Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tales From the Vault: WONDER WOMAN #215

What can even two super-heroes do against the awesome might of Mars, the God of War?! Your answer to that question will depend entirely on whether or not you consider Aquaman to be a super-hero. Let's find out the answer... together!

Details: This issue comes to us with a cover date of January, 1975, with a story credited to writer Cary “Nord” Bates and the art team of John Rosenberger and Vince Colletta. Of course, merely by typing the name “Vince Colletta” I have made myself the target of a thousand infuriated internet art policemen, but so be it. Plus, I wanted to reiterate how much I loved John Rosenberger on Cheers.

I’d also like to mention the cover, which is classic mid-70’s DC, complete with an ineffectual Aquaman watching the action helplessly in the background. Hey Aquaman, how’s your son these days? Oh, right. And, of course, this cover is vastly more fun if you read the “Super-heroine Number One!” blurb with an offensively racist caricature of a Chinese accent. I can’t wait to read the actual story.

Especially because that story is titled “Amazon Attack against Atlantis!” Yes, folks, it’s another Amazon Attacks! Or, rather, the original Amazon Attacks. Place your bets on how many infants will be murdered before Batman uses the Books of Magic or something to defeat, I dunno, Hera. Vegas has the over/under at eleven.

Synopsis: The action starts off with a bang, as Wonder Woman is just finishing what appears to be a spirited verbal beatdown of the god of war, Mars, who… uh, is on the JLA satellite for some reason. Hanging out, tossing back a few beers with his buds I guess. Actually, it turns out he’s being tried by a jury that consists of Aquaman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Elongated Man and Batman. What, were the Inferior Five busy that day? Strangely, Mars seems perfectly at ease with being put on trial by this collection of ragamuffins, and merely states that it is Diana’s word against his. It’s a stalemate.

Except, Mars hasn’t factored in the testimony of Aquaman! Seriously, a supervillain forgot to take Aquaman into account? That’s almost impossible to believe. But, sure enough, Aquaman jumps up and exposits that they’re right in the middle of a series of trials designed to prove that Wonder Woman is still worthy of membership in the league, and as part of this he has been following her around, watching her every move. Pre-code this is what would have been referred to as “stalking”. Good cover story, Arthur! Of course, given the total creampuff lineup the JLA is sporting in this issue, the idea that they would have to spend more than one second debating Wonder Woman’s merits is pretty hard to believe, but whatever.

(Yes, fine, Wonder Woman requested these tests herself. It is kind of ironic that the tests takes the form of a series of trials that seems directly patterned on the legend of Hercules, though, given Diana’s history with him).

Anyhoo, back to the story, which goes like so. Aquaman is flopping around uselessly in the East River one day when he sees Wonder Woman flying overhead. Suddenly, a big arm made of water reaches up and smacks her down. Aquaman briefly panics, apparently assuming Wonder Woman can’t swim, but she’s fine: using her magic lasso, she, uh… throws it up in the air and then climbs it like a reverse “Indian rope trick!” Say what? That’s… crazy… wtf. Oh, wait, I can fanwank my way out of this; she must have lassoed the end of her invisible plane. Sure. Of course, she seemed to be flying under her own power here, but… you know what, let’s just move on.

She then corrals the waterspout with her lasso and spins it counter clockwise, causing the water to disperse harmlessly and ending the threat. Aquaman is duly impressed, then jumps onto the shore and resumes his aggressive stalking, using a “land-pack” that consists of a suit stuffed into a sack. Diana, for her part, is doing the same thing, except she’s using her lasso to switch costumes because “Diana’s costume has been treated with a special solution that transforms it under the vibrations of the magic lasso!” Why doesn’t it surprise me that the Amazons have mastered the art of vibration based powers?

Rushing to her job in the U. N. Crisis Bureau… wait, holy sh*t! The U.N. is responsible for Crisis?! Let me guess, the Monitor is actually Kofi Annan? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being sanctioned because he’s secretly developing the anti-life equation? Darfur was caused by Wen Jaibao punching the walls of reality? I have to say, this actually makes world politics a whole lot easier to understand.

