A Universe in One Comic Book: Astro City (Vol.3) #7

For the first time since Astro City‘s return this summer, Kurt Busiek and his partners are concentrating directly upon one of his Universe’s costumed characters, as opposed to the ‘ordinary’ folks living their lives in the light of a world in which suspended disbelief is a way of life. And after twenty years of the series, we come at last to the explaining of one of Astro‘s major, if perhaps remote, figures, Winged Victory who, from the outset, has been a very plain Wonder Woman-analogue.

It’s long overdue by my reckoning: Winged Victory was seen at close quarters in Volume 1, # 6 (see Life in the Big City), ostensibly as a possible girl-friend for Samaritan, but primarily in contrast to him in terms of their roles and how they approach what they do. Despite Busiek’s efforts to portray the two charactrs equally, Winged Victory still came off as subordinate, and she has remained very much a background figure ever since. Not so in this story.

“The Earth Below Us” being the first part of four, what we get this month is almost wholly set-up, fleshed out by the surprisingly early explanation of WV’s origin (I’m not sure how I feel about the revelation that her ‘boyfriend’ and closest supporters call her Vic…). It makes a welcome change: usually, such thing get revealed in episode 3, but the full nature of what WV is and how she is powered is essential to the various elements being brought forward.

First of these is Mike, a mysterious beaten-up kid crawling towards WV’s Astro City home, Samothrace, in search of the same kind of training, of mind and body WV has always provided to women, to enable them to stand up for themselves, be independent and strong, and masters (well, you know what i mean) of their own fates. Mike, however, is a man.

This cuts into a lovely, and lovingly nostalgic, scene of Winged Victory and Samaritan, both naked, flying together in the night sky: it’s a deliberate reflection of Samaritan’s dreams from the very first scene of Astro City, save that he was alone then but is accompanied now. It is but a dream, though a dream dreamt in WV’s arms and bed,and things haven’t changed that much, as Samaritan is woken and taken away by another disaster.

What follows is equally familiar. We have long been exposed to WV being a controversial figure, because of her overt feminism, and it is rearing its ugly head again: three super-villainesses suddenly claiming to be in WV’s pay, Vic being the puppet-master, their showdowns acted out fakes. The detractors who continually seek to tear her and her message down are immediately out in force, but this time it’s different. They’re too organised, too ready, and worryingly, too effective.

This is where WV’s origin comes in: as Lauren Freed, she was a nothing, a nobody, who let her life be dominated by a callous, self-centred man, who was broken down and left with nothing when he dumped her. But Lauren was chosen by the Council of Nike, to become Winged Victory, to become a symbol of strength, and a mentor/tutor for women. And what is most interesting is that her power comes from women the world over, strength that is chennelled into her, channelled by her. We’re not yet told on what basis this is, whether mystic or scientific – the outline we are given of this origin delicately avoids committing in either direction, thus far – but within twenty four hours of this latest scandal breaking, WV’s strength is already diminished, and she is summoned before the Council.

So, the threat is not just to the reputation and the example of Winged Victory but to the person of Lauren Freed within. The whole of the story makes it clear, throughout, that Winged Victory is Winged Victory on a permanent basis – the scenario established in her first appearance. Lauren Freed does not appear in this issue, outside her flashback: though Samaritan is Asa Martin in her bed, it is Winged Victory with whom he flies and makes love. After twenty years, we are led to believe that Lauren Freed is still the broken woman she once was, scared and helpless.

So: who is Mike, what is he running from, and what effect will he have? Who is behind this sudden undermining attack? Will Lauren be replaced as Winged Victory and how will she respond? And, as hinted on the cover, and made explicit on the final page, why is the Confessor sneaking around Samothrace, spying on her?

Good question, and remember, this is the second Confessor, the human one, Brian. Or shall we call him Busiek’s Batman-analogue? Between Winged Victory on the one hand, Samaritan on the other (agreeing to keep out of this, understanding how important it is for WV not to prevail with male help) and the Confessor’s undisclosed involvement, it’s a re-enactment of DC’s Trinity – and remember that Busiek wrote a 52 week series under that title, featuring the originals…

This one looks very interesting.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1972

Justice League of America 100, “The Unknown Soldier of Victory!”/Justice League of America 101, “The Hand that Shook the World”/Justice League of America 102, “And One of Us Must Die!” Written by Len Wein, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), Joe Giella (inks, issues 100, 101 and part 102) and Dick Giordano (inks Part 102), edited by Julius Schwarz.

The Justice League’s Satellite headquarters is empty and quiet. It is the League’s one hundredth meeting, and in honour of the occasion, everyone who is or was a Justice League member, together with associates Metamorpho, the Elongated Man and Zatanna, have gathered to celebrate at the League’s original cave sanctuary, outside Happy Harbor in Rhode Island.
With Batman shanghaing former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, into attending, the only ones missing are the Martian Manhunter, deep in space on New Mars but still thinking of the occasion, and former mascot ‘Snapper’ Carr who, despite being sent an invitation, is still too ashamed at his betrayal of the League to face his former friends.
But as the girls lift the cake cutter, everybody fades out, an experience familiar to most of those present, because it means they are being transported into Earth-2 again.
The augmented League arrives at the headquarters of a very sombre Justice Society, most of whose members are present. Doctor Fate explains that Earth-2 is under threat of destruction from a giant, nebular hand, threatening to crush the Earth, unless its master, the Iron Hand, is given world domination within 24 hours. Twice the JSA have gone against the nebular hand, and twice they have failed. Now they seek the JLA’s assistance.
By the use of his magic, Doctor Fate has found an unidentified grave, high in the Himalayas. He proposes that Zatanna and the Thunderbolt should join theirs magic to his to summon the being known as Oracle to seek his assistance. Oracle responds, at first belligerently, but agrees to advise due to the respect he believes is due to Doctor Fate. He explains that the Nebular hand can only be defeated is with the help of the Seven Soldiers of Victory: which is all very well, but nobody can remember who they are.
Oracle explains that they were a team of seven heroes who were first drawn together to combat the evil plans of the villain, the Hand. The Vigilante, Green Arrow and Speedy, the Crimson Avenger, the Shining Knight and the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy each fought personal villains who were in the pay of the Hand: Having defeated their foes, the septet arrived at the Hand’s base to foil his plans, with the Vigilante causing the Hand’s machine to fall on him, seemingly crushing him.
Taking the name Seven Soldiers, the heroes stayed together as a team, until they had to face the Nebula Man. Working together, the Seven Soldiers built a Nebula Rod, whose energies destroyed the Nebula, but killed the soldier who used it: his is the mysterious grave. The other Soldiers were blasted randomly through time, causing the modern world to forget them.
Quickly dividing themselves into seven teams of three, with Oracle’s mystic assistance, the heroes are sent into the timestream to locate and return with the individual Soldiers. Only Diana Prince remains, to coordinate with any latecomers.
In the land of the Aztecs, Doctor Fate, The Atom1 and Elongated Man save the Crimson Avenger from committing human sacrifice under the influence of a radioactive stone. They are summoned back by Oracle.
Meanwhile, in a hidden HQ on Earth-2, the villain gloats. He names himself the Iron Hand, and his right hand is made of metal.
End of part 1.

