On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
As of May 1977, with Wonder Woman’s TV show in full swing, the Amazon heroine was appearing regularly not just in her own comic and various team comics (Justice League of America, Super Friends) but also started having bimonthly solo adventures in World’s Finest. This had for decades been a Superman/Batman buddy series, and the front feature still fit that description, but it became an 80-page “dollar comic” (up from the previous 30 cents) with four different back-up features, including Wonder Woman. The others were Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the Vigilante.
The only “catch” is that this wasn’t the usual Wonder Woman we’d been reading for decades but the original Wonder Woman—the one from the 1940s, who’d long since been relegated to “Earth-2,” where all the World War II-era heroes lived. And all her adventures except the ones in the team books would take place in the 1940s, because that was the setting of the TV series.
World’s Finest #244, DC Comics, May 1977.
Wonder Woman’s adventure is the very last one in this issue, so let’s skip to the back of the book. The story, “Jeopardy—Times Two!,” opens with a symbolic splash page of WW grappling with two giant missiles with swastikas on them, in case we missed that this was going to be a WWII story. The art is by the then-usual team of penciller Jose Delbo and inker Vince Colletta, but the script is by Denny O’Neil, who didn’t often write Wonder Woman (except the first few issues of her “mod” period) but who was editing her series (and this one) at the time. That reinforces my impression that these decisions were being made more or less on the fly and that these stories were banged out pretty quickly (though not that quickly—three months had passed since the last issue of World’s Finest before the launch of the new format).
It’s a pretty simple story, really. A Nazi master of disguise has impersonated Diana Prince’s and Steve Trevor’s boss, General Blankenship (a character created for the TV show) and given Steve a top-secret suitcase full of dynamite to deliver to an agent of the French Resistance. Pretty crude and small-scale as fiendish plots go, but what are you going to do?
Fortunately, Diana senses something not quite right with the general and investigates as Wonder Woman. She finds the Nazi creep, Ludwig von Schmeer, and makes him tell her what he’s done. But she can’t make him tell her where Steve is, because he doesn’t know where the rendezvous is.
Her only thought is that Steve’s secretary might know, but she’s got her own stuff going on. Suzy’s boyfriend has left her, and she’s heartbroken. But Wondy decides to look her up anyway, and a good thing too, because Suzy’s being mugged at that very moment. WW rescues her easily, of course, but has to wait for Suzy to wake up from a fainting spell before she can find out if she even knows where Steve is.
Von Schmeer, meanwhile, is freed by one of his cronies, who’s tortured some random French guy who happened to know where the top-secret meeting place is. The Lincoln Memorial, of course! Where else would you have a covert hand-off? And of course von Schmeer has more dynamite handy, because it’s not exactly a scarce commodity, and the bad guys are on their way to make sure nobody saves the day. So of course everybody gets there at once and Wonder Woman clobbers the bad guys in the name of peace. So there ya go.
As for the other stuff in this issue, the main feature is a Superman/Batman story, “Three Billion Targets!,” by the always oddball Bob Haney, with art by the ever amazing José Luis García-López. In it, a bunch of mobsters are mysteriously dropping dead in different cities around the country. And the more they investigate it, the more it looks like the prime suspect is Superman! The big blue boy scout shows up in the background of pictures taken at the scene of most of the killings, and of course he’s pretty pissed off at he implication.
And of course Superman didn’t actually kill those people—not even mind-controlled, unbeknownst to himself. But the great thing is how they track down the real killer. This story has probably my favorite clue that Batman picks up on to find the real killer. He just happens to notice that a random businessman who’s come to meet with Bruce Wayne is riding in a limo with bumper stickers from all the cities in which the killings took place!
Meanwhile Superman has busted out of jail to investigate, leaving an angry, cell-wrecking Superman robot in his place. He insists this doesn’t break his honor code, which only goes to show that Superman has a pretty messed up code. Anyway, he happens to notice that the guy has an unusually slow heartbeat, and that the suitcase of cash he showed up with at Wayne Enterprises is full of bills that appear to be hundreds of years old, even though the dates on them are only a few years old.
So of course this guy turns out to be from the future—the 23rd century, to be exact—and he’s come back in time “to kill everyone on earth!” But not to be a jerk or anything. The future he comes from is a polluted, fascist, apocalyptic hellhole, and he’s come to kill everybody to stop that future from happening. It’s a mercy killing, really. So obviously Supes and Bats have to nip that little extermination in the bud.
One thing I like is that although Black Canary and Green Arrow are a couple, their adventures in World’s Finest are separate. That said, in this first issue in the new format, Black Canary’s story leads directly into GA’s, despite being told by different writers (hers is Jack C. Harris and his is Tony Isabella, both illustrated by penciller Mike Nasser and inker Terry Austin).
Foiling an assassination attempt at a high-profile track meet, Dinah fights the Rainbow Archer, an old Green Arrow foe from the late 1950s, and Ollie faces off against Slingshot, later a recurring villain but here in his first appearance. (The name of the latter story, of course, is “Slings and Arrows.” One unexpectedly poignant moment happens in Isabella’s story where the first takes the foes into a courtroom where traumatic moments happened in the past for both of them.
The other feature is the Vigilante, who’s an odd duck. He’s a Golden Age cowboy Western hero whose adventures were set not in the 1800s but in the modern day. He dressed like an Old West gunslinger with a red bandana covering the bottom half of his face (to protect his secret identity as a Hollywood actor and country singer), but usually rode a motorcycle instead of a horse. Back in the 1940s he had a sidekick named Stuff the Chinatown Kid (but the less said about that the better), and he was a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, a sort of B-list version of the Justice Society. The Vigilante story by Bill Kunkel and John Calnan, “Explosion in a Small Town!,” is about a series of…well, explosions in a small town aimed at discrediting the new sheriff, an ex-1960s radical, with the bitter former sheriff behind the whole thing. The fun thing about the story is that it could perfectly well be set in the Old West, hinging on dynamite and gunplay, but has a few modern touches to set the scene. Also, it’s interesting that two stories in a row—Vigilante’s and Wonder Woman’s—are centered around dynamite.
Also interesting: there’s not one but two editorials explaining what a good deal these new dollar comics are, even though the average comic is 30 cents. There’s a long letter from DC Comics publisher Jenette Kahn explaining that content-wise they’re like 4 regular comics for the price of 3, and also contextualizing how little comic prices have gone up over the years while glossy magazines that used to cost the same dime as a comic have gone way up. And of course costs are also way up while the prices are still low. The letters column was also devoted to a similar explanation of the new format. It’s funny reading this now in 2014, when a single comic goes for anywhere from three to five bucks and has at best a sixth of the story that one of those 30-cent comics used to have, even if it has roughly the same page count. Makes those 80-page giants for only a buck look pretty damn good.