The Duke of Deception
by John Wells
During the latter half of 1942, Major Steve Trevor disappeared on a secret mission and his "angel," an Amazon princess named Diana, feared the worst. A consultation with the goddess Aphrodite revealed that Steve was a prisoner of Mars, God of War, in an unearthly realm overlaid with the planet Mars. "No mortal can enter Mars's domain except as a shackled prisoner ... Mars takes prisoner only the souls of the dead." The goddess provided Wonder Woman with an "elixir of living death" that would enable Diana's astral form to enter the hidden land.
Once there, Wonder Woman soon identified the war god's three lieutenants, chronic complainers Lord Conquest and the Earl of Greed and the fawning Duke of Deception, who kept his true opinions about Mars to himself. He also kept the true identity of the new slave to himself, preferring to use the inevitable conflict to his advantage.
The Duke was an elderly balding man of medium build with shrunken cheeks and shrivelled skin. Like Mars and Conquest, he wore the garb of a Roman legionnaire, complete with a blue crested helmet and breastplate.
Once Mars was defeated by Wonder Woman, the embarrassed God of War was determined to avenge himself but a retaliatory attack by Greed on the Amazon proved a failure. Deception was tapped for the next assignment. As part of his plan, he would use his "false forms, or phantasms of living people, which he animates with his astral body."
Operating behind the scenes, Deception arranged for Wonder Woman to be framed for the murder of Naha, a Hawaiian dancer though only he knew that the victim was a phantasm. Naha was, in fact, a slave of the Duke and captured Wonder Woman with the intent of transporting her to Mars. Once the Amazing Amazon had gained the upper hand, she convinced Naha to reveal her master's plans, including the secret of the phantasms.
Elsewhere, a disguised Duke was manipulating Emperor Hirohito into launching a new attack on Hawaii. The renewed invasion was deflected by Wonder Woman while Etta Candy (disguised by a WW phantasm) decoyed the Duke and his forces. Once the genuine Wonder Woman arrived, Deception was dealt a humiliating defeat. Diana knocked him from his phantasm shell, destroyed his Martian spacecraft and sent his astral form fleeing back to the realm of Mars in the form of a slave girl.
The God of War was not amused, ordering the Duke thrown in the dungeon even as he summoned Lord Conquest for another go-round with the Amazon princess. The third agent actually succeeded in bringing Diana to Mars and the jubilant warlord ordered Deception and Greed set free while Wonder Woman was chained in their place. Diana's captivity was short-lived and she left the realm with Mars' armory and castle in flames. For a time, at least, the God of War would be preoccupied ( Wonder Woman [ first series ] # 2, by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter).
In 1943, reports reached Mars of the surging presence of "women in war activities." Fearing that "if women gain power in war, they'll escape man's domination completely ... (and) achieve a horrible independence," the God of War demanded that his unholy trinity "go to Earth and put these upstart females in their place." The trio balked at the prospect so Mars drafted Deception, noting "you're the one to fool females." The Duke sought out an Earth agent named Doctor Psycho, prodding him into the first of many battles with Wonder Woman.
In the wake of Psycho's defeat, the Duke slipped and mentioned that Mars had been no more successful. "Deception's admiration for Wonder Woman and her sex is touching," noted the war-god. "Take him to the women's prison and make him their slave." The Duke was mortified but used his guile to draw the women to his side, telling them that he wanted "to get freedom for you women leaders." The ensuing mutiny put the Duke on the throne before an audience of adoring women while the imprisoned Mars, Conquest and Greed were forced to flee the planet in disgrace ( WW # 5, by Marston and Peter).
The Duke enlisted his daughter, the beautiful blonde Lya, to help firm up support among the Martian women and grant him absolute power. Deception's daughter, however, was just as duplicitous and persuasive as her father. She proclaimed that "Deception, like all Martian men, believes women are inferior and only fit to be slaves." When her father begged for his life, Lya agreed to make him a political prisoner in permanent exile aboard a spacecraft. In a last minute bit of trickery, the Duke manipulated his daughter and her disciples into coming aboard the ship while he remained on Martian soil.
In early 1948, Wonder Woman was lured to the spacecraft, where Lya captured her and created a phantasm of the Amazing Amazon. ("It's lucky father left this ectoplasmic flesh-like clay in his spaceship.") As Wonder Woman, Lya attempted to steal Earth's atomic weapons and use them when she renewed hostilities with Mars. Instead, the genuine article escaped and rounded up the entire band of alien women. They would be detained on Transformation Island and, with time, reformed ( Comic Cavalcade # 26, by Marston and Peter). The Duke had unwittingly been spared a new uprising but the God of War was looming around the corner.
