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Wonder Woman: An All-Star Sensation

Longbox Graveyard #168

I was one among a record crowd that turned out for the Wonder Woman movie last weekend, and I had a fine day at the movies. (You should go). And like a lot of people, I suppose, I walked out of the theater wanting to know more about Wonder Woman. She’s a character that’s been around longer than most of us have been alive, but she was never at the top of my reading stack. It’s a pleasant thing to have new things to explore when you’ve been reading comics since the 1970s!

What better way to begin a Wonder Woman deep dive than to go all the way back to her first appearance? That’s right, I’m talking about … issue #8 of All-Star?

Yep, All-Star. This December, 1941 issue was fronted by a Justice Society story where Starman and Doc Midnight did some damn thing or another. It was probably great! But the reason we remember this book is because of the back-up story … Introducing Wonder Woman!

Now, to be honest, many Golden Age comics can be a tough read. Art can be primitive, the stories can be all over the place, and a modern fan looking for familiar versions of their heroes may come away thoroughly perplexed. Over the years, I’ve come to make peace with Golden Age stories. I previously wrote that Silver Age books feel like musicals to me. Well, Golden Age stories feel more like dreams, where details swim around and odd images stick in your mind. Treating Golden Age books like lucid dreams has opened me up to a whole new world of comics.

And this first appearance of Wonder Woman is no exception. There is a dream-like quality to the story and art. But unlike a lot of books from this era, the story isn’t lacking for storytelling or craftsmanship. Wonder Woman hits the ground running, pretty much fully-formed from the get-go. And small … uh … wonder! Wonder Woman was more than a comic — it was a blueprint for a Utopian society.

Wonder Woman’s origin story hits the tropes you might expect. The “gimmick” here is role reversal, with a woman hero taking care of the men in repudiation of the “damsel in distress” roles served by women in comics (now as then, sadly). No sooner has intrepid airman Steve Trevor crashed on hidden Paradise Island than Princess Diana — the future Wonder Woman — is effortlessly carrying him to safety, while the other inhabitants of that mystical land gather around and shout MAN! MAN!

(more or less)

But this isn’t just to drive home the fact that Paradise Island is home to an all-female society. As creator William Moulton Marston would later say, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” Marston wasn’t writing a one-off adventure story, intended to quickly thrill and then just as quickly be forgotten. Marston was using a comic book to write for the ages.

Marston had a vision of a world rules by strong, benevolent women. He’d worked out the details and backstory of how this society came about, and we wanted us to know the details:

don’t see many text info-dumps in current comics — used sparingly, I kinda like it

Marston was a fascinating character — an academic, a writer, and a bit of a crackpot who might reasonably be said to have invented a lie detector (insert your own Lasso of Truth insights here). Years after creating Wonder Woman, it would be learned that Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and a former student (herself a niece of birth control activist Margaret Sanger), and Marston had children by both of them. All of which is between Marston and his partners, of course, but when juxtaposed against the social mores of the 1940s, and the ethos evinced in these early Wonder Woman stories about the benevolent superiority of powerful women, then, well … Marston was talking the talk and walking the walk (or at least in close proximity to women who were).

All of which lends a little more punch to a tale that sees the Queen of Paradise Island heed the advice of her gods to send one of her number into the wide world to “fight for liberty and freedom for all womankind!”

I blew up that panel of Queen Hippolyta, above, because it is, frankly, beautiful. Marston’s uncredited co-creator in these early Wonder Woman tales was Harry G. Peter, who brought a lifetime of illustrating experience to this work. Unlike many Golden Age artists — who often seemed to be teens or very young men learning how to draw as they went along — Peter was an accomplished artist. In his sixties when he did this work, Peter brought an austere, Art Deco quality to the book. To use a banal term, Peter’s world of Wonder Woman is pretty, something that couldn’t be said about the contemporary comic adventures of Superman, Batman, or Captain America (though Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner might be in the conversation).

Wonder Woman’s origin is told in two parts. In All-Star, we see Princess Diana rescue Steve Trevor, learn the story of Paradise Island, and watch Diana enter a contest to choose an emissary to take Trevor back to the United States. Sporting one of those disguises that only fools characters in Golden Age comics, Diana runs the table in a series of skill and strength contests, and takes the laurels in a bullets-and-bracelets showdown.

The story continues in Sensation Comics #1, where Wonder Woman rated the cover, repurposing her original splash page appearance, with a couple bullets bouncing offer her bracelets to make it clear that, hey, there’s some action here, and not just a call for equality and enlightenment in a world ruined by men who wish only to possess and destroy.

Wonder Woman transports the still-recuperating Steve Trevor back to the world in her nifty “transparent plane” …

… and with Steve dropped off at the hospital, Diana does what any tourist would do in an American big city — she checks out the latest fashions. I love how she’s utterly indifferent to society’s scorn and catcalls.

