Sensation Comics #14: The Story of Fir Balsam
December 11, 2017
All great holiday stories should have someone asking to not be spanked.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. The holiday celebration continues with something that's more... wholesome than "Clive Barker's Hellraiser Dark Holiday Special": a Golden Age Wonder Woman comic!
(Cut to shots of "Superman's Christmas Adventure")
Linkara (v/o): The last time we had a Golden Age holiday with superheroes was "Superman's Christmas Adventure", where two Scrooges took it upon themselves to declare war on the holiday with their flying submarine and their various attempts at ruining Christmas, like kidnapping the reindeer or trying to murder Lois Lane.
Linkara: Because let's face it, their names were (makes "air quotes") "Grouch" and "Meanie". At that point, you're just kind of all-in with the evil.
Linkara (v/o): They were foiled only by them overhearing that Santa still was going to give them presents regardless of their attempted murder, which... I don't know, maybe Santa's losing his judgment in his old age.
(Now cut to a shot of the comic of today's cover: "Sensation Comics #14")
Linkara (v/o): While today's outing is shorter than "Superman's Christmas Adventure" at thirteen pages, it's a Golden Age superhero comic, so chances are good it'll be just as insane.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Sensation Comics #14: The Story of Fir Balsam" and see what a Wonder Woman Christmas adventure looks like.
(The Christmas version of the AT4W theme plays and the title card has "O Tannenbaum" playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Reading from a trade, so no looking at the cover. And this is the same trade I talked about a while ago that has the "Superman Christmas Adventure" and the "Teen Titans Swingin' Christmas Carol", but I can't find any changed coloring for this one.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open with Wonder Woman riding around a snowy mountain on skis while carrying two kids.
Linkara: She's not rescuing them or anything. On Themiscyra, children are used as ski poles.
Linkara (v/o): Our narrator speaks up: the tree.
Tree: (narrating) Yes, I know I'm only a fir tree, and you're going to ask what I have to do with Wonder Woman!
Linkara: (as fir tree) All I'll say is that our relationship is pure and beautiful, and (points to camera) you won't stop us from marrying!
Fir tree: (narrating) Well, fir trees often wind up as Christmas trees and that's what happened to me!
Linkara: (as fir tree) As you can see, I'm a pretty crappy Christmas tree. I'm mostly just trunk, I could only fit into very large rooms, and the height of my branches means you need a ladder in order to actually hang any decorations on.
Fir tree: (narrating) But not before I had the most fantastic adventure of my life – when I met Wonder Woman!
Linkara: (as fir tree) I was originally cut down to serve as firewood for her! The purpose of my existence is to be in pain for the enjoyment of others!
Fir tree: (narrating) Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, strong as Hercules and swift as Mercury, Wonder Woman came from the secret isle of paradise where women reign supreme to bring joy, justice, peace and happiness to the war-torn world of men!
Linkara: (as fir tree) And as I'm sure you've noticed by this point, that usually involves punching a lot of people.
Linkara (v/o): A panel in the corner expands on things.
Fir tree: My real name is Abies Balsamea but my friends call me Fir Balsam.
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) It's basically the equivalent of calling someone ("air quotes") "Human Person". My friends are kind of weird.
Fir Balsam: I grew on top of Lonely Mountain all alone. Trees love to murmur and whisper together.
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) Trees are really big into gossip, which leads to a loooot of heartbreak down the road.
Fir Balsam: But I had no companions until I met Wonder Woman who understands tree language.
Linkara: Tree language, it would turn out, is just Esperanto.
Linkara (v/o): On that mountain, Steve Trevor and Diana Prince are scouting the area near a village on the Canadian border.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching The Deadly Mantis)
Tom Servo: Canada calls to ask, "What are you guys doing up there?"
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): The village has been housing German POWs, but they've been escaping recently, heading across the mountain to a railroad in the next town over. However, Diana also thinks there might be a secret Nazi base somewhere on the mountain itself.
