Category Archives: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman, screen rants and secret histories (#SFWApro)

So my new Screen Rant column is out: 22 Most WTF Moments in Wonder Woman comics. Such as the bondage-heavy story above from Wonder Woman #4 (art by H.G. Peters).

This isn’t meant to slam Wonder Woman — as regular readers know, I’m a fan of hers, even if the execution of some of her adventures is sub-part. As I note in the article, when you’ve been published for almost a continuous 80 years, it’s inevitable some stories will be WTF. More so when they’re overwhelmingly written by men. Not that a female writer is a guarantee of good WW stories (I wasn’t a fan of Jodi Picoult’s brief run), but I’d like to think they’d do better than some of the more sexist stuff in the later Kanigher run.

(Peters art again. This is a bad guy using Washington’s image to preach misogyny)

It wouldn’t have been as good a column (and I do think it’s good) without THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN by Jill Lepore, a book about how WW creator William Marston’s personal life and views (polyamory, submission and dominance, feminism) influenced his creation. While I was aware of much of this, Lepore shows I didn’t know as much as I thought. For example one angle of Marston’s menage a trois was Olive Byrne, niece of birth-control activist Margaret Sanger. And the birth-control movement frequently invoked women-in-chains symbolism to represent the burden of unwanted pregnancy (my wouldn’t that outrage the religious right today?). Marston’s WW stories likewise showed Wonder Woman bound, then breaking free — although as Lepore notes, sometimes the bondage is just kink. It’s an excellent book, though I’m not willing to write off the post-Marston Wonder Woman as much as Lepore does.

Check out the article and enjoy. Art below by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. All rights to all images remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman: The Brief Resurrection of Steve (Trevor) Howard (#SFWApro)

So following the end of Wonder Woman’s WW II phase (intended to synchronize with the Lynda Carter TV series) Wonder Woman resumed Diana’s present-day adventures at the point they’d broken off. Diana Prince is a UN diplomat. Steve Trevor has returned from the dead using the alias “Steve Howard” and gone to work for the counterspy agency SOS (Spy On Spy). Both of them are struggling to get back the closeness they used to have.

I assume Marty Parsko, who set up this situation when he was writing the book, would have continued exploring it. By the time the WW II stories ended, Jack C. Harris was the writer, and he wanted to go in a different direction. Which is presumably why this phase only lasted a half-dozen issues, plus a couple of stories in Adventure Comics (as a result of the TV show’s success, Wonder Woman had a second strip for the first time in years).

They were not memorable issues. Even by the standards of my late teens, when I had almost no standards, I knew Inversion was a god-awful villain (cover by Rich Buckler, all rights to current holder). An accident with his experimental teleporter has rearranged his body to make him the “inside out man!” Completely mad, his goal wasn’t to cure himself but to turn all the world into inside-out people.

I can’t help wondering if Inverson wasn’t just meant to fill space, while the Steve Howard subplot advanced. While Wonder Woman battles inversion, Steve Howard is kidnapped by military intelligence, which has grown suspicious about ties between Howard and that other Steve. In the following issue, the operation’s boss man gets conclusive evidence Steve Howard is indeed Steve Trevor — perfect for his plan! Which is to drain Steve’s magically restored life force to resurrect the Dark Commander, an ancient, quasi-demonic being who once awakened will summon his demon forces to attack humanity! Which will be awesome because it will give America’s fighting forces what they need—war, endless war. Yep, it’s another madman villain (I think Harris was riffing off our military having no wars to fight in the late 1970s, but if so, it didn’t work).

Wonder Woman takes down the Dark Commander (he ain’t all that) but Steve’s life force is already gone from his body. Diana goes to Hell to reclaim it, but it turns out Zeus has honored Steve by turning him into a constellation, like some figures from Greek myth. Presumably Harris wanted to establish that Steve’s resurrection was a one-shot deal, so now he was gone forever (spoiler: he wasn’t).

