On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Now that Robert Kanigher was back in charge after the sudden end of the mod Wonder Woman experiment, the first thing he did was restore the old status quo: star-spangled outfit, magic lasso, invisible jet, the works. He also gave her a new job as a guide at the UN, nameless Asian and African-American roommates, and even a long-lost black sister. But no sooner did he set all that up than he abruptly wiped away even that little bit of newness and started presenting the same style of stories he used to write when he took over the Wonder Woman series in the late 1940s, after the death of creator William Moulton Marston. Suddenly Wonder Woman was the most old-fashioned comic that DC was putting out.
Wonder Woman #207, DC Comics, September 1973.
One tip-off of the new direction is Ric Estrada’s simple pencils, which really capture the ersatz Golden Age aesthetic. Kanigher gives the present-day status quo a cursory nod at the beginning of the comic by having Diana Prince get caught in a plummeting elevator at the United Nations building. When the elevator crashes through the ground floor, she finds an ancient cylinder hidden away in the foundation of the building. And, against all odds, it’s an Amazon scroll, detailing her own old adventures! Well, whaddaya know?
Now, in fact these are old adventures, not just set in a different period but working from old scripts from the late 1940s. The first story is credited to Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston under his usual pen name, Charles Moulton, although it was actually written by Kanigher—not in 1973 but in 1949, when it first appeared in Wonder Woman #37! The original issue is also as yet unreprinted, because the hardbound Wonder Woman Archives have only made it up to 1946’s issue 18 so far.
The weirdest thing about the UN framing sequence is that it’s totally unnecessary, because the first story in this issue already has a framing sequence. “The Riddle of the Chinese Mummy Case!” starts in the present day with an archeological dig at the Great Wall of China. An incredibly clumsy archeological dig that is, uncovering a 2,000-year-old Chinese mummy case only to drop it from a crane, shattering it into a million pieces. It’s obvious to all concerned that only one person could possibly put the pieces together again—Wonder Woman—so they broadcast worldwide (you know, like you do) to get her help. And sure enough, she reassembles the whole thing in twenty seconds, only to find (gasp) a pristine statue of herself inside, next to a statue of a Chinese woman warrior in Amazon clothes.
Of course, this names no damn sense whatsoever. Where the hell were these statues when Wondy was reassembling the mummy case? Did she reassemble them too and simply not notice what they were until she opened the pieced-together casket?
Despite the cover of the original version, in the 1949 story there actually wasn’t a statue of Diana in the case, just of the Chinese woman mysteriously dressed in Amazon gear, but I guess that wasn’t mysterious enough.
Clearly she has to go back in time to clear up this mystery, and for that she needs the help of Paula, a top Amazon scientist on Paradise Island. This, of course, is actually Paula von Gunther, former Nazi agent, who was once Wondy’s bitterest foe, but is now thoroughly reformed and very nice. And sure, yeah, she can send Diana back in time, no problem. Just have to fire up the ol’ space transformer to send her through the time dimension. With the power of SCIENCE!
Not only does Paula send her to the exact right time and place 2,000 years ago, but right next to the living version of that Chinese warrior depicted in the statue. Convenient!
This mighty woman, the Princess Mei, is in fact descended from “the ancient Amazons who conquered Asia Minor,” but her people’s matriarchy is now reduced to one province, under attack by macho barbarians who can’t handle their girl power.
The treatment of the Chinese people is sort of stereotypical, though lord knows I’ve seen much worse in comics. Interestingly, the 1973 version isn’t really any better or worse than the 1949 version in that regard. You still have your “aieee”s and “honorable”s, but at least you don’t have buck teeth and embarrassing pidgin English. (Maybe because it’s understood that they’re actually speaking Chinese, which Diana knows along with all human languages.)
Wonder Woman defeats the barbarian chief Chang, of course, but later that night he and his goons kidnap Princess Mei—and for good measure they knock out and capture Diana as well. But of course that doesn’t last and she breaks free, defeating a “dragon” (actually a bunch of warriors in a dragon suit) to save Mei. Oh, and then she builds the Great Wall of China to protect the matriarchy from the barbarian hordes. Just, you know, while she’s up.