Linkara: Wow, the prequel to Dead Snow is already better than the movie itself.
Linkara (v/o): Apparently, Fir Balsam is telling Diana this, much to its own shock that she seems to be able to understand her. However, Steve doesn't buy it. Probably doesn't help that she's saying that while literally hugging a tree.
Linkara: While Steve goes off to investigate the village, Diana is sent to go check out the next town.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) I thought Diana was a dull-looking girl but she changed her clothes and suddenly I realized she is beautiful!
Linkara: Along with being gossipy, trees are incredibly shallow.
Linkara (v/o): Trees are also apparently the source of any movie where a, quote-unquote, "plain girl" gets a makeover and is suddenly considered hot. Anyway, to add to the creep factor, the tree's branches reach for her.
Wonder Woman: See Miss Fir Balsam stretching her arms toward me– I believe she likes me better as Wonder Woman.
Linkara: (confused) So trees could move on their own this whole time; they were just waiting for someone to wear less clothes near them?
Linkara (v/o): Also, I know, superhero and all, probably doesn't feel a thing, but Diana, are you sure you really want to be running around the snowy mountainside in just the Wonder Woman costume? In any case, while getting ready to hide her civilian clothes in a hidden spot under the tree, she finds a piece of paper already there written in some kind of code. She quickly deciphers its meaning, "Meet at Cave K3", and heads off to try to find said cave.
Wonder Woman: Take good care of Diana Prince's costume, my pretty balsam! She'll be dreadfully upset if she has no clothes to go home in!
Linkara: (as Wonder Woman) And when Diana gets upset, (scowls) that's when the axe comes out! Get it?!
Linkara (v/o): While Diana goes out to investigate, a snowstorm soon hits that part of the mountain, bringing with it two children* lost in the blizzard.
- NOTE: Their names are Teddy and Babs.
Linkara: Oh, don't mind them. Martians kidnapped them and now they're looking for Santa's workshop. A robot will be along in a minute to pick them up.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) I trembled with fear for the little girl.
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) The little boy, on the other hand, can freeze in Hell as far as I'm concerned!
Linkara (v/o): What's really going on is that the little girl is freezing so badly that she doesn't even feel the cold anymore, just fatigue. The two huddle at the foot of Fir Balsam, the older brother trying to keep her warm. Since Diana ended up leaving her clothes in its branches instead, the tree drops them down for them to try to keep them warm.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) There were matches in the coat pocket. Teddy, good Cub Scout that he was, soon had a fire going.
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) Unfortunately, I was the thing that was on fire.
Linkara (v/o): The children discuss what's brought them out into the cold, and we get a flashback. Last Christmas, the two had been decorating their tree with their mom* when a guy they had hired named Carl Natz started hitting on her.
- ANOTHER NOTE: The mother's name is Nan.
Carl: Ah, mein beautiful fraulein!
Linkara: (stroking chin in thought) Wait a second... German, in an area where German POWs have been escaping, and his name is Carl Natz? (sarcastically) Holy crap, it's a Soviet!
Linkara (v/o): The woman rebuffed his advances when her husband* got home and, naturally pissed at what's happening, socks the guy across the face. Unfortunately, all the credit we give him for punching a Nazi is immediately discarded because he thinks his wife was being unfaithful.
- STILL ANOTHER NOTE: The husband's name is Jeb, as will be mentioned later in the story.
Jeb: Pack yur duds, you Jezebel! I'll drive you over the mountains to yur mother's in Mill Junction and I never want ter see hide ner hair o' ya again!
Linkara: Man, who knew there were hillbillies settled on the Canadian border?
Linkara (v/o): Oh, but it wasn't enough for this jackass to send his wife away without hearing her out. The dude breaks their Christmas tree! Why?
Jeb: Never ag'in' in this house will I have anything to remind me o' yur mother!
