On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Having exhausted the ostensibly original content in Wonder Woman #211 last week (actually slightly tweaked and reillustrated stories from the late 1940s), we turn our attention to the wealth of reprinted material that filled out that issue’s 100 pages. Most, but not quite all, of these stories boil down to “How Wonder Woman got” this or that item associated with her, and many of those stories boil down to young Diana being assigned three daring feats to perform to prove her worthiness. But enough generalizations—let’s take a look at the stories! All of these were written by Robert Kanigher during his 21-year original run as writer-editor of Wonder Woman, from creator William Moulton Marston’s death in 1947 up until the start of the “mod” era in 1968.
Wonder Woman #211, DC Comics, May 1974.
First up is “The Origin of the Amazon Plane!” from 1956’s Wonder Woman #80, illustrated by the original WW artist, H.G. Peter. This was very late in the tenure of the “Golden Age” Wonder Woman, just two years before Kanigher and new artist Ross Andru very slightly reinvented the character and her supporting cast to the familiar “Silver Age” version.
The story opens with an exciting if oddball scene of a Ferris Wheel full of gangsters all firing into a crowd. Rather than, I dunno, just knocking the wheel over, Wondy takes the gangsters out by performing a bizarre circus trick. She wrenches the wheel off its base and juggles it in her hands while standing on the wing of her thought-controlled invisible robot plane. Show-off!
This gets Wonder Woman to wondering, “Hey, how did I get this invisible plane anyway?” Then it all comes back to her in a flashback flood, how her mother, Queen Hippolyta, sent her on a quest to retrieve the robot plane that’s just been waiting for someone daring enough to win it and command it.
This raises a number of questions, the first of which is, who set up this test? It seems most likely to be the Amazons themselves, but if so it seems like a whole lot of dicking around for a useful tool they want to give anyway. On the other hand, the Amazons are really, really into tournaments and tests of mettle, so I can see them doing that. I suppose it could have been the gods, but in that case I’d think that Hippolyta would actually say that, and a some-assembly-required robot plane seems a little odd for the Greek gods.
Another off thing is that this is presented as something that’s being brought up once Diana has already started her life as a costumed crime-fighter, to complete her already formidable arsenal of the “boomerang-tiara, unbreakable lasso, and bullet-proof bracelets.” Now, in fact Wonder Woman has had her invisible jet the entire time she’s been Wonder Woman, and her first journey to “man’s world” outside Paradise Island in Sensation Comics #1 is taken in that plane. The lasso, on the other hand, wasn’t obtained until later, in Sensation #6. I suppose it’s possible that this story might take place immediately before her first trip outside the island, sometime in the middle of the events of Sensation #1, but that wouldn’t explain the lasso. The most logical explanation for this discrepancy is “shut up, it’s just a story.”
In any case, not only did someone plant this robot plane for some worthy hero to find, but they planted it in three parts, and Diana has to find each part in a kind of Easter egg hunt where one clue leads her to the next clue. The nose of the plane is on the bottom of the ocean, nestled in an immense undersea flower that closes in on you if you struggle against it; the middle part of the plane is tangled in an electrified tree; and the tail section is in the fiery belly of an active volcano, and Wondy has to come up with clever workarounds to fish each part out. Once she does and reassembles it, it instantly follows her every command.
After that is a one-page roundup of the gods from whom Wonder Woman gets her powers, with illustrations by Andru from the retelling of Wondy’s origin in 1959’s Wonder Woman #105. It’s interesting that both Hercules and Hermes give her strength and speed greater than their own, which brings to mind that old koan about whether God, who can do anything, can create something that even God can’t lift. I already talked a couple weeks ago about why this implies to me that Wonder Woman should be stronger than Superman, so I won’t get back into that here.
The next old story reprinted here is “Wonder Woman—Amazon Teen-Ager!” from 1959’s Wonder Woman #107. By Kanigher and Andru, this is another tale of the original Wonder Girl, who was just Wonder Woman as a teenager but later became an entirely separate character when writer Bob Haney mistook her for Wondy’s sidekick and put her in the original Teen Titans with Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Speedy. The mistake wasn’t so strange when you consider that Kanigher was fond of telling “impossible tales” teaming Wonder Woman up with her teen and toddler selves, with little or no explanation.
I would say that this particular story involves no such time trickery, except that it totally does. Ostensibly a story about how teen Diana got her costume, the story starts with her looking through a time machine at her future self, Wonder Woman, and wishing she had a cool costume like that. Mama Hippolyta tells her she has to earn the right to her costume like her future self did—er, would in the future. Of course, if Hippolyta knew all about this decades in advance, that raises the question of how Diana was able to fool her when she entered the competition to become Wonder Woman in disguise against her mother’s wishes, but again, shut up. And hey, since Wonder Tot is shown to wear a toddler version of Wonder Girl’s costume, does that mean that she had to go through these trials too, to prove herself worthy of a costume like her teen self would eventually wear?
