On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Wonder Woman #214, DC Comics, November 1974.
This week we take a look at another one of Wonder Woman’s adventures from The Twelve Labors, in which she asked members of the Justice League of America to observe her next twelve adventures to judge whether she was worthy of rejoining the JLA after periods of non-superpoweredness and amnesia. One thing I really enjoy about this arc is that each issue is a self-contained story, just with the framing device of having another superhero narrate it as an eyewitness. This time it’s Green Lantern’s turn to observe a story called “Wish Upon a Star,” by writer Elliot S! Maggin and artist Curt Swan.
In her secret identity of United Nations employee Diana Prince, Wonder Woman is taking an handsome British diplomat named Lord Rosewater to dinner at an English pub modeled after Henry VIII’s court, run by a man named Henry Tudor who dressed like the king and makes the staff dress in period costumes. Green Lantern disguises himself as a waiter to observe. Meanwhile, GL’s having some kind of problem with his power ring and lantern mysteriously shorting out. (This isn’t a major plot point, just a device to keep him from helping.)
Tudor, of course, is up to something. He has a Celtic star amulet, a piece of costume jewelry, that supposedly makes his wishes come true when it’s near a “sister charm” worn by someone else. He scoffed at the idea, but he noticed that when he was last near Diana, she wished aloud that he had duck in stock while he wished silently that something would fend off his landlord, and suddenly the landlord was hit by a duck delivery truck. Thinking Diana is his ticket to great riches, he invites her and Lord Rosewater to dine at his table so that he can try out some wishes around her. And why settle for half measures? He wishes to be king of the world!
Suddenly, there’s an international crisis, with an American bomber helplessly wandering into Soviet airspace due to some mechanical failure. The Soviets are set up to retaliate automatically, destroying the world in a nuclear war if the bomber unleashes its payload. The JLA satellite’s monitors are on the fritz, Green Lantern’s ring isn’t working and he can’t get in touch with any other heroes, so it’s up to Wonder Woman to stop armageddon. (Even if GL thinks, “This is no emergency to be handled by a single girl—Amazon princess or not!” Thanks for the vote of confidence, jerk.)
I should say also that GL rummages around in Diana Prince’s office while she’s out (with special permission from WW to do so during the trial period, he says), and he fiddles with her “mental radio,” a communication device that Wondy’s been using since way back in 1942’s Sensation Comics #3.
Standing on the wing of her invisible plane traveling twice the speed of sound, Wondy lassos the bomber with her magic lasso and walks it like a tightrope to stop the pilots (who can’t communicate to get orders to turn back) from dropping the bomb. They resist her, and no sooner has she convinced one of them that this is all a terrible mistake than his partner goes ahead and drops the bombs anyway.
So now Wondy has to sky-surf on one bomb while lassoing another and mentally controlling her robot plane to come fetch her. With her stretchable and indestructible lasso, she wraps the missiles into cocoons, tightening the rope to detonate the nuclear missiles in mid-air, with the magic lasso containing the explosion. Magic trumps science, I guess.
Speaking of magic, meanwhile Henry Tudor got a sudden urge to check his bank vault and accidentally got locked in, making him the “safest man on earth” until the vault automatically unlocks in seven hours. So he might have become king of the world after all, if everybody else had died in the meantime.
This was a 100-page giant comic with five backup stories and other features reprinted from old issues. The reprinted stories are preceded by tiny intros from Wonder Woman, who says she’s set the Magic Sphere on Paradise Island to show us some of the major crises in her life. There are also one-page features like a mini-tour of Paradise Island and an explanation of the mental radio, plus weird little partial-page filler with factoids about diamonds and foreign cultures where kissing is frowned upon.
First up is “Wanted—Wonder Woman,” a Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru story reprinted from 1959’s Wonder Woman #108. In fact the cover image from that issue is also the cover of Showcase Presents Wonder Woman vol. 1, reprinting WW #98-117 in glorious black and white. Notably, this is the Wonder Woman adventure immediately preceding her first adventure with the group of heroes that would become the Justice League, told in flashback in 1960’s Justice League of America #9.