Linkara: (as Jeb, pointing to camera) If anybody asks, you two never had a mother! I just spontaneously reproduced like a cell dividin'!
Linkara (v/o): A year passed, and they beg their father to see their mother on Christmas, but he refused, even threatening them with a stick. The two decided to go off on their own to see their mother, even getting Christmas presents for her.
Babs: Here's my Christmas present for Mom – I hemmed this handkerchief all myself!
Teddy: Huh! S'all right for a girl, but lookit this di'mond ring – it cost 10 cents – I been savin' since summer.
Linkara: (as Teddy) The guy said it was so cheap because they were (makes "air quotes") "conflict diamonds". But I don't understand, I didn't get into a fight to get them.
Linkara (v/o): Back in the present, the two huddle together for warmth.
Babs: Mom won't get her presents 'cause we lost our way!
Teddy: And Dad'll beat us...
Linkara: You know, it's sounding more and more like she's better off without the violent, judgmental, abusive douchebag.
Linkara (v/o): However, the children are met by two men.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) Two men in German aviators' uniforms were approaching...
Linkara (v/o): Ah, yes, those German aviator uniforms and their babushkas. They ask the kids who they are, but then search the base of the tree for the code they had left there. Failing to find it, they assume the kids took it.
German: Ve must haf food! I take der liddle girl down to her home and borrow some supplies! You hide mit der poy und ve meet again at der tree.
Linkara: (holding up hand) Dude, Inspector Kemp from Young Frankenstein is telling you to dial it back with the German.
Linkara (v/o): The Nazi took the girl back home where her father was waiting. He took them both prisoner and got the food, having the girl carry it in a picnic basket. At the edge of a cliff, the girl complains that she can't carry it anymore, and the Nazi has a solution: push them off the cliff to their deaths!
Jeb: Well, git it over with, rat! A year ago I woulda ye – but now – I don't keer...
Linkara: (as Jeb) If I can't have my wife, screw my kids' lives!
Linkara (v/o): However, Wonder Woman soon comes racing to the rescue. He turns to shoot at her, but the bullets just bounce off her bracelets.
Wonder Woman: Ha! Ha! Try shooting your lunch!
Linkara: (laughs, then becomes confused) What?
Linkara (v/o): The Nazi quickly realizes he can't take her out, so instead he shoves his hostages off the cliff to distract her. Fortunately, she manages to rescue the two. Nearby, the children's mother and Carl Natz were also climbing up the mountain. Natz admits to the woman that he actually dragged her out here to take her away from her own life. She's pissed since apparently he had lied to her about their reason for going out, and he ties up her hands.
Natz: Ve Nazi agents haf a cave to hide prisoners who escape– it vill hide you also!
Linkara: (stroking chin in thought) Wait, are they implying that Carl Natz is a Nazi? (sarcastically) I could have sworn he was a member of the Vietcong!
Linkara (v/o): Once Wonder Woman puts the father and daughter back on land, the father notices the two together and once again assumes the worst.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) Jeb Carter went berserk with rage.
Jeb: They've got their arms around each other! 'Tis more than human flesh can bear–I'll kill them both...
Linkara: Wondy, throw him over the cliff again!
Linkara (v/o): She lassos him, but it's because there's actually a ravine between them and didn't want him going over the edge. However, she does swing him around a bit to get him to calm down and has him land on the other side. Wondy travels across the ravine by climbing over the lasso tied between two trees, the girl hanging onto her by the neck. The girl asks how she'll get her lasso back when it's tied to a tree stump.
Wonder Woman: If it won't slip out, I'll have to pull the stump out!
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) When Wonder Woman descrated the corpse of one of my fellow trees, (clenches fist) I knew she had to die!
Linkara (v/o): Natz apparently met up with the Nazi holding the little boy hostage off-panel, and they are proceeding to their secret cave. Wonder Woman, Jeb and the daughter made their way back to Fir Balsam, probably on a rescue mission, but of course missed them. As such, Wondy has a plan. She leaves the message intended for the Nazis in the hole under the tree, expecting them to return, then has Jeb tie her to the tree to make it look like she's helpless.
