Category Archives: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman, a Psycho and a Cat: More Golden Age WW

So last week I finished WONDER WOMAN: The Golden Age Omnibus, Volume 1, which runs through Wonder Woman #7 and Comics Cavalcade #5, which came out in the winter of 1943. The first two-thirds gave us a formidable foe in Baroness Paula von Gunther, then redeemed her. The rest of the book (I finished my partial review of the omnibus with Wonder Woman #4) introduces two more great adversaries, Dr. Psycho and the Cheetah.

Dr. Psycho, whom I’ve blogged about before (I don’t have time to search for the link, alas) is a big-headed brilliant dwarf. His fiancee Marva admires his mind, but she’s not happy with his looks; a rival for her love frames Psycho for a theft, which leads to her testifying against Psycho in court and sending him to prison. Psycho becomes convinced she was part of the frame so she could get rid of him and marry his rival. From this it’s a short step to believing all women are evil and giving them rights is an attack on men. This being the 1940s Psycho can’t spread his philosophy on YouTube. Instead he uses a blend of science and occultism to channel ectoplasm through his wife, whom he’s hypnotically reduced to a slave medium. He summons up George Washington’s supposed ghost (an ectoplasmic construct) to warn that giving women jobs in factories will lead to disaster, then sets out to make his prediction come true.

For me Psycho’s an alarmingly contemporary character who could fit into the world of right-wing misogyny without missing a beat.

The original Cheetah, Priscilla Rich, was a frustrated young socialite who wants to be the center of attention, but never is. When she organizes a fundraiser in Wonder Woman #6 for the war effort, all the attention goes to Wonder Woman’s appearance, so Priscilla tries to sabotage her performance and kill her. When that fails, her frustrations burst out as a second personality, the predatory Cheetah. Dominating Priscilla’s good side, the Cheetah begins a campaign against Wonder Woman, culminating in stealing Hippolyta’s girdle and conquering Paradise Island.

Just as Marston reformed Paula (who makes several appearances in these issues), he doesn’t see a need to keep these new villains around. After two appearances in the Omnibus, Psycho made one more, then vanished. The Cheetah got four stories, at the end of which Priscilla finds a good outlet for her ego: she’s an amazing dancer, so Wonder Woman realizes channeling her energies that way will eventually banish the Cheetah. She does crop up in one later story, presumably before the cure is finished and in one story unpublished until 1969.

Both the Cheetah and Dr. Psycho would return in Robert Kanigher’s brief Golden Age reboot era, neither one used well. Roy Thomas’ brief run did a better job with Dr. Psycho, but Priscilla Rich went unused except for the Bronze Age WW II run. Gerry Conway later replaced Priscilla with her niece, brainwashed into an eco-terrorist. Then George Perez introduced the post-Crisis Cheetah who gets used a lot by other writers, but not effectively.

Wonder Woman #7 shows life in the year 3000, with Diana’s supporting cast around thanks to Etta developing a miracle “life vitamin” (it’s one of the few issues to show Etta’s got some brains). The female-dominated government of the future infuriates traditional wardheelers and political bosses — my god, politicians are expected to think of the country and not line their own pockets! Another story has an explicitly masculine political movement try to reclaim power from the women. It’s a reminder the issues we deal with today didn’t pop out of nowhere.

There’s also, of course, the standard elements of bondage, some minor villains (Dr. Poison returns) and Wonder Woman contributing to the war effort. All in all, pretty good. And the Omnibus makes H.G. Peters’ art look better than any of the other reprints I’ve seen.

