On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Wonder Woman #209, DC Comics, January 1974.
Newly reinstated writer/editor Robert Kanigher continues to recycle stories he wrote way back in the 1940s, newly reillustrated by Ric Estrada. This issue contains two such stories: The first one, “The Planet of Plunder,” is a reworking of a story of the same name from September 1948’s Wonder Woman #31 (as yet unreprinted in any collections). It’s a curious choice for this treatment, however, because that story itself was a sequel to “The First Battle of Neptunia,” a three-part story by Joyce Murchison from December 1946’s Wonder Woman #15. And the trouble is, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you know the earlier story.
Wonder Woman is flying along when she gets a distress call from the Amazons who went to visit Neptunia, the underwater city in the Pacific, who found that the city’s female rulers had been overthrown and it was ruled by men again.
This story presumes that you have some familiarity with what happened before, which was a gamble in 1948, two years after the first story, but almost 30 years later that’s just crazy talk, and it’s not like Kanigher bothered to reprint or recap the earlier tale. So let’s take a look back at Neptunia’s introduction from issue 15, conveniently reprinted in the hardbound Wonder Woman Archives vol. 6, which is not-so-conveniently out of print and ridiculously expensive to find.
Wonder Woman #15, DC Comics, December 1946.
First of all, just look at the difference in the splash pages here (no pun intended). The 1940s illustration by original Wonder Woman artist H.G. Peter looks like a work of art, almost like something out of an old Japanese painting, complete with grabbing tentacles. (Hey, I said almost.) And the Neptunian soldier riding that fish has a pretty awesome design, too (with a trident insignia subtly reminiscent of a swastika).
As for Estrada’s 1970s version—well, the fish is pretty cool looking. I like its angry bushy eyebrows. But the jolly bearded warrior surfing atop it is pretty ho-hum in comparison. It’s all very cartoony and a little awkward, though he continues to draw pretty women well enough.
Back to Murchison’s story (and I’d love to know more about Murchison herself, considering that she was the first of very few women ever to write Wonder Woman), the premise is pretty darned crazy. A fragment of the planet Neptune falls into the ocean, and it’s populated by macho jerks. No sooner does some astronomer guy broadcast a warning than bam, an earthquake hits, just as Wonder Woman’s mom warns her, hey, there’s an earthquake coming. Thanks, mom!
The chunk of Neptune becomes a whole new continent, and Steve Trevor and Diana Prince are assigned to go check it out. The astronomer, Doctor Astrolog, is on the expedition too, and Wonder Woman’s pal Etta Candy and all her sorority sisters (who are students of his at Holliday College) manage to convince him into taking them along too.
But when the ocean liner sets off on the way to this new continent, the sea suddenly parts all around it, leaving the ship beached on the ocean floor, surrounded by displaced and perplexed sea creatures.
Diana changes into Wonder Woman and deduces that some suspiciously aligned boulders aren’t really rocks at all, but some kind of water-repelling devices. She smashes ’em, sending the sea roaring back into place. But no sooner is the ship back on water than it’s attacked by diving-helmeted warriors riding some kind of freaky winged fish with tentacles.
Diana captures their leader, “the great Solo, master of masters on Neptunia.” He explains that the fragment of their planet brought them to Earth through a natural disaster, but they knew it was coming and made all the necessary preparations to survive the trip and conquer this new planet.
Wonder Woman wants to treat them to be peaceable instead, but first she’s going to have to teach them “loving submission.” So she takes Solo back to Neptunia, with Steve, Etta and the Holliday Girls escorting the other prisoners. On the way Wondy learns that there are no women in Neptunia. They create humans out of water when they need them, using a secret recipe, and then remove their free will, making them into “Mechanos.” The whole society is either Mechanos or Masters. Also their buildings are made out of solid water, crystallized by another secret process. Neptunian science sure is secret.
Compelled by Wonder Woman’s lasso, Solo commands his fellow Masters to draw up a treaty of friendship with America, but his peers aren’t having it, sneering that he’s just the prisoner of a girl. Mind you, they’ve never even seen a woman before, so I don’t know where they got this fully-formed male chauvinism, but what are you gonna do? Boys will be boys.