With the death of Wonder Woman's creator William Moulton Marston in 1947, Bob Kanigher eventually assumed the writing chores on the series, still illustrated by H.G. Peter into 1957. Regrettably, most of classic rogues gallery faded with Marston. Indeed, virtually the only Golden Age villain to continue to be revived by Kanigher throughout the 1950s was the Duke of Deception.
Kanigher's first treatment of the character seems to have been in 1949's Wonder Woman # 34, where Mars had returned to the planet of his origin and dispatched the Duke of Deception to eliminate the person he blamed for Earth's lack of warfare -- Wonder Woman. As a phantasm of Paula von Gunther, the Duke took control of her "transmaterialization machine" and used it to wipe Etta Candy's Holliday College off the face of the Earth.
Eventually, Wonder Woman traced the disappearance to the God of War and, using Aprodite's elixir, sent her astral form to the realm of Mars. While there, the Amazing Amazon faced duplicates of both Etta (secretly the Duke) and Steve Trevor (a phantasm that concealed explosives) before rescuing the Holliday Girls and their school from its captivity in Limbo.
A vengeful Mars, Lord Conquest and Duke attempted to destroy Earth with a solar death-ray. Bound by her own magic lasso and held by the Duke, Wonder Woman threw a pebble at her captor's hand, breaking his grip and enabling her to stop the threat ( Sensation Comics # 92). In 1951, The Duke followed up with a solo mission that sealed Washington, D.C. in a forcefield that was actually a kind of gateway for Martian invaders ( WW # 47) and, with Mars and Conquest, another assault on Paradise Island ( Sensation # 104).
After that, the Duke of Deception seems to have cut all ties with the war-god and taken the planet Mars as his own. Late in 1953, he posed as a Professor Dekon, using his trademark misdirection to send Wonder Woman chasing into space after an imaginary fleet of invaders while his own Martian forces struck Earth ( WW # 63).
That plot failed but the Duke's next attempt in 1954 left Earth a wasteland. With the aid of benevolent archaeologists from Jupiter, Wonder Woman was recovered from the planet's surface and sent back in time to change history. Earth's fall had begun when a box secretly containing miniaturized Martians had washed onto the beach of Paradise Island. The enlarged invaders set foot on the land, stripping the Amazons of their power and beginning a chain of events that would culminate in the end of world. Forewarned, Diana opened the box in waters far from her home and sent the fleet into the path of an undersea volcano ( WW # 65).
Eventually, the Duke began to advocate the consolidation of several otherworldly armies into a single massive invasion force. Hoping to overcome their reluctance to fight Earth, the Duke brought Earth's finest athletes to Mars for an Olympic-style ceremony in which they would be defeated, thereby proving the alien races were superior. The plot backfired when Wonder Woman fought and won the competitions on behalf of the Earthmen (1954's WW # 66). A second attempt to defeat Wonder Woman herself before an audience of prospective invaders of Earth met with similar failure (1956's WW # 84). He finally made a second failed attempt to lure Wonder Woman off-planet while the Martians attacked (1957's WW # 88). The Duke's joint Mars-Pluto-Saturn armada wouldn't come to fruition until late 1958 ( WW # 104).
When he wasn't drumming up support for an invasion force, the Duke was trying out super-weapons. A "brain-wave deceiver" rendered Wonder Woman incapable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality (1956's WW # 81) while "shrinking rays" got the jump on Brainiac by miniaturizing Skyscraper City (1957's WW # 93) and a "gigantic inter-stellar cannon" keyed in on Wonder Woman's invisible jet and threatened the Amazing Amazon (1957's WW # 94).
By the late 1950s, the Duke had received a make-over along with the rest of the Wonder Woman cast, the result of the new art team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. With no visual references to work from, I can't say precisely when the transformation occurred but the Silver Age Duke had abandoned his Roman garb altogether. He now work an orange and black costume and hood and, characteristic of a master of illusion, the color of his skin changed from yellow ( WW # 104) back to pink (# 140) and then to green ( WW # 148, 153).
In the five years that passed between the Duke's appearances in WW # 104 and 140, the Wonder Woman series had begun its slide into the non-canonical world of "Impossible Stories." On a semi-regular basis, the Amazing Amazon now joined forces with her teenaged and infant personas in Amazon home movies depicting events that would otherwise be, well, impossible.