The Amazons crowdsource a new costume for Wonder Girl, even though she already knows that she wants it to look like the one her adult self will wear, and they also write in suggestions of the daring feats she’ll be asked to perform to win her new threads. Like the plane, her costume is in three parts, as are the quests she must undertake to find them. Again like the plane, the first part is at the bottom of the ocean, this time inside the mouth of a giant “cannibal clam” instead of the “cannibal flower” she found the nose of her plane inside. The clam is full of stars—adhesive stars to stick onto her already-blue skirt. Her new boyfriend, Ronno the Merboy, whom she met earlier in this story, tries to help her, but she ends up having to rescue him instead. The second part of her costume is high atop a cliff in a roc’s next, but it’s too slippery to climb and too high to glide to on air currents, so she’ll have to come back to that later. The third part—a lasso just like the one she’ll have to earn later, which raises the question of why she can’t just keep this one, if it’s just like it—is nestled inside a live volcano, again just like the tail section of her plane. Kanigher could use some new ideas, and placing these stories back-to-back like this just makes that more readily apparent.
In flying up to the roc’s nest to finally get the remaining part of her costume, Wonder Girl has to rescue the Merboy again, this time from the roc itself, because again he was trying to help protect her. Again she assures him that he’s very brave, but c’mon, guy, just stay out of her way. And then once she’s managed to get them to safety, he’s so proud of himself for being there for her, and she thanks him profusely. Seriously?
So what’s in the nest? Another sticker! This one’s an eagle emblem to wear on her already-red shirt. I mean, basically she was already wearing the costume, just without the stars and the eagle, but hey, as long as she’s happy. The story ends with a plea to write in if you want to see more Wonder Girl stories; I don’t know how many people did, but lord knows they were gonna get ’em.
A one-page rundown of Wonder Woman’s various costumes follows, although the differences to date had been pretty subtle compared to what would be in store in the decades that followed. The recap is useful, however, in pointing out that Wondy used to wear sandals, which is handy because another story in this issue is all about how she got those sandals.
Next up is “The Winning of Wonder Woman’s Tiara!” from 1955’s Wonder Woman #75. Although only from a few years before the last story, it looks older still, largely because it’s still drawn by the guy who’d drawn Wonder Woman from the beginning.
Now, in this case the title is a little misleading because it’s not really about how Wonder Woman got her tiara—it’s about how she gets to keep it. Like I said, the Amazons are really, really into tournaments, so Diana didn’t just win the right to be Wonder Woman once; she has to defend the title on a semi-regular basis, as if it were the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World. So Diana has to give up her tiara and then compete against all the other Amazons to keep it.
What’s more, as defending champion she has to do everything harder than everybody else does. When everybody has to race across a field of bowling pins without knocking them over, Diana has to do it on her hands. When everyone has to run and avoid being lassoed, Diana has to do it blindfolded. When they have to jump through a hundred narrowing hoops without hitting any of them (and seemingly without touching ground between them wither), she has to do that blindfolded, too. But hey, no problem, she’s Wonder Woman. Next!
Weirdly enough, even after she’s defeated everyone else, she still has to perform crazy quests to keep her tiara. So next she has to cap a volcano (probably the same one that she had to jump into in all these other stories in this issue), and then she has to stop another island from sinking. These are ridiculously Herculean tasks—beyond Herculean, really—that seem pretty excessive as the price for keeping a freaking tiara. But I guess having Wonder Woman prove herself is a good opportunity to have her take care of whatever mammoth tasks you have lying around that someone really needs to solve. Next up: The heroic trial of cleaning behind the refrigerator!
Actually, the next story is “Wonder Tot and Mister Genie!” from 1961’s Wonder Woman #126. I don’t mind tell you, I freaking love Wonder Tot. A toddler version of Wonder Woman who talks like a cartoon caveman—what’s not to love? She’s a total scamp, too. This story starts with Wonder Tot wandering in after being gone for hours, where she insists she wasn’t doing anything. Upon further interrogation, of course, it turns out she was up to a lot.
In fact, she was out fighting a dragon for a golden apple. Not that she meant to fight the dragon at all, but some dragons can’t take a hint.
And oh yeah, not to mix mythologies or anything, but she also found a genie. The genie’s spiel is actually kind of cool—for the first thousand years of his imprisonment, he swore to give a mighty kingdom to whoever freed him; for the second thousand years, he swore to heap priceless jewels at his rescuer’s feet; but after that he got pissed off and swore to imprison whoever freed him just like he’d been imprisoned. So, sucks to be Wonder Tot.
Wonder Tot tricks him with her ventriloquism into thinking she’s escaped, and traps him back in the chest he came from when he gets up to look for her. This time he promises to give her anything she wants if she’ll let him free, and what she wants is a star to use as a ponytail clip. So off into space they go! One thing Wonder Tot didn’t count on is that it takes a long time to reach a far-off star, so by the time they get there she’s grown into Wonder Woman, who doesn’t have a ponytail and doesn’t need a clip.