It turns out Diana’s UN superior, Morgan Tracy, knew about the military capturing Steve, but wasn’t about to challenge US military authority. Disgusted that Tracy was too cowardly to look out for his people (Steve wasn’t technically his people, Harris is fudging a lot here), Diana quits the UN. So I suppose fudging Tracy’s authority justifies the upcoming soft reboot.

Before the reboot, we get yet another loonie, the brother we never knew Steve Trevor had. Greg Trevor works for the sinister federal “organization,” but he’s consumed with resentment for metahumans like Diana and the JLA, and for his brother, who actually won the love of Earth’s most awesome woman. Greg launches a series of assassination attempts on Wonder Woman before she captures him and the Organization takes him into custody. He’s the third loonie villain in a  row.

All of which took place from WW #244 to 249, plus a couple of Adventure issues, then it was reboot time. Again. I’ll post on that when I finish reading the next phase — Diana Prince, astronaut trainee!

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Blood Lust and Sadism Are Getting Boring! (#SFWApro)

23012564So as I mentioned this weekend, I had some problems with the brutal torture Apollo inflicts on the First Born of Zeus in Wonder Woman: Flesh. And my problems got worse with the final volume of the Azzarello/Chiang run, Bones (cover by Chiang, all rights remain with current holder)

Some background: the First Born was Zeus and Hera’s son, hurled out of Olympus for various reasons. Angry at the gods, he waged war across the world to trigger a confrontation with them. They ignored him. Finally he attacked Olympus itself; Zeus struck him down like a bug and condemned him to Tartarus.

In Flesh, the First Born returns to take the throne of Olympus (Zeus lost it a while back). Apollo captures him and subjects the First Born to assorted tortures. But wouldn’t you know, the First Born breaks free, kills Apollo, and seizes the throne, preparatory to ravaging the whole Earth. And he dishes out his own torture, for example forcing Zeus to eat pieces of himself which pass through him, undigested, so he can be made to eat them again.

I gotta say, I found that part underwhelming. It made me think of the way Geoff Johns shows how monstrous his villains are by having them threaten to rip out liver and eat it in front of you as you die, or to pick the skin of your flesh from between their teeth. It just doesn’t impress me, and it doesn’t make me think the villain in question is particularly bad-ass or evil. Being creative in your tortures doesn’t really make someone more sadistic or awful than the everyday mundane torturer (so to speak).

As the film director Ernst Lubitsch once put it, it no more takes sadism to run a death camp than to run a laundromat. For me there’s more horror in someone who deals death casually, even a hero, than someone who actually cares how much you suffer. That’s not to say graphic torture or blood lust can’t be effective — I love Silence of the Lambs — but whatever trick it takes to make it so, neither Johns nor Azzarello seem to have it.

That’s unfortunate because the book spends a lot of time on the monstrous monstrousness of the First Born (I think I’m inflating the page space in my memory) which drops the quality below Flesh. Plus we have the New 52’s horrible, sexist version of Orion of the New Gods. And ultimately Diana’s punishment of the First Born feels disproportionate — Apollo tortured the First Born and tried to kill Zola’s baby, but Wonder Woman didn’t throw him back into Hell.

The good stuff is still well done, but the sadism and the other weaknesses kept this from being as good a finish to the Azzarello/Chiang run as I’d hoped for.

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Paper Girls, Talking Apes, Wonder Woman and More: TPBS and Books (#SFWApro)

I’ve frequently complained that DC super-hero trade paperbacks are hard to follow, so I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pick up PAPER GIRLS 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang without having read #1. It seems that in that one, a group of 12-year-old paper girls stumbled into a time war; in this volume, they wind up in the present, which has the usual cultural shocks (“Spencer’s Gifts is gone but that doesn’t mean the future is post-apocalyptic.”) plus Erin meeting her future self and being decidedly unimpressed. Plus there’s another Erin counterpart, time coming undone, a floating hockey stick … and it all makes for great reading. The 1980s references (“You look straight out of AIRWOLF!”) reminded me of Stranger Things but I liked this a lot better.

