Superman: The City of Tomorrow volume 1


By Jeph Loeb, Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, Mike McKone, Steve Epting, Dough Mahnke, German Garcia, Joe Phillips, Yannick Paquette, Kano, Butch Guice, Ed McGuinness & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9508-0 (TPB)

The Man of Tomorrow has proven to be all things to most people over more than 80 years of action and adventure, with Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic Superman now practically unrecognisable to most fans after continual radical shake-ups and revisions. Nevertheless, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Metropolis Marvel’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

These days, in the aftermath of the Future State and Infinite Frontier events, myriad decades of accrued mythology have been re-assimilated into an overarching, all-inclusive media dominant, film-favoured continuity, with the grittily stripped-down, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Steel (as re-imagined by John Byrne and built upon by an army of immensely talented comics creators) regarded as a stunning high point.

As soon as the Byrne restart had demolished much of the mythology and iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years, successive writers, artists and editors expended a lot of time and ingenuity restoring it, albeit in terms more accessible to a cynical, well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

Even so, by the mid-1990’s Byrne’s baby was beginning to look a little tired. The sales kick generated by the Death… and Return of Superman was already fading, so the decision was made to give the big guy a bit of a tweak for the fast-approaching new millennium: bringing in new creators and moving the stories into more bombastic territory.

The fresh tone was augmented by a new sequence and style of trade paperback editions and this new collection adheres to that format in gigantic themed tomes like this initial outing re-presenting material from Action Comics #760-763; Superman #151-154, Superman: Man of Steel # 95-98; The Adventures of Superman #573-576 and Superman: Y2K, covering December 1999-March 2000.

It spectacularly opens with ‘We’re Back!’ by Jeph Loeb, Mike McKone & Marlo Alquiza (from Superman #151), which sees the recently wrecked Daily Planet restored, rebuilt and returned to glory after a dark period under the ownership of Lex Luthor, allowing Lois Lane-Kent plenty of opportunities for reflection, remembrance and handy recapping before the sinister son of alien marauder Mongul explosively crashes to earth…

‘Higher Ground’ (by Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Steve Epting & Denis Rodier from Adventures of Superman #573) then details Luthor’s machinations and political chicanery in the creation of a proposed elite “hypersector” to cap the rebuilding of “his” City of Tomorrow. Only stubborn landowner Jerome Odett stands in his way, but with the mayor on his team and bending the law to his needs Lex is assured of victory… until Superman intervenes using sentiment, nostalgia and happy childhood memories as his weapons of choice to arouse popular opinion…

Mark Schultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen then reveal that ‘Krypton Lives’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 95) after a Superman robot malfunctions in the Antarctic, allowing humans to enter the Kryptonian’s Fortress of Solitude and triggering the escape of a bizarre string of ancient yet impossibly alive Kryptonian artefacts and creatures.

Forced to destroy the last vestiges of his alien heritage, Kal-El returns to Lois, thinking that a precious chapter of his life is over, but he couldn’t be more wrong…

Crafted by Joe Kelly, German Garcia & Joe Rubinstein, Action Comics #760 depicts ‘…Never-Ending Battle…’ as a legion of minor menaces and misfits lead the Man of Tomorrow to Latina sorceress La Encantadora who sells slivers of Kryptonite to thugs trying to lay our hero low. Even after the elusive enchantress is corralled, she delivers one last surprise which will make much mischief for the Last Son of Krypton…

‘Deadline U.S.A.’ (Superman #152, Loeb, McKone & Alquiza) resumes the interrupted battle with Mongul Jr., but all conflict ceases when the mammoth monster finally gets the Man of Steel to stop hitting and listen…

The brutal tyrant has come to warn of a vast, universe-ending threat and, in conjunction with Luthor, is offering to train Superman to beat it…

There are more pedestrian but just as critical distracting problems to deal with. During Superman’s sparring with Mongul, Jimmy Olsen took a photo of the hero’s hand sporting a wedding ring. When the picture is leaked, the media goes into a feeding frenzy…

‘Something Borrowed, Something Blue’ (Immonen, Millar, Joe Phillips & Rich Faber; Adventures of Superman #574) follows that strand as old foe and potential bunny-boiler Obsession resurfaces in a Superwoman outfit, claiming to be the much-sought Mrs. Superman. However, her deranged tantrum leads to nothing but tragedy and disaster…

Returning ‘Home’ (by Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen in Superman: Man of Steel #96) Clark Kent finds his Metropolis apartment transformed into a terrifying outpost of his destroyed birthworld, courtesy of renegade miracle machine The Eradicator. In the resultant clash, Superman looks doomed to destruction, until Lois takes decisive action…

Her valiant nature and wifely tolerance is truly tested in Action Comics #761, as – courtesy of Kelly, Garcia & Rubinstein – Lois is abandoned after Wonder Woman requests the Man of Tomorrow join her in battle beside gods against devils.

For the feisty journalist it’s mere days until Clark returns, but she’s blissfully unaware that her husband and the perfect warrior woman have been comrades – and perhaps more – ‘For a Thousand Years…’

The last Christmas of the 20th century ends in Superman #153 (Loeb, McKone & Alquiza) as ‘Say Goodbye’ finds the Action Ace heading into space with Mongul to battle Imperiex, Destroyer of Galaxies who has targeted the Milky Way for destruction…

When the pair implausibly triumph, Mongul instantly betrays his erstwhile pupil and only a violent intervention by bounty hunter Lobo prevents a tragic travesty. What nobody knows is that the Imperiex so recently destroyed is just a fractional drone of the real cosmic obliterator, who is now really ticked off…

Offering a brief pause and change-of-pace ‘A Night at the Opera’ (by Immonen, Millar, Yannick Paquette, Dexter Vines & Rich Faber; Adventures of Superman #575) sees Luthor poison Clark in a churlish attempt to monopolize and impress Lois, before Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen’s ‘Bridge the Past and Future’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 97) focusses on John Henry Irons – AKA Steel – and his niece Natasha. The high-tech armourers to the City’s police force join Superman against the possessed personification of the Eradicator, still hell-bent on making Earth an outpost of lost Krypton, but now afflicted by an all-too-human consciousness …

As year and millennium anxiously count down to potential doom (kids – this was a genuine concern at the time, you should check it out…) Christmas tensions escalate in Action Comics #762 as Kelly, Garcia, Kano & Rubinstein’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’ finds Man of Steel battling occasional ally Etrigan the Demon beside current foe La Encantadora, before all rediscover the true meaning of the season…

Finally, the long-dreaded doom days begin with the Superman: Y2K one-shot special, crafted by scripter Joe Kelly and artists Butch Guice, Kevin Conrad, Mark Propst & Richard Bonk. ‘The End’ traces the history of the Luthor dynasty in Metropolis, from the first settlers in America to the present day when Last Son Lex practically owns the entire place as a counterpoint to the ongoing action…

With the end of the Holidays fast approaching, staunch traditionalist Clark is facing an existential crisis: Lois and his own mother want to elbow the sacrosanct seasonal tradition of a quiet New Year’s on the Smallville farm for a (professionally-catered, not home-cooked) vacation in the Big City…

Bowing to the inevitable, the Hubby of Tomorrow ferries the family to a Metropolis suddenly gripped with terror: fearing that all the computers on Earth will imminently expire, precipitating the end of civilisation as the millennium closes…

When the countdown concludes, everybody’s fears are totally justified. An alien entity overwhelms the world’s digital systems, triggering a wave of destruction affecting every electronic device on Earth…

Alien digital dictator Brainac 2.5 has upgraded himself since his last attack, but his hatred for Luthor is undiminished. As every hero on Earth battles panic, riots and failing technologies, and Superman and Green Lantern are busy fielding all the nuclear missiles launched during the terrifying induced glitch, the computer dictator is trying his hardest to murder Lex and his new baby daughter Lena Luthor.

