Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore


By Dennis O’Neil, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0755 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Total Entertainment Perfection… 10/10

Superman is the comic book crusader who started the whole genre and, in the decades since his 1938 debut, has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With that in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this hardback celebrating one his greatest extended adventures. The episodes contained within were originally released just as comics fandom was becoming a powerful – if headless – lobbying force reshaping the industry to its own specialised desires and remains a true landmark of the superhero genre.

When Julie Schwartz took over editorial responsibility for the Man of Steel in 1970, he was expected to shake things up with nothing less than spectacular results. To that end, he sagely incorporated many key characters and events that were simultaneously developing as part of fellow iconoclast Jack Kirby’s freshly unfolding “Fourth World”.

That bold experiment was a breathtaking tour de force of cosmic wonderment which brought a staggering new universe to fans: instantly and permanently changing the way comics were perceived and how the entire medium could be received.

Schwartz, meanwhile, was again breathing fresh life into a powerful but moribund icon – a job he had been excelling at since he more-or-less singlehandedly kickstarted the Silver Age of Comics. Superman had been a mega-media star since his launch, with internationally syndicated comics, books, newspaper strips, movie and cinema serials plus hugely successful radio and TV shows (live action and animated) making the franchise globally recognizable. Whenever that happens, inevitably overkill and overexposure inescapably set in and the core property needs to be carefully overhauled or vanish forever. I’ll bet you can think of plenty of really famous and ubiquitous things from your childhood that one day you simply stopped noticing. Happily, sometimes they can be reborn…

Schwartz knew his market and was open to new ideas, and his creative changes were just appearing in 1971. The new direction was also vanguard and trigger for a wealth of controversial and socially-challenging story content unheard of since the feature’s earliest days: a wave of tales ultimately described as “Relevant”…

The era itself and those vital changes are described and contextualised in Paul Levitz’s Introduction, after which the crucial radical shift in Superman’s vast mythology starts to unfold.

With iconic covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson, this titanic tome collects Superman #233-238 and #240-242, originally running from January to September 1971.

The groundbreaking epic was crafted by scripter Dennis J. “Denny” O’Neil, and veteran illustrators Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson – although stand-in Dick Giordano inked #240. A deliberate and very public abandonment of super-villains, fanciful Kryptonian scenarios and otherworldly paraphernalia instantly revitalised the Man of Tomorrow, attracting new readers and began a period of engagingly human-scaled stories which made Superman a “must-buy” character all over again.

The innovations began in ‘Superman Breaks Loose’ (Superman #233) when a government experiment to harness Kryptonite as an energy source goes explosively wrong. Closely monitoring the test, the Action Ace is blasted across the desert surrounding the isolated lab, but somehow survives a supposedly fatal radiation-bath. Then, reports begin filtering in from all over Earth: every piece of the deadly mineral has been transformed to harmless, common iron…

As he goes about his protective, preventative patrols, the liberated hero experiences an emotional high at the prospect of all the good he can now accomplish. He isn’t even phased when the Daily Planet‘s new owner Morgan Edge (a key Kirby character) shakes up his civilian life: summarily ejecting Clark Kent from the print game to remaking him as a roving TV journalist…

Meanwhile, the desert site of his recent crashlanding offers a moment of deep foreboding as Superman’s irradiated imprint in the sand shockingly grows solid and shambles away in ghastly parody of life…

The suspense resumes in #234’s ‘How to Tame a Wild Volcano!’ as an out-of-control plantation owner refuses to let his indentured native workforce flee an imminent eruption on the island of Boki. Handicapped by misused international laws, the Man of Tomorrow can only fume helplessly as the UN rushes towards a diplomatic solution. His anxiety intensifies when a sinister sand-thing inadvertently passes him and agonisingly drains him of his powers.

Crashing to Earth in a turbulent squall, the de-powered hero is attacked by work boss Boysie Harker‘s thugs and instantly responds to the foolish provocation, relying for a change on determination rather than overwhelming might to save the day…

The ‘Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp’ in #235 gave way to weirder ways – the industry was enjoying a periodic revival of interest in supernatural themes and stories – as mystery musician and apparent polymath Ferlin Nyxly reveals the secret of his ever-growing aptitudes and gifts is an archaic artefact which steals from living beings knowledge, talents and even Superman’s alien abilities.

The Man of Steel is initially unaware of the drain, as he’s trying to communicate with his eerily silent doppelganger, but once Nyxly graduates to a full-on raving super-menace self-dubbed Pan, the taciturn homunculus unexpectedly joins its living template to trounce the power thief…

Issue #236 offered a Batman cameo and a science fictional morality play as cherubic aliens seek Superman’s assistance to defeat a band of devils and rescue Kent’s friends from Hell. However, the ‘Planet of the Angels’ is nothing of the kind, and the Metropolis Marvel must pull out all the stops to save Earth from a very real Armageddon, after which Superman #237 sees him save an orbiting astronaut only to see him succumb to madness-inducing mutative disease. After another savage confrontation with the sand-thing further debilitates him, the harried hero is present as more mortals fall to the contagion.

Believing himself the cause, the ‘Enemy of Earth’ considers quarantining in space. As he decides, Lois Lane stumbles into another lethal predicament and the hero’s instinctive intervention seemingly confirms his earlier diagnosis, but another clash with the ever-present sandy simulacrum on the edge of space presents an incredible truth. Painfully debilitated, Superman nevertheless saves Lois and again meets the evermore human creature. Now able to speak, it offers a chilling warning and the Man of Steel realises exactly what it is taking from him and what it might become…

A mere shadow of his former self, the Man of Tomorrow is unable to prevent a band of terrorists taking over a magma-tapping drilling rig and endangering the entire Earth in #238’s ‘Menace at 1000 Degrees’. With Lois among their hostages and the madmen threatening to detonate a nuke in the pipeline, the Action Ace desperately begs his doppelganger to assist him, but its cold rejection forces the depleted hero to take the biggest gamble of his life…

Superman #239 was an all-reprint giant featuring the hero in his incalculably all-powerful days – so not included here – but the diminished Caped Kryptonian returned in #240 (with Giordano inks) to confront his own lessened state and seek a solution in ‘To Save a Superman’. The trigger is his inability to extinguish a tenement fire and the wider world’s realisation that their unconquerable champion is now vulnerable and fallible…

Especially interested are the Anti-Superman Gang who immediately allocate all resources to destroying their nemesis. After one particularly close call, Clark is visited by an ancient Asian sage who somehow knows his other identity and offers an unconventional solution…

From 1968 superhero comics began to decline – just as they had at the end of the 1940s – so publishers sought fresh ways to keep audience as tastes changed. Back then, the industry depended on newsstand sales, and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller, innovating illustrator Mike Sekowsky and relatively new scripter Denny O’Neil came up with a radical proposal and made history by depowering the only female superhero then in the marketplace. They had the mystical Amazons leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman‘s powers and all her weapons…

Reduced to mere humanity she chose to stay on Earth, assuming and legitimising her own secret identity of Diana Prince: resolved to fighting injustice as a mortal. Tutored by blind Buddhist monk I Ching, she trained as a martial artist, and quickly became a formidable enemy of contemporary evil.

I Ching claims he can repair Superman’s difficulties and dwindling might, but evil eyes are watching. Arriving clandestinely, Superman allows the adept to remove his Kryptonian powers as a precursor to restoring them, allowing the A-S Gang opportunity to strike. In the resultant brutal melee, the all-too-human hero triumphs in the hardest fight of his life…

The saga continues with “Swan-derson” back on art in #241 as Superman overcomes momentary but almost overwhelming temptation to surrender his oppressive burden and lead a normal life. Admonished and resolved, he then submits to Ching’s resumed remedy ritual and finds his spirit soaring to where the sand-being lurks before explosively reclaiming the stolen powers. Leaving the gritty golem a shattered husk, the phantom brings the awesome energies back to their true owner and a triumphant hero returns to saving the world…

Over the next few days, however, it becomes clear that something has gone wrong. The Man of Tomorrow has become arrogant, erratic and unpredictable, acting rashly, overreacting and even making stupid mistakes. In her boutique Diana Prince discusses the problem with Ching and the sagacious teacher deduces that whilst merely mortal and fighting AS gangsters, Superman received punishing blows to the head which have caused a brain injury that did not heal after his powers returned…

When the hero refuses to listen, Diana and Ching track down the dying sand-thing and beg its aid. The elderly savant recognises it as a formless creature from other-dimensional Quarrm and listens to the amazing story of its entrance into our world. He also suggests a way for it to regain some of what it recently lost…

Superman, meanwhile, has blithely gone about his deranged business until savagely attacked by a statue of a Chinese war-demon. Also able to steal his power, it has been possessed by a second fugitive from Quarrm. It has no conscience and wears ‘The Shape of Fear!…

The shocking saga concludes in ‘The Ultimate Battle’ as the second Quarrmer falls under the sway of two petty thugs who use it to put the again de-powered Superman into hospital…

Rushed into emergency surgery, the Kryptonian fights for his life as sand-thing confronts war-demon in the streets, but events take an even more bizarre turn once the latter drives off its foe and turns towards the hospital to finish off the flesh-&-blood Superman. Regaining consciousness – and a portion of his power – the Metropolis Marvel battles the beast to a standstill but needs the aid of his silicon stand-in to drive the thing back beyond the pale. With the immediate threat ended, Man of Steel and Man of Sand face off one last time, each determined to ensure his own existence no matter the cost…

The stunning conclusion was a brilliant stroke on the part of the creators, one which left Superman approximately half the man he used to be. Of course, all too soon he returned to his unassailable, god-like power levels but never quite regained the tension-free smug assurance of his 1950s-1960s self.

A fresh approach, snappy dialogue and more human-scaled concerns to balance outrageous implausible fantasy elements all wedded to gripping plots and sublime art make Kryptonite Nevermore one of the very best Superman sagas ever created. Also included are creator biographies, the iconic ‘House Ad’ by Swan & Vince Colletta which proclaimed the big change throughout the DC Universe, plus a thoughtful ‘Afterword by Dennis O’Neil’ to wraps things up with some insights and reminiscences every lover of the medium will appreciate.

A must-have graphic novel to sit on the same shelf as Watchmen, Batman: Year One, Segar’s Popeye, Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse, Kirby & Lee’s Galactus Trilogy and Chaykin’s American Flagg!: a shining exemplar of action- adventure comics captured at their most perfect moment. Why don’t you have this yet?
© 1971, 2009, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman & Batman vs Vampires & Werewolves


By Kevin VanHook & Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2292-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Man of Tomorrow and the Dark Knight are two characters who have, for the most part, escaped their lowly comics origins to join a meta-fictional literary landscape populated by the likes of Mickey Mouse, Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. As such their recognition factor outside our industry means that they get to work in places and with other properties that might not appeal to funny-book purists.

Take for example this out-of-print tale that piles on heaped helpings of monster-bashing, and which, despite a host of guest-stars, felt on release more like a test launch than a assured hit and has since become as vanishingly vaporous as its arcane antagonists…

Superman & Batman vs. Vampires & Werewolves is an intriguing, if flawed, oddment (with one of the clunkiest titles ever imagined) that should have appealed to the casual reader, especially if they’re not too adamantly wedded to the comic book roots and continuity of the DC Universe.

Prowling the streets of Gotham City, Batman comes across a partially devoured corpse and is promptly boots-deep in an invasion of mindless berserker vampires and werewolves who turn the city into a charnel house. Helpless to combat or contain the undead rampage, the Caped Crimebuster accepts the aid of enigmatic (but rational) vampire Marius Dimeter and his lycanthropic counterpart Janko who grudgingly ally themselves with the hero to track down Herbert Combs – a truly deranged scientist resolved to traffic with the Realms Beyond.

To facilitate his goals, Combs turned Janko and Dimeter into the accursed creatures they are and unleashed his plague of horrors on America to further his research. The bonkers boffin is infecting more helpless humans and has become an actual portal for Lovecraftian beasts to invade our reality…

Superman joins the fray just as one of these Elder God nightmares is unleashed, but even after its defeat he’s no real help: hampered more by his ethical nature than utter vulnerability to magic. Far greater aid is provided by super-naturalist Jason Blood and his Demonic alter-ego, whilst Kirk Langstrom – who can transform into the monstrous Man-Bat at will – provides both scientific and brutally efficient clean-up assistance.

