Posts Tagged ‘Robert Kanigher’

“America’s Silver Age,” My Piece On Gender And Race In Silver Age Wonder Woman Comics For The Los Angeles Review Of Books

April 14, 2014

This weekend, a piece I wrote about Wonder Woman’s Silver Age comics went up at the Los Angeles Review of Books. We really could have called it “Ugh, White Men, Am I Right?” but “America’s Silver Age” is a classier title choice. Ostensibly a review of Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess Archives, Volume 1, which came out a while ago, the piece looks at the depiction of women and people of colour (or rather, the lack thereof) in Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito’s revision of Wonder Woman that began in 1958.

In the Golden Age, William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter’s Wonder Woman was all about female strength and superiority. It was also a fairly racially diverse comic for the time, though these depictions of people of colour ran the gamut from moderately positive to offensive stereotypes. Marston himself wasn’t nearly as forward thinking about race as he was about gender; in his psychological writing he frowned on interracial relationships, and he had a number of connections with known eugenics supporters and sympathizers, including his de facto aunt, Margaret Sanger. Nonetheless, the early years of Wonder Woman actually portrayed people of colour at least, however problematically.

When Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito began their new take on Wonder Woman in 1958, Marston’s feminist messages went out the window, as did people of colour. In the thirteen issues collected in this first Silver Age Wonder Woman Archive volume, there are only three very brief instances that feature people of colour. This panel from Wonder Woman #103, featuring Inuits fleeing a glacier, was the most any non-white characters spoke in the book:

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It was a whitewashed book, removing race all together at a time when race was a daily issue in American society as the Civil Rights Movement continually gained momentum.

You can read the full piece over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, and of course learn more about Wonder Woman’s history generally in my book, Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine.

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Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #11: A Bungled Return To Her Roots

March 24, 2014

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Every Monday until Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine comes out this April, we’re taking a look at a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

In the last two weeks, we’ve looked at Wonder Woman’s bizarre mod era.  These changes didn’t go over very well with many women involved in the burgeoning women’s liberation movement who grew up reading Wonder Woman, especially Gloria Steinem and her cohorts at Ms. magazine.  When DC announced that Wonder Woman would return to her Amazon roots, Steinem and her friends were quite enthusiastic.  They put Wonder Woman on the first cover of Ms., and released a book that collected several of Wonder Woman’s Golden Age stories.  One of things they were most excited about was that Wonder Woman would be helmed by a female editor, Dorothy Woolfolk.

However, by the time Wonder Woman came back there was a change of plans.  Robert Kanigher, chronicler of Wonder Woman’s Silver Age adventures, was back on the title, and Dorothy Woolfolk was gone.  Here, in our penultimate preview panel, is how Kanigher addressed Woolfolk’s departure on the first page of Wonder Woman #204 in January 1973:

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Kanigher managed to insult both Ms. and Woolfolk, murdering the editor of a woman’s magazine whose name was a thinly veiled analogue for Woolfolk.  One would hope that this was a bad joke rather than a vindictive jab, but we don’t know Kanigher’s intentions.  Regardless, it was surely a disappointed for the feminists who were excited about Wonder Woman’s return.  She had her powers and costume back, but the book lacked any modern relevance; in fact, Kanigher rehashed several of his own Silver Age stories before he left the book.  The next arc of the series involved Wonder Woman having to prove (to a majority male team) that she was worthy to rejoin the Justice League.  It was hardly an auspicious return to the uniform.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out just over a week from now!  Be sure to come back next Monday, when we’ll talk about Wonder Woman in the Modern Age, and also check out the final installment of my Wonder Woman interview series this Wednesday; we’ll be talking with Colleen Coover and Kate Leth!

Wonder Unbound Unbound is available for pre-order now, online or at your local comic shop.

Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #8: Suffering Sappho!

March 3, 2014

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Every Monday until Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine comes out this April, we’re taking a look at a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

Wonder Woman had a colourful array of divinely inspired expressions she’d exclaim to punctuate her dialogue in the Silver Age.  “Merciful Minerva!”, “Great Hera!”, and “Thunderbolts of Jove!” were but a few of her Rob Burgundy-esque catchphrases.  But she had another common expression that didn’t reference a deity at all: “Suffering Sappho!”