The main difference in the ‘70s version, besides the double statues, is that Diana has to ponder not only the origin of her statue, which should be pretty obvious by now, but how those Amazon scrolls got into that cylinder. I guess we’ll find out! Except actually we won’t.
First we go on to another story that I guess must be on the next scroll, but it’s hard to tell because the scroll framing device is abandoned outright from here on out. This is in fact another old story credited to Charles Moulton but actually written by Kanigher in 1949: “The Four Dooms” from Wonder Woman #33. This was a multi-part story, however, so it’ll have to be continued in the next issue.
Wonder Woman #33, DC Comics, January-February 1949.
Inventa is one of the many prisoners of Transformation Island (also called Reform Island), the reformatory “where Amazons transform, through discipline and love, the bad character traits of women prisoners.” Her chastity-belt-like “Venus girdle” is supposed to make her submissive, but being a brilliant inventor she figures out a way to unlock it to free her fiendish mind.
With designs of subjugating the Amazons like they did her, Inventa steals a glider and crashes it into the sea, because she doesn’t know exactly where Paradise Island is but knows the kind-hearted Amazons will rescue her. Visiting for another one of the kanga-riding tournaments that the Amazons seem to have all the time, Diana leads her sisters in rescuing Inventa and some of her fellow escaped prisoners. And because they’re all women, she can bring them back with her to Paradise Island.
The adaptation of this story is very, very faithful, with some bits of dialogue paraphrased or shortened but most of it happening pretty much the same. Some characters look different, of course, not just Inventa but also Queen Hippolyte, who was black-haired like her daughter in the Golden Age but is blonde in the Bronze Age comics of the 1970s.
Once on shore, Inventa and her fellow criminals knock out the Amazons with gas, and Inventa steals Hippolyte’s magic girdle, which makes the Amazons invincible. Once she has Diana and Hippolyte as her prisoners, Inventa demands the magic secrets of their powers, but they insist it’s just the power of love—or, as the 1949 version puts it, “anyone who submits to loving authority as we do, may possess the same qualities of strength and agility!”
Inventa isn’t having that, so she and the ex-cons sentence mother and daughter to “the four dooms,” which Inventa goes on to list. But we’ll have to wait till next issue to see Wonder Woman go through all that, because that’s the end of this particular issue. (In the original #33, however, the rest was only a couple pages away.)
Wonder Woman #208, DC Comics, November 1973.
Part two of “The Four Dooms” is called, here as in the original, “The Titanic Trials.” The first doom Diana must face is “the doom of the rolling stone,” in which she must face Keith Richards! Um, I mean, she has to roll a big stone up a hill, and if she fails the Amazons will be put to death. That’s easy enough for her, but Inventa has installed an electromagnet to ensure that, like Sisyphus, she can’t roll it up too far before it rolls right back down again.
So how does Diana figure her way out of this one? Brute force, baby. She just punches the stone up and over the hill too fast for Inventa to turn her magnet on.
The second doom is of the blinding mirrors, in which Diana has to protect herself against “being slain by your own images.” In fact it’s a hall of mirrors, but one in which reflections of WW come out of the mirrors with knives to try to kill her.
But this trial is pretty easy as well, because as soon as Diana figures out that her doppelgangers are real people she has no trouble kicking their asses.
Next comes the doom of the labyrinth, in which Wondy is placed in a pretty conventional maze. The only catch is that she has to find her way out within one minute, or all the Amazons will be killed.
How does she make it out of this one? Zoom through it with the speed of Mercury that she’s been blessed with? Nah, that would be too easy. Instead she just hollers really loud and lets her keen hearing guide her to the real exit from the echo patterns.
The fourth doom is dragon’s teeth, which turns out to be a fancy way of saying a minefield. Well, this is where the speed of Mercury comes in, as she just tromps on through and outruns the explosions.
Not one to play by her own rules, Inventa adds a fifth doom, by tying Wonder Woman up with her own magic lasso and compelling her to send her invisible plane to fetch Steve Trevor and bring him back to Paradise Island, knowing that if a man sets foot on the island it’ll make the Amazons lose their immortality. Sure, just three issues ago we saw men set foot on the island with no problems, but apparently that’s a no-no again. Also, Steve Trevor is dead at this time in Wonder Woman’s history, but because this is an account of an earlier adventure that doesn’t really matter.
