Wednesday , April 17 2024
The Amazon princess’ short-run as a newspaper strip heroine gets a sharp hardcover collection.

Book Review: ‘Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strip, 1944-1945’ by William Marston and H.G. Peter

Released as part of IDW’s hardcover “Library of American Comics,” Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Comics carries the full newspaper appearance of the Amazon princess. Running in syndication three years after her 1941 debut in All Star Comics #8, the strip was written and illustrated by the character’s original creative team, William Marston and H.G. Peters. She was not the first comic book character to graduate from ten-cent comics to the big leagues – the Man of Steel and Dark Knight both beat her to the punch – while her strip’s run was much more limited than either Superman or Batman. Marston and Peters’ newspaper work, though, provides a good taste of the way the character was initially conceived.

The two basically took Diana Prince’s earliest comic book stories and reworked them to fit a daily comic strip format. Opening with the obligatory original story, the strip quickly established its cast and setting: Paradise Island and the “man’s world” of Washington D.C, where our heroine travels after Army Intelligence Services officer Steve Trevor lands wounded on the Amazons’ island; “comic” relief Etta candy, introduced as a fat coed with a propensity of letting out “woo woo’s” a la movie comedian Hugh Herbert; and mainstay villainess Priscilla Rich (a.k.a. the Cheetah), an heiress with dual personalities, the evil half of which has a jealous hatred of Wonder Woman. Other nemesis taken from the comic include the Molemen living in a kingdom ‘neath Paradise island, plus a variety of nazi spies and traitors frequently using hypnosis and mind-control to carry out their perfidious deeds.

As a trained psychiatrist, Marston had a heightened interest in matters of the mind and self-control. The man had a hand in the early development of the polygraph, which puts an extra spin on Wonder Woman’s famed golden lasso, which compels anyone she ropes into telling the truth. The early Wonder Womans were notorious for playing with bondage imagery – for all that the character has been lauded as a feminist icon, there sure were dubious moments sprinkled within her storylines. Being bound by a man was WW’s kryptonite – per Aphrodite’s law it makes any Amazon lose her fabled super-strength – so from a plot point of view it made sense. Still, one can’t help wondering whether Wonder Woman’s creator wasn’t occasionally getting off on these panels.

The comic strip toned these elements down from the books (for which check out DC’s Wonder Woman – Archives series), but they’re still present. Also less explicit in the strip was Marston’s Woman Power theme, which he sometimes beat into the ground in the comic books (forces of war aligned with the Nazis and the brutish god of War Ares, forces of peace aligned with the Amazons and their goddess Aphrodite). Still the strip manages to sneak in its moments of proto-feminism, as when our heroine in her Diana Prince identity somewhat condescendingly states that “Nazis are only men!”

Peter’s art style, which he’d already established in the comics, was unique for its day: blending Art Nouveau with elements of children’s book illustration (most strongly seen in his depictions of Etta Candy). It’s well suited to the black-and-white format of daily newspaper strips, though occasionally IDW’s reprint of these seventy-year-old strips loses some of its crispness, especially in the gray-shaded panels. If the Amazon princess doesn’t look as sexually imposing as later artists would work to render her, it is suited to an era when comic super powers were primarily seen as kids’ stuff. A fun remnant from the character’s early years – when a line like Aphrodite’s command to send Diana to “lead our love and beauty attack on man’s world” could be penned without an inkling of irony.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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