Diana Prince updates latecomers Green Lantern2, Mr Terrific and Robin on the current situation.
In Ghenghis Khan’s day, Metamorpho, Superman and Sandman not only rescue the Shining Knight from his hypnotised servitude, but prevent the Mongol warlord destroying a village.
Green Lantern2 cannot stand sitting around waiting. He takes his two colleagues on a trip to the Himalayas, to find out which fallen Soldier occupies the mysterious grave. En route, they stop to save some children from falling into a crevasse caused by an Earthquake.
In Medieval England, Dr Mid-Nite, Hawkman1 and Wonder Woman2 rescue Green Arrow from Nottingham Castle, where he has taken the placed of a wounded Robin Hood.
Elsewhere, in the present, the Iron Hand identifies himself as the Law’s Legionnaires’ old foe, the Hand. He was not destroyed in their battle, though his hand was crushed, and he has replaced it with this destructive mechanical device.
In Ancient Egypt, Batman, Starman and Hourman escape capture and imprisonment in a pyramid to rescue Stripesy from slavehood, dragging stones.
At JSA headquarters, Diana Prince waits and worries, unaware of the Iron Hand creeping up behind her.
End of part 2.

Following a recap by Oracle, who continues to summon back the successful heroes and their Soldier after each adventure, in the Wild West, Black Canary, Green Arrow and Johnny Thunder rescue the Vigilante from a Red Indian tribe, despite the two heroes each trying to lay some pretty chauvinistic claims over the affronted Canary.
In prehistoric times, Wildcat, Green Lantern 1 and Aquaman prevent havoc being caused to the human race by a neanderthal tribe coming into contact with a flu-ridden Star Spangled Kid.
Finally, in mythical times on Crete, The Flash1, Zatanna and the Red Tornado escape being turned into hybrid human/animals in order to defeat Circe and release Speedy from his magical centaur form.
The heroes and the Soldiers are back. Almost simultaneously, Green Lantern2 and co return from the Himalayas, having found the grave, but the Crimson Avenger intervenes to confirm that is was his friend and associate Wing, the unofficial ‘Eighth Soldier’ who died, and who is buried with full nobility there.
There is no time for celebration, for the group of heroes is suddenly interrupted by The Iron Hand, clutching Diana Prince as a hostage. With his attention focussed on over thirty heroes ready to pounce, the Iron Hand is not ready for Ms Prince pretending to feint before throwing him in a judo toss and karate chopping his iron hand off. Unfortunately, that was how he was controlling the Nebular hand, which is now out of control.
Rapidly, the Seven Soldiers rebuild their Nebula Rod, which is taken into space and charged at the Sun. There then follows at argument: whoever delivers the Rod will die, like Wing, and the heroes compete over who might have the best chance of surviving,
In the discussion, no-one notices Red Tornado leave with the Nebula Rod, leaving behind a note in which he suggests that his android body might survive, and that if it does not, only a machine has been lost. By this time, it is too late: Earth-2 is shook as the Hand detonates and is dissipated. Red Tornado does not return.
Chastened at the loss of their android comrade, the heroes remember both him and Wing.
* * * * *
Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 3 contains the team-ups from 1971 – 74. It has a very interesting introduction from Len Wein, writer of three of the reprinted stories, detailing his thought processes in each of them, together with information on the background of each story.
Wein was asked to take over Justice League of America from Mike Friedrich without being told he was going to start with not only the landmark issue 100, but also the tenth annual Justice Society team-up. It was a mammoth task, but Wein approached it with vigour and determination to write a story worthy of the event, and succeeded splendidly.
It’s very much in the grand Gardner Fox tradition, or as much of it as was possible a decade on. Though 1972 is itself a long time ago, enough time had already passed that it would never be possible to write pure Fox again: plot-intense with the characters mere functionaries of what was necessary to direct the story. Wein could base his script upon the characteristics of Fox, but it would be leavened with the kind of character interplay, personality-driven moments that would have been an utter redundancy a decade before.
It’s a strange irony that an event that relied so heavily in its appeal on the nostalgia of seeing the heroes of a bygone age should in only ten years generate nostalgia for itself.
As far as the story is concerned, it is a very simple tale, more simple in its telling than anything Fox himself had ever produced: menace threatens Earth-2: the only people who can save Earth-2 are lost in time: the heroes rescue them: they save the day. What makes it three issues is the sheer volume of characters involved, what makes it work is Wein’s whole-hearted commitment, and the joy in what he’s doing which is very noticeable after O’Neil and Friedrich, who noticeably aren’t happy with what they have to do.
That this anniversary special became the first JLA/JSA team-up to go past the traditional two-issue length was Schwarz’s decision but Wein’s suggestion. In trying to develop a sufficiently spectacular story, Wein hit on the idea of returning to the roots of the first team-up by bringing back another team from DC’s Golden Age. The Seven Soldiers of Victory, who occasionally operated under the rubric of the Law’s Legionnaires, were National’s only other superhero team in the Forties: indeed, they were in a way National’s answer to All-American’s Justice Society. They were never remotely as successful, lasting fourteen issues of Leading Comics (not the two that Wein, in his introduction, misremembers).
As a one-off, a special adventure, it was a great idea, and that was Wein’s intention. Unfortunately, in conceiving the story, he had changed the annual JLA/JSA team-up forever as, with a handful of exceptions, it was no longer sufficient for the two teams to cross the vibrational barrier and meet. Instead, there must always be guests, some other team, no matter how contrived, to add spice to the mix.
On the art side, Joe Giella was reaching the end of his tenure on Justice League of America. Dick Giordano, one of the finest inkers of the period, with a crisp, clean line that gave Dillin’s pencils a sharper edge from which it clearly benefited, inked two of the chapters in the last issue of the story, and would take over full-time with the following issue.
As far as the cast goes, this is obviously the biggest number of heroes to date, no less than 32 costumed characters (counting Johnny Thunder’s inevitable sports jacket and bow-tie) and that’s without the non-powered Diana Prince! Of course, for the 100th issue, Wein had to use, or at least reference, all the past and present JLAers, and he adds to the Earth-1 cast by featuring Metamorpho (who memorably turned down JLA membership), Zatanna (whose quest to find her long-lost father, Zatara, ended in Justice League of America) and the Elongated Man (who had no previous contact with the JLA that I am aware apart from being one of The Flash’s best mates, but who would be inducted by Wein three issues after this story).
On the Justice Society side, Wein included as many of its members as he could, notably putting Doctor Fate in the forefront as usual: Fate’s popularity in these stories can be demonstrated by the fact that he had appeared in eight of the first ten, whilst for Wildcat this was only his second appearance. Basically, all those JSA members with direct counterparts in the League – excepting latecomer Green Lantern – are left out, along with the Spectre, who is dead-dead.
There’s really very little to say about the story itself, except to note that this is the only time the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Green Arrows appear in the same tale, and it’s interesting that they show not the slightest bit of enthusiasm for getting together with each other. Our familiar, bearded liberal crusader even responds with a great, fat “So what?” when he’s told he has a counterpart on Earth-2, and whilst he wouldn’t necessarily have been assigned to rescue his doppelganger, it’s abundantly clear that they have nothing to say to each other, even in the group scenes at the end.
I suspect that our own Ollie held the unreconstructed version that represented his past in a fair amount of contempt, and I wouldn’t mind betting that the clean-shaven Oliver had much the same opinions of his hot-headed, anarchic, alternate.
Fun though these three issues are, there are just a couple of points that must be mentioned, where things fall below the overall standard. The first of these was commented on in a subsequent letter-column: that the menace that had taken two-and-a-half issues to combat was knocked into a cocked hat by the non-superpowered Wonder Woman with a judo toss and a karate chop (which is as near as I can get to an exact quote, though I no longer remember the fan’s name). The other is its ending.
Just as in O’Neil’s second effort in 1970, the story ends in tragedy, and sacrifice. That time it was the Spectre who gave his pseudo-life to save the two planets, this time it is the Red Tornado, with a typically self-loathing reference to himself as a handful of cogs and circuits, who proves his innate humanity by giving up all claim to it and carrying the Nebula Rod to explode the Nebular Hand.
It ought to be a time of regret, of reflection, and Wein makes the appropriate noises, but the sad truth is that that is all they are: noises. The Red Tornado was created in 1968 and this team-up was only his fourth-ever appearance, each time as one of a team. When he appeared I described him as a character full of potential, none of which had been remotely approached since then, as indeed it never could be, as long as he was a member of the Justice Society. His ‘death’ was meaningless.
It was also somewhat ludicrous, as it took place against a background of superhero willy-waving, with people queuing up to claim a place on the suicide mission, whilst the rest of the team easily shot their pretensions towards invulnerability down. And whilst everyone is taken up with this, twenty-odd stone of metal has it away on its tippy-toes with the Nebula Rod, without anyone – not even Superman’s super-hearing – catching the slightest chink. It spoiled the mood.
As to post-Crisis status, I see no reason why it couldn’t be adapted with very little change.