#SFWApro. Covers by H.G. Peters (top) and JL Garcia-Lopez. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Milk, Amazons, videogames and more: books and graphic novels

DC/YOUNG ANIMAL: Milk Wars by multiple writers and artists was a crossover event between Gerard Way’s Young Animals imprint and the mainstream DC universe. A sinister corporation is purging Earth’s reality, turning Superman into a milkman, Batman into an affable preacher and Wonder Woman into Wonder Mom; can the Doom Patrol, Mother Panic and other imprint characters save the day? This was fun but as the one section drawing on a character I didn’t know fell flat (Shade, the Changing Woman, thanks for asking), I’m not sure it would work for anyone who doesn’t know them. And the meta-commentary about how corporate culture blands out original ideas didn’t entirely work — you can make the case for Wonder Woman, but Batman’s been getting darker and crazier year after year, not blander and nicer.

WONDER WOMAN: Amazons Attacked by James Robinson and Stephen Segovia was better than Robinson’s first WW TPB, but it’s still a long way from being enjoyable, let alone good. The plot has Jason and Diana adjusting to their new relationship while Grail and Darkseid make their bid to take over Earth. But Jason, Grail and the New 52 Darkseid are all dull and the story didn’t do anything to improve things.

LEVEL UP by Gene Luen Yuang and Thien Pham is an oddball story about a Chinese-American kid, Dennis, whose nose-to-the-grindstone approach to life (how else can he fulfill his parents’ dream of becoming a doctor) falters when he discovers video games; then four angels appear to keep nudging him along the path of absolute dedication. As one reader said, Yuang comes off as embracing the cliche that nobody who plays videogames can hold down a normal job; that aside, this isn’t entirely successful but I did find it entertaining.

THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY Second Edition by Mark S. Reinhart is a detailed look at the plots, production values and backstage conflicts of all the Batman movies from the 1943 Batman serial through Dark Knight Rises, as well as covering the comics, TV series, direct-to-video films and Bats’ appearances in Superman’s radio show (my friend Ross helped Reinhart with that). I skimmed a lot of this because I don’t need a detailed break down of the film plots, but Reinhart still does an excellent job detailing the creative decisions that blessed or broke the franchise (Tim Burton getting a free hand to make Batman Returns led to a much darker, grosser film than Warner Brothers wanted, for instance).

DELINQUENT DAUGHTERS: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 by Mary E. Odem covers some of the same material as Trials of Nina McCall and Bad Girls but does it better. At the end of the 19th century, women reformers began pushing to raise the age of consent, which was ten in most states, to sixteen or eighteen to protect girls from predators (one fear men expressed at the time was that underage girls would seduce them, then cry rape to blackmail them. The more things change …). Odem then looks at how this played out in the legal system (more inclined to slap guys on the wrist and punish the women), parents (many of whom saw the new laws as a way to restrain their daughters’ independence), across class lines (middle-class reformers equated working class working moms, let alone working daughters, with Bad Parenting) and the girls themselves (neither as innocent as the reformers thought or the cheap tramps the legal system imagined). A good book that catches the ambiguity and complexity of how this stuff worked out in practice.

#SFWApro. Cover by Pham, all rights remain with current holder.

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Golden Age Wonder Woman: The Redemption of Paula von Gunther

I’ve been gradually working through the first WONDER WOMAN: The Golden Age Omnibus (by William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peters), which starts with her debut in All-Star Comics #8, then movies into her lead series in Sensation Comics and then her own book (which was a big deal back then — nobody got a solo book if they weren’t A-listers). While I’m not finished the book yet — it’s large, and this is back when one issue was 64 pages — it occurred to me that I ought to give it some of the same in-depth treatment I give the Amazing Amazon’s later eras. So this post, I’ll work through the material in Wonder Woman #4, which culminates in the redemption of Nazi spymaster Paula von Gunther.

Not that the Baroness von Gunther is all that’s going in that era (1942-3). Just for openers we have Steve Trevor crashing on Paradise Island while pursing spies, Princess Diana saving his life, then winning the right to journey to Man’s World to fight for justice and women’s rights, and against the Axis. She buys the identity of nurse Diana Prince to watch over him (the real Diana needed money to leave her job and join her fiancee in South America), then transfers to military intelligence, working as secretary to Steve’s boss, Major Darnell. She also befriends Etta Candy, a Texas-born sorority girl at Holliday College. While Etta’s fat and a glutton for sweets, rereading these showed me she’s also remarkably formidable and capable in a fight.

