On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
We now continue with our look at the weird period in the mid-1970s when writer/editor Robert Kanigher reclaimed control of the Wonder Woman comic book after the ill-fated “mod” experiment of a nonsuperpowered Wonder Woman. Kanigher not only went right back to basics with the old powers, costume and secret identity, but he even started retelling his own stories from the late 1940s, with very slightly updated (but still retro by ’70s standards) art by Ric Estrada.
Wonder Woman #210, DC Comics, March 1974.
I’ve been looking forward to this one, because the cover is one of my oddball favorites. In fact, we have a pint glass with that cover art on it. (My lovely wife correctly points out that all the other glasses in the set depict Superman, Batman and Green Lantern in powerful positions, while Wonder Woman is pure damsel in distress.) But the story that goes along with it is actually the second one in this issue. Because the Golden Age stories that Kanigher’s retelling were usually short ones, he packed two of these reruns into each issue of Wonder Woman during this period.
The first one in this issue is “The Golden Women and the White Star,” originally from 1947’s Wonder Woman #26 (where it was one of three stories) and as yet never reprinted or collected. As usual with these revamped stories, I’ll go back and forth between the old version and the new one willy-nilly, figuring that which one we’re looking at will be pretty obvious at a glance.
Through a powerful telescope on Paradise Island, Wonder Woman sees a voracious red planet that hurtles through space, gobbling up other planets like Pac-Man. She gets a distress call from Crystallar, king of the White Star, who says that the Golden Women of the Red Planet are trying to enslave his people. Diana has Amazon chief scientist Paula (formerly the villainous Baroness Paula von Gunther) spray her body with a coating to resist the deadly rays of the Red Planet (which are dissolving every planet it its path) and then has Paula shoot her and some other Amazons into space like “human bullets” to go and help. You’d think she’d use her invisible plane or some other space-ready Amazon craft, because we know they have them, but no, this time they just blast off without vehicles of any kind.
Now, let me just back up and say that in the original version of this story from 1947 (with art by the great original Wonder Woman artist H.G. Peter), it wasn’t fellow Amazons who accompanied Wonder Woman into space but her good friend Etta Candy and her sorority pals from Holliday College. And Wondy wasn’t on Paradise Island when she saw the planet but was alerted to it by US Army scientists. But it was still Paula who sent her into space, so a little abridgement is just fine.
Wonder Woman #26, DC Comics, November 1947.
Less fine to me is the omission of Etta and the Holliday Girls, who were routinely erased from these stories upon the retelling. Kanigher never seemed all that into Etta, and she basically disappeared from Wonder Woman stories in the Silver and Bronze Ages. And that’s too bad. Sure, she was a candy-obsessed fat-girl stereotype, but she was also far and away the spunkiest live wire of the entire Wonder Woman cast, including our heroine herself. It’s a shame also, because the nameless Amazon companions are pretty boring.
The original story also addressed why Wonder Woman didn’t just take her plane into space (more or less)—and, interestingly, it had Diana herself be the one who invented the protective coating, which is appropriate because she was also a scientific whiz in the old days, at least when it was convenient for her to be.
As soon as Wondy and her search party fly out to investigate (in both versions) they’re sucked in by a giant vacuum cleaner and held captive in clear tubes by the Golden Women of the Red Planet. Their ruler, Queen Supreema, mistakes the visitors for the White Star people who are forbidden on her planet, and promises a stiff penalty for breaking this law.
The twist, of course, is that Supreema and her Golden Women are actually the good guys, an interplanetary peacekeeping force, and that it’s the men of the White Star who are actually the planet-destroying bad guys. Because of course the men are the warlike ones, especially ones who also happen to be ethnic stereotypes. (His people are called the Genii? Seriously?) It’s just that Supreema mistook Wondy and pals for White Star spies, and the Golden Women seemed like the bad guys because (a) Crystallar totally lied to Diana and (b) Supreema’s kind of an officious jerk. Unfortunately, by the time Supreema finds out that Wondy and pals aren’t bad guys, they’ve already escaped and to the White Star.