Today we’re going to look at four panels, all from the same issue, that illustrate how widespread this expression was.  The panels are from Wonder Woman #115 in July 1960:

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That’s a lot of “Suffering Sappho!”  Sappho was an ancient Greek poet who is best known for poems where women professed their affection for other women; the name of her home, the island of Lesbos, is the basis for the term lesbian.  To mention Sappho is to make a very specific reference, and Kanigher did so often in the Silver Age.  Wonder Woman #115’s four times in one issue wasn’t even a record.

With all of the marriage-centric, romantic shenanigans in the Silver Age, it’s possible to read “Suffering Sappho!” as a subversion of this marital focus that hinted at Wonder Woman’s true lesbian leanings.  Lesbian inclinations were a part of Wonder Woman from the very beginning of the series, and William Moulton Marston’s psychological work broke with the trends of the time and was firmly in favour of sexual relations between women.  There was a lot going on between the lines in the first few decades of Wonder Woman.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out this April!  Be sure to come back next Monday, when we’ll look at Wonder Woman’s mod era, and also check out the seventh installment of my Wonder Woman interview series this Wednesday; we’ll be talking with some great Wonder Woman artists!

Wonder Unbound Unbound is available for pre-order now, online or at your local comic shop.

Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #6: New Beginnings

February 17, 2014

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Every Monday until Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine comes out this April, we’re taking a look at a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

The Golden Age Wonder Woman was rooted in her matriarchal utopia, a product of an advanced society where female rule had led to progress, prosperity, and peace.  The Amazons were disgusted with the world of men and its patriarchal aggression, and so they left to build their own, superior society.  They were rebels and warriors who decided to create a better world.

In the Silver Age, all of that changed.  Writer Robert Kanigher and artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito retold the origin of the Amazons in Wonder Woman #105 in April 1959, and went in a new direction:

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Before leaving for Paradise Island, the Amazons had husbands, brothers, and sons, and they were the warriors.  The women stayed at home and the men went off to fight.  When all the men were killed at war, the women were overcome with grief.  Unable to bear the pain of their war-filled world, they chose to run away from it.  The gods took pity on them and led them to Paradise Island, where they formed a new society where no one could ever hurt them again.

This extreme shift in origin entirely changed Wonder Woman’s mission and meaning.  It took out the very core of Marston’s aims for his creation, and did so on a complete whim; years later, Kanigher didn’t even remember writing the story.  Despite the many complications of his era, Marston was a man with a vision.  Kanigher was just winging it.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out this April!  Be sure to come back next Monday, when we’ll look at the Silver Age Steve Trevor, and also check out the fifth installment of my Wonder Woman interview series this Wednesday; we’ll be talking with Kimi Hughes from Golden Lasso Cosplay!

Wonder Unbound Unbound is available for pre-order now, online or at your local comic shop.

Wonder Woman #0 Review OR Kind Of Cute On The Surface, But Troubling Below

September 20, 2012

I’m not entirely sure why this issue didn’t work for me, so this review might be a bit of a jumble.  The Silver Age throwback should’ve been right up my alley!!  They were clearly going for a Robert Kanigher, 1960s Wonder Girl vibe, and man oh man do I know that stuff like the back of my hand.  It’s classic, and sort of terrible, but also fun in its own weird way.  And doing the issue in a throwback style is SUCH a cool idea that really takes advantage of this whole zero issue mandate.  I guess it just didn’t go anywhere interesting for me.  I expected more, maybe.  We’ll dig into it, but first:

SPOILERS!!!!!

If you haven’t read the issue yet, GO AWAY!!

You know that spoilers are the worst… just spare yourself the shame of spoiling yourself.

Okay, so back to the book.  As a throwback, it was cute.  The whole thing with Ares was a nice little story where young Diana learns to be a great warrior but finds out that at the end of the day her compassion comes first AND she awakens some compassion in the god of war too.  Things end badly between her and Ares, but she has a better sense of who she is.  Lovely.

However, that’s all it is.  It was a straight forward, simple tale, generally unconnected from the past twelve issues.  I’m sure it’ll have ramifications in the future, but for right now, as a single issue, it didn’t really do a lot.  I expected more from it, and in a few different ways.