Fellow harder-edged heroes such as Wonder Woman, Nightwing and Green Arrow turn up and join the battle to great effect, but after their admittedly impressive cameos and participatory contributions inexplicably wander off before the overarching threat is ended…

Nuh-uuh! Once a team-up begins, comics guys (who aren’t paid big bucks like big-name guest actors) don’t leave until the day is saved!!

So it’s up to the headliners – with Dimeter and Janko – to finally restore order and normality, even though the cost is high both in blood and convictions…

At the last, the superheroes are – relatively – victorious, but the ending is rather ambiguous and leaves the impression that the whole affair has been a pilot for a Dimeter spin-off…

This was clearly a break-out publishing project, aimed at drawing in new readerships like those occasional movie tie-ins that drive professional fans crazy, and on that level the daft and inconsistent plot can be permitted, if not fully forgiven.

VanHook (Flash Gordon, Bloodshot, G.I. Joe, Red Tornado) makes more films than comics these days and the tale is certainly most effective on the kind of action and emotional set-pieces one sees in blockbuster flicks: so even if there are far too many plot holes big enough to drive a hearse through, the sensorial ride should carry most readers through. Most importantly, the moody art of Tom Mandrake (Grimjack, The Spectre, Batman, Firestorm, Martian Manhunter) is – as ever – astoundingly powerful: dark, brooding and fully charged for triumph and tragedy…

So if not perhaps for every reader, there’s a great deal of sinful pleasure to be found here. And let’s face it: who doesn’t like monster stories or finding out “who would win if”…
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman in the Fifties


By Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Harry G. Peter, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Arthur Peddy & Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-779507-624-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

In the early years of this century, DC launched a series of graphic archives intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades: delivering magnificent past comic book magic from the Forties to the Seventies via a tantalisingly nostalgic taste of other – arguably better, but certainly different – times. The collections carried the cream of the creative crop, divided into subsections, partitioned by cover galleries, and supplemented by short commentaries; a thoroughly enjoyable introductory reading experience. I prayed for more but was frustrated… until now…

Part of a trade paperback trilogy – the others being Superman and Batman (thus far, but hopefully Aquaman, Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter are in contention too, as they have become such big shot screen stars these days) – the experiment was recently re-run, with even more inviting samples from the company’s vintage, family-friendly canon.

Gathered here is a menu of deliciously dated delights starring Earth’s most recognisable Female Heroic Ideal, heralded by a time-&-tone-setting Introduction from historian, author and columnist Andy Mangels augmenting each context-stuffed chapter text piece.

With Robert Kanigher as primary writer of record throughout the book, the contents here originated in Sensation Comics #97, 100; Wonder Woman #45, 50, 60, 66, 72, 76, 80, 90, 94-95, 98-105, 107, 108, 750; and All-Star Comics #56, 57 spanning the entire decade whilst attempting to reconcile an indomitable symbol of female emancipation and independence with a post-war world determined to turn them back into docile brood mares and passive uber-consumers…

Wonder Woman was created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth and their life partner Olive Byrne. The vast majority of the outlandish early adventures were limned by illustrator Harry G. Peter.

The Astounding Amazon debuted in All Star Comics #8 (cover-dated December 1941, and top-selling home of the Justice Society of America) just before launching in her own solo series and cover-spot of new anthology Sensation Comics the following month. She was an instant hit, and gained her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston & Co scripted all her many and fabulous exploits until his death in 1947, whereupon Kanigher officially took over the writer and editor’s role. The venerable Peter continued until his own death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97 – in April of that year – was his last hurrah and the end of an era.

Supported by a factual briefing, the comics classics commence with The (Many) Origins of Wonder Woman, and the first adjustments to the classic origin tale…

For purposes of comparison, the 1940s saga stated that on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearing her growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten, madly violent world, her mother Queen Hippolyte shared the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men, but rescued by goddess Aphrodite on condition they isolated themselves from the world, devoting their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when Athena and Aphrodite subsequently instructed Hippolyte to despatch an Amazon with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty and against oppression and barbarism, Diana overcame all other candidates in a brutal open competition to became their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve and the heartsick medic to wed her own fiancé in South America. Diana also joined Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for mousy yet superbly competent Lieutenant Prince…

As the decade turned it was deemed time for a refurbished origin and – illustrated by Harry G. Peter – WW #45 (cover-dated January/February 1951) delivered ‘The Wonder Woman Story!’

This found childhood rivals vying for the journalistic kudos of publishing the Amazon’s backstory. However, after a hard-won trip to Paradise Island led to Mary Ellen learning the details of it all – Hercules’s ancient ‘Act of Treachery!’ and how the Princess defied authority for love – all manner of trouble emerged…

Cunning competitor John Lane had bugged Mary’s jewellery and craftily followed her to the Amazon homeland, causing a major upset…

Back then Wonder Woman’s artists were astonishingly faithful and true, staying with her for pretty long hauls. Peter and his uncredited team of female assistants served nearly 20 years before he was let go mere weeks before dying. His replacements Ross Andru & Mike Esposito drew her adventures from 1958 to the middle of 1967 (#98 – 171), and limned this breakthrough tale from WW #105 (April 1959)

The issue debuted Wonder Girl in the ‘‘The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman’, revealing how centuries ago Olympian divinities bestowed unique powers on the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and how – as a mere teenager – the indomitable Diana brought the Amazons to Paradise Island. Continuity – let alone consistency or rationality – were never as important to Kanigher as strong story or breathtaking visuals, and this eclectic odyssey is a great yarn that simply annoyed the heck out of a lot of fans – but not as much as the junior Amazon would in years to come after these teen tales spawned an actual junior Amazon as sidekick to Diana…

That ball started rolling in #107 (July 1959) and proved that the high fantasy exploits of the minor had clearly caught somebody’s editorial fancy. Follow-ups came thick and fast after ‘Wonder Woman Amazon Teen-Ager!’ saw the youngster ensnare an unwanted romantic interest in merboy Ronno, whilst dutifully undergoing a quest to win herself a superhero costume…

Fronted by an article on her legendary kit and illustrated throughout by H.G. Peter, Fashion as Armor: The Equipment List shares some of Kanigher’s frequent and often contradictory exposés on the source and powers of Wonder Woman’s combat gear. It begins with ‘The Secret Story of Wonder Woman’s Lasso!’ (WW #50, November/December 1951), depicting how the princess undertakes three divine tasks to ensure the rope gains magical traits of unbreakability, infinite elasticity and truthful compulsion. Along the way she uses it against crooks, spies, other Amazons, submarines, dinosaurs and a Roc…

That mythological bird, another dinosaur and aliens play a major role in ‘The Talking Tiara!’ (#66, May 1954) as Steve learns how Diana belatedly won possession of her headpiece, a “Linguagraph Tiara” capable of translating any language past present or future, whilst ‘The Secret of Wonder Woman’s Sandals’ (#72, February 1955) reveals some odd characteristics of the footwear as she performs incredible feats (sorry!) to confirm her worthiness…

Cover-dated February 1956 ‘The Origin of the Amazon Plane!’ featured in Wonder Woman #80, recalling a trio of tasks undertaken to collect separated sections of her faithful, invisible robot conveyance before #95 (January 1958) offered ‘The Secret of Wonder Woman’s Tiara!’: this time in the form of a tale told to toddlers, revealing how the hat was a gift from aliens given in thanks for saving them from marauding Phenegs…

Moving on to highlight the Amazon’s noteworthy collaborations, One of the Team offers a trio of tales. The section is a somewhat “Marmite” moment that fans will either love or hate…

The majority of the chapter is devoted to a brace of tales starring the Justice Society of America and, whilst I’m never going to complain about seeing such classics where new readers can discover them, it’s a lot of pages to hand over to a group who had Wonder Woman serving coffee and taking notes as “Club Secretary” for years. At least here, in the last of the original run, she’s graduated to being an leading participant in their adventures…

After the actual invention of the superhero via the 1938 Action Comics debut of Superman, the most significant event in our industry’s history was the combination of individual stars into a like-minded group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers can’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men, and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. Following the runaway success of Superman and Batman, both National Comics and its separate-but-equal publishing partner All-American Comics went looking for the next big thing whilst frantically concentrating on getting anthology packages into the hands of a hungry readership. Thus All Star Comics: conceived as a joint venture affording characters already in their respective stables an extra push towards winning elusive but lucrative solo titles.

Technically, All Star Comics #3 (cover-dated Winter 1940-1941 and released in December 1940) was the kick-off, but the mystery men merely had dinner and recounted recent cases and didn’t actually go on a mission together until #4, which had an April 1941 cover-date.

The merits of the marketing project would never be proved: rather than a runaway favourite graduating to their own starring vehicle as a result of the poll, something radically different evolved. For the third issue, prolific scribe Gardner Fox apparently had the bright idea of linking all the solo stories through a framing sequence with the heroes gathering to chat about their latest exploits. With that simple notion that mighty mystery men hung out together, history was made and it wasn’t long before they started working together…

However, after WWII ended, superheroes gradually declined, and most companies had shelved them by 1950. Their plummet in popularity led to a revival in genre-themed titles and characters, and it was a stripped-down team (Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Black Canary, Dr. Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman) in contemporarily tailored crime and science fiction sagas before the title abruptly changed into All Star Western with #58.

Both JSA stories were written by John Broome and illustrated via alternating chapters by Frank Giacoia and Arthur Peddy & Bernard Sachs. Leading off is All-Star Comics #56 (December 1950/January 1951) and ‘The Day the World Ended!’ wherein a future scientist goes to extraordinary lengths to recruit the 20th century stalwarts to save Tomorrow’s World from shapeshifting invaders. Issue #57 was the JSA’s last hurrah with ‘The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives!’ pitting them against criminal mastermind The Key after he abducts Earth’s greatest criminologists in advance of a spectacular robbery spree. Both are great yarns that deserve their own archival volume, but the Amazon’s contributions are barely visible in both…

Of more interest is the Kanigher & Peter tale from Wonder Woman #72 (November 1957). ‘The Channel of Time’ begins as an unashamed plug for The Adventures of Superman TV show, with the Amazon eagerly enjoying the latest episode when interference turns the screen into an SOS through time, displaying old ally Robin Hood in existential peril…

An initial iteration of the legendary archer had debuted in New Adventure Comics #23 (January 1938), and National/DC also acquired Quality Comics’ Robin Hood Tales title. That version had begun in February 1956, with DC continuing the run from #7 (cover-dated February 1957) as well as featuring the hero in Kanigher’s The Brave and the Bold from #5 (May 1956). That was (coincidentally?) the same month The Amazing Amazon first met the Sentinel of Sherwood Forest, who here requires assistance against a dragon, wicked foemen and a shark-infested moat safeguarding evil Prince John…

Seeing Double then highlights the hero’s tendency to encounter copies of herself – everything from evil doppelgangers from parallel universes to weirdly exact robot facsimiles…

When Showcase #4 rekindled the readership’s imagination and zest for masked mystery-men with a second, brand-new iteration of The Flash in 1956, the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more. As well as re-inventing Golden Age stars like Green Lantern and Hawkman, the company consequently updated many hoary survivors like Green Arrow and Aquaman. Also included in the revitalising agenda were the High Trinity: Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and the ever-resilient Princess of Power…

Andru & Esposito had debuted as cover artists 3 issues earlier, but with Wonder Woman #98 they took over the entire comic book as Kanigher reinvented much of the old mythology and tinkered with her origins in The Million Dollar Penny!’ After Athena visits an island of super-scientific immortal women, informing Queen Hippolyta that she must send an emissary and champion of justice to crime-ridden “Man’s World”, the sovereign declares an open competition for the job.

