Category Archives: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman lives again: the George Perez reboot

After a run of more than 20 years and 300 issues, Wonder Woman wrapped up with #329 and her marriage to Steve Trevor. Following the Legend of Wonder Woman miniseries, the Amazing Amazon started over from scratch in George Perez’s Wonder Woman #1. The first six issues were here origin arc partly written by Greg Potter, then Len Wein, but the plotting and the reboot concepts were all Perez.The first issue retells Marston’s origin of the Amazons, with some interesting additions. Rather than just magical creations of Aphrodite, they’re created to reincarnate the souls of the countless women who’ve died by the hands of men through the centuries, all preserved in Gaia’s magical womb. As in Marston, they become a force for good, get betrayed by Hercules (and fairly obviously raped), freed by the Olympian goddesses and sent to Themiscrya, where they must redeem their defeat by guarding Doom’s Doorway, a gateway into hell. It turns out that alone among the Amazons, Hippolyta originally died while in childbirth. She’s able to bring her daughter to life in a clay figure, the one and only child of the Amazons.

By the time Diana reaches adulthood, Ares is working to plunge the world into final conflict, whipping up his followers in the U.S. and USSR into a war fever. The Olympian goddesses order Hippolyta to select a champion to enter Man’s World and put a stop to this, and needless to say, it’s Diana. As she prepares to leave, Steve Trevor arrives, one of Ares’ acolytes scheming to destroy the Amazons and get rid of Trevor — an experienced combat veteran, but not a man who has any love for war — in one stroke. Thanks to Diana the plan fails; she takes Steve back to the U.S. landing in Boston (but unlike Marston, not out of love for him).

Unlike Marston’s Wonder Woman, Princess Diana is a fish out of water. She doesn’t speak English. Doesn’t understand our customs. Finds modern civilization a little intimidating. She turns for support to Julia Kapatelis, an archeologist with a specialty in ancient Greece. Together with Steve, Etta Candy and Julia, she has to stop Ares’ plans, but as he prepares to go nuclear, literally, will she be able to do it? Especially when his sons Deimos and Phobos set their creation, the monstrous Decay, loose on Boston?

I was totally blown away when I first read this (I know because I have a glowing letter in #7). Not just Perez’ art or the revision of the Amazons’ origins, but his older, more experienced Steve (“I’m not afraid of guns — I’m afraid of some of the idiots our military gives the guns to.”), his capable Etta (in the final conflict, she’s right in their fighting) and the gentle, insecure Diana. Perez doesn’t rush his story or squeeze in any excess fight scenes; it’s not until #4 that Diana goes mano-a-mano with anyone. It felt a little slower-paced on rereading, which is partly because I know what’s coming; Ares’ plans don’t provide as much suspense as first go-round.

And of course, the art is gorgeous. Ares has never looked more formidable.

Overall, though, it’s a solid launch for Diana’s rebooted series. There are two particular changes that I think worth discussing.

First, that the Amazons remain at an ancient Greek level of science and technology, in contrast to the relatively high-tech Marston Amazons. Marston’s Paradise Island had guns, medical laboratories and a plane for Wonder Woman to fly.  Perez’ Amazons have swords and spears (the gun used for Diana’s “bullets and bracelets challenge has a backstory Perez develops later) and healing poultices.

It’s not that this is bad in itself, but I do wonder about the Amazons staying on that island for more than two millennia and never evolving or changing at all. Greek culture, after all, valued science and the intellectual life (though not for women — Amazons being scholars and not just warriors is an idea I might play with some time) so why shouldn’t the Amazons have developed an advanced science of their own? Maybe a Grecian steampunk so it fits the aesthetic?

The second change is that in ruling out Steve as a lover for Diana, Perez never came up with an alternative. Wonder Woman, IIRC, didn’t get a date until the 21st century gave her a brief flirtation with the superhero Nemesis, then with Superman. Most recently she’s back with Steve (it’s also been established she had lovers on Themiscrya).

I wouldn’t want Diana defined by her love life. I’m pleased she didn’t leave Paradise Island out of love for Steve (Robert Kanigher’s Silver Age run also took Steve out of the decision). But just ignoring that side of her for years (as opposed to, say, declaring she’s asex or that her duties preclude it) feels odd in hindsight.

I’m not sure when the right pausing point is to do another Perez review. I guess you’ll find out when I do.

#SFWApro. Covers by Perez, all rights remain with current holders.

 

 

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Adding Some Arch-Foes: More Golden Age Wonder Woman

I’m halfway through the second Golden Age Wonder Woman Omnibus and so, as I did with V1, I’d provide a recap of the series so far. Actually multiple series, as the Amazing Amazon was also appearing in Sensation Comics and Comics Cavalcade.

