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Wonder Woman 98
"The Million Dollar Penny!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND WONDER WOMAN #98; featuring the book-length "The Million Dollar Penny!"; May 1958; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Robert Kanigher, editor and scripter; art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

This is unfortunately going to be a somewhat incomplete review, as my copy of this issue is missing not only the cover but the first two story pages. ( Actually, thanks to the Gerber Photo-Journal Guide I can tell you that the cover depicts Wonder Woman battling a duplicate of herself on a log going over a waterfall.) Still, I thought a review would be of interest since this is the first true "Silver Age" issue of WONDER WOMAN, featuring the debut of the Andru/Esposito team on interior art, following the retirement of Golden Age WW artist H.G. Peter, as well as a Kanigher retelling (with drastic changes) of Wonder Woman's debut in "man's world".

As we pick up with page 3 of the saga, Amazon Queen Hippolyta (who is now blonde, rather than black-haired as the GA Hyppolita was) is watching her daughter Diana (already clad in her star-spangled outfit) going through her acrobatic paces in the Amazon "Olympic Games". Mom is pleased with her daughter's skills; "Behold! Diana's agility is incredible" as she vaults over a high pole and balances by one finger on a stack of loose stones. That night, Hippolyta is visited in a dream by "Pallas-Athena, patron goddess of the Amazons"; "The time has come for you to choose the greatest of the Amazons! You must send her on a mission to man's world to battle crime and injustice-- and help people in distress! Only when her services are no longer needed-- can she think of herself!" Accordingly, Hippolyta announces a competition to choose the "greatest Amazon". With Diana set to compete, one of the other Amazons expresses a concern about possible favoritism; "You are not only a queen, but also a mother! How can you prevent your heart from favoring your own daughter?" Diana offers a solution; all of the competing Amazons appear in identical costumes and disguises, making them indistinguishable from Diana. The first event is a tug of war with the ropes attached to a dirigible. When the losing team removes their masks and Diana is not among them, Hippolyta is relieved; "Thank Hera! Diana is still with the winners! She is still eligible!" (This is a complete reversal of the original William Moulton Marston origin, which had Hippolyta trying to *prevent* Diana from competing and winning since victory would take her away from Paradise Island and doom her to a mortal life.) The next event is to ride logs over "Hurricane Falls". One by one the Amazons fall off and are eliminated until only two are left on their feet. The two finalists go on to a wrestling match on a tightrope. One falls, causing Hippolyta to gasp in fear-- "Suffering Sappho! Is she-- my daughter?" but the winning Amazon dives down, catches her rival and makes a safe landing. The winner is, of course, Diana; "She is a WONDER WOMAN! Aye-- a WONDER WOMAN indeed?" By Pallas-Athena's command, Hippolyta reveals, the new Wonder Woman's first mission in man's world will be to take a single penny and turn it into a million dollars in order to endow a summer camp for children. (A nice thought, but kind of a comedown from WW's mission in man's world in the original origin, which was to win World War II and protect freedom, democracy and women's rights throughout the world....)

Between Parts 1 and 2 of the WW story, there is a full page house ad for another female-oriented DC title--LOIS LANE. "Now, by popular demand, you can follow the amazing adventures of America's No. 1 female reporter in a brand new magazine!" The cover depicted is issue #2, featuring "Superman's Forbidden Room!" which Lois naturally snoops into discovering a portrait and statue apparently proving that Superman really does love her.

As Diana contemplates her monetary mission in Part 2, the Amazons are startled by the sight of a plane exploding overhead and its pilot ejecting. "Great Hera! By Athena's law-- if a man sets foot on our island-- the Amazons will lose all our powers! We must help him-- and yet stop him at the same time!" Realizing that the pilot's parachute is not opening, Diana leaps to the top of an Amazon temple with a vertical flagpole and bends it over to serve as a catapult, hurling her into the air towards the hapless aviator. She nearly falls short, but manages to catch an updraft which just barely brings her within reach of the pilot. As Diana catches him, the pilot exclaims, "Angel! You're an angel!" "I'm just an Amazon!" "Same thing!" Continuing to ride air currents, Diana veers away from Paradise Island, saving her fellow Amazons' powers-- but falling towards a shark-infested sea. The pilot offers to sacrifice himself trying to keep the sharks occupied while Diana swims away, but she refuses; "You wouldn't last ten seconds with those killers! There must be some other way! An Amazon never lets anyone sacrifice himself for her!" Getting a "desperate idea," Diana expels her Amazon super-breath so violently that it fills the pilot's previously useless parachute and blows the pair of them swiftly to land. As they land ashore, the pilot identifies himself as Steve Trevor of Military Intelligence (oh, you guessed) and invites Diana out to dinner. But she has no time for socializing, as she has her mission to turn a penny into a million dollars in 24 hours. Seeing a sign for a contest to win $1000 by throwing a penny across Twin Cities River, Diana thinks she knows how to get her mission started.... but in her haste to join the contest, Diana drops the penny and it is picked up by a little boy who puts it in a gum machine. Fortunately the machine is empty and he gets the penny back...but then the kid refuses to return the penny, even when Diana explains her Amazon mission. To get the penny back, Diana has to prove herself a "real Amazon" by skipping rope a hundred times before her feet touch the ground. She succeeds, and "You proved you're an Amazon, all right! Gosh-- you're a WONDER WOMAN! Here's the penny!" (Personally, I'd have been tempted to spank the brat and take my penny back....) Diana arrives just as the penny-throwing contest is about to close for lack of any successful entrants. She hurls her penny, but some days you just can't catch a break.... the penny is seized in mid-air by a "great hawk". (I've heard of magpies or jackdaws seizing shiny objects, but would a hawk care about anything that wasn't edible?) Unwilling to give up her penny and her chance at success, Diana tosses her lasso and catches the hawk, but instead of being pulled back, it pulls Diana into the air (that's some impressive raptor, all right).

