Over in the thread What is the Earliest Multiverse Story, I wrote the following:


It's difficult for me to accept any Wonder Woman story written by Robert Kanigher as being even remotely canonical since he basically made stuff up to fit his plots. He was, after all, the king of the "impossible" story.

I'm not so familiar with DC in the 1950s as to be able to pinpoint any specific stories that might have included characters from eventual multiverses unless they were retcons.

ClarkKent_DC responded:


You say that as if that's something a fiction writer is not supposed to do ...

To which I responded:


I believe that if a fiction writer is creating the plot and characters that they can do pretty much anything and it's fine. I may not want to read it, but I have no problems with it. However, if a fiction writer is contracted to write a story using characters owned and created by someone else, that writer should do their best to maintain consistency at least with characterization and lore.

I'm not talking about What Ifs and Elseworlds or a new take on a character either. I'm aware that a fresh perspective on a character can work wonders (for example Frank Miller's Daredevil). However, I also see a lot of fiction writers (especially superhero comic writers) who decide their plot is more important than the established histories and characterizations of the existing characters and have these characters make decisions that have no connection to who they've been in the past.

You can have a Batman that's a literal vampire, but to me that's no longer Batman. You can have a Superman who turns evil and kills the Justice League as well as most civilians on Earth, but to me that's not Superman. If as a writer you want to tell those stories, there are ways to do so without using those characters.

Kanigher was generally very professional in his writing even if he tended to overuse plots again and again and again. And to be honest, the Impossible stories were generally pretty good. However, I wouldn't call any of them canonical. Nor do I think he was trying to write anything canonical. He was just doing his best to churn out an entertaining story by his deadline. So in my opinion, if we're trying to identify the first canonical multiverse story in DC's history, I wouldn't look to something written by Kanigher.

A number of these problems could and probably should be laid at the feet of Kanigher's editors for not reining him in, but once again, he delivered stories and met his deadlines. Not to mention that he was tremendously prolific during his career--it seemed at times as if he was writing most of DC's comics. Also, I can't say it was his fault that Bob Haney didn't know that Wonder Girl was a younger version of Diana and not her own character. However, that did lead to a lot of problems down the line which still haven't been resolved with Donna Troy.

So, it sounds like there were some who wanted to continue this particular discussion but not walk all over the discussion in the other thread. If anyone has any thoughts, I'd be happy to hear them.

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Bob Kanigher’s editor was often Bob Kanigher (e.g., Wonder Woman, Our Army at War).

Yet another example of writers needing editors (who are actually different people). Marvel let a lot of this get away from them in the 70s. 

Dave Palmer said:

Bob Kanigher’s editor was often Bob Kanigher (e.g., Wonder Woman, Our Army at War).

Dave Palmer said:

Bob Kanigher’s editor was often Bob Kanigher (e.g., Wonder Woman, Our Army at War).

Richard Willis said:

Yet another example of writers needing editors (who are actually different people). Marvel let a lot of this get away from them in the 70s. 

It worked at DC because the editors and writers were professionals who met their deadlines and were creative enough to pull off things like making up stories based on a cover image. It didn't work at Marvel because a lot of their editors and writers were not professionals; they were comics fans goofing around in their dream jobs, and thought deadlines were suggestions.

I think if we're taking issue with Robert Kanigher's take on Wonder Woman continuity, we have a very different understanding of Kanigher's job than he (and likely his bosses) did. As modern comic readers, we love continuity, and call-backs to past stories. That generally wasn't what Kanigher trafficked in. In both Wonder Woman and Sgt. Rock (and in plenty of other series he wrote), Kanigher told basically continuity-free stories -- intentionally, not as a deficit of his writing. With Wonder Woman, he told fanciful stories of her meeting giants or aliens or what-have-you; with Rock, he and Easy Co. were in some dire strait in various places in the European theater in WWII. These stories usually imparted some message or moral, even if it was a simple one -- the importance of never giving up, or how cleverness can defeat strength. Beginning, middle, and end, you got the Whole Thing. The following stories weren't the next chapter...they were another story altogether. Wonder Woman might learn the same lesson again, or face a similar foe; dead soldiers of one Sgt. Rock story were rarely (never?) mourned after their single appearance. Everything that mattered was in those 12 pages; everything else was some other story.

Comics readers used to be OK with that. But gradually, the idea of continuity took hold -- slowly at first, but more and more as time went on. And eventually Kanighers stories were found wanting by the audience that read them in later years. But at the time he was writing them, he was 100% doing his job. 

So, like Randy, I'd definitely not look to Kanigher for a definitive "canon" -- though there are almost certainly stories and ideas that I'd pick and choose to include. But I'd never blame him for not going that route. "Canon" is something posterity decides, and he was writing for the audience of his time. 

A similar thing happened with TV. Story arc-driven shows allow the deeper exploration of character, settings, plot, and so forth. The episodic approach often ignores continuity, but it allows one to sit down and enjoy a whole story on its own terms.

"If a fiction writer is contracted to write a story using characters owned and created by someone else, that writer should do their best to maintain consistency at least with characterization and lore."

I agree with that assessment... wholeheartedly.

