Category Archives: Wonder Woman

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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LSD, spectres and Diana Prince: books read.

ACID DREAMS: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA the Sixties and Beyond by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain starts with Albert Hoffman’s creation of LSD, then jumps to the CIA’s experiments dosing civilians and soldiers to see if this new drug could be used for either brainwashing, interrogations or a weapon of war. After some CIA-tied enthusiasts brought LSD into the wider world it was variously seen as a tool for cosmic understanding, a revolutionary therapy method, a weapon of revolution (some radicals believed if enough people turned on, society would change), a recreational drug and the terrifying, mind-destroying drug in the popular press (the book points out that for many people even bad trips can be therapeutic rather than the living hell described in the media).

The book is informative but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to. Part of that is that it often feels less like a history of LSD and more like a history of various famous people who dropped acid; it’s more anecdotal than analytic. I also wish they’d gone more into how and why non-users perceived and warned against acid as a deadly threat (that was how it was presented when I was a kid). Worth reading overall, but unsatisfying.

THE SPOOK LIGHTS AFFAIR: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini lost me early on by launching with five pages of exposition about 1890s San Francisco and the case the two protagonists are investigating (bodyguarding a debutante who’s formed an attachment for an unsuitable male). Although the mystery that follows is better (the young woman throws herself off a cliff surrounded by sparkly lights, but there’s no body at the bottom), it never really grabs me — the best bit is an annoying kibitzer who claims to be Sherlock Holmes (but as everyone knows Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls, that’s obviously impossible, right?). And then the ending, in which the female half of the duo meets a possible love interest is almost as expository as the opening. Overall, bland and unremarkable enough I skimmed a lot of it.

WONDER WOMAN: Diana Prince: Celebrating the ‘60s Omnibus by Mike Sekowsky, Denny O’Neil and several others is a massive hardback collection the Amazing Amazon’s years as a mortal woman (which I started blogging about in detail a couple of weeks back), from the transitional opening issue through Robert Kanigher’s return to the title. As Kelly Sue DeConnick says in the intro, it’s a mixed bag: great art from Sekowsky until he left the book, some good stories, but also a depowered superwoman who in multiple issues relies on men (I Ching, most notably) to save her butt. While I’m glad I bought this hardback, the paperbacks they released some years back would have worked just as well and been a lot cheaper, though not quite as nice-looking (the omnibuses put a lot of effort into making the stories as good for the eyes as possible).

#SFWApro. All rights to image (by Mike Sekowsky) remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman: the Perez reboot, Year 2.5 thru Three (approximately)

My repeated observation (here and here) about reareding George Perez’ reboot of Wonder Woman is that the stories have been good but not quite as good as they seemed at the time. The run I’m covering now, from #20 through #35 is by contrast a lot better, though it doesn’t start off that way. “Who Killed Myndi Mayer?” has Wonder Woman and the Boston PD investigate the death of the flamboyant publicist for the Wonder Woman Foundation. It’s competently done, but it ends being an anti-drug preachment (cocaine! Cocaine is the killer!). And Myndi was such a mismatch with Diana, I’d have liked to see them spend more time together.

Next we get a story that will have repercussions for a while: the gods decide to leave Olympus due to Darkseid corrupting it (I forget which Big Event that was) and so with Wonder Woman’s help, they depart (Perez drew this one and the visuals are great) for a New Olympus. Hermes, however, stays behind, feeling that the gods should be doing more to help humanity rather than sitting on New Olympus gazing into their own navels. He sets up his own church in Boston, hands out miracles like Halloween candy, but unfortunately the last of the Gorgons and the ancient, accursed murderer Ixion have plans to exploit the situation … This leads to lots of discussion about gods, faith and religion but it doesn’t get overbearing. Afterwards, Hermes sticks around, eventually moving in with Steve, but stops trying to attract followers. Meanwhile the Amazons begin debating whether it’s time to open their island to outsiders, ultimately deciding yes.

Then we get a crossover with the Invasion! event, which brings Diana into the Justice League for the first time in post-Crisis continuity and lets her work with more of DC’s female heroes. And then we get a huge plotline that runs just about all of year three. It starts with Barbara Minerva, the latest version of the Cheetah, using two alien warriors left behind at the end of the Invasion to help her steal Diana’s magic lasso.