First, in a practical sort of way, I expected a better pastiche of a Silver Age Wonder Woman comic.  Maybe it’s because I’m all over early Wonder Woman stuff, but this issue was off the mark.  It was both overdone and underdone.  The dialogue was comicly extravagant, even by Silver Age standards.  Check out this introduction of Ares:

Kanigher could throw down some overblown dialogue, but he was never this Shakespearean with it.  At the same time, the story itself was way too simple.  There’s a Wonder Girl birthday story in Wonder Woman #113 where there’s an earthquake, a tornado, a roc, a sea monster, and a birthday cake that gets blown into space and orbits the Earth.  It had hilariously random panels like this:

Plus it was only NINE pages long.  Wonder Woman #0 is 20 pages, and she trains some and fights a minotaur.  That’s like a page and a half in a Silver Age book.  This issue just didn’t capture the Silver Age vibe properly.

Second, I expected it to be darker.  We’ve gotten twelve issues of horror stories, really, and when I saw the preview I thought it would be fascinating to see how that translated into the innocuous, fantastical world of the Silver Age where no one ever really got hurt and everything was always swell.  What we got instead was a watered down Ares, compared to his deadly and explosive previous appearances, and a book that’s wasn’t at all creepy or gruesome or dark.  I thought they’d try to subvert the Silver Age style, but instead they just played it straight.

Third, I expected some sort or intrigue or connection to the complex machinations of the Olympian gods that we’ve seen so far.  The book has had all sorts of twists and turns and betrayals, and you never know who you can trust, especially after the last issue.  I thought we might see seeds of where we are now and hints of where we could be going, but it was just a straight-forward, simple story with no real connection to the bigger plot.

Now, I probably expected too much.  Azzarello and Chiang are two of the best in the business, and I was looking for something really clever and involved and they gave me simple and cute instead.  There’s nothing wrong with cute, I just thought there would be more.

The only way I could see why they went for this comicly overdone yet simplistic storytelling is if this issue is a ruse, a cheerier, pleasant take on what was actually a horrific relationship between Ares and Wonder Woman and we’ll find out what actually happened down the road.  I don’t think that’s what’s happening, and I hope that’s not what’s going on because lord knows we don’t need Wonder Woman to have even more complicated and messed up father figure issues.  I’m just saying, that’s the only reason I can imagine they’d do a story this way after what we’ve come to expect from the twelve issues previous.

Aside from my many expectation problems, the whole Ares training Diana thing is kind of irksome.  She already has crazy powers because Zeus, a man, is her father, and now she’s got fighting skills because Ares, a man, trained her?  This is a lot of men for an Amazon.  Being an Amazon should be more than enough to make Wonder Woman awesome and bad ass.  They are fierce, epic warriors.  And if you’re thinking that maybe Diana needed the extra grit and brutality that only the god of war could provide, in current continuity the Amazons are straight up murderers.  They don’t play around.

By having Ares train Wonder Woman, the implication is that Amazon training isn’t enough, that Diana needs more than her Amazon background to be a real hero.  And it’s a double whammy with the new Zeus angle too.  You could argue that in this new continuity, the Amazons are almost useless.  They’re rapists who all seem to hate Diana, apart from her mom.  She gets cool superpowers from Zeus and awesome fighting skills from Ares.  All the Amazons are good for is Hippolyta providing a uterus and the rest of them teasing Diana enough that she’s got something to rebel against so she can be a cool bad ass.  Wonder Woman used to be great BECAUSE she was an Amazon, but now it seems that she’s great IN SPITE of being an Amazon.  That makes me sad.

I know the whole Amazon story is xenophobic and problematic, but the fact is that in such a ridiculously patriarchal genre, a female superhero being the product of a race of warrior women is kind of epic.  Strong men are EVERYWHERE in comics while strong women are few and far between, but Wonder Woman came from a whole island of them!!  It’s awesome, and that’s why she was created in the first place.  William Moulton Marston was sick of male superheroes being dicks and punching everybody, so he created Wonder Woman who was a more loving, happy superhero but at the same time just as strong as everyone else.  And she was all of these things because that’s how the Amazons raised her.  The Amazons were powerful, wise, and kind, and taught legions of women to be the same way.  Now, everything comes from men, and the Amazons just sort of suck.

