Five Questions with…
Q&A with comic greats regarding Wonder Woman

Martin Pasko

1. What was it like writing a character like Wonder Woman when you did? Was it an assignment you asked for or wanted?

It was…odd. I first joined DC in an Editorial-support position, part of a new paid internship program devised by then-VP Sol Harrison. Julie Schwartz had just inherited WW from Bob Kanigher, who’d apparently gone round the bend for the second and final time, without having come up with anything quite as…uhm, memorable as what resulted from his first tour of duty. I mean, Nubia — if you’ll pardon the expression, she pales beside a giant egg with a prehensile mustache.

Julie knew nothing about Wonder Woman — that would have meant actually having to listen to Kanigher talking to himself all those decades they shared an office, instead of just keeping Bob’s records. So my first job when Sol assigned me to Julie was to read every WW story published up to that time and give Julie a report.

OMG.

Julie’s associate editor, the ever-anal-retentive Nelson Bridwell, was charged with the same task, as I recall. But Nelson did it with a straight face, waxing rhapsodic about such things as eluding Nazi anti-aircraft fire with an invisible plane that didn’t confer invisibility on its pilot, so that she would, in real life, appear to be zipping across the sky in a squatting position. (Hmm. What kink of Marston’s did that come from, I wonder. In fact, I did a lot of wondering. Which, I guess, is why it’s called Wonder Woman. Cue: Rimshot. But I digress.)

I, unlike Nelson, ambled back into Julie’s office and was, like, “Julie, you won’t believe how sick this shit is!” Truly, that peek inside the fevered brain of Dr. William Moulton Marston was astonishing — a three-week immersion in a four-color Psychopathia Sexualis.

As for actively seeking the assignment…well, not really. But I needed the work. About a year after they’d started the book (on a fewer-than-monthly schedule at that point, if memory serves), Julie had another one of his almost Hourly! Creative! Disagreements! with Elliot S! Maggin and, remembering all that research and assisting I’d done, he asked me, in a fit of pique, if I wanted to write WW. I said “ye$” without hesitation. It’s not like Elliot was gonna go hungry; I believe at that time he was being kept very busy resurrecting Krypto every month.

I think there was a moment right after that when I turned white and asked myself what the f*** I was thinking, but by then it was too late. You see, Jenette Kahn had just come in as the new Publisher and she fancied that the Amazing Amazon was a feminist icon. Apparently, her BFF Gloria Steinem delivered her a message to that effect.

Feminist icon. Hmm. As if you could’ve figured that out from Diana’s mass- media footprint, though no one was looking at her feet. You have to remember that this was the day of the deeply-cleavaged Lynda Carter shaking her star-spangled booty on network television, prompting snarky (not to mention retro-offensive) comments like, “Look at the wing span on that eagle.” I realized immediately that this was gonna be politically tricky, because explaining “feminist icon” to a guy like Julie Schwartz would be like…oh, never mind.

Anyway, I must’ve pulled it off. The sales didn’t tank (not that WW ever had that much further to fall; the book had always been a loss-leader for the licensing); Kahn didn’t have me beheaded (not on this book, anyway); and fangurls – what few of them we were starting to recognize at the time – were starting to read it.

2. Would you write her again?

Kahn? Oh, you mean Wonder Woman. If somebody asked me? Sure. Which will probably occur when winged simians emerge from my anus.

But let’s just say, to play out your fantasy, somebody did call. It probably wouldn’t be able to happen. Why? Because I’d want to be assured I could take the book in as different a direction as possible from the one it’s been headed in ever since they turned its star into a drag queen (a tide stemmed by Gail, bless her heart, but for how long and to what lasting effect remains to be seen, I suppose).

Such assurances probably wouldn’t be forthcoming, though, because in the new climate a Wonder Woman writer will probably be told that the creative direction will be set by whatever theatrical feature development is going on.

Of course. Way to be. The mass media, which reach more people than comics, should inform the creative in the books. When DC was just getting started, the idea was the hope that the broader exposure would drive sales. Like they created Jimmy Olsen on radio and Management said to Editorial, “Shut up and stick him in the comic book.” Makes perfect sense from a business standpoint.

Much later on, after the “campy” Batman TV embarrassment, fanboys and the editors who love them hated the idea, and the presumption wasn’t necessarily true, back in the ‘90s. So, if a TV show didn’t sell your comic, why change the comic to match? This was Editorial’s philosophy throughout my tenure there: “We already publish a Lois and Clark book; it’s called Superman.” When I was on staff at DC, in Creative Services in the early 2000s, I often had to be on the opposite side of that argument because the sales people who booked the custom comics revenue often could sell only the TV or movie continuity, not the comics’.

