TFMSR 018: Wonder Woman #126 …

Wonder Woman #126, November 1961. Cover by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. All inages TM & © DC

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I’m not sure what was in the water—or non-stop coffee—the mostly male DC Comics editors were drinking in the company’s offices in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. But while none of them—to my knowledge—were actually pregnant, they were most certainly thinking about babies, or at the very least, toddler-sized versions of their main superheroes, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. I’ve already talked about the merciful one-shot appearance of “Bat-Baby,” (click here for the whole sordid story), who was a miniature version of Batman. He wasn’t a “real” baby, however; evil scientist Garth had zapped him with a ray which stole all of Batman’s growth, leaving a toddler Caped Crusader with all his adult strength and intellect intact.

The boys and girls of the Superman department at DC begat younger versions elsewhere within the line.

The whole youth version thing at DC started with Jerry Siegel, the co-creator—along with artist Joe Shuster—of Superman, the guy who started this whole furshlugginer superhero thing in the first place. Siegel pitched Superboy as early as 1938 and had even written a first story. DC (National back then) finally published an ashcan copy with the title on it in 1942, just to secure the copyright on the name. And then in 1944, while Siegel was in the Army, DC finally published his story, drawn by Shuster. Only problem was they forgot to tell Siegel they were going to do it. Superboy did a short seven-issue run in More Fun Comics (#101-107, circa mid-1940s) and then moved over to Adventure Comics with issue #103, where he was featured for a very long time and also had his own long-running title, Superboy. The strip became a major bone of contention to Siegel, but we’re not The People’s Court, so let’s move on.

Editor Mort Weisinger eventually formed a Superman Family of almost Biblical proportions, introducing Supergirl, and various and sundry other Kryptonians, all from a planet that exploded into a gazillion pieces and had—supposedly—only one sole survivor. And somewhere in there the idea must have come up that if there was a Superboy, there had to be a Superbaby … right? And lo, there was a Superbaby. The character made sporadic appearances throughout the Super-titles in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, appearing in flashbacks and imaginary stories every now and again.

Wonder Woman #124 introduced the “Impossible Tales” series in which Wonder Woman appeared alongside younger versions of herself … Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot. Confused? Me, too.

But it was writer/editor Robert Kanigher who came up with a nifty idea over in Wonder Woman comics that allowed all the various ages of Wonder Woman—WW herself, Wonder Girl, and Wonder Tot (evidently nobody puts “Wonder Baby” in a corner)—to appear at the same time, not in flashback or an imaginary story, although this group of stories was called the “Impossible Tales,” which I suppose was Kanigher’s version of Weisinger’s Imaginary Stories. Wonder Tot was preceded by Wonder Girl, who first appeared as a teenage version of Wonder Woman way back in 1947; she was re-introduced in Wonder Woman #105, which featured “The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman,” near the beginning of her Silver Age adventures. (Kanigher’s Impossible Tales series within a series was later retconned to take place on yet another version of DC Comics’ Multiverse, Earth 124.1 in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.)

I’m uncertain of anyone else at DC at the time who was both the writer and editor of his own work like Robert Kanigher was in the Silver Age of Comics. (Sheldon Mayer was, and he may have started the whole DC Baby craze with his Sugar & Spike series, which started in 1956 and ran 98 issues until 1971; Mayer later did other stories for the foreign market). By pretty much all accounts, Kanigher was as an irascible and polarizing a figure as Mort Weisinger, but he was incredibly prolific.