She isn’t surprised when her daughter wins and is given the task of turning a penny into a million dollars in one day – all profits going to children’s charities, of course…

Just as the new Wonder Woman begins her coin chore, American airman Steve Trevor bails out of his malfunctioning jet high above the magically hidden isle, unaware that should any male set foot on Amazon soil the immortals would lose all their powers. Promptly thwarting impending disaster, Diana and Steve then team up to accomplish her task, encountering along the way The Undersea Menace’ before building The Impossible Bridge!’

Following that epic comes the lead from landmark issue #100 (August 1958): a spectacular battle saga commencing with The Challenge of Dimension X!’ as an alternate Earth Wonder Woman competes with the Amazing Amazon for sole rights to the title: all culminating with a deciding bout in The Forest of Giants!’

No celebration of the fifties could be complete without an exploration of the outdated concept of gainful female employment. With art by Peter, Working 9 to 5: The Careers of Wonder Woman offers a quick peek of typical opportunities beginning with Sensation Comics #97 (May 1950). ‘Wonder Woman, Romance Editor’ sees the Amazon agree to a task no male journalist can handle, solving the woes of lovelorn women seeking husbands, whilst her own duties prevent her giving in to Steve’s increasingly urgent demands to settle down… Cover-dated November 1950, Sensation Comics #100 showcases ‘Wonder Woman, Hollywood Star!’ as the Amazon and Steve endure peerless perils making a movie one crazed glamour queen is determined only she should star in, after which two millionaires make a bet that propels the Amazon into a string of crazy roles culminating in her shepherding an infant T-Rex as ‘Wonder Woman, Amazon Baby Sitter!’ (WW #90, May 1957)…

As you’ve probably ascertained, much of Kanigher’s oeuvre depended on the Princess of Paradise undergoing tasks and tests for a variety of reasons and this voyage of rediscovery concludes with some of the most noteworthy, gathered as The Trials of Wonder Woman

Leading off is Peter-rendered classic ‘The Secret Olympics!’ (WW #60, July 1953) as Diana justifies her legendary brief as “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Mercury (sic) and stronger than Hercules”…

 Issue #76 (August 1955) introduces ‘The Bird Who Revealed Wonder Woman’s Identity!’ before Diana devises a way to undermine a gabby Mynah’s proclamations before Andru & Esposito assume the art duties for the remainder of the book, beginning with Top Secret!’ from Wonder Woman #99 (July 1958).

Introducing the Hellenic Hero’s new covert identity as Air Force Intelligence officer Lt. Diana Prince the tale opens a decade of tales with Steve perpetually attempting to uncover her identity and make the most powerful woman on Earth his blushing bride, whilst his bespectacled, glorified secretary stands unnoticed, exasperated and ignored right beside – or slightly behind – him…

Here that means attempting to trick her into marriage with a rigged bet – a tactic the creep tried a lot back then – after which ‘Wonder Woman’s 100th Anniversary!’ (WW #100 again) deals with the impossibility of capturing the far-too-fast and furious Amazon’s exploits on film for Paradise Island’s archives…

In #101 (October 1958), ‘Undersea Trap!’ sees Steve tricking his “Angel” into agreeing to marry him if she has to rescue him three times in 24 hours (just chalk it up to simpler times, or you’ll pop a blood vessel, OK?) after which January 1959 and WW #103 spotlight ‘The Wonder Woman Album!’ returning to the previously explored “impossible-to-photograph” theme, before we close on Wanted… Wonder Woman’ (#108, August 1959), as Flying Saucer aliens frame her for heinous crimes as a precursor to a planetary invasion but are not smart enough to realise when they are being played…

Also including a selection of breathtaking covers by Irwin Hasen & Sachs, Irv Novick, Peddy and Andru & Esposito plus a Bonus Cover Gallery by the latter pair, this is a fascinating but potentially charged tome. By modern standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are all-out crazy, but as examples of the days when less attention was paid to continuity and concepts of shared universes and adventure in the moment were paramount, these outrageous romps simply sparkle with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle -a s long as you keep in mind the outrageous undercurrent of blatant sexism underpinning it all. This was a period when – officially – only men could tell the tales of the Amazing Amazon…

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focal point of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of these costumed fairy tales remain a delight for all open-minded readers with the true value of these exploits being the incredible quality of entertainment they provide.
© 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2020, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945


By William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter, with Gardner F. Fox, Jack Burnley, Frank Godwin, Joe Gallagher & various: curated & edited by Roy Thomas (Chartwell Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7858-3284-3 (HB)

Without doubt Wonder Woman is the very acme of female role models. Since her premier she has permeated every aspect of global consciousness, becoming not only a paradigm of comics’ very fabric but also an affirming symbol to women everywhere. In whatever era you observe, the Amazing Amazon epitomises the perfect balance between Brains and Brawn and, over decades, has become one of a rarefied pantheon of literary creations to achieve meta-reality.

In 2019, fans celebrated the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27. A year after that dynamic debut his astounding popularity resulted in the launch of Batman #1 (cover-dated “Spring” and released April 25th 1940). Back then, only precursor/stablemate Superman was more successful, but it wasn’t long before one half of the company that became todays DC Comics delivered another timeless game-changing icon…

Wonder Woman was born on the cusp of a year and a new age, and fans have argued about her debut date ever since. Her first appearance was in late 1941, buried and shoe-horned in without fanfare into top-selling All-Star Comics (#8): home of the mighty Justice Society of America. However, as revealed here by Roy Thomas, she was intended to launch later, in Sensation Comics #1, but events overtook her and her creators…

Once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, crime and domestic deviltry increasingly gave way to combat and espionage themes. Patriotic imagery dominated most comic book covers – if not interiors – and the USA’s mass-publishing outfits geared up for joining the seemingly inevitable conflict.

I feel – like many of my era and inclinations – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when wholeheartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvels. I have similar thoughts about the early 1970s “relevancy period”, when my heroes turned to tackling slum landlords, super-rich scum, social injustice, crushing poverty and environmental issues: at least we won that one and don’t have to face real atrocities like that anymore, right?

Somehow, the genre’s most evocatively visceral moments seemingly come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – I hope you’ll please forgive the appropriated and now truly offensive contemporary colloquialisms – “Japs and Krauts”. Wonder Woman was actually designed to do so an,d again, Thomas’ editorial comments provide historical revelations throughout…

A companion to volumes featuring Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945 is superb hardcover archive curated by Thomas, exclusively honing in on the Amazing Amazon’s’ euphoric output from those war years, even though in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset and counterbalance their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats as well as gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Marshalled here is material from All-Star Comics #8,11, 15, 20, 24, 27; Sensation Comics #1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 20, 21, 24, ; Wonder Woman #1-3, 5, 7, 11, 12; Comic Cavalcade #1-2 and excerpts from the short-lived Wonder Woman newspaper strip, cumulatively covering Winter 1941 to Winter 1945. The comics stories, snippets, ads, features and patriotic covers are augmented throughout by essays or brief critical analyses. Champion and grandmaster of WWII-era material, Thomas opens with a scene-setting Introduction and prefaces each chapter with essays establishing tone and context before the four-colour glories commence with Part 1: The War Comes to Paradise Island

For decades, the official story was that the Princess of Paradise Island was conceived by psychologist/polygraph pioneer/showman William Moulton Marston: a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and – for forward-thinking Editor M.C. Gaines – a sound move to sell more funnybooks to girls. From a teaser shot in All Star Comics the Amazon immediately catapulted one month later into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology Sensation Comics.

An instant hit, Wonder Woman won her own title six scant months later (cover-dated Summer 1942). That start (or was it a savvy contract? …see inside for more details!) enabled the Star-Spangled Sensation to weather the vicissitudes of the turbulent comics marketplace. Ultimately – beside Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles – she survived far beyond the Golden Age of costumed heroes…

We now know Wonder Woman was a team – if not truly communal – effort, with Moulton Marston acting in conjunction with his remarkable wife Elizabeth and their life partner Olive Byrne. Moreover, barring a couple of early fill-ins by Frank Godwin, the vast majority of outlandish, eccentric, thematically barbed adventures they collectively penned were limned by classical illustrator Harry G. Peter; a man personally hired ay the writers, not the editors.

This stunning compilation is part of a series introducing and exploring the historical and cultural pedigree of venerable DC icons. Sadly, it’s only available in hardback, but it offers a sequence of sublime snapshots detailing how Diana of the Amazons evolved and thrived in a war setting that challenged traditional roles of women: back when the entire gender was generally regarded as second class, second rate, painfully functional or strictly ornamental.

‘Introducing Wonder Woman’ was a hidden extra in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941/ January 1942): It led directly to ‘Wonder Woman Comes to America’: her formal debut in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942).

In combination they reveal how, once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, US Army Intelligence aviator Steve Trevor crashes to Earth. Near death, he is nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte reveals the Amazons’ hidden history: how they were seduced and betrayed by brutal men and saved by goddess Aphrodite, on condition that they forever isolate themselves from the mortal world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal rational beings.

However, once Trevor explains the perfidious spy plot which accidentally brought him to the Island enclave and how the world is in crisis, Athena and Aphrodite instruct the Queen to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. Hippolyte declares an open contest to find the best candidate and – despite being forbidden to compete – closeted, cosseted masked Diana clandestinely overcomes all to become their emissary.

Accepting the will of fate, her worried mother outfits Diana in the guise of Wonder Woman; sending her to Man’s World carrying an arsenal of super-scientific and magical weapons…

Here, that origin is also retold in extracted ‘Wonder Woman Daily Comic Strips’ from June 12-17, 1944. The strip was a relative late entry, running from May 8th 1944 to December 1st 1945. It never found a solid audience or secured a Sunday Colour section…

Fronted by a stunning H.G. Peter, cover and leading from the front in her own series, Diana truly debuted in anthological Sensation Comics #1. The origin resumes in ‘Wonder Woman Comes to America’’ as the eager, culture-shocked immigrant returns recuperating Trevor to Man’s World, before incidentally trouncing a gang of bank robbers and briefly falling in with a show business swindler.

An intriguing innovation was the newcomer buying her secret identity from lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince: elegantly enabling the Amazon to remain close to Steve whilst the heartsick trained medic joined her fiancé in South America. Even with all that going on, there was still room for Wonder Woman and Captain Trevor to stop a spy ring using poison gas on a Draft Induction centre. Typically, Steve breaks his leg and ends up in hospital again, where “Nurse Prince” looks after him…

Sensation #2 (February 1942) introduced deadly, toxic enemy agent ‘Dr. Poison’ in a cannily crafted tale with plenty of twists and surprises, which also debuted the most radical comedy sidekicks of the era…

The plucky, fun-loving gals of the Holliday College for Women and their rotund, chocolate-gorging Beeta Lamda sorority-chief Etta Candy would get into trouble and save the day in equal measure for years to come: constantly demonstrating Diana’s – and Marston’s – philosophical contention that girls, with the correct encouragement, could accomplish anything that men could…

With the War raging espionage and sabotage were inescapable plot devices. Diana arranged a transfer to the office of General Darnell as his secretary, so that she could keep a closer eye on the finally fit Steve. Her new position with Army Intelligence created a big problem, but she little suspected that, although painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling superwoman, the General had fallen for mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

Unlike most comics of the period, Wonder Woman followed a tight continuity. School for Spies’ in Sensation #4 sees American girls, who had become enemy agents, murdered by way of introducing inventive genius and Nazi master manipulator Baroness Paula von Gunther. She employs psychological tricks to enslave girls to her will and set otherwise decent Americans against their homeland. Even Diana initially succumbs to her deadly machinations until Steve and the Holliday Girls crash in…

‘Wonder Woman versus the Saboteurs’ (Sensation Comics #5 May) closes the first section as America’s newest submarine is saved from destruction and a cunning gang of terrorists is brought to justice, after which an essay detailing how and why Wonder Woman joined the JSA and her role in their wartime exploits opens Part 2: The War Comes to America.