As part of his scheme Brainiac 2.5 has also enslaved Earth’s many robotic and android entities such as Red Tornado, Hourman and the Metal Men, but the AI invader is blithely unaware that he too is being used…

With the world – and especially Metropolis – crashing into ruin the secret invader makes its move: from the far distant future the merciless Brainac 13 program has been attempting to overwrite its ancient ancestor and take over Earth centuries before it was even devised…

As described by Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith in Superman volume 2 #154 (March 2000), the crisis intensifies in ‘Whatever Happened to the City of Tomorrow?’ as the colossal chronologically-displaced construct begins reformatting the world: converting matter into materials and designs analogous to its own time. Unfortunately, that’s very bad news for the billions of human beings inside buildings, vehicles and vessels abruptly undergoing those transformations…

Even Luthor is helpless, locked out of his own corporate tower as “his” city falls apart whilst the Man of Steel is occupied battling Brainiac 13 and upgraded cyborg assassin Metallo. Assistance arrives in most unwelcome form as little Lena begins offering technical advice. The toddler has been possessed by presumed-destroyed Brainiac 2.5: simultaneously becoming hostage and bolt-hole for the outmoded, nigh-obsolete alien menace…

With the aid of the Metal Men, Superman defeats Metallo and confers with Lois and Jimmy Olsen. The games-mad lad theorises that the transforming city is starting to resemble a gigantic motherboard…

As elsewhere Jonathan and Martha Kent are trapped aboard a subway train programmed to deliver organic units to a slave-indoctrination station, the Action Ace attempts to dislodge the computerising city’s main power cable. When Brainiac 13 tries to digitise and absorb the annoying Kryptonian, it accidentally reverts the hero to a previous incarnation: the intangible electrical form dubbed Superman Blue

The hostile planetary hacking continues in The Adventures of Superman #576 as ‘AnarchY2Knowledge’ (Millar, Immonen & José Marzan, Jr.) finds the Man of Energy hopelessly tackling Brainiac 13. He seeks to quell the rising body count of helpless humans, whilst far below Luthor and Lena 2.5 battle through marauding B13 creations in the overwritten bowels of the LexCorp Tower towards a stolen secret weapon…

The alien-occupied infant shares a direct link with all Brainiacs’ core programming and has discovered a possible backdoor that could enable them to destroy the all-pervasive program from the future. Their progress is greatly facilitated after Luthor’s lethally devoted bodyguards Hope and Mercy finally locate them. As preparations proceed, the villains opt to rescue Superman, incidentally restoring the Metropolis Marvel to a flesh and blood state. To save Metropolis for his family, the evil billionaire will even work with his most hated enemy…

Superman: Man of Steel # 98 continues the epic with ‘Thirty Minutes to Oblivion’ (Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen) as the senior Kents escape conversion into B13 drones thanks to a last moment rescue by the Man of Steel and The Eradicator.

After a lengthy period of self-imposed banishment in deep space (for which see Superman: Exile) Kal-El returned to Earth carrying an incredibly powerful Kryptonian artefact which had survived the destruction of the planet. The Eradicator could reshape matter and was programmed to preserve or resurrect and restore the heritage and influence of the lost civilisation at any cost.

After a number of close calls Superman realised it was too dangerous, so he buried it in an Antarctic crevasse and foolishly assumed that ended the affair. Such was not the case and the miracle machine returned many times, always attempting to remake Earth into New Krypton.

When Superman died, it manufactured a new body and sought to carry on Kal-El’s legacy… Eventually it failed and fell into the hands of dying scientist David Connor who merged with the manufactured body to produce a phenomenally powerful – if morally and emotionally conflicted – new hero…

Superman’s understandable anxiety is assuaged as Eradicator points out a weakness in B13 tech assimilation. Its transmode programs have been unable to infect Kryptonian systems such as those in the Fortress of Solitude, but the base has now become the invader’s primary target. If the program masters Kryptonian systems it will be utterly unstoppable…

After finishing off Metallo and the co-opted Metal Men, Eradicator and Superman head to the Fortress, whilst in his factory John Henry Irons and Natasha find their own temporary answer to the threat of the constantly encroaching and bloodthirsty B13 drones…

Deep below LexCorp, Luthor and Lena 2.5 are working towards similar goals with the same insights whilst planning to betray each other later. Admitting that Brainiac core systems can’t even see Kryptonian tech, the baby bodysnatcher advises Lex to modify the robotic warsuit stolen from Superman and deploy it against the apparently omnipotent digital invader.

In the Antarctic, events have moved to a crisis point. The Fortress – transformed by echoes of the original Eradicator – has reconstructed itself into a colossal warrior attempting to overwrite the predatory B13 programs and satisfy its own primary mission… recreating Krypton.

To counter this threat David Connor pays an intolerable price…

The epic comes to a startling conclusion in ‘Sacrifice for Tomorrow’ (Kelly, Garcia, Kano & Alquiza in Action Comics #763) as Superman returns to Metropolis armed with the knowledge of B13’s Achilles’ heel and his repurposed Kryptonian butler Kelex

Attacking the monstrous computer tyrant with a battalion of mechanoid heroes, the Man of Tomorrow is again repulsed and seeks Luthor’s aid. However, despite Lex’s resolve to work with his nemesis to defeat Brainiac, the billionaire cannot resist turning the warsuit on its previous owner. Typically, Superman was counting on treachery, using it as an opportunity to hijack the Kryptonian armour’s systems to power a forced crash in Brainiac 13…

The blockbuster battle ends as Earth is rapidly reconverted to its original state, but for some inexplicable reason the remission halts outside Metropolis. The city remains a valuable, incomprehensible artefact of a far future with Luthor in the driving seat, frantically patenting thousands of incredible technological advances. There is no sign of baby Lena and the new master of Metropolis refuses to hear her name mentioned…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Phil Jimenez; Dwayne Turner & Danny Miki; Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund; Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary; Lee Bermejo; Guice; McGuiness & Smith; Immonen & Marzan; Mahnke & John Dell and Garcia & Mendoza, this blistering paperback and digital blockbuster tome introduces a whole new world – and a wealth of fresh problems – for the venerable, wide-ranging cast to cope with: building built upon the scintillating re-casting of the greatest of all superheroes. Lovers of the genre cannot help but respond to the sheer scale, spectacle and compelling melodrama of these tales which will delight all fans of pure untrammelled Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction.
© 1999, 2000, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth


By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Who is Wonder Woman?


By Allan Heinberg, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1233-9 (HB) 978-1-4012-7233-3 (TPB)

Wonder Woman debuted in October 1941. With such a big anniversary and her second movie out at last (sort of) this year seems ideal to focus some attention on her lesser-known graphic triumphs. Here’s one I prepared earlier…

When the Amazing Amazon was relaunched in the wake of mega-crossover events Infinite Crisis and 52 with art stars Terry & Rachel Dodson illustrating the scripts of TV heavy hitter Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C. and Sex and the City among others), there was much well-deserved media attention. However, the comic was plagued by missed deadlines and most of the series’ initial momentum was lost. After the fourth issue the saga was simply abandoned unfinished. A new writer stepped in with very impressive results (although that’s a tale for another time and, a separate review) while the original creators regrouped. The initial story-arc was eventually concluded in Wonder Woman Annual volume 2, #1.

