Category Archives: Wonder Woman

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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Wonder Woman goes home … and then home!

Returning again, to Wonder Woman’s late Silver Age depowered years, now written, drawn and edited by Mike Sekowsky … At the end of the initial arc, Diana, having been again betrayed by a man she’s attracted to, runs off sobbing into the London night. To her surprise an Amazon appears, garbed in armor, and telling her Paradise Island’s under attack; will Diana obey her mother’s command and return? As Diana’s trying to digest this, I Ching shows up (having tracked by the simple trick of asking people if they saw her running by) and insists on going with her.

I’m really curious why Sekowsky went this route for this two-part tale. As my friend Ross has observed, bringing the Amazons back seems to fly in the face of rebooting Diana into a mortal woman. I’ve read that getting rid of the Amazons was all O’Neil’s idea, though not with any quotes or links to that effect. So maybe that was it; maybe Sekowsky figured he could get the best of both worlds or throw some variety into the mix. Like the previous arc, though, it suffers from not wanting to acknowledge the book’s history: surely I Ching walking on Paradise Island, where men are forbidden, should be a bigger deal?

In any case, Diana arrives to find the island in ruins. It turns out Ares (accompanied by Deimos, Phobos and Eris years before George Perez used them) wants the secret of traveling between Earth and whatever realm the Amazons now live in. He will then invade Earth, drench it in blood and war and restore the worship of the Olympians, with himself as top dog. Hippolyta refuses her father — oh, didn’t I mention that? Yes, this mentions out of the blue that Ares is her father and Diana’s grandfather, which everyone treats as established canon.

The war has gone badly, and Eris has trapped Hippolyta in nightmares that will only end if she gives up the secret. Diana rallies the Amazons but it’s clear they have no chance. A chance remark by I Ching inspires Diana to travel to other worlds of myth, recruiting Roland, Siegfried, the Knights of the Round Table and other heroes of legend. They, however, are burned out on heroism and refuse. Brunhilde and her Valkyries sign up, however, and eventually this inspires the men to come along. Ares’ forces go down to defeat, but in retreat he tells Diana he’s proud of her. Which I like — the Golden Age Mars was too misogynist to ever acknowledge the Amazons’ prowess as warriors. It’s a good story overall, but this new genealogy is way weird, even given this is the Earth-One Mars and not the Golden Age version.

At the end of the story I Ching stays behind to study Amazon mysticism (again they seem remarkably chill with this) and Diana returns to her boutique where she finds a young girl, Cathy, hiding from Them! In the next issue we learn “them” are Moose Momma, Pinto and Top Hat, a trio who took in the teenage runaway, then took away her clothes and money, then forced her into slavery (wearing a dog collar). The BDSM/lesbian overtones aren’t at all subtle.

When the trio show up to reclaim Cathy Diana throws them out of the boutique. They retaliate with a campaign of harassment, slashing the dresses and later setting the store on fire. Finally they show up with some toughs in tow to reclaim Cathy and force Diana into a dog collar of her own. OMG, can a martial arts mistress and former Amazon defeat these three weirdoes? No worries, a local tough guy named Tony Petrucci shows up and intimidates the muscle, then Diana handles everything else and reunites Cathy with her family (they’re local, so she can still work at the store). “Them” turn out to be thieves as well so they go to jail and Diana gets a reward.

I really like the idea this and the next issue play with of Diana as a neighborhood protector: she’s not just helping fight evil in general she’s helping clean it out of her neighborhood (the Falcon does the same in Harlem, though that’s also tied up with his role as a black hero). But relying on a Tony to save her from three ordinary women and their muscle? That’s not just sexist, it’s ludicrous.

Which is a problem with the next issue, too. A friend of Cathy’s shows up with a bullfrog she claims is her boyfriend, transformed after he dabbled in black magic and summoned up Morgana, the daughter of Morgan le Fay. I Ching identifies her as more powerful than her momma and manic-depressive to boot (the story really didn’t need that element). Morgana proceeds to unleash chaos on the neighborhood, (beautifully visualized by Sekowsky) and shrugging off Diana’s attempts to stop her. Finally I Ching uses his magic (which is a new thing — up to that point he’s been mystical, but not magical) to block Morgana working magic on Diana’s turf. Diana thinks this will turn the tables but Morgana kicks her butt in hand-t0-hand combat too. However I Ching’s magic impresses her enough she takes a powder. The frog’s girlfriend restores him to normal with a kiss.

It’s a fun story, with Morgana functioning as a Mxyzptlk-like prankster. But it’s heavy on the sexism — if only Diana had listened to I Ching, this could have been wrapped up so much faster!

Next up, Wonder Woman and Superman finally go on a date, plus other team-ups.

