Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Incredible Wonder Woman

2:27:43 am

Like I said during my review of Demon in a Bottle, I didn't really read a lot of older comics, especially pre-Crisis DC stuff. I used to feel like if it didn't matter as far as continuity is concerned then why bother? I also assumed, wrongfully, that a lot of the books from back then were too corny to be read. I've been proven wrong plenty of times since getting to Wizard and having access to the library. So, with that in mind, I decided to give DC's recent Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 trade a whirl.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 (1968-1969)

Written by Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky

Drawn by Mike Sekowsky

Collects Wonder Woman Volume 1 #178-183

Okay, so, there's no intro in this book to give any context as to what the heck was going on in Wonder Woman before the trade starts, so it's a jump-in-the-pool-and-swim situation. Also, I read this book over a few weeks, picking it up and putting it down as other things came across my plate, so my memory might be a little fuzzy (well, fuzzier than usual).

We open with Wonder Woman's love interest Steve Trevor getting picked up by the cops on murder charges. Like any good girlfriend, Wonder Woman sets out to find out what's really going on, but thinks that rolling out as WW might be a little too obvious so she goes out as Diana Prince and gets herself some very mod clothes. And man, does Sekowsky revel in the psychedelic backgrounds and clothing, which unintentionally transport modern readers back to the time period this book was being created in (or at least what we like to think the '60s were like). Diana/Wonder Woman figure out what's really going on with Steve and everything's okay.

Then in order to get Steve out of the way for some time, Steve Trevor gets sent out on a secret mission to infiltrate Doctor Cyber's criminal ring that makes him look like traitor. In the same issue Diana gets word from her mother that the Greek gods are moving to another dimension to rest up. Diana agrees to stay in our dimension to continue helping mankind, a decision that strips her of all her powers.

It's pretty crazy to think that they were trying things like this back in the day. We're used to it by now, but can you imagine if they stripped Superman of his powers back then? From what I can remember, the '60s were a pretty rough time for DC's superhero comics (what with those upstart Marvel Comics coming out), so it seems like this was DC's way of trying to keep readers who were into the martial arts and spy fiction of the time. I'd like to think that it's the kind of book that would have sparked my interest if I was reading comics back then (I got into comics with the death of Superman, Batman getting his back broken, Wonder Woman becoming a red head and Green Lantern going crazy).

So, Diana Prince finds herself powerless on a world she still doesn't quite understand, having to worry about things like food and rent. Luckily for her, an old blind Asian dude is getting accosted by some hoods right outside her new place, she jumps in to help him, but he proves a formidable foe and easily dispatches the criminals. The man's name is Ching (sometimes called I Ching, though I'm not sure if that's part of his actual name or just the way he talks) and he's on Dr. Cyber's tail too. By the way, yeah, Morrison recently brought Ching back in the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul. So in exchange for Diana's help in tracking them down, he'll train Diana in the martial arts in some really freakin' cool splash pages.

Have I mentioned how much I like Sekowsky? I'd never heard of him before picking this trade up, but the artist turned writer (O'Neil left a little over half-way through the book) wowed me to the point where I'd give just about anything he drew a shot. And of course, Denny O'Neil is one of those incredibly prolific writers that I've read and enjoyed for years.

Back to the story, Ching and Diana spend a few more issues going back and forth with Doctor Cyber's evil ladies, accompanied by Tim Trench for a while. Trench fills the roll of the hardned private dick who's ready to help until something more profitable shows up. Again, I really enjoy the different genres that O'Neil and Sekowsky played with. The next guy that comes along ends up betraying Diana and Ching to Dr. Cyber, leading Diana to beat him within an inch of his life. For some reason, Cyber (who, by the way, is a woman, even though they assumed it was a man for the first few issues, I assume this was way more of shock back then) leaves her to beat on him.

Distraught, Diana runs out of the house. By this time Sekowsky was flying solo in the writing department and the combination of his words and pencils really reveal the betrayal that Diana feels as she collapses in the street from exhaustion only to be approached by an Amazon asking her to return with her to the Amazon's new dimension. Diana agrees and brings Ching with her.

It turns out that Diana's grandfather Ares wants Hippolyta's secret of interdimensional travel which only she holds. Hippolyta refused, so Ares' sister puts her in a coma after fighting the first battle in a war of the gods (no, not that one). The Amazons brought Diana back to fill her mother's role as general of the Amazonian army, a roll which she fills with gusto, leading them into battle against Ares' monster army.

But Diana and the Amazons realize they're no match for the god's armies. Diana comes up with a plan: to travel to the dimension of history's heroes and ask them to come to the Amazon's aid. The dimension-hopping Amazon takes her there only to find that the heroes are sick of fighting for no personal gain. Luckily the Valkyries offer to fight side by side with the Amazon's against the hordes of Ares, even though they know they can not win. The combined forces do a serviceable job defending themselves, but still fight a losing battle, until the heroes eventually show up and turn the tide in their favor. With Diana's mother restored, Ares admits his defeat and leaves the Amazons be, for now. In the end, Ching opts to stay with the Amazons for a while as Diana returns to her adoptive home.

Overall I really liked this book. It's a great mix of genres with a number of rad stories, some fantastic art and a good balance of action and mythology that plenty of other Wonder Woman writers have aimed for and missed. By stripping Diana down to her bare bones, O'Neil and Sedowsky really showed me why Diana is a great character. My only problem with the story is that this strong woman who we've seen grow as a person, a fighter and a warrior needs a group of men riding in on their horses to save the day, even though I love the idea of a dimension filled with heroes (like a hero heaven). Maybe it's just those women's lit classes I took in college kicking in, but it does seem to take a little bit away from the story. I can't wait for the next volume to hit shelves (and by shelves I mean the Wizard library).

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