Now the formation of DCE formally signals that it ain’t about dead trees no more, but cross-promotion among various media platforms. So, whether the old model can work now remains to be seen. We don’t even know yet if printing pamphlets or even doing tpbs and maintaining a backlist matters in the new decade.

But as for moi in your hypothetical scenario: been there, done that, as I’m sure you’re about to remind me.

3. What stories would you tell that you either didn’t have the chance to tell or couldn’t tell back then?

None. In a post-Title 9 world, none of the springboards I had left over when we had to make WW a period piece (to match the TV show) would work. Besides, I live in the present. The world has changed. I’d start over, do a lot of research, spend a lot of time talking with my daughter about what’s cool and what’s lame about the character, and go from there. One thing I wouldn’t do is amp the kink. And I think, at least until we’re done tracking the box office on Clash of the Titans, I’d ditch a lot of the togas and sandals stuff, and stay away from the Amazons Attack! kind of butch, violent whackness that didn’t sell. And for Chrissake, make it easier to proofread: I’ve never met anyone who could pronounce Themyscira, much less know how it’s spelled.

4. You came on board Wonder Woman vol. 1, I believe, with issue 218, in the midst of the “Twelve Labors” arc. Can you elaborate on why DC felt that Wonder Woman needed to prove herself with so many tasks to rejoin the JLA? Was there an underlying desire to build the character up, simply a loose allusion to Greek mythology and Heracles’ own labors, or…?

Look, there was no grand design there, OK? No party planning. Instead, we were shipping books on time, y’know? As you can see, I have no allusions about anything. You wanna talk about underlying desires, talk to Vinnie Colletta. Look in the Meadowlands, he’s next to Hoffa. Ba-da-BING!

Or ask Len Wein. He started the damned thing, then went to run Marvel or something. I always thought the Hercules’ trials bit was just the first thing Len and Julie could think of five minutes before they had to give a cover concept to Oksner. Besides, it gave ‘em a way to vamp for a year and a half and pray that Kanigher’s thorazine would kick in. Otherwise I’d’ve gotten stuck with the Aegean stables story, as if I wasn’t already trying to clean up too much shit.

The “official” reason for the trials gimmick was that all those guest stars would supposedly attract new readers. I mean, because of all those skillful pairings of artists with the heroes with whom they were most closely associated. Those perfect-pitch matches of tone and style. Yeah, that’s it. Curt Swan and Elongated Man. Batman and Jose Delbo. “Men used to call me The Phantom Stranger, but now they don’t know who the f*** I am because Kurt Schaffenberger is drawing me.” Yeah, that must’ve been it.

5. Starting with issue 224 (vol. 1), Wonder Woman moved into the World War II era, allegedly to tie into the television show, with Alan Brennert on a few issues (who had written some of the TV episodes for Wonder Woman). Was Osira your idea or Alan’s? Did that decision (to move to WW II) boost sales or have any effect on the readership that you are aware of?

Hold it. Mister Mind is inside the Booster Gold sidekick that’s eating your hypertimeline (Jesus, now look what you’ve done to me! When the f*** did I start talking like that?!).

Okay, totally straight, boring answer. And this is the only time I’m gonna do it, so don’t ask again. I’ll get annoyed.

I bought a plot from Alan that we reworked together, for a single story, a two-parter. Alan didn’t actually write for the Wonder Woman TV show till ’78, I think, and we had done the Osira two-parter a year or so before that. I think I was telling Alan some funny story about the DC offices which reminded him of a Superman idea he had. He couldn’t do anything with it because at that point he was focused on his first novel and trying to jump-start his screenwriting career.

(He didn’t do his first comics script on his own, the astonishingly good “To Kill A Legend,” until later. I remember because I was his house guest while apartment-hunting in LA when he wrote it and gave him just a few pointers on comics scripting — not nearly as much as what he taught me about TV writing.)

Anyway, he described the story to me, I liked it and offered to buy it, or he offered it to me in exchange for credit or something, and we brainstormed to rework it into a WW story. I think his villain was male, and I said we needed a female villain because that’s what Denny O’Neil, the editor, wanted. Alan threw the JSA in because he’d always loved the characters and the story was set on Earth Two, so it made sense to address them somehow.

And that’s “all” I remember about it, except that I was really thrilled to have Bob Brown penciling it until the poor guy died after the first part and Mike Nasser (Mike Netzer today) had to jump in. I’ve done that several times, by the way — killed people with my scripts. I wrote the last thing Bob Brown ever drew, and was the co-writer on the last TV guest-shot actor Dick Shawn did. How’s your life insurance?

