Category Archives: Wonder Woman

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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Starts in tedium, moves into action, ends in confusion: The Wonder Woman reboot, year four.

The third year of the George Perez Wonder Woman, as I blogged about previously, was much better than I remembered it. Year four, however — issues #36 through 48 — was much inferior. Chris Marrinan’s interior art doesn’t work for me (Jill Thompson, who took over penciling by year’s end, did much better) and the stories are a mixed bag. The first story arc, by Perez, Mindy Newell and Marrinan, is every bit as tedious a slog as I remembered it.

The story involves a group of philosophers, thinkers and religious leaders visiting Themyscira to meet the Amazons and learn about their ways. It’s a tense moment for the Amazons, as some of the visitors are men; some of the visitors are disapproving too. It’s a perfect opportunity for Eris, the Goddess of Strife, to spread her malevolence among the guests and hosts alike. Her accursed apples poison minds; some individuals are completely replaced by magical clones. With some help from Lois Lane, Diana eventually saves the day.

That’s a story that could have worked but it bogs down in endless talk (I think it’s the main reason I remember Perez’ run as being talkier than it is). We get far more detail on the visitors’ backstory than we need. Lots of discussion about faith, and how Amazon society runs (including that some are lesbians while others practice celibacy or “the way of Narcissus” — Perez didn’t think he could get away with openly saying they masturbate). Some of it is just dull, while the rest is dull because it’s such a huge mass of static discussion and conversation, issue after issue, with hints of something sinister going on.

Things pick up when the Silver Swan returns following Eris’ defeat. Her abusive, manipulative husband has gaslighted her into even greater hatred of the Amazing Amazon; the Swan will prove to the world that Wonder Woman is a terrible image of womanhood, a standard no ordinary human being can hope to achieve! Can Wonder Woman defeat her foe? Can the Swan’s former pen-pal restore her sanity?It’s a good, action-packed arc which doesn’t stint on the character side of things. As witness Silver Swan does break free of her hubby’s control and start to rebuild her life. She even succeeds — when Phil Jimenez brought the Silver Swan back, she had a new identity, so presumably this incarnation turned out okay.

Next comes a one-shot story hinting at ties between Pandora and Wonder Woman, which I think pay off later in the War of the Gods crossover event. Then comes a more effective than expected story in which one of Vanessa Kapetelis’ friends commits suicide. Nessie has to deal with it and so does everyone around her. The non-linear story got me lost in spots, but overall it worked.

The third arc is intriguing but also confusing. In the pre-Crisis Wonder Woman history, Wonder Girl was an orphan Wonder Woman rescued and brought to Paradise Island where she trained as an Amazon and took the name Donna Troy. In the reboot era, Wonder Girl was around as a Teen Titan years before Wonder Woman appeared; a retcon eventually explained that she was an orphan trained by the Greek Titans as a gift to Earth, a champion wielding their powers. The similarity of the names, IIRC, was just a coincidence. In Wonder Woman #47-8, they finally meet.

The story involves some leftover “bestiamorphs,” the monstrous creations of Circe, and a cabal of rat creatures created by alien DNA that the Titans (the former Teen ones, not the Greeks) once battled. And mysterious dreams in which Donna sees through Diana’s eyes and vice versa. It turns out it’s all a scheme by Circe, who was behind the ET rat creatures as well as her bestiamorphs. Why? No clue. I’m not sure we ever learned (time will tell). It’s fun seeing Donna and Diana meet, but at the same time it’s a little unsatisfying. Given all the history they used to have together and no longer did, I suspect that was inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Farewell Mr. Sekowsky: Wonder Woman #194-6

Mike Sekowsky’s career is a mystery to me, which online research has so far failed to solve. After years as a penciller, he starts writing multiple books at the end of the Silver Age, not just Wonder Woman but Supergirl, Metal Men and the unsuccessful Showcase tryout series Jason’s Quest and Manhunter 2070. Then in 1971, he writes Wonder Woman #196 and after that he’s an artist the rest of his career. I’ve tried researching him online but the reason for this sudden swerve into writing has so far eluded me. That said …

