There were them ants in the classic 1950s SF film, and Them the band introduced the world to Van Morrison. But Wonder Woman also took on Them! And, despite having only one comic book appearance to date, They! have lingered in the consciousness of many a comic-book reader, and apparently found Their! way into some DC Universe role-playing game. Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano created Them! in 1969. They! made their appearance in Wonder Woman #185. And They! were one of the most batshit crazy things to appear in comics that year. Which is saying a Lot!
No. Seriously, people. You have to see this comic book to believe it. But since it seems a tad unlikely you have a copy of Wonder Woman #185 from 1969 kicking around your flat, I'll try to explain it.
See, comic books were going through a weird period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the sort of phase that in humans leads you to shave your head, change your name to "Number Sixteen Jellyfish," and question whether the government is telling us the truth about magnetism. In comics, it leads to things like the adventures of Night Nurse in Marvel Comics, and to Don Rickles becoming a superhero in DC Comics. And so it seems inevitable that the Amazon princess should open up a stylish clothing boutique in Greenwich Village after losing her superpowers, though not her kick-ass fighting skills. Seriously, she had no powers for a few years, so she hung up the Stars and Stripes outfit, operated out of a hip boutique, studied martial arts with a guy named I Ching, and fought less-intimidating criminals than she once had. Which, to be fair, is pretty much what I'd do if I lost my superpowers.
Anyway, one night, a teenage hippie runaway, having no idea the shop belongs to Wonder Woman, breaks in to hide from...... Them! And that's clearly Their! name, because every time They! get mentioned, Them! gets big red block letters and an exclamation mark!
Moments later, They! enter the shop. They! aren't so much giant ants, but creepy aunts. Three monstrous women wearing clothes that, even in a superhero world where guys run around in leotards and women fight crime in bras and knickers, look ridiculous. The hipster outfits of Them! will have you swearing off whatever drugs you took last night. The leader, Top Hat, wears a psychedelic pimp version of a Regency Buck costume, topped with, well, a top hat. She looks a little like she could be Jimmy Savile's weirder-dressed sister. Pinto, a wiry old bean with bad teeth, dresses like a cowgirl. I suspect she has a serious pony fetish. The muscle of the group, Moose Mama, comes with jeans, a fur-collared jacket, an iron cross, and bad hair. She'a also built like one of the Incredible Hulk's relatives. All of the woman smile with unmistakable lasciviousness. They reek of lesbianism or, rather, the kind of lesbianism found in those paperbacks once displayed in that one aisle of the book dealer's that light never quite found.
Wondy turns around in a manner that defies neck physics, and one of the woman tosses down a leash and collar in front of Their! runaway jailbait. "Put it on, slave!" she demands. At this point, the Silver Age Wonder Woman has been around for at least a decade, and it's about damn time they brought some of that good old Golden Age bondage back into her comic book.
Anyway, Wonder Woman beats up Them!, kicks Them! out of her shop, and then learns the story of our runaway, Cathy. It seems Cathy ran away and met Them!. They! held her against her will, made her wear a dog collar, forced her to do menial housework, and beat her. They! even left scars on her body, which Wonder Woman sees when the youngster strips. Top Hat told Cathy that a beaten dog knows its place. Fortunately, the Comics Code of that time prevented the writers from detailing what else those dirty old women might have been doing with their teenage captive. It did not, for some reason, stop Moose Mama from popping pills while she was on watch and then passing out, which permitted Cathy's escape. Seriously, please, please, mum, can I buy a comic where Dr. Sivana threatens to blow up the maternity ward or some addict dreams of a needle poking into her eye? It would be far less disturbing.
So They! hang near the shop and threaten to make nuisances of themselves unless Cathy surrenders. They! do the expected sorts of things, like yell a lot and break stuff and set fire to Wonder Woman's trendy boutique. Cathy is so distraught at the trouble she's brought that she runs back to Them! leaving a hand-written note that actually switches to red block letters when she mentions Them!, just like the text boxes do. WTF? Maybe the pen ran out of ink and there was only a red marker left in the room. Wait, except Them! appears in the middle of the note. Did she wait to write Them! until the end, and then run out of ink? I mean, how does this make sense?
Anyway, Top Hat leads captive Cathy down the street on the end of a leash, presumably to play the starring role in Fifty Shades of Curious Yellow. Fortunately, we get a showdown of gangs, with Them! and their hippie male thug associates on one side, and Wonder Woman and some neighborhood watch guy named Tony Petrucci and his jock buddies on the other.
No great spoiler here, but skip the next bit if you plan to seek out Wonder Woman #185 and you want to be surprised. Wonder Woman's gang kicks Them!'s gang's arses, and then she exposes Them! as jewel thieves, in a twist that the story has not prepared us for at all. I guess that lesbian gangs have to generate income somehow. The jewels have been hidden in Top Hat's hat. The random beat cop who happens along immediately recognizes the jewels as the ones stolen in the "Smithson Robbery," because a jewel thief would just be walking around with her ill-gotten booty in her hat, and some random beat cop would recognize on sight the haul of some jewel robbery.
It's worth noting that Tony Petrucci (who wanders in out of nowhere, though Wondy says she's seen him around the village) plays quite a significant role. After initially beating up the three sadomasochistic drag kings, Wonder Woman acts kind of weak until the man gets involved. It's out of character, even given that she's temporarily lost her Amazon powers. She does, in her defense, take down Top Hat, and slap her face once she's down, which is strangely hilarious. Seriously, can you think of any other major superhero who would slap a villain across the face when he's down? Would Batman slap the Joker across the face? He might fantasize about a spanking scene with Catwoman, but that's entirely different.
Where was I? Right. Okay, Cathy, now clear on the dangers of the mean streets, returns to her parents and takes a job at Wonder Woman's Greenwich Village boutique. Them! presumably go to jail. As of AD 2013 They! have never made another appearance in DC Comics again. I think everyone was just too embarrassed, except for the bloke who stuck them in the DC role-playing game, and he was probably going for cheap laughs. As for what the original creators of this comic were going for, look, I don't have time to get a degree in abnormal psychology, so I'll leave it to the reader to speculate.
All of this shows that comics were certainly not better when they were cranked out to deadline by third-raters who didn't consult each other over continuity and probably took drugs, but they were often gobs more interesting.