RETRO ROUNDTABLE #2 – Wonder Woman Vol.1 #59
Hitting the shelves in May of 1953, this issue of Wonder Woman is notable for having the first “alternative Earth” story in the history of DC Comics. Like most titles of the time (even ones that focused on a single character) this issue is an anthology that features multiple stories; Wonder Woman’s Invisible Twin, The College of Magical Knowledge and The Million Dollar Penny.
All three are done by the same creative team of writer Robert Kanigher and artist Harry G. Peter giving the issue a unified coherent tone that adds to its readability. Editing duties fell on Kanigher himself and Jack-of-all-trades editor Whitney Ellsworth.
THE UNOFFICIAL GRANDFATHER OF THE MULTIVERSE
We often hear the same names when it comes to the creation of DC’s Multiverse; editor Julie Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino. These three being the primary creative team of Flash #123, “The Flash of Two Worlds” story from 1961, the first “true” Multiverse story in DC Comics mythology.
It should be remembered however that the blueprint for this quantum leap in superhero storytelling was laid out by Kanigher. It was he who not only wrote this prototype alternative Earth story in WW#59 but would also, and perhaps more famously, bring us Showcase #4. Considered to be the first “Silver Age” comic in 1956.
The first story in Showcase #4 not only introduced Barry Allen as The Flash but introduced the basics of what would become the DC Multiverse; that the residents of the Silver Age continuity had grown up with the adventures of Golden Age superheroes as comic books and those adventures took place on the alternate world of “Earth-2”. Transmitted to the Silver Age “Earth-1” by mysterious means (see Morrison’s Multiversity for elaboration on the transmission idea). Looking back at this issue of Wonder Woman and comparing it with Showcase #4 it’s easy to see that something was evolving in Kanigher’s mind regarding the cosmological shape of this narrative universe. Whether he was conscious of it or not.
These ideas would reach their inevitable conclusion with Flash of Two Worlds which would in turn spawn everything from the annual JLA/JSA crossovers to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Multiversity, Convergence and most probably DC Rebirth with it’s incorporation of various timelines and The Watchmen.
While critics at times have reacted negatively against the idea of incorporating Alan Moore’s nihilistic and even cynical critique of superheroes into the continuity of the thing they are in fact critiquing, I’d also argue that this is the natural cycle of DC comics as the Multiverse seems to go through periods of expansion and contraction. Almost as if the Multiverse, as an archetypal/mythological structure has periods of masculine Logos initiation and activity (symbolized by The Flash) and periods of a more feminine “yin” period of holding and growth (Diana?).
Regardless, it all started with Robert Kanigher AND Wonder Woman.
for more on the early history of the multiverse check out this episode of the Bloodbath2 Podcast and for more on Robert Kanigher’s insane body of work check out the appropriate episodes of Tom vs Comics
For a story that can be considered the embryonic “ground zero” of one of DC comics most defining and beloved aspects (the Multiverse) it is shocking how little this story has affected any character or story since. It seems to have been entirely forgotten. No appearance or reference to the retroactively titled “Earth-59” has ever surfaced in DC canon to my knowledge. Nothing from Mark Waid, Grant Morrison or any of the writers of Wonder Woman since. One wonders why.
But now let’s leave all that dry history and pretentious Jungian philosophy behind and take a dive into some delightfully odd, fun and imaginative Wonder Woman stories…
WONDER WOMAN 59; SYNOPSIS
“Wonder Woman’s Invisible Twin”
Diana is having a rough day. She keeps nearly getting killed by absolutely nothing. Pushed through a window by unknown forces. Phantom hands trying to strangle her. When near a shop window she spontaneously throws herself through it. While leisurely strolling along a river she feels as if she’s been bound and gets subsequently thrown into the river (bondage score: 1). Not a good day
All is clearly not as it seems and the repeated visual themes of reflections and reflective surfaces (mirrors, water) are employed by Kanigher and Peter to allude to the obvious Lewis Carroll inspiration.
After a failed attempt to stop some thieves and as the press begins to turn against her (and hey who can blame them? She does seem to be acting like a crazy person) Diana and her lasso are struck by lighting which sends Diana, “through the looking glass” as it were, to an alternate Earth where she meets her Earth-59 double.
Lightning? Seriously, why has no one picked up on this archetypal connection to The Flash, the Speed Force and the Multiverse? This stuff practically writes itself.