HARROW COUNTY: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook is a good rural Gothic horror. The protagonist, Emmy, thinks she’s a normal girl despite some odd incidents, but her father, much as he denies it, sees a connection between Emmy and the witch the locals killed right before Emmy was born … Well done.

THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie worked much better for me than the preceding The Faust Act as Laura tries to figure out what the ending of that volume means for her, and for the pantheon. Plus the gods have to deal with a crazed stalker fan who seems intent on picking them off — or is someone trying the Prometheus Gambit (kill a god, gain their power). Not really a lot happening, but this held me despite that.

WONDER WOMAN: Flesh by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is a big improvement over the previous volume, War, as the creators’ god-awful take on Orion only appears briefly. Here we get the history of the First Born of Zeus (quite good), Zola goes hunting for truffles (I was pleasantly surprised how that turned out) and the First Born making his move for the throne of Olympus. Unfortunately the scenes of Apollo torturing the First Born didn’t work for me for various reasons, which I’ll get into when I discuss the follow-up, Bones.

BANANA SUNDAY by Root Nibot and Colleen Coover has teenage Kirby struggling to fit in at her new school despite the awkwardness of having three genetically engineered talking monkeys following her around (actually it’s one monkey two apes). This is targeting a younger audience than me, I suspect, and the supporting human characters are weak, but the monkeys made this fun enough to keep reading — Go-Go the midget gorilla reminds me of Plushie with his priorities (“Banana! Nap”).

41m5aytyrnlI interlibrary-loaned SEERS, WITCHES AND PSYCHICS ON SCREEN: An Analysis of Women Visionary Characters in Recent Television and Film by Karin Beeler under the assumption this McFarland volume would cover everything from Medium to Bewitched but I should have read the description: Beeler’s focus is specifically on psychics/clairvoyants (“witches” gets in because of precog Phoebe in Charmed). It’s also geared for a much more academic audience than me, so I couldn’t get into it (and I must admit, I don’t agree with her analyses).

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (cover by Geoff Grandfield) was the Graham Greene spy spoof that inspired Tailor of Panama. The protagonist Wormold is a British vacuum-cleaner salesman in Havana recruited by British Intelligence for insight into local politics; as he needs money, Wormold simply makes crap up, which his credulous superiors swallow whole (though unlike the later novel, it’s more them buying into their own fantasies than any calculating motive). Very funny, though Greene can deftly switch to grim or violent without missing a beat; odd to read now as Wormold’s claims of a big sinister military project being built read like a foreshadowing of the Cuban missile crisis.

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Dick Grayson, Hollywood noir and mingling of the races: TPBs and books (#SFWApro)

GRAYSON: Agent of Spyral was the first in Dick Grayson’s New 52 solo series (I reviewed Volume 2 already) by Tom King, Tim Seeley and various artists as Dick goes to work for the sinister spy network Spyral in order to report back to Batman on what they’re up to. This is enjoyable, with some weird adversaries (like a guy whose optic nerves are hooked up to his guns) but not as much as the later stories. It’s also very disjointed — and Vol. 2 actually goes off on much more of a tangent than I realized reading it (no wonder some readers were confused).

23093372THE FADE OUT: Act One by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (cover by Phillips, all rights to current holder) is a good noirish mystery in which a screenwriter wakes up next to a woman’s corpse, escapes the crime scene, then begins to suspect there’s something much more sinister than murder going on …. A good start.

BATMAN: I am Gotham kicks off Tom King’s run on Batman (with various artists)) as the Dark Knight accepts the help of new super-heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl in cleaning up his city, only to have a government scheme to “fix” Gotham City make everything go wrong. While it’s nice to see Batman not treating other super-heroes as if they operated only by his sufferance, but this feels like a hand-wave to allow them to get close enough for tragedy (like the way he finds the perfect girl in Mad only so her death can angst him out). Likewise his acceptance of Amanda Waller’s secret operation in Gotham doesn’t even seem remotely plausible, given how wrong it gets (nor do I see why he’d need to work with her in the endbit, other than to promote the Suicide Squad). Readable, but …

My problem with the New 52’s Wonder Woman series is that I’d like it much better if it were a completely new character, not a reboot. And as with Vol. 4, War, in WONDER WOMAN: Iron, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang do a horrible, horrible job writing Orion of the New Gods. A shame since the story involving Wonder Woman and her fellow children of Zeus is actually excellent (with the exception that I hate making the Amazons “mutie haters” who despise Diana for being magically created from clay). Good, but with massive flaws.