There’s a battle that involves Wonder Woman getting tied up, like she did all the time during that period, and no sooner does she break out of that trap than Solo frees himself and ties Wondy up again, this time with her own lasso. Once she and her pals are Solo’s prisoners, he helpfully goes back to showing Wondy how everything works. The Neptunians make men into Mechanos by removing all the salt from their bodies, which has the effect of eliminating all individuality and independent thought.
He demonstrates on Eve, one of the Holliday Girls, but it doesn’t work, because women are chemically different from men. Good to know! But Diana has Eve pretend to be turned into a Mechano. Once Solo thinks all the women are his slaves, Wondy has them free her and attack when he least expects it. As Solo observes, “Women are terrifying!”
Solo says now he and his buddies will willingly negotiate a treaty with America, and surely he can be trusted this time, right? Right?
Solo negotiates a treaty with the US president, readily agreeing to submit to American control as long as no women are allowed on Neptunia. Just because he’s scared of them, he says. Diana, however, smells a rat, sensing that Solo must be plotting something that women would readily discover if they were let in. Steve is apparently to be the “acting governor” of Neptunia, so she goes to protect him, but first she’s attacked by “a Neptune robot tigeape.” You know, like you do.
Then when she goes to Holliday College to check in with Etta, she finds more tigeapes, but these ones are dancing! Naturally, Etta has had tigeape costumes made for her sorority initiates, whom she’s currently hazing with a whip. Where on earth did she get the idea for costumes of Neptunian robot animals? From her zoology professor, Professor Zool, of course! You’ve gotta love how aptly Holliday faculty members are named, not to mention their sudden expertise in xenobiology.
Wondy and the girls infiltrate Neptunia dressed as tigeapes, because OF COURSE THEY DO, and Wonder Woman is selected along with a real tigeape to kill Steve. Obviously Diana nips that little plot in the bud, warning Steve that Solo’s up to no good.
What’s he up to? Something totally crazy, of course. The Neptunians are going to cut the Earth loose from its orbit and send it to Neptune, making it a captive planet. And that will totally work, because SCIENCE! And hey, it’s worked before; they captured a planet called Femina, and you’ll never guess who lives there!
There’s a bit of a scare when Solo captures the Holliday Girls and threatens to turn them into real tigeapes (because apparently they have a machine for that too), but of course Wondy nips all their fiendish plans in the bud and rather quickly captures Solo for the umpteenth time in this story. This time she convinces the American powers-that-be that only women should be allowed to govern Neptunia, because only they can reach these men to obey. And that’s that.
So okay, back to Kanigher’s story. Well, it plays out a little bit differently in the 1974 version than the 1948 one. In Wonder Woman #31, also illustrated by H.G. Peter, Etta and the Holliday Girls decide to go on a man-fishing vacation to Neptunia, now under the wise female governance of Presidenta Una—or so Etta believes.
When they get there, it’s a trap! Solo and his fellow men are in power again, having seduced their kind female overlords (or overladies) into believing them reformed, then overthrowing and capturing them. Of course, Etta immediately calls Wonder Woman for help via her “mental radio.”
The setup in Wonder Woman #209 is much less interesting. Etta’s not in it, which is already a bad sign, and this time Kanigher skips the fun fakeout and starts immediately with the distress call, as shown earlier. It’s Amazons instead of Holliday Girls who were visiting and are now captured. In any case, Wondy’s on her way.
In both versions, Solo checks in with his overlord back on his home planet of Neptune, but in the original story he’s instructed to destroy the earth, while in the 1974 version he’s given the more modest task of annihilating Paradise Island. In both cases, Wondy’s invisible jet is attacked by suicide-bombing Mechanos in “liquid-air torpedoes,” but the latter-day version doesn’t get into what the heck Mechanos are if you don’t already know.
Diana fights her way through various death traps to get to the prisoners. Weirdly, in the Ric Estrada version she fights some “Mechano bowmen” that are clearly just plain old robots. Did Kanigher even remember what the Mechanos were?
Of course Solo captures her again and ties her with her own lasso again, compelling her to obey him. He orders her to lead his camouflaged fleet to attack America (1948) or Paradise Island (1974) with the “planet pulverizers” freshly arrived from Neptune. But she eventually manages to wrest her lasso and herself from his control through some special maneuvers with her invisible plane. (In the later version she’s in the plane, and in the earlier version she commands it to intercept remotely. But in both versions, Solo’s a male chauvinist jerk.)