Marston had an interest in bondage and submission, which led to some blatantly kinky stories (I cover one of them in my WTF Wonder Woman moments list at Screen Rant); slavery and dominance, practiced by a good mistress, would train the slaves into better behavior and more enlightened attitudes (this was Amazon style slavery, not American race-based slavery). The bad guys are also big on slavery; Paula keeps her own army of broken, dominated slave girls (spoiler: she’s not a good mistress).

Much like the Superman stories of this era, Marston constantly emphasizes how awesome Wonder Woman is, performing “the greatest feat of daring in human history” in one story, for instance. Most of the stories pitted her against standard Nazi spies, though (also like Superman) she tackled other issues. In one story, for instance, she helps salesclerks rally and protest against a bullying boss who underpays and abuses his workers. There’s always a feminist element to the stories; along with the sexy side of bondage, Marston, as biographer Jill LePore says, also invoked feminist images of women breaking free of their shackles.

Most of the villains are either Nazi spies or American crooks; the only costumed villain is Dr. Poison. However we do have Mars, god of war, and his three agents: Deception, Conquest and Greed. Wonder Woman #2 is a book-length battle against them, taking Diana to Mars (where Mars has his base). Having a book length arc was unusual for the day: issues of Superman and Batman had four unrelated stories.

And then there’s Baroness Paula von Gunther. First appearing in Sensation #4, identified visually by her long, gold cigarette holder (with a snake twined around it) she has the comic-book equivalent of movie actors’ screen presence: she stands out in a way none of the other Nazi spies of this era (or Dr. Poison, even if she did make it into the Wonder Woman movie) did. She’s cunning, ruthless, a scientific genius and maintains an Army of submissive slave girls; even after Diana imprisons her (more precisely one of several times), her slaves are willing to carry out her plans.

Then in #3, things change. Wonder Woman discovers Paula has been forced into Nazi spy work because her daughter, Gerta, is in the Reich’s clutches. Diana frees Gerta and Paula changes; in the final story, she risks her own life to save Wonder Woman, then submits to training on Paradise Island. This all comes a little out of the blue (it’s not like she showed any ambivalence in her previous appearances) but it worked. In #4, Paula completes her training and carries out several challenging, heroic tasks alongside Wonder Woman to prove herself an Amazon. She’d continue helping Wonder Woman through the Golden Age.

I’ll be back with the rest of the volume when I finish it in a few weeks.

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

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The adventures of Wonder Woman’s much less interesting brother (with spoilers)

James Robinson will always have a spot in the comics hall of fame for his work on Starman in the 1990s. His recent run on Wonder Woman (with various artists; Jenna Frison does the TPB cover) does not burnish his reputation. Admittedly I’d already read Tim Hanley at Straitened Circumstancesnegative reviews of this arc when I picked this up at the library, but even without that influence, the best this book would get was “meh.”

Following Darkseid’s defeat in The Darkseid War,  his part-Amazon daughter Grail has been killing Zeus’s children to restore him to full power. She opens with Hercules, now living quietly as a lumberjack in the northwest, then goes on to other progeny, mostly made up for this story, all butchered in one panel or off-panel. That puts not only Diana in her sights, but Diana’s twin brother Jason, given up by Hippolyta years ago. Hercules tells Diana about her brother and asks her to find him. They instantly connect but oh no, he’s secretly pissed about having been given up and he’s working with Grail! The two women battle, Jason decides he can’t let his sister die after all, Darkseid and Zeus show up and Darkseid kicks Zeus’s butt. But the JLA shows up and having lost to them before, he takes a powder.