That’s followed by selected pages from All-Star Comics #11 (June/July 1942) as ‘The Justice Society Joins the War on Japan’. All-Star featured individual chapters for each team member, and here a page from the Hawkman section by Gardner Fox & Jack Burnley sees the Winged Wonder and future Hawkwoman Shiera Sanders meet Diana Prince on a medical troopship headed for the besieged Philippines. It’s followed by the full Fox & Peter crafted chapter starring the Amazon as she routs Japanese troops trying to establish a beachhead, and concludes with 2 more Burnley pages  as she is officially inducted int the team as they rename themselves the Justice Battalion of America for the duration…

The next major landmark was the launch of the Amazon’s solo title. “Moulton” & Peter handled the launch of quarterly Wonder Woman #1 (Summer 1942), represented here by short espionage mystery yarn ‘Wonder Woman Goes to the Circus’ wherein Diana solves bizarre serial murders of the show’s elephants…

The covers to Sensation Comics #9 & 10 (September & October) segues into the lead story from the latter. ‘The Railroad Plot’ celebrates Steve and Wonder Woman’s first anniversary – which they celebrate by exposing a sinister plan devised by Japanese and German agents to blow up New York using the labyrinth of subway tunnels under the city…

Peter’s iconic cover for Sensation Comics #12 (December 1942) precedes Part 3: Against the Axis: and an essay detailing with the worst moments of the real war and the morale boosting efforts of America’s home front entertainers.

Then Wonder Woman #2 (Fall 1942) follows in full: Peter’s cover backed up by photo feature ‘The Men Behind Wonder Woman’ and an illustrated prose feature about ‘The God of War’ before 4-part epic ‘The Spirit of War’ introduces the Astounding Amazon’s greatest nemesis: ‘Mars, God of War’. The deadly divinity had instigated the World War from his HQ on the distant red planet, but chafes at the lack of progress since Wonder Woman entered the fray on the side of the peace-loving allies.

He opts for direct action rather than trust his earthly pawns Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito

When Steve goes missing, Diana orchestrates her own capture and is ferried to Mars. Here she disrupts the efficient working of the war-god’s regime: fomenting unrest amongst the slave population, before rescuing Steve and heading home to Earth. ‘The Earl of Greed’, one of Mars’ trio of trusted subordinates, takes centre stage in the second chapter with orders to recapture Steve and Diana at all costs.

As the bold duo infiltrate Berlin, Greed uses his influence on Hitler to surreptitiously redirect the German war effort, using Gestapo forces to steal all the USA’s gold reserves…

When Steve is gravely injured, the Amazon returns to America and – as he recuperates – foils the Ethereal Earl’s machinations to prevent much-needed operating funds reaching Holliday College where young girls learn to be independent free-thinkers…

With Greed thwarted, Mars next dispatches ‘The Duke of Deception’ to Earth, where the spindly phantom impersonates Wonder Woman and frames her for murder. Easily escaping prison, the Princess of Power not only clears her name but also finds time to foil a Deception-inspired invasion of Hawaii, leaving only ‘The Count of Conquest’ free to enact Mars’ orders.

This scheme is simple: through his personal puppet Mussolini, the Count tries to physically overpower the Hellenic Heroine with a brutal giant boxing champion, even as Italian Lothario Count Crafti attempts to woo and seduce her. The latter’s wiles actually work, but capturing and keeping the Amazon are two entirely different affairs. Breaking free on the Red Planet, Diana delivers a devastating blow to the war-machine of Mars…

This issue ends with a sparkling double page patriotic plea as ‘Wonder Woman Campaigns for War Bonds and Stamps’

Fans could not get enough Wonder Woman and she next became a big draw in new project: a huge and spectacular 96-page card-cover anthology package based on DC’s World’s Finest Comics and highlighting AA’s other big guns Flash and Green Lantern, plus a string of lesser luminaries. At this time National/DC enjoyed an editorially-independent business relationship with Max Gaines that involved shared and cross promotion and distribution for comic books released by his own All-American Publications outfit. Although technically competitors if not rivals, the deal included shared logos and advertising and even combining both companies’ top characters in All Star Comics as the Justice Society of America.

However, by 1942 relations between the companies were increasingly strained; and would culminate in 1946 with DC buying out Gaines, who used the money to start EC Comics.

Thus, A-A created its own analogue to World’s Finest, featuring only AA characters. The outsized, outstanding result was Comics Cavalcade

Cover-dated December 1942/January 1943 Wonder Woman’s fourth regular residency began with the company superstar solving the ‘Mystery of the House of the Seven Gables’ – as ever, the fruits of Marston & Peter’s fevered imaginations – wherein Diana Prince stumbles upon a band of Nazi spies. As was so often the case, the Amazing Amazon needs the help of some plucky patriotic youngsters to quash the submarine-sabotaging barbarians…

The January 1943 cover for Sensation Comics #13 and a roll call of members from All-Star Comics #15 February/March 1943 leads to Part 4: Don’t You Know There’s a War On? via a text treatise on comic book covers and Home Front occupations.

Comics sagas resume with America’s Guardian Angel’ from Sensation #12 which finds the Warrior Princess accepting an offer to play herself in a patriotic Hollywood movie, only to learn the production had been infiltrated by the insidious Paula von Gunther and her gang of slave-girls…

‘Wanted by Hitler Dead or Alive’ comes from Comic Cavalcade #2 (Spring 1943), pitting Wonder Woman against devious gestapo agent Fausta Grables and her own purloined magic lasso. It’s one of very few stories not limned by H.G. Peter but the work of illustrator and strip cartoonist Frank Godwin, stepping in as the crushing workload of an extra 64-page comicbook every couple of months piled the pressure on WW’s artistic director.

It’s followed by the cover and story from Sensation #15 (March) with HGP on top form as ‘Victory at Sea’ pits Diana Prince and Steve against murderous saboteurs set on halting military production…

The patriotic H.G. Peter cover for Sensation Comics #16 is followed by a key excerpt from Wonder Woman #5 (June/July 1943). As previously mentioned, the Amazing Amazon was a huge and ever-growing hit, and her solo title frequently innovated with full-length stories, and rather radical themes. This extract – the opening chapter of interlinked epic the ‘Battle for Womanhood’ – had repercussions for the cast for decades to come.

War-god Mars returned to plague humanity directly, this time enlisting the aid of a brilliant but physically deformed and intellectually demented woman-hating psychologist with psychic powers. The very model of a true sexual predator, tormented Dr. Psycho uses his gifts to marry and dominate a medium named Marva, employing her unique abilities to form ectoplasmic bodies to attempt the enslavement of every woman on Earth. Allegorical or what, huh?

Dated August & September 1943, the covers of Sensation Comics #20 & 21 lead into the latter’s gripping tale – once again drawn by Godwin. As the war turned in favour of the Allies overseas, Steve and Wonder Woman  tracked down an insidious traitor dubbed the American Adolph as he conducted a murderous ‘War Against Society’

The final section explores an end of hostilities and new challenges and enemies explained by Thomas in Part 5: Victory in Sight with Sensation Comics #24 (December 1943) leading the charge to triumph with Marston & Peters’ ‘Adventure of the Pilotless Plane’. Steve is abducted by Japanese agents whilst investigating a new gas weapon preventing US aircraft from flying. The vile villains have nothing that can stop Wonder Woman from smashing them and freeing him, however…

Wonder Woman #7 offered an optimistic view of the future in a fantastic fantasy tale of America in the year 3000AD: a utopian paradise ruled by a very familiar female President. It’s represented here by its vibrant cover  and supplemented by a Joe Gallagher drawn public service ad from All-Star Comics #20 Spring 1944 to combat polio: ‘Justice Society of America – the March of Dimes’, before the cover for Wonder Woman #11 (Winter 1944) brings us to stories’ end and ‘The Invasion of Paradise Island’ (Sensation Comics #37 January 1945) wherein maltreated county orphans stow away to the Amazon’s home, just in time to help repel a U-boat full of Nazis unwilling to accept their war is over…

A triptych of visual treats wraps up the history lesson: firstly the cover of Wonder Woman #12 followed by PSA page ‘Wonder Woman Explains Waste Paper Salvage’ from All-Star Comics #24 (both from Spring 1945), and finally the cover of All-Star Comics #27 (Winter 1945) honouring disabled war veterans.

Because I’m me, I can’t stop without a minor quibble, so please be warned, the Contents Pages here have mis-listed a couple of things. What’s there is just as good, and individual page credits DO attribute everything that’s here accurately – just don’t expect to see a Junior Justice Society of America Ad’ or ‘The Secret of Baroness Von Gunther’ from Wonder Woman #3. You can, however, find them in other collections, so you now have a reason to look at more books…

The story of the American comic book industry – in almost every major aspect – stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s Trinity icons: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. These wartime tales cemented their popularity, bringing inspiration and hope to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – although many aren’t so sure anymore! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your Kanga to Buy This Book…
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tails of the Super-Pets


By Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Moulton Marston, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Pete Costanza, John Forte, Ramona Fradon, Sheldon Moldoff, George Papp, Harry G. Peter, Sy Barry, Stan Kaye, George Klein, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779513397 (TPB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, comics embraced whimsy as much as angst, spectacle, sex and violence – so much so, that superheroes had pets for partners. Now there’s a movie about super-pets. You don’t have to like the notion, but plenty of us do.

Once upon another time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the legend of the greatest champion of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day, those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

That’s how the tomorrow teen superstars started, courtesy of writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958. The monumental assemblage’s popularity waxed and waned over decades and they were regularly reimagined and rebooted, but that core dream of empowered children was evergreen and proliferated. As their fame grew, the squad diversified, adding a Legion Espionage Squad, an evil Legion of Super-Villains, a Legion of Substitute Heroes ad infinitum…

DC had long exploited the attractions of bestial stars of fang and claw. Many Golden Age heroes had animal assistants and allies (like Dr. Mid-Nite‘s owl Hooty, Airwave‘s parrot Static and canine champions Elmo (Doll Man), and Thor (the Dan Richards Manhunter) among too many to mention. Streak the Wonder Dog actually ousted the original Green Lantern from his own comic book.

In the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog had his own long-running, astonishingly daft but beautifully illustrated title, with the majority of issues also featuring beloved hairy gumshoe Detective Chimp. Moreover, every newly-popular western star (and a few war heroes) who took the place of the declining superhero population had weaponised dogs, birds and especially horses to aid and augment their crusades for justice.

However, not all mystery men and women faded away. Wonder Woman and Batman and Robin weathered the hostile environment, and the Superman franchise grew exponentially -thanks to a hit movie, landmark TV series and continued radio and newspaper presence.

…And one day someone at National/DC said, “you what else kids like? Animals…”

That led to a slow trickle of empowered animals popping up across the Kryptonian end of DC’s landscape, and a few other incidental animal antics in the lives of many superheroes who survived on the coattails of the “Trinity” – particularly Aquaman (who’s cruelly underrepresented here, since his whole schtick was underwater “stupid pet tricks”…)

If you are a purist, there’s a lot you won’t like here – not the stories: those are still immaculately conceived and delivered, but the running order (not chronological, leading to some jarring moments, especially for Supergirl who seemingly goes from orphan to adopted back to the institution), and possibly the fact that – technically – many of the critters romping here were not in the actual Legion of Super-Pets (or in fact the forthcoming movie, which remakes the brilliant beasts into a “League”). I guess that just means we can look forward to a 75-year Celebration archival edition just for Krypto in 2025….

Here Endeth the Lesson: let’s talk about fun now.

What we do have on offer today is a joyously bright and bold compendium of charming adventure and repercussion-free thrills comprising mad moments from Action Comics #261, 266, 277, 292, 293, Adventure Comics #210, 256, 293, 322, 364, Batman #125, Superboy #76, Superman #176 and Wonder Woman #23, spanning 1947-1968 and adorned where applicable with covers by Curt, Swan with Stan Kaye & George Klein and H.G. Peter.

