Monday, September 08, 2008

Introducing Wonder Woman

If you'd asked me a few months ago when Wonder Woman's first appearance was, I probably would've said Sensation Comics #1. I would've been wrong though, because about a month before she appeared in Sensation, DC introduced her in a back-up feature to All Star Comics #8.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you're well aware of my interest in Wonder Woman. I think she's a character full of potential that's only now starting to be realized in her monthly comic. But I'm also aware that I say that as someone without a whole lot of historical perspective about her. I've read the earliest issues of George Perez's '80s reboot and then sporadic parts of Phil Jiminez and Greg Rucka's runs. It's been only recently that I've become interested in learning about her history and really studying how her writers have portrayed her over the last sixty years.

To start that exploration, I figured the best place would be the Golden Age stuff by her creator William Moulton Marston. I'll skip the usual intro about how simultaneously odd and revolutionary Dr. Marston was. I'm sure it's important to why he wrote Wonder Woman the way he did, but I'm not as interested in that as I am tracking her character development. Which brings us to All Star Comics #8.

The first thing I noticed about the Wonder Woman back up story is how cool its structure is. It's really four stories in one, and only three of them are comics. It begins with Steve Trevor's crash on Paradise Island, goes to an illustrated prose flashback to the founding of the island, then shows another flashback in comics form telling how Trevor came to crash there, and wraps up with the famous contest in which the Amazon princess (unnamed for most of the story) tricks her mother into letting her be the Amazons' emissary to America.

The second thing I noticed is that my preconceived notions about Steve Trevor were incorrect. I've always heard that Steve was pretty useless - and maybe he became that way later on (he certainly was in the Wonder Woman TV show) - but he's actually very competent here. He begins his adventure by trying to shut down a Nazi spy ring operating in the US. He's already figured out who their leader is and thinks he knows where they're headquarters are. All that remains is to round them up, so he hides out near the suspected HQ and ambushes the leader as he drives past.

I guess we could fault Steve for not taking back up, but c'mon. When did James Bond, The Shadow, or John Carter ever call for back up? As in any good adventure story, the hero's job isn't completely easy though. Steve's plan doesn't go exactly as he wanted and he's knocked unconscious.

He eventually wakes up in a US plane that the spies have rigged to run by remote control. Their plan was to fly their own bomber above the robot plane in order to bomb US bases and make it look like an American was doing it. Having an American pilot at the controls would only add to the illusion, especially if - as I suspect - the spies intended to crash the robot plane once they were done.

Fortunately, Steve wakes up and takes back control of his plane.

Turning their own plane against the spies, he chases them to sea, determined to catch them once and for all. Unfortunately, he runs out of gas during the chase and has to crash land on Paradise Island. I guess running out of gas could be considered a blunder, but Steve makes it pretty clear as he starts the chase that he's willing to give his life for even the chance of catching these guys.

On Paradise Island, Steve's plane is found by a couple of Amazon women: the princess of the island and a warrior named Mala. They take him to the Amazons' doctor who we can tell is really smart because she wears goofy-looking glasses.

Queen Hippolyta tries to cure her daughter's lovesickness with a history lesson about how dangerous men can be. Then the two of them learn about Steve's mission via the queen's Magic Sphere. And though Hippolyte doesn't want her daughter having anything to do with Steve, she see the importance of his fight against fascist tyrants. She consults her patron goddesses to be sure.

I love the logic behind this. It sounds kind of silly to 21st century ears, but as a '40s pulp adventure it makes perfect sense. I'm curious to see if DC addresses Wonder Woman's staying in Man's World after World War II (I have no idea if Marston was still writing the comic at that time), but as a way of getting her into Nazi-fighting mode, it's great.

It also explains why Wonder Woman wears a costume inspired by the American flag.

Her star-spangled costume becomes problematic after she's rebooted in the '80s sans Nazis, but for now it's all good.

A couple of other notes about the story. The princess goes nameless until the last page. I'm not sure how that works. It's pretty weird.

Secondly, the princess' friend Mala is also the last competitor she has to face in the contest. And she appears prominently in a later issue when Diana goes back to visit Paradise Island. I don't remember a Mala being that important in the post-Perez mythology, but it's interesting to me that we've already got a recurring Amazon character other than Hippolyte this early in the series. I'm curious to see how long she lasts.

Next time: Diana comes to the US and gets her secret identity in the weirdest way I've ever seen.


philippos42 said...

Marston used the warmongers of Europe as a hook for the origin story, but seems to have been quite pleased in most stories to have Wondy travel to strange hidden lands, other planets, even different historical periods. I think having her fight the Nazis repeatedly was the last thing he wanted.

Michael May said...

I probably would've gotten bored with it if fighting Nazis was ALL she ever did. I won't judge until I see how fun and/or goofy those stories are, but I imagine I'll probably appreciate them.


Related Posts with Thumbnails