Wonder Woman: The Nazis will think I was captured by one of their gang and left here for them to dispose of! I hope they will take me to their cave!
Linkara: (as Wonder Woman) And hey, even if this doesn't work, I'll still get to kick some Nazi ass, so win-win!
Linkara (v/o): She also sends Jeb to find Steve Trevor, Etta Candy and "her holiday college girls". So basically Etta Candy had this club of women in college who helped Wonder Woman out on adventures. Fine, kind of weird, but hey, Golden Age and all that. I'm more confused why apparently they've been drafted to aid in America's anti-Nazi efforts by actively sending them out on missions to deal with escaped POWs. Don't get me wrong, that's friggin' awesome, just confused why they wouldn't send, like, more actual military personnel. Anywho, the plan works. A Nazi comes along and takes her away.
Wonder Woman: You may call me Wonder Woman, Fritzy! Where are you taking me?
Linkara (v/o): Aaand he uses her for a desk.
Nazi: Dere is vere I am taking you! Der message says ve go to K-3 on der Gestapo map!
Wonder Woman: That's just dandy, Fritz– but don't poke me with that pencil!
Linkara: (as Wonder Woman) Otherwise, well... want to see a magic trick?
Linkara (v/o): He leads her back to the cave and parades her around in front of the other Nazis. They mock her, but she thinks that she can't break their faces right now, out of fear for what they may do the hostages. She hopes they'll put her in with them so she can make sure they're safe before handing over some Nazi scalps to Aldo Raine. Before that, though, Carl Natz comes running in, having spotted Steve Trevor and the Holiday College Girls on the approach.
Linkara: The two natural enemies of the Nazis: the U.S. Army and college-educated women.
Linkara (v/o): They stick Wonder Woman against the door where they're keeping the others prisoner, chaining her hands to some bars, so that she'll act as a natural barrier against said prisoners trying to escape. The Nazis go out to deal with Steve and the girls, putting a rock in front of the cave entrance to seal it off.
Linkara: Three days later, Wonder Woman emerged from the cave to bring peace and happiness (holds up hand dramatically) to all humanity! (beat) Actually, that makes way too much sense.
Linkara (v/o): The prisoners start banging on the door.
Wonder Woman: Ouch! Stop spanking me– I'll be good!
Linkara: Merry Christmas, everybody!
Linkara (v/o): Wondy breaks free of the bars and tells them to stand clear of the door.
(The panel shows Wonder Woman smashing through the door while the sound of a Kool-Aid commercial is heard: the Kool-Aid Man smashing through a wall)
Kool-Aid Man (audio): OH, YEAH!
Linkara (v/o): The wife and son are indeed in the cell, said wife chained to a wall. Wonder Woman asks her to stay in the chains for a second.
Wonder Woman: It may help win your husband back!
Nan: I'll stay chained forever for that!
Linkara: (laughs, then turns sour) No.
Linkara (v/o): Wondy and the kid get together to push the boulder out of the way, with Diana even telling the kid he did most of the pushing. The kid doesn't buy it, but it's a sweet gesture anyway.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) Meanwhile, from my perch on the mountain top, I watched. I saw Steve Trevor and the girls climbing up, and then suddenly the earth exploded beneath me!
Linkara: And this is why you don't use nitroglycerin for fertilizer, kids.
Linkara (v/o): The Nazis had set off some explosives, not just sending Fir Balsam away, but also causing an avalanche on Steve Trevor and company.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) Like a flash of light, a beautiful figure leapt into the path of the avalanche!
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) And as she was buried in the snow, that figure soon realized that avalanches don't really care if you're beautiful or not.