Of course, this being a comic book, it’s only a matter of moments before Diana happens on a bank robbery, which our hero foils with casual aplomb.

Leaving the scene of her heroics, Wonder Woman is clocked running at 80 MPH (in heels!) by a theatrical agent interested in a quick buck.

Wonder Woman is a sensation (ahem), playing to packed houses with her bullets-and-bracelets routine, and I guess she’s good enough with that trick to ensure ricochets don’t deflect into the crowd!

There are some shenanigans with profits, but Diana makes certain she gets her share.

But why does Diana need money, anyway? It isn’t to buy those clothes she was admiring. No, Diana uses the cash to buy an identity — as unique a civilian origin as I believe I’ve ever encountered in comics.

With her cover story in place, Wonder Woman has the full Superhero Starter Pack — a name, a costume, a secret identity, a love interest infatuated with her hero identity while she’s standing right next to him in her secret identity, and a barn with an invisible airplane. Not bad for the new Amazon princess in town.

After Steve gets out of the hospital, there’s finally a bit of action wrapping up the business of aerial saboteurs that led to Trevor blundering onto Paradise Island in the first place. My antenna went up when the story mentioned the bad guys were brewing a deadly kind of gas that would corrode right through a gas mask — a plot point wrapped into the new Wonder Woman film, seven decades later. And my antenna went right again down when, a couple pages later, the gas is set off and our heroes are saved by their gas masks (Golden Age stories are like a dream, remember?).

Along the way, true to form, Diana needs to save impetuous Steve Trevor. Again!

The story ends with our heroes surviving the explosion of the illicit gas warehouse — and another one of those elegant, beautiful panels by Peter, with enough motion even Jack Kirby might take notice.

And with that, the legend is born, replete with the promise to to best “the world’s most villainous men at their own game!”

And so Wonder Woman is launched, with pure intentions, and pure results, in a beautifully-crafted two-part story that entertains and enchants with its dream-like simplicity. It’s a purity that would take a beating in years to come. Wonder Woman herself would become iconic, but her book would see ups and downs, with as many reboots and retcons as any superhero out there — her book moved from the contemporary era to World War 2; her powers stripped away so she could become some kind of Mod avenger; and several times starting over fresh as DC wiped their continuity (and don’t even get me started about Wonder Girl).

Through it all, Wonder Woman’s popularity has endured. I guess she really was built to last, and if we haven’t yet attained the female-dominated Utopia her creator envisioned … well, the new century is still young! Here’s hoping we survive to the end of it, with Wonder Woman there to guide us.

  • Title: Wonder Woman
  • Published By: DC Comics
  • All-Star #8 (December 1941) and Sensation Comics #1 (Janurary 1942)
  • LBG Letter Grade For This Run: A

NEXT MONTH: #169 The Death of Captain Marvel

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The Pedigree Collection

This week, Longbox Graveyard welcomes guest blogger Will Kountis of Comic Swap Shop for a look at an issue of interest to all serious comic collectors. Take it away, Will!

We collect comics because we enjoy it. The reading, the “hunt” for them and the curating of this slice of pop culture. I’m sure you feel or want to feel good about your collection. I have a sense of pride about my treasures. I think you feel the same about yours.

White Mountain

Amazing Fantasy #15 from the White Mountain collection … doubtless at the top of Chasing Amazing’s wish list!

Have you ever wondered what makes a pedigree comic collection?

Have you ever wondered “How does MY collection become one?”

  • Is it the number of books?
  • Is it the value of the collection?
  • What are the rules around this naming convention?

Yes, it’s the number of books. Yes, it’s the value and yes there are rules.

Cosmic Aeroplane

Sub-Mariner #38, from the Cosmic Aeroplan collection

The Certified Guaranteed Company (CGC) has established parameters for a Pedigree Collection, which are quoted below.

The collection must be original owner

CGC: This means that the books must have been bought off the newsstand as they came out.  For example, a collector cannot buy a high-grade run of 1940s comics from various sources and expect it to be considered a pedigree.  The original owner need not currently own the comics for the collection to be considered for pedigree status.

Will: So unless you bought the book new, you are SOL as far as having and owning a pedigree collection. I’m sure someone will be happy to SELL you some pedigree books. But adding quality back issue books to your collection doesn’t gain you any ground over not buying them at the news stand.

Spokane

All-Star Comics #36, from the Spokane Collection

The collection must be of vintage material

CGC: This means that a large collection consisting of comics from the 1970s to present cannot be considered a pedigree.  In fact, until the sale of some key White Mountain books in a Sotheby’s auction in the early 1990s, Silver Age comics were not accepted as pedigree collections. Comic books from 1966 and after are relatively common in high grade compared to earlier issues. This occurred as a direct result of a tremendous explosion in the number of collectors in fandom in the mid-1960s. Collections that are primarily from 1966 and after must have average grades of at least 9.4 to be considered a pedigree.