Wonder Woman of Earth-59 tells our Wonder Woman (which technically would be pre-Crisis Earth-2 WW if you were keeping score) about her struggles against “Duke Dazam” and that her real name is “Tara Terruna” which translates “in our language to ‘Wonder Woman'”. Of course it does.
Turns out that all the strangeness Diana had experienced was a resonance between the two across the dimensions. As Dazam’s goons captured Tara, bound her and threw her in a river, Diana experienced the same thing. Now that all is clear and the two are on the same page they battle Dazam’s forces all the way to his throne room where he is…literally hiding behind his throne and captures Diana and binds her to the throne (bondage score: 2).
Tara enters, which blows Dazam’s mind and the two imprison the Duke. As Tara is telling Diana that she will be very happy in her new home on Earth-59 she is struck by lighting again (stop messing with the timeline Barry!) and thrown back to her own Earth.
If you needed any more proof that there is some connection between what Kanigher is doing in this issue and later in Showcase #4, the villain is “Duke Dazam” while the villain of the second Barry Allen story in Showcase #4, The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier is “Mazdan”. Awfully close isn’t it?
Is Dazam and Mazdan the same time travelling, dimension hopping villain? But more importantly is he Grant Morrison!?
“The College of Magical Knowledge”
Every seven years the Leprechaun College selects, by lottery, an outsider to attend their school and undergo a series of tests. If this outsider fails, the college remains open but should that person triumph then the College must close down. Why? Who knows. Does it matter? It’s LEPRECHAUN COLLEGE!
Of course, Diana is the lucky winner and knows all about Leprechaun College and the stakes of the contest already. Sadly, she is bound by her Amazonian Oath to “always do her best on tests”.
Not wanting to be responsible for the closing of such a prestigious school of learning she has to come up with ways to both win and lose at the various tasks put to her. What follows are several pages of some of the most insane displays of superhero powers ever imagined; catching lighting from a storm, running so fast she vibrates into the future (does this pre-date the Flash doing it?), and changes something’s atomic structure by…squeezing it really hard.
Ok, I don’t ever want to hear about who can beat who in a fight between Superman and Batman. The answer to all these questions is clearly, Wonder Woman! In modern canon she mopped the floor with Bats in Greg Rucka’s Hiketeia and JLA: A League Of One saw her take out the entire Justice League in about ten pages. Now with this display of virtually unlimited power I’d say she could easily deal with the Golden Age versions as well.
In the end, all is well as Diana was able to keep her Amazonian Oath while not entirely following the rules of the contest. Leprechaun College stays open! Ten points to Gryffindor!
I wonder, did someone later receive this summons and win? Is that why the Leprechaun College ceases to exist in the DCU? Now I’m depressed. I bet it was Batman.
“The Million Dollar Penny”
The final story in this issue in some ways might be the strangest. Diana approaches the millionaire Joshua T. Whyte in the hopes she can convince him to donate to a children’s charity. Whyte has a better idea. Turn this first penny he earned sixty years ago into a million dollars in 24 hours and then he’ll donate.
Who does that? Sure, you’re a nearly omnipotent God like being who can do anything but I’m gonna be a jerk about donating to some starving children and further more little lady I have a job for you! Patriarchy indeed!
The remaineder of the story is Wonder Woman using her amazing abilities to…make a profit? I told you, this story is weird. Selling the antique coin for startup cash, investing in mining, undercutting a labor contract to build a dam. Yup, all that happens.
Diana does indeed turn the penny into a million dollars and win the day. Because she is Wonder Woman and she’s awesome and can do anything. Even make money faster and easier than the creepy and stingy millionaire. She should’ve socked him one on the way out.
Now let’s take a look at what some of our writers here at Outright Geekery think of this issue. Click on the author’s name to be taken to their work.
I have a real soft spot for this story – while the Golden Age style of “Transitions? What transitions?!” drives me nuts in other comics, it’s a treat to see the first emergence of the Multiverse – done humbly, as one piece of a trilogy of zany and fun stories featuring everyone’s favorite Themysciran. Because let’s be real, why wouldn’t there be a duplicate Earth? Or a college for leprechauns?
