Friday, November 14, 2014

Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strips, 1944-1945

Wonder Woman is making a comeback through multiple forms of media and entertainment in the coming year. 

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot is presently being filmed as the Amazon Princess for the next motion-picture installment of Superman vs. Batman (exact title has not yet been decided by Warner Brothers). The studio even released a publicity photo of Gadot in the bronze-colored costume, which sparked controversy through social discussion on Facebook and other social media... but  we shouldn't judge before watching the movie. Gadot is a beautiful Israeli actress who spawned a legion of fans from her appearance in multiple Fast and the Furious movies and honestly... she'll be a fan boy's wet dream as Wonder Woman, regardless of the costume.

Just a few weeks ago, DC Comics announced a new digital series, Wonder Woman '77, a new comic series taking place where the Lynda Carter TV series left off. The digital format is the predicted craze for the new digital format of comic books, which DC launches in December 2014. This series follows in the footsteps of DC’s popular Batman '66 series, which is based on the classic television series that starred Adam West and Burt Ward. Similar to that, the Wonder Woman ’77 series will feature a storyline based on the television show, with the Amazonian princess’ likeness based on Lynda Carter. Six consecutive weekly chapters will kick off the new series, which will then be collected into two print issues and released in early 2015. The series will be then periodically published following that.

Wonder Woman digital comic books.
Smithsonian magazine (October 2014) recently documented the history of Wonder Woman, and her creator, William Moulton Marston, which is an excellent crash course in the history of the superhero. (Much of the article was adapted from The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.) And just last week the Library of American Comics published a 175 page hardcover reprinting the entire newspaper strip of Wonder Woman, published from 1944 to 1945. Like most fans of the comics, I read all of the comic books and have the first 60 years of comic books on CD-Rom (digital scans) in my personal collection. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that the newspaper strip was going to be published. Just when I thought I read all of the Wonder Woman stories, LAC published something new.

During the 1940s, comic books were considered "childish" and a bad influence for juvenile delinquents. Newspaper strips, both dailies (Mon - Sat) and the Sunday strips were considered sanctimonious. Wonder Woman premiered in comic books in 1942 so for her to cross over into the newspaper dailies was a very big deal, emphasizing how America's Girl of Tomorrow showed strong promise of acceptance.

Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strip, 1943-44
Marston was known for having a romantic relationship with two women. His wife, Elizabeth Holloway, was a lawyer by profession. In 1925, Marston met Olive Byrne, a senior at Tufts; he was her psychology professor. When the two fell in love, he gave Holloway a choice: either Byrne could live with them, or he would leave her. Byrne moved in. Ultimately they formed a sort of informal threesome of a family unit, and Marston fathered two children by each of them. After his death, the two women continued as a household and raised their family together."
When the book arrived, I spent the weekend reading many of the stories to one of my young nephews. To him, Wonder Woman was willing to fight for justice and cause. To me, they were stories I read before. The Mole Men and The Cheetah, among other characters and plots, were recycled from comic books published prior to the newspaper renditions. True, there were a few differences, and a number of book characters were renamed for the strips. Lila Brown was now Erna Dollar; and Etta Candy was certainly the type of character you would expect to read in the daily funnies. 

This, of course, is no fault of LAC, who did a spectacular job reprinting the strips in book form. LAC also disclosed the fact that the quality would vary from page to page. While the newspaper strips in the book were from the files of DC Comics, some from pristine syndicate proofs, others were clipped from actual newspapers. By the time the series was winding down in November 1945, it was most likely running in only one newspaper -- the Chicago Herald-American. There will no doubt be a number of people criticizing the print quality of the strips reprinted from newspaper clippings, but the worst of them (about two pages) are better than any newspaper strip I read on microfilm or multi-generation photocopies and can certainly be read without any complications. Normally I would say, "something is better than nothing." But in this case, one would have to have caviar and champagne taste to lodge a complaint about the quality. 

Some might question whether the Wonder Woman strips were tamed down from the comic book versions. I don't think so, but this leaves subject to debate... and I for one do not want to debate the subject. Marston's bondage themes were deliberate through the comic books. In every issue, a villain got the upper-hand and she found herself chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled. When letters of complaint began coming in to DC Comics, Marston, a psychologist, defended his creation citing: "The secret of women's allure is that women enjoy submission -- being bound." Marston was sure he knew what lines not to cross. As he explained, the Wonder Woman comics were harmless erotic fantasies and were not harmful, destructive or morbid erotic fixations as long as sadism, killing, blood-letting and torture for pleasure, where pain was involved, was avoided. 

Reading the newspaper strips, one has to question the December 1944 strips when Wonder Woman, like a stage magician, allows herself to be chained up and dropped into a water tank in an effort to demonstrate her feat of strength and escape artist capabilities. Wonder Woman is shackled with chains designed for rebellious Turkish prisoners, a famous "brank" worn by women prisoners at St. Lazare Prison in Paris (which covers the entire face), an ancient Greek manacle from a Spartan dungeon clamped at the ankles, and a Tibetan collar choking Wonder Woman if she turns her head. I might not be into the bondage craze (to each his own) but I have to admit that I was mesmerized and glued to the pages as I witnessed Wonder Woman's plight into a watery grave... and how she cleverly made her escape.

If I had any complaint about this book is the Library of American Comics' decision to set a retail price of $49.99. I paid less for LAC's Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates books and the page count was larger. Also, there was only one historical write-up about the newspaper strip by Bruce Canwell. A great introduction to the history of the strip but I would have expected a couple extra essays and photographic bonus material to get my money's worth. If you are a completist, or a fan of Wonder Woman, this book is a must-have. Maybe DC asked for too much in royalties, causing the retail price to be as high as it is. Maybe it is's insistence on setting retail prices for books (many publishing companies have been forced to raise the retail price of their books, in an effort to make something of a profit, to offset the steep discounts Amazon "demands"). Regardless, if you are casually interested in grabbing a copy for Christmas, try to grab it when the price is about $25 or $30 and you'll get your money's worth.

1 comment:

Ben said...

The higher price also reflects how publishers have to do what they can to make money on books like this before some well-meaning idiot scans it and makes the contents available online for nothing. Illegal downloads are affecting publishing just like they're affecting old-time radio collecting, home video, and music sales.

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