He wrote and edited Wonder Woman and DC’s “Big 5” war titles—Our Army at War, G.I. Combat, All-American Men of War, Our Fighting Forces, and Star-Spangled War Stories; he’s the co-creator of such war characters and strips as Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank, the War That Time Forgot (soldiers vs dinosaurs!), The Losers, and the Unknown Soldier. Kanigher also wrote for other DC editors, like Julius Schwartz: he wrote the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen) in Showcase #4 in 1956 and co-created the Black Canary character back in the Golden Age (first appearing in Flash Comics #86). He worked extensively with artist Ross Andru, on series they co-created like the original Suicide Squad, who appeared in a number of issues of The Brave and the Bold (but never graduated to their own title), and Metal Men (which at one point in time was one of DC’s best-selling comics, at or near Superman levels), plus Sea Devils with artist Russ Heath. He had a long run on Wonder Woman, as writer from 1947, and eventually writer/editor, through the mid-1960s. It was one of DC’s wonkiest books, but as you already know if you’re a regular visitor here, we love wonky DC comics.

Some of Kanigher’s “Impossible Tales” / Wonder Family covers by Andru and Esposito.

I don’t pretend to understand Kanigher’s “Impossible Tales” idea. It supposedly allowed the Wonder Family members to co-exist in the same time and place by the miracle of “Amazonian magic,” utilizing some kind of “time and space transformer.” The idea was eventually just dropped, leaving the reader to figure out how Wonder Tot fit into the Wonder Woman Universe. I kind of find that attitude refreshing, to be honest. I’ve often felt that modern comics are so so incredibly bogged down with continuity by having to know every member of the Legion of Super-Heroes or the Teen Titans or the Justice League or the Justice Society (or the X-Men, for that matter), and all their backstories, that reading comics today is like a constant test, at least of one’s memory. Can’t we just get a good story with great characters and art? (End of rampant editorializing, at least for this installment).

Wonder Tot first appeared in Wonder Woman #124, in a story titled “The Impossible Day,” which teamed up the whole Wonder Family, including “Wonder Mom,” (or “Wonder Queen,” if you prefer), Queen Hippolyta. Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman find a cave painting that depicts Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl, and Wonder Tot, alongside their Queen Mum, fighting a dinosaur on Paradise Island. The dinosaur turned out to be Wonder Woman baddie, Multiple Man, who could change shape and appearance.

Wonder Tot’s first solo story appearance was in the issue we’re featuring today, Wonder Woman #126, cover-dated November 1961 (the same month that Fantastic Four #1 appeared; different strokes for different folks). And while it was a little too soon—just two issues after her first appearance—to proclaim that “So many readers have written in to know what Wonder Tot (Wonder Woman as a child) does on Paradise Island … “ as Kanigher does on the splash page of “Wonder Tot and Mister Genie,” the writer does create a charming, fairy-tale like story for the Titanic Tot’s first solo appearance. In this 14-page tale, Wonder Tot returns from playing outside where she encountered a dragon that was the protector of a tree of golden apples, one of which she found.

She also finds a genie inside a box (which she wants as a toy box) and frees him. His name is Genro, and he has been trapped in the box for centuries. The genie tries to stay out of the box, but Wonder Tot tricks him back into it, only releasing him when he promises her a wish. She wants a star to use as a hair clip for her ponytail (“so she be nice and neat”), and the Genie takes her to space, through both a meteor shower and a time belt (where Wonder Tot ages to become Wonder Girl and Wonder Woman, and then back again to Wonder Tot). They encounter alien spaceships and a meteor shower.

She eventually gets her hair clip by shattering the meteors and returns home to a worried Queen Hippolyta who wonders where she was all this time. “Out,” she replies, and when asked what she did, “Nothing,” just like a real kid who really doesn’t want their parents to know where they’ve been or what they’ve been up to. Mr. Genie would return with Wonder Tot in Wonder Woman #130.

Wonder Tot’s solo cover appearances. “Wonder Tot save you!”

I’m not sure how much Wonder Woman was meant to be a “girls” comic in this era. There are certainly numerous stories of romance and unrequited love, both for Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, and Wonder Girl. In the second story in Wonder Woman #126, titled “The Unmasking of Wonder Woman,” the splash page starts with Wonder Woman changing to Diana Prince while Steve Trevor is dazed by invading aliens, and proclaiming, “Before I’m through Steve will forget Wonder Woman ever existed … and he will think Diana Prince is the only girl for him!”… kind of a reverse Lois Lane/Superman plot twist. Wonder Woman herself had a quasi-romance title feel about her when she appeared in Sensation Comics in the 1950s (with features that would appeal to girls, including “Dr. Pat,” “Headline Heroines,” and “Romance, Inc.”), but at that point DC was trying to find their way in a relatively superhero-free era; Sensation also included the adventures of “Streak, the Wonder Dog.”

