You’ve heard of Batman’s sidekick Robin, and I’m willing to bet you’re pretty familiar with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, but do you know Wonder Woman’s best friend Etta Candy?
If you answered “no,” that’s all right, you’re definitely not alone. Etta was one of DC’s earliest sidekicks, and one of the first female supporting characters in super hero comics who wasn’t a love interest or a villain—but she’s also got some truly weird and wild history, which can make her just a little challenging to understand at first glance.
If you’re planning on seeing Wonder Woman this weekend, you’ll get a good introduction to her as charmingly played by Lucy Davis. However, the movie only hints at the close friendship Diana and Etta have maintained over 75 years of comic book history.
How close? Well, grab yourself a seat, gather up some of your favorite sweets, and get ready. It’s time for to shine a spotlight on the wonderful history of Wonder Woman’s right hand lady.
Etta was introduced in SENSATION COMICS #2 way back in 1942. That’s less than a year after Jimmy Olsen was given a name, for those of you playing along at home.
Like most classic comic characters, Etta wasn’t given an origin story until after she showed up in Sensation Comics, and the story that she did get was full of Golden Age whimsy. It was explained that Etta was a sickly, weak, malnourished girl that Diana found languishing away at a local hospital. Inspired by witnessing Diana’s strength and prowess during her brief visit, Etta found herself with a new lease on life. The next time Diana finds her, she’s a healthy, exuberant bon vivant who credits her miraculous turnaround to…um, eating a lot of sweets.
Yeah, it may sound a little ridiculous, but remember that this was in a comic featuring a hero who was sculpted out of clay. Ridiculous is kind of par for the course.
Anyhow, from that point on, Etta would show up to help Wonder Woman with cunning and moxie—and sometimes the help of her Holiday College sorority sisters, the “Holiday Girls.” Together, they would come up against whole encampments of enemies and save Steve Trevor from peril. Etta even got a handful of catchphrases throughout their adventures, like her trademark “Woo! Woo!” Something that was inspired by popular comedians of the time like Curly Howard of The Three Stooges.
Eventually, Etta was even given a whole supporting cast of her own in addition to the Holiday Girls: The entire Candy family. There were her father and mother, Hard and Sugar Candy, her army veteran brother Mint Candy… (Sensing a bit of a naming convention there?) Her car had a name too, but it was unfortunately the totally un-sugar-themed “Esmeralda.”
Even the other Amazons back on Themyscira accepted her as one of their own. Etta was allowed to travel freely on the island and participate in sporting events and games, despite the fact she had no superhuman strength or abilities to speak of.
As you’ve probably guessed, Etta’s wacky original status quo couldn’t last. The changing face of comics as the ’40s and ’50s gave way to the darker, more realistic and grounded ’60s and ’70s, which called for some updating of Wonder Woman’s corner of the DC Universe, and Etta was no exception.
She spent the majority of the ’60s and ’70s as a footnote, barely showing up in stories at all, and being nearly unrecognizable to her old fans when she did. In this version of the story, she was an insecure and shy girl who never acted as the leader of the Holiday Girls and most certainly never chased down an enemy with a gleeful “Woo! Woo!”
It wasn’t until 1980 that Etta was pulled back into the spotlight with a brand new rework. In WONDER WOMAN #272, it was revealed that Etta had graduated from Holiday College in the years since she’d been dropped from storylines and gone on to become a Lieutenant in the military.
This new version of Etta was slightly more reminiscent of the original 1940s version, but toned down to fit the more serious tone. There were no more catch phrases or sugar-themed family members, but Etta did adopt a quirk of occasionally swearing to Betty Crocker when she was frustrated as a nod to her sweet-loving origin story.
POST-CRISIS AND BEYOND
When the 1986 continuity-altering event CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS took place, Etta found herself updated for the times yet again. In the new timeline, Etta remained an Air Force Lieutenant, but began working closely with Steve Trevor as his aide.
This eventually spiraled into a love story between Steve and Etta that lasted a not totally insignificant amount of time.
Pretty crazy, right? Especially considering how most of us now would consider Steve to be synonymous with Diana’s love life.
Steve and Etta eventually married and remained close friends with Diana—though the nature of their romance, and the happiness in their marriage largely fluctuated from creative team to creative team.
This pattern of creative flux would continue even through The New 52, where Etta was reimagined yet again. She was given a top to bottom redesign and her romantic ties with Steve Trevor were removed, but they remained close friends and confidants. Etta kept her Air Force connections, and though her camp flare was long gone by this point, she lost a considerable amount of her insecurity and became a character known for being incredibly ambitious, perhaps as a middle ground between her Golden Age and ’60s identities.
More recently still, Rebirth saw Etta established by the creative team of Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp as a Commander in the Air Force rather than a lieutenant. Her close relationship with Steve and Diana remained a constant, though Etta’s position of power gave her a bit more of an edge than she’d ever had before.
“Commander Candy” certainly does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
You can meet Etta for yourself in the pages of WONDER WOMAN VOL. 1: THE LIES and VOL. 2: YEAR ONE, or on the big screen in Wonder Woman. Also, don’t forget to pick up your free WONDER WOMAN DAY #1 comic book on Saturday, which also features Etta!