When all the dust settled, the completed adventure was collected in this impressive if slim hardback and paperback and we can finally judge the story on its actual merit – unless you only read digital editions. Still. It can’t be long now, can it?

Following the reality realignments of Infinite Crisis, there was a hiatus of a year when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman vanished. Sort of…

This story opens with an Amazon warrior battling some of Wonder Woman’s most fantastic villains and menaces, but she’s not Princess Diana of Themyscira. Rather Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, has taken the role – and excelled – but said oldest enemies have joined forces under the aegis of a mysterious mastermind and captured the replacement – as well as the new Wonder Girl…

Enter Sarge Steel, super spy Nemesis and the latest recruit to the Department of Metahuman Affairs, field agent Diana Prince! In case you’re a complete neophyte regarding Amazon continuity, that’s supposed to be a big, bewildering shock because Diana is secretly the original Wonder Woman herself…

What follows is an enjoyable romp with glamorous and spectacular “big visuals” art from the Dodsons, as Diana ultimately resumes her place in DC’s Trinity of megastars whilst also assuming a valid “ordinary” human life to complement the superwoman persona – although that’s a fairly relative term when said life consists of a super-spy day job.

This big, bold extravaganza repositions Wonder Woman at the heart of DC continuity and attempts to rationalise the disparate, if not clashing, elements that kept various versions of the character at the forefront of debate for decades. Most fans ask not Who is Wonder Woman but rather, Which version is Best?

Perhaps, in cases of such vigorous debate, maybe it’s safest simply to get them all…
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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 (PB)

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 comic books.

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. She would be chosen by triumphing over all her sisters in a grand tournament. 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, elegantly allowing the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick but poverty-stricken 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 yet supremely competent and capable 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 second-stringers 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 & 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 in that turbulent 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 war title Fight the Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and 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 outdated and moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would subsequently work the same magic with equally stalled icon Supergirl

The big change came when the Amazons were compelled to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her mystic weaponry. 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 rather rapidly trained her as a martial artist, and she soon 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, but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and, in a few years, without 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 (or perhaps Hellenic?) 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 Lynda Carter made the concept work 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 readers and fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 through 222 (cover-dates July 1974 – March 1976), detailing 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 our Hellenic Hellion thwarts a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building… where Diana Prince now works as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly meets old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realises her memories have been tampered with and suddenly understands why her JLA colleagues haven’t called her to any meetings… She had resigned years ago…

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

Once they grudgingly agree, she leaves and Superman begins the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing she has been subjected to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, Diana confronts her mother and learns of her time as a mere mortal… and of Steve’s death.

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

Back in Man’s World, a crisis is already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier exerts his uncanny influence over women to control female Heads of State. Ultimately, however, his powers prove ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

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

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

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

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

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watches 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 finds Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ (Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta).

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

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

Produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger, issue #218 offers two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reports on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer uses mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermine Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily witnesses her foil a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animates and enrages 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, WW #219 sees Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’, with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man covertly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watches Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal bandit 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 simultaneously watching Diana tackle another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report details how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince was targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combine 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 wraps up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (illustrated by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon has been subverted into a monster feeding off people whilst 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, here 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.

Batman: False Faces


By Brian K. Vaughan with Scott McDaniel, Rick Burchett, Scott Kolins, Marcos Martin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2228-4 (TPB)

Like most “overnight successes” writer Brian K. Vaughan actually plugged away for those requisite few years before hitting it big with series such as Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man and original works such as the magnificent Pride of Baghdad.

This collection – readily available in digital formats and a just a bit trickier to get in paperback form – purports to be a Batman compendium (better sales potential, I’d imagine) but is in fact a general gathering of (much but not all) DC Universe material by Vaughan in his formative days. Following a mendaciously wry – and potentially litigious – Introduction, the first yarn is a 3-part tale from Batman #588-590 (April-June 2001), illustrated by Scott McDaniel & Karl Story.

The star is the Dark Knight’s underworld alter-ego Matches Malone as ‘Close Before Striking’ offers a very readable psycho-drama revealing the true (and updated) origin of the underworld alias whilst taking readers on a traumatic excursion into the dark side of undercover work. It’s followed by the delightfully dark and whimsical ‘Mimsy Were the Borogoves’ from Detective Comics #787, December 2003. With art from Rick Burchett & John Lowe, this stand-alone story features a deeply demented encounter with The Mad Hatter, and is undoubtedly the best thing in the book…

There’s only a tenuous Batman link in the next tale, which originally saw print as Wonder Woman #160-161 (September & October 2000). Drawn by Scott Kolins with inks from Dan Panosian & Drew Geraci, ‘A Piece of You’ finds shape-changing Bat-villain Clayface attacking the Amazing Amazon when he learns of her origin. Since she was formed from Magic Clay, he reasons that he can absorb her – and her magical abilities – into his own mass. And stone me; he’s right! Action-packed and tongue in cheek, this daft but readable thriller also guest stars former Wonder Girl Donna Troy, Nightwing and Robin.

Somewhat messily, the tome ends with a mere snippet from Batman: Gotham City Secret Files #1 (April 2000) which introduced themed villain The Skeleton, before promptly forgetting all about him. ‘Skullduggery’ is limned by Marcos Martin & Mark Pennington, and although competent, rather lets down a very enjoyable trawl through the Fights ‘n’ Tights work of one of the best writers in comics. If you enjoy superhero tales or are a Vaughan aficionado, please don’t let this slight defect deter you from a great slice of comic book fun.
© 2000, 2001, 2003, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 3


By Jim Aparo with Bob Haney, Mike W. Barr, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Denny O’Neil, Cary Burkett, Bill Kelly, Paul Kupperberg, Martin Pasko, Michael Fleisher, Alan Brennert, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7161-9 (HB)

After periods as a historical adventure and try-out vehicle, The Brave and the Bold proceeded to win critical as well as commercial acclaim through team-ups. Pairing regular writer Bob Haney with the best artists available, a succession of DC stars joined forces before the comicbook hit its winning formula.

The winning format – featuring mass-media superstar Batman with other rotating, luminaries of the DC universe in complete stand-alone stories – paid big dividends, especially after the feature finally found a permanent artist to follow a variety of illustrators including Ramona Fradon, Neal Adams, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Irv Novick, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown and others…

At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers and the slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that could encompass the entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

James N. Aparo (August 24, 1932 – July 19, 2005) was a true quiet giant of comicbooks. Self-taught, he grew up in New Britain Connecticut, and after failing to join EC Comics whilst in his 20s, slipped easily into advertising, newspaper and fashion illustration. Even after finally becoming a comics artist he assiduously maintained his links with his first career.

