Wonder Woman #3 contains the origin of Paula Von Gunther. Or at least how and why she became a Nazi spy. It also made me angry. But it’s really hard to stay mad at a comic book where Wonder Woman rescues children from a concentration camp.
The story starts out in the normal, strange Wonder Woman way with Diana on a horse, riding through the snow. She comes upon Kibby Maxwell, a young boy, sledding. He almost hits Diana and her horse as he’s not very good at steering. Diana has never been sledding before — having grown up on island without snow — so she has Kibby teach her. Soon, she masters it, and they go sledding together, beating the other children down the hill.
However, as Diana bids Kibby and his friends farewell, she looks back to see a car speeding straight toward Kibby and his sled. Kibby manages to dart out of the way, but his sled is run over. The driver laughs at Kibby and speeds off toward town. Diana quickly deduces that the only person mean enough to run over a child’s sled is Baroness Paula Von Gunther. That’s right, if you hate children, you must be a Nazi.
Diana takes off after Paula on her horse. But soon stops to change into her Wonder Woman outfit. She points out that her change will be quick since she’s taken to wearing her costume under her army uniform. Wonder Woman sends her horse home and takes off running after Paula’s car, which she easily overtakes. Paula surrenders way too peacefully, especially considering her track record. Wonder Woman rolls Paula up in a rug and puts her on the invisible jet to take her back to Reform Island.
Once there, the former slave girls are thrilled to see their mistress back. They immediately start fawning over Paula. Mala is really annoyed by this, and she has a bitching session with Wonder Woman talking about how the slave girls never want to do anything without their chains and don’t want their freedom.
So Wonder Woman devises a scenario where Mala lets Paula steal her cell keys and take Mala and Wonder Woman hostage. When Paula orders her slave girls to kill Mala, the slave girls rebel. See Mala has treated them with love and they don’t want to kill her. Instead, they beat down Paula, and Wonder Woman’s barely able to rescue her. The fear Paula instilled in them has been overcome with the love Mala has shown them on Reform Island.
Wonder Woman ties up Paula with the lasso and makes her tell her origins. Turns out in her heart, Paula hates the Nazis just as much as everyone else. You see, the Nazis killed her husband, Baron Von Gunther, when he would not hand over his fortune to them. To get Paula’s cooperation, they took her daughter Greta and put her in a concentration camp.
And this is the point where I start getting angry. Really, Paula’s origins and motivation for being evil are based around her being a mother and a wife/widow? She was just some rich Austrian lady? The woman who came back from the dead twice through inventions she designed? Who commanded hundreds of slaves and was more successful at plotting against America than any of Mars’ Earls? Marston really lets me down here.
Because Paula is an Amazon prisoner, Wonder Woman is obligated to take care of her, and this includes rescuing her daughter. So Wonder Woman calls up Etta Candy and informs her that they’re going to Austria to break into a concentration camp to rescue Gerta.
Okay, this issue’s publishing date is February/March 1943. Nazis had been running concentration camps for 10 years at that point. It was also the first year that the camps began to be liberated (1943-1945). It had been less than a year since British intelligence had gotten an eyewitness report about the camps. On December 10, 1942, that first account was shared with the public. Marston probably wrote this story as a reaction to what he read and a comfort to children.
Now, this being a children’s tale, Marston does not go into the true horrors of the Nazi camps. Wonder Woman is caught while breaking into the camp, but she’s only bound with her lasso and put in an electrified small pen outside. (Which I find it hard to believe that the Nazi guards wouldn’t have been calling their superiors to report catching Wonder Woman.) Luckily, she calls Etta on the metal radio and has Etta cut the electricity to the camp so she can escape.
Wonder Woman then rescues all the children in the camp, including Greta. All the children are extremely happy to see Wonder Woman, and for the most part, they all look pretty healthy. (Again, Marston not scaring children.) Wonder Woman puts them in an old tank to be protected from the guards’ bullets and rolls them out of the camp.
She and Etta load the children on the invisible jet, and they fly away. Etta feeds the children candy. Wonder Woman mentions that they’ll be delivering all the children to Steve before taking Greta to Reform Island to be with her mother.
Mala tells Paula to close her eyes as Wonder Woman brings Greta into the room and puts her into Paula’s arms. Paula is overjoyed to see her daughter again. She immediately pledges to serve Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman informs Paula that she won’t be serving her, but Aphrodite or love, beauty, and justice.
Etta then runs into the room to inform Wonder Woman that Steve mental radioed her freaking out that he hadn’t seen Diana in a while. Wonder Woman decides that Steve needs to pay more attention to Diana and to let him fret.
Wonder Woman saves children from a concentration camp. How can you not read about that? Buy Wonder Woman Archives, Vol. 2 by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter and support this blog.