That’s a kind of generic cover for Peter; the knight’s certainly nicely drawn (love that plume), but overall it’s fairly static and boring by his standards. Part of that may be that it’s trying to be coy: Marston/Peter have a secret return villain, and they don’t want to give it away. But here I come spoiling it 60 years later: the villain in this issue is:
Remember him from Issue #5? Little dwarf guy? Hated women so hypnotized them to cause them to send forth ectoplasm so he could take on different shapes? How could you forget, right?
Well, anyway, as so often happens with sequels, this one isn’t nearly as much fun as the original. No giant space kangas, for instance. No battle with Ares (who was originally using Psycho to prevent women from getting involved in the war effort.) Instead, there’s a much less convoluted plot involving Psycho trying to wreak revenge on WW and her pals. There’s as always some nice art, and Marston/Peter do seem committed to the wordless sequences now:
That last one, with Peter showing the movement through ghost images as WW throws herself into a backflip with her hands tied behind her back, is pretty spectacular. Despite such moment, though, this one isn’t the best of all possible Marston/Peter efforts.
But even mediocre Marston/Peter has some pretty interesting stuff going on. In particular, this one made me wonder about that all important question: Is the phallus female? (I know you’ve always wondered.) To answer that, we’re going to make a detour and talk about John Carpenter’s Christine.
Christine is about Arnie Cunningham, a nerdy, sweet high school kid who discovers a sentient car named Christine. The car possesses him, and he turns into a cool fifties greaser type, who’s attractive to girls and emotionally inaccessible and really dangerous. I talked briefly about Christine a ways back:
Christine the car is, of course, supposed to be a woman…but any car is obviously literally genderless, and the secretive nature of his relationship with her, plus her violence and the fact that, hey, she’s a car…if she’s a woman, she’s awfully, awfully butch, is all I’m saying. Arnie,of course, gets more and more manly and tough and evil the more time he spends with the car — which on the one hand suggests that, hey, he’s got a girl now, so he’s a man — but on the other hand suggests that he becomes more of a man by caring less and less about girls. Yeah; total agonized male fantasy of being simultaneously consumed by femininity and consumed by masculinity; the orgasmic collapse/reification of male identity — being castrated so you can turn into a penis (at the close Arnie is penetrated by a piece of glass from Christine’s windshield, caressing her one last time before he dies. Being violated by her, having her in control, is what makes him most male; emotionally inaccessible, commanding, finally murderous. Christine is ultimately masculinity itself, which possesses Arnie; but at the same time that masculinity is feminine — since it doesn’t reside in a particular body, and ambiguous genders are always coded feminine.
Christine in the movie functions as a phallus; before he gets her, Arnie is a typical feminized nerd; when he gets her, he becomes a manly embodiment of pitiless law, hunting down those who attack his car, or who steal his girl, or who just look at him funny, really. So Christine is what makes him a man. But she’s also, obviously, a woman, or at least feminized, which suggests that what makes you a man is a woman.
That’s not all that odd a concept…the whole point of the trophy girlfriend, for example, is that you demonstrate your manliness by walking around with a female status appendage. But Christine pushes the idea to an unusual extreme; Christine isn’t just a status symbol; she’s actually the source of power — not so much a sign of the phallus as the phallus itself. That’s part of the anxiety in the movie. Ta-Nehisi Coates has talked at various points about the idea that misogyny stems in part from male fears of being rejected, or being unable to deal with the emotional vulnerability inherent in having a relationship with a woman who can accept or reject you. I can see that…but at the same time I think there’s also an anxiety around the fact that women hold the keys to masculinity;men are forced to rely on women to prove that they are as men. Arnie puts himself in thrall to female power, and while that makes him a man, it also makes him a monster.
So, back over to Dr. Pyscho. As I mentioned, Psycho’s power, like Arnie’s, actually derives from women. The ectoplasm he uses to change form comes out of his female mediums. And you can tell it’s female, because it’s pink!
Psycho, like pre-Christine Arnie, isn’t very masculine. He needs to tap into female power to turn himself into a man’s man such as….Tyrone Gayblade, the great lover!
There’s a certain logic to that; if male power comes from women, then it should be queer (this is the case in Christine too, where Arnie’s secretive relationship with Christine reads as gay in certain ways, as I mentioned above.)
The kind of power Psycho gets from the women is also arguably female in nature. In the first place, he keeps turning himself into women, inlcuding the paragon of womanhood herself:
I bet that Marston really enjoyed the chance to write briefly about an evil WW…and perhaps especially about a man masquerading as an evil WW. (There’s another duplicate WW story here. At the same time, it’s interesting that the WW double didn’t show up on the cover. Duplicate WW clones of various stripes would become an obsession for Silver Age writers — a way, maybe, for creators to express their distaste and distrust of the character, or perhaps just their indifference by throwing oodles of generic clones into the plot. Marston, on the other hand, tosses the idea off and moves on to something else. There is a note or two about how the military brass mistrusts WW briefly because she appears to have stolen their secret weapon…but it’s treated as an aside, whereas in the Silver Age it would have been the main focus of the story. Marston isn’t interested in having people hate WW; she’s not Spider-Man. The point is everybody loves her! That’s what being a hero is all about, damn it.
Where was I?
So Psycho gets to be a powerful guy by deriving power from women. Partly, that means that he’s more manly. Partly, it means he’s more queer. Partly it means he’s more female. But above all, it means he’s got the phallus:
I love that; the pastor who is about to perform a wedding dissolves into pink, ropy, sticky tendrils, binding the wedding party in sticky bondage goo. Luckily, though, WW is more of a man, and more of a woman, than Psycho, so she can turn the phallus on him:
Great panel at the end: “You’ll live happily in our Amazon prison, Joan.” Joyful bondage, hooray!
As in Christine, there’s some anxiety here — but it seems more connected to male power than to female power. In Christine, the female power corrupts the man (turning him into an uber man); here, it’s more like the man corrupts female power (turning it into a phallus.) The wedding turns into an abject nightmare of goopy penis tentacle rape because the man is in control; once WW reclaims the ectoplasm for femininity, all is well.
You may be wondering who’s getting married, incidentally. Why, it’s…Etta Candy and Tyrone Gayblade!
Who knew Etta was so eager to get married? It does seem kind of out of character for our butch, independent, entirely orally oriented comic relief. But on the other hand, Etta doesn’t seem especially distressed when things don’t pan out.
Easy come, easy go. And yes, her long-suffering, nerdy, dominated suitor is named Sweetgulper.
Oh, and I couldn’t leave this issue without showing you this:
Psycho hypnotized one of his mediums by drawing his own eyes on a piece of paper and sending it to her. He really is tricky.
Just as a final thought: Greg Rucka used Dr. Psycho in his run on the issue. Basically, he turns Psycho into a mental rapist, controlling women with the power of his mind for sexual thirlls. The fact that Psycho’s power derives from women is entirely lost…making the character a lot more rote and boring, I think. Also, you know, there aren’t pink strands of ectoplasm everywhere. Which seems like a missed opportunity.