Following the one-shot story in Wonder Woman #178, Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky launched the New Wonder Woman with a four-issue arc running #179 -182. It was apparently Mike Sekowsky’s brainchild, according to this quote on Comic Book Herald: “What they were doing in Wonder Woman, I didn’t see how a kid, male or female, could relate to it. It was so far removed from their world. I felt girls might want to read something about a super-female in the real world, something very current. So I created a new book, new characters, everything, I did up some sketches and wrote out some ideas.” I’ve heard this referred to a new character that got folded into a WW reboot (that’s what the article at the link says) but it could just as easily refer to the reboot we got (so Comics Bulletin assumes, quoting Sekowsky’s wife as saying this was his favorite book to work on). Though I imagine O’Neil added his own ideas to the mix too.
In the first issue, Steve Trevor lets himself be framed as a traitor in the hopes he’ll be recruited by Dr. Cyber, a sinister schemer — reputedly half-man, half-machine we learn in a later story — running an international crime ring (surprisingly it’s one of the few organizations from the James Bond era that doesn’t get a name or an acronym). Diana doesn’t know the truth but she’s convinced Steve’s innocent. Before she can investigate, she’s summoned back to Paradise Island: the Amazons are leaving to recharge their mystic energies and Diana must either go with them or renounce her powers. Di, of course, chooses to stay and search for Steve. Now, however, she’s jobless with no income or home but she finds a small apartment with a retail space under it; perhaps she can settle in and open some sort of store?
Then out the window she sees some thugs attack an elderly Chinese dude who kicks their butt with martial arts, even though he’s blind. With his heightened mystical awareness, he knows Diana Prince is the hero formerly known as Wonder Woman and invites her to join his personal war against Cyber, explaining Steve is already in the fight. Diana undergoes intensive martial arts training under I Ching, then one night Steve, critically injured, crashes into the dojo. It turns out Cyber wasn’t fooled and Steve’s now in a coma. Hunting down the killers, Diana and I Ching pit their skills against a factory that turns out booby-trapped robot toys. They survive, of course, and continue the hunt with the aid of Tim Trench, a grizzled PI hunting Cyber for killing his partner, Archy Miles (a reference to Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s dead partner in The Maltese Falcon, that flew over my head when I first read it).
Steve wakes up out of coma just long enough for Cyber to shoot him dead (if I didn’t know he died for sure, I’d have assumed it was a ringer). Not to worry, Diana finds the tough, confident Trench “strong, decisive … a man!” and wonders if he can make her forget Steve. All this against the backdrop of constant attacks by Cyber, escaping her undersea base — Cyber’s a woman — and a few more deadly booby-traps.
Finally they track Cyber to a small skiing village where it turns out every single resident is Cyber’s agent. It’s a nice twist, as is Trench proving a rat: he accepts a payoff in gems from Cyber to work for her but absconds with the jewels after selling out Diana and Ching. They win out anyway and track Cyber to London.
In the last installment, Sekowsky gets to write as well as draw the book. Diana and I Ching escape Cyber (the classic mistake of not putting a bullet through their heads) and get transport to London from aristocratic Reginald Hyde-White. Diana picks up some more mod fashion from London boutiques (no illustrations handy, alas), finds herself falling for Reggie, and once again discovers her man is a rat. Reggie’s been Cyber’s agent all along, but he really does care for Diana, so at the climax he saves her from Cyber. Diana, however, has her heartbroken; she decks Reggie, tells I Ching to shut up with his wise insights and runs off into the night, sobbing.
As I’ve said before, this would have worked pretty well as an all-new character. Diana’s a socialite or a librarian dating a guy in military intelligence, he turns traitors, she doesn’t believe it. Then I Ching shows her how to get justice for him. The ordinary woman plunges into a world of adventure and flourishes.
As a new version of Wonder Woman, it’s flawed, partly by the creators’ enthusiasm for Out With the Old as fast as possible. We never see Diana quit military intelligence; we never learn why or why she apparently has no friends to turn to or lean on. Or why she lost all her Amazon combat training along with her super-powers. Or why she doesn’t have an apartment or any savings to fall back on. Her decision to launch a fashion boutique (and if she’s broke, how does she afford the apartment/store rental?) comes out of nowhere: we just see it in operation. It’s not a bad choice as a business — it gives Sekowsky an excuse to indulge in hip fashions — but it’s not set up well.
Then there’s I Ching. The independent superhero and crimefighter, mightiest woman in the world is now the protege of “the incredible I Ching” — he actually gets first-billed on the covers for a while (see below) even though her name is bigger. In one story I Ching sharply tells Diana not to contradict her teacher.
And I Ching doesn’t work even if this was a new series with a new protagonist. He’s a double stereotype, a blind man so awesome he’s actually better than a sighted dude, and a wisdom-spouting Chinese mystic/martial artist (he was a monk until Cyber attacked the monastery and killed his fellows). It’s not surprising that while Steve’s had a couple of resurrections since his death (here and here), nobody ever, ever tried to resurrect I Ching after his later death.
I Ching aside though, this is an entertaining story with some great visuals, just not Wonder Woman.
Next up, Diana goes home … and then goes home!#SFWApro. All art by Mike Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.