As Hanley points out, Greg Rucka retconned out Diana’s early New 52 adventures, including the reveal about Zeus as her daddy, so why is she still a demigod? My guess would be because this arc came out after the movie, which made Diana Zeus’s daughter, but I don’t know for a fact. I also wonder if the reason we got this plotline (which runs up through #50 I believe) is because Jason was the brainchild of DC big dog Geoff Johns so it just had to be worked into WW’s story (I’d have sooner see them use Nubia or make up a new twin sister)

As Hanley also points out, this arc has remarkably little of Wonder Woman herself. One issue is devoted to Grail’s backstory. Another does the same to Jason. Although Starman did a lot of flashback issues and did them well, they focused primarily on Starman (several different bearers of the name) and the Shade (one of the more memorable supporting characters). Here we’re focused on two guest stars, and not terribly interesting ones. I don’t find Jason as awful as some people do, but he’s not a memorable character and neither is Grail.

Robinson does show us a dynamic, formidable Wonder Woman, but he doesn’t show us her enough. The character bits among the supporting cast are good, but they’re just supporting cast. And the story’s just dull. It might have been fun to see Zeus’s diverse kids, but killing dozens of people off camera is par for the course for a villain these days. There’s no real drama between Jason and Diana. And Darkseid might as well be Mongul or Thanos or any other space conqueror; there’s nothing to make me care that he’s the adversary.

Thank you Durham Library for saving me from having to buy this.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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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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Disappointing fantasies with female protagonists

Laini Taylor’s writing style on her Y/A DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE is really clunky (too much head-hopping, for instance) but it got me interested in the early chapters for the sheer amount of weird stuff, such as a nonhuman sorcerer collecting necklaces of teeth, a stalking angel and a teleporting blue-haired girl living in Prague. It got less imaginative as it went along, and switching to another POV character, Madrigal, for several chapters didn’t work at all for me. But the weird bits were memorably weird.

ROOK by Sharon Cameron is set in a post-apocalyptic world that happens to resemble France and England during the Reign of Terror (which doesn’t really make sense, but I’m willing to grant the premise), with the mysterious Red Rook — AKA impoverished English noblewoman Sophia — rescuing prisoners sentenced to die under “the Razor” (Cameron acknowledges the Scarlet Pimpernel influence). This starts off well, but runs too long to keep up the energy. A bigger problem is that while Sophia starts off daring and swashbuckling, once her fiancé gets involved Cameron gives him the leadership role and reduces Sophia to sidekick (as this is part romance, I wonder if Cameron was trying to create a romantic figure and just went over the top). Disappointing

WONDER WOMAN: Heart of the Amazon by Shea Fontana (and other writers and artists) suffers from some really poor art that doesn’t work at all (maybe a lighter, sweeter story). The story is stretched out too far, but the scheme to use Wonder Woman’s blood for sinister purposes isn’t bad, and the various writers play up her compassion, which the New 52 tends to forget about. Not a winner, but far from the worst WW I’ve read.

DEPT H. by Matt Kindt has a great concept — female protagonist investigating a murder at a deep-sea lab — but it really didn’t work for me. Too much time spent fleshing out the protagonist and establishing the set-up rather than getting going. It would work as the first couple of chapters in a mystery novel, but not as a standalone.

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Wonder Woman: Goodbye Gerry Conway

Gerry Conway’s contribution to the Bronze Age Wonder Woman was bigger than I remembered. First he wrote around ten issues for her World War Two retcon phase. After he returned to the book with #259, he stuck with it until #285. That’s a welcome break from the constant turnover. Equally important, he soft-rebooted Diana (whether it was Conway or editorial’s call, I know not) back to the classic set-up of Diana Prince and Steve Trevor working for Army intelligence. After the space-shuttle period and then the return to the UN failed, this soft reboot took, lasting after Conway — until the George Perez hard reboot of the mid-1980s wiped everything away, in fact.

