Category Archives: Wonder Woman

She wants candy, baby: The many lives of Etta Candy

Next to Steve Trevor and Hippolyta, nobody has been a part of Wonder Woman’s adventures as much as Etta Candy. Unlike them, there have been huge stretches of the series where Etta disappeared from the cast and her portrayal has varied much more wildly through the years.

Etta shows up in Sensation Comics #2 as a student at Holliday College where she’s a leader in one of the sororities.  Wonder Woman’s engaged in a battle of wits with Doctor Poison (yes, the villain from the Gal Gadot movie) and needs to distract some Axis spies. She contacts the Holliday Girls and Etta leads them in distracting the villains. It’s no great sacrifice: the girls were always shown as happy to flirt with men.

My memories of Etta from the few Golden Age stories I’d read were mostly negative: William Marston and artist Harry G. Peter present her as a fat young woman constantly obsessing over Candy. Reading the Golden Age Wonder Woman Omnibus I discovered I was wrong. Yes, Etta’s a glutton constantly complaining about not having enough candy or losing it in a fight but she’s also daring, unflinching in the face of danger and extremely capable in a fight. She’s also a Texan heiress.Etta continues attending college and fighting alongside WW until 1950, then she vanishes. In 1960 she returns in Wonder Woman #117. She’s once again a college student (DC’s reference guide from the 1980s, Who’s Who quips that having stayed in college so long she’s clearly a genius who’s racked up multiple degrees) accompanied by three sorority friends: toy-loving Tina Toy, tiny Lita Little and tall Thelma Tall. They crop up in several more adventures but they’re just a cheerleading section for Diana rather than mixing it up with villains Golden Age-style. After four stories Robert Kanigher dropped them; even when he rebooted the series to tell Golden Age stories he didn’t include Etta.

That left her MIA until the Wonder Woman TV show included Etta Candy (Beatrice Colen) as a character but this time a corporal rather than a college girl. When DC followed the show’s first season and shifted the comic book to World War II (the Wonder Woman of Earth 2 if that means anything to you) they brought back Etta Candy too. Once again she was military, which became part of her character from that point on. She also got a subplot of her own involving a Frenchman romancing her for ulterior motives, but the WW II era wrapped up before we learned his agenda.

When the Earth-One Wonder Woman adopts a military secret identity again, Etta returned as a military member and new buddy for Diana Prince. Regrettably she wasn’t a fighter here either and her struggles with weight were probably her main characteristic (with Diana grumbling about how men in Man’s World are so shallow not to see past the surface).

Etta got better storylines in the George Perez reboot. Perez wrote her tougher and more capable, plus Steve was now a friend to Diana rather than a  boyfriend. That freed him up to start dating Etta. Perez planned to marry them off in his final issue but wires got crossed and he was told to hold it over for the next writer. Ironically William Messner-Loebs, who took over the book, didn’t get around to marrying them either.

Since DC’s New 52 reboot Etta has been rebooted to be both black and lesbian; with Steve back as Diana’s lover, Etta’s now dating Barbara Minerva, the Cheetah. I’m a few years behind on Wonder Woman so I’m not sure if any of that’s changed.

#SFWApro. Art by Peter, Peter again, Ross Andru and Perez. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Steve Trevor, wonder man

I’m finally working my way through John Byrne’s Wonder Woman run and so far it’s not as bad as I remembered. However it’ll be a while before I have any posts on those issues so I thought I’d look at two of the three most important supporting characters in Wonder Woman’s world, Steve Trevor and Etta Candy. First up: Steve.

Steve Trevor was literally there from the first story, a backup feature in All-Star Comics #8 that preceded Diana’s series in Sensation Comics. Shot down over Paradise Island, he’s the first man Diana ever saw. She saves his life by developing new Amazon healing technology. Having fallen in love with him she opts to become Wonder Woman, travel with him to “Man’s World” and  fight injustice there (Robert Kanigher was one of several authors to drop the idea she’s only leaving her home out of love for a man). It’s a good origin though I don’t think it’s as classic as Batman’s or Spider-Man’s — and it’s retold way too often.

As Trina Robbins once put it, Steve was the Lois Lane of the series. He’s a military officer, brave and daring but his primary role is to get himself in trouble so Wonder Woman can come and save him. I’ve known fans who think he’s useless; others love him precisely because he’s willing to play second fiddle to a woman who’s stronger, braver and more heroic than he’ll ever be. As witness “The Lawbreaker’s League” in which a device makes Steve stronger than his sweetie; when WW says she could never be happy with a man who can dominate her physically Steve smashes it without a second thought.

In a later Kanigher story Steve tells Wonder Woman he’s such a screw-up he needs around full-time to save his life; she agrees that if she has to save him three times that day, she’ll marry him. That’s amusing but it’s also typical of Silver Age Steve, forever trying, like Lois, to trick Wonder Woman into marrying him. She’s Superman, determined to stay single; her duty to fight evil takes precedence. That’s cool but by the end of Kanigher’s run things got a lot more annoying, with Diana constantly mooning over Steve (Kanigher imported a lot of romance comics tropes) and Steve’s tricks getting creepier. In one issue he traps her in her lasso and forces her to go with him to a Justice of the Peace to get married. It doesn’t work but still!