Also helping to understand the inner workings of the U.N. is Aquaman, who manages to secretly eavesdrop on these classified briefings by having a tank full of goldfish telepathically relay the info to him. Then he trails behind Diana and her boss as they wander around to find a cheap lunch in Manhattan. Now, that seriously is a job for the Justice League. Suddenly, though, a guy walks by with a bunch of dogs that abruptly transform into huge wolf things and attack Diana right in the street! Oh noes!

Luckily, Diana remembers her I-Ching training and karate chops the crap out of them, including one wolf which still looks a lot like a huge, fanged poodle (which is… awesome). Then we get a half page of U.N. personnel trying to figure out if Diana is actually Wonder Woman, and… wow, I couldn’t care less about all that secret identity bullhockey. Even when this issue came out it was tedious and hackneyed.

Also not caring about it is Aquaman, who is too busy explaining plot elements as part of his deposition to the JLA. See, while this is going on, a horde of telepathic fish is trying to contact him, but they can’t because this mysterious figure who has been causing the attacks on Diana zaps them all senseless. Or, as senseless as a pile of fish can ever be, I guess. At the same time, Wonder Woman realizes that the Amazons aren’t answering their “mental radio set” or the “omni-viewer”, so she starts becoming concerned and decides to fly to Paradise Island to check on them using her “robot plane”. Quotes courtesy of Jack Kirby.

Interestingly, Aquaman isn’t sure what to at this point:

Aquaman: Paradise Island’s location is a secret that no man is supposed to know! If Wonder Woman flies there by air – I can swim fast enough to trail her by sea – but should I?

Leaving aside for a moment the idea that Aquaman can swim as fast as a jet, I find this bit of soul searching to be interesting, especially in light of the fact that just two issues earlier, in Wonder Woman #213, Flash follows her to Paradise Island without a second thought, even following her onto the island (getting by the “no man shall set foot on the island” thing by hovering in place an inch off the ground, which is a serious cop out on his part). In this comparison, Aquaman comes off a lot better than Flash, who seems a bit disrespectful if not outright disdainful of their customs. Have some respect, Barry, you knob.

Before he can decide what to do, though, Aquaman realizes he’s been out of the water for an hour and needs to get wet or else he’ll die from “air-aches”. Um. Okay, whatever. Rushing over to a nearby fountain, he reaches in to restore himself when it suddenly turns into a giant gusher of pure crude oil. And not only does this prevent him from getting his fix of h2o, the gusher hits Diana’s plane flying overhead and then magically turns to solid coal, trapping it in place.

Wow. I don’t know if Mars is behind this, but the least he could do if he’s going to kill the JLA is do it in a more Earth friendly way. Oil, coal… how about using solar power or wind turbines next time, huh? Taking over the world won’t do much good if the world dies from carbon emissions, dude.

Diana, though, has other things to worry about. She flies up into mid air and using… a cloud?... as leverage, she lifts her plane and the coal pile right up into the air, smashes the coal all to hell and jumps in her plane and flies off. Man, someone is going to be surprised when they go out to their car in the morning and find it buried under a half ton of coal. Luckily for Aquaman, the coal doesn’t land on him, but he’s got other things to worry about, namely the “air fever” that is about to claim his life. Lying on the ground, he’s about to kack when a bunch of kids rush up and stare at him. Like they’ve never seen a guy passed out on a New York sidewalk before, sure; Mars, I’ll believe, but this is pushing the limits of fantasy. Anyway, Aquaman is too weak to say anything, but he does have enough energy to suddenly do a huge karate kick and clobbers a kid’s can of TAB, dousing him with soda and restoring his energy. That’s just gross.

But things are going from bad to worse: Diana arrives at Paradise Island to discover that it’s missing! And Aquaman gets a telepathic message from a panicked minnow in the sewers, who gives Aqauaman terrible news. No, it’s not about being flushed by some kid’s mom, it’s about Atlantis being attacked… by AMAZONS!!! Yes, the missing Paradise Island is now parked directly above Atlantis; apparently the island moved when Ben turned the magic wheel under the hatch or something. But however it got there, the war is about to begin.

