Showcase Presents Wonder Woman volume 2

By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1373-2

The Amazing Amazon Adventuress was created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth – and illustrated by Harry G. Peter just as the spectre of another world-girdling global Armageddon loomed.

She debuted as an extra feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) before catapulting into her own cover-starring series in Sensation Comics a month later. An instant smash-hit she also quickly won her own title in the Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston scripted all her many and fabulous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. The venerable co-creator H. G. Peter continued on as illustrator until his death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97, in April of that year, was his last hurrah and the discrete end of an era.

This second economical monochrome Showcase collection covers issues #118-137 from November 1960-April 1963, a period of increased fantasy frolics and wildly imaginative excess which still divides fans into violently opposing camps…

With the notable exception of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few anodyne back-up features, costumed heroes died out at the beginning of the 1950s, replaced by a plethora of merely mortal champions and a welter of anthologised genre titles.

Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crime-busters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956 (see Showcase Presents the Flash volume 1 or the first Flash: Archive Edition) the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more…

Whilst re-inventing a section of Golden Age Greats like Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC also updated all those hoary survivors who had weathered the backlash especially the Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and the ever-resilient Amazing Amazon…

Artists Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who illustrated all Kanigher’s scripts in this all-ages compendium, had actually debuted as cover artists from #95, but with Wonder Woman #98 (May 1958) they took over the interiors as the writer/editor reinvented much of the old mythology and tinkered with her origins before letting her loose on an unsuspecting world.

The fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, untrue romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing and all-out surreal (some would say-stream-of-consciousness) storytelling continues unabated here with ‘Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision!’ (#118) and found the comely crusader constantly distracted from her mission to wipe out injustice by the antics of her savagely-sparring suitors Colonel Steve Trevor and Manno the mer-man.

Amazon science (and the unfettered imagination of Kanigher, for whom slavish continuity, consistency or rationality were never as important as a strong plot or breathtaking visual) had long enabled readers to share the adventures of Wonder Girl and latterly Wonder Tot – the Princess of Power as teen and toddler – both in their appropriate time-zones and, on occasion, teamed together on “Impossible Days”.

WW #119 opened with an adventure of the Titanic Teenager in ‘Mer-Boy’s Secret Prize!’ wherein the besotted undersea booby repeatedly risked his life to win his inamorata a flashy treasure, whilst in ‘Three Wishes of Doom!’ a capable but arrogant young girl won a competition and claimed Wonder Woman’s Bracelets, Lasso and Tiara, with the disastrous idea of using them to out-do the Amazing Amazon…

‘The Secret of Volcano Mountain!’ in #120 pitted teen and adult Amazon – a decade apart – against the same terrifying threat when an alien elemental twice attempted to conquer the world, after which an Impossible Day event had Wonder Girl, her older self and their mother Queen Hippolyta unite to defeat the monster-packed peril of ‘The Island Eater!’

‘The Skyscraper Wonder Woman’ introduced her pre-schooler incarnation when the Sinister Seer of Saturn sought to invade Earth with a colossal robot facsimile whilst de-aging the Amazon to her younger – but thankfully, no less competent – adolescent and pre-adolescent incarnations…

Wonder Woman #123 opened with a glimpse at the ‘Amazon Magic-Eye Album!’ as Hippolyta reviewed some of the crazy exploits of her daughter as Tot, Teen and adult adventuress, whilst the issue after managed to team them all together against the unfortunately named shape-shifting nuclear threat of the Multiple Man on ‘The Impossible Day!’

Steve and Manno resumed their war for the heroine’s hand in marriage in #125’s ‘Wonder Woman… Battle Prize!’ with the improbable trio ending up marooned on a beast and alien amoeba-men infested Blue Lagoon…

‘Wonder Tot and Mister Genie!’ was the first of two tales in WW #126, depicting what might happen when an imaginative super-kid is left on her own, whilst exasperated US Air Force lieutenant Diana Prince got steamed at being her own romantic rival for Steve Trevor in ‘The Unmasking of Wonder Woman!’ The next issue opened with the defeat of another extraterrestrial assault in ‘Invaders of the Topsy-Turvy Planet’ before ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Honeymoon!’ gave the usually incorrigible Colonel Trevor a terrifying foretaste of what married life with his Amazon Angel would be like…

WW#128 revealed the astounding and rather charming ‘Origin of the Amazing Robot Plane!’ before things turned a bit more serious when our heroine endured the deadly ‘Vengeance of the Angle Man!’