Of course, by the time Wondy actually meets Crystallar and sees his big-ass turban and sinister mustache, she gets the sense that he might not be a good egg after all. (The green-skinned Genii people are exactly as much of an Indian stereotype in 1974 as they are in 1947.) And now that she’s destroyed the Golden Women’s sucky weapon (that vacuum thing, the inhilerator), nothing can stop the destructive rampage of his “atomic crystals.” Or can it?
Of course Wonder Woman makes short work of the Genii, thanks to that “hidronitigin” coating that shields her from their atomic rays, and she makes friends with Supreema as valuable ally against evil—one we’ll never see again, alas, aside from this rehash of the same story.
The second story in Wonder Woman #210, the one from which we get our memorable cover image, is “The Shrinking Formula” from 1948’s issue 31, the same issue that gave us “The Planet of Plunder,” which Kanigher plundered for issue 209.
Wonder Woman #31, DC Comics, September 1948.
I just want to share the splash page from the original 1948 version, with art by H.G. Peter, because that is one awesomely grotesque hand. Also note the “stronger than Hercules” in the standard introduction. When I was a kid, I reasoned that Wonder Woman must be more powerful than Superman. Why? Well, because Superman was always shown as being just as strong as Captain Marvel, who had the strength of Hercules. So if Wonder Woman was stronger than Hercules, as per her standard description, she should be stronger than Superman. That was never, ever reflected in the comics, alas.
A scientist, Dr. Mary Dean, has invented a shrinking formula called “reduso liquid” to make germs so small that they can’t harm people. But her fiancé, Roy, immediately thinks of military applications, to make enemy armies so small as to be defenseless. In the original story, Wondy finds out about it in her Diana Prince guise when Dr. Dean’s sudden disappearance is reported to Steve Trevor. In the 1974 version, Wondy just happens to see the discover when Amazon scientist Nurka (not Paula this time, for whatever reason) is showing off a new “multi-scanner” that allows the Amazons to spy on anyone anywhere.
Wondy goes to investigate and finds Roy trying to sell the formula to the highest bidder. He’s already shrunk Mary down to microscopic size so that she can’t interfere. In the 1974 version, he’s also shrunk her good-hearted admirer, fellow scientist Dr. Grey, but in the 1948 version Steve and Dr. Grey burse in as Wondy’s confronting Roy and his fellow evil scientists, and Roy shrinks the mall in the confusion.
Wondy finds herself in a towering forest that happens to be the rug of the room she was in. She finds Dr. Grey (and sometimes Steve) dangling from high rug strands and saves him/them from falling to his/their death, then finds Mary trapped under a shirt button.
She defends her tiny companions from a giant fly, and from the peering microscope of Roy, searching them out to destroy them. He tries to choke them by spraying alcohol fumes, which will work unless Wondy finds the enlarging formula in time.
And of course she does find it in time, but it plays out pretty differently in the two different versions. In 1948, it’s a two-part formula that Wonder Woman has to mix drops of from a giant test tube and eye dropper, and all the tiny folks are splashed with it when micro-Wondy lassos giant Roy and pulls him to the ground. I like that, because it’s a helpful reminder that even a microscopic Wonder Woman is strong enough to do some serious damage on full-size folk.
The 1974 version is far more pedestrian: the antidote is complete to begin with, and Wondy immerses herself in a giant drop of it to become full-sized and beat the bad guys, then restores the other scientists at her leisure. Though at least her almost drowning in a single drop of antidote is a nice touch.
Sadly, the copy of #210 that I have has the letters page ripped out. That’s a shame, because I love reading the varied but very strong-opinioned fan reactions to the various changes in the series, as well as Kanigher’s own ornery reactions to them. In the next issue DC promises a “giant step forward,” but I suspect that has more to do with the next issue being a 100-page giant than real progress forward rather than the hundred steps back Wonder Woman’s been taking lately. But I guess we’ll just have to see in the next Wonder Wednesday! Hola back!