WHAT COMES NATURALLY: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America by Peggy Pascoe gets its subtitle from Pascoe’s view that the efforts to determine which marriages crossed the color line required laws identifying whether the cutoff was one-eighth, one-quarter or a single drop of black blood. Pascoe looks at how miscegenation was coined in the 19th century as a more scientific sounding replacement for “amalgamation, and the various court cases, laws and rationales for banning intermarriage (a longstanding and eerily familiar argument being that there was no discrimination as the laws applies to blacks and whites alike). All of which took various forms around the country, expanding to anti-Asian bans on the west coast while Oklahoma exempted white men who married native women (it was one way for native land to pass into white hands). The rise of organized resistance was extremely gradual as the NAACP didn’t want to jeopardize other civil-rights goals (and other black leaders, such as Marcus Garvey, didn’t support intermarriage), and Pascoe does a good job showing that the Loving case was far from an inevitable victory (a recent similar case had freed the couple to marry, but hadn’t struck down the law). Very good.

THE WILDINGS: Book One of the Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy has a colony of stray cats in India cope with a new psychic in the neighborhood, their own internal struggles and a crew of feral cats threatening the neighborhood. This starts fun and ends fun, but bogs down in the middle — though I think part of that is that talking-animal fantasies are not quite my thing. If it’s yours, this is definitely worth reading.

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Wonder Woman: All This and World War II (#SFWApro)

wonderwoman230So as I mentioned in my last Wonder Woman post, getting the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show on the air convinced DC the comic should look just like it. In a two-part story, Diana goes back to Earth-2 in WW II and hands over her comics to that world’s Wonder Woman. Except instead of the real Golden Age continuity, it was changed so as not to distress anyone coming to the comic from the show: instead of General Darnell, Wonder Woman and Steve work for General Blankenship. Steve’s a brunette. Etta Candy a college student, is now in the military. Diana Prince is a Yeoman instead of a lieutenant.

This annoyed the heck out of me at the time: why should they muck up continuity just to make the TV viewers happy? For example, Wonder Woman’s run-in with the Cheetah (cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, all rights to current holder) ignored the character’s existing history in various ways. Reading now, after multiple Amazonian reboots, I find I appreciate this period a lot more. The Cheetah story (by Martin Pasko) may have been discontinuous, but Pasko captured the character well — an insecure woman whose repressed anger at people who make her feel inadequate manifests as a savage split personality (the current cat-woman Cheetah resembles her in name only). And it obviously did work for the bottom line, as Diana got a backup series in World’s Finest along with her regular book.

Martin Pasko started the run but Gerry Conway did the bulk of it. Conway’s Bronze Age work could be hit or miss, but he really seemed to click here. A running element is that even though Wonder Woman is in America to help win the war, she’s really uncomfortable with the American military machine, and prone to lash out at it. In one story, for instance, she tries to shut down the Manhattan Project out of fear of what atomic weapons can do. Later, after the villainous Duke of Deception (one of Mars’ agents) tricks her into apparently going berserk, she winds up on trial for treason (she beats the rap). We have guest appearances by the Justice Society and Sgt. Rock, old foes (Dr. Psycho, one of my favorites), and several new ones including Baron Blitzkrieg, a Nazi superhuman who became a running foe in the later retcon series All-Star Squadron.

And as often happens in comics, we got loose ends. Conway had introduced the masked Nazi spymaster Armageddon, whom I presume would have unmasked as someone in the cast (I’m guessing one particularly officious military intelligence guy). He also gave Etta a boyfriend whose thought balloons show he was up to no good — but we never learn what. The last couple of issues of this era (by Jack C. Harris) jump ahead to the end of the war, Etta’s single, the sinister beau forgotten.

