© 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

Doesn’t Gal Gadot look awesome in Wonder Woman? But writers can do bad things even with good characters.

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Wonder Woman, whose first live-action movie premieres June 2, is usually described as “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules and swifter than Mercury.” But that hasn’t protected her from some really dumb stories over her 76-year history. Here’s a Top 10 List of Silly Wonder Woman Bits:

10. HAPPY HOLLIDAYS

One of the early additions to the Wonder Woman mythos were her quasi-sidekicks, the girls of Beeta Lamda sorority at Holliday College. Led by the comically rotund Etta Candy – whose favorite exclamation was “Woo! Woo!” – the otherwise lithe and athletic Holliday Girls arose from research into sorority initiations by psychologist and WW co-creator William Moulton Marston. He had attended a “baby party” (where pledges were required to wear baby clothes and undergo “punishment”), and apparently it left a deep impression.

9. MS. PRINCE, WE’RE NEEDED

In 1968, writer Denny O’Neil decided Diana didn’t need all those pesky super-powers, and reduced her to a karate fighter a la Emma Peel of TV’s The Avengers, complete with white jumpsuits. Just to make sure she was put properly in her place, she was mentored by a male – an old Chinese gentleman with the unlikely name I-Ching. Because, man, it was the ‘60s. You dig?

8. GLASS CEILING

After she got her powers back, Diana re-joined the Justice League. But before she could, she had to perform 12 labors, Hercules fashion, to show she still had the right stuff.

Would the League do that to Superman? Batman? Of course not. Heck, they haven’t even done it to Green Arrow, who’s quit and re-joined approximately 43 zillion times. And he takes a bow and arrow to gunfights.

It was presented as her choice, but it was nonsense. Even in the Justice League, a woman has to be 12 times better than a guy to get the same job.

7. HIS GIRL FRIDAY

Before the Justice League, there was the legendary Justice Society of America, which united the greatest superheroes of two publishers in 1940. Naturally, it wasn’t long after Wonder Woman’s 1941 debut that Hawkman, chairman of the JSA (renamed “Justice Battalion” during the war) invited the Amazing Amazon to join their prestigious group … to take the minutes.

“Wonder Woman, the members of the Justice Battalion feel that even though you’re now an honorary member, we’d like you to act as our secretary,” announced the Winged Wonder in 1942.

“Why,” replied Diana, who could probably have twisted Hawkman into origami, “that’s quite an honor!”

 

6. WANT FRIES WITH THAT?

For a little while in the ‘90s, Diana worked in a fast-food joint called Taco Whiz.

I can’t even.

Copyright DC Entertainment Inc.

You’d think someone who was good friends with Bruce Wayne could make one phone call and never have to work again. Or at least she could get a job where “flying” and “super-strength” are requisites. (Art by Brian Bolland) 

5. FIT TO BE TIED

Marston brought a lot of positive qualities to his brainchild: a belief in the power of love, a faith in the equality (or superiority) of women, a desire to give girls a strong role model. He also had a keen interest in bondage, which made it into early Wonder Woman stories, too.

Now, getting captured and tied up is an occupational hazard in adventure stories, especially in the 1940s. But Wonder Woman Unbound author Tim Hanley did a comparative analysis of the first 10 issues of Batman, Captain Marvel Adventures and Wonder Woman – and found the number of times restraints were used in the Amazon’s stories to be, in comparison to the other two, “colossal.”

Hanley found that, on average, Batman and Captain Marvel Adventures depicted folks tied up 3 percent of the time – compared to 27 percent in Wonder Woman. And while the Amazing Amazon herself was only bound for 40 percent of the total – everyone was fair game in a Marston story – it was still women who were tied up a full 84 percent of the time.

I guess we should have gotten a hint from the fact that Wonder Woman’s chief weapon is a rope.

 

4. POLLY PARADOX

In 1986, a new origin established Diana as in her twenties, not in her five-hundred-and-twenties. So who was in all those Wonder Woman comics going back to 1941? To solve this dilemma, writer/artist John Byrne dressed Diana’s mother Hippolyta in the iconic costume and sent her back in time to fill in. The JSA called her “Polly.”

Which is weird, because Hippolyta has been alive since ancient Greece – she didn’t have to go back in time to be in World War II. She was already there.

You’d think people would notice a thing like that.

 

3. SHORT STORIES

In the early 1960s, DC began running stories of Wonder Woman when she was a baby. She was called “Wonder Tot,” and met genies, monsters and mer-people, as you do.

She also met herself as a teenager and an adult for a number of stories, initially as a result of Hippolyta splicing old family movies together. These were called “Impossible Tales,” likely because they were.

 

2. BIRDS AND BEES (AND FISH)

Also in the early ‘60s, DC began running stories of Wonder Woman as a teenager. These “Wonder Girl” stories featured the Amazing Adolescent dating the sort of boys who were available around Paradise Island, which didn’t allow (human) males. Specifically, that would be Ronno the Mer-Boy and Wingo the Bird-Boy.

