By Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
With this third collection of the brilliant mod avenger sequence of Wonder Woman Mike Sekowsky hit his creative peak, seamlessly blending whimsical comedy with barbaric fantasy, high adventure with high fashion and street credibility with the so, so “in vogue” supernatural. The quality came at a price though, as of the nine issues covered here (Wonder Woman #190-198) two and three quarters were reprints necessitated by missed deadlines. Comprehensively filling out the page count is the heroine’s team-up with Superman from World’s Finest Comics #204.
‘Detour’ (issue #190 and superbly inked by the great Dick Giordano) finds the capable ex-Amazon and her blind mentor I Ching crossing interdimensional divides to visit her mother Queen Hippolyta when a cosmic storm deposits them in a dark, feudal world. Captured by slavers they befriend a barbarian and join a revolution against the oppressive Empire of Chalandor, but the second part in #191 was only five pages (padded by reprints) before the epic concluded in #192 with an ‘Assault on Castle Skull’.
The heady brew of swords, armoured combat and fantastic flying machines was balanced by a powerful drama of very human scale in ‘Angela’ when a troubled mother came seeking justice for her daughter, poisoned by a spiked drink at a party. This topical tragedy was followed by an effective and engaging pastiche.
The Prisoner of Zenda (as interpreted by the splendid 1952 Richard Thorpe film rather than the book written by Anthony Hope in 1894) inspired #194’s ‘The Prisoner’, a wonderfully lavish piece of action-packed fluff that proved the sheer versatility of the Single White Female Crime-fighter concept.
Wonder Woman #195 was a mini-masterpiece of spooky thrills. ‘The House that Wasn’t’ found Diana and Ching carjacked by escaped convicts and taking shelter from a blizzard in a haunted Inn. This classic tale is enhanced by the lush, moody inking of the legendary Wally Wood.
The aforementioned team-up with the Man of Steel follows: a cautionary tale from the early days of the ecology movement. ‘Journey to the End of Hope’ (WF #204) is by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella, and featured a computer from the future which begs the heroes to save an unidentified man destined to die in a campus riot – else the Earth will become a toxic ruin!
Issue #196’s ‘Target for Today?’ is the last inclusion in this book (#197 and 198 were both all-reprint editions and are only represented by their covers), a taut thriller wherein Diana becomes the bodyguard for a visiting monarch targeted for assassination…
The uniquely eccentric art of Mike Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for decades, and he had also garnered kudos for The Man from Uncle, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Fight The Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had contributed to its overwhelming success, but with the stories collected here he was reaching the end of his tenure on the experimentally de-vitalised heroine.
Superhero comics were in decline and publishers were impatiently looking for fresh ways to stay in business as audience tastes changed. Back then, with the entire industry dependent on newsstand sales, if you weren’t popular, you died. Within six issues Wonder Woman would regain her magical powers and return to a world of Greek gods, aliens, and super-villains but that period of cool, hip, bravely human heroism and drama on an intimate scale stands out as a self-contained high-point of quality in a largely bland career.
At least there’s enough fab and gear frolics for one last volume. I can’t wait…
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