Found in Wonder Woman #169, this story features a multi-armed, multi-legged green arthropod with a heart-shaped head and two antennas.
He has six, seven or eight sets of arms, and seven or so sets of legs (Andru and Esposito didn’t feel it was necessary to be consistent when it came to the number of appendages. I suspect they also felt he was a ridiculous villain.) and was created by the god Mars.
The story so far: There is a bragging match going on between Mars and the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite can claim Wonder Woman and has had bragging rights for quite some time. This gets under Mars' skin, so he creates the villainous Crimson Centipede. They both watch their followers from purple clouds. On earth, Steve Trevor and Diana Prince chance upon a bank robbery perpetrated by the Crimson Centipede. Steve gets knocked out instantly and Wonder Woman jumps in fearlessly. The big bug punches Wondy a couple of times, evades her lasso and runs away. Wonder Woman is worried about him despite his poor showing.
Way up in the sky, the Greek and Roman deities hang out on their purple cloud. Mars is very proud of himself. He brags about his bug, saying, "Well, Aphrodite — it looks as if Wonder Woman has finally met her match! Look what my Crimson Centipede did to her on their very first encounter!" Met her match? He hit her and ran away. That's what he "did to her on their very first encounter." We’re not even halfway and I'm already annoyed at how manipulative the writing is. There's an old adage that good writing should show, not tell. Instead of telling us how powerful the Crimson Centipede is, the author should be showing us on the page. The bug should be endowed with superpowers, since Mars told us that he had given it a bunch of powers. In reality, the vast majority of centipedes are venomous. Had Mars enhanced the Crimson Centipede’s venom, making him able to cause real harm with a touch or bite, then this silly foe could have some real menace. Unfortunately, as written, he has no venom. The only powers mentioned were quickness, some strength and the ability to not get captured by the golden lasso.
What's even worse than Mars' bragging is that Aphrodite buys it. "Wonder Woman was taken by surprise! … Wait till the next time they meet, Mars!" Aphrodite should've stood up for her favorite Amazon, not bought into Mars’ hype. Children are easily convinced when told what to think or feel. If the story tells them that this villain is really scary, they will most likely believe it.
Let’s head back to Earth, where Steve Trevor finally wakes up. He is in the arms of Wonder Woman, which makes him very happy. The people on the street, however, are less enthusiastic. They're a little freaked out because “Wonder Woman sure got beat!” Sounds like the Centipede’s real power is the ability to make people believe his hype. The people are worried. Wondy is filled with trepidation. Before she has time to find an industrial-sized roach motel, an alarm bell rings from a high window. "Burglar alarm! It may be an ordinary holdup, and then again — it may be —" Sure enough, crawling up the side of a building is a gigantic bug wearing spandex. You just don't see that everyday.
Wonder Woman uses her lasso like Tarzan uses a vine to get herself near the centipede. He kicks her and says, "So, Wonder Woman! You didn't realize that you were beaten on our first encounter! Here's another sample of what to expect everytime [sic] we meet!" That's his big threat? That he will kick at her with a couple of his feet? Is “kicking with two feet” one of the "powers" Mars gave him? Hold me. I’m frightened. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman has actual superpowers, but is apparently not using them in an effort to convince the reader that the big bug is really scary. Oh, Diana, why must you persist in this charade? Your foe does not even have a skeleton! He can be squished.
Weird tangential personal story: As a child, I once had a centipede crawl up the wall in my bedroom. I came upon it at night after having turned on the light. Not wanting to get up close and personal with something with that many legs, I grabbed my dart gun, placed an empty cup on the ground and shot. I was aiming for just above its head with the thought that the centipede would be frightened, jump off the wall and fall in the cup. Shockingly, that was not what happened. The dart hit the centipede dead on. It may sound like a happy ending, because the bug was no more. The problem was that it basically exploded. Legs went everywhere. There were legs on my bed, on my pillow, in the little bundle of pajamas lying at the foot of the bed. It was a massacre. Not so much as a shin hair fell into the cup. Without an internal skeleton, very little held the bug together. If only Paradise Island had had centipedes … and dart guns. Diana would’ve learned at a young age that arthropods are easily vanquished.
Where were we? Right, he kicked her as she rode her lasso up the building. For reasons I don't understand, Wonder Woman lets go of her golden lasso (the only thing keeping her from falling to her death) because a bug kicked at her. She then "hurtles" down the side of the building, frantically reaches out and then "… the Amazon's torn fingers seize a brick in her headlong fall …" Just so I have this straight, Wonder Woman is clinging to a brick because she inexplicably let go of her golden lasso when a giant bug in red spandex kicked her. (If I hadn't read the story of Egg Fu, I might have considered this the low point of her series. As it is, it's part of a low decade. The '60s were not kind to Wonder Woman.)
As she hangs there she makes the most ridiculous statement ever: "The Crimson Centipede is the mightiest threat I've ever faced! How can I possibly beat him?" The mightiest threat? In your entire history, the red bug is your mightiest threat? Gak! Another instance of Kanigher desperately trying to make this incredibly lame villain seem vaguely less stupid. It doesn't work. He knows that, so it’s time to pile it on. We go back to the purple cloud with Mars and Aphrodite. Mars feels that his Crimson Centipede has made "a monkey" out of the Amazing Amazon, but Aphrodite gives a lukewarm rejoinder. "He has hurt her — but she hasn't given up yet! She is an Amazon!" Not convinced? There’s more.
Wonder Woman climbs down the side of the building and says, "The Crimson Centipede has beaten me the two times we've met! But — he hasn't won the war that has begun between us!" I think we need to be told over and over and over again that he has beaten her. Please tell us again, perhaps from a crowd.
"Wonder Woman has met her match!"
"She hasn't a chance against the Crimson Centipede!"
"He'll be kingpin of crime — and she won't be able to stop him!"
Have you ever seen something like this in Batman or Superman? Try imagining everything you just read said about any of the top-tier male heroes. It would never be allowed. Period. Male superheroes can fail, but they are never belittled. I've read a lot of Silver Age DCs, and I can't remember such a massive effort to make the hero look like a loser. I don't think Marston would have approved of this storyline. His Wonder Woman didn't give in to self-doubt. She fought plenty of foes who were far more powerful, who were gifted by the Greek gods, and who were challenging without being demoralizing. There certainly was no concerted effort by the gods, the enemy, the people on the street and Wonder Woman herself to wear down her self-esteem and make her own lack of confidence defeat her. She is fighting something with an exoskeleton, and yet she’s the one written as if she had no spine.
We’ll take a short break from beating up Diana’s self-image to see what the Crimson Centipede is up to. Apparently, he went to the underworld (i.e., some gathering place where all the crooks in town hang out) and gave away all the loot. Because he was "an emissary of Mars," he had no need for money. He told them to spread crime and chaos everywhere.
I’m sure we’ll be told how successful and superior he was. Or will we? Tune in next month for the conclusion to this unique tale of a green-skinned (cuz he’s kind of a Martian, if you think about it) villainous villain versus the Amazing Amazon, the Princess of Power: Wonder Woman!
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