Setting off in pursuit, Diana winds up in Egypt where she gets the lowdown on the Cheetah’s origin from her aide, Chuma. She also discovers the existence of Bana-Mighdal, an isolated community of Amazons, vastly more brutal than the women of Themiscrya. They sell weapons and mercenary services, reproduce by kidnapping men (as most of the locals are Middle Eastern, these Amazons are dark-skinned) and dispose ruthlessly of anyone who gets in their way. Eventually Diana learns that when Circe arranged the murder of Theseus’ Amazon wife Antiope a handful of Amazons there completely misinterpreted events, turning them hostile to both the men and women of the outside world. Diana tries to explain the error but since none of them know Hippolyta is still alive, they don’t believe Diana’s claim to be her daughter — come on, she’d be thousands of years old! Wonder Woman has to battle the Amazons, the Cheetah and then when she finally wins over the queen, an angry usurper murders the queen and sends out Shim’tar, a seemingly ustoppable warrior woman who kicks Diana’s butt hard. Ultimately, with the help of Hermes, she discovers Shim’tar is powered by the Girdle of Gaia, linked to Diana’s lasso, so by pitting the lasso’s pure energy against Shim’tar’s tainted abuse of the Girdle, Wonder Woman destroys her foe. Bana Mighdal is apparently destroyed, though I believe it (or at least its former inhabitants) turn up again.

There’s a lot of spectacular action without losing any of the character bits Perez’ run was noted for. I do think the art goes down some after he stops penciling it, but overall this is a great stretch to reread.

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

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Wonder Woman in images

So as I’ve written so much about Wonder Woman, I figured I’d showcase some of her memorable covers. Like HG Peters’ cover for the start of her series in Sensation ComicsAnd a Ross Andru cover for one of Robert Kanigher’s rather zany issues—Here Andru captures Kanigher’s insanely racist and just plain insane concept for a new villain, Egg Fu.And one for the Wonder Family era, also by Andru.Now we get a Dick Giordano cover featuring Catwoman, Diana and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (face it true believer, this one has it all!).The George Perez cover that kicked off his Wonder Woman reboot.And Perez’ truly chilling version of Ares from a few issues later.Then we have Gene Colan from his too-brief run with Roy Thomas.A Mike Sekowsky cover from Diana’s depowered years.I’ll end with two bits of interior art — this Ross Andru scene from the late Silver Age story in which Kanigher fires most of the supporting cast (this particular scene among fans looks like a prescient parody of online fan debates)—And this HG Peters scene giving us a memorable example of William Marston’s interest in bondage and dominance.#SFWApro. All rights to all images remain with current holder.

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A hip Amazon who swings? She’s not your mother’s Wonder Woman!

So a couple of weeks back I became proud possessor of WONDER WOMAN: Diana Prince: Celebrating the ’60s Omnibus which collects the complete run of her non-super years (1968 through 1972). As I’ve already reviewed the TPBs (Vols 1, 2 and 3 at least) thought I’d do it this time much the way I handle rereading the rest of her run, posting about story arcs and similar obvious benchmarks. So I’ll start with a focus on Wonder Woman #178; it’s a one-shot story that doesn’t really tie into the following arc (Diana’s still Wonder Woman, for instance) but does serve to alert readers to what’s comingWonder Woman’s Rival by Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky opens with police arresting Steve Trevor for the murder of someone named Alex Block; Steve claims he has an alibi — a girl he met at a hippie nightclub called the Tangerine Trolley — but he didn’t get her name and can’t locate her. At the trial we learn Block met Wonder Woman and Steve at a party where the creep told WW she was a disgusting freak, then tried to grope her. Steve decked the dude. Later an emergency needing Amazon involvement ended a Steve/WW make-out session so he went to the club and flirted with the girl.

The prosecution’s case boils down to: Steve has no alibi, he beat up the guy and killing him was the one way he could feel like a man when hanging out with Wonder Woman (who, on the stand, testifies that Steve said Block was a rat who ought to end up dead). While comic-book jurisprudence has never worried much about legal procedure, this seems exceptionally unconvincing: motive yes, but no weapon, no evidence, nothing that ties Steve to the crime. I’m sure juries convicted decorated war heroes on that kind of evidence all the time (sarcasm font). However it works, and when Lt. Prince comes to see him, Steve confesses to being pissed at hell at Wonder Woman for betraying him. Because testifying truthfully is totally not what he should expect Wonder Woman to do on the stand, right? So Di decides if she can’t save Steve as Wonder Woman, she’ll save him as Diana Prince by finding that vanished girl. Which requires visiting clubs like the Tangerine Trolley, which will require Diana to blend in so she goes clothes shopping —All of which is almost certainly modeled on Cornell Woolrich’s The Phantom Lady, a noir novel involving a wrongly accused man, an unnamed woman alibi and the guy’s lover trying to find her. And just as in Woolrich, someone’s determined to stop Diana cold. Eventually Diana does track down the girl, Tina, with the help of Steve’s best friend, Roger Seely. Unfortunately it turns out Roger is the killer, having murdered Block to cover his embezzlement of company funds. He tries to eliminate Diana and Tina to ensure Steve’s conviction stands, but of course, he doesn’t know he’s dealing with Wonder Woman …

