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Book Review: Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess Archives, Vol. 1 by Robert Kanigher

April 18, 2019

Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess Archives, Vol. 1Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess Archives, Vol. 1 by Robert Kanigher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first (and so far only) continuous volume of Silver Age Wonder Woman stories (prior to the O’Neil/Sekowsky depowering) is juvenile fun. It’s unquestionably a relaunch in issue #98. I don’t know when they introduced the idea that Diana was a statue brought to life, but it wasn’t here. It’s a bit reminiscent of Marvel’s Venus from ten years earlier with its hybrid romance/superhero style. The absurdity level is high as Diana somehow gets enough metal from a penny to make the longest bridge in the world. We get several stories of Wonder Woman as a child, including shortly after her birth, in which the gods present her with the gifts she has long been said to have–Athena, Aphrodite, Hercules, and Mercury (it wasn’t until the Pérez run that they went consistently with Greek names, only to introduce the Roman gods as separate entities in issue #51).

The first issue tells Wonder Woman’s origin anew, with new artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (Andru’s Spider-Man was the first version I saw as a kid–his art evolves through this volume but never to that illustrative quality), and Paul Kupperberg’s introduction points out the silliness of everyone competing in a Wonder Woman costume with a mask. One major difference between this origin and original and subsequent versions is that Queen Hippolyta wants Diana to win the competition. In other versions, Hippolyta does not want Diana to compete and leave her, being the princess and the queen’s only daughter–Hippolyta being the only mother on Paradise Island, although this also runs into plausibility because the community seems tightly enough knit that Hippolyta would know everybody. This element is made particularly strange when young Diana is shown her future as Wonder Woman (249), which would give her foreknowledge that she would win the competition that might make her slack off (compare this to the Legion of Super-Heroes blocking Superboy’s memories of Supergirl’s existence). Steve Trevor is brought in as if a new character.

The following issue introduces two oddly named characters, General Dartwell and Paula. The standard-named General Darnell soon appears in the volume (he even mans a self-driving car for testing on page 291 and passim), but Paula does not appear again. Although a scientist, there is nothing here to directly connect her with Paula von Gunther, Diana’s friend who was kept prisoner on Paradise Island for her work with the Nazis (done under coercion while her daughter was held captive). It also launches Diana in a rocket that looks like the invisible robot plane that she will continue to use until after the Crisis.

Some really stupid things are on display here. Steve Trevor’s gun won’t fire because guns haven’t been invented yet (104). The principle that allows a gun to fire has always been true. Usually comics back then tried to be at least modestly educational about science, and the idea of an invention being attached to a point in time is particularly silly. I recall a Marvel horror reprint from the 1970s in which the generator for a time machine failed to work based on this ridiculous principle. A few pages later (108), Wonder Woman calls one of Columbus’s ships “the Pinto.” It’s too early for a swipe at Columbus based on the car (introduced in 1971) being infamously shoddy. On page 205, we get a reference to “caveman dialect” as part of Diana’s education. It comes in handy later in the story when she encounters dinosaurs and cavemen on a moon of Saturn (as in Supergirl comics at the time, the creators couldn’t resist the compulsion to put dinosaurs and cavemen together, explained away by here being a moon of Saturn and there being a “lost world” valley. The dinosaurs on page 217 look like the famous Taiwanese “dinosaur” figures that gave rise to a number of Dungeons and Dragons characters such as the Owl Bear and Rust Monster (although we don’t see those two in particular).

Since this was a follow-up on the revival of The Flash (although the stories still imply Wonder Woman is the only superhero in this diegesis), there’s some pretty heavy Flash-isms–Diana vibrates through walls (114), weapons used against Diana expanding when exposed to air (156), and finally, Wonder Woman pulling her lieutenant uniform from a link in her lasso which expands on exposure to the air just like Flash’s costume (314). One way this series ignores ideas in other DC Comics is the failure to make any reference to the friction caused by moving at high speed through the air (e.g. 188) which is frequently mentioned in The Flash, Superman, and Supergirl comics of the time. The Flash is protected by an aura, and Superman and Supergirl have to take their civilian clothes off to move at speeds this high because they would be burned up by the friction, while their costumes are treated with unspecified chemicals to prevent this. Kanigher seemed to have a thing for Saturn, even though it would be portrayed completely differently merely a few months apart (compare page 191 to page 213).

If the covers are any indication, Diana gave up her boots for sandals in issue #39 and was in the sockless ballet shoes in which she is seen in this volume and the Silver Age Justice League issues by issue #43 (September/October 1950). In the last issue of this volume, #110 (337), the flat shoes get heels, which would seem would be a foolish accoutrement, but she actually makes specific use of them on page 347.

A number of story elements are repetitive in this volume, such as dealing with giants,duplicate Wonder Women, contests and competitions, and Diana making horseshoe-shaped magnets for no other reason than for child members to look and say “that’s a magnet” (50, 270). On page 145, Tara the photographer calls Wonder Woman, “Tara,” which suggests how rushed things may have been. While Marston’s stories carry an incredibly strong and contemporary level of continuity (perhaps beaten only by Johnny Thunderbolt! and Scribbly and the Red Tornado, oddly enough, as you can see from The JSA All Star Archives Volume 1) relative to the time they were published, Kanigher doesn’t seem to have put much thought into either the stories or to repeating himself.

There are not many supervillains in this volume. Duke Deception, formerly known as The Duke of Deception, an early Marston villain who is a deputy of the god Mars and who influences Dr. Psycho (I told you the Marston stories were complicated) returns for one issue. We also get one each for characters called the Time Master and the Gadget-Maker. Few of the stories have villains, more often having Diana either in competition or dealing with accidents and natural phenomena. The volume closes with a story about an alien robot princess (Princess the #1003 of 2,785 princesses) who wants to be human and wants Steve Trevor, who is sent back to her race with the compassion typical of Wonder Woman, encouraging them to treat her with love and attention so that she behaves. The essence of Wonder Woman is still to be found in this volume, even if it’s been heavily watered-down by comparison to Marston’s original and to Pérez’s 1987 relaunch (as of this writing, I have read up through #64 and annual #4 of the 1987, but very few more recent appearances to make further comparison). Did Kanigher hate Wonder Woman? It’s not clear that he did, but his repetition of ideas, a complaint I had for Jack Kirby‘s contemporaneous Challengers of the Unknown by Jack Kirby, is the only real indication that he didn’t put a lot of thought into what he wrote, but could just as easily be symptomatic of the time, and an assumption that the assumed child reader wouldn’t pick up on any of this. It should also be said that the series was published eight times a year (skipping March, June, September, and December–the thirteen issues of this volume span not 13 months but from May 1958 to November 1959), making it even less likely that the original audience would have read the issues in as close proximity to one another as readers of this volume.

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