Despite Marston’s personal proclivities and the coding that runs essential to Diana’s story, the comics are still made for kids, and when you combine the need for whimsy with the frantic need for a story, any damn story, on a brutal deadline, you often end up with wild concepts that remain charming and goofy even today. Kanigher continues that tradition. The art is at once innovative and hilarious, with a wonderful scene of the dual Wonder Women encircling war boats with their lassos (a tableau you could only create in this medium) at odds with a completely static Diana doing what looks like a barrel roll into into a lake. Not quite true to life, to say the least.
This is also the age in which some of our famous heroes are imbued with truly terrifying powers. Diana can travel through dimensions, run so fast she phases into the future, and bore through the earth itself as a high-speed human drill. She’s one scary lady, and I love it. As the characters evolved over time and picked up different facets by nature of being part of an emergent, collective mythology, they’ve had their godlike existence refined and narrowed. It’s a pleasure to go back to one of the Trinity’s origins and see the mighty woman Marston created who can stand toe-to-toe with the world’s greatest detective and beat the crap out of everyone’s favorite son of Krypton.
Man, I forgot how much you got for your money in the Golden Age! Wonder Woman #59 clocks in at a full 36 pages with ads for a whopping 10 cents. Here you get three stories with the most important being the first, Wonder Woman’s Invisible Twin. This story is important because it is the first appearance of an alternate Earth in DC comics. From simple silly beginnings we get greatness!
It has been awhile since I read a GA book and I must say the art in this book is quite good. Wonder Woman is drawn rather simply but still easily recognizable in her bloomers. For most of the first story she stumbles, falls and is eventually even thrown into the river to seemingly drown by some invisible force. This puts a serious damper on her crime fighting skills and eventually the local criminals start making fun of her. This continues until she is struck by lightning and thrown off of a bridge. There while falling she is transported to an alternate earth to meet her twin. It is then that she realizes that whatever has been happening to her twin has also been affecting her back on earth. Knowing this they team up to defeat the Cruel Duke Dazam of this earth. It is after his defeat WW is able to return to her home as well as her former crime fighting prowess.
The second story, The College of Magical Knowledge has the Leprechauns choose a person from the outside world to join the Leprechaun school. There at the school the outside student has to take a test and if they pass the Leprechauns will shut down the school. To make this choice they draw names from a large barrel and of course they draw WW’s. Looking at the barrel I am pretty sure that they didn’t have everyone’s name on the Earth in it, it really seemed kind of small. Also, what kind of odds did it have to be to draw WW’s name, I know one thing she needs to play the LOTTO. Did they really draw WW’s name or was it the name of Diana Prince? These are the things they didn’t think of in the Golden Age. Now that they have drawn WW’s name they know that she can pass their test so they have to rig it so there is no way she can pass. Knowing this though WW has to do her best because if she fails it will be against her Amazon code so she has to do her best to win.
WW quickly beats the first two tests but the last test involves her going to the Moon to fetch some green cheese. It is there on the Moon that WW squishes some yellow and blue plants together to form some green cheese. Again plants are not a dairy product WW so I don’t think this is technically cheese. They don’t have vegan cheese do they? So with her vegan green cheese in hand she flies back to the leprechaun college. Once she arrives at the school WW hands over the vegan cheese only to see that during the trip it separated and is now yellow/blue cheese. Because it has separated WW fails the final test and the Leprechauns don’t have to close their magic school. This is great until WW says that she knew the cheese would not be green once she got back to earth. I don’t know Diana, seems like you are cheating here.
Overall, these old GA books are always fun reads even if sometimes they are a little silly.
One of the greatest joys of Golden Age comics is Wonder Woman. Few characters have such an amazing array of imaginative stories with such mind bending ideas. The only character to really rival her in this way would be Fawcett’s Captain Marvel comics. Wonder Woman #59 I think is a shining example of the fun and whimsy of this era when done well.
As a foremost fan of DC’s Multiverse ahead of any single character or title I can’t help but look back at this first alternative Earth story with a certain fondess and preoccupation with my own head-canon as to what it all means. Even though I’m connecting my own dots and reading a lot into what is here, it still gives one pause to notice all the connections to later multiverse ideas (alternative versions of characters, vibratory abilities, the symbolism of the lighting).
More than that though I tend to focus on the second story for how pure of heart and clever it is. This is some of Kanigher’s best. The scripts are actually really tight and never go off the rails in the way some of his later Flash stories do. It also opens with my absolute favorite line of Golden Age dialog ever…
Maybe a little silly, maybe more for children. And a modern reader might just shake their heads at the contents of these stories, but I can’t help letting my inner child get swept away by these stories.