A bit of an apology

Back near the end of October, I did an in-advance apology that I wasn’t going to be posting here as frequently as usual because of my commitment to NaNoWriMo. Because I had so many pieces prepared in advance, the blog carried on nearly as normal. However, instead of a return to my usual prolific manner in December, things have if anything slowed down even more.

In part that’s because I wanted to carry on with the novel, which was incomplete at November 30th. Unfortunately, the main reason is a piece of self-inflicted damage to my health.

I can’t recall if I have ever mentioned this on here, but several years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 late onset diabetes. The condition was managed for several years by diet only but more recently it’s been a combination of diet and tablets (I do not need insulin shots). One thing I’ve learned is that I need to eat, even if only lightly, at regular intervals. However, a fortnight ago, the Council came rounmd to replace my Central Heating Boiler and my ‘bedroom’ radiator. To enable this I had to move everything out into the rest of my pokey little place: the mattress ended up blocking off the kitchen.

It was supposed to take half a day but they were here from 8.20 until almost 4.00pm, during which time I was effectively barricaded into a corner with my laptop. Then, when they’d finally finished, I had to go straight out to the Royal Mail Collection Centre to pick up a parcel they’d already been holding for several days.

The effect was that I didn’t eat anything from breakfast through until 6.00pm, which was stupid. And has had an effect. Firstly, physical debilitation the next day but, more importantly, I’ve been mentally tepid ever since. The concentration to think things through, to put things down, has been lacking, and that goes for the novel as much as things for this blog.

I have a half dozen part-written pieces that need finishing, but I haven’t the mental acuity – especially after the demands of my job – to do them justice. And I’ve a gap in the novel where I have been unable to get done some on-the-ground research, which has disturbed the flow, and I’m stuck quite close to a major moment which will unravel a lot of things I’ve been slowly setting up.

It’s very frustrating, but it’s my own fault, and I have no solutions. Today, it’s been compounded by a sore throat, contracted yesterday evening, that’s rapidly blossomed into a headcold, which has left me even less concentration.

The thing is, I went through a similar spell a few months ago, though onky for about ten days, which suddenly lifted whilst I was at work. Seriously: in an instant, it was as if someone had switched on the power in my head and everything became possible again. I’m currently waiting for that to happen again, although the draining circumstances of the run-up to Xmas do rather militate against that.

Once that mental energy is restored, I’ll be back on track and I’ll be sounding off as bumptiously as usual in this blog. I’ve some ideas for new series just awaiting the chance to get started: I just need the chance to revisit things I’m considering of talking about.

Until then, my apologies for the rather thin gruel of this month. I hope I’m not boring people too much.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Uncollected Thoughts

Continued from last year…

Firstly, let me say to those who are depressed or disgusted at Peter Jackson turning the slight, childish The Hobbit into three very long films whose style and tone do not reflect exactly this children’s book, and which contain material not appearing in the book but instead expand upon matters only referred to obliquely by Tolkien (or in the case of Evangeline Lilly’s female elf-warrior, Tauriel, woven out of whole cloth: don’t bother going any further. You won’t agree with a word I say.

I loved the Lord of the Rings films. I did not find them faultless, especially not the middle film, The Two Towers, where I still take great issue with the changes made to the story, but overall, having due regard to the source and considering the requirements of translating books into film, I regard them as superb. Having been reading the book for nearly thirty years beforehand, I could not imagine it being possible to film it successfully.

So I’m already ok with a Hobbit trilogy that takes its cue from the LOTR films, and which – since its story is a precursor to the events of Lord of the Rings – decides not to undercut its illustrious predecessor by turning its world into a hobbit-romp with silly songs. Since the two stories are inextricably linked by Tolkien’s own decision to inextricably link, how the hell else are you going to tell the stories?

I read Lord of the Rings first. I wanted to read The Hobbit for more of the same, without knowing anything in advance of its true nature, and I was awfully disappointed. Peter Jackson’s films are far more what I expected in January 1974.

So: what of Part 2?

I have been firmly instructed not to give anything away to anyone about The Desolation of Smaug at our Christmas meal tomorrow night, so I will restrict comments then to two words: ‘Oh’ and ‘Wow’.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Unexpected Journey last December, and disagreed with those who found it bloated, but I can understand the criticism now. TDOS moves at a rapid pace, from scene to scene, without ever lingering too long in any one moment. In that sense, it’s like The Fellowship of the Ring, in keeping to the spine of Tolkien’s story, but compressing everything into a more continual period of time.

The film starts, slightly disconcertingly, in flashback, in, of all places, Bree (in the pouring rain). Thorin Oakenshield, pursuing vain rumours that his father has been seen in the wilds, seeks shelter for the night, only to meet Gandalf the Grey. Nor is the meeting by chance: Gandalf is concerned about the North, about the need to shore up Middle Earth’s defences in that quarter. Which means that the Dwarves must re-take the Lonely Mountain and dispose of the Dragon…

From here, we go into the pell mell of the film. There’s no disguising that structurally it is not a distinct story, with a shape and purpose of its own, not even to the extent of The Two Towers. It begins with Bilbo and the Dwarves still in flight from Azog’s Orcs (and even though Azog himself is summonsed off the trail by his master, the Necromancer, the chase goes on, a constant driver of the action, with his lieutenant, Bolg, now in command), and it ends on a cliffhanger, Jackson having opted for that type of ending in the absence of something climactic in the book that does not leave him entirely to close to the end.

It’s all action, all motion all the way between, though the pace does slow somewhat during the time the Dwarves are endungeoned in the Wood-elves’ kingdom, where Tauriel, after being introduced as a doughty fighter, is superficially depicted as a romantic interest: remotely by Thranduil, who forbids her to give his son any hope of love with her, and directly by the young dwarf Kili. Despite reactions of disgust at the idea of a love story being welded into the plot, it’s actually handled quite well. There are no declarations, no snogging and only the very briefest brushing of fingers.

Mostly Tauriel fights, and she’s not only bloody good at it, she looks bloody good at it (always did like Evangeline Lilley on Lost).

The king’s son? Did I not mention his name? Of course it’s Legolas, and where Andy Serkis memorably recreated Gollum this time last year, Orlando Bloom is hurling himself about athletically for a good half the length on the film

The two long scenes are the Dwarves’ escape from the elves, which instead of being comic and bucolic is instead a fight, with the Orc band trying to kill the Dwarves, the Elves trying to recapture them and everybody killing Orcs, and the clash between the Dwarves and Smaug, the Dragon, inside the Lonely Mountain which is the effective climax to the film, and which is bloody brilliant and does not feel in the least overdone or extended. I mean, this is a Dragon, for Iluvatar’s sake, you don’t just hit it with half a brick and it falls over. You need at least half a mountain, and still he’s coming at you.

