Category Archives: Wonder Woman

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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They did it all for love: Wonder Woman and character motivation (#SFWApro)

wonderwoman125Along with establishing Wonder Woman has had same-sex relationships, Greg Rucka says he didn’t want her departure from Paradise Island to be influenced by falling for Steve Trevor because that makes it a less heroic act. This isn’t actually new, as the Perez post-crisis reboot did the same, and that stayed canon (as far as I know) until the New 52 (cover with Steve Trevor and other suitors by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, all rights with current holder). It’s still interesting as I’ve been dealing with the same thoughts regarding Good Morning Starshine.

The original draft had my military-officer male protagonist helping Starshine stay out of government clutches because he’s in love with her (there are logical reasons too, but they weren’t the main motivation). One reason I’ve been changing the protag is that this really isn’t very heroic: he’s not acting on principle, if anything he’s acting against principle. There are lots of times this can work (protagonist chooses loyalty to a person over blind duty to the government) but Starshine isn’t one of them.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a standard romance trope to have falling in love change your life in more ways than just having a new love — e.g., you finally go for your dreams, you stand up to your parents, you embrace life instead of running from it, you stop being suicidal (much as I disliked that element, it fits the pattern). And there’s nothing wrong with it if it’s done well. It can done seriously, or for comedy, as in P.G. Wodehouse’s short story The Nodder,

It’s also a standard movie trope to have love inspire you to heroism. Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn Venus pointed out years ago that women in films rarely act for political or idealistic reasons: in the Errol Flynn Adventures of Robin Hood, for instance, Maid Marion doesn’t see the need to fight against Prince John’s tyranny until the handsome Robin opens her eyes. It’s less common to go the other way but it happens occasionally: In The Big Easy, Ellen Barkin’s idealistic prosecutor convinces Dennis Quaid’s less-than-ethical cop to do the right thing.

This can work too. In Casablanca, it’s Rick rediscovering his lost love Ilsa that convinces him to give her up and rejoin the fight against fascism. But of course, it can also be shallow — oh, the person I love is fighting against tyranny, I’ll help! So I think Rucka made a good girl not to pick up that element from the pre-Crisis WW.

For Starshine, I’m still tinkering with my protagonist’s motive. He’s not with the government so there’s no conflict with his duty and as it’s a romance, love will definitely be part of his motivation. Beyond that? I’ll have to say

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Wonder Woman is gay! With pics so it happened (#SFWApro)

wonderwoman178I must confess, my first reaction to the news that Wonder Woman is queer (several same-sex relationships on Paradise Island—I’m not sure from the discussion at the link if she’s only interested in women or men are an option too) was “but she’s straight!”

And certainly she’s always been shown in straight relationships in the past (though during the George Perez reboot she was pretty much celibate). But it sounds like Greg Rucka’s reboot (much as I could do without WW having another of those) will be truer to Diana’s character than the most recent Azzarello/Chiang version, in which the Amazons rape and kill men for reproduction and Diana’s a daughter of Zeus engaged in internecine Olympian power struggles far removed from the human world. Or the end-of-the-Silver-Age non-super Diana Prince. Or the recent portrayal of Diana in Justice League as a bloodthirsty warrior looking for things she can kill. Rucka, by contrast, describes her as having “a very active inclusivity. That’s just part of what she is. Her arms are always open wide. There’s room for everybody. That’s an active part of her. I mean, Batman doesn’t have an issue, but he doesn’t spend his days thinking about how best can he understand his fellow man.” That sounds a lot closer to Diana.

All things considered, giving her same-sex relationships on Paradise Island is a minor change by comparison. So my bad. As an acquaintance says online, writers can transform almost everything about a character without generating half the “that’s not the Super Hero I know” protests as making a character black, gay, etc. I guess I’m guilty.

I will make the minor caveat that the Perez reboot did establish many of the Amazons are in same-sex relationships (some do choose to be celibate, some follow “the way of Narcissus”) so that part isn’t completely new. But it sounds like this will be more explicit (hence my title). As noted at the Rucka link (and plenty of others have made that point), a lot of readers still assume heterosexuality is the default: if someone’s not explicitly QUILTBAG, they must be hetero.

So yes, this is a big deal in a good way. Though I’m slightly annoyed that while DC is open to established female characters swinging both ways (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and I believe Black Canary has described herself as “80 percent straight”), it rarely does this with established male characters (Constantine is the most high-profile).

There was another point in Rucka’s interview, regarding Diana’s motives for leaving Paradise Island, that I’ll get to in a future post.

