nuclear warhead and launches her at New York City. You know, like you do.
Even though she’s tied to the missile with her unbreakable lasso, Diana manages to wriggle free, lasso the rocket and ride it to safety. Now, you might think, wait, pulling up on the missile isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference, but hey, it ain’t rocket science.
Not only that, but she manages to redirect it back to the ship, lasso Morgan and jump onto her voice-activated invisible plane and fly to safety before the ship exploded in a nuclear holocaust. Mind you, it just looks like a regular explosion, but hey, it ain’t atomic science either.
And of course, Morgan pours the charm on Wonder Woman, being an international man of ladies, but he still doesn’t even notice Diana Prince. Good to know that her fretting over her double life is once again stuck right back where it was in the 1940s.
But wait, you may say, what about Nubia? The mysterious black Amazon introduced in the last issue is still all mysterious and shit. Good thing we have a backup feature called—wait for it—“The Mystery of Nubia!”
What is the strange mutual pull felt between her and the Amazon Queen Hippolyte (who, yeah, was called Queen Hippolyta in the last issue, as she had been for years, but I guess we’re going back to the Golden Age spelling)? Why does Nubia insist that she is Wonder Woman? And where did she come from anyway?
Also, Nubia’s accompanied by a bunch of African warriors in feathery headdresses and loincloths, and artist Don Heck just shows them standing around on Paradise Island like it’s no big deal. Aren’t the Amazons supposed to lose their immortality if a man sets foot on the island?
Back on Nubia’s own Floating Island, shrouded in the fog, male warriors are fighting to the death for the right to take Princess Nubia as their mate as “is the law of the Floating Island”—“Mars’ law of conquest!” So Nubia herself battles the victor, Kenyah (such subtle names) for the right to take possession of herself.
Whatever their island is about, it’s not much like the Amazons’, because all the men are male chauvinist pigs, and Nubia rules just because she can kick all their asses, not because they respect her or anything. And they seem to worship Mars even though they appear to be African, so really who knows what the heck their deal is? Nubia defeats the guy obviously, easily, but spares his life because she’s a woman and therefore her way is of peace and love. Okayyy, so, she’s not really of these people, I guess—she just lives with them. All this is pretty much in line with the twist that was made pretty obvious in the last issue, but we have to wait till next issue to make it official.
And yeah, all the portrayal of black people is pretty stereotypical in these 1973 comics. But of course it wasn’t long before this that there was hardly any depiction of African Americans in DC Comics at all (and they were only a few years behind Marvel in that regard). Mal Duncan of the Teen Titans was created in 1970, as was Flippa Dippa (sigh) of the Newsboy Legion, the Black Racer of the New Gods in 1971, and then John Stewart, the African-American Green Lantern, in late 1971. Remember that ad I showed you in a slightly earlier issue of Wonder Woman asking readers if they were even interested in reading about black people? It’s easy to make fun of that now, but I guess they really did want to know. Some of these early efforts at diversity were pretty cringeworthy (and would remain so for a long time to come), but at least they were trying. A little.
Wonder Woman #206, DC Comics, July 1973.
The mystery of Nubia is at last revealed! But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.
We open with a heated protest outside the United Nations. We’re not told what it’s all about, but it’s a bunch of women protesting, with signs like “U.N. is uncool.” I’m guessing this is some women’s rights thing, but guest writer Cary Bates (here misbilled as “Gary Bates”) can’t be bothered with that. What I love is all the conservative male yahoos saying “Get out o’ here, you hippie traitors! Picketin’ the U.N. is UnAmerican!” Oh, for those simple days when right-wingers actually supported the UN. Some very, very stereotypical Asian, British and American Indian women start kicking the guys’ asses, and soon it’s a full-scale riot.
Diana Prince quickly turns into Wonder Woman and uses her magic lasso to get everybody to chill out and make love, not war. Wondy also rescues one of her new roommates, a black woman who reminds her of the mysterious Nubia. (Her nameless roomie also says a falling flagpole would have mashed her “into soul food.” Seriously, Cary?)
Diana’s not the only one who’s got Nubia on the brain. Her mother Queen Hippolyte is also pondering whether the out-of-the-blue challenger for the title Wonder Woman is who she (and we) suspect her to be. So she puts on the traditional Amazon “mento-scanning helmet” (I know, I know) to revisit her memory tapes as a convenient way of sending us into flashback.
