Spanky and Her Gang


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.

Hurling men to their death, ladies and gentlemen. You know, like you do.

Sensation Comics #2, DC Comics, February 1942.

Wonder Woman gets her first recurring villain! And acts as a majorette in an all-gal marching band! And that’s not even close to the strangest thing that happens in this issue.  It starts with Captain Steve Trevor recuperating in the hospital—which could be said of every Wonder Woman adventure so far, actually, because our strapping soldier sure does get hurt a lot. No sooner does he say he has to get back to headquarters so he can identify some spies, than he and nurse Diana Prince get kidnapped…by German spies! And of course they have to be tied up, because it wouldn’t be a William Moulton Marston Wonder Woman adventure without bondage.

They’re taken to the colorfully costumed, always grimacing Doctor Poison, who gives Steve a truth serum to spill his secrets—or so the doctor thinks. The villain makes Diana administer the drug, and of course she slyly gives Steve some harmless placebo instead.  They hogtie Diana again, but of course she quickly makes her escape as Wonder Woman. “They should have used chains—it would be more fun breaking them!” she crows. More fun indeed, Diana. I think we all know what you mean.

There aren’t nearly enough fetishes on this page. What, did they not have octopi back then?

It turns out that Doctor Poison’s fiendish plot is pretty much the best plot ever.  A secret drug called Reverso is being released into the army camp’s water supply that will make the soldiers do the exact opposite of whatever they’re told. You know, to “destroy army morale.” Because that’s an impossible gambit to foil. “If this succeeds, we will upset the whole army in two weeks!” one of the random goons in the spy band says. If he means upset in the sense of “annoy,” I can certainly see that.

In any case, it works, the cunning plan works, and wackiness ensues. A soldier told to keep his feet on the ground does a handstand, trying to keep his feet as far off the ground as possible. Men told to “dress your ranks” strip down to their underwear. It’s pretty funny stuff, but there’s no consistency in how it works. Some soldiers seem to hear things perfectly correctly but refuse to comply, while most hear exactly the opposite of whatever they’re commanded to do and obey the garbled instructions to the letter. The officers soon figure out how to get their men to do what they want—by giving the opposite of the orders they really mean—but only use that strategy to march the men into an internment camp for safekeeping.

The wackiness, it ensues.

Meanwhile, the still-hostage Steve rails against Doctor Poison’s fiendishness, using exclamations like, “Great hounds of Hades!” I’d say it would be cool if people still talked like that, but I’m pretty sure they never did.

Then comes the greatest thing to happen to Wonder Woman in her early days: the introduction of Etta Candy. The heavyset sorority girl motivated by the promise of candy is surely a stereotype, but Etta transcends that with the power of sheer awesome. Not only are she and her man-crazy marching bandmates from Holliday College for Women always up for an adventure (Etta always leaps into action with a cry of “Woo woo!”) but they’re also always indulging in strange spanky sorority rituals.

You do not even know how much you love this woman yet. But you will. Oh, you will.

There’s a bit of a continuity problem with Etta’s introduction. It seems that Wonder Woman knew Etta in her secret identity as nurse Diana Prince when Etta was thin, but now that her appendix is out she’s been binge-eating and become very pudgy. The problem is, Wonder Woman has seemingly only had that job for a few days, a couple of weeks at most, and Steve Trevor hasn’t been released from the hospital in all that time. Sure, he’s leapt into action against doctors’ advice only to amass more injuries, but he hasn’t had time to heal, so it’s pretty unlikely that Etta has had a chance to go from thin to fat in a week. But there had to be some reason for Wonder Woman to know Etta in the first place and go ask for her help, and that’s what Marston dreamed up, so just go with it.

It turns out that the “amazing plan” that Wonder Woman has dreamed up to rescue Steve is to lead a marching band of beautiful women right up to the secret spy base to get the Germans off their guards. “This is the Holliday College band,” Diana says to the guards ever so subtly. “We’re just girls and we want men!” Wonder Woman and the college girls manage to sweet-talk the Germans into a dance party, and WW goes to rescue Steve while the enemy is distracted. Oh, and of course Wondy has armed the girls with manacles and chains to shackle the Germans on her command, because there hasn’t been nearly enough bondage in this issue already.

Now is the time in this daring rescue when we dance!

One of artist Harry G. Peter’s freakier character designs, Doctor Poison’s toothily grimacing face turns out to be a mask, under which is a beautiful woman named Princess Maru. I guess she’s supposed to be Japanese, what with her declaration, “I fear not to die—but I cannot lose face!” Mind you, the context is WW threatening to march her naked through the streets, which is pretty hardcore. Maru quickly coughs up the antidote and is left to Etta’s tender mercies, which involve (of course) spanking. “I gotta lock you up, baby, and get myself some chocolate creams,” Etta says, because in case you didn’t catch it before, Etta really, really likes candy. And men. And spanking.

To be fair, mama does need her some chocolate creams.