Ronno was from a race of people who were fish from the waist down. Wingo was from a race of people who were birds from the waist down.

Do I need to explain what’s wrong with this picture?

Copyright DC Entertainment Inc.

One odd choice in 1960s Wonder Woman comics was to have teenage Diana date outside her species. (Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito) 

 

1. WHO’S THE BABY DADDY?

Long-running comics characters often have details of their history changed or updated. But even by that standard, Wonder Woman’s past is amazingly fluid.

Some things remain somewhat standard. Diana’s powers always come from the Greco-Roman gods, either as gifts or genetics. Her mission remains constant: to bring peace to “man’s world.” She’s always the daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.

But her daddy? Well, usually she doesn’t have one – in most origins, she’s a clay statue brought to life by the gods.

In 1959, though, writer Robert Kanigher (briefly) gave her a real father, later revealed as some dude named Theno, who was lost at sea. In fact, in that story, all the Amazons had husbands, but “all the men … wiped out … in the wars,” moaned Hippolyta. “Woe is us …” one Amazon replied, rather un-Amazonly. “We are … alone … now – !”

Alone – and talking like William Shatner. Oh, the humanity!

In 2011, another story established Diana as the daughter of Zeus – which made her related to a lot of the folks she’d been fighting for 60 years! It was writer Brian Azzarello’s intent to make the gods supporting characters, referring to the Olympians as “the original crime family.”

Currently Wonder Woman’s origin is being re-written once again. I’m giving “clay statue” 2-to-1 odds.

Reach Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), the Internet (captaincomics.ning.com), Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or Twitter (@CaptainComics).

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I've heard that too, but I have to wonder, why would someone who hated the character so much (allegedly), seem to have spent more time writing her adventures than anyone else? I haven't done the math, but it certainly seems like Kanigher may have worked on Wonder Woman longer than all the other writers of the series put together, from at least the death of Dr. Marston right up to the non-powered era, and then back for more after that! I can't believe that writing Wonder Woman paid better than the DC War Comics he was also doing, or even the Metal Men, so why wouldn't he just hand the title off to somebody else if he really hated the lead character? That would make Kanigher a bigger masochist than anything we saw during WW's Golden Age of B & D tropes.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

I don't think I'll ever understand why they gave her to Kanigher to write, from what I hear he didn't like the character all that much.

I don't know the answer to that, Dave -- I wasn't much of a Kanigher fan when he was writing, and I've never seen a book or article about him. (I'm sure they're out there somewhere.)

But one thing I've always wondered is: How do you pronounce Kanigher? I've heard kuh-NIGE-ur, Kuh-NYE-ur and KAN-ig-ur, but I really don't know.

I don't think the answer to why Bob Kanigher was on the Wonder Woman book longer than other writers to that point is any more complicated than he was hired to do a job, so he did the job. He was one of the old-school comics creators who had that mindset. Liking the character wasn't a prevailing consideration.

That said, his introductory issue -- the one that put an end to the "Diana Rigg Wonder Woman" era -- took a gratuitously nasty swipe at previous editor Dorothy Woolfolk, by featuring a sniper shoot to death "Dottie Cottonman, Woman's Magazine, editor."

(For more about Dorothy Woolfolk, here's a piece from The Atlantic"Lois Lane's Feminist Revolution")

Wikipedia has this entry for Kanigher. It doesn't speculate on pronunciation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kanigher

It says he was editing Wonder Woman and took over the scripting duties when Marston died in 1947.

If I'm not mistaken, didn't the years he wrote Wonder Woman coincide with DC's effort to keep her in print and not lose the rights to his heirs? That may have been the only reason Kanigher personally handled the book all those years. He was probably charged with the task by top management.

From the few interviews I've read about him, I gather that Robert Kanigher was quite the character. But he did repeat his plots on Wonder Woman far too often and very quickly. Believe me, I know!

I do remember that he did one last WW story in the late 70s or early 80s. I'll have to look into it.

I don't think Kanigher repeated plots -- I don't think he had any. He'd just start writing, and when he got bored he'd throw in a big robot, dinosaur, submarine or giant clam.

Philip Portelli said:

From the few interviews I've read about him, I gather that Robert Kanigher was quite the character. But he did repeat his plots on Wonder Woman far too often and very quickly. Believe me, I know!

Early Wonder Woman stories are interesting because their approach was modern. The feature had a lot of lore relating to the Amazons. It had serious themes: gender roles and gender relations, the nature of evil, redemption. It was a very imaginative feature. And the characterisation was interesting: Wonder Woman was competitive, and she evaluated how she felt about things. The early stories also had an element of cruel violence.

The Kanigher/Peter stories from the late 1940s(1) and 1950s were obviously intended for pre-adolescent girls. The complexities were dropped. But their portrayal of WW herself was good: she was a capable, unconflicted heroine who preached Amazon values.