I’ve rambled on and indulged myself because there’s no introduction or context-delivering text so you can start well-briefed with the truly delightful Supergirl short from Action Comics #277 (June 1961) Crafted by Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney, ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’ finds her cat Streaky typically envious of attention the teenager pays to sneaky ingratiating mutt Krypto. When Superman suggests they compete for her attentions to prove who’s best (no, really!), they choose the most unlucky locale for their arena…

That’s followed by Siegel & Mooney’s debut tail (sorry, not sorry) from Action Comics #261 (February 1960) which introduces the homeless earth stray, revealing how Streaky becomes, at irregular intervals ‘Supergirl’s Super-Pet!’…

The next tale is where we should have started as Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955) introduces ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’

After the Man of Tomorrow had made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a very different tone could offer a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

The answer came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – after years of agitating the publisher – unleashed the concept of Superboy: fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El‘s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead slot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, Superboy enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Swan & Sy Barry introduced a waywardly mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident. Krypto had been Kal-El’s pet on Krypton and used by Jor-El in desperation as a test animal for the space rocket he was building.

The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth after years heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy feel less lonely and unique. Every boy needs a dog…

One of those latter additions debuted in Superboy #76, (December 1958) wherein by Binder & George Papp introduced ‘The Super Monkey from Krypton!’: one of Jor-El’s lab animals who had escaped and hidden in the baby’s spaceship. Hey, the world was ending: who had time to police lab specimens?

Dubbed “Beppo”, the super-monkey spent months in Earth’s jungles before accidentally finding Smallville and making life uncomfortable for toddler Clark Kent…

Set after she had been adopted and become a public hero rather than clandestine secret weapon, Action Comics #292 and 293 (September & October 1963) saw Supergirl acquire a mysterious new animal accomplice in the first two chapters of a trilogy by Leo Dorfman & Mooney. The extended storyline began when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ was a beautiful white horse who helped her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature had a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’ as his being a magically transformed centaur from ancient Greece. Sadly, the resolution of this this tryptic (‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’) is not included here…

Briefly digressing, what follows is a short saga of a non-powered animal marvel as Batman #125 (August 1959) details ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound!’ by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris. For no reason I could possibly speculate upon, Ace the Bat-Hound debuted in Batman #92 (June 1955), by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris: a distinctive German shepherd temporally adopted by Bruce Wayne when John Wilker (Ace’s owner) was abducted. A skilled tracker with distinctive facial markings, the pooch inserted himself into the case repeatedly, forcing the Dynamic Duo to mask him up whilst they sought his abducted master and foiled a criminal plot. Like Krypto, Ace reappeared intermittently until Wayne stopped borrowing him and just adopted the amazing mutt.

Here, the original creative team have Ace narrate how that adoption happened in ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound’ (Batman #125, August 1959), and include his crucial part in capturing the nefarious gold-obsessed Midas Gang…

William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter convey us to Princess Diana’s childhood as Wonder Woman #23 (June 1947) reveals – via home movies of her seventh birthday – how mighty space-hopping marsupials migrated to Paradise Island and changed Amazon battle tactics forever in ‘Wonder Woman and the Coming of the Kangas!’ after which Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959) details  ‘The Ordeal of Aquaman’ as he is trapped in a desert and saved from dehydrating doom by his faithful octopus Topo in a smartly inventive yarn from Robert Bernstein & Ramona Fradon.

The Supergirl tale in Action Comics #266 (July 1960, by Siegel, & Mooney) sees ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’ Streaky inadvertently contribute to the isolation of an orphan boy with a reputation for tall tales before Krypto and the Maid of Might make everything right whilst Adventure Comics #293 (February 1962) delivers a gripping landmark thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein.

‘The Legion of Super-Traitors’ posits human Legionnaires abruptly turning evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets comprising Krypto, Streaky, Beppo and Comet to save the world from mind-controlling alien brains in floating glass jars – and yes, I typed all that with a reasonably straight face…

After the human Legion won their own regular series, the animal brigade were ratified and rewarded with their own branch, and Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964, by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte & Moldoff) saw them expand their roster in ‘The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets!’: a sheer bonkers slice of fun-filled futurism wherein the animal companions were left to guard Earth as the biped players pursued the elusive Time Trapper.

When Chameleon Boy‘s shapeshifting (and fully sapient) pet Proty II applied to join the bestial bunch, they gave him a series of extremely difficult qualification tasks …which they breezed through…

A long-neglected tale follows as ‘The Revenge of the Super-Pets!’ (Superman #176, April 1965 by Dorfman, Swan & Klein) sees the a beast brood join the Human of Steel in a time travel jaunt that solves a legal mystery and explains how the growth of modern animal rights began!

Wrapping up with a more dramatic romp from Adventure Comics #364 (January 1968), ‘The Revolt of the Super-Pets!’ is by Jim Shooter & Pete Costanza: a gripping two-parter that depicts how the crafty rulers of planet Thanl attempted to seduce animal adventurers Krypto, Streaky, Beppo, Comet and amorphous telepathic blob Proty II from their rightful – subordinate – positions with sweet words and palatial new homes.

Of course, the aliens had a cunning scheme in play, but failed to realise these were not dumb animals…

Brilliantly reviving the beguiling innocence of the Silver Age for new, fun-seeking generations, this article of animalistic arcana is an unadulterated frolic to stir the elderly like me and enchant the newest DC disciples. Fetch!
© 1947, 1955, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1968, 2022 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super-Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ric Estrada, Alex Toth, Joe Orlando, Bob Smith, Vince Colletta with Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9542-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry has for the longest time sinned by not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days. Happily, DC has latterly been rectifying the situation with a number of new and – most importantly for old geeks like me – remastered, repackaged age-appropriate gems from their vast back catalogue.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right is this massive (and frankly, rather expensive) tome. And don’t stress the title: it may celebrate the joys of past childhood shows but this book is definitely a great big Sunday “settle back and luxuriate” treat…

The Super Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1 gathers the comic book tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and bombastic, convoluted, soap opera melodrama.

It’s something all creators should have tattooed on their foreheads: sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated, sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring primarily Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis. The animated series made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comic book.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This massive mega-extravaganza (part 1 of 2) collects Super Friends #1-26 (spanning November 1976 to November 1979), includes promo comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends and reprints material from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41 and C-46. It also opens with a lovely and moving introduction from illustrator Ramona Fradon (Aquaman; Metamorpho the Element Man; Brenda Starr, Reporter).

The fun begins a crafty two-part caper by the wondrous E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrators Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando. ‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ finds heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredibly  astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere, a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… if not outright intellectual theft.

Having auditioned a host of young criminals, The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps. At last Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper…

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs our heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champion team split up to tackle the crises, but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them. As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Thankfully, Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2, but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’…

Aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith, the incomparable Fradon became penciller with #3, as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ sees 50 intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who blends their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror and utterly overwhelm Earth’s heroic defenders. However, he falls victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ sees the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler. Soon a pattern emerges and a criminal connection is confirmed…

Author Bridwell (Secret Six; Inferior Five; Batman; Superman; The Flash; Legion of Super-Heroes; Captain Marvel/Shazam!) was justly famed as DC’s Keeper of Lore and Continuity Cop thanks to an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of its publishing minutiae and ability to instantly recall every damn thing! ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining the heroes as they host a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurks in the wings, awaiting his moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donors…

The Atom (Ray Palmer) plays a crucial role in stopping the depredations of an animal trainer using beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change is unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’…

You know TV is very different from comics. When a new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were abruptly gone, replaced without explanation by aliens Zan and Jayna and elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek. With room to extrapolate – and in consideration of fans – Bridwell explained the sudden change via a battle to save Earth from annihilation whilst introducing the newest student heroes’ in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl able to transform into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come carrying an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has resolved to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat. To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva perform similar service on a life-eradicator in England. Flash (Barry Allen) and mighty-leaping Impala dismantle uncatchable ordnance in South Africa. Hawkman and Hawkwoman join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wonder Twins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a device designed to decimate Japan, even as in Ireland Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their technological terror.

In New Zealand, time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster, whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord…

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least, they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly, their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully, the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids. He is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog, who categorically prove they’re ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols, just before a legion of alien horrors arrive on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’

‘Kingslayer’ then pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’ The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptures their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends are called in to prevent potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy is tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and leads to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist, who reveals the secret history of civilisation and begs help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’, before its random burrowing shatters mankind’s cities. Bridwell built a fascinating new team concept that would come to support decades of future continuity…

Super Friends #14 opens with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they are possessed by ancient sprits and tasked by Overlord with plundering the world. When the heroes scotch the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retain their powers and become a crime-fighting team – The Elementals…

The issue also contains a short back-up illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last reveals how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their homeworld – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful voyage to Earth…

Big surprises come in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals begin battling evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crook. All the heroes are blithely unaware that they are merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly and subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 is a grand, old-fashioned alien invasion yarn, foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wonder Twins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ has Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on planet Krypton in the days before it detonated, and future water world Neryla in the hours before it’s swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks largely to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-Rol – the Super Friends employ Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure chronal methodologies to hunt the Trapper in a riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (art by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860CE, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

SF #19 sees the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the animal exploiter appropriates Gleek: intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into a perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil (writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy) teams with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensue when the team tackles vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle uses Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern to make a “masterpiece” on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’…

Bridwell & Fradon return in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ has the heroes travelling to Exor to combat super-criminals who can duplicate their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Shaugnessy, Fradon & Smith) reveals how time bandit Chronos subjects the Super Friends to a chronal-delay treatment rendering them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wonder Twins out-think him…

The Mirror Master divides and banishes teachers from students in #23 but is ultimately unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the Flash. This episode also spends time fleshing out the Wonder Twins’ earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming…

With” O’Shaugnessy” scripting, ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ sees Zan and Jayna’s faces found engraved on a recently-unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but who are in truth criminals who fled Exorian justice thousands of years previously. How lucky, then, that the kids are perfect doubles that the villains can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid… once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Enjoying promotion through treachery, the habitually harassed “Underling” has seized power at last in Bridwell’s ‘Puppets of the Overlord’, and uses forbidden technology to mind-control the adult and junior heroes. Happily, international champions Green Fury (later Fire), Wonder Woman’s sister Nubia, Tasmanian Devil and Seraph can join Green Lantern and Queen Mera of Atlantis in delivering a liberating solution, after which this splendid selection of super thrills pauses with #26 as Bridwell, Fradon & Smith bring back some old friends and enemies for ‘The Wondertwins’ Battle of Wits!’ as a scheming former Bat-foe enacts an infallibly murderous plot…

Rounding out the frenetic fun is a features section that includes the Alex Toth cover from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41,and new material from sequel C-46: a comic strip collaboration with Bridwell on introductory tale ‘Super Friends’ which was a star-studded framing sequence for a big reprint issue of Justice League classics.

The wonders are further augmented by Toth’s comprehensive pictorial essay on creating ‘TV Cartoons’ (with contributions from Bob Foster), plus his ‘The JLA on TV’ model sheets, and designs of The Hall of Justice’ by Terry Austin. Toth was the lead designer on the characters’ transition to TV animation.

The extras go on with mini-comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends – a 1979 promotional giveaway included with every purchase of Super Friends Swim Goggles. An uncredited framing sequence (which looks like a Continuity Associates project that Dick Giordano & Frank McLoughlin had a hand in) segues into ‘The Greatest Show on Water’ – an Aquaman short originally published in Adventure Comics #219, December 1955.

That’s followed by ‘ “Super Fans Letters” Letters Pages’ from Super Friends #1-3, offering potted histories of DC heroes and villains, ‘The Super Friends Subscription’ house ad from #26 and Alex Ross’ painted cover from 2001 book Super Friends!

With covers by Fradon, Smith, Schaffenberger, Colletta, Ernie Chan and more, this initial compendium is superbly entertaining, masterfully crafted and utterly engaging. It offers stories of pure comics gold to delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2001, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains


By Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, William Woolfolk, Ed Herron, John Broome, Gardner F. Fox, Alfred Bester, Don Cameron, Joe Samachson, Mort Weisinger, Ken Fitch, David Vern Reed, Sheldon Moldoff, Jack Burnley, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Lee Elias, Mort Meskin, Joe Kubert, Howard Sherman, Pete Riss, Paul Reinman, Alex Kotzky, Bernard Baily, Jon Sikela, Harry G. Peter, Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0173-8 (HB)

We talk of Gold and Silver Ages in comics and latterly for the sake of expediency have added other mineral markers like a Bronze Age, but no ever talks about the period between 1964 and 1977 as a specific and crucial time in funnybook history. But it was…

During that period, economic pressure compelled DC and Marvel to increasingly plunder their own archives and fill expensive pages in their primary product to maintain hard-won spaces on newsstands and magazine spinners. Some readers moaned about reprints. Some didn’t notice and most didn’t care. But for all those little proto-geeks like me, it was being given the keys to the greatest kingdom of all.

