We all know about Wonder Woman, Pheonix, Rogue, Mystique and a slew of other ‘modern’ comic heroes who represent strong, intelligent women in comics, but this isn’t a new trend. There have been strong women in comics almost since comics were created.
One of my favorites out there was Etta Candy, a little known sidekick of the original Wonder Woman.
Etta first appeared in 1940 as a weak and malnourished woman in a hospital where she first met Diana. Then later you see her as a large, strong-willed woman with a joy of life and a love of candy.
Soon after meeting Wonder Woman we see Etta leading a troop of sorority girls from Holiday College as they help Wonder Woman take over the Nazi base of Doctor Poison. She continues in several adventures with Wonder Woman, frequently rescuing her either as a solo act or accompanied by a few of the Holiday sorority girls. She was a frequent companion of Wonder Woman and was even welcomed by the Amazons of Themyscira and invited to their festivals.
Etta even had her own catch-phrase of “Woo! Woo!” Etta was a very strong and independent lady of the 1940’s. A perfect example of her independence for that era was the fact that she had her own car which she had christened with the name Esmeralda. She was fearless leader who even once crashed a Nazi encampment armed with nothing more than a box of chocolates.
Etta was a vibrant and curvaceous woman who didn’t care what others thought. While Wonder Woman was tall and muscular, Etta was short and fat; the exact opposite of her best friend. She refused to conform to societies norms and was proud of it. She frequently joked about her weight and her preference for candy over men.
And unlike many strong women in the comic world Etta had a family that cared for her and supported her. Her parents were Hard and Sugar Candy who live on the Bar-L Ranch in Brazos County, Texas and she had a brother named Mint who served in the US Army. She was the center for several stories including a western themed adventure on her parents ranch and several science based adventures on the college campus. For a while she even had a boyfriend on the nearby Starvard college campus names Oscar Sweetgulper.
Unfortunately Etta’s strength and independence dwindled once Robert Kanigher took over as writer in 1947. She faded into the background and the few times she made an appearance she was an insecure, weight-conscious girl who was now follower instead of a leader.
She didn’t really come back until 1980 in Wonder Woman #272. She had now graduated from Holiday College and was a Lieutenant in the Air Force and secretary to General Phil Darnell. This is also when she learned that her best friend Wonder Woman was also Diana Prince.
She was now a career woman but was now more stereotypical of a woman from the 40’s. She was Diana Princes roommate, did most of the cooking and cleaning for her and Diana and unfortunately, she was still portrayed as an insecure, weight-conscious girl.
It wasn’t until writers Dan Mishkin and Mindy Newell got hold of her that she once again became a confident woman. She even became Wonder Woman one evening and battled Cheetah, Angle Man, Captain Wonder and Silver Swan after her boyfriend Huckaby used a machine by Dr. Psycho that could turn dreams into reality. He wanted the world to see Etta as he saw her, she was his wonder woman.
In 1987 Greg Potter and George Pérez revamped Wonder Woman. In the new series Etta continued to be a career Air Force officer and was Steve Trevor’s aide. She was a key part of fowling Ares plans to spark global war.
She was then used to make a statement eating disorders. Etta and Steve Trevor were to be married and Etta once again returned to being insecure about her weight. In the process of losing weight for her wedding Etta developed an eating disorder, which Wonder Woman discovered when collapsed while trying on wedding dresses. Diana then convinced her she was beautiful and that she needed to take better care of herself with a better diet. Since then Etta has gained back her original weight and rarely made appearances except as supporting cast. When she did reappear she was once again insecure about her weight.