The stuff I’ve read so far all falls in 1944, so unsurprisingly nothing much changes over the course of a year. Steve’s still heroic but needing Wonder Woman to bail him out. Diana Prince chides Steve for being more interested in the Amazon than her. Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls somehow get in on every adventure and kick butt. The stories by William Marston and HG Peter are fun, if you like the Golden Age style (not everyone does). There’s a little less bondage than earlier in the war, maybe.

The Wonder Woman issues still follow the style of having one common story throughout, which isn’t something Superman or Batman did in their adventures in this period. And they all added to the Amazon’s mythos and rogue’s gallery. #8 takes Wonder Woman and Steve to Atlantis, currently under the rule of the evil Queen Clea. Our heroes eventually place Octavia, daughter of the rightful queen, on the throne, but in an unusual twist, it turns out in a later story that this didn’t work. The Atlanteans aren’t happy so Wonder Woman convinces them to make their leader an elected position: if they don’t like Octavia, vote her out! It’s more sophisticated than the usual assumption that if you just put a good monarch in the leadership, things’ll work out.

#9 introduced us to one of Wonder Woman’s most successful adversaries from this era, Giganta. A gorilla transformed into a human by Holliday College’s Professor Zool, she battles WW as evolution runs wild around them. With various reboots (the most recent version can become an actual giant) she’s one of the few Golden Age villains to have even a semi-regular presence in the decades since.

#10 pits Wonder Woman against spies from Saturn plotting to conquer Earth. The plot fails but Wonder Woman convinces Saturn a trade treaty would work out well for them. The Saturnians would crop up in multiple Marston-written issues. For instance #11, in which Wonder Woman battles Hypnota, a stage magician who accomplishes her impossible feats by mass hypnosis, a brain operation having tapped the power to dominate others. She’s also using the power for multiple criminal purposes, such as breaking the Earth/Saturn treaty so that her sideline of selling slaves to Saturnians will become more profitable (the Saturnians are doing their best to suppress the illegal slave dealing). She spends most of the issue disguised as a man, periodically trading places with her enslaved twin sister.

Surprisingly for such a cunning, formidable foe, she only made one more appearance in the Golden Age, in #28, which gathered multiple arch-foes together. Then poof, no more until Phil Jimenez brought her back (or so I’ve read — I don’t remember it for sure myself) as “the Hypnotic Woman” about 20 years ago.

There are also some interesting single stories. The Amazon Bride shows that even Marston’s WW was capable of thinking fantasy thoughts about letting Steve be the boss. The Invasion of Paradise Island has men tromping around on the island with no consequences and a vast flock of Amazon children. They’ve actually shown kids on the island all the way back to WW #4, but where do they come from? As Paula von Gunther’s daughter Gerta is among them, perhaps they’re all refugee girls of some sort, adopted by the other Amazons?

Regrettably Marston didn’t have much longer before ill health forced him to step down. I’ll be seeing the beginning of the changeover later in this volume.

#SFWApro. Covers by H.G. Peter, all rights remain with current holder.

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“The Amazing Amazon as you’ve seen her before!”

That’s how Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek described their four-issue mini, The Legend of Wonder Woman which came out immediately following the end of WW’s series in 1986. Despite the “never” on the cover, this was a deliberate call back to the Golden Age Wonder Woman: her villains, the style of art (Robbins, who co-plotted, does a great H.G. Peters). And what Robbins describes as the key to her appeal to girls back then: “a superior female character who had … trips to fantastic lost kingdoms and meetings with beautiful (and often evil) queens and empresses.”

At the same time, it has a lot of the visuals associated with the modern Wonder Woman (i.e., the one who starred in the book from the Silver Age through 1986) such as her chest emblem being a modified WW rather than an American eagle.

As Busiek put it in one of the text pages, the post-Crisis universe erased both the Earth-One and Earth-Two Wonder Women from continuity, so they were free for those four issues to ignore the little details.

The story starts after Diana’s death in Crisis on Infinite Earths (following the original proposal to make her a statue; apparently turning her back into clay was a last-minute switch). With the Amazons dispirited, Hippolyta (the blonde Earth-One version) uses the time-scanning magic sphere to recall one of Wonder Woman’s adventures. Atomia, the tyrant of a subatomic universe, appears and attacks Paradise Island and the world with her nuclear based powers and warriors. The Amazons and Steve Trevor are kidnapped and turned into slaves in the process. Caught up in all this is Suzie, a pre-teen girl Wonder Woman wound up babysitting. Suzie is a restless, spoiled child who’s torn between Atomia, who lets her do whatever she wands and then some, and Wonder Woman. Ultimately, of course, she chooses the side of good (it’s nicer!) and helps WW and Steve win.

