Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors

By Martin Pasko, Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Curt Swan, John Rosenberger, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter, in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and, on forward thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part, sell more funnybooks.

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated Summer 1942.

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they forever isolated themselves from the mortal world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty and, although forbidden to compete, Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, which elegantly allowed the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America. Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes along with Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died.

Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero to still have her own title that marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for nearly two decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and on war title Fight The Enemy!

His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and now in 1968 he began stretching himself further with a number of experimental, young-adult oriented projects.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with Easy Rider style drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. He would subsequently work the same magic with Supergirl.

The big change came when the Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons. Now no more or less than human, she opted to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal, very much in the manner of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise.

Blind Buddhist monk I Ching trained her as a martial artist, and she quickly became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Most shockingly her beloved Steve was branded a traitor and murdered…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman (and can be seen in the magical quartet of full-colour collections entitled Diana Prince: Wonder Woman) but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and in a few years, without any fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten.

Her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains with a new nemesis, an African (Greek?) American half-sister named Nubia

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not.

Sales were never great even on the Sekowsky run and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman TV show in 1967, and by this time (1973) production work had begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me… By the time Linda Carter made the concept live in 1975 Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

But as Diana returned to mainstream DC continuity the fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 to 222 (cover-dated July 1974 – March 1976) and detailed how the Amazing Amazon rejoined the JLA.

Scripter Len Wein and artists Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell got the ball rolling with ‘The Man Who Mastered Women!’ as the Hellenic Heroine thwarted a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building where Diana Prince worked as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly met old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realised her memories had been tampered with and suddenly understood why her JLA colleagues hadn’t called her to any meetings… she had resigned years ago…

Although her former comrades begged her to re-enlist, she declined, fearing that her memory lapses might endanger the team and the world. After much insistent pleading she relented enough to suggest that the League should covertly monitor her next dozen major cases – in the manner of Hercules’ twelve legendary tests – as she proved herself competent and worthy, for her own peace of mind if not the JLA’s…

Once they grudgingly agreed she left and Superman began the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing that she had been subject to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, she confronted her mother and learned of her time as a mere mortal and of Steve’s death.

Although the past had been removed by her well-meaning Amazon sisters, Diana now demanded that every recollection excised be returned…

Back in Man’s World a crisis was already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier began exerting his uncanny influence over women to controlling female Heads of State, but his powers proved ultimately ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

As a result of that case Diana Prince changed jobs, going to work as a troubleshooter for dashing Morgan Tracy at the UN Crisis Bureau, and her first mission wasn’t long in coming…

Wonder Woman #213 was crafted by Cary Bates, Irv Novick & Blaisdell as an alien robot landed and removed all aggression from humanity in one stroke. As the Flash helplessly observed however ‘The War-No-More Machine!’ also quashed all bravery, determination, confidence and capability and the species faced imminent – if long and drawn out – extinction.

Happily Diana, a teenaged girl and a murderous criminal were all somehow immune to the invader’s influence…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa then disclosed Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s undercover observations after a lost Amazon gem in unwitting, unscrupulous hands almost started World War III and the Princess of Power had to avert a nuclear holocaust triggered by a ‘Wish Upon a Star!’

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Cary Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watched Wonder Woman unravel a baroque and barbaric plot by Mars, God of War to set Earth’s two most advanced nations at each throats, after which #216 found Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ by Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta.

The tale concerned an obsessed multi-millionaire risking everything – including possibly the collapse of civilisation – to uncover exactly what would happen if a man set foot upon the hidden Island of the Amazons…

One of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes resurfaced in ‘The Day Time Broke Loose!’ (by Maggin, Dick Dillin & Colletta) and Green Arrow was caught in the crossfire as the Duke of Deception attacked the UN with temporally torturous images and hallucinations designed to create madness and death on a global scale.

Issue #218 was produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger and offered two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reported on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer used mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermined Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily observed her foiling a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animated and enraged the Statue of Liberty in ‘Give Her Liberty – and Give Her Death!’

This was a time when feminism was finally making inroads into American culture and Pasko, Swan & Colletta slyly tipped their hats to the burgeoning movement in a wry and fanciful sci-fi thriller.

Thus issue  #219 found Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’ with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man secretly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, regular scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watched Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal obsessive Chronos eradicating New York’s ability to discern time and time pieces: a plot foiled with style and brilliance by the on-form, in-time Power Princess.

The only problem was that during that entire exacting episode Hawkman had been watching Diana tackling another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report detailed how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince had been targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combined a hunger for vengeance with a plan to steal a UN-controlled chemical weapon in ‘The Fiend with the Face of Glass’ (illustrated by Swan & Colletta).

How she could be in two places simultaneously was revealed by Batman, who wrapped up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (art by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon had been subverted into a monster feeding off people and replacing them with perfect duplicates…

With covers by Bob Oksner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano & Ernie Chan, this is a spectacular slice of pure, uncomplicated, all ages superhero action/adventure starring one of comics’ true all stars.

Stuffed with stunning art and witty, beguiling stories, this is Wonder Woman at her most welcoming in a timeless, pivotal classic of the medium: one that still provides astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.