As I said last week at about this time, I’m trying to blog through all the issues of the Marston/Peter run on Wonder Woman. I’m hoping to post about one issue every Thursday and this is the second.
And yeah, I know this is Wednesday. I jumped the gun; maybe I’ll do it Wednesday or Thursday, depending? We’ll see, I guess.
So I do love that cover, but it’s nothing compared to the initial splash page:
Thank you sir, may I have another?
It’s probably wrong for me to admit this, but I’ve danced around it before, and I might as well just come out and say it — I often find Peters’ soft-core efforts quite sexy. There’s something about the unabashed flowery femme of the designs and the stiffness of the figures that I definitely find appealing. He must have too, surely; WW is usually seen as all about Marston’s sexual obsessions, which I’m sure it was, but Peter must have had a fair bit to do with the goings on as well. In this drawing, for example — was it Marston who suggested that the big, tough Greek warriors should be wearing such frilly kilts? And the armor he’s got with all the filigree — and the colors! Ares (standing in the background yucking it up) really looks like he’s wearing a red dress. Peter has decided to make the God of War a transvestite. I don’t know…maybe it could all be Marston turning in incredibly detailed scripts a la Alan Moore…but I’m skeptical.
Anyway, unlike the last effort, this is essentially a single story — which means it’s virtually as long as a mini-series, clocking in at more than 60 pages. Even with a short story about Clara Barton and a prose piece, that’s a hell of a lot of pages…was this thing monthly? No, it says “Fall” on the cover, so I guess it must have been quarterly. Though Peter was also drawing WW’s adventures in Sensation Comics at the same time…it’s a lot of drawing, anyway you look at it.
So what is the plot of this gigundus story? Well, Ares is pissed because WW keeps catching Nazi spies. This pisses off Ares because, as he says in that little inset panel above, “If America wins, war on Earth will end!” So Ares sets out to capture Wonder Woman, throw her in chains, make her his slave…you know the drill. He does this by arranging for the capture of Steve Trevor’s astral form. (How this works is a little unclear…but onward!) Steve is then taken to Mars, because Mars is where you live if you’re the God of War. WW leaves her body in the care of Etta Candy:
With those “woo-woos” WW whooshes up to Mars, where, after wearing a lot of chains and engaging in a series of healthy tests of strength, with some light spanking thrown in for good measure, she frees Steve and travels back to earth. Enraged, Ares sends a series of minions to recapture her: the Earl of Greed, the Duke of Deception, and the Count of Conquest. After many trials (by baseball, among other things) WW defeats them all, even Ares — ending war on earth! Okay, not quite; I guess he’s still got minions around or something. There will be more issues, in any case; they promise.
Since we’ve raised the weighty and altogether unfortunate profile of Etta Candy — it’s really worth pointing out what a completely bizarre character she is. It’s not just the “woo-woos!” and the fact that practically every speech bubble she’s given has to mention at least once how much she likes candy. That would just make her the comic relief. But what’s really strange is how important she is to the plot. As we saw above, Etta tended WW’s body while our hero was off on Mars. Etta’s far more than just a passive helper, though. In the battle with the Duke of Deception, for example, the Duke creates a fake Wonder Woman duplicate body (no, I don’t know why. Don’t ask silly questions.) Wonder Woman manages to capture the fake body…and then puts Etta’s mind in the duplicate body.
And in the final battle against Ares, when WW is tied up and helpless, she sends a mental radio message to Etta who somehow goes astral, brings acid (astral acid?) and frees WW.
In other words, plot-wise Etta isn’t really comic relief; she’s the indispensable assistant — even the cavalry. It’s *her*, not Steve Trevor, who gets to save Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman seems to treat her more or less as an equal, and Etta seems to see herself that way as well — Etta certainly, and bizarrely, doesn’t seem to see WW as someone to envy or aspire to — when her brain is placed in that slender, perfect body, all Etta can think about is how much she wants to go back to eating candy.
Obviously, it’s a bit of a leap to see Etta Candy as some kind of feminist icon. But…I don’t know. Compared to some of her later iterations (sex kitten cameo on the animated movie; loyal sidekick and romantic interest for Steve in the Perez run), fat, self-confident, and (perhaps mystifyingly, but still) competent doesn’t seem too bad.
Certainly, she seems to have it all over Steve.
As you can see, in the last page of the first section, when they’ve escaped from Mars, it’s Etta who actually gets to share an embrace with WW. In the next panel, Steve expresses a very natural confusion about what the hell happened to a slave girl who helped them escape from Mars — and WW positively condescends to him. “You *would* think of her!” Silly man; you’ve only got one thing in your pretty little heads! But don’t worry, Steve, your little friend trotted back to her consensual B&D relationship with, ahem, the Count of Conquest! Now you silly little thing, let me tie you up and explain to you that you must never, never leave the house without an escort. You just have to have a firm hand with these men or the little dears will get themselves into trouble. Now let’s just settle things between us women, Etta. Could you fly to Mars with a bottle of acid, sneak into the dungeon of the God of War, and burn through my chains please? By tomorrow? And don’t tell Steve…he worries so!
You may be wondering why on earth Wonder Woman needed to get Etta out to Mars anyway; why not just break her chains herself?
The answer is that Wonder Woman allowed her bracelets to be chained together by a man, which robs her of her powers:
Oooookay. But…what about this?
There’s Wonder Woman from earlier in the same issue. Looks to me like her wrists are changed together, right? And she’s looking pretty super there (incidentally, note that Peter appears to have gratuitously drawn in visible nipples on the woman WW is defeating. He does that occasionally.)
Of course, Marston isn’t a stickler for continuity. Still, what’s different between *this* binding and the other one?
The answer seems to be that in the instance where she lost her powers, WW was bound by a dark, handsome Italian.
As the Count of Conquest’s minion explains:
WW, in other word, is being punished for the weakness of allowing a man to hold sway over her (though she certainly never seems to be that interested in the guy…but I guess Marston holds his women to a high standard in these matters.) When she tearfully regrets failing Steve, the suggestion is that she’s been unfaithful. This is emphasized by the fact that she’s embarrassed to explain to Steve exactly what happened….
Again, though, what’s interesting is that the particular drama of unfaithfulness which is being suggested is one in which WW takes what is essentially the male role; she falls for the dark, seductive femme fatale, betraying the helpless, noble woman at home.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s an actual feminine femme fatale in the book as well — and by all appearances she is also bent on seducing Wonder Woman — or at least in luring her onto a cruise ship and engaging in…well, no surprises, really.
Leading her around with her hands secretly tied under her coat, huh? You have to wonder if Marston was trying that one at home. (Bonus points for fetishizing the exotic minority…and for implying that said exotic minority wears her colorful, diaphanous, scanty ethnic attire whereso’er she goes.)
Oh, and last time I promised cross-gender body swapping. Here you go:
That’s Deception sneaking around in the body of a slave girl. Real women wear chains; real men wear tutus.
So I thought I was done, and then I keep thinking of more things I wanted to say. Stupid brain.
In terms of WW’s apparent need to avoid submission to, or even perhaps romantic relationships with men — there’s definitely something going on with a kind of butch tomboyishness, and perhaps a hint of a (cross-gendered) Peter Pan as well. There was a bit of that in the first issue as well; when Diana says she wants to leave Paradise Island to follow Steve, her mother says that that will mean giving up her “birthright” of immortality. That is, there’s a suggestion (thought it doesn’t seem to be much worked through) that Paradise Island is, like NeverNeverLand, a kind of metaphor for childhood, and that WW is a kind of magical and eternal child (she is made out of clay after all.) Again, in the second issue, we see WW has a real weakness for contests of strength:
She’s like a kid, unable to resist the opportunity to prove that she’s the strongest.
There’s probably something of that in all early super heroes…Superman certainly is a kid’s fantasy. It’s just that that’s really remained a part of Superman to some degree, but the corresponding meme for Wonder Woman has gotten a little lost, I think. Wonder Woman is a pretty sober character now; she’s more about standing up for women or peace or whatever, and maybe less about just beating the tar out of the boys at baseball. Which seems kind of too bad.
All right, that’s it…except, man, look at this Hitler caricature.
That is one gloriously saggy-faced ubermensch. And in the second panel, Marston has him so nuts he’s chewing the carpet. Literally. That cracked me up.