For most of his career Aparo was a triple-threat, pencilling, inking and lettering his pages. In 1963 he began drawing Ralph Kanna’s newspaper strip Stern Wheeler, and three years later began working on a wide range of features for go-getting visionary editor Dick Giordano at Charlton Comics. Aparo especially shone on the minor company’s licensed big gun The Phantom

When Giordano was lured away to National/DC in 1968 he brought his top stars (primarily Steve Ditko, Steve Skeates and Aparo) with him. Aparo began his lengthy, life-long association with DC illustrating and reinvigorating moribund title Aquaman – although he continued with The Phantom until his duties increased with the addition of numerous short stories for the monolith’s burgeoning horror anthologies and revived 1950s supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger

Aparo went on to become an award-winning mainstay of DC’s artistic arsenal, with stellar runs on The Spectre, The Outsiders and Green Arrow but his star was always linked to Batman’s…

A broadening of Aparo’s brief is celebrated in this third sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, which gathers the prestigious lead stories from Detective Comics #444-446, 448, 468-470, 480, 492-499, 501, 502, 508, 509, Batman Family #17, The Brave and the Bold #152, 154-178, 180-182 and Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 including all pertinent covers – cumulatively spanning January 1975 through January 1982. This fabulous celebration opens sans preamble with the first three chapters of an extended saga from Detective Comics. Written by Len Wein, the ‘Bat-Murderer!’ serial launched in #444, with the “World’s Greatest Detective” perfectly framed for the killing of his occasional lover Talia Al Ghul. Hunted in his own city, Batman’s dilemma worsens in #445 as a ‘Break-in at the Big House!’ draws him deeper into the deadly conspiracy, after incarcerated Ra’s Al Ghul apparently kills himself to further bury the Dark Knight…

Although a desperate fugitive, the Gotham Guardian finds time to solve actual murders and capture another obsessive crazy in #446’s ‘Slaughter in Silver!’ featuring the debut of certified whacko Sterling Silversmith

The Bat-Murderer epic was completed by other artists and is therefore not included here (you can see it in other collections such as Tales of the Batman: Len Wein) but Aparo did limn the last cover – #448 – as well as Detective’s 468, 469 and 470, before his next interior drama surfaced in Batman Family #17 (April/May 1978). Written by Gerry Conway, ‘Scars!’ pits Batman and Robin against a deranged monster literally de-facing beautiful women, before the cover for Detective #480 and B&B #152 refocus attention on Aparo’s team-up triumphs.

Aparo and scripter Bob Haney resumed their epic run of enticing costumed with The Brave and the Bold #152 (July 1979) wherein ‘Death Has a Golden Grab!’ found the Atom helping the Caped Crimecrusher stop a deadly bullion theft. The cover of B&B #153 and 154 follow, as does the contents of the latter, with Element Man Metamorpho treading ‘The Pathway of Doom…’ to save old girlfriend Sapphire Stagg and help Batman disconnect a middle eastern smuggling pipeline…

Mike W. Barr joins Haney in scripting #155’s ‘Fugitive from Two Worlds!’ as Green Lantern clashes with the Dark knight over jurisdiction rights regarding an earth-shaking alien criminal as well as (after the cover to #156) 157’s ‘Time – My Dark Destiny!’ with alternate futurian Kamandi lost in present day Earth and under the sway of ruthless criminals…

Gerry Conway steps in to script a brief reunion with Wonder Woman in #158’s ‘Yesterday Never Dies!’ as memory-warping foe Déjà vu attacks international diplomats whilst Denny O’Neil teams Batman with arch enemy Ra’s Al Ghul to prevent environmental disaster in #159’s ‘The Crystal Armageddon’ Denny O’Neil and Cary Burkett makes ‘The Brimstone Connection’ in #160, working with Supergirl to free kidnap victims and thwart a scheme by devious Colonel Sulphur to steal experimental rocket fuel…

The contents for the next two The Brave and the Bold’s (plus covers for #161-164) depict Conway’s ‘A Tale of Two Heroes!’ – as Batman and star-faring Adam Strange trade locales and murder mysteries and Bill Kelley’s ‘Operation: Time Bomb!’ (with Earth-2’s Batman joining Sgt. Rock to battle Nazi advances and crazed soldier the Iron Major in war-torn France) before a landmark miniseries took up Aparo’s full attention.

Researched and scripted by Len Wein, Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 originally ran from July-September 1980 and ambitiously rationalised the hero’s entire career into one seamless whole. Interspersed with the covers to Detective #492-494 and B&B #165-167, it begins with ‘In the Beginning’ pencilled by John Byrne with Aparo inking before ‘With Friends Like These…’ and ‘The Man Behind the Mask!’ – with Aparo on full art duties – solves a bizarre mystery that had the Caped Crusader frantically re-examining his past…

Cary Burkett returns in Brave and the Bold #168 (November 1980) to liberate ‘Shackles of the Mind!’ as Green Arrow and Batman unite to save a reformed criminal and skilled escapologist from a maniac’s mind control.

The cover of Detective #496 precedes B&B #169‘Angel of Mercy, Angel of Death!’ (by Barr and cover-dated December 1980) wherein sorceress Zatanna seeks the Dark Knight’s aid for a faith healer who is not what she seems and is followed by the cover for Detective #497 the thrilling cover/contents of B&B #170 wherein Burkett concludes his exceptional thriller series Nemesis with Batman helping the face-shifting superspy to determine ‘If Justice is Blind!’

Covers for Detective #498-499, 501-502 and B&B #171-173 bracket April 1981’s Brave and the Bold #173 and 174 as Conway explains ‘One of Us is not One of Us’ when the almighty Guardians of the Universe recruit Earth’s Dark-knight Detective to determine who is the impostor in their august midst before calling in trusted GL Hal Jordan ‘To Trap an Immortal’

For B&B #175 Paul Kupperbergteams ace reporter Lois Lane with Batman to battle killer cyborg Metallo and determine what drives The Heart of the Monster’, before Martin Pasko steps in for #176, reuniting the Gotham Gangbuster with the terrifying Swamp Thing in convoluted tale of murder and frame-ups ‘The Delta Connection!’

For #177, Barr returns to pose a complex and twisted mystery involving Batman and Elongated Man in ‘The Hangman Club Murders!’, after which rising star Alan Brennert comes aboard for #178. ‘Paperchase’ finds Batman and eerie avenger The Creeper tracking a monstrous shapeshifting killer fuelled by rage and indignation and driving the city into madness.

Michael Fleischer arrived for #180 (November 1980) and took the series into unknown realms as ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God!’ sees Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen steal enough mystic artefacts to conquer Earth and destroy The Spectre. Foolishly, the mystic has gravely underestimated the skill and bravery of merely mortal Batman…

Bracketed by covers for Detective #508 and 509, B&B #181 features Brennert & Aparo paying tribute to the societally-convulsive Sixties as ‘Time, See What’s Become of Me…’ revisits teen trouble-shooters Hawk and the Dove who have gotten older but no wiser in their passionate defence of the philosophies of robust interventionist action and devout pacifism. When increasingly unstable Hawk accidentally causes the death of a drug-dealers’ son, it triggers an intervention by Batman and a painful reconciliation between the long-divided brothers…

This volume concludes with another moving Brennert bonanza as B&B #182’s ‘Interlude on Earth-2’ finds “our” Batman inexplicably drawn to that parallel world in the aftermath of the death of its own Dark Knight. Confronted by and greatly discomforting grieving Dick GraysonRobin of Earth-2 – and original Batwoman Kathy Kane, the Batman must nevertheless help them defeat resurgent maniac foe Hugo Strange before he can return to his rightful place and time…

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

Here are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring action-packed life by one of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How can anybody resist? More importantly: why should you…?
© 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon


By Jill Thompson, lettered by Jason Arthur (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4901-4 (HB) 978-1-4012-7450-4 (TPB)

Iconic global role model Wonder Woman was conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in an attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model. She debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), before springing into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon quickly won her own eponymous supplemental title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Once upon a time in the traditional history, 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 and impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearing her daughter’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, 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 henceforward isolate themselves from the rest of the world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when goddesses Athena and Aphrodite subsequently instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty, Diana overcame all other candidates in a vast sporting and combat competition and became their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America. Soon after, Diana also gained a position with Army Intelligence, ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved.