After Diana takes Steve back to the United States, she hacks the military computers to create a false identity for herself as Diana Prince. In addition to working for Steve, she makes a friend, and eventual roommate of Lt. Etta Candy. Etta had been WW’s constant sidekick in the Golden Age, a plump sorority girl with a taste for adventure. The Wonder Woman TV show and therefore the WW II-era comics had rebooted Etta into one of Diana and Steve’s colleagues; Conway now did that for the present-day series. While Etta would stay military after the Perez reboot, Wonder Woman: Earth One went back to sorority sister; Legend of Wonder Woman had her start in a sorority, then enlist with Diana.

Conway’s take on Steve reminds me of the brief Steve Howard period in which Steve struggled to prove he could stand on his own. Here, though, it worked. Steve is initially embarrassed by Diana constantly rescuing him, but by the end of the run, he’s come to accept that’s his problem to deal with, not hers. Their relationship really feels good.

General Darnell, last seen in the late 1960s, is less successful. In the Golden Age he’d shown some interest in Lt. Prince; the reboot version is quite aggressively interested, pushing for dates, not wanting to take no. Given that she’s under his command this comes off as harassment (it’s also a major violation of military rules). Conway’s Diana, though, just roles her eyes (Roy Thomas would make Darnell much creepier a few issues down the road).

So that’s the cast, how about the stories? Conway’s first story after the reboot pits Wonder Woman against her old foe Angle Man. The next arc is a good one pitting WW against Kobra, one of DC’s few free-floating villains (i.e, not attached to any particular hero) of the Bronze Age. This also gave us a new version of the Cheetah, one of Diana’s top Golden Age foes. This one was the niece of the original, brainwashed by Kobra into an ecoterrorist as part of his scheme to destabilize the world economy. The story also added a recurring support cast member, Mother Juju, an old voodoo priestess living in DC.

Juju is stock (almost a literal magic Negro) but she plays a large role in the next arc, involving Jack Kirby’s character Etrigan the Demon; his creepy enemy Klarion the Witch Boy; and a disability stereotype, a paraplegic who’ll do anything to regain the use of his legs. It’s a middling story, but Conway’s Etrigan shows flashes of the more vicious version who’d become standard a few years later. After Etrigan saves Diana and Etta, for instance, Steve offers to shake his hand; he sneers and mocks Steve’s show of politeness.

The final arc pits Diana against a depressingly generic Chinese warlord, the Red Dragon. The story handles Steve/Diana well, but the Red Dragon is a mediocre knockoff of Marvel’s Mandarin (proving I was wrong to think Mandy was comics’ last Sinister Oriental). On the whole, Conway’s stories in this period aren’t as good as his WW II ones, but they’re certainly enjoyable.

This period also added Huntress (the original version, the Earth-Two Batman’s daughter) as a backup feature. I’m not reviewing it here but that’s no reflection on it.

After a couple of guest writers, Roy Thomas took over scripting through 300. Which will be a good point for my next post on this reread. Until then…

#SFWApro. Art by Ross Andru, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman, a Wonder Dog, Lucifer, Deadpool and More: Graphic novel reviews

As last weekend’s activity didn’t give me much in the way of movie-viewing time, let’s review some comic-book TPBs instead:

Tired though I am of retelling Wonder Woman’s origin, Renae de Liz’s THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN: Origins makes it work. This has a mix of classic elements (Steve, Etta, WW II setting) with some of the more recent ones (Diana’s awkwardness adapting to man’s world, sinister evil lurking under Themyscira’s surface) and pulls it all together quite well. I really liked little details such as Diana catching a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and being horrified at the portrayal of Hippolyta (“This is how the world remembers my mother?”). Alas, the writer/artist had a falling-out with DC so we won’t be getting any more.

DUNCAN THE WONDER DOG by Adam Hines has lots of glowing reviews, but I must confess I couldn’t finish it. Part of the problem is that while the third I managed to get through has many great scenes, they’re outnumbered by the boring ones. There’s also the mechanical problem that Hines uses really, really small lettering in the word balloons and it was an effort to read. I’d say what it’s about, but frankly I don’t have the slightest idea how the different scenes fit together.