Wonder Woman #194, “The Prisoner,” has Diana vacationing in Europe, sans I Ching, in a small kingdom where everyone’s treating her like royalty — except some goons who make the mistake of trying to kidnap her. It turns out it’s because she looks exactly like Princess Fabiola. Which inevitably means that the princess gets captured and, just like the classic Prisoner of Zenda, Diana has to replace her or the next in line to the throne will use Fabiola’s disappearance as an excuse to seize power. This is really awkward as the princess is getting married tomorrow, but of course Diana sees it through. It’s a departure from the usual spy thriller/neighborhood hero style of this era, but it works.

#195, “The House That Wasn’t,” is another departure. It’s a snowy winter night when Diana and I Ching stop to help some stranded motorists. Unfortunately they’re actually escaped convicts who force our heroes to walk along with them (though if it wasn’t necessary for the plot, either I Ching or Diana could have taken them down). They end up in a small inn along with a writer and a guy who appears to be an embezzler fleeing with his loot, which attracts the convicts. The smiling owner and her son are friendly enough, but I Ching senses Evil and Diana feels something wrong too. One of the cons murders the embezzler, but it turns out he’s just a man running away from his marriage — the briefcase he carries holds travel brochures for the trip he’d hoped to take. But then something kills the convict …

It turns out the owner and her son are ghosts, killing travelers in death as they did in life; the more they kill, the more frequently they can materialize. Despite their ghostly powers, the owner’s son makes the mistake of under-estimating Diana; that and I Ching’s occult knowledge lead to their destruction.

For Sekowsky’s last story, “Target for Today,” we return to espionage and intrigue. A dying military intelligence agent collapses in the room, begging I Ching to get a message to the man’s employer, Gen. Stuart. I Ching knows the general, having worked for him too — which seems odd, as we know I Ching was a monk who left his contemplative life when Dr. Cyber wiped out the monastery. Then again, we don’t know what he was doing before he entered the monastery, so why not?

The message involves the ambassador from Koronia being the target of an assassination plot. While I Ching goes to the general, Diana bodyguards the handsome ambassador, saving him from a gunman and a glass of poisoned champagne. When Gen. Stuart informs Diana that her Army intelligence discharge papers include terms allowing him to reactivate her, she’s not happy, but as she’s protecting him anyway …

After another assassination attempt, the ambassador finally gets to meet President Nixon — but at the last second, Diana realizes he’s an imposter: his real mission is to kill the president, blowing himself up in the process. With no proof he was a ringer, the government will be thrown out of power and the bad guys will take over.

I’d have liked to see more of Sekowsky’s work, but it wasn’t to be. With the next issue Denny O’Neil returns, Don Heck replacing Sekowsky on the art (followed by Dick Giordano the rest of this run). It wasn’t a change for the better.#SFWApro. All covers by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holders.

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The Diana Prince Years: Wonder Woman vs. tyranny and tragedy

Welcome back to my on-going look at the white pantsuit era of late Silver Age Wonder Woman. Following Diana’s trip to China, Sekowsky’s last seven issues were all over the map: horror, sword-and-sandal adventure, a Prisoner of Zenda knockoff as well as stories in the styles he’d already established, with Diana defending her neighborhood and dealing with international intrigue. If Sekowsky wanted to show the series could do more than just spy stuff, he succeeded.

Detour in Wonder Woman#190 launches a three issue sword-and-sandal tale, though #191 was actually a reprint with a few new pages added as a framing sequence (Diana’s companion asks who she is and how she came to be, so she recaps the transition from Amazon to Ordinary Woman). Diana goes to visit Paradise Island in its otherworldly home again, but a dimensional storm blows her and her guide Leda off-course, landing them in the world of Chalandor. The local queen’s forces capture Diana for the arena — she doesn’t go down easily, of course — and she ends up thrown in a dungeon with the barbarian prince Ranagor. Diana, however, has some of the spy gadgets she acquired during one of her previous adventures and busts her chains using a button that conceals a powerful acid. She and Ranagor escape … but their getaway path just leads the to the arena. The queen unleashes her nastiest beast, the reptilian gnarth, but Diana finds a way to beat it, then she and Ranagor bust out.