At the end Steve, as you can see, reconciles with Wonder Woman but tells her he’s so impressed with Diana, he wants to date her (one of the few times someone’s found the secret identity more desirable than the superhero). Wonder Woman worries that if he’s going to date other woman, his next pick might be someone who isn’t her secret identity.

None of this ties in to the following Dr. Cyber arc; in fact that last page has so little relation to the changes ahead I suspect O’Neil was pulling a fast one so that we’d be blindsided. At the same time it does establish a lot of the tone they were shooting for: cool fashion, hip contemporary settings and playing up the men in Diana’s life a lot more (of course the late Silver Age Wonder Woman had already gone heavy on romance-comics tropes).

As Kelly Sue DeConick says in the excellent intro to this volume, this is one of the big problems of this era of WW. In trying to remake WW into a Realistic Modern Woman (or close as a martial-arts mistress battling an international crime syndicate can get), O’Neil and Sekowsky frequently default to sexist tropes where good as Diana Prince is, she still needs a man to be the boss (something I discussed recently). Diana gets a buzz off all her new fashion, and she delights that guys are finding her attractive; you’d think she’d never had any identity but dull, drab Lt. Prince. Which is one of my own complaints about the adventures to follow, that not only would they work better if she were a new character, the creators often treat her that way.

On the plus side, Sekowsky’s art is some of his best and will continue to be so.

I’ll be back soon with the de-powered Wonder Woman’s first story arc, as she and “the incredible I Ching” (and boy, does he bring a heaping helping of problems to the story) take on the half-man, half-machine Dr. Cyber!

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

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You’re a wonder, Lynda Carter: Wonder Woman ’77 in Comics

When I visited Fort Walton Beach last year, I picked up two volumes of WONDER WOMAN ’77 on sale. I’m not the biggest fan of the Lynda Carter TV series, but I really enjoyed reading them.

The first volume, written by Marc Andreyko with various artists, tackles one of the TV show’s weaknesses, the lack of villains, by importing some from the comics. We have disco singer Silver Swan, Solomon Grundy, the Cheetah (mixing Barbara Minerva’s werecat form with the obsessive jealousy of the Golden Age version), new villain Celsia and Dr. Psycho. The latter is a particularly fun story as the doctor traps Diana in a hallucination where Wonder Woman is Cathy Lee Crosby from the 1974 Wonder Woman TV movie (if you’ve ever seen it, you’ll know Lynda Carter’s version was a vast improvement). V2 has multiple writers but Andreyko outshines them, particularly a story bringing back the TV show’s Galt, easily the best of her adversaries there.  The tone of the books is appropriately light and fun, though it’s at a disadvantage compared to Batman ’66 which had a much more distinctive and idiosyncratic style.

Speaking of which, I subsequently ordered BATMAN ’66 MEETS WONDER WOMAN ’77 by Marc Andreyko and ’66 comics writer Jeff Parker (David Hahn provides the pencils) and don’t regret paying full price for it. This has the Amazing Amazon meet young Bruce Wayne during WW II when Nazis seeking a mystic mcguffin show up at the Wayne house along with R’as al Ghul and young Talia. They team up again during the era of the Batman TV show, with Bruce convincing Diana to return from Paradise Island to take up the fight again; part III takes place in the Wonder Woman ’77 era with Diana now convincing Bruce to come back into action (this updates us on what’s happened to Gotham and its heroes in the intervening decade). A running gag is that rather than pick one version of Catwoman, the artists use all three — Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt appear in different chapters. This one was a lot of fun.