Then came the radical reboot that depowered Wonder Woman and killed off Steve. After her powers returned, along with Kanigher, we had several stories showing Steve alive again, without explanation (as noted at the link, this brief period was a mess). It wasn’t until 1976 that the gods, and author Marty Pasko, resurrected Steve in #223 (yep, that’s him under the hood). It was an awkward resurrection: Steve took a new identity (Steve Howard) and felt much more frustrated at being WW’s Lois Lane. He’s arguing with her more, gets a new job as a spy and clearly Pasko had some ideas about their relationship … but then the Linda Carter series took off and we were back with Diana and Steve in WW II. When that was over and we returned to the present, new writer Jack C. Harris killed Steve again.

This time he stayed gone until 1980, when a parallel-world Steve Trevor crossed over to Earth-One and became Diana’s new/old love (she’d chosen to forget Steve to ease her pain so the relationship felt new). They stayed together until 1986 when they married right before Crisis on Infinite Earth erased them in favor of George Perez’ reboot.

Perez’ Steve was an older man, tough and smart and soon a friend and mentor to Diana, but never a lover; romance was, for better or worse, not a thing for her in the Perez years. Eventually they saw themselves as siblings, when Diana learned Steve’s mother had landed on Themyscira years earlier and died a hero, inspiring both Diana’s costume and Hippolyta’s choice of what to name her daughter. Steve did fall in love with Etta and Perez’ run was supposed to end with their wedding. Due to some confusion, after Perez had finished the issue he had to redraw it so new writer William Messner-Loebs could handle the wedding — but he never did, for whatever reason.

A few years ago, Greg Rucka finally paired off Steve and Diana again (Etta’s now gay) and I believe that’s still the status quo. However I’m not up on recent developments so don’t hold me too that.

#SFWApro. Covers by Edward Hibbard and Ernie Chan, all rights remain with current holders.

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The life and death of Artemis, the new Wonder Woman

As I wrote last week, the death of Ares Buchanan plunged Boston into a gang war as Longo and the widow Sazia both vie for control of the mobs. Longo forms an alliance with the corrupt White Magician; Sazia starts recruiting supervillains. Meanwhile, however, Wonder Woman finds the Amazons.

In a dreadful two parter by guest writer James Owsley (later known as Christopher Priest), Circe reveals that she transported Themyscira away, just to be mean. Outside of his later work on Black Panther, Owsley was a dreadful writer and this is a dreadful couple of issues. Circe’s just a laughing maniac with no discernible connection to the woman Wonder Woman fought before.

However the Amazons are back. Initially, Diana couldn’t be happier. When she lands on Themyscira, though, she discovers the Amazons are shell shocked from what for them has been long years in a nightmare dimension. The Bana-Mighdal Amazons have returned to the fold, but there’s definitely a caste system: the Themysciran Amazons look down on their barbarian cousins. Annoyingly, Mike Deodato depicts the outsider Amazons — dark-skinned in their original appearance, having interbred with Arab men — as lily white, and very much in the 1990s Boobs and Butts style.

When Diana meets her mother, Hippolyta eagerly asks for a performance appraisal: Has her daughter ended patriarchy? Freed oppressed women somewhere? Anywhere? When Diana admits that nothing has changed, her mother proclaims a trial where Diana will compete with the other Amazons to prove she still deserves the title and costume of Wonder Woman (not the first time Wonder Woman’s had to retest).

Diana is hurt by her mother’s disdain. Visiting an Amazon shrine, she also starts receiving visions of her mother’s past. In the visions, contrary to the official story, Hippolyta can’t bring herself to turn against Hercules even after he captures the Amazons and enslaves them. It’s Antiope who takes the lead in freeing them; because she believes Hippolyta will be the better leader, she gives her the credit, then heads off into the world. The idea her mother submitted to Hercules and betrayed her sisters horrifies Diana, as does the implication in the visions that she’s Hercules’ daughter.

Despite freak events, like a whirlpool that only traps Diana, it’s Artemis and Diana neck and neck at the climax. At the last minute, Diana stumbles and Artemis crosses the finish line first. To me it looks like Diana’s angry and threw the race, but it could be the freak events just took too much out of her (Hippolyta’s later confession implies they were her way of ensuring Diana didn’t win). Either way, Artemis heads back to Patriarch’s World in Wonder Woman’s costume.

I’ll pause here and note DC was doing this a lot in the 1990s. After Superman’s death fighting Doomsday, several new heroes came forward claiming to be Superman resurrected. Sales boomed. Before long Bruce Wayne had his back broken, after which a guy named Azrael stepped in to replace him in the suit; and Kyle Rainer replaced the now insane Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. Artemis fit right into this mode.

To Hippolyta’s surprise, Diana refuses to stay on Themyscira, instead returning to Bosto, adopting a new costume (again rather boob-revealing) and working to clean up the town. Things heat up with villains including the Joker, Poison Ivy and Cheshire coming to town; fortunately Diana has an ally in the Cheetah, who goes to work for Sazia but secretly saves Diana (who rescued her in an earlier issue).

Artemis meanwhile takes a hard-core approach to toxic masculinity. She has no qualms beating up sweatshop owners, abusive husbands and rain-forest polluters, unaware it’s all for show: her enemies are actors hired to distract her and defeating them doesn’t improve things at all. This appears to be the White Magician’s work, though I can’t figure out why he’d care — did the big money hire him to deal with her?