Now, I doubt that this undermining of the Amazons and the new, male-based powers of Wonder Woman are some sort of scheme on Azzarello’s part to make Wonder Woman wholly dependent on men.  Instead, I think he’s just all wrapped up in trying to tell his story and not actively taking into account the character’s history and the significance of her Amazon heritage and the strength and power of women that it suggests.  I don’t think any sort of feminist, much less matriarchal, angle is on his mind, and because of that this history is being eroded and replaced.  It’s not malevolent.  Just careless.

Well know I dislike this issue a lot more.  That took a weird turn for me with the Ares thing at the end here.  I thought I had a handle on what I thought about that, but it seems that I’m more upset about it than I anticipated.  Oh well.  Again, I don’t think it’s an intentional thing.  I just don’t think they’re paying attention to Wonder Woman’s feminist history and taking into account what these new changes mean in that regard.

Overall, it’s a cute little issue, which is nice, but I expected a lot more out of it.  It also tweaks Wonder Woman’s origins in an even more male-based way, which is very annoying.  If you start reading between the lines, you end up in a dark place like I just did there.  It really sneaks up on you.

Anyway, I expected more in a great many ways, from an accurate throwback to feminist origins, and got none of it.  So it goes.  The art was pretty, and it was a nice story.  It’s the first issue in a while I could let my nieces read, though then we’d have to have a long talk about Ares and why the Amazons seem to be such bitches.  Maybe they don’t read this one, then.  But yeah, it was cute on the surface, and troubling below.

Wonder Woman #0 Preview OR Now This Is A Real Flashback!!

September 18, 2012

So far, DC Comics’ #0 issues have flashed back a few years or so to tell stories from earlier in this new universe.  With Wonder Woman #0, though, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have flashed back all the way to the 1950s to tell their story, stylistically at least.  Today’s preview on the Huffington Post has an awesome Silver Age vibe:

It’s like a Robert Kanigher story, but 700 times better!!  What a great idea to mimic an older style and reference the classic Wonder Girl stories from the 1950s and 1960s.  This looks super cool and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.  The book is so dark now, so it’ll be interesting to see how they work that angle into the innocuous lightness of a Silver Age sort of story.  Plus Ares is supposed to be in this… that dude is pretty messed up, what with the death and destruction that follows him everywhere he goes.  This should be fascinating.

Pick up Wonder Woman #0 this Wednesday!!  It looks hilarious and great.

Wonder Woman At The Olympics Part Seven: The Olympics Of The Doomed!!

August 12, 2012

On this, the day of the closing ceremonies, we take our last look at Wonder Woman’s Olympic adventures.  And fittingly, we turn to our friend Robert Kanigher for a fourth time.  That man could really beat a story to death, and this series has been richer for it.  In Wonder Woman #148, published in August 1964, Kanigher told his final Olympic tale along with artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito as Wonder Woman participated in:

The Duke of Deception was up to his old tricks, and he spent the first three quarters of the issue creating illusions so that Wonder Woman could no longer trust what she saw.  Ultimately, Wonder Woman decided that the dinosaurs attacking her at the mall couldn’t be real, since none of the other illusions were, so she just lets them go.  Unfortunately, one of the dinosaurs WAS real, and she was captured and brought to Mars to compete in the Olympics of the Doomed.

While trapped in a cage, no less!!  And with death as the penalty if she lost any events.  It was a real pickle.  The first event was a race to grab an apple that was placed on a pole across the stadium.  As the runners took off, our quick thinking Wonder Woman took out her lasso and:

In the second event, Wonder Woman was in a tug of war against a group of Martian athletes.  They dragged her cage towards the line with ease, until:

For the final event, Wonder Woman only had to escape her cage… after being thrown into a pool with a giant octopus.  Even worse, the only way for Wonder Woman to get out of the cage was for the Duke of Deception to open it, and he certainly wasn’t keen to do that.  But when they pulled the cage out of the pool, lo and behold:

But where is Wonder Woman?  Ta-dah:

Wonder Woman deceived the Duke!!  We don’t know how, since Kanigher isn’t keen on stuff like explaining things, but she pulled it off nonetheless.  The Duke was defeated and Wonder Woman returned to Earth, victorious at yet another dangerous Olympiad.


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