Tag Archives: The Diana Prince Years

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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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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