Anyway, Wondy encounters a flying saucer full of insectoid space aliens that test their telepathic commands on her, making her do things she would never do. First, Steve Trevor proposes marriage to her, like he does all the time, and she always says no because she can’t get married until she’s not needed to fight evil anymore. And why’s that exactly? Would marriage mean she’d have to give up her job? Well, it is 1959, so maybe that’s the implication. In any case, this time she slips up and accepts, being mind-controlled by alien grasshoppers and all. Suffering Sappho!
The aliens keep messing with her, making her miss her invisible plane in midair and finally making her rob a bank. And a night watchman sees her do it, so suddenly she’s a wanted criminal, just like it says on the cover.
But it’s all a clever ruse. Wondy has apparently figured out that her strange urges have something to do with that flying saucer she encountered. So she just wants the aliens to think they’ve conquered her will, so that they’ll get cocky and attack. Then she straight-up kills them, hurling their saucer into the atmosphere so fast that it burns up. Hooray! Oh, and Steve lets her off the hook for the engagement, what with the mind control and all. And she didn’t really even steal anything, just some office supplies that had been planted in the bank earlier. Happy ending all around!
Then there’s “The Terror Trees of Forbidden Island,” another Kanigher/Andru gem reprinted from 1964’s Wonder Woman #143. This one’s just a crazy-ass story in which the Amazons all have to go into space to fight off space invaders—what kind of aliens we don’t know, because all we ever see are their ships, and even those not up close. But the Amazons’ invincible Sun Sword runs out of juice, so they send Wonder Woman to go fetch another one from the haunted woods of Forbidden Island, where sentient trees try to swallow her up and turn her into one of them. It’s incredibly random and very, very weird.
My favorite moment in the story has to be when Wondy is trapped inside the trunk of a tree and she spins like a top inside it, using her tiara to cut the trunk like a buzzsaw without even removing it from her forehead. Hardcore.
Then it’s back to 1959 with “The Invisible Wonder Girl,” reprinted from Wonder Woman #106, where it was originally one of the backup stories. This is another adventure of Wonder Woman as a teenager on Paradise Island, only she’s hardly in this one. That’s because she’s been replaced by a shapechanger from the Chameleon Planet who switched places with Diana by teleportation.
Chameleon girl Rrara doesn’t mean any harm; she was just having a little fun. But the Amazons know something weird is going on when “Wonder Girl” doesn’t show up on film. (And the fact that the Amazons use the same kind of cameras people used in the outside world is very strange. Their technology has anyways been more advanced than that of “man’s world,” but when they use prosaic things like pistols, newspapers and single-lens reflex cameras, it’s much more jarring.) And then when the impostor is shown not to have Diana’s powers, she has to fess up.
And there’s yet another space invasion in this one, with flying saucers attacking Paradise Island, yet again with unseen pilots. At first they have some trouble getting the real Wonder Girl back from the Chameleon Planet to save the day, but they eventually manage. (In part thanks to a super-breath power that Wonder Woman also demonstrated in the “Wanted” story earlier in this issue, but which I always thought was pretty much Superman’s shtick.) Riding the air currents (not to be confused with flying, although it looks the same), Wonder Girl punches the saucers to smithereens. But Rrara is still stranded on Earth! Oh well, they decide, she can live with them and learn to be an Amazon. They’re sure to have plenty of adventures together. So of course Rrara was never seen again.
Surely that’s enough, right? Not nearly! Next we go way back to 1944 with a story by the original Wonder Woman team of William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter: “The Masquerader,” from Sensation Comics #26.
Sensation Comics #26, DC Comics, February 1944.
This is another story where Wonder Woman meets a doppelganger of herself, but this time there’s a twist. See, while Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta was a blonde from 1959 through the early 1980s (the “Silver Age” and “Bronze Age” version), the “Golden Age” Queen Hippolyte of the 1940s stories was dark-haired just like her daughter. And I mean just like her. So in this story, Hippolyte travels to “man’s world” to steal Diana’s identity, but for her own good. Looking into the future in the Amazon’s Magic Sphere, the queen sees her daughter attacked by gangster Duke Dalgan, so she goes to take Diana’s place and keep her out of danger. But the goddess Aphrodite has made her swear not to reveal her true identity to anyone, so she can’t tell her daughter what’s going on. She just shows up as Diana Prince and tells the real Diana that she’s going to take her place for three days but won’t tell her why. And you know what that means: girl fight!