The duo find Ranagor’s father’s army, which lays siege to the queen’s Castle Skull. It goes badly for the besiegers until Diana mixes up some gunpowder to make small rockets and even then the fortress is able to hold out. After a duel with the queen fails to resolve things (the queen cuts and runs rather than admit defeat), Diana hits on the idea of blowing up the castle gates with a whole lot of gunpowder (shouldn’t that have been an obvious option?) and the fortress falls. Leda shows up with the Amazons, too late to help but they do provide Diana a way home. It’s a mixed bag. “Hey, I know how to make gunpowder” is a resolution I’ve seen in god knows how many adventure tales of heroes trapped in lost cities and the adventure as a whole is too stock to work for me. Sekowsky’s art, however, is great and the story shows off Diana’s formidable abilities at their best. This time out, she doesn’t need a man, not even I Ching, to do the heavy lifting.

Angela brings Diana back to her current neighborhood. When Tony Petrucci disappears, packing his gun, his Mom reveals to Diana that three years earlier Tony’s sister Angela went into a coma after someone spiked the food at a party with “funny seasoning.” Eddie Dean, Tony’s buddy from ‘nam was at the party and Tony accuses him of being the culprit, given his history of practical jokes that went wrong. Eddie denies it, pointing out he got sick from the stuff himself. Mrs. Petrucci explains that Tony has never given up searching for the person responsible; his increased frustration has led to him lashing out and beating up the local homeless population simply as a convenient target. Now he’s found a fresh lead and his mother is terrified, with good reason obviously, that he’s going to cross a line.

Diana investigates which immediately generates blowback. Hoods try to scare her off; when she slaps them around, they tell her a local lowlife named Runty Sneed hired them. Diana finds Runty dead, but pretends he gave her a dying message, figuring that will bring the bad guys after her again. Sure enough, there’s another hit, which gives her the clue she needs: Eddie’s behind it. She arrives at his upscale apartment to learn Tony’s already figured it out and has dragged Eddie up into the girders of the under-construction skyscraper next door.  She climbs up after them to find Eddie has a slight edge in the fight, but not once Diana shows up. After she decks Eddie, Tony wants to finish him off but Diana disables him temporarily, then the cops show.

It’s almost a great story of revenge and redemption, but not quite. For one thing the plot is confused: Eddie’s simultaneously a stupid practical joker — he tried to spice up the food with hot sauce, unaware the bottle he found was the maid’s container for cleaning fluid — and a drug dealer who thought getting the guests high would help him find a new batch of customers. That second reveal comes out of nowhere, and I imagine the autopsies would have established “drug overdose” was the cause of death three years earlier if that had been the case. Similarly, Tony pegged Eddie as the culprit because he’d pulled a joke like that once before and because Tony figured out Eddie’s lifestyle was financed by drugs. Its like Sekowsky considered two explanations and went with both of them.

And then at the end, we have a too-convenient happy wrap-up when it turns out Angela’s doctor has finally brought her out of the coma, and not only that he wants to marry her. Much as I enjoy a good eucatastrophe, this one was a little too miraculous.

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

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Chinese Wonder: Wonder Woman #187-9

When we last looked at Wonder Woman during her Diana Prince phase, she’d defended her neighborhood from Them and Morgana. For the next three issues, written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, she’s back in international super-spy mode as she and I Ching hunt Dr. Cyber in China.