As usual, the story winds up with Steve back in his hospital bed getting all the credit and trying to tell people that Wonder Woman did all the work. And Diana’s fishing for compliments gets a little creepy. “I saw your Wonder Woman. I don’t think she’s very pretty,” she tells Steve in her nurse’s guise. “Hush Diana!” he chides her. “Wonder Woman is the most gorgeous being in the world!” It’s just meant as a bit of banter to end the story, but she does come off as a little unstable.

It’s worth noting that back then the covers rarely had anything to do with what went on inside.

Sensation Comics #3, DC Comics, March 1942.

Speaking of unstable, Diana is basically stalking Steve, getting a job wherever she can to be as near to him as possible.  Steve finally gets released from the hospital and Diana collapses in tears, unable to handle the prospect of being apart from him. She begs to be allowed to be his secretary, but he already has one. “I’ll bet I can take dictation and type twice as fast as your precious Lila!” Diana exclaims, not sounding the least bit psycho. Steve tells her that his superior officer, Colonel Darnell needs a secretary, and Diana easily passes the colonel’s sadistically difficult dictation test.

Do not stand in Diana’s way, or she will cut you.

There seems to be a Nazi spy somewhere in the building, and Steve’s secretary Lila Brown, who’s immediately hostile to Diana, is the most likely suspect. This setup was also used in the pilot of the Lynda Carter TV series in the 1970s, which played out differently. This version has some cringeworthy bits of sexist dialogue like “I have a woman’s curiosity to see the contents of this mysterious envelope!” but they’re outweighed by the sheer amount of ass WW kicks in this issue.

Diana’s framed as the spy, but she easily escapes captivity as Wonder Woman and scares the truth out of Lila—that the secretary’s sister Eve Brown is dating a Nazi spy, Gross, who’s blackmailing her into leaking Steve’s travel plans.

Even with Lila hanging onto her like a life preserver as she swims, Wonder Woman catches up with Gross’s speedboat that’s zooming along at 30 miles per hour. She basically tortures Gross into spitting out the Nazi plans by dunking him headfirst into the water until he spills the beans.

Before she got the hang of the magic lasso, Wondy was a firm believer in enhanced interrogation.

Now we learn the most awesome part—that she’s given her new friend Etta Candy a “mental radio” that can pick up Wonder Woman’s “brain waves” when she wants to send a message like a mental telegraph. From the look of things, Etta has to sit around by the mental radio waiting for the call, wearing a duplicate of Wonder Woman’s tiara hooked up the thing by a wire. The machine is great, too, looking like a miniature Greek temple with an oven dial on its dome.

Good thing Etta has nothing better to do than sit around hooked up to the brain-phone.

When Etta gets the brain call, she and her insanely peppy sorority sisters leap into action to go capture Eve. Meanwhile WW has to rescue Steve, who’s all trussed up in ropes on a yacht (more bondage!) with the anchor suspended over his chest. After tossing the spies around and throwing the anchor at them, WW rejoins Etta and her sorority sisters, who are merrily hazing Eve. They have her on her hands and knees, blindfolded, while spanking her and making her search for candy. “Let’s give her the Hitler cure!” one blonde sister says unnervingly.

Etta’s methods are unorthodox, but they get he job done.

Wondy chides them for torturing their prisoner, but Eve says it was good for her and helped her learn her lesson. “Now I’m ready to take my medicine!” she says. “Put on the handcuffs!” Well, okay then. And at the end, Diana Prince pleads for clemency for Eve, asking that she be allowed to attend Holliday College with her erstwhile torturers. “All she needs is a little education!” Diana says. Yeah, spanky education. We know how they do things there.

And as usual, it ends with the man, Steve, getting all the credit for a woman’s work, much as he may protest, and with Diana angsting about how he’s too busy mooning over that Wonder Woman to pay any attention to her and getting jealous of her other self. Um, OK, Diana.  Somehow I don’t remember Clark Kent angsting over this stuff like that.  He’d just give a little wink to the reader.

Chains actually do play a large role in this story. Not that that’s some big surprise.

Sensation Comics #4, DC Comics, April 1942.

Let the spanky education begin! In fact, there’s way more bondage in this one than usual, and that’s saying something.

Several young women who work for the government have gone missing, and Steve Trevor isn’t much interested in investigating. Diana traces the latest of the missing girls to the home of a wealthy socialite—Baroness Paula von Gunther, who’s been erroneously called Wonder Woman’s first recurring villain. (That would be Doctor Poison, who didn’t recur all that often, to be fair.) But the baroness recurred before the doctor did, so maybe that’s what’s meant by the claim.

It looks like our reluctant spy-helper Eva Braun… er, excuse me, Eve Brown, is having a fine time acclimating at Holliday College. First a Nazi agent grabs her and threatens her that she’ll attend their school for espionage… or else! Then Steve asks her to go ahead and spy on the spy school, because no one would ever expect that. Trouble is, Eve has a previous engagement to get paddled by women with sheets over their heads, then get chained to a radiator and forced to do her homework. You get one guess whose idea that was.  And yep, sure, it was Etta Candy, that’s the easy part—but Etta Candy sitting on a throne? With the name of her sorority misspelled behind her in glowing letters? Next to a framed picture of a woman paddling another woman on her hands and knees? If you guessed that, well, you know your William Moulton Marston comics. (Mind you, I suppose it’s possible that “Beeta Lamda” is just supposed to look kind of like it might be made up of Greek letters without actually being anything of the kind.)