Will: The new books you are buying now … you are going to have to live to a ripe old age, keep the collection intact AND have them be in freaking STELLAR condition to have a snowball’s chance at a pedigree.

The collection must consist of a considerable number of comics

CGC: Most pedigree collections consist of at least 1,000 books and some number over 10,000 comics. The collections that consist of fewer books, such as the Allentown and Denver collections, must include extremely rare, important, and/or key material.

Will: LOTS of books. Got it. THIS one I have covered. Not that it matters.

Allentown

Marvel Comics #1, from the Allentown Collection

The collection must be high-grade

CGC: Comics from the Silver Age in general would have to be 9.2 and higher, and a collection of exclusive Silver Age material must have an average grade of 9.4. Golden Age comics would have to be high-grade as well.  For example, the Lost Valley collection consisted of many golden age books from before 1941 that were technically mid-grade, but were almost across the board the highest graded copy for that book. Page quality must be nice as well.

Will: Grade matters. Got it.

Mile High

Red Raven #1 from the Mile High Collection, and as seen in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

Here are some notable “Pedigree Collections” As you can see MOST of them are named after the city/town/location they were found in. Some notable individuals associated with comics get their name attached to their comic stash.

Allentown
Aurora
Bethlehem
Big Apple
Boston
Bowling Green
Carson City
Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Marvel Family #23, from the Cape Cod Collection

Central Valley
Chicago
Cosmic Aeroplane
Crowley
Curator
Davis Crippen “D” Copy
Denver
Don Rosa Collection
Don/Maggie Thompson Collection
Edgar Church (Mile High)
Gaines File Copy
Green River
Hawkeye
Kansas City
Larson
Lost Valley
Mass. Copy
Mohawk Valley
Haight-Ashbury
Northford
Northland
Nova Scotia
Oakland
Ohio
Okajima

Okajima

Green Lantern #15, from the Okajima Collection

Pacific Coast
Palo Alto
Pennsylvania
Recil Macon
River City
Rockford
Rocky Mountain
Salida
San Francisco
Savannah
Spokane
Suscha News
Twilight
Twin Cities
Vancouver
Western Penn
White Mountain
Windy City
Winnipeg

Note that you can browse scans of many of these collections thanks to the links at the fascinating site, Comic Book Pedigrees.

So to Summarize:

Pedigree collections are as rare as finding an original owner Mercedes Gullwing coupe in excellent condition in a barn. Under a cover. With original paint.

Mercedes Gullwing

Mercedes Gullwing Coupe … looks like something Nick Fury would drive!

Smells like a marketing racket to me. You can’t have one, you can only buy pieces of one.

This sure seems like a retailers wet dream. They get to tout a premium, elite provenance to a group of books and jack the prices for retail sale. And why not, that’s America in action. Its great collection to own, but terrible to buy because of price.

Moment of truth: Every true collector wakes up in a cold, wet sweat dreaming of THIS type of find. Not for the selling of it, but for the HAVING and curating the collection. I hope, upon hope, that as the baby-boomers age more of these collections from someone’s dad or grand-dad will become available and flood the market — pushing the price BACK to something that resembles affordability and that I’ll have an opportunity to get in on the action.

Thanks, Will, for your insight and firm opinions on Pedigree Collections. What do YOU think of the issues Will has raised? Are Pedigree Collections a way for retailers to stack the deck against hobby collectors, or do they have a role in the larger world of collecting? Give us your feedback in the comments section, below, and be sure to visit Will at his home blog, the Comic Swap Shop!

The Golden Age

Longbox Graveyard #1

A couple weeks ago I saw Thor.

I reacted with geek glee, geek rage, and geek envy.

Chris Hemsworth defied my expectations and was terrific in the lead role — handsome, charismatic, and heroic. Asgard and the Asgardians came off OK, the Destroyer got to blow things up, Loki was sympathetically malevolent, and Anthony Hopkins‘ Odin chewed the scenery. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I couldn’t really hope for a better Thor origin movie.

(Geek glee! They got it right!)

I read my first Thor comic book a decade before Chris Hemsworth was born. I stuck with the book through some lean creative years, and developed that irrational sense of ownership geeks get over their closely-held secret obsessions.

(Geek rage! How dare someone else cash in on my discovery!)

When I was twelve, I found my dad’s sculpting hammer and leaped around the overgrown hillside below my house, throwing it at trash heaps and rusty water heaters. I was still enough of a child that I fantasized discovery of an ancient hammer might transform me into a superhero, instead of the aimless and underemployed teen and twenty-something I would become.