Now this modern alternate version requests that you forget most of that as Jill Thompson offers another take on the formative years of the Princess Diana in an epic retelling painted in the manner of a picture book but with the no-holds barred punch you’d expect from Earth’s premiere Warrior Woman (Diana, not Jill).

Following an ‘Introduction’ by novelist and comics creator Mariko Tamaki (Skim; Saving Montgomery Sole; This One Summer), the subtly reconfigured saga opens on idyllic Themyscira: an island paradise inhabited by immortal warrior women. As before, their fate is the result of iniquities inflicted upon them by male “heroes” such as Herakles – secretly abetted by lustful Zeus – before stern Hera intervened to allow the Amazons to escape and build a bastion of culture in isolation.

However, their triumphant leader Queen Hippolyta was discontented. She craved a child more than life itself, and one special night her sadness and yearning touched the gods, who turned a shape drawn in sand into a real baby…

The child was beloved of all the Amazons, growing in an atmosphere of adoration and constant, uncritical approval. As well as smart, fast, brave and strong, baby Diana subsequently became insufferably spoiled, incurably vain and revoltingly selfish.

How that privileged brat became the humble, driven, noble protector of the weak is a tale of love, valour, repentance and redemption to delight and shock as the young wonder warrior endures a ghastly transformational motivating incident that traumatically reshapes her life in one shocking moment…

Embracing and channelling Classical Greek motifs while offering a most believable and human childhood for the little princess, this dark fairy tale is a powerful revision of Wonder Woman’s creation myth for a world marginally more inclusive than the patronising era of WWII, and provides a far more potent and logical reason for her exile to the world of Men than simple infatuation…

Augmented by a ‘Sketchbook’ section detailing page-roughs, scene-designs, fashions; the creation of the book cover; the process From Pencils to Color and a feature on ‘Designing the Wonder Woman Statue’, this is a brilliant reassessment of the iconic Diana and one well worth seeking out in either hardback or trade format, or even nature-nurturing eBook editions.
© 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman the Golden Age volume 3


By William Moulton Marston, Harry G. Peter & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9190-7 (TPB)

Wonder Woman was conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in an attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model. She debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), before springing into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon quickly won her own eponymous supplemental title in late Spring of that year (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 and impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearing her growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, her 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 isolated themselves from the rest of the world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when goddesses Athena and Aphrodite subsequently instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty, Diana overcame all other candidates and became their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America. Soon after, Diana also gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, 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 superbly competent Lieutenant Prince…

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston (with help in later years from assistant Joye Murchison) scripted almost all of the Amazing Amazon’s many and fabulous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. Venerable veteran illustrator and co-creator H.G. Peter performed the same feat, limning practically every titanic tale until his own death in 1958.

Spanning January to December 1944, this superb full-colour deluxe softcover compilation (also available as an eBook edition) collects Diana’s exploits from Sensation Comics #25-36, Wonder Woman #8-11 plus her adventures from anthological book of (All) Stars Comics Cavalcade #6-8 and epic one-shot Big All-American Comic Book (1944)…

Without preamble, the ongoing triumphs, war-woven epics and imaginatively inspirational dramas of Wonder Woman resume with Sensation #25 and the ‘Adventure of the Kidnapers of Astral Spirits’ as servicewoman Diana Prince witnesses a murder.

However, the killer was asleep at home in bed at the time, and before long more impossible killings occur, drawing the Amazon into an incredible adventure beyond the Walls of Sleep into uncanny realms where even her gifts are useless and only determination and rational deduction can save the day…

Far less outré but no less deadly is the menace of ‘The Masquerader’ who replaces her in #26, following an unshakeable prophecy which sees the champion of Love and Freedom murdered by merciless racketeer Duke Dalgan. It takes the covert intervention of Aphrodite and a Girl’s Best Friend to thwart that dire fate, but Diana never learns just who substituted for her…

When the Amazon, Etta Candy, her sorority Holliday Girls and former convict Gay Frollik resolve to raise a billion dollars for ‘The Fun Foundation’, they don’t expect their most trusted advisor to turn against them, but his greed leads to his downfall and the clearing of a framed woman’s name in Sensation #27, after which Wonder Woman #8 (Spring 1944) delivers another novel-length triumph of groundbreaking adventure.

The drama opens with ‘Queen Clea’s Tournament of Death’ as Steve – on an undercover mission – is snatched by a giant barbarian woman. Hot on his trail, Diana discovers her beau a captive of undersea Amazons from lost Atlantis, living in colossal caverns below the oceans…

Diana soon finds herself embroiled in a brutal civil war facing the forces of usurping conqueror Clea of belligerent state Venturia whilst trying to restore the rightful ruler Eeras to peaceful, beleaguered Aurania. If she fails, Clea intends to invade the upper world, looking for husky men like Steve to replace the depleted, worn-out puny males of her own realm…

After restoring order in Atlantis, the Amazon returns to her military job and civilian identity until a little girl begs for aid in finding her missing father. Closer investigation reveals Clea’s forces have been abducting sailors and airmen, but with the rebel queen imprisoned as ‘The Girl with the Iron Mask’, who can the leader of the raids possibly be?

After another fearsome subterranean clash, the status quo is re-established, but when Diana later meets a huge and powerful student at Holliday College she realises that the adventure is still not over as ‘The Captive Queen’ infiltrates Paradise Island and captures both Wonder Woman and Eeras’ wayward daughter Octavia.

Even after defeating her ponderous perpetual foe the action doesn’t end for the Princess of Power as her return to the land beneath the sea is interrupted by another revolution.

This time the ineffectual Atlantean men had used the constant distractions and American modern weapons to enslave the women, making the sub-sea empire a brutal, domineering patriarchy. But not for long, as Diana and Steve led a brilliant counter-offensive…

The 1938 debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and a year later the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening of the New York World’s Fair.

The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics among such four-colour stars as Zatara, Butch the Pup, Gingersnap and The Sandman. In 1940 another abundant premium emerged with Batman added to the roster, and the publishers felt they had an item and format worth pursuing commercially.

The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies had been a huge hit: convincing the cautious editors that an over-sized anthology of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition. Thus, the format was retained for a wholly company-owned, quarterly high-end package, retailing for the then-hefty price of 15¢.

Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 in Spring 1941, the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. During the Golden Age, however, it remained a big blockbuster bonanza of strips to entice and delight readers…

At this time National/DC was in an editorially-independent business relationship with Max Gaines that involved shared and cross promotion and distribution for the comicbooks released by his own outfit All-American Publications. Although technically competitors – if not rivals – the deal included shared logos and advertising and even combining both companies’ top characters in the groundbreaking All Star Comics as the Justice Society of America.

