On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
I’ve said this before, but one thing I love about writer-artist Mike Sekowsky’s non-superpowered mod version of Wonder Woman is the variety of stories he tells with her. In one issue it’s all espionage and Bond villains, then she’s donning yellowface and a machine gun and fighting the Red Army in China, then she’s off to a medieval world to lead a siege and teach them how to make cannons, and then she’s back to the streets of New York, trying to keep a friend from killing a guy. And now, she’s off to a quaint European kingdom to marry a handsome prince! The only problem is, she doesn’t really want to marry the guy and is just standing in because the real bride’s been kidnapped.
Wonder Woman #194, DC Comics, June 1971.
We start with one of those action-packed splash pages with a narrator expressing mock bewilderment on our behalf as we see Diana sword-fighting some masked man while an identical Diana is tied up, watching: “What’s this? TWO Diana Princes?! But how can that be? We all know there is only one Diana Prince! It must be a trick of some kind… — or is it?”
Okay, first of all, no we don’t. In fact we know there are at least two Diana Princes: Wonder Woman and the normal human woman she bought her identity from when she first arrived from Paradise Island. And that’s not even taking into account that at this point in DC history there are at least two Wonder Women on alternate earths: the World War II-era original version on Earth 2 and the one then going through her mod phase on Earth 1. In any case, this story doesn’t have anything to do with either of those things, so back to the bewilderment.
This story, “The Prisoner,” says it’s “adapted from a story by– Anthony Hope Hawkins…” Gratuitous punctuation notwithstanding, the Anthony Hope story (he never published under his last name) that they’re so coyly referring to is the ever-popular The Prisoner of Zenda, in which a vacationer in a fictional European country finds out that he’s a lookalike of the prince who’s about to be crowned king, and is called upon to impersonate him when the future king is kidnapped by a rival for the throne.
And of course, that’s what happens here, too. In Sekowsky’s version the fictional “fairytale-like country” is Daldonia rather than Hope’s Ruritania. Diana’s just hanging out there on vacation without a care in the world, mysteriously being given things compliments of the house wherever she goes, when some goons try to kidnap her. She makes short work of them with her karate, but she’s quickly hustled off by a captain who chides her for leaving the palace alone. When he takes her to the palace, she’s taken to a mustachioed general, the princess’s uncle, who also yells at her until the real Princess Fabiola wanders in, wondering what the fuss is about. Of course, they’re pretty much identical, right down to the hairstyle.
Of course, all this means that someone’s out to get the princess, who’s due to be married tomorrow. The obvious suspects are Fabiola’s cousin Helmut and his wife Frieda, who are next in line for the throne if she’s out of the way. And sure enough, someone abducts Fabiola that night! So the general asks Diana to pretend to be the princess so that the country doesn’t fall into Helmut’s greedy hands, even if it means going through with the wedding in her place.
One big smooch tells Prince Rupert that Diana’s an imposter, but they clue him in on the sly and he agrees to play along, for now. Diana doesn’t like the idea of going through with the wedding without Fabiola, and she objects that she’s a commoner. WHAT THE FUCK. No, she’s not! She’s an Amazon princess! Daughter of Queen Hippolyta! If you know nothing else about her, you should know that. And just because Sekowsky is the guy who decided to set all that aside to make her into some kind of Emma Peel type doesn’t make it any less so. In fact, just five issues ago, Sekowsky had an Amazon warrior properly calling Diana “Princess.”
Of course the bad guys come through just in time to stop the wedding, confused by the double princesses but figuring the only safe thing is to get rid of anybody who even looks like Fabiola.
But Diana isn’t the easiest person to get rid of, the bad guys are foiled and the real princess (who for some reason they haven’t killed yet) restored. And this being a Mike Sekowsky script, the bad guys are pretty much who they appeared to be all along. He’s not much of one for misdirection.
Curiously enough, this Zenda-inspired story was told all over again about seven years later, only with Batman as the royal doppelganger instead of Diana.
World’s Finest #253, DC Comics, November 1978.
That was in World’s Finest #253, during the rich period when it was a 68-page bimonthly Dollar Comic featuring four separate stories. Coincidentally, this was also the issue when the Wonder Woman backup feature moved from World’s Finest to the similarly plus-sized Adventure Comics. It was replaced with an ongoing Shazam backup feature by writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Don Newton that would consistently be the finest thing in World’s Finest for the next few years.