Some of Wonder Woman’s appearances in Sensation Comics, where the character started in 1942, were definitely romance comics-oriented.

Wonder Girl was evidently a popular character, taking over Wonder Woman for her own two-issue mini-series at one point (issues #152 and 153), with “Wonder Woman Presents Wonder Girl” on the covers; she was also prominently featured on earlier covers (and given a “Featuring Wonder Girl” nod, text-wise, on some). She was deinitely a teenager who had boy problems with both “Mer-Boy” and “Bird-Boy” vying for her attention, another nod to the romance angle of the series. Wonder Girl eventually came into her own with the Teen Titans and a whole new separate persona from Wonder Woman in Donna Troy, at one point—and maybe still?—being Wonder Woman’s step-sister, but please don’t ask me to explain all of that; I have more than enough problems figuring out where the hell Wonder Tot came from.

Above, Wonder Girl was the main feature on a number of Wonder Woman covers. Below, the evolution of the character in Teen Titans in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Wonder Woman was definitely a DC title in search of an identity in the late 1960s, as the Marvel Age of Comics began to change superhero comics forever. Eventually Kanigher tries a return to Golden Age era stories, and then is replaced on the book by Justice League of America artist Mike Sekowsky, who takes over as writer, artist, and editor (a move made by DC editorial director Carmine Infantiono). Sekowsky plunges WW into the “Diana Prince” era, where she takes on a powerless Mrs. Emma Peel persona and gets an elderly Chinese man, I-Ching, as a sidekick. That doesn’t work either, and it would take numerous reboots to get Wonder Woman—including a couple of Gothic romance-like covers by artist Jeff Jones (aka Jeffrey Catherine Jones), and a stint by writer/editor Roy Thomas and artist Gene Colan when they fled Marvel during the Jim Shooter era. In the mid-1980s, DC changed everything with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and as a follow-up to that ground-breaking (and continuity establishing) series, George Pérez took over the title in 1987 and Wonder Woman finally becomes … well, wonderful.

Wonder Woman also evolved as a character in the late 1960s, but didn’t really become a fan-favorite title until George Pérez took over in 1987, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I think Kanigher’s Wonder Tot is the exception to the DC Comics “baby rule.” She doesn’t quite speak in what DC editors think babies talk like (lots of “Me”s), and she seems a much more articulate. Her stories show a lot of imagination and are flights of fantasy that appeal to all ages. While they’re a bit—here’s that word again—wonky, even for DC, they kind of remind me of a superhero version of some of the great kids’ comics of that era, like Little Archie and the Dennis the Menace giant specials, books seemingly written for children but with a sensibility that make them charming and enjoyable for adults to read, too … kind of like the bedtime stories a parent would read their kids. Bat-Baby was an adult shrunk to toddler-size, Superbaby was basically a super-powered brat, but Wonder Tot was a charming look at a kid’s imaginative life in an idyllic place called Paradise Island, albeit another kid with super powers. Andru and Esposito’s art only adds to the charm of Kanigher’s stories in this series, separating Wonder Tot from all the other super-babies out there. I wish DC would do a collected Wonder Tot book, but the chances of that happening are about as rare as finding a genie in a box on a beach, I imagine.

Wonder Tot gets the final word.

Next time: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a little break! We’re taking some time off to prepare for June, which will be “Superman Month” here on Tales From My Spinner Rack, as we celebrate the 85th anniversary of Action Comics #1, cover-dated June 1938, with some of my favorite Super-stories from the 1960s. The series starts Wednesday, May 31st, with an introduction.

To read all the “Tales from My Spinner Rack” posts, click here!

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