Whilst the events of this section of Tolkien’s original are followed in strict order, every scene is re-imagined with a dramatic viewpoint. The spine is there, and the essential marks are hit, again in the order of the original, but there is a greater firmness and intensity to each and every moment. This is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings and much is, quite correctly, made of the gathering storm that is to follow.

This is emphasised by the parallel story of Gandalf, leaving the Dwarves on the edge of Mirkwood, as he does in the book. This time, he doesn’t just vanish off-screen, to reappear much later: something in the atmosphere of Mirkwood, and in mental communication with the Lady Galadriel, sends him on a mission to the North, to the Tomb.

This was a moment of some confusion at first for me: Tomb? Whose Tomb? They can’t surely be about to blow it by suggesting Sauron has a Tomb, can they? No, Jackson hasn’t been utterly inconsistent. The Tomb is dark, forbidding, dangerous to access, but what it held is gone, breaking out of barred cells. There are Nine…

Sylveste McCoy reprises Radaghast in an entirely humour-free cameo, before he is sent to Lothlorien, to Galadriel. Gandalf goes alone into Dol Gulder, to confront the Necromancer – a stunningly effective concoction of rushing CGI shadows – and to identify him, as long ago he did offstage, between books in fact, as Sauron.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s brilliant use of material that Tolkien ‘lost’ in the Appendices and it provides an echo of The Twin Towers by giving us a parallel tale to the main story.

As with An Unexpected Journey, I watched the film in 3D, which was again highly effective after the initial unreality of the effect. The film makes very skilful use of it in terms of elf-arrows, which zing around from every point of the compass, but the two moments that stuck in my mind came fairly early on. There’s a bucolic scene in Beorn’s house where fat bumble bees buzz around, slow and contented: I don’t get on with bees and wasps and I damned well didn’t need an absolutely massive bumble bee flying out if the screen and into my face, thank you very much.

The same goes for the Spiders of Mirkwood. There’s a moment in The Return of the King that I can’t watch. It’s where Shelob comes hurtling into the centre of the screen, straight at you. No matter how hard I try, how rational I am about it being only a film, only CGI, I cannot watch it: my eyes slam shut every time. And that was in 2D: the Mirkwood spiders might not be in Shelob’s class but when they’re coming out of the screen into your face they don’t need to be.

So yes, I loved this. I thought it was bloody brilliant, from start to finish and I had no idea of the time passing whilst I had my eyes on the screen. Which, through both glasses AND 3D glasses, is no mean absorption. It’s main flaw? The twelve months to go between tonight and part 3: There and Back Again.

And if Peter Jackson does want to mine some more material from the hidden years in between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, if it’s this involving, he has my permission to get right on with it.

To be continued in December 2014…

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1971

Justice League of America 91, “Earth- the Monster-Maker!”/Justice League of America 92, “Solomon Grundy the One and Only!” Written by Mike Friedrich, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Joe Giella (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

In the aftermath of the previous issue’s meeting, Hawkman chairs a meeting with Superman, Green Lantern and the Atom present. Black Canary and Green Arrow are absent with leave, Aquaman hasn’t attended, because of what happened last issue and Batman is still searching for the missing Flash. Suddenly, the teleporter activates and Batman appears, carrying the broken body of the Flash in his arms.
We break off to enter a space region called the In-Between, a dangerous zone described as a ‘blind spot’, where some kids are joy-riding. They are aliens: humanoid in form, with big heads, pointy ears, small bodies, yellow skin, and they wear purple head-cowls with eyemasks. S-Kyris piloting when, suddenly, his younger brother A-Rym, and his vaguely dog-like pet, Teppy, fall out of a faulty air-lock. A warp snaps the lifeline connecting the pair and sends them tumbling into separate dimensional worlds, dooming them.
For these aliens have a symbiotic relationship with their pets, and require the physical proximity of each other. If they are separated for 37½ hours, both will die. Already, more than 23 hours have elapsed, and the two beings have undergone physical changes, growing larger and ever more dangerous, in their pain-filled desperation. Teppy is on Earth-1, A-Rym on Earth-2.
On Earth-2, the Justice Society is meeting. Superman, the Flash, the Atom and Hawkman respond to a distress signal from Green Lantern, which leads them to Slaughter Swamp, where Robin is helping a rather battered Emerald Crusader The Lantern has encountered, and been beaten by A-Rym, who has taken his Power Ring, sensing that it might be able to restore him to Teppy, if he can only make it work.
The Lantern is sent back to JSA HQ to recover, whilst Robin is reluctantly accepted onto the mission by a disdainful Hawkman, as a barely-adequate substitute for Batman.
Back on Earth-1, a Thanagarian medical unit saves the Flash’s life. He bursts out at speed just as Black Canary and Green Arrow arrive, but lasts only long enough to mention alien monster and New Carthage, home of Hudson University and College student Dick (Robin) Grayson. However, a summons from Aquaman demanding Batman and Green Arrow diverts them, Canary stays to tend to the Flash and the rest take off.
En route, they see Robin following up the same lead and take him along, with Hawkman disdainfully suggesting he might be a barely-adequate substitute for Batman.
Green Lantern’s ring detects a strange vibe emanating from Earth-2, suggesting another joint peril.  They contact the JSA team and discover this is so. The Atom1 suggests a mingling of teams on a scientifically sound basis: after the swap over, the Earth-1 squad consists of both Supermen, both Atoms and the Flash2, and the Earth-2 outfit of both Hawkmen, both Robins and Green Lantern1 (hang scientific soundness, this is obviously a put-up from Friedrich).
The Earth-2 squad locate A-Rym, who is going through the throes of a very painful cold turkey. They approach him cautiously as he is currently quiescent, but Robin1 is impetuous and starts an attack. This sets A-Rym off: he rips Robin1’s tunic off him. Robin2 goes to the rescue, over Hawkman2’s protests, and has to be rescued. Green Lantern1 sends both Robins off to the Earth-2 Batcave whilst he and the Hawkmen attempt to subdue A-Rym. But the frightened boy’s extraordinary strength beats down the Lantern, seeking out his ring (though GL wills it to become invisible before he goes under). Frightened, A-Rym knocks out both Hawkmen with GL’s body before running deeper into the swamp.
Meanwhile, on Earth-1, the pet creature Teppy is getting bigger, more panicky and more destructive. When that Earth’s outfit finds him, he semi-recognises the Flash2, being reminded of Flash1, and lashes out, starting a fight. The team have more success: whilst Atom1 distracts Teppy, the Supermen and Flash2 scoop out a deep ‘moat’, leaving the pet stranmded on a suddenly-isolated pillar of rock.
With their situation under control, Flash2 and Superman1 vibrate into Earth-2 to contact their squad. This being Slaughter Swamp, A-Rym has finally bumped into its notorious denizen, Solomon Grundy, the marshland monster. Grundy’s presence provides a strange, temporary relief for A-Rym’s pains.
When the augmented Earth-2 squad arrive, Grundy reacts violently to Green Lantern1’s power ring and attacks, taking out everybody, including Superman (his strength is partly magical in origin, hence Superman’s vulnerability). A-Rym beats up GL1 again and a hate-filled Grundy raises Superman, intending to kill the Lantern by smashing the Kryptonian’s invulnerable body down on him.
End of Part 1.

