Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fictional Role Models, Part Six: ETTA CANDY

She's under 5' tall, overweight, and addicted to sugar. She's in college, lives in a sorority house, and has no super-powers. It's not exactly a recipe for a hero, is it? Yet in many ways, Etta Candy was one of the most heroic "sidekicks" in comics history.

Her best friend was Wonder Woman, and together they fought villains, Nazis, crooks and criminals in every size, shape and gender. As Wonder Woman's trusted companion, Etta could communicate with Wonder Woman via "mental radio", an Amazon invention that translated thoughts into a picture and sound on a mechanical viewscreen. It was a convenient way to call on each other for help. And although Etta often used it to get herself out of a jam, Wonder Woman was just as likely to call on Etta for help!

William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, introduced Etta Candy in issue 2 of Sensation Comics. Wonder Woman, disguised as nurse Diana Prince, had Etta as a patient. Later, when the Amazing Amazon needed help in her battle with Dr. Poison, she traveled to Holliday College in Washington, D. C., and tracked down Etta Candy.

Etta was very different than Diana remembered her. The college student had gained quite a bit of weight after her operation. (In this first appearance, Etta is rather tall -- the same height as the other Holliday girls. Over the course of the next year, she gradually loses height, most likely to appear smaller next to the resident Amazon, Wonder Woman).

Wonder Woman recruited Etta and her friends, saying, "...we need a hundred pretty girls, brave enough to capture dangerous men!" There was nothing Etta liked more than roughing up a bunch of dangerous men, so with her characteristic "Woo Woo!" she ran off to find more volunteers.

From this beginning, Wonder Woman and Etta become immediate friends, and the sidekick appeared in almost every adventure for nearly a decade. Etta was usually accompanied by "the Holliday Girls" -- a group of sorority sisters that rarely had names, and changed with every adventure. Sometimes there were a lot, sometimes just a few. Once in awhile a girl would be spotlighted (usually as a catalyst for an adventure) but they were primarily around as back-up for Etta, who was their trusted leader.

When we got glimpses of Etta at college, she was usually with her sorority sisters (who appeared to be interchangeable as the Holliday Girls). Etta was the leader of the Beeta Lamda sorority and took almost too much delight in controlling the other members. In Sensation Comics #4, she made them dress as babies, punishing those who didn't carry a baby bottle around campus.

Punishment played a large role in Etta's life, whether she was punishing bad guys with her pal, Wonder Woman, or disciplining her sorority sisters. In Wonder Woman #22, one of the girls was accused of jealousy, so she was forced to wear a cat costume and was beaten with a wooden paddle, while Etta looked on. The girl addressed Etta, saying "Please, Grand Mistress of Spanks and Slams, let me eat -- I'm very hungry!" She is told she must lap up her food like the 'jealous cat' she is.

Bondage, punishment and obedience played a large role in all of Marston's Wonder Woman stories, so behavior like this in Etta was encouraged by her famous friend. Perhaps that's why they got along so well together.

As close as they were, it was rare for Wonder Woman and Etta to have time for a leisurely chat. Occasionally we are treated to a conversation that isn't about danger, crooks, bondage, or needing help.

In Wonder Woman #1 (which debuted in the Summer of 1942 -- several months after her introduction in All Star Comics #8 and Sensation Comics #1) Diana Prince and Etta Candy take the train to visit Etta's father, Hard Candy, and brother, Mint Candy, on their ranch. During the trip, a porter brings Etta her suitcase, which is quite heavy. Diana guesses that it's filled with candy, and Etta offers her some.

After turning down the offer, the following dialogue is exchanged between the two friends.

Diana: You know, Etta, you ought to cut down on the candy. It will ruin your constitution.
Etta: Nuts, deary! My constitution has room for lots of amendments.
Diana: But Etta, if you get too fat you can't catch a man--
Etta: Who wants to? When you've got a man, there's nothing you can do with him -- but candy you can eat!
Diana: But don't you like to be admired?
Etta: Sure, men always say I'm beautiful -- if they didn't, I'd knock 'em for a loop!
Diana: Taking off weight will make you feel better and besides, it's unpatriotic to hoard even fat!
Etta: Okay, I'll take off ten pounds. If I like it, I'll take off 50 more. If I don't, well--

At that point, the train arrives and Mint Candy is there to meet her. No more mention is made of dieting until the end of the story. Etta tells Diana that she's lost 10 pounds and doesn't like it. "...gimme my candy!"

In all fairness, her weight rarely poses a problem, and is generally ignored after that conversation. What shines through is Etta's grit and determination, her courage and intelligence, and her willingness to enter any situation, regardless of danger, if asked to by Wonder Woman.

Etta disappeared after an appearance in Wonder Woman #44 (Nov/Dec 1950) and didn't surface again until October of 1960. After that she had a couple of sporadic appearances until Wonder Woman #127 (Aug 1965), which was her final pre-crisis adventure.

When George Perez rebooted the series in 1987, he brought back Etta Candy as a somewhat plump army lieutenant who had a secret crush on her boss, Steve Trevor. Gone was the outlandish short, round Holliday girl who was addicted to candy. In fact, this Etta dieted down to average weight and, under William Messner-Loebs, had a bout with anexoria. Although Etta was still thrust into danger on occasion, she was no longer Wonder Woman's right-hand companion, and had only a ghost of the pluck, courage and determination of that first Etta Candy -- a truly original character, the likes of whom we'll probably never see again.


Michael Jones said...

I think Mimi from The Drew Carey Show would make an admirable Etta.

Joanna Sandsmark said...

hmmm... not bad casting. Substitute enthusiasm for the mean streak (unless she's beating her sorority sisters) and make her 20 years younger and it would work! She does have some Etta-like qualities.

Jackie said...

In my head, Lynsey Bartilson would be a perfect young Etta.
Not as big as she was in the comics, but definitely the right choice in my imagination

Anonymous said...

Etta Candy was definitely in some of the early-80s, pre-Perez Wonder Womans, drawn by Gene Colan.