Diana has a sense things are moving to a climax but before facing it, she returns to Themyscira to ask her mother about what she saw in the vision. Mom confirms that yes, she did submit to Hercules, though Diana is not his child, and Antiope saved her. She also reveals that she had a vision of her own, that Wonder Woman’s death was inevitable. The contest was her way to cheat fate, by appointing one of the unwanted Bana-Migdhal warriors as Wonder Woman long enough to die. Horrified, Diana flies back to the US to save her sister.

After an encounter with Circe, she realizes the sorceress isn’t herself (a commentary on the Owlsey issues?) and figures out why. As part of her plan to revenge herself on Diana (how she returned after War of the Gods remains unexplained), she turned herself into a sleeper agent, one who could get close to Ares Buchanan and then strike at Diana. Trouble was, she had to erase her memories to avoid Ares detecting her; Donna Milton was now a complete person, one capable of becoming Diana’s friend. When Diana reveals this, Donna freaks out.

Finally it’s time for a showdown with Randolph Asquith, the White Magician. Artemis, having learned he’s been tricking her, attacks first, but Asquith has upped his game. Pacts with hell have made him physically into a major demon, plus he’s turned the Cheetah and his former lover into slave warriors to fight for him. Even after Diana joins the battle, things go badly. Donna, arriving with half of her memories of magic recovered, teleports Barbara Minerva and Asquith’s lover away, evening the odds against Diana (“You’re my only friend.”). Asquith is still nigh unstoppable and deals Artemis a lethal blow. She gives Diana one of her weapons, the gauntlet of Atlas, which  multiples the wearer’s strength by ten; that didn’t make Artemis strong enough to stop Asquith but Diana’s already super-strong. Donna, arriving with half of her memories of magic recovered, teleports Barbara Minerva and Artemis away; Diana, Wonder Woman again, takes Asquith down.

Despite the loose ends it’s an epic end to Messner-Loebs’ run, and with typical touches such as Diana even being able to turn Circe to the light side. John Byrne took over with #101 but as I’m not a fan of his writing I never bought any of that run. I didn’t like the writers who followed him either until Phil Jimenez’ excellent run that started with #164. Now that I have the DC streaming app I can easily read all those issues, but that would amount to a year of stuff (reading at a rate of one issue a week) I don’t particularly care for. So maybe I’ll jump to Jimenez after Messner-Loeb’s spin-off series, Artemis: Requiem.

You’ll find out in my next Wonder Woman blog post.

#SFWApro. Covers by Brian Bolland, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Taco Bell! Ares as a mob boss! Wonder Woman 73-87

Goodness, it’s been a year since I last wrote about my Wonder Woman reread; I think you can blame work on The Aliens Are Here for sucking up so much time and blog posts until I simply forgot. To set the stage: at the end of William Messner-Loebs’ first year, Wonder Woman returns from space to discover Themyscira has vanished, her room at Julia’s house has been rented out and the JLA have reported her as KIA so she can’t get her paychecks opened up. Where will she go? How will she support herself?

Would you believe working at Taco Bell — er, Taco Whiz?

Superheroes stuck working crap jobs in their secret identity is not new. The Silver Age Shield got jobs, then had to blow them so he could rush off and fight crime. Nova in the New Warriors was constantly working minimum wage to support himself. WML, however, puts a completely different spin on it. Instead of grumbling about living in wage-slave hell, Diana’s grateful. Her boss Hoppy has given her a chance to put a roof over her head — she’s going to be the best darn employee the company ever had! She’s in it to win it. It’s very true to the post-Crisis Diana.

Dark clouds are forming in Boston, however. Mob boss Ari “Ares” Buchanan isputting increasing numbers of increasingly powerful weapons on the street, to the point of causing dangerous instability and a looming mob war. Diana doesn’t know that Buchanan’s nickname isn’t idly chosen. When the Olympian gods left Earth during the Perez run, Ares couldn’t let go of his desire to spread chaos and war. By filling Ari, a loser low-life thug, with part of his essence — in the god’s phrasing, Ari is the potato, Ares is the chili-cheese stuffing — Ares will be able to keep sewing discord without technically violating Zeus’s decree.When Buchanan’s assassin Mayfly almost kills Diana, things ironically turn around. Donna Milton, an attorney with a tragic backstory (left homeless by boyfriend after she got pregnant, sexually assaulted by boss), strikes up a friendship with Diana. She gets Wonder Woman’s paychecks restored and together they help Hoppy collect back child support from her mob-muscle ex, even though he’s under the protection of the Antonio Sazia crime family (the story where they squeeze the cash out of him is delightful).

Alas, Donna is not what she seems. She’s a calculating, power-hungry woman who met and fell in love with Buchanan — the man is, after all, raw power — and its his baby she’s carrying. Her job is to lure Diana into Ares’ clutches. She does, but when she sees Diana helpless before him, facing death, it isn’t as satisfying as she thought. She’s totally not turning soft, nope; she doesn’t like other women, couldn’t stand her time with those saps Diana and Etta, would never give up her position as consort to a man of power … ah, crap, who’s she kidding? When she tries to win over Buchanan by telling him about the baby he shoots her and tries detonating a black hole-based weapon. He winds up dead; Diana and Donna, against all odds, survive the black hole, falling a hundred feet into an ice cold underground river and being buried under tons of debris. Diana even delivers Donna’s baby in the midst of all that.

