I should explain up front that this article is part review and part History of Comics 101. As such, I haven't worried at all about spoilers. It's the only way to do this analysis justice, without worrying I will reveal something that was only a spoiler in the late 1960s. If you are coming into Wonder Woman's history fresh and only want to know whether or not to buy this collection, I wholeheartedly recommend it as a revealing peek into Princess Diana's history, with a coherent multi-issue story arc (uncommon in its day) and loving art by Mike Sekowsky.
In 1968, DC Comics did the unspeakable. They
depowered Wonder Woman. The venerable comics icon found herself without her gods-given
abilities, and also without her sister Amazons,
and bereft of the man for whom she had given so much of herself, Steve Trevor.
Diana Prince found herself in a mod, mod world, sporting groovy Emma Peel get-ups and kicking bad guy ass without her magic bracelets and her Superman power level.
When she emerged from her depowered phase Wonder Woman would reinvent herself as the icon of the burgeoning feminist movement, making the cover of the premier issue of Ms. magazine.
How odd that DC should choose 2006, forty years later, to collect the first chapter of this era in the Amazing Amazon's history.
For some reason, I have a real soft spot for this
incarnation of pop culture's most famous Amazon. Maybe it's the crazy outfits, worthy of Rudy Gernreich (OK, on a so-so day). Maybe in some sort of weird way (weird, because I'm a man), it's the sense of empowerment she gave all women.
Until fairly recently I wasn't familiar with the depowered Diana Prince version of Wonder Woman. I was vaguely aware of the concept. I saw the covers. And loved them.
My introduction to comics coincided with my learning to read, which probably explains a lot. I first encountered Wonder Woman when she hosted Justice League guest stars who reviewed her performance in her version of the twelve labors of Hercules. In retrospect this strikes me as exceptionally sexist, made moreso by Princess Diana herself requesting those tests.
At the time, however, I just marveled at this four-color character who personified power and femininity. I was six, but I guess I was amazingly perceptive. Years later, I find myself looking forward to looking back.
The plot of issue 179 has Steve Trevor framed for murder, convicted in part due to Wonder Woman's testimony.
'Wonder Woman must change'
Pop culture hasn't changed much. Just like in Law and Order, the trial takes a surprisingly short amount of time.
Crushed by Steve's anger at Wonder Woman's perceived betrayal, the princess decides she must solve the mystery of Steve's frame as Diana Prince, out of her familiar four-color costume. She clears Steve, but Diana Prince also become her own rival for Steve's affections. Prophetically, she proclaims, "Wonder Woman must change."
As if in answer, the next issue begins with a summons from Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta. The Queen declares the Amazons are losing their magic. This loss resulted from their failed attempt to teach Man's World the Amazon virtues of peace and love.
If this sounds dated, it shouldn't. In 2007 and 2008, the most recent run of Wonder Woman ended with Diana questioning her place in the world. What surprises me and doesn't is how much more irritating this self-doubt is to me in 2008.
While the self-doubt of both 2008 and 1968 versions doesn't ring true to William Moulton Marston's original vision, it was more understandable at the dawn of the feminist movement.
With Diana's new life as a liberated woman, free of the Wonder Woman identity and the "mystic skills" she relinquished, Diana's first step towards independence is to start her own Mod-ly Modern boutique. Lucky for her, as the neverending wardrobe she displays over the next few issues would require wholesale pricing at the very least.
Outside her shop, in New York's iffy lower east side, Diana meets a blind Asian man, Mr. Ching,
whose prowess with the martial arts prompts Diana to engage his instruction.
Steve, fresh from murder acquittal, is a double agent. His reputation again suffers from damning headlines (this is getting old) as he poses as a traitor to infiltrate a criminal organization.
Trevor infiltrates mysterious Dr. Cyber's organization, is attacked by Cyber's she-thugs (she-thugs?), then he saves Diana at the last minute, then is gunned down and dies. Yes, dies.
Comics' unique power
Notably, Dr. Cyber is revealed to be a woman (which probably would explain the she-thugs), which reveals a characteristic typical to comics as a medium. When Cyber is introduced, it is by name only. When she appears, it is in profile and in shadow, leaving the reader to assume a man's voice in her word bubbles. The revelation of Dr. Cyber as a villainess
is a telling testament to the unique power of comics to obscure the human voice, more potent than prose literature, which must eventually give in to gender-specific pronouns.
This is one more way comics exist in a reality of their own, not quite art and not quite literature but a medium mindful of its own abilities beyond either of its two constituent mediums.
Diana and sexy newcomer Reginald Hyde-Whyte (how's that for a Scooby Doo name) fall in love far too quickly for anyone who ever respected Diana's history with Steve.
The story arc ends with betrayal, making Diana open up a serious can of whupass and once again doubt everything.
This self-doubt opens the next chapter as Diana returns to Paradise Island because The Queen Mother defied Ares. Here's a detail I forgot over the years: Ares identifies himself as Hippolyta's father and Wonder Woman's grandfather.
Diana, like her mother, defies Ares and implores the heroes of history and myth for their aid against Ares.
In Camelot, she dares King Arthur, Roland, Lancelot and Siegfried to behave like heroes, only to be dismissed by the jaded ex-warriors in a dazzling display of hubris and sexism. Diana challenges Siegfried to battle.
Now, here is where I got irritated, as Siegfried bests Diana in short order. Only the
intercession of valkyrie Brunhilde saves Diana from death. We all know superpowered Diana would have made quick work of Siegfried. Superpowered Diana would have kicked Ares's red-bearded ass all over the pavement by her lonesome.
This collection ends with me waiting anxiously for volume two, as promised by DC. I hope Volume Two explains how she regains her powers, as this
would helped place Wonder Woman once again squarely between Superman and Batman as one of the cornerstones of DC's Big Three pantheon.
But in this era Diana is portrayed as far too vulnerable.
The deconstruction of Diana's character during this era lays open far too much weakness and far too much vulnerability. When she's not falling in love too quickly or trusting the wrong man, she feels too sorry for herself for being too human.
As touching as this is, I wish Diana's writers could have figured out a better way to show Diana's irresistible power, and not just her indomitable spirit.
Self-doubt was 1968 Spider-Man's thing, not Wonder Woman's.