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Wonder Woman’s Twelve Trials (and Steve Trevor’s Resurrection) #SFWApro

wonderwoman220So after my last post on Wonder Woman, I thought I might as well continue posting as I work through her adventures. It’s relatively easy as DC kept soft-rebooting her over and over, so there are obvious stopping points.

When we last left the Amazing Amazon she’d recovered her powers and become an agent of the United Nations Crisis Bureau. She’d also volunteered to undertake twelve trials, monitored by the JLA, from Superman to the Atom (cover by Dick Giordano, all rights to current holder) to see if she was still qualified as a member.

The stories ranged from bad (the Dr. Cyber story I referenced a while back) to really good (the Atom story) with most of them hovering around the median (as I’ve mentioned when reviewing current comics, I’m under no illusion that mediocre stories are a new thing) The various writers included Cary Bates, Elliott S. Maggin and Martin Pasko, who become the regular WW writer. One story, by Maggin, answered the question of why men were forbidden on Paradise Island and did so pretty well. Another story by Maggin, otherwise amusing, equated “feminism” with “women opening doors for men” which is silly, but it does show how unconventional such little acts or the woman paying for dinner were seen  at the time)

Under Pasko, Diana Prince shifted from the Crisis Bureau to a more bureaucratic job on the diplomacy side. This was meant to be a case of institutional sexism — the Crisis Bureau’s new boss doesn’t think a woman can do the job — but as it was never explained except in a later letter column, that didn’t have any punch.

Then the trials wrapped up, Wonder Woman rejoined the JLA — and in Wonder Woman #223, Hippolyta got pissed. Angered that mere men were judging her daughter’s fitness, she stages an attack on Paradise Island to make that judgment herself — and as part of the adventure, Steve Trevor, Diana’s murdered lover, returns to life.

This was quite a shock. Back then the good guys in comics didn’t die often, but when it happened they didn’t come back, not from a death as fatal as Steve’s (it’s hard to fake getting shot through the chest multiple times). Yet through Aphrodite’s magic and Diana’s pleading here he was, alive again.

Pasko obviously had some ideas for where this would go. Steve has to adjust to a world that’s moved on for the seven years since Dr. Cyber killed him. He’s determined to stand on his own two feet and not be just an appendage to his girlfriend (“Wonder Woman’s Lois Lane” as comics writer Trina Robbins once described him). That includes barging into the HQ of S.O.S. — Spy on Spy, an organization that monitors other espionage groups on behalf of the president — and becoming one of their agents. But whatever plans Pasko had proved moot when Lynda Carter’s The New Original Wonder Woman hit the airwaves. For the first season it was set in WW II, so the comic book, as of WW #228, likewise shifted to WW II. A time-traveling Nazi from the parallel world of Earth-Two (long established as where DC’s 1940s super-hero stories took place) lands on Earth One and drags Diana back with him. She meets her Earth-Two counterpart, then returns to her own time and place; we stay behind with the WW II version. Synchronization with TV accomplished.

And so that’s the material with which I’ll deal next time.

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Undead sexist fictional cliches: nothing’s worse for a woman than losing her looks (#SFWApro)

wonderwoman221This Wonder Woman story (cover by Ernie Chan, all rights with current holder) is a textbook example of one fictional cliche, that the most horrible punishment for a woman is to lose her looks.

Here Diana is overseeing a diplomatic conference for female politicians which turns out to be an exclusive resort because the owner has access to some miracle face cream and all the women want some.  This is actually a scheme by Diana’s old foe Dr. Cyber, who’s secretly plotting to destroy the women’s faces (why should they look good when she doesn’t?) and then decides to transplant her arch-enemy’s face onto her own, regaining her beauty.

Wanting revenge for a disability or handicap is of course an old disability cliche, and it’s worse than usual as used here. Even though male characters sometimes get the “I am scarfaced, I must hate” treatment, the emphasis society puts on women’s looks makes it very sexist. It reinforces the idea that the most important thing about women is their looks; feminists, for example, can’t be taken seriously because they’re ugly, frumpy and don’t shave their legs.

I suppose you could argue that precisely because of that social pressure, women would be scared about losing their looks, but in most cases I see, it seems less about social pressure and more about Well Of Course It’s The Worst Thing That Could Happen. In the classic-Trek episode And the Children Shall Lead, for instance, Uhura’s worst fear is becoming old and ugly rather than, say, failing the Enterprise; Chekhov, by contrast, is shown struggling to steer the ship to safety through a tunnel of death. In the 1970s Dr. Strange TV movie, the demon bad guy punishes his henchwoman, Morgan leFay (Jessica Walters) by aging her rather than, say, eternal torment in hellfire. Without looks, it’s implied, these women have nothing.