In #129 another spectacular Impossible Day adventure featured the entire Wonder Woman Family (that would be just her at three different ages with her mum alongside to save the day) in ‘The Vengeance of Multiple Man!’ whilst #130 opened with Wonder Tot discovering the ‘Secret of Mister Genie’s Magic Turban!’ and ended with an outrageous and embarrassing attack by Angle Man on her mature self in ‘The Mirage Mirrors!’

‘The Proving of Wonder Woman!’ in #131 detailed the history of her unique epithets such as “Thunderbolts of Jove”, “Neptune’s Trident” and “Great Hera” whilst the back-up tale ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Birthday Gift!’ saw the indefatigable Manno risk all manner of maritime monsters to find her a dazzling bauble whilst the Amazon herself was trying to find her mother a present.

‘Wonder Tot and the Flying Saucer!’ depicted how the adult Amazon turned herself into a toddler to converse with a baby and discover the secret of a devastating alien atomic attack and the second story revealed some ancient romantic encounters which occurred when ‘Wonder Queen Fights Hercules!’

Wonder Woman #133 cover-featured the Impossible Tale of ‘The Amazing Amazon Race!’ wherein Tot, Teen, Woman and Queen competed in a fraught athletic contest with deadly consequences, whilst in Man’s World Diana Prince took centre-stage to become ‘Wonder Woman’s Invincible Rival… Herself!’ when a movie-project went dangerously awry.

‘Menace of the Mirror Wonder Women!’ pitted her and Steve against the Image-Maker; a deadly other-dimensional mastermind who could animate and enslave reflections, and #134 closed with another disastrous sub-sea date for Wonder Girl when she had to prevent ‘The Capture of Mer-boy!’

It was one more time for Multiple Man as he/it returned again to battle the Wonder Woman Family in #135’s Impossible Day drama ‘Attack of the Human Iceberg!’ whilst the next issue had the Female Fury transformed into a ravenous and colossal threat to humanity after alien machine men infected with a growth-agent and she became ‘Wonder Woman… World’s Greatest Menace!’

This fabulous follow-up compendium concludes with #137’s classic duel on an ersatz Earth with mechanical replicas of the world’s populace and metal facsimiles of all the Amazons. Our foremost female defender had to overcome ‘The Robot Wonder Woman!’ if she had any hope of returning with Steve to their own sweet home…

By modern narrative standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are usually illogical and occasionally just plain bonkers, but in those days less attention was paid to continuity and shared universes: adventure in the moment was paramount and these utterly infectious romps simply sparkled then and now with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of such innocuous costumed fairytales must be a delight for open-minded readers, whilst the true, incomparable value of these stories is the incredible quality of entertainment they still offer.

© 1960-1963, 2008 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman volume 1

By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1373-2

Wonder Woman was famously created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth – and illustrated by Harry G. Peter. She debuted in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) before gaining her own series and the cover-spot in new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. She was an instant hit and quickly gained her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston scripted all the Amazing Amazon’s many and fabulous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. The venerable H.G. Peter continued on as illustrator until his death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97, in April of that year, was his last hurrah and the discrete end of an era.

This first cheap and cheerful black and white Showcase collection covers issues #98-117 of the Astounding Amazon’s next one…

With the notable exception of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and inoffensive back-up B-listers Aquaman and Green Arrow (plus – arguably – Johnny Quick, who held on until December 1954 and cowboy crimebuster Vigilante who finally bit the dust a month earlier), costumed heroes died out at the beginning of the 1950s, replaced by a plethora of merely mortal champions and a welter of anthologised genre titles.

When after almost no time at all Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for masked mystery-men with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956 (see Showcase Presents the Flash volume 1 or The Flash: Archive Edition volume 1) the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more…

As well as re-imagining a number of Golden Age stalwarts such as Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC consequently decided to update and remake all its hoary survivors such as the aforementioned Emerald Archer and Sea King. Also included in that revitalising agenda were the company’s High Trinity: Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and the ever-resilient Warrior Woman…

Artists Ross Andru & Mike Esposito had actually debuted as cover artists three issues earlier, but with Wonder Woman #98 (May 1958) they took over the entire comicbook whilst Robert Kanigher reinvented much of the old mythology and even tinkered with her origins in ‘The Million Dollar Penny!’ when the goddess Athena visited an island of super-scientific immortal women and told Queen Hippolyta that she must send an emissary to the crime-ridden Man’s World as a champion of justice.