However, by 1942 relations between the companies were increasingly strained – and would culminate in 1946 with DC buying out Gaines, who used the money to start EC Comics.

All-American thus decided to create its own analogue to World’s Finest, featuring only AA characters. The outsized result was Comics Cavalcade with Wonder Woman part of a sales-boosting trinity that included The Flash and Green Lantern

From Spring 1944’s #6, ‘The Mystery of Countess Mazuma’ sees Wonder Woman clash with a wronged and revenge-maddened female prisoner of Monte Cristo who will crush all in the path of her schemes to destroy her treacherous tormentor, after which Sensation Comics #28’s ‘The Malice of the Green Imps’ offers a welcome dose of metaphysical suspense as jealous thoughts and impulses are made manifest, driving gangsters and even good folks to attack the recently opened Fun Foundation Clinics sponsored by Diana and Gay Frollik, after which #29 sees another Amazon in Man’s World for the ‘Adventure of the Escaped Prisoner’.

After imprisoning gambling racketeer and blackmailer Mimi on the Amazons’ prison island, Diana is unaware of the harridan’s subsequent escape, which also brings confused, naively curious sister warrior Mala to New York where she quickly falls in with the wrong crowd…

Marston’s psychiatric background provided yet another weirdly eccentric psychic scenario in #30’s ‘The Blue Spirit Mystery’ as Steve, Etta Candy and Diana investigate Anton Unreal: a mystic and mentalist who offers to send his client to the heavenly Fourth Dimension – for a large fee, of course…

Unfortunately – although a crook – Unreal is no charlatan and the “ascended ones” certainly find themselves in a realm utterly unearthly, but definitely no paradise, until Steve and Diana follow, taking matters into their own immaterial hands…

Wonder Woman #9 discloses the origins of one of the Amazon’s most radical foes in one of her strangest adventures. ‘Evolution Goes Haywire’ opens with zoo gorilla Giganta stealing Steve’s little niece before the Amazon effects a rescue, after which crazy scientist Professor Zool utilises his experimental Hyper-Atomic Evolutionizer to transform the hirsute simian into a gorgeous 8-foot-tall Junoesque human beauty.

Sadly, the artificial amazon retains her bestial instincts and, whilst battling Wonder Woman, damages Zool’s machine, resulting in the entire region being devolved back to the days of cavemen and dinosaurs…

With even Diana converted to barbarism, it’s an uphill struggle to rerun the rise to culture and civilisation sufficiently to achieve a primitive Golden Age in ‘The Freed Captive’, but eventually the twisted time-travel tale brings them back to where they started from, but only after ‘Wonder Woman vs. Achilles’ provides a deranged diversion with Diana rescuing her own mother and people from male oppression by the legendary warrior king…

Comics Cavalcade #7 tells of a deranged outcast who abducts people to become his avian army, compelling the Amazon and Steve to invade ‘The Vulture’s Nest!’, and also provides an extra treat as ‘Etta Candy and her Holliday Girls’ go west to help the war effort as cowgirls and stumble into a robbery scheme perpetrated by outlaws…

Sensation Comics #31 serves up delicious whimsy and biting social commentary when the Princess of Power visits‘Grown-Down Land’ as a wealthy socialite mother neglects her children. The tykes run away and almost die before being saved by Wonder Woman, telling of a dream world far better and happier than reality. Next morning, when the kids can’t be awoken from a deep sleep, Diana realises they have chosen to stay in their topsy-turvy imaginary country. When she enters their dream, she then finds genuine peril of a most unexpected kind…

In #32’s ‘The Crime Combine’, Wonder Woman finds herself at the top of the American underworld’s hit-list. To scotch their plots, Diana asks fully reformed ex-Nazi and trainee Amazon Baroness Paula von Gunther to leave Paradise Island and infiltrate the hierarchy of hate, but it seems that the temptations of Man’s World and allure of evil will seduce the villain back to her wicked ways…

‘The Disappearance of Tama’, from Sensation Comics #33, sees the Amazon’s college friend Etta overhear a plot to kidnap and murder a movie starlet. Ever valiant, she embroils herself and Diana in a delightfully bewildering farrago of deadly doubles and impish impostors, after which Wonder Woman #10 (Fall 1944) doles out a novel-length epic of alien invasion.

In ‘Spies from Saturn’, a rare vacation with Etta and her sorority sister Holliday Girls leads to trouble with outrageous neighbour Mephisto Saturno who is actually leader of a spy ring from the Ringed Planet. However, even after imprisoning his extraterrestrial espionage squad the danger is not ended, as the aliens’ insidious “lassitude gas” turns America into a helpless sleeping nation, forcing the Amazon to take ‘The Sky Road’ to the invaders’ home world, find a cure and rescue her beloved Steve…

The cataclysmic clash concludes in ‘Wonder Woman’s Boots’ as the victorious Earthlings return home, unaware Mephisto is still free and has a plan to avenge his defeat…

Shocking – and not a little disturbing by modern standards – ‘The Amazon Bride’ in Comics Cavalcade #8 then details how the Amazon is drugged and seemingly loses her powers. That’s bad enough, but when Steve takes advantage and convinces the hero she must marry him so that he can protect her forever after, the Amazon has never been in greater peril…

The Big All-American Comic Book was a 128-page super one-shot released in 1944 which starred almost every feature and star in Gaines’ stable in individual adventures. The entire book is reprinted in the fabulous DC Rarities Archive (and I must review it one day), but here and now the Wonder Woman strip therein details how a master spy frames Steve for murder and sparks a national manhunt to capture or clear the heroic soldier in ‘Danny the Demon Had Plans’

Social injustice informs ‘Edgar’s New World’ in Sensation Comics #34, as the Amazing Amazon tackles the case of a “problem child”, near-blind and living in squalor, whilst his mother languishes in jail. Soon, however, the big-hearted heroine unearths political chicanery and grotesque graft behind the murder charge sending innocent Esta Poore to death row…

In #35, ‘Girls Under the Sea’ has Wonder Woman again battling to save lost Atlantis from tyranny and misrule after beneficent ruler Octavia is ousted by a committee of seditious anarchists, whilst #36 pits the Power Princess against deranged actor Bedwin Footh, a jealous loon who envies the Amazon’s headline grabbing, and organises her old foes Blakfu the Mole Man, Duke of Deception, Queen Clea, Dr. Psycho, The Cheetah and Giganta into an army against her. However, all was not as it seems in her ‘Battle Against Revenge’

Wonder Woman #11 (Winter 1944) wraps up this whirl on the Wayback Machine, offering big thrills and rare (for the times) plot continuity as ‘The Slaves of the Evil Eye’ sees Steve and Diana battling an uncanny mesmerist intent on stealing America’s defence plans against Saturn. The trail leads to bizarre performer Hypnota the Great and his decidedly off-kilter assistant Serva, but there are many layers of deceit behind ‘The Unseen Menace’, and a hidden mastermind intent on re-igniting the recently-ended war with Saturn in climactic final chapter ‘The Slave Smugglers’.