So everything’s fine … well, except that with Buchanan gone, it’s open gang war on the streets of the city. They have high-tech weapons and some of them have magic: Randolph Asquith, the White Magician who sent Diana into space in the previous arc, throws inn with Paulie Longo, providing him with demonic muscle. Sazia buys it but his widow, Julia Sazia, promptly takes the helm.

And then, as we’ll see in my next WW post, the Amazons return …

This was a good, fun run, though Wonder Woman’s failure to confront the White Magician after learning he’s a villain never made much sense.

#SFWApro. Covers by Brian Bolland, all rights remain with current holder.

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Too much for one movie and not in a good way: WW 84 with spoilers

So last weekend I watched WW 84 (2020) at last — and yes, that is the title we see on-screen. There were several things I liked in it but it did not stick the landing or, indeed, most of the flight.

The opening is great. Young Diana is competing with the adult Amazons in an athletic event that combines running, combat, archery and horse-riding. When she’s unhorsed by a branch she cheats to get back in the lead, but her mother (Connie Nielsen) knows. She stops Diana crossing the finish line and tells her taking the short, easy route to get where you want to go is never the solution. It’s obviously setting up for a dilemma later … that never actually happens.

Then we get some delightful scenes in 1984, showing off period fashion, videogames, shopping malls. It’s at one of them that a gang of crooks try to steal some black-market antiquities from a jewelry store, only to be stopped by Diana in a neat little action sequence. She leaves, telling the witnesses not to mention she was here. I’m not sure why, other than to explain why Superman and Batman haven’t heard of her when she “first” appears in Dawn of Justice.

Cut to Diana, working as an archeology expert at the Smithsonian. She’s distant from her colleagues, at least the male ones, but strikes up a friendship with newbie Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wig).  Yes, that Dr. Minerva, the Cheetah. A nerdy, insecure gemologist (as well as multiple other “ists” — she’s a brain) she’s able to connect with Diana when she has trouble with everyone else.

Happily they’re both assigned to investigate and identify the antiquities recovered from the jewelry store. Unhappily, one of them is a magic wishing talisman; when Diana wishes she had her old boyfriend back and Barbara wishes she could be more like Diana, they get their wishes granted. Steve (Chris Pine) returns to life and Barbara finds herself becoming increasingly strong and graceful.

That could have set up a heck of a movie but then they throw in Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a wheeler-dealer come positive-thinker entrepreneur. Investor Simon Stagg has discovered Lord’s company is built on sand and intends to shut it down. When Barbara shows Lord the talisman, he pulls the “wish for more wishes” trick by wishing to become the talisman. Now he can grant the wishes of anyone he touches, in return for taking from them whatever he wants. For example, he grants a Mideastern nobleman’s wish to control all his ancestral lands and drive out all foreigners, but in return takes the potentate’s security force. When the public lashes back against the noble’s wish, he has no defense.

Before long, Lord is working his way up the chain of power, taking over media empires and political offices. Diana’s out to stop him but the talisman’s taken something from her too — she’s becoming weaker and more mortal. The only way to reverse that is to unwish Steve and ultimately to unmake all the wishes. Trouble is, Barbara’s now in love with her new self, her beauty and her feral power; she’s not willing to give it up (the price, in her case, is her human decency). When Diana tries to confront Lord, Barbara fights to save him. After she and Lord escape, she tells him being Wonder Woman’s equal isn’t enough: she wants to be better, an ultimate apex predator.

At the climax, Lord, who’s losing his life to the power of containing the magic, goes on TV and broadcasts an invitation for everyone to make their wishes. In return, he gains health and strength while the wishers (“I wish you were dead.” “I wish the cops would drag your kind back where they came from.”) make the world worse. Oh, and Ronald Reagan wishing for more missiles to dominate the USSR has resulted in missiles suddenly materializing in an apparent attack, which the Soviets are ready to retaliate for. Can Diana save the w0rld? Will Steve have to make the sacrifice? Can Barbara, now half-woman half-cat, regain her soul?

The movie felt like someone had drawn up plans for a Wonder Woman TV series and then squeezed the results down to 2.5 hours. And not in a good way. Wig is charming as Minerva but that’s part of the problem; sure, she’s a little socially awkward (something carrying over from the Golden Age Cheetah rather than the Minerva version) but she’s cute and likable. We see that even the person who hired her has forgotten she’s there but she’s simply too personable for me to buy it (unlike Famke Janssen’s turn as a shy teacher in The Faculty). Given more time to develop, that might have worked, but we didn’t have it. And while Wig’s able to convey her pleasure in becoming stronger, the jump to “I want to be a Cheetah” doesn’t make much sense. Plus it’s previously established it’s one wish to a customer.

Lord is much closer to the comics version than the character that appeared in Supergirl a few seasons ago (including the comic book version’s weakness for bleeding when he uses his mind-control powers). He’s not evil at first but he’s a conniver and promoter with ambitions beyond his ability. But at the climax it turns out he’s a tragic figure, the product of a bad family and an abusive (or at least extremely critical) father. And he loves his son, which to be fair was set up from early on. It’s too late in the film to make Lord redeemable and Pascal’s performance up to that point always felt shallow.

