Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wonder Woman's Rogues Gallery

The Top Ten

Too many people (some of whom are DC staffers) claim that Wondie doesn’t have a true rogues gallery, or that the one she has isn’t very impressive. I disagree. Here are the best of her recurring foes, making up a notable menace of international scope:

10. Baroness Paula von Gunther. First appearance: Wonder Woman (first series) #4.The baroness gets a significant part to play in WW canon as she was a major early character, a Nazi mastermind who constantly battled Wondie. In fact, the first TV WW episode starred the baroness (and is one of the few episodes I find really enjoyable).

Paula von Gunther rises from mere Nazi über-agent to be the first criminal that WW REFORMED. Yes, it would have meant more if it hadn’t turned out that Paula was doing all this horrible stuff only because the Nazis were holding hostage her daughter, Gerta. Diana got Gerta back and Paula quickly adopted the Loving Submission that the early book loved to preach, and joined the Amazons.

After that, Paula became not only Diana’s friend but the inventor of all kinds of cool Amazon gadgets. In the Sixties it was explained that she was the one who adapted the Purple Ray to give Donna Troy her Wonder Girl powers.

So she doesn’t really make that great a villain now, but boy, was she back then! And mark her as being German (or thereabouts) in nationality.

So for her replacement let’s add an unrepentant number…

10. Dr. Poison. One of many villains in WW’s rogues gallery who hold doctorates, Dr. P’s first appearance came in Sensation Comics (first series) #2.

As part of her sadistic medical arsenal, Dr. P brandishes needles and viruses and scalpels—all things to make one’s skin crawl. Literally. Dr. P hasn’t been seen that much in the pages of WW, but her appearances have been memorable ones, accented by her ghastly grin (that looks nothing like Joker’s, thank goodness) and propensity to wear mannish lab coats. In this day of pandemic scares, Dr. Poison’s threat is terrifying.

Dr. Poison, both original grandmother and modern granddaughter, are Japanese.

9. Angle Man. First appearance: Wonder Woman (first series) #62. Yet when I speak of Angle Man as a fitting top-level member of Wondie’s rogues gallery, it is the suave and stylish Phil Jimenez version I speak of, and ONLY he. The others were churlish (and boring) wanna-bes and frauds (and the real AM most assuredly dealt with them once he found them). Angelo Bend made his first appearance in Wonder Woman (second series) #179.

The best villains contain layers of characterization, and this AM seemed to seesaw between good and evil. (What’s his angle?) He was infatuated with Donna Troy as well, which likely would need to be switched to Wondie if she and he return, since this is a discussion of Wondie's rogues, not Donna Troy's.

At some modern point it’s been established that the Angle tool that Angelo uses is something he supposedly stole from Darkseid. Now, THAT must be some story! (Or is it a lie?) The angle can twist gravity, light, space, dimensions, and on rare occasion, time. I wonder if Angelo has full control over it?

I once gushed that AM was interesting in this incarnation because he was gay, or mostly so. Phil J. responded that Angelo was not gay; rather, he was European. To this day, this remains one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard, but Phil was perfectly serious.

Add to AM’s appeal that he’s Italian. And a shade or two darker-skinned than most of the other WW villains. Variety is always welcome!

8. Silver Swan. First appearance: Wonder Woman (first series) #288, and we’ll stick with 85% of that version if we're bringing her back. Ordinarily I’d give a disdainful sniff in her direction. I’ve never liked her because of her motivation. This is a feminist comic (or it’s supposed to be), and for a major female character to have her entire life revolving around her looks is just kind of demeaning to women.

In SS’s case, the sickness propelled her into becoming the Swan. I prefer the first Swan’s origin because she starts out not that bad-looking, but wants more, and this signifies greed: a good basis for a villain. The second Swan truly needed to be cosmetically enhanced, so the reader could feel pity for her and cheer when she eventually reformed. I’ll take the first one, though a revamped character would do well to forget the hour time limit she had for power usage, and utilize the wonders of modern technology for her creation and powers. (The Perez version had the better look.)

The Swan can fly, she has enhanced strength, and she has some kind of Canary Cry that really should be modified because Black Canary already exists. She is quite visually exciting, I’ll give her that. Nationality: American.

7. White Magician. First appearance: Wonder Woman Annual #3, second series. The Magician was killed off, but a revamp could start mid-career with him before he’d turned into a demon.

The Magician is a crazy-layered guy, devious and egocentric. He was born in the same generation as Thomas Jefferson, to whom he was a cousin (or possibly cousin-in-law). WM considered himself essential in the founding of the US, and over the years (his magic gave him a lengthened lifespan, though he is not immortal) he has become incensed that immigrants and (gad) women have gained so much power. His perfect USA would be ruled by rich white male landholders. Even better, it would be ruled by HIM.

The really neat thing about WM is that until a little after Wonder Woman came to Mortal’s World, he played the part of a good guy, even being a member of some minor heroic super groups. Most of the public still revere him as a hero, not knowing how deeply entwined he is in Boston’s underworld and who knows what else.

