The Secret Lives of Villains #223

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Golden Age Showcase: Doctor Poison

Today we continue our feeble contribution to the marketing campaign of the new Wonder Woman movie by talking about one of the villains of the movie: Doctor Poison.

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Now, it’s widely accepted that the Ancient Greek god of war, Ares, is going to make an appearance as well and will probably be the actual main villain of the movie,

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(and before you go complaining about spoilers, understand that he’s credited in the movie’s Wikipedia page so it isn’t exactly a secret) and this makes sense.  After all, Ares is probably Wonder Woman’s greatest and most powerful foe from a comic viewpoint and a moral viewpoint (we’ll cover that later) but today I want to talk about Doctor Poison.

Why?  Because it’s my blog and because her Golden Age comic debut was a bit…well…

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terrifying.

Origin and Career

Dr. Poison made her first appearance in Sensation Comics #2 in February of 1942.

Cover

This was one of the earliest issues of Wonder Woman which makes Dr. Poison one of her first true villains.

Fun fact: this was also the first appearance of Etta Candy, a long standing Wonder Woman side kick of the Golden Age and character in the new movie.

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Dr. Poison was created by Wonder Woman’s creator: William Moulton Marston,

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and artist Harry G. Peter.

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Marston in particular has a very interesting backstory, but we’ll get to that later.

In her first appearance, Dr. Poison’s role was very straight forward.  She was working for the Nazis and was tasked with disrupting the Allied war effort through her knowledge of poisons and toxins.

Since this is a superhero story, which practically requires the villain to kidnap someone, she manages to hold off Wonder Woman by kidnapping her “friend” Steve Trevor.

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Her plan was to dose Allied soldiers with a chemical she called “Reverso”, a chemical compound which messed with people’s minds and forced them to do the opposite of what they were ordered to do.

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It’s a very comic book style plot but who knows?  Maybe it could have worked.

By now I’m sure you’re noticing something peculiar.  I’ve been calling Dr. Poison “she” and “her” while all the pictures suggest that it’s a man under those robes.  Well, after Wonder Woman foils her plot (because of course) it is revealed that “he” is actually a woman named Princess Maru.

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She did manage to escape (because again, of course) and she would make two more appearances in the 1940’s.  First in 1943 where she tried (and failed) to help the Japanese by developing a gas that would clog up the engines of the Allied planes.

Her final Golden Age appearance was in 1948.  After the war was over Wonder Woman imprisoned a whole bunch of her villains on an Amazonian prison called “Transformation Island”.  In Marston’s last book, he had several of the bad guys escape and form a group known as Villainy Inc.

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So what happened?

Doctor Poison was the polar opposite of Wonder Woman in every way.  While Wonder Woman sought to bring justice to man’s world, Doctor Poison sought to bring tyranny.

While Wonder Woman embraced her feminine side and challenged the men around her to accept her as a woman, Doctor Poison actively suppressed it and attempted to use her disguise to convince the men around her she was worth keeping.

While Wonder Woman believed in honorable combat, Doctor Poison believed in using cheap and underhanded tricks to win the day.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that the two should have gone one to become long standing rivals.  Sort of like Lex Luthor and Superman or Batman and the Joker.

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Sadly, this was not the case.

The well known backlash against comics in the 1950’s hit Wonder Woman hard, especially given her…well let’s just say some of her early stuff wasn’t really for kids.

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Like I said, we’ll get to that.

Dr. Poison wouldn’t make another appearance until December 1999 in Wonder Woman #151.  The new villain was actually the granddaughter of the original Dr. Poison and…

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yeah…yeah that’s terrifying.

In an interesting twist, she revealed that her grandmother had actually been killed when she was doused with Reverso and discovered that the drug made her younger and younger until she was just a baby.

The new and revived Dr. Poison also joined the new and revived Villainy Inc.

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‘before moving on and joining another group, the Secret Society of Super Villains.

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While this might have worked out DC Comics had other plans.

When the company launched a massive reboot of their comic universe known as “The New 52”.

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Dr. Poison was brought along.

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She lost the costume and the Japanese heritage and became a Russian biological and chemical weapons expert with a grudge against the United States.

If you ask me this was a poor move.  She went from intimidating and creepy bad guy to stereotypical comic book scientist with a grudge and that seems like just a waste.

Thankfully, DC seemed to get the idea that the entire New 52 universe was a bad idea and rebooted their universe again with an event called “Rebirth”.

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Once again, Dr. Poison was brought along for the ride.

This time the writers brought back the Asian heritage and her original name, only this time she was a soldier in charge of an organization called Poison and went around infecting people with a rage inducing bio weapon known as “The Maru Virus”.

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Sure, it’s a step in the right direction, but someday comic book creators are going to have to come face to face with the fact that sometimes readers actually LIKE crazy backstories and weird costumes.

So that’s an abridged history of Dr. Poison, one of the main villains for Wonder Woman in the new movie that’s coming out soon.  Honestly, I think this is a good move.  She’s got a great set of of skills, she’s intimidating and can provide a great challenge for our hero, and she’s intimidating as all hell.

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Golden Age Showcase: Hippolyta

So this little movie is coming out in a couple of weeks.

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I’m excited.

The funny thing about this movie is that it promises to be huge but strangely enough, DC and Warner Brothers aren’t doing a whole lot to market and promote the film.

Granted, there is a precedent for this lack of marketing push, but I like to think that part of the reason why the film isn’t getting a lot of love is because the producers and film makers are banking on the hoards of angry nerds who are so desperate to see a female superhero succeed that they are willing to give this film a bunch of free advertising.

Thankfully, I am incredibly desperate and angry and I intend to do my part and contribute to the madness.  For the next couple of weeks leading up to the release of Wonder Woman I intend to devote this blog to Wonder Woman and her supporting cast.

And since yesterday was Mother’s Day, I thought it might be fun to talk about Wonder Woman’s mother: the Greek Amazon Hippolyta.

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Origin and Career

Unlike almost all the superheroes of the Golden Age, who can trace their origins to the popular culture of the day, Hippolyta has one of the most accomplished and famous pedigrees in comic book lore.

In fact, probably the only modern day superhero who has changed less than DC Comics’ Hippolyta is Hercules himself, and that’s only because Hercules is an integral part of Hippolyta’s story.

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Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons, a group of savage warrior women who claimed to be descended from Ares, the god of war.

As part of his twelve labors, Hercules was tasked with stealing an item called the Golden Girdle, a belt that gave Hippolyta incredible strength.  Hercules was successful in seducing Hippolyta into giving him the belt,

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but sadly perished when he goddess Hera convinced her battle sisters that Hercules was kidnapping her.

This story must have struck a chord with a man named William Moulton Marston,

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because he used this exact myth to inform the creation of Hippolyta in All Star Comics #8 in October of 1941.

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We’ll save the specifics for later but for now all you need to know is that the story of Hipppolyta remained relatively unchanged from its classical roots.  Hippolyta was the queen of her people and the mother of the book’s main character so she was tasked with talking to the ancient gods, looking after the welfare of the Amazons, and trying to control her daughter without much success.

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So what happened?

What do you mean “what happened”?  She went on to have an illustrious career as the mother of one of the most successful superheroes on the face of the planet!

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Granted, there have been some changes to her story.  Various versions of the character have her as a blonde badass,

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and at one point she actually took up the mantle of Wonder Woman,

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(yes that is actually Hippolyta and not Diana with a different hair do)

Her origin story with Hercules was changed up a bit in 1987 by writer George Perez.  It was a bit more…uncomfortable than the original with the new version of Hercules forcing himself on Hippolyta after he drugged her and her Amazons.
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It’s worth mentioning that he did this after she beat him in fair combat and attempted to reason with him.

Hippolyta has played an integral part in the DC universe, both in the comics and in other forms of media as well.  She has made regular appearances in a whole bunch of cartoons and animated movies,

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and is often treated with the respect and reverence that a queen and leader of her stature deserves.

In the upcoming movie the director decided to go the blonde route and have her played by the actress Connie Nielsen.

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To list every achievement and important event that Hippolyta has been part of would take forever and I highly encourage you to do more research on your own.  All that I really have to say is that while Wonder Woman is considered to be one of the greatest superheroes in existence, she would be nobody without the strength and wisdom of her mother behind her.

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Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Golden Age Showcase: The Owl

Let’s talk about Batman.

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We all know Batman, we all love Batman.  Why?  Because he’s Batman!

The reason I bring this up is because like his blue Boy Scout friend, the Golden Age Batman was incredibly popular.  And as we all know, with popularity comes a host of imitators, knock offs, and copies just different enough to avoid copyright lawsuits.

Today we’re going to look at one of the more successful Batman imitators and a hero with one of the most bizarre legacies in comic books: The Owl.

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Origin and Career

The Owl was one of the few original characters created by a company called Dell Comics.

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The character was created by comic book artist Frank Tomas and made his first appearance in Crackajack Funnies in July of 1940.

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No, I don’t know why they spelled “Crackerjack” wrong.

The hero’s secret identity is Nick Terry, world famous private detective.  In his first adventure he learns about a notorious criminal who has escaped from prison.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

You’ll notice that he’s rich enough to hire a butler, keeps strange hours at night, and has a fiancee named Bella Wayne.

As if we needed any more proof that he was a ripoff of Batman.

With that being said, I will admit that the Owl has one thing on the Caped Crusader.  His costume is much more terrifying.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

In fact, the costume is so terrifying that the adventure ends with the criminal dying from a heart attack out of fear.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

The Owl got a costume redesign the next issue and continued his campaign of fear and intimidation across the city.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle Wayne was no meager damsel in distress either.  She was a fairly competent reporter and actually learned her fiancee’s identity early in the series.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #28

Oh, by the way, the Owl was rich enough to afford his own plane as well.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle actually managed to save the Owl as well.  After being kidnapped and imprisoned by a villain called Pantherman (hey, there are worse names), Belle pops out of nowhere wearing…

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When the Owl asks about the costume her response is pure gold.

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The two would continue their adventures for a couple more issues.  While they were popular, the rest of their adventures during the 1940’s were nothing really special.

So what happened?

The Owl and Owl Girl had a pretty good run but Dell Comics stopped publishing new stories for them in 1943.

Despite the character’s popularity, Dell wasn’t the best place for a hero like this.  You see, Dell didn’t spend a lot of time with original characters, they were making too much money off of licensed comic books like Mickey Mouse.

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In fact, they were doing so well that Dell was able to survive the comic book scares of the 1950’s relatively intact and without having to bend to the will of the Comics Code Authority.

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Sadly, internal struggles and split business partnerships meant that Dell folded in 1962 but their successor company, a publisher called Gold Key Comics, continued and even revived the Owl.

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As if the similarities between the Owl and Batman weren’t obvious enough, the entire reason why the Owl was revived was to cash in on the success of a certain tv show.

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Like the Adam West classic, the new Owl comic was campy, silly, and didn’t last very long.

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Since then he has made three appearances in the modern day.  The first in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery in 1999,

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Dynamite’s Project Superpowers in 2008,

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and Dynamite actually gave him his own limited series in 2013.

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So the Owl’s legacy is a successful one.  As a Golden Age hero he’s lasted a lot longer than many of his contemporaries and was just different enough from the crowd to stand apart from the source material he was ripping off.  But, I think it’s safe to say that his greatest legacy are all the other heroes who have adopted the owl as their symbol.

Granted, I’m sure comic book greats like Alan Moore weren’t thinking of this particular hero when they created heroes like Nite Owl,

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or several villains who go by that name,

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but the Owl was the first hero to use that name and that deserves credit and respect.

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