The environment was an entirely appropriate one for the Duke, who menaced the Wonder Family in # 140 (1963), directed his Martian armada at Paradise behind the scenes in # 152 and replaced Wonder Girl's face with a Harvey Dent-like visage using Martian transplant technology he claimed to have used to create Medusa and Mister Hyde (1965's WW # 153). Not to worry, though. The Wonder Family recovered the teenager's true face in the wreckage of the Duke's spacecraft and "our Armazon scientists will be able to graft it back on." Suffering Sappho!
The only honest-to-goodness, Earth-One, no-Wonder-Family-here clash between Wonder Woman and the Duke of Deception in that period occurred in 1964's WW # 148. Herein, "the imperator of illusions" had been so desperate to achieve victory over Wonder Woman that he'd been subconsciously projecting mirages of a captured Wonder Woman and cheering Martian followers to himself on the desolate surface of the red planet. With his sanity on the line, "the master of matter" redoubled his efforts to defeat his foe. The Amazing Amazon was subjected to an onslaught of threats, most illusory but with enough real ones thrown in to keep her off guard.
Once Diana had been convinced that all of the threats were illusions and stopped fighting them, the Duke sent in a giant serpent to capture Wonder Woman and bring her to Mars. Before an audience of increasingly skeptical Martians on the red planet, the Duke of Deception ordered Wonder Woman to compete against his followers in the Olympics of the Doomed. The twist: she had to win every match from within a small cage and she had to exit the inescapable cell and place the Duke within. Despite the odds, the Amazing Amazon won every bout.
Holding the cell above a deep pool of water, the Duke explained that "all you have to do to win the game, Amazon -- is escape from your cage -- and the embrace of that sea creature -- after I drop you to the bottom of that pool." When the cage was pulled back to the surface, the impossible seemed to have happened. It was empty! As the audience began to snicker, the Duke transformed his finger into the key to the cage, insisting to his followers that "only I could have opened the door for her! Only I! Only I! It was impossible for her to escape!" As he climbed into the cage, the door slammed behind him. Wonder Woman had been inside all along, disguising her presence with (I guess) Amazon magic.
As per Martian custom, the victor of the Olympics was free to go. The loser, however, found himself unable to exit the cage that he'd created. "That's your problem, Duke," laughed Diana. "And while you're imprisoned in your own cell -- better think about reforming -- before you get into worse trouble!"
The Impossible Stories and the Duke himself were kicked out of the series in # 158 to pave the way for an ill-advised experiment that attempted to replicate the look of the Golden Age strip (# 159-165). Mars, unseen since 1950's Sensation # 104, reappeared in # 159 and 160. Once the focus shifted back to Earth-One, Mars showed up once more (# 169) while a Martian invasion story (rewritten from WW # 65's Duke of Deception episode) appeared in # 173 minus the original ringleader.
Outside of a reprint of his appearance in WW # 5's Doctor Psycho story (reprinted in Ms. Books' 1972 Wonder Woman hardback), the Duke failed to reemerge until 1975's WW # 217. Scripted by Elliot S. Maggin and illustrated by Dick Dillin and Vince Colletta, it was well worth the wait.
At the time, Wonder Woman had been undergoing self-imposed monitoring by the members of the Justice League to determine whether she still had what it took to be part of the team. Green Arrow was observing Diana Prince when her United Nations workplace erupted into chaos. Everyone -- including GA himself -- suddenly began seeing their own personal illusions. Wonder Woman quickly realized who was at the center of the crisis and used her mental radio to isolate her foe's mind.
"The Duke of Deception, at your service, dear Princess Diana." Though clad in a tuxedo rather than Roman garments and in possession of a full (if graying) head of hair, the baggy-eyed Duke once again bore a resemblance to his original incarnation. "I have not had an altercation with you for many years. When first we met, I was in the employ of Mars, the war-god. But since I've been on my own, my powers have increased."
In the unavoidable conflict, Wonder Woman lost her lasso to the Duke, who wasted no time in wrapping it around her wrists and giving it the appearance of chains. "And you need not be reminded that when you are shackled by a man you lose your Amazon strength."
The battle came down to a battle of wills, with Diana taunting the Duke with the fact that "you failed as the top aide to the God of War ... and now you want to compensate. ... Is it drivel that you've changed from a self-assured, logical plotter to a less-than-sane Mad Hatter shuffling people through a patternless tea party ... once a super-villain -- now a bitter, old has-been -- ?"
"No ... no! -- no ! Don't make me unsure of myself ... I can't concentrate when you confuse me like that -- !"