After four pages of contrasting two of each hero with one of Grundy, plus one page recapping A-Rym and Teppy’s plight, the story resumes. Superman fights his way out of Grundy’s grasp and everyone makes a tactical retreat.
Meanwhile, in space, S-Kyr’s rocketship is monitoring the rapidly decreasing life-force of A-rym, who tries to stop Grundy smashing Green Lantern1: he is still desperate for the Power Ring. The heroes mount another fruitless attack and A-Rym, realising Grundy isn’t his solution, leaves.
Back at the Earth-2 Batcave, Robin2 has finished repairing Robin1’s wounds and the two are sympathising about the generation gap as it is being applied to them by Hawkmen everywhere. Robin2 provides his junior with a fresh costume, a slick, sleek outfit in a grown-up combination of red, green and yellow, designed by the Earth-2 Neal Adams. They return to the fray.
On Earth-1, The Flash1 comes out of his coma and tries to stand up. Fortunately, his wife Iris turns up at that point and takes him home for TLC, leaving the Canary on her own.
On Earth-2, the ringless Green Lantern2 is alone until the battered outfit return with their wounded soldiers, Flash2 and Superman1. GL1 summons his Power Battery and creates a duplicate ring for GL2: they take GL1’s oath together (as they took GL2’s oath together in the 1969 team-up), and return to the fray.
A-Rym, whose withdrawal symptoms are getting worse, is trying to work the Power Ring2. On the rocketship, his life-force glows, until, that is, the heroes arrive, joined simultaneously by the Robins, and Robin2’s batarang removes the ring from A-Rym’s grasp: his life-force dims, ending his last hope of being found.
A-Rym’s last burst of strength drains away, allowing Robin1 to best him, and he begins to shrink and fade, falling unconscious into Robin1’s arms.
Elsewhere in Slaughter Swamp, Solomon Grundy is on a destructive rampage, with the two Lanterns trying to halt him. They discover that, individually, neither ring has enough power, but once they combine their willpower, they can finally drain his of power, if not of life. Once Hawkman1 turns up with Power Ring2, however, the Lanterns can make Grundy safe for all time by sealing him into Slaughter Swamp behind an unbreakable green barrier.
On each Earth, the alien monsters are shrinking and fading. But a couple of comments about the coincidence of fighting two such beings, on different Earths, simultaneously, clue in the Robins to the true situation. The heroes bring A-Rym and Teppy back together, saving their lives, and so regenerating their life forces that S-Kyr can track and collect them and go home. It’s such a happy ending, even the two Hawkmen apologise to their respective Robins for under-rating them as kids
So everyone heads back to where they belong, including Robin1 to his interrupted case, musing over keeping his new costume (Schwarz invites the readers to write in and say if they want him to). He muses on how odd it is for Batman to be there at the beginning but not the end of a JLA case, but the caption warns that this is not the end, as we will see next issue…
* * * * *
Just as Julius Schwarz had, from the Fifties onwards, cultivated a small stable of writers and artists with whom he would work, in the Sixties he cultivated a small ‘stable’ of letter-writers, young, thoughtful, articulate, passionate and interesting boys (and in Irene Vartanoff, one girl), whose letters recurred time and again in his titles. It was hardly a surprise that almost all of them (“Our Favorite Guy”, Guy H. Lillian III, being the notable exception) went on to work in the industry.
“Castro Mike” Friedrich (from Castro Valley, California) was one such. In 1970, he replaced Denny O’Neill as Justice League of America scripter, bringing youthful enthusiasm and an eagerness to experiment with, amongst other things, the approaches of Marvel. His JLA stories were intended to be ongoing, as can be seen in this team-up, where the opening is heavily affected by carry-over issues from the previous story, and in which the final panel is loaded with a lead-in to the succeeding story, which follows on from that continuity laden opening.
In a way, that makes the entire team-up a diversion, an interruption to the League’s run of events, and to be honest, the story reads that way, an impression not helped by a letter from Friedrich printed in the comic, bitching about the monumental size of his task in setting up so many heroes in so few pages.
And he’s right: it is a hell of a task, and he makes an uncomfortable, awkward mess of it, from start to finish.
If it wasn’t already noticeable in itself, Friedrich takes no less than three full pages at the start of the second part to belabour the reader over the head with his gimmick for this story – thankfully never repeated – of only using pairs of heroes in the story, even to the extent of dragging in Robin the Teen Wonder as a guest star to complement the first appearance of the grown-up Earth-2 Robin since his 1967 début.
But having gimmicked his story, even to the extent of mixing the teams to get the pairs working in tandem, for “scientifically sound” reasons that are as transparently meaningless as anything ever published in comics, Friedrich does nothing of significance with them. Except, of course, introduce a clumsy ‘generation gap’ theme as the two Hawkmen – both portrayed as crusty, disrespectful veterans – each put down their respective Robins.
The menace itself is also a clumsy gesture by Friedrich. The intentions are good: the set-up is clearly aimed at exploring the misunderstood monster territory that, a year later, Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing would march into and occupy, but his treatment of it is awkward and ineffective.
Dillin drawing the aliens as identical yellow-skinned humanoids – wearing masks! Did they truly fear that someone might otherwise recognise them and strike back through their loved ones? – and the pets as cute puppy equivalents does not help one little bit. Even when they’re on a rampage, they look stupid rather than menacing.
And at intervals, just to ram down our throats that these guys are more to be pitied than feared, Friedrich treats us to lurid descriptions of heroin withdrawal pains, making an ill-suited comparison that is inappropriate given that A-Rym and Teppy are symbiotes, whose life depends on physical proximity. To illustrate this with addiction is not playing with equals.
There are so many little things about this story that do not hang together. It’s easy enough to limit the JSA contingent to only members with a Justice League counterpart, but not so simple to dispose of the rest of the League: in Friedrich’s world, they can’t simply not turn up to this particular meeting. Aquaman’s apparent snit (I did used to have most of Friedrich’s run but cannot recall anything of it now) takes care of him and his summons of Batman and Green Arrow moves them out, but it still leaves Black Canary as nursemaid, and requires that awkward page in part 2 with Iris turning up to take Barry off her hands.
I’ve already mentioned the “scientifically sound” nonsense, but there’s also this business about A’Rym and Teppy have only 37½ hours to live separately, which is an awkward choice of period. Presumably it’s meant to be a change from the usually state where alien deadlines somehow break down into multiples of 24 hours, but then Friedrich goes on to stipulate that 23 hours at least have already gone by during which the two lost babies were utterly harmless, and only now do they start getting big and in your face menaces.
The story is full of such contrivances which do not derive organically from a thought-through story but which are thrown in to keep things stumbling along, or make things convenient for the writer, like Solomon Grundy. There is absolute nothing in the story to support the notion that this Golden Age creation, with his terrible rages, should in any manner be able to substitute for Teppy and sustain little A-Rym’s life force, except the desperation of the writer to find an excuse to bring Grundy in as someone the heroes can fight who isn’t actually a helpless and scared kid.
Besides, after going so heavy on the heroin withdrawal stuff, Friedrich has painted himself into something of a corner when it comes to A-Rym’s durability.
Frankly, it’s a mess.
Of course, come the end of the day, it’s the much put-upon, sneered at Robins who solve the case. It’s put down to their having been trained by the greatest detective mind in history, Batman, to put infinitessimal clues together to make four where others have yet to spot either two but we all know that it’s really because they’re the Younger Generation, who can see things clearly where the Older Generation have eyes covered with scales. Especially when it comes to making peace, not war (a metaphor badly spoiled by the fact that the first and completely unnecessary punch in part 1 was slung by the Teen Wonder).
As for the two Hawkmen having been selected as the stuffy Older Generation, I’m assuming this was derived from the Thanagarian Hawkman’s role as law’n’order opposite to the hot-headed, ultra-liberal Green Arrow. It’s far less appropriate to the Reincarnate Egyptian Prince Hawkman, though Friedrich tries to justify it by having Robin2 excuse him because he wasn’t present on Adult Robin’s one previous JSA adventure to date.
Which casts severe doubt upon Richard Grayson’s deductive capabilities, because Hawkman2 was very present on that 1967 case.
Having come down hard on Friedrich over what he did do, it’s a shame to also criticise him on what he didn’t do. So far in DC’s comics, the Flashes had teamed-up, the Green Lantern’s had teamed-up, the Atoms had teamed-up, multiple times, but this was actually the first time the Hawkmen had appeared together. Not only do they appear together, they spend most of the story working in tandem, yet despite their similarly stiff-mindedness, there is barely a word spoken to or about each other.
Indeed, this is the only major occasion of which I am aware in which the Hawks appeared together, and they treat each other as no more than fellow team-mates. Not even a two-man flying team trick: Gardner Fox would have burned his typewriter rather than miss that opportunity.
This was Friedrich’s one and only script for the JLA/JSA’s team-ups. His run as scripter would end with issue 99, leaving his successor, another fan-turned-writer, Len Wein, with not only the 100th Anniversary issue, but also the tenth team-up as his first script. An uncommon task. Friedrich wrote only fourteen issues of Justice League of America, including this solitary team-up: Wein would write only fifteen issues, but his spell would include three team-ups, each of different length, and he would make the most significant change to the annual team-ups of them all.