The there’s the talisman. In an Easter Egg, Wonder Woman identifies it as a creation of the Duke of Deception but it’s not primarily deceitful — Diana gets exactly what she wants and so does Barbara. The issue isn’t so much that it twists wishes as what it enables Lord to take in return, like one of the cursed antiques in the Friday the 13th TV series or the direct-to-video Wishmaster. It’s not good when a movie shooting for A-list quality makes me think of crappy predecessors.

And the issue of cheating and taking short cuts never does come up. I suppose you could argue that returning Steve to life is a cheat but Diana has no idea that’s going to happen. Nor do I buy that she’d have done it knowing the consequences (I’ve read complaints that Diana spending the past 60 years mourning Steve is a bit much, and that’s a valid criticism too).

Godot is great, some of the action scenes are awesome and so are some of the little bits. There’s an early moment in Barbara’s transformation where a janitor spills a bucket in front of her and she deftly leaps over it — in heels. But most of the movie doesn’t rise to that level.

#SFWApro. Covers by George Perez, HG Peters and JL Garcia-Lopez, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Wonder Woman: The first year of William Messner-Loebs

Following the end of George Perez’ acclaimed run on Wonder Woman, William Messner-Loebs stepped in and wrote the book from #63 through 100. I remember this as a great stretch, and the first ten issues, through #72, live up to my memory. This run stays true to Perez version — ambassador of peace, warrior when necessary — but WML adds his own touches.

The run kicked off with a Special issue (cover by Jill Thompson), in which Diana learns the Cheetah has been taken prisoner by the sinister dictator of a small European nation. Never mind that Barbara Minerva’s a mortal enemy, when a woman’s in trouble, Wonder Woman’s going to act. She recruits Deathstroke and Indelicato (who grumbles throughout that he’s nothing but a fifth wheel next to them). It turns out the dictator is an occultist who likes sacrificing women to his dark lord, and Diana works just as well as Dr. Minerva.

While by-the-numbers at times (Wonder Woman locking horns with Deathstroke over his ends-justify-means approach), this was a fun kick off. Diana shows a greater sense of humor than during the Perez run and a love for excitement; she enjoys combat as part of that, but not as the enthusiastic killer she’s been written as more recently. For the first time since the reboot, she adopts Diana Prince as a secret identity, courtesy of Proteus: here he’s the spirit who provides the mortal avatars for the Olympians, who never really manifest here (“If they’d really stepped foot on Earth, it would be a cinder.”). Which is a good idea, but doesn’t at all fit the portrayal of the mythological gods in DC or Marvel.

Then comes a one-shot in which Diana goes looking for a little girl abducted by her father and taken into Boston’s most crime-ridden neighborhood. Indelicato thinks she’s just too naive to cope with the harshness of street-level violence, but he is, of course, wrong. Next WML launches the first big arc. Thomas Asquith, a Boston Brahmin once famous as the White Magician, offers to help Diana rescue Tasha, a Russian cosmonaut trapped in space. Asquith, however, has a hidden agenda and Diana winds up drifting in space with Tasha. She manages to jury-rig the engines of Tasha’s ship — she can’t get them home but she steers them to a distant planet, laughing in excitement as she holds the ship together (which makes her as much an adrenalin junkie as Doc Savage).

They end up shackled on a slave planet, as on Brian Bolland’s cover. Women of multiple different species and worlds are in chains with them; while Diana could break free and take Tasha with them, she’s not about to leave other women in that position. She carefully hides her power until she’s ready, then launches the resistance. Even that’s not enough — taking her fellow ex-slaves into space, she begins to wage war on the empire itself.

When everything is over, even if the peace is tenuous, Diana finds a way for herself and Tasha to make it home. Unfortunately after months away, everything’s changed. Julia’s rented out her room. Worse, the Amazons have once again vanished. This leads Diana to ponder the Amazons origin, with WML working a few changes on Perez’ reboot (cover again by Bolland). The Amazons are not the Amazons of myth — those are apparently just a myth — but took their name in kinship. Hercules captures the Amazons briefly and there’s no suggestion of rape as there was in Perez’ retelling. And rather than Hippolyta being pregnant when she died (he Amazons are the reincarnated spirits of women murdered by  men over the centuries), Diana’s spirit is that of Diana Trevor’s (Steve’s mother, who died fighting alongside the Amazons after crashing on Themyscira) unborn child — she and Steve are literally siblings.

With the Amazons gone, what happens next? Would you believe the world’s mightiest woman goes to work as a wage slave at Taco Bell? Details when I’ve read a few more.

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The Willow Wilson Wonder Woman: not as good as I’d anticipated

I’ve loved G. Willow Wilson’s work on Ms. MarvelAir and her novel Alif the Unseen so I was looking forward to her run on Wonder Woman. Her three TPBs — The Just War, Love Is a Battlefield, Loveless — disappointed me. Good, but not satisfying and nowhere near as good as I’d hoped (in fairness, my optimism isn’t Wilson’s fault).

