Taking Liberty


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.

The Twelve Labors of Wonder Woman continue, with various Justice League of America members monitoring her adventures and reporting back on whether they find her worthy to rejoin the JLA after a long absence and bout of amnesia. Unlike the other issues in this story arc, Wonder Woman #218 is split into two separate stories, each with a different Leaguer narrating. But writer Martin Pasko and artist Kurt Schaffenberger are really scraping the bottom of the membership barrel with these twin tales hosted by C-list Leaguers the Red Tornado and the Phantom Stranger.

Mind you, this is the period of DC Comics that started me reading comics in the first place, so I like both of these guys. That said, Red Tornado is kind of a drip. Reddy is a red-skinned android who just wants to live like humans do—much like the Vision of the Avengers, only more boring and insecure. And fair enough, the guy does have a talent for accidentally getting blown up all the time.

The Phantom Stranger is actually one of my favorite characters, but he’s got to be the worst Justice League member ever. He never shows up on active duty, never responds to calls for the whole League to assemble to save the day, and has never put in a single shift on monitor duty. In fact, he never even officially agreed to join; when Superman officially invited him, he turned around and the Stranger had vanished. As a JLA member, the Phantom Stranger just does what he always does: He shows up mysteriously, so seldom that you’ve pretty much forgotten about him since the last time, and tells everybody else what to do—or just hints at what they should do. Only when he does it with the JLA, he also sometimes insists on his right to be there somewhat huffily: “I am a member of this League, am I not?” And Wonder Woman has to prove her worthiness to rejoin the League when this guy can just come and go as he pleases?

Lady Liberty said to knock you OUT.

Lady Liberty said to knock you OUT.

Wonder Woman #218, DC Comics, July 1975.

So what about the actual stories? Ah, right. Well, in the Tornado’s tale, “Revolt of the Wonder Weapons,” Wonder Woman suddenly discovers that she can’t do anything right—or more specifically that she suddenly handles all her gear with stunning ineptitude. She first discovers this when she orders her invisible plane to come fetch her, and it plunges into the East River instead. But she still manages to save a building on fire by, um, lassoing the flames from all around the building into a big ball of fire and then plunging that into the river. I know, I know, there’s nothing about that last sentence that makes sense, but that’s what she does. It made Reddy’s “circuits tingle with excitement,” he says, which is way more than we wanted to know. TMI, dude.


Nothing works that way. Nothing in the world

Nothing works that way. Nothing in the world

So what the holy Hera is going on? Well, it turns out that there’s this “astrologer to prominent public figures,” who of course is a total fraud; I did mention that he’s an astrologer, right? But how Damon Celestris works his grift is way, way more complicated and expensive than if he were in some way legit. He’s created a massive machine called the “Mento-Amplifier” that gives his clients the confidence they need to succeed by stealing the will power of some “unsuspecting ‘donor’” and giving it to them.

Okay, so Wonder Woman’s suddenly messing up because she must be the random donor whose “power of positive thinking” is being leeched away, right?  Not even Celestris knows (or cares) who he’s draining. But no, what Celestris is doing to her is totally deliberate. Whenever she passes by, her excess of will power causes his machine to overload and explode, and he had to build a new one. So he decides to get his revenge by giving her a dose of “will-not power” so that she’ll mess up, give up and go away. Or rather, that’s what Reddy thinks must have happened; he didn’t witness any of this, so he’s basically just guessing.

Why should she go away? You’re the one who sucks.

Why should she go away? You’re the one who sucks.

Wondy calls her mom to help her summon her plane out of the river, because she can’t do it herself, and she goes back to Paradise Island to try to figure out what’s wrong with her. Reddy surreptitiously follows, reasoning that the prohibition against men on the island doesn’t apply to androids. Good thing that’s your decision to make, Reddy! If you were wrong, and the goddess Aphrodite decided to strip that Amazons of their immortality (or make them all fall in love with you), that sure would suck.

Once there, he witnesses Diana rescuing a fellow Amazon who just happens to be falling off a cliff. Wondy tries to use her lasso to save her, but just winds up lassoing herself instead, so thoroughly that her arms are completely cocooned. Thinking fast, and knowing that anyone caught in the lasso has to follow the commands of its holder, she commands herself to rescue the falling Amazon, which she does by rolling over to directly under the woman and catching her with her feet.

I guess that’s one way to do it.

I guess that’s one way to do it.

Her malfunctions continue with some tiara and bracelet mishaps, but she still manages to clumsily keep saving the day until she tracks down Celestris and he spills the beans. Finally knowing what’s happening to her, she summons the will power to override what he’s done to her and lasso him properly, because she’s awesome like that.

As for the Phantom Stranger, of course he wasn’t assigned to monitor Wondy at all, because he doesn’t take assignments. He just appears in the JLA satellite to gloat about how they didn’t even know she was off handling another crisis, but of course he know, so he watched it himself. Written by Pasko with “script consultant” David Micheline, this one’s called “Give Her Liberty…and Give Her Death!” The short version is, evil sorcerer and constant pain in the JLA’s ass Felix Faust steals the Statue of Liberty. Why? Because demons told him to. OK, yeah, but why? Because they hate our freedom, and the best way to rid us of that is to take away the symbol of it.

So how does he do it? Well, first he brings the statue to rampaging life, attacking tourists and firing the spikes of her crown like missiles. Then he shrinks it, summons it, and wears it around his neck.  You know, like you do.

Man, that guy’s a dick.

Man, that guy’s a dick.

Oh, and he captures Wonder Woman when she follows Lady Liberty to his lair, but that never lasts long. So how does she foil his plan? Well, here’s where it gets ridiculous. No, the whole rest of the story wasn’t where it gets ridiculous; it’s right here. She explains at length that she figured out that Felix Faust was controlling the statue through incantations transmitted as inaudible high-frequency sonic signals. But her magic lasso’s vibrations altered the signal so that she could hear it, and because she knows all languages it was easy for her to translate his spell and reverse it. I mean, it’s such an obvious solution I’m sure you’d already figured it out.

This gives Batman an idea.

This gives Batman an idea.

There are other ridiculous things that happen in this story, but my favorite is at the end when the Leaguers turn around to ask the Stranger what his vote is…and he’s gone! And who’s the guy who’s most shocked by the disappearance? Who’s the guy who harrumphs that it’s “cheap theatrics”? Batman. You know, the guy who around this time started ending every conversation with Commissioner Gordon by vanishing while Gordon was still talking. Well, at least now we know where he got it.

Oh, and Superman angsts a little bit about how they hadn’t even known this crisis was going on, so will they be there when it counts? But seriously, every single issue of Wonder Woman showed WW facing threats without the other Leaguers coming a-running. Same with Flash and Green Lantern in their own titles. Batman had two or three adventures a month without Superman coming to the rescue. In order for this whole shared universe to make any sense at all, you’ve got to figure that a lot of heroes are facing a lot of dire, world-shaking threats that other heroes don’t know about because they’re off somewhere else dealing with something else. You start questioning that, and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

Next up: Enough of these also-rans! How about one of the League’s big guns? Because you demanded it, the thunderous guest appearance of…the Elongated Man!

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