Wonder Woman: Kanigher and the “C” word

The book in question

I’ve read all manner of stuff in comics over the fifty years that I’ve been involved with the things, weird, incomprehensible, brilliant, dull, inspired and just plain awful, but I don’t think I have ever read anything so head-scratchingly, bewilderingly bizarre as Robert Kanigher’s Wonder Woman.
For the last decade or so, DC’s Showcase series has been a cheap and easy way to read long runs of old series, mostly but not exclusively from the Sixties. The volumes provide you with a good long read: Wonder Woman Volume 4 reprints 21 issues from 1965 to 1968, nos. 157 – 177, mostly written by Kanigher and drawn by regulars Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. To make them cheap enough to be attractive, the stories are reprinted in black and white, which is a drawback, but in this instance, nothing that has any bearing on the contents.
I first read this volume several months ago, in utter disbelief, but having just run two Wonder Woman blogposts very shortly before, I decided against doing a post on it at that time. The time has come to read it again – it is equally incredible-in-not-a-good-way – and bite the critical bullet.
Kanigher had been writing Wonder Woman since the late Forties, succeeding creator William Moulton Marston after the latter’s death. His work on the series was already legendary, in the sense of notorious, for its slapdash, wing-it approach, in which incident would follow incident with a complete lack of logic, as if Kanigher did not know, when he typed one page, what the next would contain. And there was the accidental creation of such characters as Wonder Tot and Wonder Girl, who were supposed to be Wonder Woman at different stages of her earlier life but who, instead, started appearing alongside her.
It’s not hard to imagine the comic being the perennially low seller it has always been rumoured to be. Indeed, though I’ve never seen this officially confirmed, it’s long been common knowledge that Marston’s original deal with All-American comics included a clause by which ownership of Wonder Woman would revert to the Marston family if a Wonder Woman comic was not published for a certain length of time, and it was widely believed that the series continued because DC had too much income in licensing deals tied up in the character to afford to lose her, no matter how badly the series sold.
Assuming this to be true, it seems equally clear that as a consequence, nobody gave a damn what Kanigher did with the character. Certainly Kanigher didn’t.
Volume 4 covers the end of one differing phase of the series and all of the rest, although the difference is purely superficial. This is not immediately apparent from the meat of issues 157-8, but a back-up story in the latter, a mind-boggling piece of metafiction that takes what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would do by inserting themselves into stories and beats it, whimpering in fear, to the ground.
But we cannot ignore that two-part story, for many reasons. This is the (in) famous tale that introduces that most incredible of Sixties villains, the Chinese Communist Oriental mastermind, called Egg Fu.
No, let’s just stop right there. Egg Fu. Before we go even the slightest bit further, let us reflect that here is a character whose very name, even in 1965 amidst the Cold War, embodies a hideously embarrassingly, mind-numbing racism.
Egg Fu. Oh God. And who, or more properly what is Egg Fu? Dear reader, I am afraid there is no way of softening the blow in advance, he is an Egg. A gigantic egg, with yellow skin. He has a painted on face consisting of giant bushy eyebrows, eyes slanting inwards at a 45% angle, a gigantic mouth filled with absolutely non-stereotypical buck teeth, and curling moustachios. Oh, and he has the usual oriental incapability to pronounce the letter R, unress it is funny. A word is already stirring in my head.

Now do you believe me?

