Denny O’Neil and Dr. Cyber return, the white pantsuit goes: Wonder Woman #199-204

After Mike Sekowsky’s final issue, #196, we got two issues of reprints and then Denny O’Neil took over the writing with Don Heck on the art (Jeffrey Catherine Jones provides the cover). “Tribunal of Fear” opens with someone making the mistake of puling a gun on Diana and giving her orders. Doesn’t go well for him. It turns out it’s Jonny Double, a PI who previously appeared in a tryout issue of Showcase but without doing well enough to launch a series. Jonny explains his client wants to meet Diana, but first directed the detective to see how she handles trouble, hence pulling the gun. A second later, an old woman picking up Diana’s dropped umbrella dies — someone shot a poisoned dart at Jonny but hit the umbrella instead.

Jonny’s client turns out to be Fellows Dill, a Hugh Hefner-type but with more obvious sleaze. A group called the Tribunal is trying to kill him out of disgust for Dill promoting godless immorality with his business; Diana’s inclined to agree with them but when Dill says he can pay for an operation to restore I Ching’s sight, she’s on board. She and Jonny accompany Dill on his private cross-country train; the Tribunal destroys the tracks and capture Jonny and Diana.The Tribunal sends Jonny to bring them Dill, with Diana as hostage; despite being shackled to a wall, she figures out a way to escape, but waits until the last minute. When Jonny finally shows, without Dill, Diana busts out and saves Jonny as well (he’s a little thrown in all this by not being the lead hero, but he handles it pretty well). Outside the Tribunal lair, they stop and almost kiss when a crazy Dill shows up shooting at them.

In #200, “The Beauty Hater,” with art by Dick Giordano, Diana stops Dill right after he injures  Jonny. A St. Bernard rescue dog shows up with a cask of brandy — then attacks and almost blows them up; the cask actually held nitro. They find refuge at a cabin filled with paintings of beautiful women, the faces torn by knives. Tribunal soldiers arrive in a VTOL so our heroes fight them, take the plane but discover its being flown by remote control. Arriving at a fortress, they fight through several more perils and traps before being captured.

It turns out Dr. Cyber’s behind it, wearing a metal mask over her scarred face as she would from then on. After surviving her apparent death, she explains, she became obsessed for a while with destroying beauty (this is even more scarface disability cliche than her last appearance), hence creating the Tribunal to use against Dill. Now, however, she’s found an ally, Dr. Moon (a mad scientist for hire who’d crop up multiple times in different books over the years), who can transfer her brain into Diana’s body. And because she wants revenge, no anesthetic for Ms. Prince. Of course things don’t work out that way, and Cyber winds up dying again, apparently.

Overall, despite the disability cliches, this is a competent story with some good action scenes and a workable love interest in Jonny. Part two pays little attention to the 200th issue landmark, even though DC had been celebrating that for a while.

In the next issue, “Fist of Flame,” Diana’s going to introduce I Ching to Jonny, but the PI has vanished from his office. A couple of Asian swordsmen attack, then kill themselves when they fail; one of them gasps out a reference to the “Fist of Flame,” which I Ching identifies as a priceless gem worshipped by a Tibetan sect. A warning note tells Diana to find the Fist if she wants to see Jonny again.To get the money for a trip to Tibet,Diana sells her boutique. After an arduous journey she and I Ching arrive in a lost Tibetan valley (the kind that’s miraculously warm amidst the ice and snow outside) where Diana encounters an unexpected obstacle: Catwoman, who’s after the gem herself, even though it doesn’t fit her usual cat-motif crimes. Captured by the Fist-worshippers, the two women have to battle over a fiery pit, but Diana saves them both. Catwoman explains she hired Jonny to find the Fist of Flame, but he ran into an obstacle — a gang run by a woman named Lu Shan. As Selina, Diana and I Ching learn this, the Flame magically transports them to Nehwon, home of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. In “Fangs of Fire,” written by SF grandmaster Samuel Delaney, the two sets of heroes fight, then team up against a sorcerer, Gawron; Mouser and Fafhrd want to rob him of another gem, the Eye of the Ocean but he’s also devised a dimensional gate that can get the Earthers home. They sneak into his fortress, action erupts, then the Fist of Flame brings Jonny and Lu Shan from Earth. Jonny, I Ching and Catwoman go home through the gate; Lu Shan remains behind in Nehwon, trapped forever. Fafhrd and the Mouser go with the heroes, take one look at modern civilization and go home (to star in their short-lived Sword of Sorcery comics series).

Rereading I realized some of the errors in this, like Catwoman knowing Diana Prince is Wonder Woman (nobody does) are probably more retcon than deliberate error; perhaps O’Neil or Delany thought she’d be a more interesting character that way. Others can’t: why would Catwoman hire Jonny to find the Fist for her? He’s a standard-issue PI, hardly the Indiana Jones type the job would seem to require. And this wastes Lu Shan, using her as a generic criminal — we never do learn what the backstory was that made her hate her father. Though there is one good moment when Grey Mouser and Catwoman compete at chasing a mouse, just for fun.

The Diana Prince era wraps up with “The Grandee Caper,” Delaney’s godawful attempt at a relevant story about the women’s liberation movement, which I dissected in enough detail at the link so I won’t repeat (though that post erred in saying the sale of the boutique just happened off stage). Then (also described at the link), Robert Kanigher returns to the book, kills off I Ching ——and also has the sniper kill a fictionalized version of Dorothy Woolfolk, who edited the book for the two reprint issues before “Tribunal of Fear” (so why have her die rather than say, O’Neil or Sekowsky?). Wonder Woman becomes an Amazon again and everyone forgot I Ching and the depowered years ever happened (though Dr. Cyber kept popping up as an adversary). And with that issue, WW’s Diana Prince: Celebrating the ’60s Omnibus ends.

#SFWApro. Covers to 201-203 by Dick Giordano, bottom panel by Don Heck. All rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Comics, Reading, Wonder Woman

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