In The Just War (art by Cary Nord), Wonder Woman takes on Ares, but with a twist: she’s persuaded him on the merits of peace and justice, so he’s fighting in a European revolution to see the right side wins. Unfortunately, he’s still Ares so he has no concern with body count if death is what it takes to resolve things. This is an interesting stretch but then we get Veronica Cale — one of my least favorite adversaries — using stock media-manipulation shticks to make WW look like a threat. We also get the Amazons vanishing, which isn’t the fresh twist it was back in the Silver Age. That said, this was the best Wonder Woman’s been since the New 52 reboot launched. And I do like Aphrodite as WW’s somewhat bemused sidekick

I also enjoyed the Giganta/WW banter in Love Is A Battlefield (with multiple artists), as the duo hunt for the Amazons, battle a titan and meet two of Aphrodite’s kids (one of them the non-binary Atlantiades). But the Atlantiades plot is stock (she liberates everyone in a small town to act on their feelings. Spoiler: doesn’t work out well) and the ending, involving an artificial reality called Chi (created by Hippolyta to see what life would be like if Diana hadn’t been born) didn’t grab me either.

In Loveless (once again with multiple artists), Wonder Woman finds the Amazons in Chi, where some of them have switched their allegiance from Hippolyta to Grail, Darkseid’s uninteresting daughter. Then we get Luthor convincing the Cheetah — who’s disgruntled not to be accepted as either a god or an Amazon, I’m not clear on that detail — to claim the sword Godkiller, with which she can yes, kill gods. First victim being Aphrodite, and killing love soon proves to have bad consequences for everyone. Wonder Woman loses her mojo. Steve dumps her. And now the Cheetah’s coming for her old foe …

The death of love was a good idea, but I didn’t care about the Amazon arc and not much about the Cheetah — and if God-Killer is so dangerous, how does Di shatter it on her bare skin at a crucial moment? As I’ve complained before, George Perez gave the Cheetah a focus, relic-hunting; if she’d simply gone off with the sword for her collection, that would have worked for me. But whatever her agenda is now, it’s a lot less interesting.

This volume did make Cale more interesting and the seeds for the next arc are good. However it’s by Steve Orlando whom I find a very “meh” so I’m in no rush to read it.

While I’m on the subject of current Wonder Woman books, I also read the first TPB of Sensation Comics, a WW weekly book that appeared a few years ago. We have Dr. Psycho in full misogynist mode, a teamup with Deadman and meetings with Catwoman, Mary Marvel and Supergirl. This one was fun.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Terry Dodson, bottom by Jesus Marino.

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So I’m not the only one who remembers Wonder Woman’s twin sister?

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Nubia when she debuted in Wonder Woman #204 and I’m glad she’s back in NUBIA: Real One. But I’m a comics nerd and I’m old enough that I bought the debut issue off a drugstore spinner rack. I have lots of affection for characters so forgotten they’d barely qualify for pub trivia questions (the Galactic Golem, the Devil-Fish, the Reincarnators, Jason Bard …). I’d have put Nubia in that category, but no, she has a fanbase. For example, LL McKinney, the Real One writer, who says she was blown away to discover there was a black woman who could hold her own with Wonder Woman.

In hindsight, it’s not surprising Nubia has fans. While many comics readers hate having female/POC characters introduced as spinoffs of established white/male heroes, as writer Devin Grayson once said, a lesbian Batwoman or a black Wonder Woman automatically gets a cachet that a new gay character might not. Maybe that’s less true in the current comics world, but appearing in 1972 Nubia was a lot more unusual, beating Storm out as as the first black female superhero. And she’s also a good character; I doubt anyone remembers the black Legionnaire Tyroc as fondly.

Nubia shows up after the clumsy reboot that restores Wonder Woman to her powers after several years as a (comparatively) ordinary woman. After her martial arts mentor/father figure I Ching is killed by a random sniper, Diana gets the kind of convenient head injury that brings on amnesia, somehow makes it back to Paradise Island (which vanished from the mortal world at the start of the powerless period, something blithely ignored here) and regains her powers. Then up shows an armored warrior who challenges Diana for the name of Wonder Woman. Having Wonder Woman defend her title is one of those ideas that crops up semiregularly in the series. First there was one of Robert Kanigher’s Silver Age stories, then Nubia (created by Kanigher and Don Heck), then a Bronze Age tale, then one of William Messner-Loebs’ stories in the 1990s.

When Nubia challenges Diana, they initially prove perfectly matched. Nubia finally gets the drop on her, as on the cover (and not by a lucky break, as often happens — she beats her fair and square), but then freezes at the killing stroke. Diana disarms her, Hippolyta — who suspects the truth — proclaims a draw. The two warriors embrace but Nubia warns Diana when they meet again until their rivalry is decided.

In the following issue, Kanigher and Heck explore “The Mystery of Nubia” in a backup story. To Nubia’s puzzlement, Hippolyta makes a point of embracing her for a second goodbye before Nubia returns to her home, Floating Island. The inhabitants are a black tribe, two of whom fight for the right to wed their princess, Nubia. She, however, informs the winner that he has another challenger — herself, fighting for the right not to marry anyone. They battle, she wins, but Nubia refuses to kill him: a woman, she says “never forgets that once a life has been taken, it can never return.” She then broods privately on how lonely she feels as an orphan who doesn’t even remember her parents — was that why Hippolyta embraced her, out of compassion?

