Spinner Rack: "Wonder Woman Battles the Crimson Centipede!" - Part 1

Posted on 5/13/2014

“The Amazon is blitzed by the most unique villain ever created — who starts a new golden age of villainy!" These words are emblazoned on the cover of Wonder Woman #169.

What mighty foe could engender a blurb willing to use a form of the word "villain" twice in the same sentence? Dr. Psycho? The Cheetah? Paula Von Gunther? No, it was … the Crimson Centipede!

NOTE: I realize that name does not deserve an exclamation point. Unfortunately, there is no punctuational equivalent of a dismissive shrug, so I went with false excitement. Oh, and for those of you who can list the phylum of at least a dozen creatures, I realize that the word "bug" only refers to insects. I don't care. To me, anything that can bug me deserves that title. That includes insects, arachnids, arthropods and my older brother. Now back to our terrifying tale of villainous villainy by a villain. (Ha! Beat that Silver Age DC cover blurb writer!)

The Crimson Centipede is 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.) The story spends most of the panels attempting to persuade us that there is something menacing about him. There really isn't. He's a large bug. If he were a villain of the Legion of Superheroes, Colossal Boy would step on him and then the group would get some lunch. Due to this lack of menace, the comic has a dark heart. How are we to believer he is actually a threat to Wonder Woman? Via a humiliating destruction of Diana’s self-esteem.

I am thoroughly convinced that the germ of the story came to the writer, Bob Kanigher, when his wife had a run-in with a centipede. Somehow, he thought it would be a good idea to have Wonder Woman afraid of it, as his wife was. Apparently, he forgot that Diana was a superhero who had all kinds of powers. Lucky for him, she was female. Problem solved!

"Wonder Woman Battles the Crimson Centipede!" opens with a splash page of the centipede with a gun in eight of his hands and a corresponding holster on the opposing eight shoulders. The leggy worm shoots while Wonder Woman holds her own with a deadly game of bullets and bracelets. The drawing of the centipede is just bizarre. He is wearing a red spandex outfit that had to have been custom made for him. Imagine that order. "Yes, I want 14 pant legs with one torso and be sure to have each of the pant legs attached to a foot covering with tiny suction cups on the bottom. There should also be an upper with 16 short sleeves. Yes, a unitard, of sorts. Oh, and don't forget the head covering with room for two large blobs and matching antennas. I'll need it by Thursday. … What's that? … No, the size of an adult human if an adult human had 16 arms, 14 legs, and two big blobs with some antennas on his head." How are we supposed to take him seriously?

The story begins "in the misty regions in the skies." This features black-and-white drawings of Mars and Aphrodite (yes, I realize Mars is from the Roman Pantheon and Aphrodite is from the Greek, but these are the names the comic gave them), both hanging out on purple clouds while having a little "eternal debate." Basically, Aphrodite brags about Wonder Woman and Mars returns the brag by talking about the Crimson Centipede. "He will utterly destroy your Amazon with all the powers I have given him!" Well, this is better. If Mars has endowed this villain with a number of powers, then I suppose it is possible for him to be somewhat of a foe for the Amazing Amazon. Ooh, I bet he's venomous. Centipedes can be toxic even to a human being. Imagine that much venom in something as large as a person and you have a very fierce foe. Okay, fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, on man’s world, Steve Trevor offers a lift to Diana Prince, but their trip home is interrupted by the sound of gunfire at the bank. Diana is immediately aware of the fact that she cannot change into her costume with Steve sitting right next to her. To make things worse, from out of the bank comes the multi-limbed, gun-toting centipede. Darn it. Just when you decided against the industrial-sized can of Raid, in walks a super villain created by a Greek god with no sense of the difference between terrifying and hilarious.

Apparently, the Horseless Buggy can't count. (Yes, I'm trying to come up with nicknames because he doesn't have any. He only appeared this one time. That's how successful a villain he was.) Two guards are shooting at him while he shoots back with eight of his arms and says, "The fools — thinking to stop the Crimson Centipede! All they have is one chance against my hundred!" Actually, two guards have two chances against eight arms, so … two vs. eight. Not quite the one vs. 100 you made up in your own mind, Big Red. Just keeping it real.

Diana Prince does not have to wait long for her quick change. Steve Trevor is a man of action. I've always felt that when Steve looks in the mirror, he sees a hero staring back at him. It doesn’t matter what others think. Trevor was born to the cape. (No, he didn’t wear a cape — it’s symbolism). In this case, our heroic Steve Trevor jumps out of the car and instantly gets knocked out by Arthur O’Pod. Bug-gosh and Bug-orah. (Okay, I’ve hit rock bottom. I’ll stop making up nicknames, promise.) If Steve weren’t unconscious, he would probably be humiliated. However, it sure is handy for Diana as she leaps out of the car and does a quick change in a blur the eye couldn't follow. Having seen her man laid low, Wonder Woman leaps at his aggressor.

Immediately, "the hundred fists beat like a tattoo against Wonder Woman …" Let's take a moment here. The panel shows six fists, not 100. And even if he had 100 appendages, at least half of them would be legs. And in order for him to have even 50 arms, he would have to be over three times longer than he is depicted in any panel. So there. You’re closer to a deca-pede than a centipede.

Putting aside the number of fists, Wonder Woman reacts to the barrage with, "Busy little brute, aren't you?" I love that line. It's a put-down. (When you call someone a little anything, there is always an edge of condescension. Women know this very well because we are often "belittled" in this way.) It is also a dismissal. At this point in the story, Wonder Woman is cool and confident, as she should be. She’s squished scarier bugs in bare feet. This jerk is nothing to worry about.

Wonder Woman whips out her lasso, but to her surprise he knocks it aside. This is very unusual. The lasso always goes where Wonder Woman wants it to go and no one can interfere. How was he able to do that? As the arthrocoward runs away on his hands and feet, Wonder Woman notes how swift he is and worries about the other surprises he might have in store. This is all an attempt to make us see the Crimson Centipede as a force to be reckoned with. But I'm not buying it. He punched her a few times, she was unhurt and made a good quip, the lasso thing happened and then he ran away. Why is she mentally giving him a second thought? He's ridiculous, not frightening. All she would need is sticky paper or a glue trap and he’s toast.

At this point the writing is on the wall. Kanigher has exaggerated and built up the Crimson Centipede as well as begun the process of undermining Wonder Woman’s self-esteem. Things are about to get both hilarious and ugly, kind of like Sam Kinison. (If you’re under 30, Google him and you’ll understand that joke.) Be sure to come back next month for part two of "Wonder Woman Battles the Crimson Centipede!"

If you'd like to learn more, including a detailed bio and more information about Joanna's books, please visit her website.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

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