Mike Carey’s LUCIFER: Book One was another disappointment. It’s not that it’s bad, and if I’d never read anything from Vertigo before, I’d probably be blown away by this story of Lucifer’s adventures in Hell, Earth and other realms. But I have read it, and it reads like what Sandman, Hellblazer and Swamp Thing were already doing but with less spark. It doesn’t help that Lucifer seems to have the same personality as John Constantine. On the plus side, that’s a lot of subsequent volumes I won’t have to read!

DEADPOOL VS. THANOS by Tim Seeley and Elmo Bondoc was one I read as prep for my Thanos team-up Screen Rant list. Thanos and Deadpool are both in love with Death (Thanos is closer to an obsessive stalker), so when she disappears and people everywhere stop dying they reluctantly join forces to find out whodunnit? I lost interest in Thanos a long time ago, and Deadpool I can only talk in small doses. That said, this series wasn’t too bad, though I doubt I’d have bothered without the Screen Rant incentive.

NIGHTWING: Blockbuster by Seeley (again) and multiple illustrators reintroduces crime boss Roland Desmond, AKA Blockbuster, to the New 52, Nightwing reuniting with Huntress to stop some Spyral agents gone bad and Dick’s love life once again going south. Seeley’s work on the series has gone wildly up and down (see this review, and this one) but this one’s on the up side. However while I liked Dick’s conversation with girlfriend Shane about how he’s rejected Batman’s path of revenge, his argument she’s still mired in angry doesn’t convince (it’s certainlly not how she comes across). Overall, good.

GREEN ARROW has had similar highs and lows under Benjamin Percy’s writing, but not as high. The Rise of Star City should have been way more of a win, pitting Ollie Queen against an arrogant capitalist/objectivist who’s taken over Seattle and renamed it Star City, in line with a mystic secret discovered by Oliver’s ancestor (I’m curious what Seattle-ites make of this — it’s the kind of history usually attached to Gotham or Opal City, not a real place). Unfortunately it never catches fire and there’s way too much effort to make this look closer to the TV show (like the big reveal of the Ninth Circle’s leader). Ultimately, thumbs down.

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Wonder Woman: The First Decade

Unsurprisingly Ms. magazine’s staff were big fans of Wonder Woman. Hence this 1972 Wonder Woman anthology being identified on the inside as a “Ms. Book,” and opening with an essay from Gloria Steinem (one of the better known feminists of the Bronze Age) discussing her own love for the book and the presence of female role models other than The Girlfriend (not just WW but Queen Hippolyta and the other Amazons). There’s also a good essay by Phyllis Chesler on the history of the Amazon legend.

Just to put this in perspective, in the early Bronze Age there were few resources for reading Golden Age stories. No TPB archives. No digital collections. Either you found a comic shop that had Golden Age material for sale and ponied up, or you read whatever reprints DC occasionally offered (the same is true of Marvel, but as their glory days were the Silver Age, that was most of their reprints until the 21st century). So that made this collection that much more interesting.

After the first couple of stories introducing the Amazons and bringing Wonder Woman to America (which I already have reprints of), the book breaks down into several categories:

Sisterhood. Stories of the Amazing Amazon empowering women: defeating Dr. Psycho’s misogynist propaganda, helping his wife when she’s enmeshed in another bad guy’s schemes. And rebutting the claims of sexists that women have no place outside the home.

Politics. As John Trumbull recently pointed out at Atomic Junkshop, comics have always had a political element. The first story in this section, for instance, has an American town threatened by post-WW II homegrown fascists. The next two stories are much weaker and The Five Tasks of Thomas Tighe seems it would fit better under Sisterhood (to win needed funds for their college, Etta Candy and her sorority sisters have to accomplish a misogynist’s five impossible missions).

