Oh, Wicked Wanda!
Medium: comic
Year: 1973
Keywords: boobs
Writer: Frederic Mullally
Artist: Ron Embleton, Brian Forbes
Format: 616 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 7 April 2021
Penthouse and Playboy were rivals. The "pubic wars" is the name for their war in the 1960s and 1970s. Playboy had a long-running comic strip, so in 1973 Penthouse decided to have one too.
It's boring. It starts well, but it soon degenerates and you'll be flicking ever-faster through the pages.
Its evil protagonist is Wanda Von Kreesus, a multi-millionaire heiress who lives in a horror movie castle. Her employees include an army of lesbian masochist commandos (Puss International Force), a Neanderthal-like torturer (J. Hoover Grud) and a Nazi-collaborating mad scientist who's trained his dogs to eat people (Homer Sapiens).
What's more, the first few episodes live up to this. They all begin with over-the-top wickedness. Ep.1 starts with dogs eating someone alive while Sapiens enjoys "every yummy mouthful", thanks to a sensor monitoring device. Ep.2 starts with Wanda causing road accidents and running over an old man in his bath chair, while in the background dinosaurs fight and horror monsters lurk in the trees. Ep.3 has a man being fed to a shark and an octopus. Wanda visits Madame Tussauds, is unimpressed by its chamber of horrors and decides to build her own by kidnapping famous people and petrifying them in pornographic poses.
This is a good start. Ep.2 even manages to be mildly funny. ("While I dispense with this latest batch of disgusting filth!") Unfortunately, though, Wanda soon stops doing evil things and degenerates into a predictable, one-note character. There's never anything funny or surprising about her. She goes around being depraved... and that's it. The character doesn't fuel jokes. She's still technically evil, but she's stopped living up to her billing.
Frankly, the strip's just an excuse to admire Ron Embleton's paintings. It's only his efforts that make the supporting cast interesting. Candyfloss is the strip's one moderately interesting character, because she looks like a wide-eyed innocent blonde, but is as enthusiastically evil as Wanda and a raging omnisexual. Similarly, Grud and Sapiens are fun to look at. Embleton was of course a veteran comic strip artist and a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. His work on Wrath of the Gods in 1963 for Boys' World is the most gorgeous-looking weekly comic I've ever seen. Here, he's obviously following in Elder's footsteps from Little Annie Fanny, e.g. the famous faces all over the place. (If read today, this can be educational. I'd never before known what Bobby Fischer looked like, for instance.)
There are definitely things to admire in Embleton's work here. I love Wanda's Schloss, for instance, which is every kind of lurid horror cliche and always looks awesome. Embleton also makes the series's finale memorable. Wanda's found a time machine (don't ask) and after visiting historical eras, she tries the future. It's a post-apocalypse nightmare. Mullally gives Embleton four splash or near-splash pages and he knocks it out of the park.
I have very little time for Mullally's scripts, though. He was also a successful novelist and he threw in quite a lot of political commentary, but so what? (Kurtzman was sharper, for a start.) That said, though, I'm setting a high bar when I compare this series with what I think it should have been. No one else in British comics was writing like this. The early episodes of this series remind me of Pat Mills, but this was 1973 before Mills had started exploring this kind of moral inversion.
I like the idea of this strip. The August 1974 episode tells us that Wanda was spanked as a child for setting fire to her Scottish nanny, which reminded me of something in The Omen (released 1976). In practice, though, I think the strip fails. The mandatory softcore porn keeps pulling it in ways that aren't funny. (Nudity and sex can be hilarious, of course. They just aren't here.) Penthouse's publisher, Bob Guccione, eventually dropped this strip in 1980 and replaced it with Sweet Chastity, written by himself but illustrated again by Ron Embleton. He'd waited longer than I would have.
It's still more worth reading than Hustler's comic, Honey Hooker, though.