By Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
Back for a second delicious helping of pop nostalgia and startling action is Diana Prince, erstwhile Amazon superhero, but for a brief moment a mortal woman with all the power and wit that entails – solving problems and fighting injustice with great style and incredible fashion-sense.
In 1968 superhero comics were in decline and publishers sought new ways to keep audience as tastes 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 then in the marketplace.
The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics’ T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war comic Fight The Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and now he was stretching himself with a number of experimental, youth-market directed projects.
Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with the Easy Rider-like 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 ultimately work the same magic with Supergirl.
When the Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, they took with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons … Now no more or less than human she decided to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal. 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. Her one true love Steve Trevor was branded a traitor and killed…
This volume (which collects issues #185-189 of her comic book, a guest shot from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #93 plus the first of two appearances in the Batman team-up vehicle Brave and the Bold #87) shows just how bold were those changes to the Amazing Amazon’s career. With young scripter Denny O’Neil moved to other projects Sekowsky took over the writing himself, surprising everyone with his savvy ear for dialogue and a refreshingly original take on the old conventions.
With apparently nothing to lose, the switch to espionage/adventurer in the fashionable 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 clearly struck a chord with the public. Sekowsky opens this book with ‘Them!’ – one of the most original tales of the period, with few to match it written since.
Steeped heavily in the hippie counter-culture and Mod-fashion explosion, the New Wonder Woman had opened her own boutique and into it rushes a young girl seeking to escape three women who took her in and then made her their slave. Today this sort of psychological thriller is more recognisable, but in 1969 themes of bullying and peer abuse were utterly unknown in comic books, and this groundbreaking tale is uniquely informative: exploring other solutions than simply punching bad guys – although there’s enough of that so that the regular readers aren’t completely bewildered.
This is followed by ‘Morgana the Witch’, (WW #186) a spectacular flight of whimsy tapping into the then growing interest in the supernatural wherein a trio of teenaged girls with a talking frog (who was originally the boy friend of one of them) request help after accidentally summoning a powerful (and clearly bi-polar) sorceress to the 20th century.
Next is ‘The Superman-Wonder Woman Team!’ (by Robert Kanigher and Irv Novick from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #93), a less adventurous and unreconstructed yarn where the also socially evolving girl-reporter seeks to uncover the reason the ex-Amazon is making an ill-concealed play for her man, and a superbly tense thriller by Sekowsky and Giordano from Brave and the Bold #87 entitled ‘The Widow-Maker’, wherein the son of one of Batman’s foes tries to add to his tally of murders by luring the Caped Crusader into a rigged high performance car race.
The book concludes with a gripping three-part saga revealing some of I Ching’s past and reintroducing the deadly Dr. Cyber before seamlessly transiting into an exotic Cold War thriller. In ‘Earthquaker’ and ‘Cyber’s Revenge’ Diana’s mentor is summoned by old friends to Hong Kong where he and his astonishing pupil happen upon a plan to blackmail the island with catastrophic artificial earthquakes, before attempting to smuggle an entire village out of Communist China in the delightfully epic ‘Red for Death’. The spectacle is broken up by a wonderful extra two page strip vignette ‘Crime does not Pay’ which brilliantly demonstrates the wit and economy of the medium
Comics are an art-form dictated by markets, driven by sales and influenced by fashion. For a brief moment all these factors coalesced to produce a compelling, engaging and utterly fabulous sequence of tales that are timelessly perfect and eternally fresh. And now you can read them whenever you feel the need for better times simply by opening these pages…
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