By this point, I was a big fan of the FAMOUS 1ST EDITION series of DC Treasuries, which is likely why I bought this facsimile edition of WONDER WOMAN #1 despite the potential for mockery from my peers for reading a “girl’s comic.” Either way, I genuinely like the early Wonder Woman stories, in a way that later takes on the character have failed to capture, so I enjoyed this book just fine.
The first of four stories in the issue featured the extended origin of Wonder Woman. William Marsden and H. G. Peter had told some of this in pieces in earlier stories, but this was the first time the whole tale was put together. And it was so seminal that a few years later, it would be adapted, in some instances word-for-word, in the pilot for the NEW ADVENTURES OF WONDER WOMAN television series.
It’s a familiar story these days–the beginnings of the Amazons, their conquest and enslavement by Hercules, their eventual liberation and migration to Paradise Island, etc. Artist H.G. Peter’s style had the flavor of a woodcut drawing, making these events seem legitimately mythological in some way. He’s not a typical super hero artist, even for this early period.
We also learn how Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, longed for a child. At Aphrodite’s command, she sculpted a baby out of clay, which the Goddess then imbued with life. So Wonder Woman was created through immaculate conception. When Steve Trevor crash-lands near Paradise Island, the Amazons are compelled to send a champion out into the world and stop the war that is now beginning to wash up on their shores. Diana beats out all comers and earns the right to be that champion.
I like the fact that Wonder Woman essentially earned her role through honest competition. It’s an aspect of her character that’s been largely forgotten over the years: she is an athlete, in essence. But her fellow Amazons are only marginally less skilled and able than she is, and she trains regularly to keep mind and body honed.
Of course, I also loved these vintage ads for other DC books of the era, notably this one for ALL-FLASH and GREEN LANTERN, two of my favorite characters. I wouldn’t get to read these comics for decades to come.
The second story’s plot was already cliche for burgeoning super heroes, with Wonder Woman participating in a local circus to root out the Japanese Spy who had been using a Burmese Elephant Cult to cause mayhem on our shores. Stir in some domestic gangsters, a star-crossed romance, and a liberal helping of the bondage and submission themes that were regularly a part of the series in these days, and you had what was a typical Wonder Woman outing. Some of the racial material here is cringe-inducing at this point.
Next was a real life story recounting the life of Florence Nightingale. I had no interest in the subject, aware instantly that this piece was trying to teach me something. I didn’t go to comics in order to learn things!
A very pretty splash page, the basis for the issue’s cover, opens up the next story, which also features the return of Wonder Woman’s enemy, the Nazi Baroness Paula Von Gunther. Things look dire when a little boy playing cowboy swipes Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, and the rope winds up in Paula’s hands. But everything comes out all right in the end, and young Freddy is even praised as a hero, rather than being spanked for his sticky fingers.
The reproduction on this next ad isn’t great, but I was fascinated by the cover of this issue of ALL-STAR COMICS, featuring the Justice Society of America at the height of their powers. I can recall being confused by the Sandman’s purple and yellow costume here, as I’d previously encountered him in his green-suit-and-gasmask look. Despite the roster given in the text, I wasn’t entirely sure that WAS the Sandman!
The book wraps up with another story chick-full of casual racism and ethnic caricatures, as Wonder Woman and company head down to Texas, where Mexican spies working with the Axis have hospitalized Etta Candy’s cousin, Mint Candy. Wonder Woman and Etta pursue them into Mexico, where Diana of course participates in bullfighting, earns the respect of the female leader of the spy ring, and beats the hell out of a Japanese spy-master. And Etta Candy learns nothing.
One final ad at the back of the book, for DC’s whole super hero line at that point. The SENSATION COMICS cover mystified me, as Wonder Woman appeared to be rescuing her own civilian identity. Green Lantern, meanwhile, looked as though he was bald.