Declaring an open competition for the post, the queen was hardly surprised when her daughter Diana won and was given the task of turning a penny into a million dollars in a day – all profits going to children’s charities, of course…

Just as the new Wonder Woman was about to begin her task, American airman Steve Trevor bailed out of his malfunctioning jet high above the hidden isle, unaware that should any male set foot on Amazon soil the immortals would lose all their powers. Promptly thwarting the impending disaster Diana and Steve teamed up to accomplish her task, encountering along the way ‘The Undersea Menace’ before building ‘The Impossible Bridge!’

Issue #99 opened in similar bombastic fashion with ‘Stampede of the Comets!’ as Trevor was lost undertaking a pioneering space mission and Wonder Woman went to his rescue thanks to incredible Amazon engineering ingenuity. After foiling an alien attack against Earth, the reunited lovers returned in time for the introduction of the Hellenic Heroine’s new covert identity as Air Force Intelligence Lieutenant Diana Prince in ‘Top Secret!’ – beginning a decade of tales with Steve perpetually attempting to uncover her identity and make the most powerful woman on Earth his blushing bride, whilst the bespectacled, glorified secretary stood exasperated and ignored beside him…

The 100th issue was a spectacular battle saga which commenced with ‘The Challenge of Dimension X!’ and an alternate Earth Wonder Woman competing with the Amazing Amazon for sole rights to the title and culminated in a deciding bout in ‘The Forest of Giants!’, whilst ‘Wonder Woman’s 100th Anniversary!’ dealt with the impossibility of capturing the far-too fast and furious Amazon’s exploits on film for the island’s archives…

‘The Undersea Trap!’ opened #101, with Steve tricking his “Angel” into agreeing to marry him if she has to rescue him three times in 24 hours (just chalk it up to simpler times, or you’ll pop a blood vessel, OK?) after which the odd couple were trapped by a temporal tyrant in ‘The Fun House of Time!’

Steve’s affection and wits were tested by an alien giant in ‘The Three Faces of Wonder Woman’ when he was forced to pick out his true love from a trio of identical duplicates and thereby save the world in #102, whilst ‘The Wonder Woman Album’ returned to the previously explored impossible-to-photograph theme in #103, but devoted most space to sinister thriller ‘The Box of Three Dooms!’ wherein the murderous Gadget Maker attempted to destroy the Amazon with a booby-trapped gift.

‘Trial By Fire’ pitted Diana Prince against a host of deadly traps that only Wonder Woman could survive whilst ‘Key to Deception!’ closed #104 by reintroducing Golden Age villain Duke of Deception as a militaristic Martian marauder in a gripping interplanetary caper.

Issue #105 introduced Wonder Girl in the ‘Secret Origin of Wonder Woman’ revealing how centuries ago the gods and goddesses of Olympus bestowed unique powers on the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and how 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 this eclectic odyssey is a great yarn that simply annoyed the heck out of a lot of fans… but not as much as the junior Amazon would in years to come…

The second feature ‘Eagle of Space’ was a more traditional tale of predatory space Pterodactyls and a dinosaur planet where Steve and Diana lent a civilising hand to the indigenous caveman population, after which ‘The Human Charm Bracelet!’ in #106 found Wonder Woman battling an unbeatable extraterrestrial giant who wanted the Earth for his plaything, after which her younger self encountered a chameleonic lass in ‘The Invisible Wonder Girl!’

The high fantasy adventures of the junior heroine clearly caught somebody’s fancy as they now started coming thick and fast: ‘Wonder Woman – Amazon Teen-Ager!’ opened #107 as the youngster found a romantic interest in mer-boy Ronno and underwent a quest to win herself a superhero costume, whilst her adult self was relegated to a back-up battle against ‘Gunslingers of Space!’

