Let's Revamp the Superhero Audio Drama

From shark-tossing to space sexism: Wonder Woman's triumphant stint at Power Records, and why DC should revitalize the superhero audio drama.

Archives Default

From shark-tossing to space sexism: Wonder Woman’s triumphant stint at Power Records, and why DC should revitalize the superhero audio drama.

While Lynda Carter was kicking ass as Wonder Woman on the small screen, the 1970s saw another, oft-forgot dramatization of the exploits of the indomitable Diana Prince: the weird and wonderful audio dramas produced by Power Records.

Power Records was an action-adventure-drama sub-label of Peter Pan Records, which during the 70s was the largest children’s specialty label in America. To quote the son of Power Records’ founder as well as just about every single film exec these days: “superheroes were hot and we got into some of them, and we just kept going.” And go they did, particularly since the Power Records was hilariously laissez-faire on the whole intellectual property isolationism we’re enjoying these days (human sacrifice, Marvel and DC living together! Mass hysteria!). Power Records was the perfect platform for the book-and-record set: a comic printed on sturdy paper, accompanied by a 45 rpm record that dramatized the adventure. According to preeminent Power Records historian Rob Kelly, unlike their Marvel stories, most of Power Records’ DC content was original, featuring the artistic talents of DC veteran Neal Adams and his team at Continuity Associates.

Not unlike her on-screen career, Wonder Woman didn’t receive as many solo records as Superman and Batman. But she was a big success, most likely in part due to the popularity of the then-contemporary Lynda Carter show. In all, there were three standalone Wonder Woman stories: “The Secret of the Magic Tiara,” “Amazons From Space,” and “Wonder Woman versus the War-God.” They were released together on an LP with a cover sleeve of Wonder Woman gleefully deflecting a storm of bullets with a shit-eating grin, encircled by a crowd of angry men. Yes. Please. Sign me the fuck up.

By the early 80s Power Records fell out of favor and is currently survived by a cozy little niche of comic nerds and record collectors. Before listening to Power Records’ Wonder Woman LP it hadn’t occurred to me that neither Marvel or DC have properly taken advantage of audio-based storytelling. It’s a blind spot that’s particularly heinous because there’s a precedent for it and because these days podcasts are ubiquitous, popular and accessible. We love our audio-based media: from the Dungeons and Dragons improv experiment of “The Adventure Zone,” to the old-time-radio-throwback of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour,” to big hits like “Serial,” “My Favourite Murder,” and “WTF.” And yes, the ludicrous copyright nightmare that is Power Records is a significant hurdle. But DC’s apparent total lack of interest in the historic value and artistic project of audio-dramas as a valuable storytelling medium is shocking to me.

More to the point, given that a legitimate digital re-release of their Power Records-affiliated content is unlikely, I think there’s a larger opportunity for DC here. Indulge me in my pipe dream:  I think it’d be super cool if DC were to create a podcast that staged its old content as audio dramas (which I’ll remind the jury are distinct from audio books). It’d be an accessible and novel way to introduce unfamiliar audiences to older content and provide a nice tonal contrast and historical supplement. Also because of their history with Power Records, I don’t think it’d feel disingenuous or pandering.  All to say: I thoroughly enjoyed Power Records’ Wonder Woman LP and I want more. Please and thank you.

So without further ado here’s a brief overview of the LP…

“The Secret of the Magic Tiara”

“Men have a habit of doing funny things to the minds of women as women do to men. We can only hope to grow wiser from each experience and try never to stop growing.”

Plot (spoilers)

Sandra and her boyfriend Mitch are strolling along the beach with Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman explains that whoever possesses her magic tiara can control her and while saving a boy from a shark Wonder Woman’s tiara falls off. Naturally, the dastardly Mitch gets ahold of it and makes Wonder Woman do his bidding. We soon learn that Mitch is an evil douche holding three rocket scientists captive and Wonder Woman lied about the powers of the tiara in order to gain access to his lair and catch him off guard. But wouldn’t you know it, once they get to the secret base Mitch handcuffs Wonder Woman, quote: “I know that if you’re shackled by a man the way you are now, you’re helpless.” Turns out he was really after the Lasso of Truth, which he intends to use to extract the top-secret rocket fuel formula from the scientists. Luckily Sandra brings Wonder Woman her tiara, which is hard enough to break through her restraints. A kerfuffle ensues, and Wonder Woman prevails.

Highlights

Wonder Woman beating up a shark and throwing it miles out to sea, presumably upsetting Aquaman.

That for such a brief story it covers quite a bit of lore. Even the “powerless when restrained by a man” thing which I’m not all that into.

Strange Moments

That everyone is using the UK pronunciation of “lasso.”

That without rhyme or reason the scientists are super German.

“Wonder Woman Versus the War God”

“Power-mad despotic male, I say this to you…”

PLOT (spoilers)

Diana Prince is going about her damn business at the United Nations when Mars the War God shows up to assassinate key delegates and kick off some international turmoil. Mars escapes and tricks Wonder Woman into breaking enough sound barriers to trap herself in another dimension. Wonder Woman calls upon Hera who grants her the power to troll Mars with images of peace: doves, folk music, Woodstock, the Civil Rights movement, and the Sermon on the Mount. This enrages Mars and blocking his sword Wonder Woman tears an inter-dimensional escape route and hurries back to the UN security council, where she identifies and takes down Mars’ disguised agents.

Highlights

The delicious reverb on Mars’ voice.

The diplomatic focus of Mars’ plan, which underscores Wonder Woman’s ties to the UN.

The duel between Mars and Wonder Woman where they volley images of war and peace at one another is both fun and extremely 70s.

Strange Moments

An actual, real deal sound bite of Adolf Hitler (“Hitler? You play rough!”).

The excessive number of assists Wonder Woman gets from the Hera hotline.

“Amazons From Space”

“Because it is not dominance, one group over the other group for which both women and men must strive…We must all be given a chance to be equals.”

PLOT (spoilers)

At the UN, Morgan Tracy and Diana Prince attend to a suspicious meteor shower that turns out to be an alien invasion “on a direct course for Washington DC!” Wonder Woman races to the alien fleet and diverts the volley of missiles launched the US and other nations. The aliens land and are revealed to be tall, gorgeous women who ostensibly come in peace. In an ensuing address, the alien leader, Lyra, professes the superiority of women and argues that Earth would be a lot better off under female rule. Soon, the men of Earth start behaving strangely, and Wonder Woman learns that the aliens brought a disease with them from their home world, a pestilence that targets men and renders them submissive. Wonder Woman takes an alien man to the coast of Paradise Island where the Amazons fashion a cure, which is then disseminated among both the Earth and alien male populations. Peace is restored, and all parties commit to more equitable relations between the sexes.

Highlights

“Get that hand off me or I’ll take it home as a souvenir.”

The detail that the invisible plane is solar-powered.

Non-intersectional feminism being described as a “noxious philosophy.”

That a children’s record discusses heady themes of gender equality with more nuance than most Twitter ding dongs.

Strange Moments

The image of the president on all fours as his wife takes his place is a lot funnier than it’s probably meant to be.

That one Amazon has a deep southern accent for some inscrutable reason.

Want to learn more?

Previously mentioned nerd historian Rob Kelly hosts a Power Records podcast and recently put out a super informative Wonder Woman episode.

Cuepoint’s piece outlining Power Records’ history as a goldmine for hip-hop samples is delightful and informative read.

(Senior contributor)

Three toddlers in a trenchcoat. Currently running The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope.