Wonder Woman: 300 and Counting

When Roy Thomas and Gene Colan jumped from Marvel to DC in 1982, it was a big honking deal. Particularly Thomas: he’d been the first of a new generation of young fans-turned-writers to go to work for Marvel (after a week at DC), written pretty much every book at some point, and seemed as truly Marvel as Stan Lee. But he’d had some disputes with Marvel, and they became frustrating enough he headed to the competition. And one of the first books he wrote was Wonder Woman.

Following Gerry Conway’s departure, we had one forgettable fill-in by Robert Kanigher and a Marv Wolfman one-shot teaming Diana up with his creation, the new incarnation of the Teen Titans. This was noteworthy if only for returning Dr. Cyber and giving her the armored costume she’s worn ever since.

Then came a promotional insert, a Wonder Woman story in DC Comics Presents introducing readers to WW’s new creative team. With WW #288, the regular series launched. Thomas departed the book a year later (and that year included a three-part story by Dan Mishkin) but it was a good year.

Thomas gave us the Earth-One version of Dr. Psycho, though less misogynist than the Golden Age original: rather than enslave them, he simply wants to have one of his own. Tapping into Steve Trevor’s fantasies about Diana and his wishes to be her equal, Psycho (an Ellis Island change to his ancestral name of Psychogenos) creates “Captain Wonder,” a superhuman form for himself to occupy.

Another foe was the Silver Swan, a gifted but unattractive dancer whose career was frustrated by lookism. Ares reveals to her that she’s the distant descendant of Helen of Troy; he transforms her into the Helen-class beauty Silver Swan (Helen’s mother was a swan. Look it up) in return for helping her launch the world into war. It’s sexist (it comes off less as a critique of beauty standards and more OMG I’ll Do Anything To Be Pretty) but the mythological origin makes her more interesting to me than the later Perez reboot. This arc also shows General Darnell, Diana Prince’s superior, as a creepy sexual harasser, rather than just a pushy suitor as Conway wrote him.

A subsequent story, originally intended as a miniseries, has Wonder Woman and an assortment of DC superheroines (Supergirl, Zatanna, Raven, Madame Xanadu) try to stop a cosmic entity from pronouncing sentence upon the Earth. It’s an old concept, but well executed.

Another three parter pitted Wonder Woman against General Electric, a Sandman foe. No, not Gaiman’s Sandman, nor the Wesley Dodds Golden Age character but a short-lived Bronze Age superhero (sufficiently obscure I’ll blog about him at some point).

Then came the Dan Mishkin three-parter, pitting Wonder Woman against Aegeus, a terrorist getting magical help from the renegade Greek hero Bellerophon (this was the first story to refer to Themiscyra, identified as the Amazons original home in the Aegean). Mishkin became the regular writer on the book but not before Thomas returned for #300. In this one, the Bronze Age Sandman shows up to help Wonder Woman against mysterious nightmare creatures. Complicating things is that she keeps collapsing into sleep and imagining alternate versions of her history: what if she’d stayed on Paradise Island? What if Steve were as bad as Amazons expect men to be? What if a kryptonite weakened Superman had landed instead of Steve (showing how long people have seen Clark and Diana as a potential couple — though it didn’t work out)?

The anniversary issue also deals with the Steve/Wonder Woman/Diana Prince relationship. It ends with Steve and Wonder Woman — well, it sure looks like Wonder Woman might not have been as virginal back then as people assume.

Dan Mishkin’s run on the book was good too, and lasted until the Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted her. I’ll post about that in a few months.

#SFWApro. Covers by Gene Colan (top) and Rich Buckler. All rights remain with current holders.

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Filed under Comics, Wonder Woman

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