We open #187, Earthquaker, with someone having gunned down I Ching (the story inside follows directly from the cover scene). I Ching gets a call for help from an old friend in Hong Kong and arranges passage with Patrick McGuire, a roguish Irishman he knows from back before he lost his sight. Diana, of course, insists on going along; on the flight they meet Lu Shan, an attractive Chinese woman. Mid-flight, stowaways with guns sneak out and try to steal something from Lu Shan, confident two women and a blind guy can’t be much of a challenge …

In the aftermath, Lu Shan identifies the men as members of the Tiger Tong, an adversary of her employer; I Ching identifies Lu Shan as his long-lost daughter by half of a broken talisman she carries (he has the other half). When they land in Hong Kong, the Tong strikes again so we get some lively action scenes as I Ching, Patrick and Diana deliver Lu Shan to her boss. Patrick gets lost along the way, but gets a dinner date from Diana.

Unfortunately Lu Shan’s boss is Dr. Cyber; the cargo Diana and I Ching helped Lu Shan deliver contains the power source for Cyber’s earthquake-generating technology, which will now level Hong Kong as a demonstration to the world. In return for her part in the scheme, Lu Shan gets her fondest wish: to kill I Ching in revenge for the murder of her mother! Despite which Cyber offers Diana a place in her organization.

At this point the Tiger Tong leader shows up to claim the Earthquaker. Cyber electrocutes him and his men with a booby-trap but one of them, dying, fires his gun at her, knocking over a brazier and pouring hot coals over Cyber’s face. Diana rushes I Ching to a hospital,, as Lu Shan does for her employer. Cyber directs her to activate the Earthquakers and also send hit squads after Diana and I Ching.

In the following issue, Lu Shan unleashes both earthquakes and kill squads; with I Ching in hospital, Diana fights back alongside Patrick and Hong Kong cop Inspector McLean. When she captures one of Cyber’s agents, the woman tells her how to deactivate the Earthquakers, but Diana deduces they’re booby trapped and forces the woman to show how to deactivate them.

At the last Earthquaker, however, Cyber’s waiting, filled with hated for Diana for scarring her — although as Diana points out, she didn’t have a thing to do with that Tiger Tong gunman. Cyber attempts to kill Diana but ends up falling into her own machinery, electrocuting herself and in the process destroying the Earthquaker. Cyber is dead, but Lu Shan swears to avenge her; in the end we learn she’s fled into “Red” China with I Ching, recovered from his injuries, on her tail.

Diana and Patrick disguise themselves in yellowface and slip into China. When they find I Ching, he’s been diverted from pursuit of his daughter by the need to help his friends in a small village: they will soon be shipped north to work in the mines unless they escape across the border. To that end, they’ve found an old riverboat with which to travel to Hong Kong, and enough weapons to hopefully hold back any Chinese forces that try to stop them. I Ching, Patrick and Diana travel along and help them accomplish the impossible. McLean informs Diana that for the unauthorized border crossing her passport is now revoked, but she won’t have to leave before he, and a slightly jealous Patrick, take her out to dinner.

The first two parts are a good spy/action thriller, the third more a war comic very much in the commie-smashing mode of the Cold War, plus some uncomfortable White Savior elements (just look at the cover). It’s noteworthy for being the first story in which Di wears the all-white pantsuit outfit most associated with this period, and for turning the formidable Cyber into a scarface disability cliche.

It should have been notable for launching Lu Shan as the book’s new villain, which clearly what Sekowsky intended. Too bad it didn’t happen before he left the book; we saw her one more time, as a kind of generic villain, and never learned anything about her blood feud with her father.

Oh, I almost forgot, the middle issue includes a backup story in which Diana roughs up a cross-dressing pickpocket, “Creepy Caniguh,” who’s a dead ringer for former WW-writer Robert Kanigher, whom Sekowsky loathed.

#SFWApro. All  images by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman and Superman: Power Couple

Reading DC’s omnibus of WW’s depowered period, it’s surprising to realize that Wonder Woman/Superman didn’t become a thing until she lost her powers. That’s weird, right? I mean the only reason for shipping them is that he’s the one man on Earth strong and awesome enough to match her, right? Yet outside of one scene in Wonder Woman #130, where she goes on a date with Superman to torment Steve, Superman/WW was never a thing until she lost her powers (yes, this is another spotlight on Diana Prince’s martial-arts phase, which now have their own tag “The Diana Prince Years”).

In Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #93, by former WW scribe Robert Kanigher, it turns out Lois has been nagged for years by fear about Wonder Woman winning Superman, but fortunately she’s now powerless so no problemo! Nevertheless, when Wonder Woman asks for help regaining her powers, Lois agrees (contrary to the new canon in Wonder Woman, everyone knows Diana Prince is the superhero formerly known as Wonder Woman). Before long, Diana and Superman are having a torrid affair then headed for the altar. Fortunately it turns out the villain is a Phantom Zone escapee out to kill Superman, and he’d decided not to go through with it anyway. It is not a good story.

There have been multiple stories between then and the New 52 (where Lois is back with Superman, in case you had any doubts), almost all either a trick of some sort: magical compulsion or a ruse they’re playing on the villain (Brian Cronin tracks them all here).  And I’m okay with that. As I said when I read Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple, they work great as buddies; I’d happily read a World’s Finest-type team up book where Superman and Wonder Woman worked together the way Superman and Batman have, but not as a couple.

For one thing, Superman/Lois has been a thing forever. He’s had other loves here and there, but there’s never really been a question of anyone besides Lois ending up with him. For another, the underlying idea annoys me. It implies that WW could never accept a man as ordinary as Steve; she’s got to be with the one man who’s even stronger than she is. From Diana’s perspective, I think that’s wrong; whatever her standards for lovers are (something that hasn’t been tackled enough in recent years), they’re probably better than “wow, what a big strong man!” (although of course Superman has many other excellent traits himself). Hell, the Golden-Age version flatly ruled out loving a man stronger than she was.

Like a lot of bad ideas in comics, this one seems much more heavily shipped by creators than fans, though I could be wrong.

And while we’re on the subject of team-ups, I’ll run over the others in Wonder Woman Diana Prince: Celebrating the ’60s Omnibus:

“The Widow Maker” in Brave and the Bold #87. When Bruce Wayne enters an auto race, someone tries sabotage and violence to get him out of it. Batman steps in for the too-injured-to-race Bruce; I Ching and Diana, attending the race, help stop the bad guys. It’s written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and fits with his work on the regular Wonder Woman at the time.

“Now Comes Zond” in Adventure #397, also written by Sekowsky. Supergirl tries to save a young woman from a cult led by the occultist Zond. When Zond kicks her butt with magic, she asks Supergirl to put her in touch with Morgana, the witch she battled in her neighborhood. Morgana is less than thrilled until she learns who they’re fighting: Zond was her mother Morgan leFay’s stableboy who stole some of Morgan’s scrolls and set himself up as a wizard. It doesn’t go well for Zond after that.

Oh, and as Supergirl’s costume was torn in her fight with Zond, Diana also takes her and Morgana to the boutique for some new outfits (Supergirl’s, as noted in the illustration, was designed by a reader, something comics have done for years).

Denny O’Neil turns in a forgettable story in World’s Finest #204, “Journey to the End of Hope.” A future computer asks Superman and Diana to change Earth’s doom by averting a man’s death at a protest. They save one man, but another dies — how can they know if they saved the right one? It’s clunky and the thugs they’re dealing with aren’t worth of Diana’s time, let alone the Man of Steel’s.

Last, from Brave and the Bold #105, we have “Play Now … Die Later.” A beautiful woman asks Bruce to ransom her father, a prominent pro-democracy activist in Latin America. Bruce thinks it’s a scam but as Batman discovers the man really has been kidnapped. Diana’s in this one, but she might as well have been Rene Montoya or Generic Female Cop for all the difference it makes.

Next up, Wonder Woman in China!

#SFWApro. Ilustrations by Sekowsky, Lois Lane cover by Curt Swan, all rights remain with current holders.

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