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Alter Ego 2 - Wonder Woman

An All-Star Sensation!
An Examination of the First Two Wonder Woman Stories

by Roy Thomas

Splash page from a (never-published?) Wonder Woman story circa 1943-45.
Art courtesy of Jerry Bails; © 1999 DC Comics, Inc.

When Wonder Woman burst upon the comic book scene in autumn of 1941, she quickly became one of the hottest tickets in the field.

As noted last issue, the amazing Amazon was conceived by Dr. William Moulton Marston, eminent psychologist who briefly held an official position on DC's "Editorial Advisory Board" made up of educators, psychologists, specialists in children's literature, and ex-heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney. Her exploits were drawn, in a studio operated by Marston, by H.G. Peter.

Her debut came in All-Star Comics #8 (cover-date Dec. 1941-Jan. 1942), as a nine-page backup to the lead feature, The Justice Society of America.

Within a few weeks at most, Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942) went on sale, with Wonder Woman as the issue's cover (and longest) feature. Sensation was the right word, because her rise was almost unprecedented. By spring of '42 (with a "Summer" cover date) she already had her own four-story Wonder Woman quarterly. She had started out a year or two behind The Flash and Green Lantern, but would soon have every DC hero except Superman and Batman eating her Paradise Island dust!

And yet...

One lingering mini-mystery of Wonder Woman's beginnings is that first story in All-Star #8.

Its existence raises several intriguing questions... and it seems that, at last, we may be able to answer some of them with a bit more than guesswork and far-fetched surmises.

The premier question about that origin has long been:

If publisher Max C. Gaines truly believed Wonder Woman was going to be the hottest thing since sliced bullets, then why was her origin put into the back pages of another comic before her first regular story saw print - unlike any other "star" feature DC introduced in the Golden Age, either before or after?

That move, after all, cost DC good money.

In a day when a dime was all it could charge for 64 interior pages, the page count of All-Star #8 was raised by one half-signature to 72 pages.

(A "signature" is a printing term which refers to a sheet of newsprint which, in the process of printing, becomes 16 different pages of a comic; thus, a half-signature would be eight pages. This is why most comics, by the early 1950s, had dropped from 48 interior pages to 32, and not 40 or some other number in between. When a half-signature was used, I've been told the other half-sheet of newsprint often had to be thrown away as wastage. Even if it weren't, DC was definitely spending extra money to add eight interior pages to All-Star #8.)

The inclusion of Wonder Woman's origin couldn't have been done to "help" All-Star. Not only was the JSA-starring title one of DC's new smash hits, but - even more tellingly - there isn't the slightest mention of the Amazon on the cover, let alone a picture!

Nor was there any announcement at the end of the 56-page Justice Society story about the backup feature. You simply turned the page - and there it was. (Many a regular All-Star reader must have been quite surprised to see a backup feature of any kind in All-Star, since there had never been one before.)

So what does the lack of fanfare both on the cover and even inside All-Star #8 indicate?

Most likely, that Wonder Woman's origin was a last-minute inclusion, with no opportunity - maybe even no inclination - to change any cover copy or interior captions.

So why in All-Star, and not in some other comic?

Well, for one thing, Gaines was partnered with DC publisher Harry A. Donenfeld in his All-American Comics line, which was published under the DC symbol. Thus, the pure-DC titles (such as the five Superman and/or Batman mags, but also Adventure, More Fun, and Star Spangled) were probably off-limits, since Wonder Woman (like Gaines' two mainstays, The Flash and Green Lantern) was strictly an AA character. All-Star had originally been created to showcase the DC/AA heroes who didn't have their own titles, so it was an even more logical choice than Flash Comics or All-American, let alone All-Flash or Green Lantern Quarterly.

If Gaines was hedging his bets by shoehorning the first Wonder Woman story into the back of one of his most popular titles, that suggests he had perhaps a bit less faith in the Amazon's pulling power than he could have had.

I can see why.

After all, Wonder Woman wasn't the first costumed heroine in comics: August 1941, for instance, had been the cover date of comics introducing (a) Quality's Miss America (in Military Comics #1); (b) Quality's Phantom Lady, as well, in Police Comics #1; and © Holyoke's Miss Victory in Captain Fearless #1. Phantom Lady's had even been one of several cameo heads featured on the Police #1 cover.

Wonder Woman ™ & © DC Comics, Inc.

However, Princess Diana was the first super-heroine who would be the star of both cover and comic - the focal point, the obvious raison d'être of the new magazine.

She might well bomb. Gaines and company could hardly have failed to know that the main audience for comic book super-heroes was young boys. Would they relate to a super-heroine - especially since, in those days, she couldn't be drawn with her eagle and star-spangled panties barely covering what the law disallowed? DC clearly had no intention of trying to appeal to the possible prurient interests of pre-adolescent (or even older) males, as Phantom Lady and others would do a few years hence.