And sure enough, Steve is brought to the island, but Diana manages to put herself into the jet’s flight path just enough to wrest her lasso out of Inventa’s grasp, so that Wondy can command the plane not to land after all. The Amazons are saved, and Inventa and her cronies are quickly recaptured and returned to Transformation Island. Neither version really dwells on how the Amazons get the magic girdle back and reclaim power—it’s just understood that it won’t be that difficult now that Inventa’s been thwarted.
Now, in both issue 33 and issue 208, this story is followed by another one. In the 1973 case, it’s the one shown on the cover, “Chessmen of Death!” This, of course, is yet another old story retooled and reillustrated. This one’s from 1952’s Wonder Woman #55, which has also never been reprinted and which sadly I do not have on hand for comparative purposes, but it’s also by the team of Robert Kanigher and Harry G. Peter.
Interestingly, this one has Diana give lip service to her job at the UN, so I guess this one is intended to be (re)told in the present day, rather than being one of her old adventures told in that Amazon scroll. Diana’s flying back to New York when she notices, huh, that’s weird, the entire ocean has dried up.
She figures she has to rescue all those stranded ships, so she uses a big seashell to dig a canal and then to drill down into the dry seabed to find a sub-oceanic well that squirts up to fill the canal. Yeah, somehow that doesn’t sound too scientific.
Then she sees a mountain moving, and it would have crushed a city if she didn’t yank it to a halt with her lasso. What the heck is going on here?
Steve Trevor hails her to find out just what the heck is going on, and this presents a problem in itself. Steve is dead at this point in time, which is fine if we’re simply presenting a flashback story, but at the beginning of this story Diana talked about her job at the UN, so it really doesn’t make any sense. Kanigher seems to just not give a crap about continuity at this point.
Anyway, Diana infers that because there are strange forces affecting the planet, they must be coming from outer space, so she takes Steve into space to check it out. And hey, look at that, the first thing they see is a giant chessboard with stars and planets as the pieces. They find two giant figures playing chess on some strange planet, one with the horse head of a chess knight, and the other a bearded king. Diana recognizes them as Chequerians, the supposedly extinct natives of the planet Chequerana. And oddly, they don’t play checkers.
Unfortunately, the Chequerians don’t give a crap whether the planets they’re using as chess pieces are inhabited. They’re only the last of their kind because their entire race killed each other in chess games to make them more interesting, so playing for cosmic stakes is the only thing that can give them a thrill anymore.
Wonder Woman realizes there’s no reasoning with them, so she lures their fire with astoundingly powerful cosmic ray beams and polishes a nearby meteor to reflect the rays back at them, killing the chessmasters. The end. Within two pages of them revealing that they’re crazy chess fanatics, they’re all blown up. Diana clearly doesn’t mess around.
I guess that leaves us a little time to talk about the final story in Wonder Woman #33, “The Menace of Murkton.” There’s a mysterious series of disappearances—coal miners, farmers, circus strongmen and soldiers—and Diana deduces that the common element is that the missing were all strong men. So Wonder Woman decides to tag along with her pal Etta Candy to a football game, because she thinks a busload of football players might well be the next to disappear.
Sure enough, the bus driver is in on it, and the passengers are all gassed into unconsciousness, except Diana because of her Amazon constitution. It turns out these “Earthians” have been captured for hard labor on the planet Murkton by order of its Queen Pallida.
The bus driver is actually a little green man. The Murktonians are weak and shriveled because they don’t get enough sunlight—because Earth is in the way, between them and the sun. So naturally they want to blow up the Earth so that they can catch some rays, but they need big strong men to help them move the giant bomb.
After nearly getting hit by a bus driven by a vengeful Murktonian, and after a side trip to Paradise Island to research just where the heck Murkton is, Diana travels there in her invisible plane to stop the bomb. On the way she struggles through an immense black cloud, which she figures out is the real obstruction of sunlight, not the earth. Riding the bomb into the cloud, she brings the light of day to Murkton and saves the day for everyone—not least the Murktonians, who are awfully sorry about their miscalculation and have learned their lesson. Hooray!
Anyway, this one was not revived and rejiggered in the 1970s, so that was about it for the Murktonians.
In the next Wonder Wednesday: More old-timey weirdness!