Once you grasped that the differently drawn stuff with clunkier buildings and cars – and more men in hats – was from the past, and not something happening “now”, it simply added to the scope and scale of what you were reading: hinting of a grand unknown past you were now party to. Moreover, the sheer quality of most twice-printed tales was astounding.

I wasn’t around for Lou Fine or Basil Wolverton or Jack Burnley the first time, but reprints made me a devotee. You young whippersnappers with your interwebs and archive collections don’t know how lucky you are.

Marvel especially made a service out of a necessity: keeping their older material in print via big packages like Marvel Collectors’ Items Classics and Marvel Tales to ensure reader awareness of their unfolding universe. Those and DC’s 80-Page Giant specials were true gateway series for comics junkies who wanted a peek at the past… particularly the mysterious and alluring “Golden Age” where all the really incredible stuff must have happened…

In 1968 DC started taking reprints seriously by creating a specific title. DC Special began a succession of themed and carefully curated issues at a time when superheroes had entered another decline. In its first run – from fall 1968 to November/December 1971 – it featured issues dedicated to the careers of Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, horror stories, teen comedy, western, crime, and two issues featuring Strange Sports Stories, as well as an “all-girl” superhero volume, the Viking Prince and Plastic Man. Issues #8 (Summer1970) and #14 (September/October 1972) were both entitled Wanted! The World’s Most Dangerous Villains: an unrepentant, unashamed celebration of costumed good guys thrashing costumed bad guys…

This spiffy hardback and digital collection sadly excludes those try-out experiments but does collect all the subsequent contents of the spin-off title that followed – #1-9 spanning July/August 1972 to September 1973 – and adds a tenth issue just for thrills and giggles.

It kicks off with a gloriously outré debut as #1 reintroduced ‘The Signalman of Crime’ who used signs and symbols to baffle lawmen. He came – and went – in Batman #112 (December 1957) courtesy of Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris and is followed by a classy Green Arrow yarn from Ed Herron & Lee Elias. ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ were first found and foiled in World’s Finest Comics (#111 July 1960). Rounding out the first sally is ‘Menace of the Giant Puppet’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Joe Giella (Green Lantern volume 2 #1, August 1960) wherein the Emerald Gladiator faced the superscience-wielding Puppeteer.

Gold was struck in #2 as Batman #25 (October/November 1944) yielded Don Cameron, Jack Burnley & Jerry Robinson’s‘Knights of Knavery’: an epic clash which saw crime rivals The Penguin and Joker – temporarily – join forces against the Dynamic Duo, after which John Broome, Infantino & Giella detail how ‘The Trickster Strikes Back’. The air-walking felon plunders Central City until the Scarlet Speedster finally outwits him, as first seen in The Flash #121 (June 1961).

Wanted #3 provided exclusively Golden Age greatness, beginning with The Vigilante yarn from Action Comics #69 (February 1944). Devised by Joe Samachson, Mort Meskin & Joe Kubert, ‘The Little Men Who Were There!’ pitted the Prairie Troubadour against diabolical Napoleon of Crime The Dummy, after which warrior wizard Doctor Fate frustrated an invasion by ‘The Fish-Men of Nyarl-Amen’ (More Fun Comics #65 March 1941, by Gardner F. Fox & Howard Sherman) and Hawkman crushed ‘The Human Fly Bandits’ thanks to creators Broome & Kubert as seen in Flash Comics #100 (October 1948).

Original Green Lantern Alan Scott headlined in #4, replaying his epic first clash with Solomon Grundy from All-American Comics #61 (October 1944) as related by Alfred Bester & Paul Reinman in ‘Fighters Never Quit!’, whilst the follow-up featured Kid Eternity – who died before his time and was rewarded by Higher Powers with the power to summon figures from history, myth and literature to fight for justice. ‘Master Man’ came from Kid Eternity #15 (May 1949) wherein writer William Woolfolk and illustrator Pete Riss created the hero’s ultimate nemesis and set them duelling by proxy via resuurected heroes and villains…

Contemporary Green Gladiator Hal Jordan returned in #5, battling Doctor Light in Gardner F. Fox, Kane & Sid Greene’s ‘Wizard of the Light-Wave Weapons!’ (Green Lantern volume 2 #33, December 1964), before the original Tiny Titan faced ‘The Man in the Iron Mask!’ in an epic clash by Woolfolk & Alex Kotzky from Doll Man Quarterly #15 (Winter 1948).

Starman opened #6, in a grudge match against arch foe The Mist. Fox & Burnley’s ‘Finders Keepers!’ – from Adventure Comics #77, August 1942 – saw the see-through fiend use found treasure to mesmerise his victims, and is followed by a saga of Sargon the Sorcerer, battling Blue Lama as ‘The Man Who Met Himself’ (Sensation Comics #71, November 1947 by Broome & Reinman). The drama ends on a spectacular high in the Kubert-illustrated Wildcat thriller ‘The Wasp’s Nest!’ from (Sensation Comics #66, June 1947).

Wanted #7 exhumed more Gold, beginning with speedster Johnny Quick‘s duel with satanic scientist Dr. Clever who gleans the secret of hyper-velocity in ‘The Adventure of the Human Streak’ (More Fun Comics #76 February 1942 and illustrated by Mort Weisinger & Mort Meskin) after which the 1940’s Hawkman battles spectral nemesis The Gentleman Ghost in Robert Kanigher & Kubert’s ‘The Crimes That Couldn’t Have Happened!’ (Flash Comics #90, December 1947) before Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily reveal how Hourman crushes ‘Dr. Glisten’s Submarine Pirates’ as originally seen inAdventure Comics #72, March 1942.

The Silver Age Flash faces ‘The Big Freeze!’ in Broome, Infantino & Murphy Anderson’s furious fight against Captain Cold (The Flash #114 August 1960) before Fox & Sherman pit a depowered Doctor Fate against transformative terror ‘Mr. Who’ in a stirring saga from More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941).

The original run concluded with #9, which opened with Jerry Siegel & Jon Sikela’s epic and absurdist Superman clash against the diabolical Prankster who claimed to be ‘Crime’s Comedy King!’ in Action Comics #57 (February 1943) after which the adventure peaked in a classic Jack Kirby & Joe Simon Sandman thriller. First found in World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) ‘The Adventure of the Magic Forest!’ saw the Master of Dreams and Sandy the Golden Boy crush murderous, nefarious hijacker Nightshade…

The fun continues with a virtual 10th issue compiled in recent times and prompted by a letter from Wanted #9 requesting an all-female outing. It took long enough but the wish is finally granted in ‘A Modern Take: Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains #10! which begins with a Catwoman classic.

The Sleeping Beauties of Gotham City!’ debuted in Batman #84 (June 1954), scripted by David Vern Reed and limned by Sheldon Moldoff & Stan Kaye, wherein notorious Selina Kyle subverts a beauty contest, not for vanity but for glittering profit, after which Flash Comics #86 (August 1947) provides the first adventure of ‘The Black Canary’ in a swansong for bumbling hero Johnny Thunder by Kanigher, Infantino & Giella.

Wrapping up this sublime “Wants” list is a late clash between the Amazing Amazon and war god Mars by Kanigher & Harry G. Peter. ‘The Girl Who saved Paradise Island!’ comes from Wonder Woman #36, July/August 1949 and features interplanetary conflict and the truly terrifying warriors of Infanta, so be warned…

With covers by Murphy Anderson and Nick Cardy, this tome celebrates the primal simplicity of Superhero comics: no angst, no grey areas and no continued epics, just a whole bunch of done-in-one delights for fans of history and simplicity.
© 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1972, 1973, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, Dan Davis & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3272-6 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format reflecting the era’s filmic fascination with flamboyantly fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it found another innovative new direction which once again caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, and was followed by more of the same: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and The Atom & Flash in #53.

The next instant union – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – evolved into Teen Titans and after Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular superhero pairings with #59. Although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

A return engagement for the Teen Titans, issues spotlighting Earth-Two stalwarts Starman and Black Canary and Earth-One’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl soon gave way to an indication of things to come when Batman returned to duel hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and a lion’s share of team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom), the title was henceforth a place where the Gotham Gangbuster invited the rest of DC’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, Batman: The Animated Series – masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s – revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comic book adventures in his 80-year publishing history. It also led to a spin-off print title…

With constant funnybook iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV animation series, Batman has remained immensely popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and superbly plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s lesser creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #1-6 of the second series – The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold – in an immensely entertaining all-ages ensemble suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages. It was originally released between January and June 2011. Although absolutely unnecessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience as will knowledge of the bizarre minutiae of 1960s and 1970s DC lore…

Crafted by Sholly Fisch, Rich Burchett & Dan Davis and following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette/prequel adventure before telling a longer tale. TA-NB:TB&TB (last time I’m typing that!) #1 sees the Caped Crimebuster battle Joker robots  beside Black Canary before main feature ‘Bottle of the Planets’ reunites him the “World’s Finest” partner in a devious mystery set in the last outpost of Krypton: the Bottled City of Kandor…

Having successfully solved the case of vanishing super-weapons, Batman teams with talking tiger Mr. Tawky-Tawny, magical (Captain) Marvel Shazam and his gods-powered family to save Christmas in ‘That Holiday Feeling’. That involves finding, fighting and foiling the emotion-bending Psycho-Pirate whilst #3 sees Flash (two, actually) and the Dark Knight hunting Mirror Master and the Mad Hatter through a mirror dimension inhabited by all the characters from Lewis Carroll’s books. Curiouser and curiouser …

Wonder Woman headlines in #4 as irate godling Eros seeks to teach her a lesson by using his arrows to instigate a wedding in ‘The Bride and the Bold’. The ceremony between Bat and Amazon sparks a lot of interest and – thanks to jealous Talia Al Ghul – a wave of super-villain attacks and the biggest wedding party brawl of all time before order and sense are restored…

‘Man-Hunted’ find Batman and Emerald jerk Guy Gardner fractiously allied to defeat a legion of the killer robots, but diverted to other realms to save a glorious enclave of nigh-forgotten 1960s alien beasts and sidekicks like Cryll and Zook(look them up, I double-dog dare ya…) from manic main man Lobo…

Ending this excellent excursion through DC’s daftest corridors is a beguiling contest between the Dark Knight Detective and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz who tests his abilities against classic observation and deduction in ‘Now You see Me…’; sadly the salutary learning experience goes slightly awry when the calamitous Clayface is accidentally exposed…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, splendidly rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulous rollercoaster ride confirming the now-seamless link between animated features and comic books. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: 80 Years of the Amazon Warrior – The Deluxe Edition


By William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter, Trina Robbins, Joye Hummel, Robert Kanigher, Samuel R. Delany, Cary Bates, Roy Thomas, George Pérez, Len Wein, Lynda Carter, William Messner-Loebs, Phil Jimenez,Joe Kelly, Allan Heinberg, Amanda Conner, Brian Azzarello, Mariko Tamaki, Greg Rucka, Becky Cloonan & Michael W. Conrad, Patty Jenkins, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Jill Thompson, Lee Moder, Gary Frank, Cliff Chiang, Elena Casagrande, Nicola Scott, Jen Bartel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-1157-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Triumphs of Wondrous Empowerment… 9/10

Without doubt Wonder Woman is the very acme of female role models. Since her premier in 1941 she has permeated every aspect of global consciousness and become not only a paradigm of comics’ very fabric but also a symbol to women everywhere. In whatever era you observe, the Amazing Amazon epitomises the eternal balance between Brains and Brawn and, over those decades, has become one of that rarefied pantheon of literary creations to achieve meta-reality.

