On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
World’s Finest #245, DC Comics, July 1977.
Writer Gerry Conway would take over the reins of the Wonder Woman comic from Martin Pasko starting with the August 1977 issue, and he takes over the Wonder Woman feature in World’s Finest just before that, with June/July’s #245. There seems to be a revolving door of artists in the WW WF stories, but this first one’s drawn by James Sherman (credited as Jame Sherman).
As usual during this year of the first season of the Wonder Woman TV show, it’s set not in the present day but in World War II. Unfortunately, this first story is pretty boring. Steve Trevor gets captured by the Nazis, Wonder Woman goes to find him, fights some Nazi gunmen on skis, gets captured deliberately to get herself into the secret Gestapo base, then wrecks the place and rescues Steve. But there are some entertaining bits along the way. I did mention the Nazis on skis, right?
Oh, and there’s a new masked Nazi menace introduced—the Iron Claw! He says he’s Himmler’s bodyguard, “the most dreaded Gestapo agent of all!” But Himmler’s not around to vouch for him one way or the other. Also he’s got, you know, an Iron Claw. Not to be confused with Sgt. Rock’s old foe the Iron Major, or the Yellow Claw, or any other metal hand or claw-themed characters. But no need to worry too much about him, because this is also his only appearance. And sure, he manages to snare her with her own lasso for a while, but seriously, who doesn’t?
In other stories in this issue, Superman and Batman (but mostly Superman) have to save J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars, from being framed and executed by his own people; Green Arrow fights a bear-man; then so does the Black Canary; and the Vigilante has to save an epidemic-plagued town by retrieving a hijacked shipment of medicine.
World’s Finest #246, DC Comics, September 1977.
Now, in the next issue, Conway and artist Don Heck introduce a masked Nazi villain who actually would turn out to have some staying power: Baron Blitzkrieg.
Right off the bat, “The Baron’s Name Is Blitzkrieg” is a much more engaging yarn than the last issue’s story. An American general is hurled out a window by Baron Blitzkrieg on a foggy London night. When the authorities find the body, the head of British intelligence straight-up tries to shut Diana Prince up because he doesn’t want to hear what a mere woman wants to say. So she just goes up to the general’s apartment to investigate herself. The cute thing is the little nod to The Avengers (the British TV show, not the Marvel comic): “Wonder Woman, you’re needed.” Come to think of it, the way the murder plays out at the beginning of the comic is also very Avengers-like.
One quibble I have with this story is that some random Cockney gunman working for the Germans resists telling Wonder Woman what she wants to know while caught in her lasso. He tells her eventually, but she has to ask several times, whereas the whole point of the magic lasso is that anyone’s irresistibly compelled to do whatever she tells them. No further convincing should be necessary.
It turns out this random guy knows not just that the guy she’s looking for his Baron Blitzkrieg, but he knows the bad guy’s whole story, how he was a Prussian nobleman whom Hitler rewarded by making him commandant of a death camp. But a Jewish prisoner threw a bottle at him, ruining his face. The Nazi doctors took that as an opportunity for medical experiments, as long as they were operating on him anyway, so he wound up with super strength and speed. But he’s still really, really sensitive about his face.
Anyway, he’s formidable enough to make this one a two-parter, leaving off with Baron Blitzkrieg about to abduct Winston Churchill! Oh yeah, and General Auchinleck, commander in chief of the Middle East theatre of operations. I guess we’ll have to check back and see what happens!
Actually, almost all the stories in this issue have cliffhanger endings to keep you coming back for more. The lead Superman/Batman story by Bob Haney and artist Kurt Schaffenberger is particularly fun, in which it’s revealed that Superman has a hunchbacked twin brother! Not only that, but the reason we haven’t heard about Kor-El until now is that Superman himself got rid of him. Back when he was Superboy, he imprisoned his brother in a kryptonite asteroid, saying there would only be room for one Superman. This is pretty darned messed up and Superman doesn’t remember anything about it, but he guesses it must have happened, because all the evidence seems pretty damning.
But why didn’t anybody else know about this? Why wasn’t there a brother around the many times Superman and pals went back in time and visited Krypton shortly before it exploded? Well, because mother Lara thought father Jor-El would reject the deformed child, so she kept it hidden, even once the planet exploded. It was sheer coincidence that the cave the baby was in was shot off into space, miraculously surviving the death of their world. And once Kor-El found his way to earth, he stayed hidden, keeping to himself and spying on Superboy from afar—even making himself a duplicate of his brother’s superhero costume—until the young hero found his stalker and got rid of him.
Pretty messed up, right? So Superman figures he has to atone by freeing his brother from the kryptonite asteroid, because nothing else is strong enough to do so, but he seemingly dies of kryptonite exposure in doing so. And once freed, what does this new Superman do? Takes over the world, of course! Well, the United States anyway. And what does he call himself? Big Brother, naturally!
OK, so, clearly this can’t be on the level, yes? This guy can’t be for real. And what does Mad Dog Doyle, the crime boss who “found” the Kryptonian tablet that established the existence of this brother, have to do with all this? Well, we’ll have to find that out in the next issue, too.