1950s Superman and Batman stories were aimed at young readers too. It wasn't until the early Silver Age that Superman's feature acquired the depth of lore that Batman's feature had, or Wonder Woman's had had.


It seems to me the earlier Kanigher/Andru stories were better than the later ones, and the better ones were better than the lesser Batman stories of the same era. "The Impossible Day!" from Wonder Woman #124 is more dramatic than "Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk" from World's Finest Comics #113.

I really liked the early Metal Men stories I read as a pre-adolescent. When I got to read some of the later Kanigher/Andru ones as a young adult I found them charmless. The difference was probably partly in me, but I think there was a degeneration in Kanigher's handling of the two features. Egg Fu appeared in 1965, and Egg Fu the Fifth in 1966. I haven't run into anything as campy, and awful, in an early Silver Age story. (Mr Genie, who debuted in 1961, I don't mind.)

I've not read the Wonder Girl stories, but the idea - WW's adventures growing up on Paradise Island - strikes me as a very good one. (This isn't to gainsay your point 2, Cap.) I would guess images like the cover of #152 were satisfying to girls who wanted to imagine themselves as adventure heroes. #150-#153 flirted with making Wonder Girl the star. #152 and #153 even have large "Wonder Girl" logos on the covers.

The spur for the changes in the feature in Wonder Woman #156-#159 was evidently the 1965 Alley Awards, given for 1964. Wonder Woman was voted "Worst Regularly Published Comic". But the changes didn't reposition the title successfully.

(1) The earliest Kanigher/Peter stories may have been more like Marston ones. Wonder Woman #206-#210 featured retellings of Golden Age adventures by Kanigher and Ric Estrada. The two I've seen are Marston-ish. Both pit WW against vicious villainesses. "The Four Dooms!" and "The Titanic Trials!" in #207-#208 form a two-parter that uses Venus girdles and Transformation Island, and pits WW against a villainess called Inventa. "The Shrinking Formula" from #210 involves a sub-atomic world with an evil queen. The GCD currently ascribes the originals of both stories to Kanigher.

Joye Hummel wrote for the feature in the 1940s, and very well.

 It was a very imaginative feature. 

That's one way of putting it. I'm surprised those stories got into print. Apparently no parent ever bothered to look at what was going on in WW.

 

-- MSA

A lot of weird, random things happened in Metal Men too. Certainly he repeated themes, if not plots regularly.

Thankfully no giant robots, dinosaurs or flying saucers popped up in Enemy Ace!

Captain Comics said:

I don't think Kanigher repeated plots -- I don't think he had any. He'd just start writing, and when he got bored he'd throw in a big robot, dinosaur, submarine or giant clam.

Philip Portelli said:

From the few interviews I've read about him, I gather that Robert Kanigher was quite the character. But he did repeat his plots on Wonder Woman far too often and very quickly. Believe me, I know!

No giant clams in Enemy Ace, but it was so repetitive that I got bored with it despite the gorgeous Kubert art. You could pretty much guess any random Enemy Ace story would have:

1. Hunting with the wolf (with almost the same internal dialogue every time)

2. A pretty girl (which he is too angsty to pursue)

3. Angst

4. A solemn pronouncement after Von Hammer shoots down somebody that it's not his fault, it's the "killer skies" that "will get us all."

5. Staring at the fire with all his trophies on the mantel while some servant/subordinate says he must be proud of killing all those enemy pilots.

6. More angst

I heard that the same sort of thing happened with the Phantom news paper strip in during the occupation of Norway.  The Germans censored the press but never bothered with the comics, so the Phantom was seen resisting the nazis.  

In this case I think it's like some of the adds we used to see in comics.  X-ray glasses to see under clothes, Hypno coins, BB guns... no one ever really thought that they were harmful for kids to have at all.  Marston managed to get a lot of stuff into Wonder Woman that would put some in absolute hysterics today, yet for all that the Diana of his day never wore a thong.

Mr. Silver Age said:

 It was a very imaginative feature. 

That's one way of putting it. I'm surprised those stories got into print. Apparently no parent ever bothered to look at what was going on in WW.

Very true, Captain. They tried to shake things up by giving him pseudo-villains to battle until you remember that they are Allied pilots battling the Germans!

I vividly recall going into a start-up comic shop and getting almost the entire run of Enemy Ace in Star Spangled War Stories in great condition for $2-3 each! That also included the first appearances of the Unknown Soldier!

Captain Comics said:

No giant clams in Enemy Ace, but it was so repetitive that I got bored with it despite the gorgeous Kubert art. You could pretty much guess any random Enemy Ace story would have:

1. Hunting with the wolf (with almost the same internal dialogue every time)

2. A pretty girl (which he is too angsty to pursue)

3. Angst

4. A solemn pronouncement after Von Hammer shoots down somebody that it's not his fault, it's the "killer skies" that "will get us all."

5. Staring at the fire with all his trophies on the mantel while some servant/subordinate says he must be proud of killing all those enemy pilots.

6. More angst

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