It’s been a long time since I last worked on the Bound to Blog series, in which I was blogging my way through every issue of the original William Marston/Harry Peter run on Wonder Woamn. The last issue I wrote about was the squickily racist Wonder Woman #19, way back in November shortly before we left the blogspot address. So (as you can probably figure out) that puts us at #20.
So…with a good eight months or so of anticipation, was it worth the wait? Well, no, not really. This issue is decidedly weak tea. In a lot of ways it’s a rerun of the lackluster Wonder Woman #17, which was also focused around time travel and which was also disjointed and not especially spirited.
The issue still looks great, of course. I love that cover, with Redbeard (Redbeard! hah!) looking absolutely enormous through the miracle of shaky scaling, ridiculous beard flapping every which way. And check out those gnarled hands — they each look big enough to cover WW’s entire head.
Redbeard’s face in the upper right corner is fantastic, with those elaborately curving eyebrows, the half-moon irises, that magnificent nose. WW sinking thorugh the water with the giant fish behind her is also hard to resist (Peter has used the fish trick before, but it never gets old for me.) And I love the way in the last panel the ocean spray mirrors the stars on WW’s shorts. And the guys falling out of the ship, with their elongated arms making them looks more dynamic and twisted as they drop….and Redbeard’s beard again in that final panel. It’s just a solid sequence all around.
I really like this too:
Those are the hands of a giant time monster (I’ll talk a little more about him ) shortly). And they’re great hands. But what I’m really enjoying here is the way Peter dispenses with speech bubbles, just writing “Zounds!” and “Help!” and “Quarter!” directly on the art. There’s an analogous effect here, in one of his silent sequences, which includes a couple well-placed “Bonk”s and the like:
This is an interesting shift for Peter; when he did wordless bits in earlier issues, they were mostly without sound effects as well — for instance, in this bullfight the knocked out bull snores with an image rather than a sound effect. It’s clear, in other words, that Peter is still experimenting, still trying to do new things with the comics form.
Here’s another nice moment:
The hothouse B & D lesbian seraglio, complete with the veiled and ample Etta in the foreground, is of course hard to resist — but what really makes the panel is the picture within the picture, with the quickly sketched, golden-haired, (entirely?) nude winged cherubs hovering together suggestively — mirroring the triptych of the mistress and the two kneeling slaves in front of it.
There are a couple of interesting narrative points as well. WW gets her bracelets welded together, robbing her of her powers…but Marston cheats and lets her do a bunch of feats of super strength anyway. He offers the excuse that even without her Amazon abilities, she’s still no weakling — but really you get the sense that it was just helpful to the plot — and maybe too that he couldn’t quite stand having her helpless.
Marston wrote a whole erotic novel about Julius Caesar, and he’s clearly borrowing from himself. In the book, as here, Caesar worships Venus and understands women, which is the source of his greatness. And in the book, as here, Caesar is really pretty dull and I wish Marston would talk about something else.
This sequence occurs right at the beginning of the story, and it’s maybe the oddest and most fraught moment in the comic. Peter draws Nifty with extra oomph even for him; her tight dress and low neckline certainly seems to have caught Steve’s attention in that second panel. But, of course, it’s not Steve who reacts to her most strongly, but Diana. A giant ghostly monster materializes (with a ridiculously prominent (ahem) nose)…and Diana leaps upon Nifty…incidentally giving us a fetching shot of her rear, just in case we’d forgotten what a butch woman and a femme woman wrestling mean to Marston.
Diana’s sudden burst of enthusiasm/passion knocks off her glasses — almost allowing Etta to pierce her double-identity. And as soon as Diana scurries off, we learn that Nifty has a double identity of some sort too — she’s the leader of a “gang,” and also apparently the avatar or other self of the weird monster with the phallic nose.
Marston, then, seems to be circling around ideas of doubling and ideas of lesbianism; Di and Nifty have a bond of attraction/repulsion which is tied to their split selves. Furthermore, the monster is a “time monster”, pulling Nifty back into the past so that she can have revenge. Connecting the past, violence, and disassociation of the self strongly suggests trauma.
There are a lot of ways to go from here. Marston could have examined the idea of bifurcation/trauma and its relationship to patriarchy/incest, as he did in issue 16. Or he could have gone further into the Diana/Nifty relationship and female bonding as a powerful, potentially dangerous force, which can either be used on behalf of patriarchy or against it (I talk about this more here. Or, you know, he could have just let us see a whole lot more of the crazy monster and given us more background on how it related to Nifty, since that’s the easily the nuttiest idea in the book,and the one with the most potential for ridiculous/unlikely/entertaining elaboration.
But he doesn’t do any of those things. Instead he gets wrapped up in how cool Caesar is and we never find out what the deal is with the Time Monster, or why Nifty is bonded to it, or what it wants. At the end there’s a kind of half-hearted suggestion that it was summoned by Nifty’s desire for revenge — directly contradicting earlier suggestions that it was itself pushing Nifty towards desiring revenge. I guess you could see the monster as an avatar of maleness; when women embrace violence, they are possessed by the patriarchy or some such. Again, though, Marston usually makes these points pretty explicitly when he’s paying attention. This one feels like he was mostly just going through the motions.