WONDER WOMAN/CONAN by Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti is completely unrelated, crossing over the comics’ Amazing Amazon with Robert E. Howard’s snarling Cimmerian. Conan encounters an amnesiac female gladiator of unbelievable strength and skill — could it be a young girl he loved and lost years ago? The woman says no, but nevertheless they find themselves working together against sinister crow-spirits and a ruthless slaver. This was good, but it’s annoying that even in an out-of-continuity series, even with Conan, they never wind up in bed (see this related post). I had hopes for Diana putting the movies, a startled Conan succumbing … instead we end with that hoary time-travel trope of Diana meeting someone who looks just like Conan — she hasn’t lost him after all! (see Forbidden Kingdom, The Love Letter and the Bing Crosby Connecticut Yankee among others).

#SFWApro. Covers by Nicola Scott (top), Michael and Laura Allred; all rights remain with current holder.

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Old foes in new bottles: George Perez’s Wonder Woman (again)

Since I last reviewed the George Perez Wonder Woman reboot, I’ve read slightly over another year’s worth of issues, and a busy year for Diana it was.

Crossovers. Following the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, crossovers became an annual event. In #8, which is told in a series of letters and diary entries, Wonder Woman participates in the dreadful Legends crossover event. A couple of issues later, she launches a plotline that ties into the much better Millennium crossover. These things can bog a series down, but Perez handles them well. Legends happens offstage and Millennium ties into Diana’s own story.

The myths. Following her defeat of Ares, Zeus, egged on by Pan (who turns out to be one of Millennium‘s villainous Manhunters) generously offers to have sex with her. Diana refuses; an indignant Zeus commands her to enter Doom’s Doorway below Paradise Island and test herself against the monsters there, to prove her worth as Amazon champion in “the Challenge of the Gods.” Plenty of action, mythological monsters, a big reveal about how closely Diana’s tied to Steve Trevor and the discovery of Hercules, imprisoned there in torment. It’s a good story that gives Hippolyta a chance to shine too. However the Amazons forgiving Hercules for assaulting, enslaving and raping them doesn’t sit as well with me as it did on first reading.

There’s also a minor retcon of John Byrne’s Genesis crossover, which established that all Earthly pantheons are indirectly the children of Jack Kirby’s New Gods. I never liked that (Kirby’s awesome, but he ain’t Homer) and Perez specifically negates it, at least for the Olympians.

Romance, or at least as close as Perez’ Diana ever came. In Legends she meets Superman and understandably she’s blown away by him. Is the feeling she has when she thinks about him what people in Patriarch’s World call love? It isn’t (there’s a team-up story in Action Comics that settles that) and Diana’s love life goes dormant until the 21st century. I think this suffers from Perez not wanting to get into the possibility of Amazon lesbian love (so Diana would understand love, just without heterosexual examples) though he did touch on it later (Greg Rucka made it explicit).

Talk and more talk. In an interview (never published, alas) I asked one comics writer and WW fan what she thought of the reboot, and she said it was too talky. I didn’t think so at the time, but I must admit it’s more notable rereading. #8 is mostly people talking about Diana, rather than Diana doing anything; in #17 Diana visits Julia and Vanessa in Greece and there’s a whole bunch more talk. Not that talk is a bad thing — James Robinson’s Starman is conversation-heavy and usually uses its well — but in these books the dialog is not really interesting enough.

•Old foes. In these thirteen issues, Perez reboots three pre-Crisis adversaries, to varying success. First came Barbara Minerva, the post-Crisis version of the Cheetah. Minerva is an archeologist who steals relics she can’t collect legitimately. When she’s not able to steal Wonder Woman’s lasso, she tries taking it by force, transforming herself into the fast, deadly Cheetah (as you can see a cat-woman rather than a woman in costume).

I’ve never thought well of this Cheetah, but rereading I realize that’s not Perez’ fault. His Barbara Minerva has a focus; multiple other writers have used her since, but without any focus. She’s just a Wonder Woman villain with no distinctive motives or goals beyond villainy. That’s damn boring. But that isn’t Perez’ fault, so I apologize for thinking so.Next up, the post-Crisis Silver Swan. Surprisingly for a guy who loves mythology, Perez skipped Roy Thomas’ version (a descendant of Helen of Troy) in favor of an abused woman whose bullying husband has not only empowered her with a sonic cry (science, this time) but brainwashed her with a jealousy of Wonder Woman (quite close to the original Cheetah’s, actually). It’s an effective story, but Thomas’ mythological origin was so much better, I wish Perez had incorporated it (I think it could be done without losing the abusive relationship aspect).