The tide had turned and Wonder Woman, her bonds now dissolved, encircled the Duke in her lasso of truth and demanded to learn his goal. "I planned by driving the United nations delegates mad ... to make myself their master. I'd plunge the entire world into war ... and make Mars, the war-god, bow to me ... as Mars once made me bow to him ." Disgusted, Diana took her captive "to a place where Aphrodite can deal with you."
Late in 1976, DC embarked on a second, more successful flashback to the Golden Age in Wonder Woman (# 228-243) to reflect the World War Two time period of the Lynda Carter television show. Late 1977's WW # 239 and 240 (by Gerry Conway, Jose Delbo and Vince Colletta & Joe Giella) brought the Duke into play.
The story was set in June of 1942, shortly before the Amazon Princess had met Mars' underlings -- not that she'd have recognized him anyway. This Duke of Deception was a tall, youthful handsome specimen whose looks only enhanced his lies. The Duke proposed to Mars that they take advantage of a recent run of bad publicity that Diana had received. "If we could cause that disfavor to deepen into outright hostility ... and provoke a confrontation ... wouldn't that achieve both your aims ? The destruction of Wonder Woman ... and a worsening of the World War ?"
Mars was delighted with the plot and sent his underling to Earth, where the Duke soon manipulated Wonder Woman into toppling the Statue of Liberty (which she'd seen as an animated attacker) and attacking American military forces (whom her eyes had perceived as Nazis). The Flash's attempt to intervene was met with an illusion designed for himself. When his speed caused the mirage to fade, Jay Garrick realized that something was very wrong.
Hoping to expose the mastermind behind the illusions, Jay disguised himself as a Nazi super-villain called Siegfried the Speedster and raided the courtroom where a more docile Wonder Woman was attending a preliminary hearing for her actions. With public opinion threatening to turn back in the Amazon's favor as she fought the "Nazi," the Duke countered by providing a Prohibition-era gangster with an "illusion-lens." Suddenly, Diana found a concrete behemoth in her path and, finally cognizant of the fact that she was being manipulated, she simply stopped fighting. In a moment, Wonder Woman found herself amidst a heap of gray dust and rock. "I was battling the sidewalk itself ... literally pounding myself to death against the concrete."
Napoleon Jones, the gangster in possession of the lens, was taken into custody even as he accused a mysterious Duke of being the mastermind. In Olympus, the rogue was about to pay a stiff penalty for his failure. "You've always been so vain about your deceptive good looks," snarled Mars. "Let your punishment be the stripping of illusion! Let the world see you as you really are -- deep in your soul . There is your punishment, Deception!"
Now a bald, toothless, shrivelled shell of his former self, the Duke of Deception made a vow. "This is your fault , Amazon! You'll pay for this, I swear. If it takes forever ... I swear you'll suffer! Suffer !"
Roy Thomas, incidentally, introduced the "real" Siegfried the Speedster into his 1942-era All-Star Squadron continuity, thus making the convenient appearance of a Nazi speedster in the courtroom a bit less obviously a hoax. As Zyklon, the Nazi version of the Flash debuted in All-Star Squadron # 45.
Little more than a year after his first chronological appearance, the Duke of Deception made his last. In a contest judged by the Gods, Diana had lost her Wonder Woman title to a redheaded Amazon named Orana but took it back when her successor was killed. In early 1979, Wonder Woman found herself facing a new trial when the Angle Man hijacked the space shuttle and the NASA personnel seemed to be working on his behalf by creating a super-weapon. Noting a General's reference to "conquest," the greed displayed by the project coordinator and the deceptive behavior of an astronaut, the Amazon princess began to ascertain what was going on.
Striking astronaut Mike Bailey, Wonder Woman watched the Duke of Deception emerge from his body. "You defied the Gods -- became the Wonder Woman again against our will -- with no true test to regain the title. This mission is that test -- and you are going to fail !" The Duke's prediction notwithstanding, Wonder Woman defeated the Angle Man and expelled Mars himself from the villain's body. The goddess Athena proclaimed Diana "the one true Wonder Woman. Go ... and know that all is right with you and your gods" ( WW # 254, by Jack C. Harris, Delbo and Giella).
As the Crisis On Infinite Earths was bearing down on the DC Universe in 1985, the Duke of Deception was granted a brief half-page biography in Who's Who # 7. He was never seen again.
Or was he ? With his phantasms, he could make you believe he was anyone. With his powers of illusion, he could make you believe anything. The Duke of Deception has not been sighted in the modern DC Universe but that does not mean he no longer exists. Be afraid ... be very afraid ...
John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.
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This piece is © 2001 by John Wells.
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