Cary Bates takes up the writing for the finalé, “War of the Wonder Women” in which we learn Nubia’s origin. When Hippolyta sculpted Diana from clay (an origin Kanigher never used himself, giving her an unseen father) she also created a black twin sister. Mars, however, stole the baby away before the gods blessed Diana with the strength of Hercules, speed of Mercury etc. While that should give Diana the edge, Mars has trained Nubia in every possible form of combat, molding her into a weapon to destroy Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Floating Island attacks Paradise Island; Wonder Woman arrives to help her sisters fight the invasion; Nubia then proclaims their final battle. Diana, however, guesses the ring with Mars’ symbol that Nubia wears is fueling her rage and manages to remove it. Nubia’s war-fervor fades and the two women drive off Mars together. When Diana returns to Paradise Island, Hippolyta reveals the truth.

Although the last caption of the story proclaimed it “the end and the beginning,” the beginning went nowhere. In Supergirl #9, Supergirl gets fed up with men and accepts Hippolyta’s invitation to relocate to Paradise Island before deciding withdrawing from the world is not the solution. Nubia appears, but primarily for Supergirl to save from a deadly poison. Nubia’s final appearance came in Super Friends #25 in which the villainous Overlord has turned the Super Friends into his evil puppets. When Wonder Woman goes to Africa, Nubia confronts her, revealing that she’s devoted herself to becoming the champion of Africa’s women. It’s not a bad idea for giving Nubia her own space — as an Amazon she’s always in Diana’s shadow — but nothing further came of it.And then came Real One by McKinney and Robyn Smith. We meet Nubia as a typical American teenager with two lesbian moms — well typical except that she’s freakishly, superhumanly strong. She’s always hidden it because she’s black and she knows damn well white people react to even non-metahuman blacks as dangerous menaces. Sure enough, when she uses her strength to stop a robbery (one of her friends was in danger), the police are way more concerned about the scary black woman than the crooks.

The story concerns Nubia’s unease about where she fits in the world, her relationships with her friends (made more awkward by knowing she’s different) and an entitled white bigot/misogynist at her school who’s harassing one of her friends. Midway through the story she learns her origin when her moms’ friend Diana shows up and guess who it is? Wonder Woman explains that years ago, she found her lost twin sister in a temple of Mars, kept as a baby in suspended animation. Hippolyta gave the child away to her moms — one’s an Amazon who gave up Themyscira for love of a mortal woman — and raised her normally as possible. But that jerk at school is getting increasingly dangerous so like it or not, it’s time for Nubia to become a hero …

I really enjoyed this. It does a great job fitting Nubia into a real world of social media, date rape and Black Lives Matter. If this Nubia turned up in a future issue of Wonder Woman that would be cool, though McKinney says she’d like to see the original return. I’d be cool with either.


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Wonder Woman: George Perez’ era ends with a War of the Gods!

In 1991, the George Perez era of Wonder Woman came to an end with #62. Though really, everything that’s happened since has built on his foundation; even Greg Rucka’s recent reboot just gets us back to Perez after the mess of the New 52 reboot. It’s a disappointing stretch, building on the murky hints about Circe at the end of year four, and never attaining the excellence of the third year of Perez’ run.

After recapping much of the previous series in #49, we get #50, in which Hippolyta leads a party of Amazon ambassadors into “Patriarch’s World” to begin a goodwill tour. A running thread through the next seven or eight issues is that there have been mysterious deaths and thefts of ancient religious artifacts from museums in the cities the Amazons visit. Hmm, possible connection? Another complication: first Hermes seems to go nuts, then it turns out his Roman counterpart, Mercury, is impersonating him at times, then fighting to replace him. A third: everyone Diana knows is snapping at her, finding fault with her, worrying about the impact she’s had on their lives. It’s puzzling and upsetting for Di, especially when it’s all happening at once, and she’s had alarming, stressful nightmares about her friends.

Turns out there’s a reason. The post-Crisis Dr. Psycho has been mind-gaming everyone, subtly playing on their resentments and Diana’s insecurities to torment and distract her. Unfortunately this version of Psycho is less interesting a reboot than the Roy Thomas take, which was close to Marston’s misogynist original. Perez’ seems to be (as my friend Ross once put it) a sadistic aesthete; at one point, after a woman’s seen through his disguise (Vanessa’s school guidance counselor), he torments her by feeding nightmares into her unborn child and forcing the mom to experience them. He gloats about what a brilliant masterpiece this will be. We never learn anything beyond that about his goals or origins. However this arc does climax with a great scene where Wonder Woman delivers the woman’s baby without either the baby or the mother dying (at that point

Things continue looking worse as the Amazons look more and more like killers. Wonder Woman herself comes under suspicion. Etta’s CO, General Yezdigerd, is up to something. Insp. Indelicato’s partner starts to see a pattern before he’s murdered. And then begins the War of the Gods.

It turns out Circe (who was using Psycho to distract Diana) has been gathering the various stolen artifacts for a mega-ritual which summons most of the pantheons out of wherever they dwell when they stop being worshipped (it’s a little unclear). The Roman pantheon attacks Olympus to claim it from the Greeks. The Egyptian gods rise in Salem, where Dr. Fate hangs out. Thanagarian gods appear in Chicago, where Hawkman and Hawkwoman operate. Other deities manifest elsewhere. The Bani-Migdhall Amazons and the Cheetah are  involved as agents of Circe.