She manages to lasso the whole dang invasion fleet—because I guess her lariat is as magically long as it is magically strong—and returns Solo and his cronies to the “loving authority” of Presidenta Una. Maybe this time she can teach those bad boys to behave. I’m sure Etta could show her some methods.
But that’s not all, folks. There’s a whole other story in issue 209, “Attack of the Sky Demons.” This one is a revamping of “Wonder Woman and the Coming of the Kangas,” a Kanigher story from Wonder Woman #23 (May 1947) that has yet to be reprinted.
As the original story implies, it’s a story about how the Kangas—the kangaroo-like steeds that the Amazons ride—came to Paradise Island. It’s also a very early story of Wonder Woman as a girl, which Kanigher would later write a lot of as the adventures of Wonder Girl. (And then Bob Haney came along and confused Wonder Girl for Wonder Woman’s sidekick, inadvertently creating a whole separate character, but that’s another story.) In the original version, Kanigher sidesteps the whole branding question by simply calling her seven-year-old self “Little Wonder Woman.”
In this story, we learn that the giant kangaroo-horse things the Amazons ride in their tournaments are not native to Paradise Island, as we might have presumed. So where are they from? Outer space, of course! Before they arrived, the Amazons had to choose much more normal steeds, such as giant rabbits.
The 1947 version frames the story as a home movie that Queen Hippolyte shows when Wonder Woman comes to visit with her pals, the Holliday Girls. Mommmmm! You’re embarrassing her! I guess 1974 Kanigher figures that a framing sequence is unnecessary, since he’s told so many Wonder Woman-as-Wonder Girl stories in the past. And Etta isn’t in the newer version at all, because the 1970s is a joyless era.
It’s not an Amazon birthday without feats of strength, so Princess Diana and all the other little Amazon girls are competing in a tournament… to the death! Actually, I don’t know that. In the original story, one of the girls is Diana’s dear friend Mala, who would become the head warden on Reform Island. The 1970s version doesn’t bother with her, because nobody remembers Mala anymore by that point.
Now, it’s a bit of a surprise that Paradise Island even has any other child Amazons, because it’s a society of immortal women that hasn’t known men for centuries, and Diana herself wasn’t born but shaped out of clay and given life by the gods. But details, details. In this story there are other li’l Amazons. Deal with it.
The tournament is interrupted when the sky goes dark. Hippolyte rushes to a telescope to check it out and discovers a planetoid hurtling toward Earth—though at least toward the ocean, where it’ll do no harm (that’s the explanation in the 1947 version—the new one doesn’t bother with that). But the hunk of rock is occupied, and warriors in animal masks come flying off of it on giant kangaroo-like steeds that can leap from one planet to another. (Their masks are catlike in the original and more foxlike in the reworked version.) It appears that men have landed on Paradise Island, which alone is enough for the Amazons to lose their immortality.
These Sky Riders from the planet Nebulosta have come to Earth on a fragment of their exploded planet—much like the Nepunians, who arrived on a chunk broken off of Neptune. They capture Hippolyta, confiscating the magic girdle that makes the Amazons invincible.
Seven-year-old Diana, who’d been instructed to go hide, resolves to save her mother. She knocks a Rider off one of the sky kangas and rides it into the thick of the Riders, sending them scrambling.
The Sky Riders capture Diana, too, and try to use her as leverage for the queen to surrender all the Amazons into captivity. But even a caged Wonder Girl is a force to be reckoned with. And she manages to free herself of the cage, grab the girdle and free her mother.
And hey, it turns out the Sky Riders are women under those masks! Space women! So Aphrodite’s law wasn’t broken at all, and the Amazons still have their power. Hooray! Defeated, the Sky Riders surrender and ask to join the Amazons, but they’ll have to spend some time as prisoners learning loving obedience before that happens.
In both versions, li’l Diana really loves her new kanga friend from space and plans to take it on plenty of sky rides. So that’s how the kangas came to Paradise Island, though whatever happened to the Sky Riders, I couldn’t tell you. Let’s just say they eventually assimilated into Amazon society after all. Hippolyta closes out the story with an inspirational message; “Any girl can be a Wonder Woman—if she realizes the true power of women!” So say we all. Hola!