So, pretty much your typical first day at school, then.

Eve manages to file through the dog collar (!) around her neck and escape, but too late to help Steve, who has to knock four spies out by himself. He makes short work of them, but one gets away. As usual, the exclamations are great. “Great sizzling fish, Captain!” some random soldier says to Steve.

Sadly, Eve stumbled into a plot hole from which she wouldn’t reemerge for another year.

Weirdly, that’s the last we hear of Eve in this adventure, and in fact for about a year; she next shows up in 1943’s Wonder Woman #3. But Etta and her sorority sisters leap into action to chase her down—“Woo-woo!” Etta says, “Eve got away! Come on, girls! Bring your ropes and paddles!”—but instead they see Steve chasing some guy down (some Gestapo guy, as it happens) and decide that if Steve’s chasing him, he needs chasing. So they pile into jalopies with slogans like “Blondes prefer gentlemen” scrawled all over them and join the chase.

The baroness isn’t all that interesting, at least at first. She’s just some bored snobby Austrian socialite with a cigarette holder and a tendency to call everyone “my deah,” but it turns out that she’s the one abducting all the missing young women. In fact, she drugs them and makes them her slaves in an abandoned coal mine, ostensibly to train them to be spies. The fact that she’s dressed as Cleopatra when this is revealed—dressed up for the costume ball she’s throwing—makes it that much better. Diana Prince comes to the ball dressed as Wonder Woman, which is a funny way to preserve your secret identity. She also introduces herself to von Gunther as Wonder Woman even though she came to the ball with Colonel Darnell as Diana, so she’s clearly not sweating the secret-identity thing too much. Diana makes it known to the baroness that she knows what she’s up to, and lets herself get tied up (of course) and abducted.

Down in the mines, Wonder Woman finds the latest abductee, Carla, who’s not just chained up but also clearly brainwashed. “I am the Baroness Paula’s slave,” she says. ‘Only she can release me.” WW can only get through to her by speaking her bondagey language. “I am a kinder mistress,” she says. “I am stronger than Baroness Paula.” She starts to break the chains, but Carla’s clearly not ready to be free, and von Gunther interrupts them. Wonder Woman submits to let some guy shackle her as a slave, probably to get a fuller idea of von Gunther’s operation before she busts it up. Although we see plenty of what Diana’s thinking we’re not privy to her reasons for submitting, except that von Gunther tells her she’ll kill her if she doesn’t. She gushes enthusiastically as von Gunther shows her around at all the women being trained under the lash and strung up in chains.

That’s Diana–she’ll dominate you, sure, but nicely.

WW finally manages to unbrainwash Carla, but when she tries to break her own chains she finds that her strength is gone. Only then does she belatedly remember that her mother once told her, “if any man welds chains on your bracelets, you will become as weak as we Amazons were when we surrendered to Hercules and his Greeks.” It might have been a good idea to remember that before she blithely let herself be chained when she could easily have brought the whole house down instead.

Steve trails the Gestapo guy to the mine but is immediately captured by the baroness’s goons. When he sees Wonder Woman among the slaves he thinks all his problems are over, but for the moment she’s as helpless as he is. (Refreshingly, she doesn’t proceed to tell Steve all about her secret weakness, prudently keeping it secret. It looks like curtains for our heroes as Baroness Paula places them before a firing squad—but not if Etta and her psycho sorority sisters can help it! Shouting “Woo-woo!” and “Eek! Whee! Wow!,” they pile on the guards while Wonder Woman—being the “Bullets and Bracelets” champion of 1941, after all—apparently hasn’t lost her speed along with her strength, because she manages to deflect the firing squad’s bullets in just the right way to break her chains so that she, Steve, and Etta’s girls can mop up the floor with the rest of the goons.

I love how people in World War II era comic are always shouting, “Keep ’em flying!” Steve yells that in Sensation #1 when he thinks he’s plunging to his death, and Wonder Woman yells it to Steve here in the heat of battle. I guess that motto was everywhere back then, originally used as an advertising slogan for the U.S. Army Air Corps, but 70-odd years later it sounds like a delightfully random thing to say.

As usual, the story ends with Steve getting all the credit despite his protestations—and despite the fact that the women gushing over him saved the day as much as he did. Refreshingly, anyway, Wonder Woman has found a new thing to angst over in the last panel besides Steve—her newly discovered weakness for bondage. “These bracelets—they’re an Amazon’s greatest strength and weakness!” she thinks, chiding herself for letting a man chain her up. “It just makes a girl realize how she has to watch herself in man’s world!” You can say that again, sister!

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