A Tribute to the of

That great font of wisdom, Wikipedia, tells us this about Wonder Woman:

Wonder Woman is a super heroine created by American psychologist and writer, William Moulton Marston [and artist H.G. Peter] and published by DC Comics. The character first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942. The Wonder Woman title has been published by DC Comics almost continuously except for a brief hiatus in 1986.

That’s a very long history and the Amazing Amazon has undergone various shifts and changes over her decades of existence, but long before someone decided to disempower her completely, there was something afoot in 1965. I don’t know if the awful menace of Egg Fu pictured on the cover of issue #158 or the advent of Wonder Tot or what, but in the editorial office of Bob Kanigher, it was determined that it was time for a change. In fact, I understand that in issue #158 there was an 8-page segment called “The End—or the beginning!” that includes Kanigher calling in a lot of the cast of characters including Mer-Boy, Bird Boy, Wonder Girl, Wonder Tot and Angle Man and firing them. I gotta get my hands on that issue and see it all for myself.

The focus of this review, #159 from January of 1966 has kind of an oddball cover rendered by that famed duo Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, that is actually much more text than art. You all can read, so I won’t read it for you, but it hypes a return to the Golden Age for Wonder Woman, all on a purple background with possibly the most boring Wonder Woman logo ever.

The main story, “The Golden Age Secret Origin of Wonder Woman,” was edited and written by Bob Kanigher, sort of. By that I mean that the origin of Wonder Woman came a long time before the mighty Bob and is basically a rehash, just drawn by Andru and Esposito for a new audience a couple of decades later.

For those unfamiliar, I’ll give it a quick going over. Up in the heavenly firmament, Aphrodite and Mars, the god of war are arguing over who has the most influence over mankind, with Mars gleefully pointing out the ceaseless battles among the armies of antiquity, while Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty and a (gasp!) lowly woman to boot, doesn’t stand a chance against testosterone-fueled men with swords.

Aphrodite responds by creating the superior female race of Amazons to counter the hordes of soldiers and even gives Hippolyte, the queen of this new race, a magic golden girdle that makes her unconquerable so long as she wears it about her waist.

Naturally, the Amazons triumph over the armies of Mars and he angrily protests that he was tricked. Aphrodite responds that with the help of her magic girdle, they cannot be defeated. So, wily Mars approaches none other than Hercules, who is beating up a lion for fun about taking on Hippolyta. Every inch as chauvinistic as Mars, Hercules agrees to the challenge, dismissing the notion that he can be beaten by a mere woman.

The one on one combat that takes place the next day, however, does not go as planned when he is defeated, but the queen shows compassion on the fallen Hercules and offers him a chance to leave in peace. He agrees and invites she and her fellow Amazons to a banquet, but it turns out to be a ruse as he asks to hold her amazing girdle. Naturally once he has it in his hands he turns on her and they enslave the Amazons.

Chapter Two has a tearful queen Hippolyta praying to Aphrodite for deliverance. The goddess appears and explains that they may break their chains, but only if a man is forced to undo them.

She then cleverly hurls her chains against the sword of Hercules, restoring the power of the Amazons, who break free of their captors. Aphrodite insists they wear the bracelet-like shackles as reminders and then transports them to their own island where they can live in peace and harmony, free from the warring influence of man. Furthermore, no man must ever set foot on the island paradise or the Amazons shall lose the gifts of immortality and their great powers.

Things go along well until one day Aphrodite and Athena look down and notice that Hippolyta seems unhappy. They decide that her maternal instincts are kicking in and so they arrange for her to sculpt a child of clay and then surprise her by bringing it to life. Hippolyta now has a daughter to call her own and the young Diana is blessed with the powers of the gods, to include the strength of Hercules and the swiftness of Mercury.

As she grows over the years, she is ever more accomplished, but one day she and her friend spot a man on some floating wreckage off the coast of Paradise Island. Swimming with great strength, Diana reaches Steve Trevor and with advanced Amazon technology, saves him, but when Hippolyta finds out she insists he be taken away immediately. Diana wishes to take him back to America, but her mother, not wishing to lose her daughter, resists.

Finally it is decided to send one Amazon on a mission to return Captain Trevor to the states, but in order for it to be just, a competition is held and Hippolyta uses the argument of potential nepotism to refuse Diana’s entry into the games. The young Amazon, however, has ideas of her own and, taking a cue from Robin, dons a domino mask as a disguise.

As one might guess, throughout the various competitions, the eliminations continue until we’re down to two contestants, one of which is the mysterious masked woman. The final test is bullets and bracelets (so why do the peaceful Amazons have evil pistols, Kanigher?) and naturally, Diana is victorious.

Hippolyta is unhappy, but abides by her own rules and presents her daughter with the costume and lasso that was prepared under Aphrodite’s direction to be worn in America. It is explained that the lasso is made from tiny, unbreakable gold links taken directly from the magic girdle and is therefore endowed with powers to make those in its bindings submissive to the will of the wielder.

Finally, a transparent robot plane is presented to the newly christened Wonder Woman. She boards it along with her convalescing passenger and begins a new life in the U.S.A.

The final page in the book is the lettercol, “Wonder Woman’s Clubhouse,” and it features a narrative by Bob Kanigher, apparently spurred by a long letter from Robert Allen, who had a lot of opinions about Wonder Woman and how she should be portrayed. To sum it all up he suggested a return to her roots and doing away with some of the silly trappings that had evolved, including the characters of Mer-Boy and Bird Boy and bringing back the Golden Age persona.

Apparently, Bob agreed and thus the overhaul or retro movement or whatever you care to call it. Kanigher ended the column, after answering each comment by Robert Allen, point by point, with this narrative: “I don’t know if it’s really possible to go back in time in real life, and re-live the Golden Age, but I certainly am going to try. I’m putting all my chips down on the line with the first complete Golden Age WONDER WOMAN, starting with WW No. 159, Jan. Wish me luck. I’m going to try to find out if I can sail around the world without falling off." -RK

Without having a complete run of Wonder Woman at hand, it’s hard to tell how well or how long this initiative lasted and I’m not even completely certain of what the definition of “Golden Age” really meant. Was it just getting back to basics? I do note that in the cover gallery of the Grand Comic Book Database it only took until issue #166 to see the goofy Egg Fu return. Issue #170 had a gorilla in a space helmet on the cover. That doesn’t seem very Golden Age. Issue #172 showed a minor change to the logo with “The New” Wonder Woman. And of course in one of the most radical changes ever, issue #178 gave us a Wonder Woman ditching the costume and classic persona altogether.

By this time, Bob Kanigher was long gone as editor and new writers and artists were at the helm as well. So did the grand retro-movement succeed? Apparently not for very long.

Still, this issue has some historic significance and even if it was just a grand reboot before they became such a cliché in comics, I would suggest it was a radical departure for the time. 8 points on the 10-point rating scale for sheer guts.

The nicer folks I’ve spoken with over the years describe Robert Kanigher as a complicated man. Others were blunter, calling him a manipulative monster and suggesting tendencies toward being a sociopath. Whatever he might have been, he was undoubtedly amazingly prolific and he left behind a lasting legacy in his war books along with characters he dreamt up like Poison Ivy, Enemy Ace, Black Canary, the Sea Devils and more. It’s been over 12 years since his death, but through his work, he lives on.

August will bring a new month and a new review, so c’mon back for more. We’re always glad to host you here at the Silver Lantern. I’ve received a few notes recently from readers and it’s always a pleasure. If you’re so inclined, shoot one to me at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Long live the Silver Age!

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