After telling the tale, Hippolyta discovers not only are the Amazons not inspired, they’re confused: there’s never been a child on Paradise Island. Athena? reveals she’s been holding off the reality-altering effects of the Crisis but now they’re sweeping in. The Amazons are erased, but Athena promises something awesome will rise …

I didn’t care much for the story when I first read it, but I liked it a lot more this time, possibly because I’ve grown fonder of the Golden Age Wonder Woman in the years since first reading. This may explain why I found myself thinking “for a Golden Age tribute, shouldn’t there be more bondage?” Though we did get the cover of #3. The tribute still didn’t match the level of the last few years of the regular comic, but I did enjoy it, and it does catch a lot of the Golden Age feel. Suzie was Busiek’s creation but became Robbins’ surrogate, the girl having the adventures with Princess Diana Robbins would have loved to experience at that age.

Despite DC playing up Jodi Picoult as one of the first women to write Wonder Woman, women have been scripting her since 1945: William Marston’s secretary Joye Murchison, Dani Thomas co-writing with her husband Roy and Mindi Newell write before Wonder Woman ended (I believe there may have been some other uncredited female writers over the years). That’s still a small list but “one of the few” would have been a more accurate phrasing.

Following the finish of Legends of Wonder Woman came the George Perez-helmed reboot. I’ll be back in a few weeks when I review the initial six-issue arc.

#SFWApro. Covers by Trina Robbins, all rights remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman: Earth-One, Earth-Two and After

Having wrapped up the adventures of Earth-One’s Wonder Woman last week I thought I’d take a blog post to detail the differences between the Wonder Women of DC’s Earth-One and Earth-Two. My apologies if it gets a bit nerdy.

When Wonder Woman debuted in Sensation Comics in 1942, there was no talk of parallel Earths; she was the one, the only Amazing Amazon. That continued to be the status quo even after Barry Allen discovers, in Flash #123, that the Golden Age Flash he’d read about as a kid really existed on a parallel earth. Flash #137, however, established that Earth-Two had a Wonder Woman, a member of the Justice Society separate from the one Barry worked with in the Justice League. She wouldn’t appear in action for another four years and only occasionally after that. Probably she looked redundant, being identical to Earth-One’s WW (Earth-Two’s Superman and Batman didn’t show up until the 1970s).

Where the Earth-One Flash and Green Lantern were separate people from their predecessors from the first, there was no clear sign when Wonder Woman stopped telling Earth-Two stories and switched to Earth-One. Mike’s Amazing World makes a good case it was 1958’s  Wonder Woman #98. Robert Kanigher retells Diana’s origin, but with several different details from the Golden Age version. Athena orders the Amazons to send a champion into Man’s World to fight injustice, rather than fight WW II; instead of Diana worrying her mother won’t let her go, she’s worried Hippolyta will show favoritism and pick her; and Steve only arrives after Diana’s won the contest and is about to leave for the U.S. It’s also the first with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito as the art team rather than WW co-creator H.G. Peters (is that what freed Kanigher up to change direction?).

After that it was Earth-One all the way until Wonder Woman switched to Earth-Two for its WW II retro adventures in the 1970s. Unlike the other Golden Age heroes, we still knew nothing of her life in the present; we knew Batman married Catwoman and Clark Kent married Lois but nothing of WW. That changed after Roy Thomas and Gene Colan took over the book. In #300 they revealed that Earth-Two’s Diana had married Steve Trevor and they had a daughter, Lyta Trevor, who’d inherited Mom’s special gifts, enhanced by Amazon training. We’d see more of Lyta and her mother in Infinity, Inc., a series about the children of the Justice Society; Lyta was a member of Infinity, under the code name Fury.

Thomas’s beloved Earth-Two history vanished, however, when Crisis on Infinite Earths erased both WW from existence. While Dr. Fate, the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern and other Golden Age heroes survived largely unscathed, Earth-Two characters too close to the modern versions did not — not only Wonder Woman but the Golden Age Superman, Batman, Green Arrow and Aquaman not only didn’t exist any more, they never had (this has soured Thomas on ever working with DC again).