For decades, the official story was that the Princess of Paradise Island was conceived by psychologist and polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston: a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and – for forward-thinking Editor M.C. Gaines – a sound move to sell more funnybooks to girls. From a guest shot in All Star Comics the Amazon immediately catapulted one month later into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics.

An instant hit, Wonder Woman won her eponymous supplemental title a few months later (cover-dated summer 1942). That set up enabled the Star-Spangled Sensation to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comic book marketplace and survive beyond the Golden Age of costumed heroes beside Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles.

We now know that Wonder Woman was a team if not truly communal effort, with Moulton Marston acting at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth and their life partner Olive Byrne. Barring a couple of early fill-ins by Frank Godwin, the vast majority of outlandish, eccentric, thematically barbed adventures they collectively penned were limned by classical illustrator Harry G. Peter.

This stunning compilation is part of a series introducing and exploring the historical and cultural pedigree of venerable DC icons. Available in hardback and digital formats, it offers a sequence of sublime snapshots detailing how Diana of the Amazons has evolved and thrived in worlds and times where women were generally regarded as second class, second rate, painfully functional or strictly ornamental.

It re-presents material from All-Star Comics #8; Sensation Comics #1; Wonder Woman volume 1 #5, 78, 98, 124, 162, 203, 206; Comic Cavalcade #11; DC Special #3; DC Comics Presents #41; Wonder Woman volume 2 #6, 57, 73, 170;Wonder Woman Annual #1, Wonder Woman volume 4 #23; Wonder Woman #600, 750; Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1 and 2: cumulatively covering July 1940 to February 2021. The comics stories are augmented throughout by essays and brief critical analyses from significant personages linked with the Amazon, but we begin with the origin…

‘Introducing Wonder Woman’ was an extra story in All Star Comics #8 (cover-dated December 1941/January 1942), home of the mighty and popular Justice Society of America, and led directly to Wonder Woman Comes to America’: her formal debut in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942). In combination they reveal how, once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashes to Earth. Near death, he is nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte reveals the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they forever isolate themselves from the mortal world: devoting their eternal lives to becoming ideal rational beings.

However, after Trevor explains the perfidious spy plot which accidentally brought him to the Island enclave and how the planet is in crisis, Athena and Aphrodite instruct the Queen to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. Hippolyte declares an open contest to find the best candidate and, despite being forbidden to compete, young closeted, cosseted Diana clandestinely overcomes all other candidates to become their emissary.

Accepting the will of the gods, the worried mother outfits Diana in the guise of Wonder Woman and sends her out to Man’s World armed with an arsenal of super-scientific and magical weapons…

Leading from the front in her own series in anthological Sensation Comics, the first tale resumed where the introduction left off. ‘Wonder Woman Comes to America’ sees the eager culture-shocked immigrant returning the recuperating Trevor to Man’s World before trouncing a gang of bank robbers and briefly falling in with a show business swindler.

An intriguing innovation was her buying her secret identity from lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her fiancé in South America. Even with all that going on, there was still room for Wonder Woman and Captain Trevor to bust up a spy ring attempting to use poison gas on a Draft Induction centre. Typically, Steve breaks his leg and ends up in hospital again, where “Nurse Prince” looks after him…

New Diana gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling superwoman, the General had fallen for mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

As previously mentioned, the Amazing Amazon was a huge and ever-growing hit, gaining her own title in late Spring of 1942 (cover-dated Summer). This comic frequently innovated with full-length stories, and the extract here – the opening chapter of Wonder Woman #5, June/July 1943 – presented an interlinked epic: the ‘Battle for Womanhood’ that had repercussion for the cast for decades to come.

War-god Mars (who had instigated the World War from his HQ on the red planet through earthly pawns Hitler, Mussoliniand Hirohito) returns to plague humanity directly, this time enlisting the aid of a brilliant but physically deformed and intellectually demented woman-hating psychologist with psychic powers. Tormented Dr. Psycho uses his gifts to marry and dominate a medium named Marva, employing her unique abilities to form ectoplasmic bodies as he seeks to enslave every woman on Earth. Allegorical or what, huh?

Veteran cartoonist and herself something of a feminist icon, Trina Robbins shares her thoughts on ‘Wonder Woman’before the Golden Age delights resume with The Cheetah Returns!’ (Comics Cavalcade #11, Summer1945) as the savage miscreant and symbol of selfish, chaotic wilfulness wreaks havoc after escaping prison and replacing her remarkably similar-seeming cousin…

Drawn by Peter, this tale was scripted by another lost author – Joye Hummel. Born in 1924 and forgotten for decades, she ghost-wrote at least 70 Wonder Woman stories between 1944 and 1947 as Marston gradually succumbed to cancer. She left, ostensibly to raise a family but apparently because themes of universal female autonomy were being editorially edged out by male management…

The dawn era of superheroes was drawing to a close and fantasy was giving way to grittier, more manly themes. Included here is a rare treat, as ‘The Cheetah’s Thought Prisoners’ finds the cat criminal released on a legal technicality and using Amazon thought modification to torment and dominate her archenemy and friends.

With the author unknown – could it be Hummel? – this H.G. Peter yarn was scheduled for Comic Cavalcade but shelved when that quarterly became a funny animal title. Eventually exhumed and published in reprint giant DC Special #3 (June 1969), it shows the dangerous power of a woman in command!

By the time of Wonder Woman #78 (November 1955) Robert Kanigher was scripting Diana’s dramas and ‘Zero Hour for an Amazon!’ sees her struggling but triumphing after all her magic weapons malfunction: a standard tale as the author sought to maintain the series status quo.

Utilising group nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston – and his collaborators, albeit with the women uniformly unacknowledged and uncredited for decades – generated the Amazon’s amazing exploits until his death in 1947, whereupon Kanigher ultimately assumed command with the venerable Peter soldiering on until his own death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97 – in April of that year – was his last hurrah and the end of an era.

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito had debuted as cover artists 3 issues earlier, but with the opening inclusion of Wonder Woman #98, took over the visual component whilst Kanigher reinvented much of the old mythology and even tinkered with her origins.

Whilst costumed colleagues foundered, Wonder Woman soldiered on well into the Silver Age and far beyond it, benefitting from constant revisionism under Kanigher’s canny auspices: re-energising her for the Silver Age renaissance and beyond…

With the exception of DC’s “Trinity” (plus those few innocuous back-up features like Aquaman and Green Arrow), superheroes all but vanished at the end of the 1940s, replaced by mostly mortal champions in a deluge of anthologised genre titles. Everything changed again after Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crimebusters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956.

From the moment those fanciful floodgates opened wide once more, and whilst re-inventing Golden Age Greats such as Green Lantern, The Atom and Hawkman, National/DC began updating the venerable veteran survivors who had weathered the 1950s backlash – none more so than the ever-resilient Amazon.

As editor, Kanigher had always tweaked or reinvented much of the original mythos, but now his tinkering with her origins unleashed a very enthusiastic yet motherly Diana on an unsuspecting world in a fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, strange romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing, utterly surreal almost stream-of-consciousness storytelling. This was at a time when all DC’s newly revived, revised or reinvented costumed champions were getting together and teaming up at the drop of a hat – as indeed was the Princess of Power – in Justice League of America. However, within the pages of her own title, a timeless, isolated fantasy universe was carrying on much as it always had. Here, that transition is marked by ‘The Million Dollar Penny!’ from #98 (May 1958) with Kanigher, Andru & Esposito reinventing the mythology and adjusting her origins…

When goddess Athena visits an island of super-scientific, immortal women, she informs Queen Hippolyta that she must send an emissary and champion of justice to crime-ridden “Man’s World.”

Declaring an open competition for the job, the queen isn’t surprised when her daughter Diana wins. She is then given the task of turning one penny into a million dollars in a day – all profits going to children’s charities, of course…

Just as the new Wonder Woman commences her coin chore, American airman Steve Trevor bails out of his malfunctioning jet high above the magically hidden isle, unaware that should any male set foot on Amazon soil the immortals would lose all their powers. Promptly thwarting impending disaster, Diana and Steve team up to accomplish her task, encountering along the way ‘The Undersea Menace’ before building ‘The Impossible Bridge!’…

Following a chat about the comic champion’s real world influence ‘In Conversation with Gal Godot’, mythic madness resumes with ‘The Impossible Day!’ (WW #124, August 1961).

Amazon science (and the unfettered imagination of Kanigher, for whom slavish continuity, consistency or rationality were never as important as strong plots or breathtaking visuals) had already enabled readers to share the adventures of the teenaged Wonder Girl and toddler Wonder Tot both in their appropriate time-zones and, on occasion, teamed together on “Impossible Days”.

Here Tot, Teen and adult teamed together against shape-shifting nuclear threat Multiple Man, with the threat or promise of more pairings to come…

As the 1960s progressed Wonder Woman was looking tired and increasingly out of step with the rest of National/DC’s gradually gelling – and ultimately cohesively shared – continuity but, by the decade’s close, a radical overhaul was on the cards – but before looking forward, the company turned back…

Kanigher never forgot he was writing comic books and constantly pointed it out to the readership – even though their preference might not be to have narrative rules, and suspension of disbelief flouted whilst fourth walls were continually broached. In #158 (not included here), he gathered the entire – vast – series cast in his office and told them that most were fired. Readers were then challenged to guess who would be back for the Big Change…

The promised reboot consisted of a full switch to the faux 1940’s stories mimicking the triumphs of the Golden Age.

‘The Startling Secret of Diana Prince!’ opened WW #162, (May 1966) by reworking Sensation Comics #1, relating again how the Paradise Island Émigré purchased the identity and papers of lovelorn Army Nurse Diana Prince to be close to Trevor at all times…

By 1968 superhero comics were again in deep decline and publishers sought new ways to stay profitable – or even just in business – as audience tastes and American society evolved. Back then, with the industry dependent on newsstand sales, if you weren’t popular, you died.

Handing over the increasingly moribund title to Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky, the bosses sat back and waited for their eventual failure, and prepared to cancel the only female superhero in the marketplace. Sekowsky’s unique visualisation of the JLA had contributed to that title’s overwhelming success, and at this time he was stretching himself with a number of experimental projects, focussed on teen and youth-markets.

With scripter Denny O’Neil, he killed Steve Trevor, removed the Amazons and Paradise Island, taking with them all their magic and paraphernalia – including Diana’s astounding weapons, Invisible Plane, Golden Lasso and mighty superpowers. Despite all that, her love for Steve compelled her to remain on Earth. Effectively becoming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, the now-mortal champion resolved to fight injustice as a human would…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman (one heavily based on TV character Emma Peel) but, as always, fashion ruled and in a few years, without any fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten.

From that period comes the last adventure of Diana Prince, with celebrated novelist Samuel R. Delaney joining Dick Giordano to take the hero – abortively – in a fascinating new direction. Socially-aware polemic ‘The Grandee Caper’(December 1972) sees Ms. Prince championing underpaid, bullied and exploited department store workers (all women because they can be legally paid less) in a tale that pulls no punches, offers no easy solutions and can’t even manage a happy ending…

A true landmark in every way, it was immediately scuppered as – without warning or explanation – the superpowered Amazon was back in the next issue. Not included here but crucial to know is that in #204, her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she abruptly returned to a world of immortals, gods, magic monster and super-villains. There was even a new nemesis: an Greco-African American half-sister named Nubia…

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not.