‘Wanted… Wonder Woman!’ saw Flying Saucer aliens frame our heroine for heinous crimes as a precursor to a planetary invasion and ‘The Stamps of Doom!’ featured a plot by another murderous inventor to kill the Valiant Valkyrie in #108, but the next issue again stepped back in time to feature ‘Wonder Girl in Giant Land’ as the nubile neophyte easily overcame ambush by colossal aliens. Her mature self was represented here by ‘The Million Dollar Pigeon!’ wherein gangsters thought they’d found a foolproof method of removing the Amazing Amazon from their lives…

Wonder Woman #110 was a full-length saga as the indomitable warrior maid searched the Earth for a missing alien princess in ‘The Bridge of Crocodiles!’ If the wanderer couldn’t be found, her concerned family intended to lay waste the entire planet…

In #111 ‘The Robot Wonder Woman’ commissioned by gangsters provided no real competition for the genuine article, whilst ‘Battle of the Mermen!’ found Wonder Girl drawn into a sub-sea rumble between competing teenaged fish-boy gangs…

The youthful incarnation led off the next issue: ‘Wonder Girl in the Chest of Monsters!’ took the concept to unparallelled heights of absurdity as, in contemporary times, a heroic girl was rewarded with three Amazon wishes and sent back in time to have an adventure with Wonder Woman’s younger self, whilst #113 returned to relatively straight action with ‘The Invasion of the Sphinx Creatures!’ as the Adult Amazon battled the ancient weapons of a resurrected Pharoah-Queen, after which ‘Wonder Girl’s Birthday Party!’ recounted how each anniversary event seemed to coincide with a geological disaster, mythological menace or uncanny event…

Aliens once more attacked in #114’s ‘The Monster Express!’ turning parade balloons into ravening monsters until Diana and Steve stepped in after which ‘Wonder Girl’s Robot Playmate!’ demonstrated how hard it was growing up special…

Old enemy Angle Man returned revamped for the Silver Age in #115’s ‘Graveyard of Monster Ships!’ whilst ‘Mer-Boy’s Undersea Party!’ proved that above or below the waves Wonder Girls just don’t want to have fun, whilst in #116 both Ronno and Young Diana were capable of serious heroism in ‘The Cave of Secret Creatures!’, after which the Adult Amazing Amazon finally stopped a millennial menace to mankind in ‘The Time –Traveller of Terror!’

This initial enchanting chronicle concludes with Wonder Woman #117 wherein ‘The Fantastic Fishermen of the Forbidden Sea!’ reintroduced Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls – in modernised, less offensive incarnations – in a fantastic tale of aquatic invaders before Amazon time-travel techniques allowed the impossible to occur when ‘Wonder Girl Meets Wonder Woman!’… or did she…?

By modern standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are all-out crazy, but in the days when less attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe and the adventure in the moment was paramount these outrageous romps simply sparkle with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of these costumed fairytales must be a delight for all open-minded readers and the true value of these exploits is the incredible quality of entertainment they provide.

© 1958-1960, 2007 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Kingdom

By Mark Waid & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-567-6   Titan Books edition 978-1-84023-122-9

After the staggering success of the 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come a sequel was utterly inevitable, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan and it was three years before a 2-issue return to that intriguing “Elseworld” was released; book-ending 6 individual one-shots, all set in the aftermath of the epochal epic which saw Superman return from a self-imposed exile to once more save the world.

Before all that though a prologue was released in Gog (Villains) #1, which segued into The Kingdom #1 and continued in an interwoven mosaic progression through spin-offs The Kingdom: Son of the Bat, The Kingdom: Nightstar, The Kingdom: Offspring, The Kingdom: Kid Flash and The Kingdom: Planet Krypton before concluding in The Kingdom #2.

This second “what if?” saga boldly managed to connect the once-separate continuity to the mainstream DC universe and introduced another bridging concept that opened the way for all the storylines and history eradicated in Crisis on Infinite Earths to once more be “real and true”.

Illustrated by Jerry Ordway & Dennis Janke, ‘The Road to Hell’ opens in the devastated fallout zone of Kansas where the returned Superman rescues a little boy – sole survivor of a holocaust caused by warring superheroes. Decades later that boy has grown into Minister William: a beneficent Samaritan and religious zealot who literally worships the Man of Steel as a redeeming God – until the hero painfully and finally disabuses him of the notion.

With his world torn apart for a second time William is given the true history of the universe by the Phantom Stranger and the broken preacher is reborn as Gog, a being of vast power able to manipulate events and change history.

The Stranger is part of a Cosmic alliance called the Quintessence and believes he is creating a force for good, tasked with undoing great tragedy; but the deranged Gog has another idea and promptly murders Superman – the destroyer of his faith and thus the maniac’s personal anti-Christ…. Moreover, the psychotic William begins to travel back in time intending to jump-start the Kansas Incident. On the way he will stop every 24 hours and kill Superman again: every day of his evil alien life and one day at a time… Most terrifying of all is the fact that the Quintessence are quite happy with Gog’s horrifying scheme…

Kingdom Come #1 (art by Ariel Olivetti) recapitulates the ‘Never Ending Slaughter’ as spectral adventurer Deadman gathers all of Superman’s ghosts slain since August 11th 2040 in an unending variety of gruesomely imaginative ways, victims of Gog’s reality-rupturing mania.