Ah, but if those selfsame little boys just happened to stumble upon Wonder Woman's origin in the same book as the all-male JSA, they might get intrigued by her before they had a chance to think, "Hey, she's a girl!" - let alone "Hey, she's only a girl!"

This, in turn, might make them more predisposed to purchase, shortly afterward, the first issue of Sensation, with Wonder Woman emblazoned on its cover.

In addition, it may have occurred to Gaines and/or Mayer that Diana only appears as Wonder Woman in the origin story in the final panel. While, in 1940, Green Lantern hadn't appeared in costume till the end of his first story (and The Atom not till his second one), Gaines may have wanted the readers to see more of Wonder Woman in her colorful costume when they picked up Sensation #1, not a lot of derring-do by Steve Trevor and some nondescript Amazons running around chasing deer and stopping bullets with their bracelets.

Okay, so let's say the decision to forcefeed Wonder Woman's origin into All-Star #8 was made more or less along these lines - and that Gaines figured the extra expense for the eight-page half-signature was a necessary business expense.

Let's assume he didn't even mind that, because of a 1/3-page ad for a Lionel Trains Catalog, for the first time the house ad for DC's monthly anthologies had to take up less than a full page - in the very month that those house ads plugged Star Spangled Comics #1, "featuring The Star Spangled Kid!! by Jerry Siegel, creator of Superman!"

Still, why that particular Wonder Woman story?

Why her origin, which naturally belonged in Sensation Comics #1 (and would be fully told later in Wonder Woman #1), not as what radio's Hit Parade called in those days "A Lucky Strike Extra."

That's where my theory comes in.

Last issue, amid commentary about the Fox and Marston scripts for the Wonder Woman chapter in All-Star #13, I wrote a throwaway line:

"I have a theory, based on analysis of internal evidence, that Wonder Woman's nine-page origin may actually have started out as a 13-pager slated for Sensation #1, and then truncated so she'd get advance exposure in the popular JSA title...."

To my own shock and delight, I have even more faith in that theory now than when I voiced it three short months ago.

And for good reason!

First, though, let's take a fast look at the "internal evidence" I believe I had found for the story "Introducing Wonder Woman" originally being intended for the first issue of Sensation, not for All-Star #8 where it actually appeared.

I based my hypothesis on the following observations of the origin, which can easily be checked by looking at the first volume of the Wonder Woman Archives (or your own personal copy of the actual Sensation #1, if you happen to run in those circles):

(1) The Wonder Woman figure which is the only art in the splash panel is exactly the same as that on the cover of Sensation #1, and thus is probably just a photostat thereof.

(2) The splash pages of each of Marston and Peters' Sensation WW stories for the first several years has exactly the same format: a big splash panel, plus one panel. The All-Star story, however, has three panels besides the splash.

(3) After two pages of straight comics, Pp. 3 and 4 of the origin - except for a big introductory panel - are suddenly typeset to show Queen Hippolyte's narration to Diana, though with seven additional comics-style illustrations. At least two of these - depicting mother and daughter - simply cry out for word balloons.

(4) Page 8, which commences the tournament to decide which Amazon will return to Man's World with the downed Captain Trevor, abruptly has four tiers (rows) of panels, while all previous comics pages in the story had three tiers. In at least one of those panels (Panel 3) the artwork is so crowded that the caption and word balloons take up 75% of space in the panel - suggesting that the picture area may originally have been a bit larger.

(5) A single caption accompanying Panel 7 on Page 8 covers several more "tests of strength and agility," "until each [of the final two masked candidates] has won ten of the gruelling contests" - which suggests, though it does not prove, that some art and story may have been dropped out.

(6) On the final page, Panel 5 and 6 overlap some of what should have been the art area of Panels 3 and 4 - something very rarely done at DC during this period.

(7) The story ends with a dialogue-less pose of Diana in costume for the very first time as Wonder Woman - with the caption that would naturally have gone above (or even under) that picture instead placed to its left - beneath a panel in which Hippolyte hands Diana the outfit, in yet another panel in which the characters' dialogue takes up 3/4 of the panel area.

My conclusion: The script for "Introducing Wonder Woman" - with or without finished art, but quite possibly with - was originally of the same standard 13-page length as every Wonder Woman story would be in early issues of Sensation; but the story was truncated - cut down - to nine pages by a combination of an untypical several-panel splash page, one four-tier page (all other are three), the re-formatting of several pages of backstory into two typeset pages, etc.

Of course, none of the above bits of evidence - not even all of them taken together - conclusively proves the conclusion I drew. It was still very much speculation, argued after the fact, with no corroborating evidence.

Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I was happy to receive - from a source wishing to remain nameless - a copy of William Moulton Marston's script for the 13-page lead story that appeared in Sensation Comics #1.

I was, of course, floored that any copy of that script existed. This script is even older, by a full year, than the Fox and Marston All-Star chapter scripts we ran in Alter Ego, Vol. 3, #1 - and older than any other comic book script on which I personally have ever laid eyes.