And finally we get Circe, who markedly improves on Dan Mishkin’s version. It turns out the part of Greece Wonder Woman visits is under control of Circe, who lives on an isolated island but uses her shapeshifted slaves (“beastiamorphs”) to monitor the area in animal form; work against her and you die. The resistance sees Wonder Woman’s presence as a chance to get free; Circe sees her as a prophesied threat (as did the Mishkin version, but the prophecy’s easier to understand here).

What makes Perez’ Circe interesting isn’t the curse but that she’s Wonder Woman’s polar opposite. Diana preaches gender equality and friendship between men and women. Circe, by contrast, is a misanthrope who hates both sexes (used by men, shat on by other women, or so she sees it); she’s devoted her immortality to spreading distrust, manipulation and hostility between them, including murdering Hippolyta’s sister Antiope (her marriage to Theseus was too warm and friendly). There’s a passing reference to Circe running various vice enterprises under pseudonyms to further her aims; today she’d probably be running revenge porn websites.

After such a strong beginning, unfortunately, Circe didn’t return until 1991’s War of the Gods crossover, and I don’t think she kept the malevolent MO (both the Cheetah and Silver Swan came back quicker). We’ll see.

Like his initial arc, Perez’ work doesn’t blow me away as much as it did on first reading, but it’s still damn good.

#SFWApro. Wonder Woman covers by George Perez, New Gods by Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holder.

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Golden-Age Wonder Woman: Surprised by Joye

The second half of THE GOLDEN AGE WONDER WOMAN OMNIBUS, Volume 2 (click here for my review of the first half)marks the first time a woman wrote Wonder Woman’s adventures. After 1946, that wouldn’t happen again until the 1980s Legend of Wonder Woman. William Moulton Marston had Murchison, his assistant, ghost-write a couple of stories (according to Lambiek) when he was pressed for time (that was S.O.P. for successful comics creators in the Golden Age). Then he faced the double-barreled shotgun of polio and cancer, so Murchison, along with Robert Kanigher, took up all of the workload.

Murchison’s first story involves taking a group of warmongers to Venus, to be reformed by their winged female population (introduced previously in a Justice Society story). It doesn’t go well, of course. Like most of Murchison’s work, it’s very much in the Marston mold, so I’m guessing he was still providing a lot of plotting or at least ideas. Some of Murchison’s later stories feel less Marstonian, such as an encounter with Neptunians: they’re a unisex society with no women at all, growing new generations in test tubes, some of whom are literally bred to be slaves. With the emphasis on how the strongest Neptunian rules all the rest and their hatred of women, it’s like an early shot at toxic masculinity (the cover shows Wonder Woman battling a Venusian tiger/ape hybrid). Murchison also brings back the Cheetah for a return engagement.

Robert Kanigher’s stories tend to be more conventional crimefighting tales, or to throw in the random monsters he’d use during much of the Silver Age.

Marston does contribute a few stories during this era. One introduced Countess Draska Nishki in Sensation Comics. The countess is a spymaster who shows up to inform Darnell she has top-secret information to sell him: American secrets that he can buy back for a cool million. She’s very much a clone of the now-reformed Paula von Gunther, but Paula was a formidable foe, so that works. Regrettably, Nishki only appeared once more until Kanigher’s god-awful Golden Age reboot near the end of his run.

“The Lawbreakers’ League” in Sensation Comics #46 interesting because it shows even Marston’s Diana was capable of entertaining seriously the possibility of submitting to Steve and letting him be the boss (something I associate more with the later Silver Age). The eponymous crime cartel give Steve a device that channels brain energy into his body, the same technique Amazons use (this is the first we hear of this). The device will make him stronger than Wonder Woman, which Ferva, one of the League’s leaders, assures her cohorts will make the Amazon melt and submit to him: deep down, all women want a man who can dominate them (a claim I still hear today). And then she’ll marry him and become nothing but a housewife, no threat to anyone.

Wonder Woman does indeed find it thrilling to be in the arms of a stronger, more powerful man … at first. By the end of the story, she tells Steve she could “never love a dominant man who’s stronger than I am.” Without a second’s hesitation, Steve smashes the League’s device, which is cool — Kanigher’s Silver Age Steve would never do that.

I don’t know when I’ll pick up V3, but I’ll have more of the George Perez reboot to review soon enough.

#SFWApro. All covers by H.G. Peters, all rights remain with current holders.

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