This spectacular psycho-drama of multiple personalities and gender disassociation is another masterpiece directly informed by Marston’s psychiatric background and delivers another weirdly eccentric tale unique to the genre…

This exemplary tome is a triumph of exotic, baroque, beguiling and uniquely exciting adventure: Golden Age exploits of the World’s Most Marvellous Warrior Maiden that are timeless, pivotal classics in the development of our medium and still offer astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years


By William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter, Robert Kanigher, Dennis O’Neil, Roy Thomas, Greg Potter, George Pérez, William Messner-Loebs, Eric Luke, Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello, Gail Simone, Amy Chu, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Mike Sekowsky, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Jill Thompson, Mike Deodato Jr., Yanick Paquette, Matt Clark, Drew Johnson, J. Bone, Cliff Chiang, Ethan Van Sciver, Bernard Chang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6512-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wonderful Fun for All… 9/10

Without doubt Wonder Woman is the very acme of female icons. Since her launch in 1941 she has permeated every aspect of global consciousness and become not only a paradigm of comics’ very fabric but also a symbol to all women everywhere. In whatever era you choose, the Amazing Amazon epitomises the eternal balance between Brains and Brawn and, over those decades, has become one of that rarefied pantheon of literary creations to achieve meta-reality.

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8, conceived by psychologist and 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, to sell more funnybooks to girls.

She immediately catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics one month later. An instant hit, Wonder Woman won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated summer 1942. 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 beside Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the historical and cultural pedigree of venerable DC icons – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering a sequence of sublime snapshots detailing how Diana of the Amazons has evolved and thrived in worlds and times where women were generally regarded as second class, second rate and painfully functional or strictly ornamental.

Collecting material from All-Star Comics #8, Sensation Comics #1, Wonder Woman volume 1 #7, 28, 99, 107, 179, 204, 288, Wonder Woman volume 2 #1, 64, 93, 142, 177, 195, 600, Wonder Woman volume 3 #0, Justice League: New Frontier Special #1, Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1 and 7 whilst cumulatively covering July 1940 to November 2012, these groundbreaking appearances are preceded by a brief critical analyses of significant stages in her development, beginning with Part I: The Amazon 1941-1957 which details the events and thinking which led to her creation and early blockbusting dominance of Man’s Boy’s World…

‘Introducing Wonder Woman/(Wonder Woman Comes to America)’ come from All-Star Comics #8, (December 1941) and Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942) respectively, revealing how, once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashes to Earth. Near death, he is 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 reveals 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 isolate themselves from the mortal world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when Trevor explains the perfidious spy plot which accidentally brought him to the Island enclave and with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instruct the Queen to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. Hippolyte declares an open contest to find the best candidate and, despite being forbidden to compete, young closeted, cosseted Diana clandestinely overcomes all other candidates to become their emissary.

Accepting the will of the gods, the worried mother outfits Diana in the guise of Wonder Woman and sends her out to Man’s World armed with an arsenal of super-scientific and magical weapons…

The Perfect Princess gained her own series and cover-spot in new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later, with the story continuing where the introduction had left off. ‘Wonder Woman Comes to America’ sees the eager immigrant returning the recuperating Trevor to the modern World before trouncing a gang of bank robbers and briefly falling in with a show business swindler.

The major innovation was her buying the identity of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her fiancé in South America….

Even with all that going on, there was still room for Wonder Woman and Captain Trevor to bust up a spy ring attempting to use poison gas on a Draft induction centre. Typically, Steve breaks his leg and ends up in hospital again, where “Nurse Prince” could look after him…

The new Diana 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…

As previously mentioned, the Amazing Amazon was a huge and ever-growing hit, quickly gaining her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942). The comic frequently innovated with full-length stories, and ‘America’s Wonder Women of Tomorrow’ (Wonder Woman volume 1 #7, Winter 1943) offers an optimistic view of the future in an extract of a fantastic fantasy tale wherein America in 3000AD is revealed as a true paradise.

Ruled by a very familiar female President, the nation enjoys a miracle supplement which has extended longevity to such an extent that Steve, Etta Candy and all Diana’s friends are still thriving. Sadly, some old throwbacks still yearn for the days when women were subservient to males, meaning there is still work for the Amazing Amazon to do…

The wry but wholesome sex war sees Steve going undercover with the rebel forces uncovering a startling threat…

As the Golden Age drew to a close and superheroes began to wane, Wonder Woman #28 (April 1948) debuted ‘Villainy Incorporated!’ in an epic-length tale of revenge wherein eight of her greatest enemies – Queen Clea, Hypnota, Byrna Brilyant – the Blue Snowman, Giganta, Doctor Poison, Eviless, Zara – Priestess of the Crimson Flame and The Cheetah – escape from Amazonian mindbending gulag Transformation Island where they are being rehabilitated and unite to ensure her destruction…

Whilst costumed colleagues foundered, Wonder Woman soldiered on well into the Silver Age, benefitting from constant revisionism under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who re-energised her for the Silver Age renaissance and beyond: a troubled period encapsulated in the briefing notes for Part II: The Princess 1958-1986

Using the pen-name Charles Moulton, Marston had scripted all Diana’s adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Kanigher took over the writer’s role. H. G. Peter soldiered on with his unique artistic contribution until he passed away in 1958. Wonder Woman #97, in April of that year, was his last hurrah and the end of an era.

With the exception of DC’s Trinity (plus a few innocuous back-up features such as Green Arrow and Aquaman), superheroes all but vanished at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s, replaced by mostly mortal champions in a deluge of anthologised genre titles. Everything changed again after Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crimebusters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956.

From that moment the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more, and whilst re-inventing Golden Age Greats such as Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC gradually updated all those venerable veteran survivors who had weathered the backlash. None more so than the ever-resilient Wonder Woman …

As writer and editor Kanigher had always tweaked or reinvented much of the original mythos, tinkering with her origins and unleashing Diana on an unsuspecting world in a fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, strange romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing and utterly surreal (some would say-stream-of-consciousness) storytelling. This was at a time when all DC’s newly revived, revised or reinvented costumed champions were getting together and teaming up at the drop of a hat – as indeed was the Princess of Power in Justice League of America. However, within the pages of her own title a timeless, isolated fantasy universe was carrying on much as it always had.

Wonder Woman volume 1 #99 (July 1958) heralded a new start and the introduction of the Hellenic Heroine’s newly revitalised covert cover: Air Force Intelligence Lieutenant Diana Prince, launching a decade of tales with Steve Trevor perpetually attempting to uncover her identity and make the most powerful woman on Earth his blushing bride, whilst the flashily bespectacled glorified secretary stood exasperated and ignored beside him…

‘Top Secret’ sees Steve trying to trick Diana into marriage – something the creep tried a lot back then – by rigging a bet with her. Of course, the infinitely patient Princess outsmarts him yet again…

Although not included here WW #105 had introduced Wonder Girl: revealing how centuries ago the gods and goddesses of Olympus bestowed unique powers on the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and how even as a mere teenager the indomitable Diana had brought the Amazons to Paradise Island.

Continuity – let alone consistency and rationality – were never as important to Kanigher as a strong story or breathtaking visuals and that eclectic odyssey – although a great yarn – simply annoyed the heck out of a lot of fans… but not as much as the junior Amazon would in years to come…

The teen queen kept popping up and here Wonder Woman – Amazon Teen-Ager!’ (from Wonder Woman #107, July1959) sees the youngster wallowing in a new, largely unwanted romantic interest as mer-boy Ronno perpetually gets in the way of her quest to win herself a superhero costume…

As the 1960s progressed Wonder Woman was looking tired and increasingly out of step with the rest of National/DC’s gradually gelling – and ultimately cohesively shared – continuity but, by the decade’s close, a radical overhaul of Diana Prince was on the cards.