Yet I also agree with this:

"I think if we're taking issue with Robert Kanigher's take on Wonder Woman continuity, we have a very different understanding of Kanigher's job than he (and likely his bosses) did."

I am more familiar with Kanigher's Brave & Bold than I am his Wonder Woman or Sgt. Rock, so I'll use that as an example. Here's the way I look at it. Pre-Crisis, there were "infinite" Earths; post-Crisis there was one "New Earth," an amalgam of Earths 1, 2, C and S. When I read Brave & Bold today, I imagine Kanigher was telling "New Earth" stories decades before the concept even existed. Try reading that Batman/Wildcat team-up from that point of view and see if it doesn't provide you with a fresh perspective. 

In the interests of pedantry, it was 1, 2, 4, S, and X.

Earth-C was where Captain Carrot came from.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

; post-Crisis there was one "New Earth," an amalgam of Earths 1, 2, C and S. 

Maybe it rises to the level of irony, but Kanigher had in mind a “continuity” for Sgt. Rock that is violated by every story featuring a post-WWII Rock.  If I remember correctly, in Kanigher’s mind Rock was the last combat death in the European theater.

"In the interests of pedantry, it was 1, 2, 4, S, and X."

I figured I was off by a couple of Earths, but I didn't bother to verify before I posted. I was thinking "Earth-C" was "Charlton." Wasn't Earth-X the one on which the Nazis won WWII? Whatever. I should have just said "an amalgam of previous Earths" and left it at that.

"If I remember correctly, in Kanigher’s mind Rock was the last combat death in the European theater."

I don't think so, although I have heard that assertion many, many times. I believe it comes from the story titled "Last Man, Last Shot" which has nothing to do with the last soldier (Rock or anyone else) killed in WWII. Kanigher himself wrote several post-WWII Rock stories featuring Rock with white hair. 

Dave Palmer said:

Maybe it rises to the level of irony, but Kanigher had in mind a “continuity” for Sgt. Rock that is violated by every story featuring a post-WWII Rock.  If I remember correctly, in Kanigher’s mind Rock was the last combat death in the European theater.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I don't think so, although I have heard that assertion many, many times. I believe it comes from the story titled "Last Man, Last Shot" which has nothing to do with the last soldier (Rock or anyone else) killed in WWII. Kanigher himself wrote several post-WWII Rock stories featuring Rock with white hair. 

Dave Palmer is right. Bob Kanigher asserted many times in letter columns in Our Army at War/Sgt. Rock that in his view, the Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company were the last casualties of World War II, with Rock himself the last victim, felled by the last shot fired. They finally put a variation of that into print in DCU: Legacies #4 in 2010.

If Kanigher wrote any stories with Rock alive after the war, that goes to the point Rob made above: He's telling stories, not continuity, as Rob astutely notes:


Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

In both Wonder Woman and Sgt. Rock (and in plenty of other series he wrote), Kanigher told basically continuity-free stories -- intentionally, not as a deficit of his writing. With Wonder Woman, he told fanciful stories of her meeting giants or aliens or what-have-you; with Rock, he and Easy Co. were in some dire strait in various places in the European theater in WWII. These stories usually imparted some message or moral, even if it was a simple one -- the importance of never giving up, or how cleverness can defeat strength. Beginning, middle, and end, you got the Whole Thing. The following stories weren't the next chapter...they were another story altogether. Wonder Woman might learn the same lesson again, or face a similar foe; dead soldiers of one Sgt. Rock story were rarely (never?) mourned after their single appearance. Everything that mattered was in those 12 pages; everything else was some other story.

True, but with the Sgt. Rock stories, there was a general guideline. As noted elsewhere

ClarkKent_DC said:

One other point about the lack of continuity in Sgt. Rock stories: They always bounced willy-nilly along the time line. This month's issue might be set in Italy, next month's in the desert in North Africa, the following one in the winter in Germany, the one after that showing the Joes plowing through the hedgerows in France. There is a rough continuity, however: Rock enlisted in the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor, got a battlefield promotion to sergeant, and he and Easy made their way across North Africa, participated in the Anzio invasion in Italy and fought from one end of the boot to the other, went across France and from there into Germany, where they were at the war's end.

That's a great point about Rock continuity. It's naturally built on the war's historical timeline, but Kanigher's willingness to jump around in time allowed him both variety to his stories and settings and at the same time make issue-by-issue continuity superfluous. 

I wonder if there's a rough timeline of Rock's appearances on a fan site somewhere online?

ClarkKent_DC said::

If Kanigher wrote any stories with Rock alive after the war, that goes to the point Rob made above: He's telling stories, not continuity, as Rob astutely notes:

Yesterday I spent some time looking at GCD and the DCfandom site for synopses of Kanigher's Brave & Bold stories teaming Batman with Rock and with Earth 2 heroes Wildcat and Dr Fate. I wanted to make an argument, but gave up, not having the actually stories in front of me.

He had Rock alive and well into the 70s and Batman active during WWII, which would make him as old at the time as Frank Miller eventually had him in The Dark Knight Returns. He worked for DC for a long time. The books must have been selling*. Using a theater phrase, he was putting butts in the seats.

* Does anyone know how well Wonder Woman was selling? I understand that if DC stopped publishing her back then the rights would have reverted to Moulton's heirs.

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