Diana Prince, Wonder Woman volume 1


By Mike Sekowsky, Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-776-1

With Wonder Woman once again a media darling and screen superstar, I think it’s high time I revisited a favourite trade paperback collection whilst conspicuously grinding an old axe of mine. Diana Prince, Wonder Woman was originally collected in the first decade of this century, celebrating a critical period in the long life of the amazing Amazon but has dropped out of print now and isn’t even available in a digital format. That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong… especially as it portrayed her as a mere mortal overcoming astounding odds with no more than wits, grace, training and a formidable fashion-sense…

I hope you’ll forgive me that heartfelt outburst, but with the movie hype in full blast, it’s about time DC Comics re-released one of the most appealing and memorable sequences in the long history of the most famous female comic character in the world…

In 1968 superhero comics were once again in decline and publishers were looking for ways to stay profitable – or even just in business – as audience tastes changed. Back then, with the entire industry dependent on newsstand sales, if you weren’t popular, you died. Handing over the hoary, venerable and increasingly moribund Wonder Woman title to Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky, the bosses sat back and waited for their eventual failure, and prepared to cancel the only female superhero in the marketplace…

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

His unique take on the Justice League of America had contributed to its overwhelming success, and now he was stretching himself with a number of experimental projects, focussed on the teen and youth-markets.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with the Easy Rider styled drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly hidebound Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would ultimately work the same magic with Supergirl in Adventure Comics (another epic and intriguing run of tales long overdue for compilation).

This first volume (collecting Wonder Woman #178-184 of the comic book series, spanning October 1968 to October 1969) shows just how bold were those changes to the Amazing Amazon’s career. With neophyte scripter Denny O’Neil on board for the first four tales, we see the old star-spangled stalwart one last time as she clears long-time boyfriend Colonel Steve Trevor of a murder-plot in ‘Wonder Woman’s Rival’ before everything changes…

Issue #179 heralded huge changes as ‘Wonder Woman’s Last Battle’ saw the immortal Amazons of Paradise Island forced to abandon our dimensional plane, taking with them all their magic – including all Wonder Woman’s astounding gadgets and weapons such as the Invisible Plane and Golden Lasso – and even her mighty superpowers. Despite all that her love for Steve compels her to remain on Earth.

Effectively becoming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, she resolves to fight injustice as a mortal (#180 ‘A Death for Diana’, February 1969). A meeting with the blind Buddhist monk I Ching shows her how and she becomes his pupil; training as a martial artist, and quickly becoming embroiled in the schemes of a would-be world-conqueror after incurring ‘The Wrath of Doctor Cyber’. And then Steve Trevor is branded a traitor and disappears…

When Sekowsky took over the writing himself (with the fifth tale ‘A Time to Love, A Time to Die’) the rip-roaring adventures moved in some wildly diverse directions, including high-fashion and high fantasy…

In #183 (August 1969) older fans got a surprise treat after ‘Return to Paradise Island’ found Diana and Ching traversing myriad planes of existence to lost dimensions to join her sister Amazons and fabled heroes such as King Arthur, Lancelot, Siegfried and Roland in a cataclysmic clash against the monster-filled armies of the old adversary Mars, God of War, grimly culminating in ‘The Last Battle!’

With apparently nothing to lose, the switch to amateur espionage agent/peripatetic troubleshooter in the trendy footsteps of such popular TV characters as Emma Peel, The Girl from Uncle and Honey West – not to mention our own ultimate comic strip action-heroine Modesty Blaise – seemed like desperation, but the series was brilliantly written and fantastically drawn, with master inker Dick Giordano adding a sleek veneer of gloss and glamour to the oh-so-readable proceedings.

Steeped heavily in Hippie counter-culture and the Mod-fashion explosion, the New Wonder Woman quickly found a dedicated fan-base. Sales may not have rocketed but they stopped sliding and the character was one of the few frantic, scrabbling refits of that era (even Green Lantern/Green Arrow, X-Men and Silver Surfer not faring quite so well) to avoid cancellation…

Eventually, as times changed, the magical Amazons returned and Wonder Woman once again became a super-powerful creature, 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.

That modern readers can’t readily experience this most enjoyable reading experiences is a truly sad state of affairs and one which hopefully be rectified as matter of extreme urgency…
© 1968, 1969, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.