The actual story-line begins with Wonder Woman’s boyfriend, Col. Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence, being asked to volunteer for a mission that has already claimed the lives of eleven pilots, a mission he embraces with an impressive gung-ho loyalty. However, it being probable to the point of certainty that he too will be killed, Steve is given an hour to make peace with his fate, settle his affairs and say farewell to his loved ones, without of course giving away the slightest clue that he’s not coming back.
Steve being Steve, his only thought is to snog Wonder Woman one more time.
Now Wonder Woman, in this era, is close at hand, playing Lieutenant Diana Prince, also of US Army Intelligence, though Diana is only a glorified typist. Naturally, her Amazonian hearing has already alerted her to her beloved Steve’s suicide mission, and only her Amazonian Code is keeping her from the profuse weeping that she automatically breaks out in any time she is threatened with being separated from her handsome boyfriend by more than ten feet.
It should be acknowledged that in Wonder Woman we have an inverted Lois Lane situation: Wonder Woman loves Steve Trevor as both Wonder Woman and Diana Prince but Steve has only eyes for her as Wonder Woman, to such an extent that his only topic of conversation with Lieutenant Prince is his endless extolling of the virtues and beauty of Wonder Woman.
We are about to see a hideously perverse demonstration of this, a gesture of emotional contempt and self-absorption worthy of a monograph in itself. Steve, having arrived in Diana’s office too quickly for her to turn into Wonder Woman, accepts with comparative ease the fact he’s not going to see his Angel for a last time. So, in flagrant disregard for the secret aspect of his orders, he asks Diana if she’ll spend that hour with him, walking on the beach, talking, even snogging at one point – but solely on the basis that at every moment (even during the kissing), Steve will be pretending Diana is Wonder Woman because he can’t get hold of Wonder Woman, and what woman in her heart would deny him that last pleasure?
We’re only up to page 3 and I am reeling in shock that this very notion is not being greeted by, at minimum, a jolt to the testicles from an elephants knee.
But Diana being Diana, as well as Wonder Woman (and the absolute worst of love-struck simps in both guises), it’s the least she can do. And what if their beach idyll is interrupted by the arrival of Chinese Communist Saboteurs coming ashore and trying to shoot them both? Colonel Steve will save the day!
Pity that he can’t see that Lt. Prince has tears pouring out of her eyes in every frame
Once it comes to the mission, Steve is naturally a winner. The fiendish Egg Fu has created automatic defences that detect the vibrations of aerial photography and blow up anything that tries to use it, but Steve’s already bailed out and is taking pictures on the way down with a camera. Just in case he’s tried something sneaky like that, Egg Fu has him bombarded with X-rays, but these are special X-rays. Instead of wiping out photographs, they lift people fifty feet in the air and fill them with explosive energy that turns them into weapons to be flung against US Navy battle fleets of the kind Wonder Woman is fighting to save, in accordance with her Amazon code, whilst all the time leaking tears left, right and centre over poor Steve. Who, incidentally, as a consequence of said Amazon code, she’s compelled not to even smooch, let alone give him a (sanctified-by-marriage) Amazonian shag.
As it happens, Wonder Woman’s compulsion to touch Steve gets her – and him – destroyed, absolutely blown to atoms, by book end, but here comes Hyppolyta (aka Wonder Queen) with the marvellous ASR machine, which the Amazons have invented to restore mountains destroyed by earthquakes and volcanoes. Wouldn’t you just know it, it does work on humans, but whoops, now Wonder Woman has the same explosive content as poor Stevie, and every time the two hapless lovers so much as touch fingers, they are blown about in painful explosions.
However, the love between this pair is so strong and demanding that, despite the risk of concussion if they so much as brush against each other, they keep attempting to do so every two to three pages, because they are so much a pair of lovestruck idiots that they apparently forget, from what explosive contact to the next, just what happens if they try to cop a quick feel.
The solution to this conundrum is exactly as you’d expect from the story so far. Though Egg Fu is an egg, whose features are painted on, suddenly his moustachios move independently, and capture Wonder Woman and Steve in a trap. In order to get rid of them, he hurls them into space, only for them to make contact with one of a number of anti-matter particles falling on the Earth. But these are special anti-matter particles that do not destroy everything instantly upon coming into contact with positive matter, but instead wipe out atomic explosive particles forced into the body of people, freeing them up to touch without blowing each other seventeen ways to sideways.
Thus freed, Wonder Woman drops her lasso of truth, which forces people bound by it to do her bidding, around Egg Fu and orders him to stop his villainy. But Egg Fu lesists so fuliously that, well, he cracks. I mean, he’s an egg, remember!
You’d think that’d be enough for two issues, but Kanigher follows this up with an eight page back-up story announcing the new phase of the series starting next issue, which is either a brilliantly self-mocking piece of premature metafiction, or a piece of shite. You pays your money…
Murder is about to be committed, and Wonder Woman can’t stay. She flies off in her robot plane, like a true coward (I mean, heroine) whilst teenage protesters gather with placards outside a “certain comics company”, protesting against a “certain editor”, who is “killing” Wonder Woman. Much play is made of how said “Editor” is an untrustworthy psychopath, because he reportedly wears a yellow bow-tie (wait, it’s not… Barry Allen, is it?).
Meanwhile, the entire supporting cast cowers in the editor’s office, awaiting their fate. This means: Steve Trevor, Wonder Queen, Wonder Girl, Wonder Tot, Manno and Mer-Boy, Birdman and Bird-Boy and the Glop. Beads of desperate sweat pearl their collective foreheads.
The fleeing Wonder Woman defeats her very old foe the Duke of Deception, out to destroy Paradise Island as a parting gesture before Mr Bowtie murders him, the Amazons cower in subdued, panicky groups, and even Angle Man (who is equally quickly defeated) is in mortal fear.
Because next issue, Kanigher is taking the series Golden Age. Wonder Woman will henceforth retell all the original Golden Ages stories, starting from that secret origin, with artist regulars Andru and Esposito now having to draw with old Harry G Peters’ stiffness, and the entire supporting cast is killed – by having their photos flung into a desk drawer. Only Wonder Woman herself, Queen Hyppolyta (undergoing an abrupt makeover back from blonde to brunette) and super-cutie Steve are spared.
All this in two issues.

Indeed she was

What follows does not, in all honesty, plumb the depths of execrability of these two issues. It is badly drawn, deliberately, all over the place, repetitive – Wonder Woman for the next thirteen straight issues cannot be introduced without the words “Beautiful as Aphrodite, Wise as Athena, Stronger than Hercules and Swifter than Mercury!” which as descriptive epithets go lacks the concision of “Boy Wonder” or even “Scarlet Speedster” – and starts to display an underlying psycho-sexuality that is disturbing to contemplate.
In truth, the Golden Age stuff doesn’t last long, not that it is easy to tell just where Kanigher’s focus is at any time. It’s partly a re-telling of Wonder Woman’s origins, her coming to America and her taking over the real Lieutenant Diana Prince’s life, mingled in with reintroductions of some of the Golden Age villains in, well, frankly, not really updated forms.
The characteristics of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor do not change. In every respect except actual lust, Wonder Woman is slavering for Steve, repressed only by her sacred Amazonian code and her promise to Aphrodite not to reveal her identity or give up her mission, both of which are utter bars to any kind of relationship with Steve that anyone normal would recognise as emotionally healthy.
She loves him. She yearns to be near him. She will act in any old kind of stupid way to protect him, despite the evidence that he hasn’t got the sense of a rabid gopher.
Because Steve is obsessed with Wonder Woman, or his ‘Angel’ as he insists on calling her to everyone under the sun, most often of all his long-suffering colleague, Lieutenant Diana Prince. Once again, the issue of lust in any recognisable form is absent from this relationship, which, given that Steve is a US Army Colonel before he meets Diana, makes his subsequent less than adolescent passion seem even more improbable. At least Diana has the excuse of complete ignorance about sex (and men) prior to that fateful and ineptly retold moment.