Her endgame? The destruction and rebirth of reality, with the new reality one where her patron, Hecate, will reign supreme. And in the process, Wonder Woman will be destroyed, as prophecy decrees either she dies or Circe does. And sure enough, right before the final issue of the crossover, Circe confronts Diana on the beach where Hippolyta formed her and reverts her back into clay. That might have been it but the demon Etrigan’s old foe Klarion, the Witchboy, mischievously sends Diana’s soul into Hell instead of the Greek afterlife. She returns for the big finish … which wasn’t so big.

I’ve complained that some stretches of Perez’ run get awfully talky, and the climax was very much so. There’s been so much going on, and much that isn’t clear so great honking swaths of War of the Gods #4 are devoted to explaining what exactly was going on, the secret history of Black Adam’s Egyptian pantheon-powers, why Solomon is one of the Shazam powers alongside Greek and Roman deities and more. It’s not much of a climax, and it’s not material we had to have (would anyone have thrown the book away and complained if we didn’t have Solomon explained?).

Perez’ final issue of WW follows. Appropriately the theme is moving on: Steve proposes to Etta, Nessie graduates, Hippolyta tells her daughter that she needs to go off and do her superhero thing and leave the Amazons to work out their own arrangements with the rest of the world and the Myndi Mayer Foundation, which in the DC Universe handles licensing for the Wonder Woman comic, gets a letter from George Perez saying it’s time for him to move on too.

Next up: The very different William Messner-Loebes run. We’ll see if it’s as much fun as I remember it.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Jill Thompson, everything else by Perez. All rights remain to current holders.

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True to the character

I’ve seen countless stories where characters get reinvented, sometimes radically. Holmes in the far future. Holmes on Mars. Black Holmes. Gay Holmes. Female Holmes. Countless versions of the Arthurian legends that go where Thomas Malory would never have thought of going (e.g., Merlin or Tears to Tiara). I’ve written Conan wooing Elizabeth Bennett in a Pride and Prejudice riff. But still, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes a reboot or reinterpretation stretches a character beyond what works.

Three Y/A and intermediate graphic novels I read recently reminded me of this. They all try for new approaches, tailored for the age range, to various DC characters; two of them worked for me, one didn’t (I will make the obvious point that I am not the target audience for any of them) and I thought it might be interesting to right about why.

The one that didn’t was TEEN TITANS: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo (cover by Picolo). Raven Roth is in the middle of a heated, ominous discussion with her mom during a cross country trip when there’s an accident that kills her mother and leaves Raven with amnesia. While a friend of her mom’s takes Raven in, the death and the loss of her memory leaves her feeling pretty miserable. Plus, she’s in high school, which is more misery. Plus these weird things happen around her as if she was able to curse the school bullies or something — that can’t be true, right? By the end of the story, Raven’s learned she’s a half-demon, child of Trigon, escaped his grasp for now and set off on new adventures (this is the first graphic novel in a new Teen Titans line).

Don’t get me wrong, the story is perfectly competent, it’s just that it’s perfectly generic. I don’t expect a project like this to hark back to the 1980s Wolfman/Perez version of Raven, but if they’d made her Zatanna or Jean Grey the story would hardly have had to change. There’s nothing that makes me think “Raven,” not even the tart-tongued, short-tempered Raven of Teen Titans Go (which is not faithful to Wolfman/Perez either, but it works).

By contrast, DIANA, PRINCESS OF THE AMAZONS by Shannon and Dean Hale and Victoria Ying feels very Wonder Woman. Diana’s a pre-teen in this story, the only child on all Themiscyra. When she was the first baby, everyone made a great fuss about her, but now she’s older, everyone including her mom takes her for granted, and she has nobody her own age to play with.

Diana’s solution? Make a girl of clay and try to wish it to life the way Hippolyta did Diana. To her surprise it works, and she now has a new friend, Mona. Only Mona’s ideas about having fun are decidedly mischievous — and wouldn’t it be a wonderful bit of mischief if they opened that Doom’s Doorway the Amazons are supposed to keep closed forever? This is a different take on the Amazing Amazon’s childhood than I’ve seen before, but it fits Wonder Woman perfectly.

Last of the three is ZATANNA & THE HOUSE OF SECRETS by Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani (cover by Yoshitani). Here Zatanna is thirteen, living with her stage magician father ever since Mom died. She’s a bit of an outcast at school, not quite sure where she fits in, but it doesn’t dampen her ebullient spirit too much. But then her dad disappears, after warning her to take good care of his pet rabbit, Pocus. Zatanna finds evidence her Mom is really alive. And then a creepy kid named Klarion and his mom steal a key chain from around Pocus’ neck and proclaim themselves the new owners of Zatara’s House of Secrets, the supernatural template on which all houses are built. Can Zatanna regain control? What’s going on with Mom? Just how many doors are there in the house, anyway?

This is as radical a reworking of Zatanna’s story as Raven but it feels like a recognizable version of the character I know. It’s also not at all generic — it takes the premise and does fun stuff with it (weird house with infinite doors is a great premise).

None of that translates into any insights I can use in my own writing, but analyzing other people’s writing is fun even so.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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