In Part 3, as Diana is pulled through the sky over the city, the hawk drops the penny into the river, and Diana shakes loose her lasso and dives in to find it. She finds the penny has fallen onto the deck of a "strange sub" cruising below the river surface. Then she has a more urgent concern than her precious penny; "Thunderbolts of Jove! That sub belongs to the enemy! It just fired a torpedo-- with an atomic warhead!" Diana seizes on to the warhead and tries to guide it, but it shoots out of the water, set to explode above the city. Turning her lasso into a spinning propeller, Diana tries to guide the torpedo away from the populated area and brings it to rest on a deserted beach. "It didn't go off on contact-- but it may at any moment!" But suddenly the beach is no longer deserted, as Steve Trevor shows up with a bunch of picnicking kids in tow. Begging Hera for a "steady hand", Diana spins the torpedo around in a circle, which you'd think would set it off, but instead it somehow fuses the torp with the beach sand, rending it harmless. Trevor explains that he has brought the kids for a day at the beach in his spare time because they have no playground. You'd think that with a hostile sub cruising an American city and firing warheads, a Military Intelligence man would have more immediate concerns than babysitting, but it is left to Diana to pursue the sub-- to retrieve that damned penny. The sub fires another torpedo at Diana; this one isn't nuclear, but it is magnetically guides and Diana is unable to evade it. until she doubles back and the torpedo slams into its own sub, blowing it up. Diana searches the river bed for the lost penny, but gives up, thinking it must have been "blown to copper dust" in the sub explosion. Emerging from the river, she is greeted by cheering kids, but confesses that she is a failure, since she has lost her chance to achieve her mission and get the kids a new playground. (Ah, right, Diana, all you did was save the kids and the city from being blown to bits....that was a pretty punk performance, all right....) But the children proclaim that they still have faith in their "Wonder Woman", and then one of them turns up with the penny, found in his net while looking for seashells. "The day isn't over yet! I still have time to try to turn this into a million dollars!" But as she races around the city, she finds no investments promising a billionfold profit-- until she encounters a sign put up by the "Twin Cities HIghway and Transportation Office" asking for bids of not over $1,000,000 to build a bridge. No one has come forward, and when Diana offers her services she is scoffed at; "You're only a woman-- a girl-- not a whole construction company! Forget about it!" But Diana takes her one penny and, exerting "immeasurable pressure", somehow "draws it out to infinite length" until she has extended the single penny into an entire copper suspension bridge. Claiming the million dollar payment from the Mayor, Diana directs it to be used to build a summer camp for underprivileged children. "And so, the Amazing Amazon completes her fabulous mission...and remains in Man's World...for what future sensational adventures, we shall see....!" She tells Steve Trevor, "Any Amazon could have done the same thing!" but he replies, "Only you could-- because you're an angel!"

I love the Silver Age, but it has to be admitted that not *every* comics series got better as it moved into the SA. In this case, the slick art of Andru and Esposito was an improvement over the extremely stiff and old-fashioned 1950's work of H.G. Peter...but as for the stories, well, this tale exemplified Robert Kanigher's apparent feeling that since he was writing about a superheroine, a fantasy figure, he was under no obligation to provide any semblance of story logic in his tales. (Kanigher wasn't nearly as absurdist in his war and Western stories, where he apparently felt he had to stay within shouting distance of reality.) Most SA Wonder Woman stories that I've seen, like this one, are "just one damned thing after another", WW fighting off one random, unmotivated menace after another and performing ever more impossible super-feats.... a comedown from the Golden Age WW, whose stories-- despite William Moulton Marston's quirks-- were generally more tightly plotted than most GA superhero stories, and portrayed Wonder Woman relatively believably as a person with normal human abilities built up to superhuman level by training as well as Amazon magic.

Anyway, if anyone has a complete copy of this issue (which I don't think has ever been reprinted) and wants to provide a mini-review of the first two pages, feel free....:-)