Just another, everyday thing

Indeed, Steve’s obsession is not merely total it is monomaniacal. It doesn’t matter what the situation, where they are, how appropriate it may be, what conditions of peril and danger this pair of prize twits may be in, Steve wants a kiss from his ‘Angel’. And in the face of even the most rational degree of resistance from Wonder Woman, Steve will force that kiss on her, no matter what danger she is preoccupied with saving him/them from, no matter what greater peril or risk he is creating, just as long as she is doing anything that keeps her from fending off his advances.
Yet Wonder Woman does not seem to see anything remotely wrong about this behaviour. She does not even resent it as a momentary intrusion, no matter what effect his inappropriately expressed passion has upon her and the job she is doing. Any normal female would have worn her throat out shrieking variations on “Are you out of your stark, staring, fucking mind?!?!?!” long ago, but this is not in Diana’s vocabulary. Indeed, the slightest thing that removes her as much as an inch from her masochistic goal of being in the divine presence of her suitor brings tears to her eyes faster than snatching a favourite dolly from a two-year old girl. Wonder Woman, outside of the Justice League, appears to be the only superhero who spends over 50% of her time crying.
This emotionally disastrous state of affairs is further heightened by the willingness of both its partners to interpret the slightest signs of any friendly gesture towards a member of the opposite gender as incontrovertible evidence of undying love, and a cue for heartbroken withdrawal from the scene, no matter how implausible the circumstances, though misapprehensions of this nature usually get cleared up (without a backwards mention) in the next panel.
Yet the sight of Diana being nice to someone who, no matter how implausibly old or ugly they may be, happens to be male is not the only thing that can disturb Steve’s unhealthy state of mind towards his ‘Angel’. One of Wonder Woman’s many assets is her lasso of truth, which, if bound about a person, compels them to obey the wielder. Given the sheer power represented by this weapon, it’s already frightening that Wonder Woman manages to lose it and get bound by it in almost every story, usually because she forgets to protect it (forgets? forgets?! FORGETS!!??). Steve is well aware of this, having witnessed Wonder Woman end so many adventures by catching crooks in her lasso, yet when she is in her turn bound and force to obey an enemy who has her act against the United States, Steve instantly bellows his hatred of Diane for turning traitor, no matter how many times she points out that she is helpless to do anything else.
This bull-headed stupidity only serves to torture Wonder Woman more than the mere fact of treason could already do, yet once she frees herself and saves the day, there is not a word of explanation, nor any request for forgiveness over the whole, horrendous affair.
And it is to be contrasted with Steve’s complete hypocrisy in getting his own hands upon the magic lasso, binding his ‘Angel’ with it, and using his control over her to order her to marry him.
Hypocrisy? Hang on, that’s the least of things. Let’s just repeat that. The leading superheroine’s beloved boyfriend – a Colonel in the US Army, in Intelligence, a person of high responsibility – is actually prepared to cheat his loved one into a state of personal slavery, compelling her into a marital and sexual relationship not merely against her express wishes but in complete override of her personal autonomy. No matter how often she pleads with him to let her go, to let her marry him at the right time, freely and of her own love and volition, he takes overt pleasure in refusing her appeals, in insisting on his forcing her, in exercising his blatant control over her.
This isn’t love. It isn’t even obsession, this is an openly expressed intent to rape, enslave and subjugate another human being. In a comic aimed at 8 – 12 year olds.
And when Steve’s grasp of the lasso is jolted from his hands, and Wonder Woman regains control of herself and her destiny again, there is not the slightest suggestion that she holds any resentment towards him, that she regards his behaviour and his attitude towards her as anything more than natural and unexceptionable, nor that he harbours the remotest doubt as to his conduct, nor that he would think for even a fraction of a second before taking exactly the same steps the moment opportunity re-presents itself, thus presenting Wonder Woman with the prospect of sapending her every waking moment in a state of heightened watchfulness against the guy who professes to love her and who has openly stated his intention to obliterate her will. And then she’s also got to watch out for the bad guys.
This isn’t the only aspect of the bizarre and unhealthy psycho-sexual background to the series, which also appears in the revival of the Golden Age character, Dr Psycho. Psycho was a midget, drawn with an overlarge head decorated by a penile nose and a jutting chin that, being also cleft, resembled a scrotum. In mainstream comics: the Comics Code Authority was certainly not as fascisticly vigilant as it might have been.
From his Golden Age origins under Marston, Dr Psycho was an out-and-out misogynist, originally charged with eliminating the influence of women on creating an atmosphere of peace. As written by Kanigher, he’s just a woman-hater whose hatred is based in rejection due to his deformed looks. It doesn’t take much to transfer this generalised loathing into a specific mad-on for Wonder Woman, with Psycho’s determination to force her into a symbolic role as the ultimate in female ability and potential, so that defeating her will be a slap in the face for womankind.

That’s certainly a viable story role, though it’s undermined by Kanigher’s presentation of Wonder Woman as an extremely dodgy role model to begin with. There’s even a sequence where Dr Psycho pretends to want to reform, to become Diana’s friend. It’s all an obvious fake and it does the Amazon no credit that she’s prepared to be so thoroughly taken in by it – as well as it forming the basis for the most absurd of Steve’s outbursts about her abandoning him.
What strikes me throughout this whole sequence of stories, and which I suspect has been going on for many years prior to this particular set of reprints, is Kanigher’s attitude. His control over the series is completely unchecked, and has been since he took over editorial control of the character in the late Forties, following Marston’s death. To have a writer edit himself was unique at DC, and to have allowed the position to continue for twenty years reinforces my belief that the continually weak sales were irrelevant against the licensing income.
Kanigher was in complete control, with only the vaguest of responsibilities to anyone. His heart was, always and forever, in his war books, and it’s notable that the preponderance of the characters he created were in that field. As far as superheroics go, he created Barry (The Flash) Allen in 1956, and Black Canary in 1948, demonstrating an ability to take the form seriously at some point, but Wonder Woman under his hand is the product of contempt: unrestricted, unbridled contempt, for the characters he wrote, and for the readers that bought them.
It’s too sustained, too repetitive, to be anything else, and the only question is as to how much was conscious and how much unconscious. We have his reputation, but the extended Comics Journal  interview in 1982 was enough of itself to demonstrate Kanigher’s innate self-superiority, his pretension and ego. Personally, I believe Kanigher knew what he was doing and that he wrote shit for characters he regarded as inherently imbecilic and readers who would buy any old crap he chose to dish up.
Back in the Sixties, I only once read Wonder Woman outside Justice League of America, in which, like all the other members, she was a cipher with powers. Partly, it was disinterest, partly that I had favourites for those rare occurrences when my parents would indulge me, and a lot of it was down to the small boy’s urge not to have his parents think he wanted to read about girls.
From the few memories I can disentangle, I suspect I bought a virtual reprint issue: it began and ended with Wonder Woman at the comic book shop (!) and in between there was this story that seemed to start in the middle and which looked funny: it was all very peculiar and off-putting.
So to finally read Wonder Woman of that era in extended form, and to have made all the allowances possible for time, space, maturity and everything else that distinguishes then from now, I am still in shock that this was considered, well, publishable. That DC thought it fit to publish not just a comic but so many comics, on and on, eight times a year, that demonstrated such naked loathing towards its subject and, I say again, contempt, for its readers.
It’s a constant, cheerless parade of notions clearly devised on the basis of what-can-we-do-next-that-the-little-fuckers-will-still-swallow? An exercise in trying to find out how inane, bizarre and stupid the story could go before the kids would actually revolt and recognise they were having the unmerciful piss ripped out of them every time they plunked down their 12c.

Post NaNoWriMo update – Day +9

Just so that you don’t think that I’ve forgotten, I am continuing with my NaNoWriMo 2013 novel, and have moved on to nearly 59,000 words after a session of just over 1,500 words this evening.

Though intially I found it easy to maintain the daily discipline of continuing to write – I have gotten myself caught up amongst my trio of characters and enjoy time spent observing them – the last few days have proved difficult. The NaNoWriMo discipline, the working towards a formal, external goal has been removed and requires replacing with a purely internal discipline that has no target date. Inevitably, there’s a certain degree of relaxation implied, not to mention an urge to be back to this blog on a more committed basis. Especially as my hits have, on average, nearly doubled over the last six weeks and I don’t want to disappoint all the new visitors.

There’s been some personal difficulties too: the Council replaced my central heating boiler last Thursday, a job that took nearly twice as long to complete as was anticipated, after which I had to hurry to the Post Office to collect an undelivered parcel. Having been more or less barricaded out of my kitchen, I ended up not eating until very late in the day which, given that I have Type 2 Diabetes, was not sensible. Result, off work on Friday and with sharply impaired levels of concentration until yesterday evening.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve reached a point where I need to do some on-the-ground research that I won’t be able to do until this weekend coming. I’ve been able to jump ahead a little, keep some momentum, leave a gap to be filled when I know what I’m talking about. But it doesn’t half feels awkward now, and a bit unstable, writing on when I don’t know the correct foundations for this scene.

You’ll recall my post about day 20, and the few minutes of thinking in the shower that provided a framework for the next section? I still haven’t reached the end of that yet! There’s some unplanned stuff to follow on the point I’ve reached then a revelation (the one I expected to reach ‘in the middle of next week’ on November 30) that will lead to a massive argument, shattering the growing set-up and bringing phase one to a conclusion. The ‘story’ will then leap forward two months and resume at a point from which I’ll once again be in the dark as to what will happen.

More updates to follow.