Linkara (v/o): So Wondy picks up Fir Balsam and somehow uses the tree to STOP THE AVALANCE! I mean, yeah, groupings of trees can be used to break up the flow of snow and everything, but I don't think a single one is really enough to do the job.
Wonder Woman: My poor beautiful Balsam! You are battered, but together we have saved some precious lives!
Linkara: (as Wonder Woman) Well, time to cut down your fellow trees for grazing land!
Linkara (v/o): With the avalanche stopped, Etta Candy and her brigade quickly apprehend the Nazis.
Etta: America expects every girl to do her duty – get your man!
Linkara: Man, now I wish America did have a ski brigade made up of college girls whose only job was to rope up Nazis.
Linkara (v/o): Wonder Woman brought Jeb to his wife to show him that she had not been a willing participant to Carl's advances.
Jeb: I've been a fool! Nan, can you ever forgive me?
Nan: Yes, Jeb, of course!
(Cut to a clip of a RiffTrax video on a Christmas parade)
Kevin Murphy: It was a simpler, stupider time.
Bill Corbett: Yeah.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Wondy then took Fir Balsam and replanted it in the family's yard.
Fir Balsam: (narrating) I gave my top to Babs and Teddy for a Christmas tree – and even Jeb helped trim me!
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) I'm a headless abomination!
Teddy: Look, Dad – put the angel on the top branch – we'll make believe she's Wonder Woman!
Linkara: Turns out this whole story was just an advertisement for Wonder Woman tree toppers.
Linkara (v/o): And so, our story ends with Wonder Woman carrying a sack of toys into their home. Also, the moon looks like a 7 in the hospital pain scale.
Wonder Woman: I hope I remembered everything the children want – playing Miss Santa Claus is the most fun of all!
Linkara: (as Wonder Woman) Mostly, I spend all my time just being supportive or nagging Santa, but screw it, I'm just gonna deliver the presents myself so it gets done right!
Narrator: And so, a Merry Christmas was had by all...
Linkara: (narrator voice) Except for the Nazis, but who gives a crap? They're Nazis. (closes comic and holds it up) This comic is... okay for the most part, but it is still kind of weird.
Linkara (v/o): I enjoy the fact that it's a very nontraditional Christmas story. Christmas is definitely a part of it, but it's not the end-all-be-all. It's not like they won over Jackass Father with the spirit of the season or whatever. It's a story about reuniting a family while stopping evildoers. That being said, Jackass Father is my main complaint. Being verbally, emotionally and physically should not be shrugged off with a "Oh, it was a big misunderstanding, please forgive me." Even for the time period, remember that...
(Cut to a shot of Superman in "Action Comics #1")
Linkara (v/o): ...Superman's first story had him taking out an abusive husband. It's not like that couldn't be acknowledged.
(Cut back to the Wonder Woman comic)
Linkara (v/o): Also, for something called "The Story of Fir Balsam", Fir Balsam is really kind of a minor player in this drama. Sure, she's the narrator, but it's still a tree, and its main contributions are pointing something out to Wonder Woman, then being used as a tool of Wonder Woman. Despite apparently being able to move its branches on its own, it takes no action in stopping the Nazis when they come to kidnap the kids. Worst aunt ever! That being said, the absurd Golden Age elements are fun, and of course, you can never go wrong with beating up Nazis.
Linkara: By the time the next episode hits, The Last Jedi will be out in theaters. As such, let's do something Star Wars-related, but with a twist, with "The Steam Wars Holiday Special". (gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
If Fir Balsam grew up on the mountain all alone, how did it have friends that gave it a nickname?
So these two were separated for a year and never did she try to get custody of the kids?
(Stinger: The panel showing the Nazis seeing Wonder Woman tied to Fir Balsam is shown)
Fir Balsam: (narrating) I know Wonder Woman's bonds were tight for I, too, could feel them! At last, her endurance was rewarded.
Linkara: (as Fir Balsam) And I've got to say, it wasn't an unpleasant experience either.