Okay, so Easter’s come and gone; when you see the cover of this week’s featured Silver Age comic, you’ll see why the reference is apt–at least, I think you will! As recounted last time, I became a DC fan by virtue of Batman #181. Having taken the superhero plunge with Batman, I started to keep an eye on for other Batman comics, and the easiest way to do this was—of course—the covers. I could see he was featured in a comic called the Justice League of America. But what do you know, on the JLA covers, there were also a whole bunch of other cool-looking characters. I knew Superman from the George Reeves TV show (reruns; and a favorite show of my grandparents); but who were these others? A guy in red (Flash), a guy in green and black (Green Lantern), and most intriguing of all, a black-haired woman clad in what looked like a red, yellow and blue bathing suit! Plus she had some great high-heeled boots—the better to kick boys with, I reasoned. While I didn’t actually buy a JLA comic for a while –my mom only let me pick out one comic per candy store visit, and I couldn’t really argue as she was the one who doled out the twelve cents—I made a vow that one day I would learn more about these characters, especially the woman. So as soon as the opportunity presented itself, I picked up a copy of Wonder Woman, namely #166 (cover date November 1966)… and it just happened to have one of the silliest Silver Age covers ever: Wonder Woman in mortal combat with—a giant egg??
And though it pains me to admit, I have to confess this cover scared the bejesus out of me back then! You see, I hated eggs with a passion—still do. There’s something about the yellow yolk that screams icky to me. Probably has to do with the fact that every Saturday without fail my mom would make us scrambled eggs that were overcooked and completely devoid of any redeeming flavor ( please note, I love my mom, I really do; after all, as mentioned she was the one enabling my comics habit back then!). But her eggs were so inedible that when she wasn’t looking, I’d scoop up the runny mess and dump it into a napkin and throw it out the window (we lived on the third floor. I think I actually hit someone with the napkin package once or twice, but that’s a tale for another time).
Anyway, despite my extreme egg antipathy, something beyond my control drew me to Wonder Woman #166. Say what you will about Marvel’s ascension in the 1960s, DC still had the best covers hands down—DC knew the covers were what attracted a kid (their target audience) to buying a comic and it’s well known that many covers were created first, with the stories written around the cover’s premise. What kid could resist a cover like this? (I’m speaking of the mid-60s covers; when Neal Adams became the principal DC cover artist later in the ’60s, the covers took on a more somber, dramatic look–too sophisticated for my young eyes!)
Anyway, Wonder Woman #166 contained two stories. The first story was “ The Sinister Scheme of Egg Fu, the Fifth” (Oh great, so there was more than one Egg Fu? Eggs multiply? ) . There was no explanation given as to how a giant egg managed to talk and think like you or I, but I had no problem buying the premise that Eggy was a threat to Wonder Woman and the free world. The articulate Mr. Fu was given to spouting lines in what was an attempt at a pseudo-Asian accent such as “It’s the yankee who clacked—not Egg Fu!” But I liked that WW was treated as an equal (though she was clearly their superior in every way imaginable) to the men in the military and to the oversized ovum’s henchman. She also seemed to have a solid relationship with a good- looking blond named Steve Trevor; they fought side by side but she was clearly the stronger and smarter of the two.
In the second story “Once a Wonder Woman,” however, the chinks in their relationship were quickly revealed; as was de rigueur for superheroes with secret identities, Wonder Woman felt that if Steve really loved her, he’d also love her in her civilian identity of Diana Prince. WW/Di concludes that ”I’ll bet it’s the Amazon uniform that attracts him!” Since said uniform consisted of a nothing more than a skimpy bathing, suit, I’d say that was a pretty fair conclusion–no wonder it’s proclaimed at the start of every WW story that she’s as “wise as Athena!’
Okay, so neither story was great shakes. And the art (by the Ross Andru and Mike Esposito team, who signed the cover and their stories, which was atypical for artists working for DC at the time) was straightforward and easy to follow and moved the stories along. But things got confusing when I read the letter column, Wonder Woman’s clubhouse. First of all there was a picture of a skirted Wonder Girl in the masthead. I recognized her from some covers/house ads of the Teen Titans, but why did she warrant a picture atop a Wonder Woman letter column? Except for this masthead, Wonder Girl certainly was not anywhere in #166.
I was to learn much later that a common plot device of editor Robert Kanigher was to feature stories of Wonder Woman as a teenager–Wonder Girl–and as a toddler–Wonder Tot. There was also a Wonder Queen (WW’s mother). Eventually Kanigher created stories in which all three incarnations of Wonder Woman were seen in the same story at the same time (something to do with a “magic camera” that enabled Wonder Woman to co-exist with her earlier selves at the same time. The Wonder Girl character in particular was very popular and there was a stretch of several WW issues that featured Wonder Girl on the cover, without a hint of Wonder Woman. And even though this Wonder Girl was supposed to be Wonder Woman as a teen (so, from an earlier time), that didn’t stop another DC editor—George Kashdan—from inserting WG into his Teen Titans book (which took place in the present). Unlike the Marvel Universe at the time, at DC there was little interaction among each editors’ books; each editor–Murray Boltinoff, Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, Kashdan, Kanigher–was the master of his own domain so there seems to have been little awareness of what was going on in another editor’s set of books in terms of premise and characterization. (An origin and background for the Titans’ Wonder Girl would be worked out later so that she was not just WW as a teen.)
The other striking thing about the letter column is that it contained a single, rather lengthy letter from a reader named Mike Friedrich! Yep, that Mike Friedrich (he would soon turn pro and worked for both DC and Marvel). In the letter (which contained references to other DC mags but was edited the version in this letter column contained only the portions pertaining to WW), Friedrich refers to the “amazing transformation” of the DC comics and concludes that the changes were “one big press-agent-type build-up. What has changed?” Apparently some issues earlier Kanigher had embarked on a experiment–no doubt to boost sales and inspired by the growing interest in comic book collecting–and had attempted to return WW to its Golden Age roots. So for several issues (#159-164), WW stories featured Golden Age scenarios and villains… and Kanigher instructed Andru and Esposito to ape H.G. Peter’s style ( Peter had been the WW artist until early 1958).
And it was this art that Friedrich was especially critical of as he wrote: “The old 40’s art styles don’t fit in the modern age. The accented collarbones and facial features, especially the nose, make her (WW) look unnatural.” The editor “RK” (as Kanigher signed his answer) admitted “trying to copy Mr. Peter’s style was a wistful experiment.” Here’s Peter (left) and Andru-Esposito in Peter mode (right).
Is WW #166 an important issue? Well, it was enjoyable when I was a kid, and it seemed to mark the official end of Kanigher’s return to the Golden Age experiment, but in a word, no. Wonder Woman wouldn’t become interesting until a couple of years later, when the character received a makeover courtesy of Denny O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky and the late, great Dick Giordano.