The story in Sensation #1, of course, follows directly after the tale from All-Star #8, and indeed synopsizes the earlier story in a long splash-panel caption.

(Alter Ego here reproduces the first two pages of that script, as a genuine archive and landmark in the history of comic books.)

I was intrigued by several minor changes which had been made in the script as it was lettered. For instance, the last sentence in Marston's script reads:

"Here on Paradise Island, on which man had never before set foot, the Amazon maid, Diana, fell in love with Captain Trevor, and decided to come to America with him to wage battle for freedom, democracy and womankind!"

Whether changed by Marston or by editor Sheldon Mayer, "come" has been replaced by "bring him back." Far more interestingly, an additional phrase has been tacked on behind the last word of the typed caption. Diana and Steve will now "wage battle for freedom, democracy, and womankind thru-out the world!"

A minor blow for clarity, since it would have read a bit odd to boys, especially in those days, to say that Steve Trevor would fight for "womankind." Adding "thru-out the world" subtly de-emphasizes that, since it no longer ends the caption.

However, the most important aspect comes at the top of the first page of the script.

It's moderately interesting that the words "WONDER WOMAN," typed in all-upper-case at left, are crossed out, with a "#1" and "Sensation" handwritten in. This probably just means that, when he wrote the script, Marston didn't know the precise name of the new monthly comic in which she'd be appearing.

But the real kicker can be seen in the upper right.

There, in the phrase "Episode #2" as typed by Marston, the "#2" has been crossed out - and "#1" written above it - in Marston's handwriting, I have been told. But even if it weren't....

The lead story in Sensation #1, in other words, was originally written for issue #2 - and only later graduated to the head spot in #1.

This suggests that the origin story that precedes it was intended for Sensation #1 - and got bounced into All-Star #8 at the eleventh hour.

This makes considerably more sense than beginning Wonder Woman's initial tale in Sensation with a long caption which relates events concerning Diana and Steve which no Sensation #1 reader could know in 1941 - unless he/she had already read All-Star #8 cover to cover!

Incidentally, a few other changes were made in captions and dialogue of the Sensation #1 story between original script and printed comic, but these are mostly cosmetic.

E.g., the first caption on Page 2 of the script reads: "And at the controls is the Wonder Woman... Diana, the Amazon!" In the printed comic this caption reads: "And at the controls is an Amazon maiden, named Diana by her mother, queen of the Amazons, after her godmother, goddess of the moon!"

Hmmm... that last is a bit awkward. But at least it reads like something more likely to have been put in by Marston, rather than editor Shelly Mayer. Perhaps it was added on the original script, since what we have is a photocopy of the carbon copy originally typed by Marston.

There are numerous other minor changes, as well. A man ogling Wonder Woman's clothes says (in the script): "Well, they certainly got my eye attracted all right!" In the published comic this comes out more euphoniously: "Well, they certain attracted my eye!"

One nice improvement occurs on Page 4, when Wonder Woman stands over fallen crooks as policemen rush up and ask what's going on. In the script Diana answers, "A bank robbery... or should I say, an ATTEMPTED bank robbery!" Someone seems to have decided Wonder Woman shouldn't really be thinking in terms of "bank robberies" yet, since she just landed in America from Paradise Island, which has no banks, so her printed line is: "I don't know. I heard someone say 'It's a hold-up.'"

Yet, in the next panel, when the cops try to question her, Wonder Woman's scripted line ("Some other time, when I'm on a quiz program!") has become "Some other time, when I'm on the 'Quiz Kids' program!" A vague reference to an American culture she could as yet know little about has been rendered even less believable by her mention of a specific popular radio program, The Quiz Kids!

Booking agent Al Kale has an interesting line cut, too. On Page 5 in the printed Sensation, he simply tells Wonder Woman that in a theatre her abilities "would bring you plenty of money!" In the original script, Kale goes on to say, "... and you wouldn't have to wear that phoney jewelry. No rocks that big could be real!" Marston was still learning about the space limitations of comic books, and tried to crowd too much dialogue into that panel - though admittedly the lost line was pretty good. (On the other hand, it may simply not have fit: What "jewelry" exactly is Kale referring to? Her tiara?)

Wonder Woman ™ & © DC Comics, Inc.

Beyond a doubt, however, the most important thing about the script carbon - besides the fact that it exists at all - is the fact that it points toward Wonder Woman's origin as having been intended for Sensation #1, and shoved into All-Star #8 at the last minute.

How often do we get a chance to reinforce our pet theories about comics that were published well over half a century ago?

Or are there, perhaps, a few more such unexploded early-1940s bombshells out there moldering in attics or languishing in old trunks?

Not many, surely... but we can always hope.

After all, only weeks ago, I'd have laughed out loud if someone had told me that I'd ever see the script for the Wonder Woman story that ran in the first issue of Sensation Comics!

We're never too old to believe in miracles.

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