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

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Exit the Amazon, enter I Ching: Wonder Woman’s depowered years begin

Following the one-shot story in Wonder Woman #178, Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky launched the New Wonder Woman with a four-issue arc running #179 -182. It was apparently Mike Sekowsky’s brainchild, according to this quote on Comic Book Herald: “What they were doing in Wonder Woman, I didn’t see how a kid, male or female, could relate to it. It was so far removed from their world. I felt girls might want to read something about a super-female in the real world, something very current. So I created a new book, new characters, everything, I did up some sketches and wrote out some ideas.” I’ve heard this referred to a new character that got folded into a WW reboot (that’s what the article at the link says) but it could just as easily refer to the reboot we got (so Comics Bulletin assumes, quoting Sekowsky’s wife as saying this was his favorite book to work on). Though I imagine O’Neil added his own ideas to the mix too.

In the first issue, Steve Trevor lets himself be framed as a traitor in the hopes he’ll be recruited by Dr. Cyber, a sinister schemer — reputedly half-man, half-machine we learn in a later story — running an international crime ring (surprisingly it’s one of the few organizations from the James Bond era that doesn’t get a name or an acronym). Diana doesn’t know the truth but she’s convinced Steve’s innocent. Before she can investigate, she’s summoned back to Paradise Island: the Amazons are leaving to recharge their mystic energies and Diana must either go with them or renounce her powers. Di, of course, chooses to stay and search for Steve. Now, however, she’s jobless with no income or home but she finds a small apartment with a retail space under it; perhaps she can settle in and open some sort of store?

Then out the window she sees some thugs attack an elderly Chinese dude who kicks their butt with martial arts, even though he’s blind. With his heightened mystical awareness, he knows Diana Prince is the hero formerly known as Wonder Woman and invites her to join his personal war against Cyber, explaining Steve is already in the fight. Diana undergoes intensive martial arts training under I Ching, then one night Steve, critically injured, crashes into the dojo. It turns out Cyber wasn’t fooled and Steve’s now in a coma. Hunting down the killers, Diana and I Ching pit their skills against a factory that turns out booby-trapped robot toys. They survive, of course, and continue the hunt with the aid of Tim Trench, a grizzled PI hunting Cyber for killing his partner, Archy Miles (a reference to Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s dead partner in The Maltese Falcon, that flew over my head when I first read it).

Steve wakes up out of coma just long enough for Cyber to shoot him dead (if I didn’t know he died for sure, I’d have assumed it was a ringer). Not to worry, Diana finds  the tough, confident Trench “strong, decisive … a man!” and wonders if he can make her forget Steve. All this against the backdrop of constant attacks by Cyber, escaping her undersea base — Cyber’s a woman — and a few more deadly booby-traps. 

Finally they track Cyber to a small skiing village where it turns out every single resident is Cyber’s agent.  It’s a nice twist, as is Trench proving a rat: he accepts a payoff in gems from Cyber to work for her but absconds with the jewels after selling out Diana and Ching. They win out anyway and track Cyber to London.

In the last installment, Sekowsky gets to write as well as draw the book. Diana and I Ching escape Cyber (the classic mistake of not putting a bullet through their heads) and get transport to London from aristocratic Reginald Hyde-White. Diana picks up some more mod fashion from London boutiques (no illustrations handy, alas), finds herself falling for Reggie, and once again discovers her man is a rat. Reggie’s been Cyber’s agent all along, but he really does care for Diana, so at the climax he saves her from Cyber. Diana, however, has her heartbroken; she decks Reggie, tells I Ching to shut up with his wise insights and runs off into the night, sobbing.

As I’ve said before, this would have worked pretty well as an all-new character. Diana’s a socialite or a librarian dating a guy in military intelligence, he turns traitors, she doesn’t believe it. Then I Ching shows her how to get justice for him. The ordinary woman plunges into a world of adventure and flourishes.

As a new version of Wonder Woman, it’s flawed, partly by the creators’ enthusiasm for Out With the Old as fast as possible. We never see Diana quit military intelligence; we never learn why or why she apparently has no friends to turn to or lean on. Or why she lost all her Amazon combat training along with her super-powers. Or why she doesn’t have an apartment or any savings to fall back on. Her decision to launch a fashion boutique (and if she’s broke, how does she afford the apartment/store rental?) comes out of nowhere: we just see it in operation. It’s not a bad choice as a business — it gives Sekowsky an excuse to indulge in hip fashions — but it’s not set up well.

Then there’s I Ching. The independent superhero and crimefighter, mightiest woman in the world is now the protege of “the incredible I Ching” — he actually gets first-billed on the covers for a while (see below) even though her name is bigger. In one story I Ching sharply tells Diana not to contradict her teacher.

And I Ching doesn’t work even if this was a new series with a new protagonist. He’s a double stereotype, a blind man so awesome he’s actually better than a sighted dude, and a wisdom-spouting Chinese mystic/martial artist (he was a monk until Cyber attacked the monastery and killed his fellows). It’s not surprising that while Steve’s had a couple of resurrections since his death (here and here), nobody ever, ever tried to resurrect I Ching after his later death.

I Ching aside though, this is an entertaining story with some great visuals, just not Wonder Woman.

Next up, Diana goes home … and then goes home!#SFWApro. All art by Mike Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.


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