After reading Diana Prince — Wonder Woman Vols. 1, 2 and 3 I found the local library didn’t have Vol. 4 (as noted at the second link). But that only skips three stories, then I pick up with WW 202 (cover by Dick Giordano, all rights with current holder). In this, I Ching’s daughter Lu Shan has opened a dimensional gateway into Nehwon, the setting for Fritz Leiber’s adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (and which Leiber’s own stories establish as a parallel world to Earth). Diana, I Ching and Catwoman (working as Lu Shan’s villain-for-hire) stumble through into Nehwon, join forces with Leiber’s heroes (this promoted their own short-lived DC series, Sword of Sorcery) and eventually return home. It was what got me reading WW regularly (if it had two of my favorite print heroes in it, it had to be good, right?). Astonishingly I stayed after the mess of the next issue, written, like 202, by SF great Samuel Delaney.
WW 203, “The Grandee Caper,” amounts to a soft reboot of Diana’s non-powered period. Much as Denny O’Neil showed she’d left military intelligence without actually showing the decision, Delaney’s story mentions in passing that Diana sold her boutique and gave up her apartment, with no explanation why. Then we plunge into one of late-1960s comics’ painful attempts at political relevance, a “special women’s lib issue!”
With nowhere to live and no income, Diana is happy when a local department store owner, Grandee, hires her to be the new face of his fashion line. Big pay, company apartment, lots of clothes, what could go wrong? But as Diana’s friend Cathy explains, Grandee’s a sexist pig who exploits his workers: he buys all his goods from local sweatshops, thereby keeping his operation in-state and exempt from federal minimum wage laws (he takes advantage of this to underpay his female labor force). This is technically legal (I don’t know if it actually would be, but that’s the story’s stance) but they’re able to bust Grandee when it turns out—his store doesn’t meet the fire code!
The topics of labor exploitation and unsafe workplaces are certainly a worthy one (worthier than I realized as a 14-year-old), but it’s not very well suited to an adventure comic. The action we do get feels very forced (one of the feminists sets her trained guard dogs loose to give Grandee a scare), but it’s not as if the story would have worked better as a think-piece. Most of the drama comes from Diana being completely insensitive to the issues—she insists Grandee is pro-feminist, so surely Cathy has no real issue with him. And sure, Diana supports equal wages for women but that doesn’t mean she has to fight for other women, does she? She doesn’t even like other women!
Yes, that’s right. Diana’s the sensible liberal who believes all the right things, but doesn’t understand why people protest and fight for those things. Mr. Delaney, if you’re doing a story where Wonder Woman has to be awakened to the importance of fighting for women’s rights, you’re doing it wrong.
I don’t know what was going on behind-the-scenes at DC, but Delaney’s take and the whole no-powers period got wiped out the following issue (cover by Don Heck, all rights to current holder). Robert Kanigher returns for a story in which a crazed Vietnam veteran starts shooting people at random, kills I Ching (who would never be resurrected or returned, except for a small role in Grant Morrison’s Batman run a few years ago [that’s better than Lu Shan who was trapped in Nehwon and apparently never returned]), then the killer and Diana end up falling off a roof when they tussle. The guy dies, Diana wakes up amnesiac, obsessed with returning to Paradise Island (she even steals a jet plane to do it). When she finally arrives, it’s treated as if the island had never left our world, it’s just … there. Wonder Woman gets her powers back (again, there’s no hint she ever lost them) along with her memory, and Kanigher introduces Wonder Woman’s black sister, Nubia. Diana Prince gets a day job as a UN translator with a black and a Chinese roommate, plus a sexist boss who dismisses Di as a “plain Jane.” But as she speaks all known languages (which is canon), the jerk can’t very well pass her up.
In a matter of issues, this would be rebooted again… but I’ll save that for a subsequent post.