Unsurprisingly having finished the Showcase collections of Silver Age Wonder Woman I moved on to the late sixties reboot. Even though I’ve read the second and third TPBs of this period before, I’ve never read Vol. 1, nor the original books. Now that I have I think this would have made a good origin arc for someone, but like the New 52 reboot, it doesn’t work for Wonder Woman (covers by Mike Sekowsky, all rights with current holder).
DIANA PRINCE, WONDER WOMAN starts with a story in which Steve is framed for murder and Diana has to go undercover in the counter culture to find the witness he claims can clear him (this bears a strong resemblance to Cornell Woolrich’s classic noir, The Phantom Lady). This requires admitting how much she loves him, and dressing in lots of hip fashion (again showing the romance comics influence during this period). Steve is cleared but next issue he goes undercover himself, posing as a traitor, to penetrate the crime cartel of a man named Dr. Cyber.
Simultaneously Hippolyta tells Wonder Woman that the Amazons have to withdraw from our dimension to recharge their magic, so if Diana stays to help Steve—she does, of course—she’ll be an Amazon no more. After giving up her lasso and other weapons and losing her strength, Diana quits the military and runs into I Ching, a blind Chinese martial artist with his own score to settle with Cyber (whom he says is supposedly half-man, half-machine). Then she witnesses Steve shot, perhaps fatally, by Cyber (who wasn’t fooled). I Ching trains Diana in the martial arts, then together with PI Tim Trench, they set out in pursuit of Cyber (Steve gets shot again, definitely fatally, the following issue).
As an origin for a new adventurer, this would have worked fairly well. Author Dennis O’Neill (replaced later by artist Mike Sekowsky) does a good job on the martial arts (at least as far as a non-martial person can tell) and I can hand-wave Diana mastering multiple schools in weeks as standard comics stuff. And Cyber (who turns out to be a woman, and despite the name is neither cyborg nor computerized at all) is a surprisingly formidable adversary, running a Hydra like crime cartel of worldwide scope. In one story, the good guys track her to a small Alpine village only to discover everyone who lives there is a Cyber agent (it’s a nice little twist when it happens). Tim Trench turns out to be a selfish weasel which works well too.
On the downside, surely Diana should still have her Amazon fighting skills, even if she isn’t superhuman any more, so why does she need I Ching’s training? And there are two massive gaps in the story, which weakens it. O’Neill never shows her making the decision to leave the military, just tells us she’s done it—that’s a cheap dodge around what should be a dramatic moment (and I’m not sure why quitting military intelligence gives her any advantage in helping Steve). Nor do we learn why she decides to open a trendy fashion boutique—she talks about setting up some sort of small business in the store under her apartment, then presto, she’s selling dresses (while the standard critique of this era is that a dress shop isn’t a good basis for adventuring, it’s no worse than Black Lightning being a teacher or Black Canary a florist).
Then there’s I Ching, who despite being covered featured as “the incredible I Ching” is a stock Chinese stereotype, spouting wise thoughts in broken English (and also a stock disabled type, the blind man who’s even better than sighted people).
And after all the effort to dump the Amazons, I don’t see the point in bringing them back just a few issues later, when they call in Diana to help them fight off Mars, god of war, who’s suddenly retconned into her grandfather, Hippolyta’s father (um … no).
Still, I did enjoy it—but rereading the subsequent collections, whatever bloom was on the new rose faded pretty fast (more to come later this week).