Sales were never great even on Sekowsky’s run and the most logical reason is probably television. Wonder Woman had been under option since the 1966 Batman TV show and by this time (1973) production had begun on an original pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An rapid return to the character most viewers were familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me. By the time Linda Carter made the concept work in 1975, Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

Eventually however – after the TV-inspired sales boost ended with the show’s cancellation – the comic slumped into another decline, leading to another revamp. Showcasing that tenuous era is ‘War of the Wonder Women!’ from #206, (July 1973) in which Cary Bates, Don Heck & Vince Colletta pit the Amazon and Nubia against war god Mars and discover the origins of Diana’s long-lost twin sister…

Another relaunch and return to past glory came in DC Comics Presents #41 (January 1982) as a “Prevue” insert by Roy Thomas, Gene Colan & Romeo Tanghal offered (‘A Bold New Direction for Wonder Woman’). It entailed returning Captain Prince and resurrected Colonel Trevor to military intelligence duty just in time for the Amazon to enjoy a costume tweak and settle old scores with Hercules – the demigod who abused his mother and brought about the first fall of the Amazons…

Those themes were key to the next iteration of the Amazon. Following Crisis on Infinite Earths‘ mass restructuring of continuity, Diana was radically re-imagined for the modern DCU. Her comic series started again from #1, with a February 1987 cover-date, crafted by Greg Potter, George Pérez & Bruce Patterson. The new history revealed how Amazons are actually reincarnated souls of women murdered by men in primordial times. Given potent new form by female Hellenic gods, they thrived in a segregated city of aloof and indomitable women until war god Ares orchestrated their downfall via his demigod dupe Herakles.

Abused, subjugated and despondent, the Amazons were rescued by their patron goddesses in return for eternal penance in isolation on hidden the island of Themyscira.

Into that paradise Diana was born: another murdered soul imbued with life in an infant body made from clay. She excelled in every endeavour and became the Wonder Woman…

After relocating to the outer world, Diana becomes an inspirational figure and global hero whilst constantly trying to integrate and understand the madness of “Patriarch’s World”, but only after saving all mankind from armageddon…

Concluding the initial story arc, ‘Powerplay’ – by George Pérez, Len Wein & Bruce Patterson from Wonder Woman volume 2 #1, 6 (July 1987) – sees a naive but valiant Diana fighting beside an elderly Steve Trevor who will never be her romantic partner and a select band of mortal friends to stop Ares and his vile children from making mankind destroy itself with nuclear war. Driven by the unbounded creativity and sensitivity of Pérez, this incarnation was possibly the most effective, entertaining and true to the Marston group’s original concept…

‘In Conversation with Gal Godot’ precedes ‘The Fugitive Kind’ (Wonder Woman vol. 2 #57, August 1991) with Pérez scripting for illustrator Jill Thompson & Romeo Tanghal as the Amazon is blamed for a massacre in Gotham City…

William Messner, Lee Moder & Ande Parks take the displaced Amazon further into fresh territory in ‘Losses’ (Wonder Woman vol. 2 #73, April 1993) as Themyscira vanishes from Earth and Diana, deprived of financial support, starts looking for work and a place to live, ignorant of the machinations of a new foe…

Change became a constant and by the time of ‘She’s a Wonder!’ (Wonder Woman vol. 2 #170, July 2001) by Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly & Andy Lanning, she is again a global celebrity.

This beguiling day-in-the-life tale sees Lois Lane interviewing the superhero/Themysciran cultural ambassador to Mans’s World during a typical day, providing readers with valuable insights into the heroine and the woman.

‘Backstory’ from Wonder Woman Annual #1 (November 2007) has Allan Heinberg, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal set intelligence operatives Diana Prince and Nemesis on the trail of Wonder Woman following her execution of Maxwell Lordduring the Infinite Crisis event: a sharp way of updating the readership in a time of rapid and sweeping change, after which Amanda Conner delivers a sliver of sheer delight as the Amazon and Power Girl hilariously bond over baddie bashing and cat care tips in ‘Fuzzy Logic’ from Wonder Woman #600 (August 2010).

In 2011, the entire DCU was reimagined and Wonder Woman enjoyed one of the biggest upheavals, learning that she was not born from clay but was actually an illegitimate daughter of ever-philandering Zeus. Her life became a melee of shifting alliances or constant battle against outraged deities and fellow demigods culminating in ‘God Down’ (Wonder Woman volume 4 #23, October 2013). Here Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang detail the death of gods, defeat of the usurping First Born and the creation of anew god of war after which Wonder Woman #750 (March 2020) provides a brace of tales starting with Mariko Tamaki & Elena Casagrande’s ‘The Interrogation’.

Here Diana again defeats Ares – but in a most unconventional manner – whilst ‘Never Change’ by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott sees her and former archenemy Circe offer one final chance at redemption and salvation to the monstrous Cheetah…

The comics conclude with a glimpse at a potential tomorrow. Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1 and 2 (January & February 2021) reveals how Diana copes with the end of existence in an impossibly distant tomorrow populated by ghosts and hardy survivors – like Superman and Darkseid – in an intriguing continued epic by Becky Cloonan & Michael W, Conrad, & Jen Bartel.

‘In Conversation with Patty Jenkins’ provides some final thoughts from the Wonder Woman. movies’ director to wrap up the celebrations…

Wonder Woman is a primal figure of comic fiction and global symbol, and looks set to remain one. This compilation might not be all of her best material but it is a solid representation of what gave her such fame and should grace any fan’s collection.
© 1941, 1943, 1945, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1966, 1969, 1973, 1982, 1987, 1991, 1993, 2001, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2020, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1373-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly Sagas and Some Socially Forbidden Fruits… 8/10

Until DC finally get around to republishing and digitally releasing their vast untapped comic treasures, I’m reduced to recommending some of their superb past printed glories whenever I feel like celebrating a key anniversary of the world’s preeminent female superhero who first caught the public’s attention in October 8 decades ago…

Wonder Woman was created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth and their life partner Olive Byrne. The vast majority of the outlandish adventures they collectively penned were limned by classical illustrator Harry G. Peter.

The Astounding Amazon debuted in All Star Comics #8 (cover-dated December 1941) before gaining her own series and the cover-spot in new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. She was an instant hit, and won her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston & Co – the women unacknowledged and uncredited for decades – scripted all the Amazing Amazon’s many and fabulous exploits until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. The venerable H.G. Peter continued until his own death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97 – in April of that year – was his last hurrah and the end of an era. Ross Andru & Mike Esposito had debuted as cover artists 3 issues earlier, but with the opening inclusion of Wonder Woman #98, took over the visual component as Robert Kanigher reinvented much of the old mythology and even tinkered with her origins.

This second economical monochrome Showcase collection covers issues #118-137: spanning November 1960 to April 1963, a period of increased fantasy frolics and wildly imaginative excess which still divides fans into violently opposing camps…

With the exception of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few anodyne back-up features, costumed heroes went extinct at the beginning of the 1950s, replaced by merely mortal champions in a welter of anthologised genre titles. When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crime-busters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956, the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more…

Whilst re-inventing Golden Age Greats such as Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC also updated those hoary survivors who had weathered the backlash – especially the Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and ever-resilient Amazing Amazon…

The fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, untrue romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing and all-out surreal (some would say-stream-of-consciousness) storytelling continues unabated here from the get-go beginning with ‘Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision!’ (#118) seeing the comely champion constantly distracted from her mission to wipe out injustice by the antics of her savagely-sparring suitors Colonel Steve Trevor and Manno the merman.

Amazon science (and the unfettered imagination of Kanigher, for whom slavish continuity, consistency or rationality were never as important as strong plots or breathtaking visuals) had already enabled readers to share the adventures of Wonder Girl and latterly Wonder Tot – the Princess of Power as teen and toddler – both in their appropriate time-zones and, on occasion, teamed together on “Impossible Days”.

WW #119 opened with a tale of the Titanic Teen. ‘Mer-Boy’s Secret Prize!’ sees the besotted undersea booby repeatedly risk his life to win his intended inamorata a flashy treasure, whilst in ‘Three Wishes of Doom!’, a capable but arrogant young girl wins a competition and claims Wonder Woman’s Bracelets, Lasso and Tiara with the disastrous notion of using them to out-do the Amazing Amazon…

Issue #120’s ‘The Secret of Volcano Mountain! pits teen and adult Dianas – a decade apart – against the same terrifying threat as an alien elemental twice attempts to conquer the world, after which an “Impossible Day” event sees Wonder Girl, her older self and their mother Queen Hippolyta unite to defeat the monstrous peril of ‘The Island Eater!’

‘The Skyscraper Wonder Woman’ introduces Diana’s pre-schooler incarnation as the Sinister Seer of Saturn seeks to invade Earth with a colossal robot facsimile whilst simultaneously de-aging the Amazon to her younger – but crucially, no less competent – adolescent and pre-adolescent incarnations…

Wonder Woman #123 offered a glimpse of the ‘Amazon Magic-Eye Album!’ as Hippolyta reviewed some of the crazy exploits of her daughter as Tot, Teen and adult, whilst the issue after contrived to team them all together against shape-shifting nuclear threat Multiple Man on ‘The Impossible Day!’

Steve and Manno resumed their war for the princess’ hand in marriage in #125’s ‘Wonder Woman… Battle Prize!’ with the improbable romantic triangle ending up marooned on a beast-&-alien amoeba-men-infested Blue Lagoon…

‘Wonder Tot and Mister Genie!’ was the first of two tales in #126, depicting what might happen when an imaginative super-kid is left on her own, whilst exasperated US Air Force lieutenant Diana Prince gets steamed at being her own romantic rival for Trevor in ‘The Unmasking of Wonder Woman!

The next issue sees her stopping another extraterrestrial assault in ‘Invaders of the Topsy-Turvy Planet’ before ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Honeymoon!’ gives usually incorrigible Trevor a terrifying foretaste of what married life with his Amazon Angel might be like…

WW#128 revealed the astounding and charming ‘Origin of the Amazing Robot Plane!’ before things turn (a bit) more serious when the Amazon endures the deadly ‘Vengeance of the Angle Man!’

In #129, another spectacular Impossible Day sees the entire Wonder Woman Family (that would be just her at three different ages with mum alongside to save the day) in ‘The Vengeance of Multiple Man!’ whilst #130 opens with Wonder Tot discovering the ‘Secret of Mister Genie’s Magic Turban!’ and closes with an outrageous and embarrassing attack by Angle Man on her mature self in ‘The Mirage Mirrors!’

WW #131’s, ‘The Proving of Wonder Woman!’ details the origins of her unique epithets (such as “Thunderbolts of Jove”, “Neptune’s Trident” and “Great Hera”) before back-up ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Birthday Gift!’ has indefatigable, incorrigible Manno risk all manner of maritime monstrosity to find her a dazzling bauble, whilst the Amazon herself was trying to find her mother a present.

‘Wonder Tot and the Flying Saucer!’ sees the adult Amazon turn herself into a toddler to converse with a baby and discover the secret of a devastating alien atomic attack, whilst a second story reveals ancient romantic encounters which occurred when ‘Wonder Queen Fights Hercules!’

Wonder Woman #133 cover-featured the Impossible Tale of ‘The Amazing Amazon Race!’ wherein Tot, Teen, Woman and Queen compete in a fraught athletic contest with deadly consequences, whilst in Man’s World, Diana Prince takes centre-stage to become ‘Wonder Woman’s Invincible Rival… Herself!’ when a movie-project went dangerously awry.

‘Menace of the Mirror Wonder Women!’ pits her and Steve against the Image-Maker: a deadly other-dimensional mastermind able to animate and enslave reflections, before #134 closes with another disastrous sub-sea date for Wonder Girl when she must prevent ‘The Capture of Mer-boy!’

It was one more time for Multiple Man as he/it returned to battle the Wonder Family in #135’s Impossible Day drama ‘Attack of the Human Iceberg!’, whilst #136 had the Female Fury transformed into a ravenous, colossal threat to humanity after alien machine men infect her with a growth-agent to become ‘Wonder Woman… World’s Greatest Menace!’

This compendium concludes with #137’s classic duel on an ersatz Earth, where mechanical replicas of humanity and metal facsimiles of the Amazons run amok. Here, Earth’s foremost female defender must overcome ‘The Robot Wonder Woman!’

By modern narrative standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are usually illogical and occasionally just plain bonkers, but in those days far less attention was paid to continuity and shared universes: adventure in the moment was paramount and these strangely infectious romps simply sparkled then and now with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of such innocuous costumed fairy tales must be a delight for unbiased readers, whilst the true, incomparable value of such stories is the incredible quality entertainment they still offer.
© 1960-1963, 2008 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.