I hate undefined magic, but WM’s magic was fairly focused on his being able to change people into demonic/evil-Terminator-types who would then do his bidding as hirelings. He could also do other minor magics, but this was his specialty. He supplemented his magics by supporting über-technology-based villains. He was a misogynist who kept beautiful women as long as they obeyed and worked for him.

Nationality: American (as in practically a Founding Father).

6. Giganta. First appearance: Wonder Woman (first series) #9.

The modern Giganta is yet another doctor in Wondie’s rogue gallery. Diana attracts the elite, you know, but we’ll give Giganta credit for not going by the name “Dr. Giganta.” Her shtick is that she can grow to giant size. Efforts have been made to put her in modern uniforms, but let’s face it, the ol’ animal print is a classic. Let’s just assume she wears something under that skirt. Please.

Every hero needs a goofy villain. Giganta is Wondie’s. It took Phil J. (sorry; not trying to name-drop) to remind me of this. And of course, Giganta is quite the spectacular figure moving across the comic book page. As the temporary partner of another villain, she can even accomplish some serious sh… I mean, stuff. And when she was romancing Ryan (Atom) Choi and seemingly trying to go straight, she was hilarious.

Nationality: Darned if I know what Dr. Zeul is. The name is Prussian. She’s probably American, or maybe that’s just the nationality of the body she ended up with. Hm. Brain: Russian; body: American? Mexican? Canadian?

5. [Dr.] Cyber. First appearance: Wonder Woman (first series) #179. No, I don’t mean the “I want to steal Wonder Woman’s face” Dr. Cyber with the metal mask! We already have the Silver Swan with the hangup about her looks. A serious feminist villain doesn’t have self-image problems.

No, the original Cyber (there are too many doctors in the rogues gallery, so let’s lose Cyber’s title as part of her villain name, though she can keep the degree[s]) was created at the height of the James Bond craze, and she’s the ultimate James Bond-type villain. Entirely human, she heads a worldwide, underground organization whose sole goal is to get Cyber more money. And likely the power that goes with it. She is the hidden force behind conspiracies and is spoken about in whispers, only coming into the open on rare occasion. Most who have heard the whispers assume she’s a man.

Cyber is stylish, smooth and very likely British, as most Bond villains are. Her organization has historically been depicted as primarily female, but I hate homogeneous groups (BO-ring!), so if we bring her back in her proper form, she should be an equal-opportunity employer.

Her top lieutenant or at least an important underling, is Lu Shan, the Chinese daughter of Diana’s one-time partner, Lu (I Ching) Shu-Shang. It never hurts to have a family connection to the hero!

4. The creepy Dr. Psycho’s first appearance was in Wonder Woman (first series) #5. A premier example of a misogynist, he has too often been depicted as merely a criminal hypnotist. But no, in addition to his telepathic, illusion-casting, mind-raping hypnotism, he is evil incarnate. He hates women and will use them in any way he can.

Even so, he doesn’t mind—doesn’t mind at all—using men in his schemes as well.

Psycho’s one scary-looking guy. Add his madness to the mix, and you have a prime supervillain.

Nationality? I always “hear” him with a spooky but exotic accent. Let’s see… Brazil or thereabouts? Let’s spread the villain wealth around the world!

3. Circe. It’s hard to believe, but Circe first appeared in WW in issue #37 of the first series. We usually think of the version that first appeared in issue #18 of the second series (Perez run).

Many fans have been upset that Circe has been cast as a villain. Certainly when I was growing up, Circe was a good guy who occasionally appeared in Superman family comics. (It was she who was involved in the origin of Comet the Super-Horse.) If you want an crazy-evil witch from classical Greek myths, Medea is your gal.

But we’ve been given Circe. (To DC’s credit, for a while her fate/soul was tangled with Medea’s.) I hate undefined magic and Circe is one of the slew of undefined magic users that darken various comic universes. However, in mythology and often in comics, Circe had a specialty: she turned people into animals. If she keeps to that gimmick and only relies on other magic in limited (may I hope for defined?) ways, she makes a fearsome adversary.

Add in Loebs’ storyline in which Circe double-crossed herself in hopes of becoming Ares’ wife/partner and wound up befriending Diana, and you’ve got a complex character to play with!

Circe’s Hellenic.

2. The chaotic [Dr. again!] Cheetah. First appearance: WW #6, first series. Cheetah has appeared in three different major variations. (We won’t count He-Cheetah who only appeared in a couple issues.) First she was Priscilla Rich, who suffered from split personality. This is a favorite of quite a few Wondiacs. (May I coin that term? All right, we’ll forget it.) After her death in the Bronze Age, the Kobra organization brainwashed her niece Debbie Domaine into becoming the new Cheetah. Neither had any powers. What, you send someone without powers to go mano a mano against Wondie? Not on my watch!