It’s particularly annoying with Cyber, who was a world-class crimelord when she first encountered Diana. It’s not as if she relied on her looks to gain power; most people didn’t even know she was a woman. It’s hard to imagine a story where after Spider-Man smashes his crime syndicate, the Kingpin is ultimately pissed because Spider-Man scarred his face or made him put on weight (even though Fisk has been shown as sensitive about growing up fat). The Silver Age origin where Luthor hates Superman because Supes made him bald is routinely mocked (even though that distorts the original story). Make a woman ugly though? Of course she wants revenge!

Writer Marty Pasko gives Cyber another motivation this issue, but it doesn’t help. A flashback reveals that when she first locked horns with Diana, Cyber was in love; when the man overheard Cyber ordering Diana Prince killed, he walked out in horror at her ruthlessness. So Diana not only cost Cyber her face, she cost her a boyfriend!!! It doesn’t help that as drawn here, Cyber’s delivering the kill order right in front of the guy, which makes her look like an idiot (as he apparently didn’t know at the time what a deadly woman she was).

The story is, unfortunately a mass of undead sexist cliches.

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Wonder Woman Goes Retro (#SFWApro)

wonderwoman206So as I mentioned in my previous WW post, Robert Kanigher rebooted Wonder Woman when he took over in 204: she gets her powers back; I Ching is dead; the Amazons are back (without explanation) from the other dimension where they disappeared to at the start of Diana’s non-super period; Diana’s working at the UN and moves in with two women, one black, one Chinese. Plus she meets a black Amazon, Nubia, who challenges her for the right to the “Wonder Woman” title (cover by Nicholas Cardy, all rights to current holder).

All of this was less of a shakeup than it seemed. The following issue introduces UN trouble-shooter Morgan Tracy who becomes the focal point of a triangle with Diana and Wonder Woman (Diana is her own rival!), duplicating the dynamic with Steve Trevor in the late Silver Age WW stories. Like those issues, Kanigher imports some romance-comics tropes. At one point, for instance, Diana’s sexist boss sneers at her as a plain Jane who hates men, pretty women and herself because she’ll never get a man. As the words “plain jane” sink in, Diana tells herself they don’t matter, but then tears trickle down her face … (there’s no way WW ever doing that would work for me, but it doesn’t help that Don Heck draws Diana as a complete cutie ).

In issue 206, Wonder Woman learns Nubia is her sister, a second clay child sculpted by Hippolyta, but kidnapped by Mars and trained for evil. Diana frees her from Mars’ spell, and that was the last we saw of her except for a brief appearance several years later in the Super-Friends comic-book (too bad, she could have beaten Storm as the first black super-heroine at the Big Two). And then the following issue, everything changed again. For several issues Kanigher just recycled his WW scripts from the late 1940s, with new art by Ric Estrada. I have no idea why—did Kanigher get overextended, did he get bored, or did he just figure these would sell as well as something new? This has the jarring effect that Steve Trevor shows up alive and well (I didn’t realize this was an issue at the time as I hadn’t been reading the series back when Steve died).

Finally with #212 (cover by Robert Oksner all rights to current holder), scripter Len Wein brought all this into some coherent shape. After running into Clark Kent, Diana asks why she hasn’t received any JLA wonderwoman212communications lately, and Clark realizes she doesn’t remember quitting, or losing her powers (this is driven home by her trying to meet the team at their old mountain-top HQ rather than the then-current satellite).  When the JLA invites her to re-up, Wonder Woman refuses for fear she might lose her memory in the middle of a fight or something. Instead she suggests Twelve Trials, like Hercules: the League members will monitor her next 12 missions to see if she performs satisfactorily.

Diana confronts her mother, who admits that when Diana came down with amnesia in #204, the Amazons couldn’t restore her memories from the period they were absent so they made up some adventures to fill the gap (hence Steve apparently being alive). Diana’s pissed her mum did that without asking, plus she now knows Steve is dead. It’s not a good day for her.

Over the rest of the issue, Diana moves to a new apartment (we don’t see her two former roommates, though she mentions them—and they never even got names!), goes to work for Morgan Tracy (no longer treated as a possible boyfriend) as a troubleshooter for the UN Crisis Bureau) and as Wonder Woman, saves Tracy from the Cavalier (apparently the Earth-One version of the 1940s Bat-villain). I enjoyed the story and I’m more impressed by Wein pulling everything together so well (as the letter column notes now we get a heroic Diana Prince a la the powerless period alongside the classic Wonder Woman).  The new status quo lasted three years, then switched to new WW II adventures to fit up with the Lynda Carter TV Wonder Woman. A year later the comic, like the show, returned to the present; Diana stayed at the UN until 1980 (after which she’d get rebooted a lot more).

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