Romance. Here it’s two out of three. The first story involves a crime ring giving Steve superpowers in the belief he’ll overawe Wonder Woman, marry her and turn her into an ordinary housewife. Diana, however, decides she can’t accept a man who’s stronger than she is, so Steve gives up his new powers on the spot. The next story is a more conventional romantic rivalry and the last one (by Robert Kanigher) is just sexist (Diana falls for a disguised bad guy, Steve ends up saving her). Of course, as Marston biographer Jill Lepore has pointed out, a lot of the non-Marston stories were more sexist, so it’s a fair representation of the era.

Overall, though, it’s a good collection, worth reading if you like this era of the Amazing Amazon — though now you can find most of these stories in several more recent collections from DC.

WW image by Harry G. Peters, all rights to cover remain with current holder. #SFWApro

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Wonder women, national heroes and an anything box: this week’s reading

WONDER WOMAN: Godwatch is the best of Greg Rucka’s Rebirth Wonder Woman run (with various artists in this TPB) because it breaks new ground rather than retconning out the New 52. This story shows Rucka’s run from the viewpoint of villain Veronica Cale and her desperate attempts to save her daughter from Ares’ sons Phobos and Deimos. It’s still a disappointing run, but this volume was way more enjoyable.

MONSTRESS: Awakening and MONSTRESS: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda are fantasy graphic novels set in a world of mages, mortals and anthropomorphic animals pulling itself together after a cataclysmic war. Maika Halfwolf, the protagonist, becomes the target of everyone because of her legendary mother’s heroism and the magic that has placed some sort of monster inside her. The first volume was beautiful to look at, but it didn’t hook me, simply because I couldn’t tell the various factions (Dawn Court, Cumaea, Arcanics) apart even though the creators provide a score card. Vol. 2, though, held my attention much better as it has a simpler plot, involving Maika’s quest aboard a pirate ship for information about her curse. I look forward to Vol. 3.

SUPERGIRL: Escape From the Phantom Zone by Steve Orlando and Brian Ching was a big improvement on the previous volume, if only because it’s not so obviously tied to the TV show. With Batgirl’s help, Supergirl breaks into the Phantom Zone to rescue one of the prisoners, but of course things don’t go smoothly … While the A plot was readable, I don’t see the point in using a new version of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ arch foes, the Fatal Five, as Supergirl’s adversary — or does that mean the Legion will show up just as they’ve done in the CW Supergirl this season?

CAPTAIN BRITAIN: The Siege of Camelot by multiple artists and writers goes in the opposite direction, dropping in quality from the stories in Birth of a Legend. The last installments of Cap’s original strip are written by Stan Lee’s less talented brother Larry Lieber and only occasionally get good. Then Chris Claremont scripts a fun crossover with Spider-Man, then the book switches to the Black Knight’s backup strip in the UK Hulk Weekly. This introduced Captain Britain as a supporting character, but never rises much above stock sword-and-sorcery B-list stuff. Too bad the book cuts off before Alan Moore took over Britain’s adventures.

BLACK PANTHER: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Three by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Steelfreeze wraps up Coates arc as T’Challa finally brings piece to the war-ravaged Wakanda. Coates writes politics and political debate better than a lot of comics writers, but the big dramatic ending of Wakanda becoming a constitutional monarchy (I think) lacks punch — it’s not like overthrowing Dr. Doom, after all. Better than a lot of non-comics guest writers manage but not a winner.

THE ANYTHING BOX by Zenna Henderson is one of her two collections build primarily around the premise “what if the world was as irrational and impossible as children think?” A TK boy picks the wrong time to grow up. A teacher steals a child’s fantasy (“I have almost forgotten my glimpse of what your heart’s desire looks like when it’s built on someone else’s heartbreak.”). A five-year-old locks up a force of darkness in a rabbit’s burrow. Darker than I remember Henderson (which isn’t bad) but quite enthralling. Cover by Hector Garrido, all rights remain with current holder.

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