Nope, the best Cheetah was Dr. Barbara Minerva (an unfortunate last name), a rather horrible British (South African?) archaeologist (so many archaeologists in the WW mythos! We should give some of them new specialities, like Barbara should have been an anthropologist or historian) who willingly enslaved herself to the madness and power of Urtzkartaga (I usually call him “Urtsy-Wurtsy” because I can never remember the name), an African god, in order to achieve immortality. After periodic blood offerings she becomes a were-cheetah, a super-strong, demonic, claw-wielding killing force worthy to oppose Wonder Woman.

She’s a great one for the visual medium of comics. Her appearance, unless she’s wearing a sleek modern costume, is striking, and her methods are brutal. She was often accompanied by her minion, the West African (Which country? Were we ever told?) priest Chuma. He’s dead now but could be brought back for new adventures. You know how comics are.

If I were to revamp the character for use in a modern series, I'd change her name to Dr. Barbara Domaine.

1. Ares. He was there almost from the first; definitely from the first issue of Wonder Woman, though after his introduction he went by the name of Mars for a long time. Aphrodite championed Wondie to fight a world at war, personified by Ares.

Consider this: Wonder Woman’s theme is positive empowerment. Ares stands at the opposite of that. He wants the world enslaved. To whom? It doesn’t matter, so long as there’s discord, violence and misery. They will be enslaved to his power.

Writers have a tendency to portray comic book gods as high-level super-types who utilize undefined magic. But think again about WHY humanity created gods. They were to explain the unexplainable and provide logic to an illogical world. Gods personified forces of nature.

Thus picture Ares as War itself: sometimes calculating and logical, but usually unbridled fury. Hatred, jealousy, murderousness, cruelty in their raw forms. Give him a little classicism and have him able (sometimes) to operate in a human way in that he holds war as an honorable calling. He knows his energy is dark, and he glories in it.

He is a GOD, a personification of the violence of the human psyche, and therefore he should not be able to descend to true human realms and form without extreme effort. (See: Ares Buchanan.) So he has to whisper his temptations to humans in their dreams, or he utilizes unique minions to carry out his orders. (See: Duke of Deception, Deimos, original Silver Swan, etc.) He can set up circumstances to bring discord and hatred into the world, and when it arrives his presence can boil the very heavens with his exultation. You want to compare him to Darkseid? Heck, it’s Ares who gives Darkseid his ideas! Ares is the one who gains the most from Darkseid’s triumphs.

Ares’ threats can come from any direction and through any medium. He’s a tremendous foe who can only be beaten back temporarily.

There you have it: A rogues gallery that is ten strong and contains a wide variety of powerful villains who are interesting both in character and visuals—perfect for comics!

Don’t let anyone say again that Wonder Woman doesn’t have a great rogues gallery!
Wondering why some of your favorites aren't on this list? Here's your answer.

Hey, folks, I just republished a book this week: Applesauce and Moonbeams.
It's soft sci fi:
cover of Applesauce and Moonbeams

After a hit man blasts telepathic psychiatrist David Lumen’s mind into the body of a pampered kitty on its way home to the moon, David’s desperate plan to make himself whole again is hampered by his new feline life. The only person close enough to communicate with is struggling avant-garde artist, Pippin Applegate.

Together they spot David’s body walking around... with the hit man’s mind inside. Can David regain his true body when it’s leaving a trail of chaos and murder that leads to Pippin’s make-or-break art show?

I'd appreciate it if you checked it out, maybe even wrote an honest review for it. Thanks!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I've been one to think that her rogue's gallery hasn't been as great as others, and yet when I see your list, I realize that I've loved some of those characters and that they are just as worthy as her friends' greatest foes. Maybe why they get forgotten is because they're not as mass marketable. A rapist woman hating psychiatrist and a pre-Jigsaw from the Saw movies aren't really kid friendly.

I remember growing up with Wonder Woman merchandise where Cheetah was basically the only villain they used ... from mini Secret Origin comic covers to a Pop-Up book to colouring books, it was either Priscilla or Debbie. I think that with a lot of Wondie critics (haters) they like to point out Blue Snowman or Dr. Domino to discredit her rogues gallery. (I actually like Blue Snowman).

I liked the storyline with Dr. Psycho as Captain Wonder and Silver Swan being in lust with one another - they were both obsessed with their looks, and when their true forms were revealed they were disgusted with one another - they hated the shallow world that cast them as ugly but their own shallowness showed the ugly was also within. The whole revenge for not being beautiful and hating beauty but wanting it too can be troublesome. (See also Emerald Empress II (?) where an overweight girl with acne get the power and becomes super hot and full of revenge on the whole LSH for rejecting her.

Anyway, I was happy when Post-Crisis Swan reformed - but I'm sappy like that. Wasn't it thought she wanted to be Diana's partner and Wondie just tossed her aside? They went back to her being evil later didn't they? In any case, I'm happy you didn't include Vanessa's turn at being the Silver Swan (or the male cheetah). (Oh, was the Swan shown in the third series ever identified?)