That created a problem for Lyta. Thomas’ solution was to use one established Golden Age character, Quality Comics‘ Miss America and a new Golden Age hero, Fury, to fill the gap: Lyta was the first Fury’s daughter and Miss America (who took WW’s place in the JSA) became her adoptive mother after Fury I disappeared. However after Infinity Inc. wrapped up, Lyta got shitty treatment. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman killed her husband Hector off and made Lyta the mother of Daniel, Morpheus’ eventual replacement. After that she never showed up anywhere unless she was pregnant or comatose; Hector, by contrast, got to return and become Dr. Fate for a while.

And that was that.
#SFWApro. Covers by H.G. Peters and Gene Colan, all rights remain with current holders.

 

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Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story: Wonder Woman marries Steve Trevor!

In Wonder Woman #300, the Amazing Amazon almost married Steve Trevor. Twenty-nine issues later, they finally tied the knot, right before she died.

When Dan Mishkin took over as writer in 1983, the clock was ticking. DC was already working on the buildup to Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which both the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Wonder Woman would cease to exist, with a new George Perez-helmed reboot replacing them (I’ll get into the parallel-Earths aspect of WW in another post). I’m not sure if Mishkin knew Wonder Woman was living on borrowed time, but he certainly gave it his all. In his 25 issues, we got —

  • A new godly adversary, Tetzcatlipoca of the Aztecs.
  • The introduction of a tribe of Amazons living in Central America. That shocked me, as I didn’t remember any non-Paradise Island Amazons appearing before the Perez era.
  • Circe attempts to destroy Wonder Woman because of a prophecy (it’s not made clear but it appears to be Tetzcatlipoca tricked her into taking out Wonder Woman for him). Again, I didn’t remember Circe as a foe until after the Crisis.
  • New allies in the form of a gremlin (an ET techie race) and the Atomic Knight (a superhero based on the 1950s SF team the Atomic Knights). The Atomic Knight appears to die at the end of Mishkin’s run but he survived and showed up in Outsiders later.
  • Dr. Cyber returns for another battle with Wonder Woman.
  • Etta gets a boyfriend who’s convinced she’s Wonder Woman. When it turns out she isn’t, he likes her anyway. Before that, there’s a great issue involving Dr. Psycho, the Silver Swan and Etta briefly turning into Wonder Woman for almost-real.

And Diana and Steve finally learn that he’s the second Steve Trevor in her life. They don’t take Hippolyta hiding the truth about Steve and messing with their memories at all well. And Mishkin does a remarkable job working out the tangled history of Steve’s lives and deaths in an arc that involves the god Eros and fuses the memories of the first and second Steve together.

And then we got two much less interesting issues by Mindy Newell. Etta suddenly blows up at Diana (her roommates), and we get to meet several new characters who aren’t very interesting and take time away from Diana and Steve. There’s also a plotline on the Amazons rejecting Hippolyta’s rule. All of that might have paid off if Newell had more time to develop whatever her ideas were, but she started with four issues left to run. I do wonder if they hadn’t decided on the reboot yet; if she figured “screw it, I’ll just write this the way I want”; or if making it look like a new arc was starting was to make the big finish more of a twist.

And big it was. In Newell’s last issue, the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons attack Paradise Island while the rest of the world starts to fall apart too. It’s a lot livelier. Then came the big finish #329, by Gerry Conway.

And big it was. Hades, Ares and the Anti-Monitor launch an attack on Olympus. Wonder Woman arrives on Paradise Island, where her Mom has given up hope. Diana swings her around and unites the Amazons for a final battle to defend the gods. Steve insists on going along: after everything they’ve been through, he’s not letting his “angel” go now. With Persephone (by her alternative name of Kore) convincing Hades to switch sides and Steve freeing the gods from Ares’ prison, the good guys win, though with a nasty body count (not an issue when it’s all going to be wiped away, after all). But the Anti-Monitor is still out there, so Diana has to head off to the last issue of Crisis; before she goes, though, she and Steve ask Zeus to marry them (I’d forgotten that when I wrote about Diana’s lack of a love life).

It’s a cool ending, but an ending it was. In Crisis, the Anti-Monitor’s blast transforms Diana back into the clay that formed her. Then the reshuffling of the universe into the post-Crisis reality (sometimes referred to as “New Earth”) erased her existence and that of the Earth-Two Golden Age Wonder Woman (who lived, but vanished from the ken of mortals into Earth Two’s Olympus),  In the new timeline, Diana comes to America a decade or so after Superman launched the heroic age. Unlike Superman and Batman, whose books continued without a break, Wonder Woman’s title was off the stands for a year (I always thought that was a shame). Before the Perez version debuted, we got a miniseries, Legend of Wonder Woman, which will be my next reread.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Eduardo Barreta, bottom by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. All rights remain with current holders.

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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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