(Geek envy! I was supposed to be Thor, not this talented Aussie with superior bone structure!)

if I could have just found the hammer, I know I would have been worthy!

The “Golden Age” of comics is twelve.

That’s how old I was in 1974, the year I discovered comics, and fell in love with Thor.

That same summer, I decided I also loved Captain America, and Conan the Barbarian.

(I kind of liked Green Lantern, too, though after seeing that movie, I think I’ll edit that part of my past.)

All these characters and more besides come to the screen this summer. This is either the apotheosis of my pop culture youth, or a rare moment of perspective on my mobius strip path through life.

Thor #227 — my first!

My little lad Jack is eleven. Miles is fourteen. They bracket my age from the summer of ’74.

I lived in Hollywood, California, which was no more glamorous then then it is now. My home in a 1920s-era bungalow on Cahuenga was up a daunting hill from a newsstand just south of Hollywood Boulevard. World News & Books is still there, and doesn’t look much different than I remember. Maybe they still sell comics, but those comics will be as different from the .25 cent books I bought as a kid as is my bloated, broken-down butterfat body from the twelve-year old boy that braved that hill to buy them.

My boys are now the age I was when I discovered comic books, but they’d never dream of hiking a hill to buy comics with their allowance. They will watch comic book movies, but they far prefer World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto IV to reading comics or anything else. I tell myself it’s just their age, but it troubles me they don’t like to read. I think it troubles me more that they refuse to embrace my old comic book heroes, denying me the excuse to re-live my youth through them.

Superhero movies are a place where our interests intersect. We liked Thor — liked it a lot — which was something, because after the first movie trailers, with all the screaming beards and hospital interns being thrown around, I expected the worst. We geeks always expect the worst when our heroes are reimagined for an audience that couldn’t be bothered with them in the first place. We threaten our dignity by letting our geek flag fly for Thor or the X-Men, and we emperil the rosy memories of our past by revisiting the deep affections of youth and remembering who we were, and who we might have been.

in the 1970s, Thor was often at his best in books other than his own

Watching these movies should be a victory lap, but instead it’s an ass-puckering second chance to feel ridiculous for loving comic books. Only this time I’m not alone in a treehouse — I’m defenseless in a theater, with my friends, my wife, and my kids.

My favorite characters from my pivotal summer of ’74 are getting big movies all at once, validating in that money-makes-it-matter fashion that I had good taste as a kid. I stuck with comics, off-and-on, into my late twenties, but largely abandoned them as a fan during my brief career as a comic book writer.

And now?

I’m either ready to get out of comics once and for all or reawakening to a call long past its final echo.

I didn’t see it coming when I took the boys to Thor, but no sooner had that Sturm and Drang faded from the screen than Jack turned to me and said, “Hey dad, do you have any Thor comics out in the garage?”

Boy, do I.

behold, the Longbox Graveyard!

This blog will be about coming to terms with comic books, and trying to enjoy them again. For reasons that will become clear, I have ignored and denied my interest in comics for decades, to the point where I’ve become burdened and a little embarrassed by my Accumulation of books.

I’ll try to be honest as I crack open the Longbox Graveyard, both about the books themselves, and what they mean to me. Expect plenty of geek glee, geek envy, and geek rage! And expect some negative reviews, too, because I can already tell you the years have not been kind to some of my cherished favorites.

My focus will be Marvel and DC books from the Bronze Age (1970-1985), because that “Bronze Age” was the “Golden Age” to me. As I turn my comics Accumulation into a Collection, I’ll tell you which books escape the Longbox Graveyard (and why). I’ll write about getting (re)started in comics collecting — building databases, buying and selling back issues, and grading books. I’ll eventually try to come to terms with my own unsuccessful career as a comics creator.

I’ll try to post once a week or so, until I don’t. I’ve got over two months of blogs in the can so I should be able to keep pace for awhile. Expect a new blog every Wednesday, and yes, they will be numbered like comic books (OLD SCHOOL — no negative numbers or issue zeroes for Longbox Graveyard!).

Please subscribe to this blog to receive notice of future updates. Click HERE for RSS feed … or check the links at the top of the left column of the blog’s home page for a link to subscribe via email. I also have a dedicated Longbox Graveyard Twitter feed but I’m not certain how active that will be just yet.

I welcome your comments. Positive or negative, your participation will encourage me to continue this blog.

(And if my nostalgia has you itching to read some comics, check out the excellent library of Thor reprints on sale via my Amazon store).

NEXT WEEK: #2 The Micronauts!

(Special thanks to Farzad Varahramyan — a legitimate genius and a better friend and business partner than I deserve — for creating this blog’s original header art)

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