And lo and behold, when she molded baby Diana out of clay to be given life by the gods, Diana wasn’t the only baby she sculpted. She also made a black baby in addition to her white baby, and they were both given life by the goddess Aphrodite. But before the other gods showed up to confer their gifts of various superpowers, Hippolyte’s black baby was stolen by Mars, god of war. (Interestingly, when the gods show up to bless baby Diana, Hippolyte seems to have no problem with Hercules being among them, even though he once seduced and enslaved her.)
So obviously Nubia is Diana’s long-lost sister, raised by Mars to be the ultimate weapon of war against their peace-loving ways. Mind you, we learned last issue that Nubia believes in peace and love and all that Amazon stuff herself, just because she’s a woman, so Mars does seem to have done such a great job. It’s also interesting to note that in the current “New 52” reboot, 40 years later, Diana herself is the one hand-trained by the god of war to be the ultimate warrior.
Paradise Island comes under attack from another island hurling fireballs, which the Amazons instantly recognize as Mars’ Slaughter Island. Now, I’m going to guess that this is the same as Nubia’s mist-shrouded Floating Island rather than just an island that the Amazons knew was less than a mile off their shore all along, but with them it’s hard to tell.
Hippolyte sends a mental message to Diana to come a-running, and she arrives to kick all those volcano-spewed balls of magma into one big ball to pug up the volcano. As the Amazons like to say whenever they do something awesome, Hola! (It makes way more sense if you pronounce it “Holla!”)
Then she has to battle the half-naked African warriors, which she does with pretty much a flick of her wrist. But Nubia won’t be defeated so easily. The two Wonder Women and unwitting sisters face off, and Nubia can’t figure out why she can’t bring herself to kill Diana. Nubia has powers too—powers she shouldn’t have, because she missed out on the blessing of the gods—and Diana figures out that it’s the ring of Mars that she wears on her hand that allows Nubia to fly and stuff. So—get this—Diana uses her bracelets to reflect enough direct sunlight onto the ring to make it expand and fall off Nubia’s finger. You know, because science!
The ring was also the only thing that was keeping Nubia under Mars’s spell, as Diana cleverly deduced with that wisdom of Athena that she got and her sister missed out on, and both the sisters turn on Mars. Not turn him on as in “hey baby, how you doin’?” but… oh, you know what I mean.
Diana also figures out that the reason Mars used Nubia to fight the Amazons rather than fight them himself is that he’s scared of women. Which doesn’t necessarily line up with the way he’s been portrayed the many other times he’s bedeviled Wonder Woman, but I guess those haven’t involved much in the way of direct combat. (And very few of those times have been since the Golden Age anyway, so technically those early encounters would have been the Mars and Wonder Woman of Earth-2, where all the 1940s DC Comics adventures took place.) And of course at the end Wonder Woman finds out Nubia is her long-long sister, which I’m sure will lead to many stirring adventures together… except that it doesn’t.
This is actually the last we ever hear of Diana’s newfound sister in Wonder Woman. After that her only appearances were a random Supergirl story and a one-page cameo in Super Friends that doesn’t really count because that was an out-of-continuity TV tie-in comic.
A post-Crisis version called Nu’Bia would be introduced in 1999, but for all intents and purposes she’s really a different character intended as a kind of in-joke.
Same with Nubia, the Wonder Woman of Earth-23 (where Superman is an Obama-like black president), whom Grant Morrison created in 2009’s Final Crisis.
Alas, Nubia, Wonder Woman’s black sister, we hardly knew ya.
The other interesting thing here is that this issue’s letter column (unfortunately called “Princessions”) excerpts a whole bunch of letters reacting to the abrupt change in direction, from people finding the killing-off of her supporting cast way over the top, as well as the return to her “homely disguise” to people relieved to find the old familiar super-powered version back. One writer even hails it as “a significant advance backward.” This particular writer, Dennis Goza of Swifton, Arkansas, is particularly relieved to have the Amazon princess back instead of “the more saucy swinger in masculine garb you have presented to us of late.” Masculine garb? I guess that means he didn’t like that she wore pants. Editorial assistant Allan Asherman went out of his way to assure the public that this wasn’t any big radical change, just a return to the Wonder Woman we all know and love.
What he neglects to mention is that with the very next issue, writer/editor Robert Kanigher would be making an even more radical shift to stories just like the ones he was doing in the 1950s, abandoning all this new stuff with the United Nations and Nubia and all that before it even got started. More on that in the next Wonder Wednesday!