The Black Canary story is a continuation of the man-bear story from the previous issue. Now she’s in British Columbia, fighting a wolf-man and the shady lumberjacks who are hunting it, to see what its connection might be with that bear guy. (Hint: more medical experiments!) But here again, the story only gets partway before leaving the good stuff for next issue. Green Arrow, meanwhile, tracks down Slingshot, the baddie he fought two issues back. But he gets his man, so this one actually does seemingly end.
The Vigilante story is pretty messed up. See, he used to have this sidekick: Stuff, the Chinatown Kid (I know—pretty problematic). Well, in this story he finds Stuff murdered—hanged! The story goes back through the Vigilante’s origin and how he met Stuff, which is kind of an Old West version of Batman and Robin: the Vigilante had to hunt down the outlaw gang who killed his father, the sheriff, and then he took in a young boy whose Chinese shopkeeper parents had been killed by mobsters.
The weird thing is that the time frame is very, very hazy in the story. The stuff surrounding the Vigilante’s dad looks like it was in the 1800s, the origin of Stuff looks like the 1930s or 1940s, but the main story looks like it takes place in the present day of the 1970s. But nobody looks particularly old, so it’s hard to tell if there was time travel involved or what. Anyway, pretty much the whole story is a recap or who all these people are, and there’s a note on Stuff’s dead body from the Vigilante’s old enemy, the Dummy, so the next issue is all about vengeance.
World’s Finest #247, DC Comics, November 1977.
In the last issue, Baron Blitzkrieg threatened to kidnap Winston Churchill and take him to Germany. In this issue, he does exactly what he said he was going to do. Well, at least he’s not a liar.
And Wonder Woman just lets him get away with it, because she can’t risk him hurting Churchill. In fact, she fights off the British soldiers who come in to rescue the prime minister, not just letting the Baron get away but actively helping him escape. And in fact, she keeps helping him. The Baron coerces Steve Trevor into flying him and his prisoners to Germany, and Wonder Woman tags along in her invisible plane and protects Steve’s plane from Nazi planes that don’t know this particular American plane is under their control. Still, Steve’s plane crashes in Occupied France, and Diana follows them on a train to Berlin in disguise. (What, they didn’t check papers for travel during wartime?) And then she has to save Baron Blitzkrieg from the French Resistance—and specifically from Mademoiselle Marie, who used to have her own series in DC’s Star Spangled War Stories!
That makes three times that Wonder Woman has saved her enemy and helped him get away with abducting Churchill, and fortunately Marie understands once it’s explained to her. But they don’t get to her resistance allies in time to stop them from sending the train car that Blitzkrieg is in, with Churchill and Steve, on a runaway course to its doom. That forces Wondy’s hand to finally confront Blitzkrieg the way she probably could and should have done when first they were in a room together. Spoiler warning: she wins.
Baron Blitzkrieg next showed up in 1978’s Superman vs. Wonder Woman tabloid collector’s edition that I wrote about last Fourth of July, also written by Conway. The Baron wouldn’t necessarily remain a Wonder Woman villain, but he continued to show up over the years in 1940s-set comics to battle the All-Star Squadron, the Young All-Stars, or whatever Allied superheroes needed battling. And then he got his head blown off by Superboy-Prime in Infinite Crisis. Ah well.
In the other stories in this ish of World’s Finest, we get the stunning conclusion of the tale of Superman’s brother, in which we find out, yeah, he’s not really Superman’s brother. Big surprise there. Who he turns out to be actually is a surprise, and there are some fun guest stars along the way. There’s also a space hobo involved, but nobody cares about that.
Oh, and of course there’s a big battle between Superman and his hunchbacked twin, in which Kor-El attacks him with the Washington Monument, and Superman uses the spinning Capitol Dome to slow him down when he’s sent flying by a punch. (It spins?)
The conclusion of Black Canary’s story is a two-parter in this issue, the first starring her and the second starring her boyfriend, Green Arrow—both written by Conway and drawn by Sal Amendola. Somehow GA’s story includes fewer gratuitous shower scenes, though. As soon as he hears Canary’s in trouble, he simply teleports to Canada using the handy-dandy JLA transporter and joins the story already in progress. And naturally enough for a story about beast-men, it all comes down to an island owned by a guy named Moreau.
The Vigilante story by writer Bill Kunkel and artist Gray Morrow continues (or starts, really) the hunt for the Dummy, the killer of Stuff, the Chinatown Kid. And in case there was any doubt that the motorcycle-riding cowboy hero’s adventure is set in the present day of the 1970s, Batman’s pal Commissioner Gordon shows up in the story, and not a younger version. The Vigilante encounters some big crazy death traps—the type with spiked walls closing in and stuff like that—and then is framed for a murder he did not commit. I guess unlike the other stories, that one’s still to be continued.
And in fact, the conclusion in the next issue will be the original Vigilante’s last appearance before the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot of the mid-1980s. After the Crisis, a slightly reworked version of the character popped up occasionally on the guest-star circuit and had his own four-issue miniseries in the 1990s.
Holy gosh, that’s three whole issues of an 80-page comic we covered this week! Don’t say you don’t get your money’s worth at Wonder Wednesday, because I ain’t seen a dime from you yet.