But Wonder Woman still gets captured by Dalgan, given a dose of some gas that makes her lose her memory and do whatever he tells her to do—including help them steal state secrets.
Then, of course, she gets tied to the railroad tracks, because Marston was really, really into bondage. But Hippolyta telepathically rouses Diana just in time to stop the train by brute force. Mind you, the train didn’t need stopping; it’s not like it was hurtling toward danger other than herself. But she couldn’t quite get out of the way in time, and she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to show off the ol’ strength of Hercules.
Finally it’s back to Kanigher and Andru with “Revolt of Wonder Woman,” from 1964’s Wonder Woman #144. Like “Wanted,” this is another one in which Wonder Woman proves to be a disappointment to the world—this time not through committing crimes but just by neglecting to save the day anymore. And there’s no mind control; she’s just having a snit. No one loves her for her, she sobs, just what she can do for them. Man, it’s a good thing this wasn’t the story her JLA colleagues were observing to gauge her worthiness, because it’s pretty pathetic. And sure, we’re all pretty pathetic at some point in our lives, but sheesh.
The firemen expect her to blow out the flames in a burning house with that super-breath that keeps coming up in these Silver Age reprints but seems to have fallen out of her repertoire by the 1970s. Some cops involved in a shootout expect her to melt the guns of the gangsters she’s fighting—with what, exactly? Heat vision? I don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. Anyway, she’s not helping. She just walks on by.
Basically she’s just freaking exhausted. She’s so tired she’s nearly delirious—mistaking a call for help on her Omni-Receiver for her alarm clock, accidentally putting on her Diana Prince duds instead of her Wonder Woman uniform. She can barely summon the energy to call her robot plane to go rescue Paradise Island from flame creatures. Must be Wednesday, then.
But on the way she’s waylaid by another cry for help. And who is it who so badly needs her help? It’s Mer-Man of course, or Mer-Boy as he was known when she used to have to save him all the time as Wonder Girl. And, sure, she has to rescue Steve a lot too, but Steve’s not nearly as useless as Mer-Man is. I don’t like to make grand pronouncements like this too often, but Mer-Man is a fucking loser. This time he’s being hugged by a polar bear and feels awfully conflicted about it.
Having saved him from the huggy bear, she takes him along while she rescues the Amazon, and he keeps whining the whole way about how he’s not fireproof. That guy’s the worst. And for once, Wonder Woman’s feeling touchy enough that she’s about had it with him. She’s had it with everyone! Everybody thinks she’s tireless, but she’s tired as hell. So she says to hell with it. To hell with everything.
“Is there someone… somewhere… who won’t be blinded by my fame… my feats…?” she laments, so of course the next person she meets is an angelic blind girl, whom she has to save from an oncoming car. But the girl doesn’t know she’s Wonder Woman, so Diana just hangs out with her for a while, the only person who doesn’t expect anything superhuman from her.
Her long, angsty internal monologues get awfully repetitive: “I can’t go on… until I find someone… one person… who’ll want me… not because I’m Wonder Woman—the Amazon—not because I’m a fighting machine… but because I’m just myself! An ordinary girl like millions of others!” A page later: “Perhaps she’ll treat me s a human being—not an inhuman fighting machine!” Two panels later on the same page: “Am I going to lose the only chance I ever had of being treated as just another human being—instead of an Amazon fighting machine?” Next page: “Will I now lose the only friend I ever had—who thought of me as just a human being—not a fighting machine?” Three pages later: “Now that Mary Jane knows I’m Wonder Woman—she’ll start treating me like an Amazon—a fighting machine!”
It’s all pretty weepy and mawkish, but the upshot is that there is indeed someone out there who just likes her for her, and not what she can do for that person. (Or, to coin a phrase, just as a human being, not as a fighting machine!) Spoiler warning: It’s not Steve. And it sure isn’t fucking Mer-Man. Seriously, fuck that guy.