Turns out that Hippolyta and all the ladies have been ensorcelled by Mars, which we discover when Mars shows up and tells Wonder Woman his plan. I think this sort of thing is how Batman got his rep as such a great detective; it helps when villains tell you what they are doing and why. Essentially, it turns out that Mars is bored of war and because of this, he is no longer gaining as much energy from warfare as he used to. He needs some new, exciting type of war to recharge his batteries, so he came up with this plan.

Of course, telling the details to Diana might have been a tactical flaw, but what do you want? I mean, he’s only the god of war, tactics aren’t his strong po… oh, wait. And sure enough, Wonder Woman figures out a plan right away which she immediately communicates to Aquaman using sign language. Do they teach ASL in Atlantis and on Paradise Island? Regardless, the plan is like so: a horde of whales swim up out of nowhere and prevent the Amazons and the Atlanteans from getting at each other. While this is going on, Wonder Woman attacks Mars. He easily deflects her attacks, slapping her around…

…but suddenly, he shrinks down to regular ol’ human size, instead of being god-tall, and Diana socks him in the gut with a karate chop. Turns out, the energy of setting everything in motion drained all his remaining power, so by preventing the sides from warring, the whales also prevented Mars from replenishing his energy, making him easy prey for Diana.

And that’s that. Aquaman finishes his story (by the way, his testimony is backed up by a "lung fish", which can "not only mimic human speech -- but repeat word for word what it has heard". That's right folks, someone has finally found a pet more annoying than a parrot) and the rest of the Justice League (if you can call them that) render their verdict: they’ve found him guilty and are going to send him to the “top-security interplanetary prison”.

Whoa, what? On who’s authority? Is this one of those Dr. Light brainwashing moments, where the JLA arbitrarily decide to take one of Earth’s elder gods and throw him in the space clink? Don’t the other gods have an issue with this? And wouldn’t this provide exposure to exactly the kind of exotic warfare he needs to replenish his bored batteries? I dunno, y’all, this seems like a really shady deal all around. But,


Extras: One thing that caught my eyes was a page advertising DC subscriptions. The top half is trying to sell you on The Amazing World of DC Comics, which was an in-house magazine with interviews and behind the scenes look at DC. I used to actually own a bunch of these and like a fool I sold them; now I wish I had them back, because I’m sure they’re fascinating. I doubt they can match the kind of whacked out, adult themed discussions Marvel was printing over in FOOM but if I get the chance to land some of these cheap I’ll definitely be looking into it.

The bottom half of the subscription page is for actual comics. It includes a long note trying to explain the pricing, since some titles are bi-monthly “100-Page Super Spectaculars” and others are monthly, regular size comics that may sometimes have 60 page specials mixed in. DC swears that “the subscription price is never more than the cost of buying sinlge copies at your local retailer”, but since the price for a subscription is $3, and the cover price of the monthly titles is 20 cents, you can see that a year should only cost $2.40. Man would I not have wanted to be in the subscription department to try and figure out the exact mix of 20 cent and 60 cent issues they had to send – or had already sent – to give someone the correct number of comics for their money. Add to this the fact that the price went up to 25 cents just a couple months later and this is a disaster waiting to happen. Plus, the titles listed appear to be a completely random cross section of comics DC was publishing at the time – even though this ad is in Wonder Woman, for instance, Wonder Woman itself isn’t listed as one of the options, though you can of course order a sub to titles such as Shazam!, The Witching Hour, Young Romance and Tarzan.

I have a feeling this ad wasn’t real successful.

My Grades: Um. This comic had its moments. It’s interesting in that it’s not as campy as a lot of the fun, campy stuff DC was putting out at the time, but nor is it as serious as some of the more serious stuff they were producing either. It felt like Bates was trying to write a solid superhero adventure but got bogged down by some of the trappings of the genre that DC was forcing him to include, like the secret identity stuff, which was already outdated when this appeared. It’s hard to dock someone points for being alive in the wrong time period, though, so I’ll give this a B for the 1970’s, even though it’s only a C+ at best for me reading it now.

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