Sunday, November 15, 2009

Number 629

Guilty pleasure

The original Wonder Woman is a real guilty pleasure for me. I like it for the very reasons others probably hate it. It was one of a kind. No one could imitate this strip and its grotesque artwork by Harry G. Peter. (Max Gaines, the original WW publisher, tried it with the character Moon Girl, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, without much success.) Wonder Woman and her friends and enemies inhabit a bizarre universe. The closest I can come to it is Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, a strip which also existed in its own grotesque reality. Both the early writing on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston and the art by H. G. Peter, who outlived Marston, are eccentric enough that even if you hate it, you've got to call Wonder Woman a unique comic.

This story was originally to be published in Sensation Comics, but didn't see print until 1974 with its appearance in The Amazing World Of DC Comics #2. Marston, under his pen-name, Charles Moulton, isn't credited. Marston died in 1947 and I believe both editing and writing chores were taken over then by Robert Kanigher.


Chuck Wells said...

Pappy, you're absolutely dead-on about the early Wonder Woman stuff.

It's easily some of the most visually fascinating material to come out of the golden age and the wonkyness of the artwork is its's greatest strength.

Seeing this story in black & white really adds something to the experience of reading it.

Great post!

Kirk Jusko said...

Jules Feiffer wrote in The Great Comic Book Heroes that he thought a bunch of men sat around a smoke-filled room and cooked up a female Superman. I couldn't disagree more.

Well, I guess it all depends on WHAT they were smoking.

Bob Lilly said...

Thanks for the post. I love the old Wonder Woman comics (and also the Andru and Esposito version). This stuff reads like mythology. Very deep. I also have a strong preference for artwork that tells the story well and makes no apology for being cartoony. This post is so clear it looks like it came from the original artwork.
I'll return to your website as often as you care to post new stuff. Keep up the good work. Please come visit me at

Lysdexicuss said...

What a treat on this relaxing Sunday, Pappy ! Black & White H.G. Peters is GORGEOUS to my eyes, not grotesque (although I understand your use of the word). I would be curious to know WHY this particular story was shelved for so long~ thanx for bringing it to light !

Pappy said...

Lys, there was no reason given as to why this story was shelved. It was shot from the original art, still in DC's inventory in the early 1970s.

Harry G. Peter drew Wonder Woman into the mid-'50s when he retired, but apparently Kanigher didn't like his artwork. As a youngster I remember seeing Peter's Wonder Woman and being fascinated by his oddball style. In retrospect it wasn't any more oddball or strange than any of a number of other artists, but maybe it seemed odd to me because it was about a woman? Great Hera, I was a pre-adolescent sexist!

Kirk, Feiffer was probably wrong about the origin of Wonder Woman, but Max Gaines may have been looking for a female superhero to compete with the boys. He probably got more than he asked for because Wonder Woman was a bondage strip, and the early years are a compendium of kinkiness.

William Marston was a person who had his own moral code, which included living with his children, wife and mistress in the same house.

As to whether there were any tie-me-up parties at the Marston house I dunno.

Martin said...

According to Gerard Jones in Men of Tomorrow, Marston and his wife Elizbeth thought up Wonder Woman as a kind of antidote to Superman, although I don't have the book to hand right now so I can't give any more explanation.

Love those names - Dr Lens the optician, Flasher the photographer, govenor Poiliticks.

Noah Berlatsky said...

Hey, thanks so much for posting this. It's fascinating to see Peter's art in black and white. (Though the color in the original WW is pretty amazing; I wish I know who was responsible for it.)

Wonder Woman was definitely a female response to Superman...but Marston had very particular ideas about what that meant. Ideas involving lots of bondage and submission, particularly.

You don't have any idea when this is from, huh? It seems a little tame in some ways for Marston — the bondage isn't lingered over in quite the way you'd expect. And the focus is way more on Steve and the Holiday girls and Diana than on WW herself, which is also a little unusual. But the nutty names seem like something Marston could have come up with — yeah, I don't know. It might be him on a slow day, or it could be somebody else doing an unusually good imitation.