As for the whole World War II thing, I think that by the time they had sales figures on it, the show had moved to CBS and into a contemporary setting (which is the version of the show Alan broke into TV on), so the whole thing was moot. I had long since run screaming from it by that point. Trying to retro-fit Marston’s ‘40s continuity into the TV show’s — somehow — had gotten to be a major pain in the ass, although thank God I never had to have Etta running around going, “Woo! Woo!”

6. You said in Wonder Woman: The Complete History that “We thought that by going backward we might go forward” and brought back Steve Trevor to Wonder Woman’s continuity with Julius Schwartz’s blessing. Have you followed her continuity at all since then, and what thoughts, if any, do you have on the subject? What has helped or hurt that aspect of the character?

Except for Gail’s recent stuff, I stopped reading the comic a long time ago. I never thought much of Trevor. Lois Lane in drag. Harvey Kurtzman nailed it when he did the parody and hammered home what was, to young male readers, an absurdity: a decorated military guy always needing to be saved like a damsel in distress. Today he’d have to have post-traumatic stress disorder and you’d have to set up the picture with Kathryn Bigelow instead of Joss Whedon or whoever the latest person to turn that doorknob is.

Anyway, my intent in reviving Trevor was really just to do a running gag till we could come up with a better supporting character. But for the time being we needed someone in there she could interact with meaningfully and that Morgan Whatsisname guy at the UN that Kanigher had come up with wasn’t cutting it.

So, yeah, Trevor was meant as a joke. In fact, my original title for that story was “Doesn’t Anybody Ever Stay Dead Anymore?” I can’t remember if Julie let me use it or not. And don’t ask me to go back and look at that stuff again. Jose Delbo was a great guy and a solid storyteller, but as exciting as cottage cheese.

There was only one story I did on my own (as opposed to that two-parter with Alan) that I was proud of: the two-parter with the Judy Garland manqué. That story had some heart in it. You have to remember, at that point, there was no such thing as “emo.”

With Trevor I wanted to do a total about-face on the whole history of the relationship, where, now that he’d been to Hades and back — literally — they admitted to themselves that they really couldn’t stand each other but were sort of enmeshed because Trevor felt guilty — she had saved his life, after all. But she was too butch for him and he was too much of an accident-prone but macho asshole for her. I had this running gag in mind where you never saw him without a bandage on his head, an arm in a sling, whatever, and it was never explained or discussed, just there as a “given.” I knew Julie wouldn’t get it, and Nelson would whine, so I planned to just kinda back into it, but then they took the book away from Julie and gave it to Denny and made us do the whole WW II thing, so that was that.

7. You mentioned that “[some stuff] had gone down while [you were] writing the character [that] was often totally whack [that was an example of the fact that WW was The Character DC Didn’t Know What To Do With.” Can you elaborate on that a bit?

There you go again, wanting me to take this seriously, LOL. Well, if you’re wondering what I mean by The Character DC Didn’t Know What To Do With prior to Julie Schwartz’s stint with her, I would say the sheer number of times the property had been retconned up to that point speaks for itself.

It morphed wildly from Marston’s stew of B&D and Margaret Sanger-era feminist thinking rendered in a bizarre kind of Greco-Roman-American woodcut style to Kanigher’s romance comic in Spandex with Ross Andru emphasizing mannishly muscular thighs in stories in which WW had adventures with herself as a child, with no explanation in expository dialogue. Then it became Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky’s She’s Twiggy, She’s Emma Peal, She’s a breath mint, She’s a floor wax. Next up, Julie’s It’s-A-Justice-League-Comic-Till-I-Can-Get-Somebody-In-Here-Who-Can-Pitch-A-Real-Direction-For-This-Lox. If all that’s not whack, what is?

And even in the brief time I was on it, the floor buckled under my feet: Good morning, Mr. Pasko, where’s your research on Washington, D.C. in 1942 today?

In fact, the whole history of the property since speaks for itself. Every time a major talent had a run on it, the continuity was reinvented – and, yes, I know that’s standard op now, but that became the case only within the last decade or so. Going from Thomas / Colan to Thompson / Perez to Byrne, etc., etc., created the impression, even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, of a lot of desperate floundering. Finally, the feature seemed to find its footing with Gail writing it. Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess.

Now go ahead – ask me about something I worked on with somebody who’s still alive. It’ll be really good for my reputation when everybody I know in this business will hope I die before they do.

Okay, so it was a few more than five, but there you have it, folks! Marty Pasko’s answers to some interesting questions… Thank you so much, Marty, for taking the time to share your insights with us.

Aegis

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: