Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Archives Vol. 1: collects the Wonder Woman stories from All-Star Comics #8, Sensation Comics #1-24, and Comic Cavalcade #1-5, with Wonder Woman #1-7.
FREDERIC WERTHAM: "Superman is a fascist!"
FANDOM: "That's preposterous!"
WERTHAM: "Batman is a pederast!"
FANDOM: "You're reading way too much into things!"
WERTHAM: "Wonder Woman is the ultimate wish-fulfillment for lesbian BDSM!"
FANDOM: "That... oh. Um..."
It is nuts that this existed when it did. Created in 1941 by William Marston (and almost certainly his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston) with art by Harry G. Peter, Wonder Woman has a very specific reason for being: to showcase a strong central female character who resolves problems with love and understanding more than through direct physical violence. And by and large, that's on full display here. There are about two years' worth of appearances here, and as World War II was in full swing the whole time, Diana is almost exclusively up against Nazi spies, Japanese soldiers, the German-American Bund, and occasionally the Italian army. There is precisely one supervillian in this entire book, the Cheetah, and she doesn't put in an appearance until roughly 80% of the way through it. Otherwise, it's all war stories, all the time.
The interesting approach tends to be in how bad guys are dealt with. Men are generally dispatched in the typical way, in that they're brought to justice by Diana, or tackled by Steve Trevor (who's kind of useless), or hit in the face with a chair by Etta Candy over and over again until they agree to stop spying on people. (Etta Candy, to my utter shock, turned out to be fairly awesome. For all intents and purposes, she's Diana's sidekick, and the leader of the Holliday Girls sorority at the local college, of whom we will speak more in a bit.) Women, on the other hand, are usually given the opportunity to reform. This opportunity comes in the form of being allowed to discover the happiness that comes with submitting yourself to a mistress. Invariably, chaining a woman up, blindfolding her, leashing her, having her crawl on all fours and receiving a spanking from the Holliday Girls will awaken something inside her that makes her realize she doesn't need to deliver secret plans to the German army to feel fulfilled. And I'm not making that up; that literally is the plot of the third story in this book.
Now, to be clear: I am not, by any means, down on this. People find the thing that fulfills them, and if they find other people compatible with that, then that's awesome. However, this is that guy who will not shut the fuck up about his thing. This is the book or movie or whatever where the main character discovers that she gets turned on by wearing fur hats, and then it's just scene after scene after scene of people discovering that fur hats get them off as well, and about fifteen scenes later everyone on the planet is wearing a fur hat in a big sweaty pile. And for Marston, that's bondage. Every story - literally every story - features it, and it runs the gamut from your typical adventure "Quick, tie her to this chair so she can't get away" type of thing to "It's time for the annual Paradise Island hunt, where half the women on the island are dressed in animal costumes and hunted by the other half, and when they get captured they're hogtied, 'skinned', 'cooked', and 'eaten'". Marston was trying to normalize non-traditional family dynamics, and frankly I applaud that, but there's a lot here were he was uncomfortably obviously typing the script with one hand.
Harry Peter's art is really interesting. Even in the Golden Age, it was incredibly old-fashioned (he'd been a newspaper cartoonist since the turn of the century, and his style is very reminiscent of illustrations of children's books from the late Victorian/early Edwardian era). It's like nothing else that was on the racks, and even if you can't put your hand on your heart and call it especially great (his anatomy is really wonky), it's definitely eye-catching. And unusually, with one or two exceptions, he drew every story in this collection.
This is really interesting stuff, and much of it is incredibly fun. For many, many reasons, this is worth a look, and yes, one of those reasons is to see a story where the villainess has a dog, who is not so much a dog as a beautiful woman in a dog costume, leashed to her throne, asleep on the floor, who only ever says "woof", and be reminded that this was a story sold to eight-year-olds in 1942, and that's actually kind of awesome.