So Wonder Woman says never mind and they go back, but when they return (through some kind of “time belt” and a dangerous meteor shower), a de-aged Wonder Tot still wants her freaking hair clip! Fortunately Wonder Tot has smashed one of the meteors into a diamond that looks a lot like a star, and she’s placated with that. Good thing, too, because one thing Mister Genie learned is that he really doesn’t want to piss her off.
So yeah, about those sandals. “The Secret of Wonder Woman’s Sandals!” is reprinted from 1955’s Wonder Woman #72, and what’s interesting about that is that the intro talks about how they’ve already revealed the stories behind her robot plane and tiara. Why’s that weird? Because the stories reprinted earlier in this issue are from later issues, so those must not be the stories the intro is referring to. Unless it’s been altered for the reprint, that is, and it turns out that it has been a little. Originally it says they’d “already revealed the startling story behind her robot plane, tiara, bracelets, lasso!” So clearly that’s some other story or stories entirely that we’ll have to track down later.
So OK, once again we start with Hippolyta telling Wondy there’s one more thing she needs to fight crime—cool sandals! And she’ll have to earn them through daring deeds! Jeez, mom, again?!
She actually gives Diana the sandals at the beginning, but they’re tiny, doll-size, and will only grow to become wearable once Wondy’s done something wonderful. So, what’s a gal gotta do to get some new shoes? Oh nothing, just lift the entire island and carry it out of the path of a burning sea.
Oh, I’m sorry, did I imply that would in some way be enough? No way, dude. Lifting an entire island and saving your entire civilization’s lives from being consumed in flames is cool and all, but only one sandal’s worth of cool. Fortunately, there’s a huge freaking whale nearby with a huge freaking ship trapped on its back, so all she has to do is lasso the whale and slide it out from under the ship. You know, like you do. That’ll do for the other sandal, and now they both fit. Now I know what to do whenever I have kids and they need new shoes; they’ll have to do something at least that impressive to earn them.
Surely that’s enough, right? But wait, there’s more! What about the main story featured on the cover, the one with Superman on it? Well, that one is “The Mirage Mirrors!” from 1962’s Wonder Woman #130, which originally featured Wonder Tot and her giant sidekick Mister Genie on the cover. (That’s right, there was more Mister Genie to come!) Being post-1958, of course, this time we’re back to Ross Andru on art duty.
This particular story is rooted in Wonder Woman’s vaguely troubling split personality. As Wondy’s bespectacled alter ego Diana Prince worked with her romantic interest Steve Trevor, Diana was always weirdly jealous of Wonder Woman—how Steve only had eyes for her glamorous costumed version and wouldn’t give the dressed-down version of her the time of day. This kind of romantic triangle with oneself was pretty common for superheroes—Clark Kent is one of the longest-running examples—but usually the male hero would be simply amused over his girlfriend’s obliviousness, whereas Diana agonized over this for years. In this story, she gets so jealous of herself that she resolves to teach Steve a lesson, and in the process teach him something about loving bodies of all shapes and sizes as well.
The short version is that when Steve blows Diana Prince off to go on a date with Wonder Woman, she arranges a hall of mirrors that will magically alter her body into distortedly fat or ludicrously elongated versions that Steve is embarrassed to be seen with. The twist (if a twist is even needed) is that her altered physiques prove useful in their own ways in fighting crime.
And where’d she get this magic mirror, from her mom, Hippolyta, who once used it to teach a similar lesson to Hercules when he was courting her. Courting?? As we learned way back in Wonder Woman’s first appearance in 1941’s All-Star Comics #8, what Hercules actually did was seduce, deceive and enslave Hippolyta. He’s the reason the Amazons moved away to an island with no men allowed, ever. But here he’s depicted as simply an old flame.
And, sure enough, Steve promptly blows Diana off again, and she makes him mortified to be seen with Wonder Woman by making herself really, really fat with the magic mirror.
Little does she know that her old enemy the Angle Man is attacking the carnival they’re at, but roly-poly Wonder Woman bowls them over like a human bowling ball. When she uses the mirrors again to elongate herself, she’s able to just reach up and get Angle Man on a high carnival ride.
Anyway, she gets to teach Steve a lesson and beat the bad guy at the same time—not that the Angle Man was ever all that formidable as a bad guy. (He’d later become super-powered, but at this point he was just a gangster who always had an “angle” to play.) Superman being on the cover kind of gives away the gag at the end of the story, but it’s also interesting because the next eleven issues of Wonder Woman would all feature other Justice League members on the cover gawking at her adventures. That’s because those issues, collected in the trade paperback Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors, are all about her earning her way back into the Justice League. But we’ll get to that next week!