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 and American society evolved. 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 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…

Sekowsky’s unique visualisation of the Justice League of America had contributed to the title’s overwhelming success, and at this time 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).

With relatively untried scripter Denny O’Neil on board for the first four tales, #179 heralded huge changes as ‘Wonder Woman’s Last Battle’ (December 1968, with Dick Giordano inking) saw the immortal Amazons of Paradise Island forced to abandon our dimensional plane. They took with them all their magic – including all Diana’s astounding gadgets and weapons such as the Invisible Plane and Golden Lasso – and ultimately even her mighty superpowers. Despite all that, her love for Steve compelled her to remain on Earth.

Effectively becoming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, the now-mortal champion resolved to fight injustice as a human would…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman (and can be seen in a magical quartet of collections entitled Diana Prince: Wonder Woman) but, as always, 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 abruptly returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains. There was even a new nemesis: an African/Greek/American half-sister named Nubia who debuted in ‘The Second Life of the Original Wonder Woman’ (Wonder Woman 204, February 1973, by Kanigher, Don Heck & Vince Colletta) which delivers the murder of Diana’s martial arts mentor I Ching as a prelude to Diana being restored to her former glory by the now returned and restored Amazons on Paradise Island…

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 work in 1975, Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

Eventually however – after the TV-inspired sales boost ended with the show’s cancellation – the comic slumped into another decline, leading to another revamp.

Notionally celebrating the beginning of her fifth decade of continuous publication, Wonder Woman #288, (February 1982) saw Roy Thomas. Gene Colan & Romeo Tanghal take over the Amazon, rededicating her to fighting for Love, Peace, Justice and Liberty in ‘Swan Song!’

The story features the creation by war god Mars of new female villain Silver Swan – transformed from an ugly, spiteful ballerina into a radiant, spiteful flying harridan – whilst the biggest visible change was replacing the stylised eagle on Diana’s bustier with a double “W”, signifying her allegiance to women’s action group The Wonder Woman Foundation…

The Silver Age had utterly revolutionised a flagging medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning sub-genre of masked mystery men. However, after decades of cosy wonderment, Crisis on Infinite Earths transformed the entire interconnected DC Universe and led to the creation of a fully reimagined Wonder Woman with a different history – and even character – as discussed and then displayed in Part III: The Ambassador 1986-2010

Wonder Woman volume 2 #1 debuted with a February 1987 cover-date. Crafted by Greg Potter, George Pérez & Bruce Patterson, ‘The Princess and the Power’ reveals how Amazons are actually the reincarnated souls of women murdered by men in primordial times. Given potent new form by the female Hellenic gods, they thrived in a segregated city of aloof and indomitable women until war god Ares orchestrates their downfall via his demigod dupe Herakles.

Abused, subjugated and despondent, the Amazons are rescued by their patron goddesses in return for eternal penance in isolation on hidden the island of Themyscira.

Into that paradise Diana is born: another murdered soul, imbued with life in an infant body made from clay. She will excel in every endeavour and become the Wonder Woman…

After relocating to the outer world, Diana becomes an inspirational figure and global hero whilst constantly trying to integrate and understand the madness of “Patriarch’s World”…

In ‘The Heart of the City’ (Wonder Woman #64, July 1992) Bill Messner-Loebs, Jill Thompson & Denis Rodier focus on that dilemma as Diana attempts to recover a kidnapped child used as leverage by gangsters while saving a weary, outraged righteous cop from confusing vengeance with justice…

That struggle for understanding – and sales – led to the Princess losing her right to the role of Wonder Woman after losing a duel with fellow Amazon Artemis. The aftermath seen here reveals how a brutal, hard-line replacement Wonder Woman, takes over her ambassadorial role in Patriarch’s World in ‘Violent Beginnings’ (Wonder Woman #93, January 1995 by Messner-Loebs & Mike Deodato Jr.) with her defeated but undaunted predecessor keeping watchful eyes on the brutal warrior in her clothes…

These years are categorised by a constant search for relevance and new direction, and in ‘The Bearing of the Soul’(Wonder Woman #142 March 1999 by Eric Luke, Yanick Paquette, Matt Clark, Bob McCloud & Doug Hazlewood) the Amazon, supplemented with incredible alien technology, declares herself a global peacekeeper, dashing to flashpoints and conflict zones to end wars and save lives, irrespective of political objection…

From three years later, ‘Paradise Found’ (#177, 2002, by Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning) sees another course change as Themyscira is rebuilt following a war between gods and offered to the outer world as an exemplar of Paradise on Earth and the oldest and youngest of its sometimes-united nations…

The often-hilarious downsides of ‘The Mission’ (WW #195, 2003) are then explored by Greg Rucka, Drew Johnson & Ray Snyder and reiterated in a wry out-of-world vignette by Darwyn Cooke & J. Bone which teams the Diana of 1962 with equally-pioneering female crimefighter Black Canary. ‘The Mother of the Movement’ (Justice League: New Frontier Special #1, 2008) sees the occasional sister-act confront a magazine owner and aspiring nightclub impresario over the way he makes his staff dress up as rabbits. Moreover, history fans, one of those indentured luscious lepines is an undercover reporter…

Many such minor tweaks in her continuity and adjustments to the continuity accommodated different creators’ tenures until 2011, when DC rebooted their entire comics line again and Wonder Woman once more underwent a drastic, fan-infuriating root-and-branch refit as represented here in Part IV: The Warrior 2012-2014

Possibly to mitigate the fallout, DC okayed a number of fall-back options such as the beguiling collected package under review today…

After a full year of myth-busting stories, ‘Lair of the Minotaur’ was the subject of Wonder Woman volume 4 #0, (November 2012) wherein Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang puckishly explored a different history as a teenaged Princess Diana underwent trials and training and fell under the sway of a sinister god…

As an iconic figure – and to address the big changes cited above – a number of guest creators were invited to celebrate their take on the Amazon in an out-of-continuity series. From Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1, (2014) Gail Simone & Ethan Van Scriver’s ‘Gothamazon’ deliciously details how a mythologically militaristic Wonder Woman uncompromisingly and permanently cleans up Batman’s benighted home when the Gotham Guardians are taken out of play, whilst in Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #7, Amy Chu & Bernard Chang go out-of-world (and into ours?) to celebrate the inspirational nature of the concept of Wonder Woman.

‘Rescue Angel’ sees soldiers pinned down in Afghanistan and saved by Lt. Angel Santiago. The wounded woman warrior then claims her outstanding actions under fire are the result of a vision from her favourite and most-beloved comic book character…

This magical and magnificent commemoration is also packed with eye-catching covers, from the stories but also from unfeatured tales, by the likes of H.G. Peter, Irwin Hasen & Bernard Sachs, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Gene Colan, George Pérez, Brian Bolland, Mike Deodato Jr., Adam Hughes, Cliff Chiang, Ethan Van Sciver, Shane Davis & Michelle Delecki, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert, Nicola Scott and Francis Manapul.

Wonder Woman is a primal figure of comic fiction and global symbol, and looks set to remain one. This compilation might not be all of her best material but it is a solid representation of what gave her such fame and would grace any fan’s collection.
© 1941, 1942, 1943, 1948, 1958, 1959, 1968, 1973, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1995, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.