As it had been for years, the lead story was still a Superman/Batman adventure, and this one, “The Third Face Is…Death!,” is naturally focused more on Batman. It’s written by the always-offbeat Bob Haney, with Kurt Schaffenberger on art. (Both Schaffenberger and Frank Chiaramonte are credited as inkers, but it’s a safe bet that it’s a misprint and that the former is the penciller.)
The Europe of DC Comics’ Earth 1 must be pretty cluttered with tiny countries, because this one tosses in not one but two new ones: Bruce Wayne is a dead ringer for Prince Jon of Tybern, soon to be married to Princess Portia of Moldachia. What’s more, Portia just happens to be Bruce’s old girlfriend Julie Madison, who already married into one monarchy and is about to do it a second time. Mind you, Julie isn’t just another made-up ex-girlfriend for rich playboy Bruce Wayne but his first serious love interest from the comics, appearing from 1939 to 1941. She’d popped up for the first time in decades a few issues before, in World’s Finest #248, where we first found out that she was a princess now.
Bruce is driving along, minding his own business, when he’s broadsided by another car and gassed and kidnapped by some masked men. He puts up a pretty good fight, but not Batman good. Fortunately, the guys who captured him aren’t even the bad guys. They’re sent from Tybern to covertly enlist him to pose as Prince Jon, who’s missing, presumed kidnapped. And no, they couldn’t have just asked. Amusingly enough, Bruce says, “Now hold on, Count Delos! This sources too much like something out of ‘Prisoner of Zenda.’” Indeed it does, Bruce. Indeed it does. And the count who’s asking for his help says, well yeah, that’s how he got the idea.
The count’s pretty sure that the culprit is General Lazlo of his own country. The wedding is supposed to bring peace between Tybern and Moldachia, but Lazlo is believed to be building a neutron bomb to simply wipe out neighboring countries and take them by force, and the count thinks Lazlo kidnapped Jon because the prince was onto him.
Bruce agrees to pose as the prince and sniff out the plot and the alleged bomb, and marry the princess if necessary to preserve peace. Little does Count Delos suspect that in enlisting Bruce Wayne he also got Batman on the case.
Lazlo tries to expose the prince as an imposter, but Princess Portia puts a stop to that, kissing Bruce and saying she’d know her fiancé anywhere. Clark Kent shows up to cover the wedding, and Batman thinks he’s somehow got both of them fooled too, but of course they both saw through him immediately—in Clark’s case, literally.
As for Julie, she knew it wasn’t Jon because her man isn’t nearly as good of a kisser as Bruce is.
Bruce spends his time alone just reading the prince’s diary, because he has no sense of boundaries. But he’s soon captured and taken to the “secret ancient dungeon in the cellar” where Lazlo has his secret lair. But wait, there’s more! Lazlo has teamed up with a minor old Batman villain, Doc Willard, an American scientist who’s sure that Bruce Wayne is Batman (and who’s best known for transplanting a gangster’s brain into an ape body to make him the Gorilla Boss of Gotham City). Lazlo doesn’t really care about the secret identity part, but he’s perfectly happy to let Doc experiment on Bruce anyway.
Then things get crazy. When Prince Jon doesn’t show up for the wedding, General Lazlo storms in claiming that the throne is vacant and he’s taking over “by law and custom.” Well, if it’s law and custom, I guess that’s that. But wait! Prince Jon comes swinging in on the church bell rope, because he’s totally not Batman.
But Lazlo’s prepared for this and has some old dude who knew Jon when he was a kid ready to expose him as an impostor. But the old guy recognizes a scar on the prince’s head from a bear attack and proclaims him the real prince. And here’s the kicker—the scar is not part of Bruce’s disguise. He knew who the old coot was because of his bedside diary reading, conveniently enough, but he just happened to have a scar in the same place as the prince, left over from his last encounter with Doc Willard (how he escaped the Doc this time really isn’t worth mentioning). Superman, who really has had hardly anything to do in this story, suddenly figures out where they’ve been hiding Prince Jon just in time to save him from being executed by firing squad. Oh, and in the meantime Bruce straight-up marries Princess Portia, but it doesn’t count because he’s pretending to be someone else. Everybody wins! Well, except Lazlo, but that guy sucks.
For all its silly convolutions and random references to other stories (really, there’s no reason for Doc Willard to be in it at all) the Batman version of this same story turns out to be way more entertaining than the Wonder Woman one. But that’s Bob Haney for you.
The Wonder Woman version is collected in Diana Prince: Wonder Woman vol. 3. As far as I know the World’s Finest story has never been reprinted.