After the war ends, the Earth-1 villain Angle Man winds up jumping from Earth-1 present to Earth-2 in 1945, thereby bringing both Wonder Women together and providing a smooth transition back to the present. The TV show had moved back to the present day, and the comic followed. However they stuck with the continuity from the previous period rather than turning Diana Prince into an agent for IADC (Inter Agency Defense Command, I think) as she was on the second season of the show.

I’ll be reviewing her next phase as soon as I read through it.

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Wonder Woman out of continuity (#SFWApro)

I’m still working through Wonder Woman’s Bronze Age WW II period (following the Twelve Trials phase), but I also picked up a couple of out-of-continuity graphic novels featuring the Amazing Amazon. So …

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WONDER WOMAN: Earth One by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette (cover by Paquette, all rights to current holder) starts with Hippolyta strangling Hercules (who enslaved the Amazons in WW’s backstory) with the chains he placed on her. The Amazons then butcher Hercules’ army, relocate to Paradise Island … and centuries later Diana stands trial there for violating their laws: after Steve Trevor crashed on the island, Diana saved him (men on Paradise Island must die!) and then went with him back to Man’s World. Not for love of him, as it’s shown she’s been restless for years to get away (it’s also shown that yes, she’s had lovers among her fellow Amazons). Despite such changes, it’s the Golden Age origin pumped up from a few pages to graphic-novel length, which is not a plus.

One change, making Steve Trevor black, works fine. Turning Diana’s WW II sidekick Etta Candy into a plump, confident, fun-loving bisexual woman works even better — Etta’s an absolute hoot (like Jimmy Olsen in Morrison’s All-Star Superman it’s the first time since DC’s 1980s “post crisis” reboot someone’s figured out something interesting to do with her). And Diana’s confusion in “man’s world” is decently handled, though not new. It’s also nice to see that she’s more a diplomat/caregiver than the Amazon warrior people have been writing her as in recent years. Other changes don’t work, like turning her into a child of Hercules rather than the magically created clay of the original (as in the Azzarello/Chiang version, that’s a lie to conceal her true origin).

And then there’s the Amazons. Morrison’s portrayal of them comes close at times to man-hating feminist stereotypes, which I could have done without. And at other times, they’re horrendously judgmental of other women’s looks — their first reaction to Etta is outrage that she’s fat, which they somehow blame on patriarchy (we don’t keep our women fit enough or something). Plus Paquette’s art is in full male gaze mode, from the sexy Amazons to Diana’s overgenerous cleavage.

WONDER WOMAN: Odyssey by J. Michael Straczynski, Phil Hester, and multiple artists starts out way better than Straczynski’s usual comic output (Babylon 5 I like, his comics work not so much). Diana’s hiding out in the sewers because someone has launched a genocide against the Amazons. Paradise Islands is ruined, the Amazons scattered or dead. Wonder Woman’s mission: protect and gather the survivors and stop the killing. Although “the Amazons are gone!” is a stock premise — this is around the fourth reboot to use it — it’s an effective premise. And now that we’ve been through the New 52 reboot, I have less of a “Great, another reboot!” reaction to this one.

But then Phil Hester comes aboard as cowriter for the last couple of issues and everything changes. When she’s not hunting the genocides, Diana’s living in an apartment with some other Amazons, helping out her neighbors (although intimidating a pawnbroker to get a fair price for an artifact is not as cool a thing to do as the authors think. Instead of the shock troops working for whatever cabal killed the Amazons, we’ve got the Celtic goddess Morrigan sending monsters and undead armies after Diana and her new chums. It felt a lot less fresh than the first few issues. The trousered costume isn’t bad, but I could have done without the artists giving Diana what appears to be a push-up bra.

I’m not actually sure this was intended to be out-of-continuity rather than a complete relaunch, but I know how it wrapped up and the end makes it such. Unfortunately Vol. 2 isn’t at the library yet, so it’ll be a while before I read further.

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