The resultant time-disruption energises Chronal guardians The Linear Men, but before they can act to protect the Space-Time Continuum one of their number betrays them and sets out to tackle the crisis his own way.

A year after the events of Kingdome Come Wonder Woman is giving birth to the son she and Superman conceived when Gog arrives to once more kill the Man of Tomorrow. Driven off by that era’s massed superhero population Gog escapes into the timestream taken the newborn child with him to 1998 where he will raise it as his disciple Magog.

With all of existence liable to vanish at any second the renegade Linear Man invites Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman to accompany him on a last-ditch mission to stop the maniac and save Kansas.

But now, whatever happens, the entire timeline and everybody in it will alter and might even never have existed…

As the World’s Greatest heroes vanish into the past they leave behind a shell-shocked band of new warriors desperately making their peace with imminent, inescapable and irreversible doom…

The Kingdom: Son of the Bat introduces Ibn al Xu’ffasch, heir of both Batman and Ra’s al Ghul, who uses his incredible intellect and astounding resources to resurrect the world’s greatest villains in hope of forestalling the apocalypse in ‘Convergence’, illustrated by Brian Apthorp & Mark Farmer, whilst The Kingdom: Nightstar finds the daughter of Nightwing and Starfire going ‘Not So Gently’ (art by Matt Haley & Tom Simmons) as one of her closest metahuman friends cracks under the pressure of impending non-existence and attempts to end it all quickly and cleanly by destroying the satellite which provides most of Earth’s food. Both these tales conclude with a time-bending stranger offering a way to fight back against the impossible situation…

‘Flexibility’ from The Kingdom: Offspring – superbly rendered by Frank Quitely – takes a softer approach by examining a unique father and son relationship as the clownish heir of Plastic Man tries to mend a few fences and have one last fling before the end, whilst The Kingdom: Kid Flash presents a ‘Quick Fix’ (Mark Pajarillo & Walden Wong) as the over-achieving daughter of the Fastest Man Alive attempts to live up to an impossible standard before the individual interludes end with The Kingdom: Planet Krypton wherein ordinary waitress Rose D’Angelo spends her last day working at the same hero-themed fast food restaurant she always has. Of course the place is ‘Haunted’ by ghosts only she can see – ephemeral, impossible alternate versions of costumed champions that never existed… or did they?

The Barry Kitson limned mystery leads directly into the concluding issue of The Kingdom, illustrated by Mike Zeck & John Beatty. ‘Mighty Rivers’ sees Magog reach the present in the mainstream DC universe and open his campaign to nuke Kansas. The current Superman is unable to defeat him until the time-travelling trinity of older heroes arrive, precipitating a calamitous battle and a technological Deus ex Machina wherein the imperilled champions of the doomed tomorrow save themselves and their still-potential reality thanks to the convenient miracle of Hypertime – where all things are possible…

Despite being all-but impenetrable to casual readers this climactic costumed caper is visually impressive and tremendously clever – if you’re au fait with the details of the DC canon – and much of the meat of this saga has since permeated such series as Justice Society of America and other titles, with wary readers continuing to wonder which of these “imaginary” characters will eventually manifest in the “real” world of DC Comics…

A definite fun-fest for DC devotees but perhaps a trifle over-focused for the casual consumer…
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder

By Jodi Picoult, Terry Dodson & various (DC Comics)
No ISBN: 978-1-84576-640-5

When Wonder Woman was (re)relaunched after Infinite Crisis and 52 with Terry and Rachel Dodson illustrating the scripts of TV big gun Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C. and Sex and the City among others) there was much well-deserved attention, but the comic was plagued by missed deadlines and most of the series’ momentum was lost. Eventually the tale was abandoned unfinished and a new writer was parachuted in. (The creators regrouped and the initial story-arc was concluded in Wonder Woman Annual volume 2, #1, and collected as Who is Wonder Woman?)

That writer was Jodi Picoult, a best-selling author with a reputation for strong characterisation and a tendency to explore “hot-button” issues. This collection (reprinting issues #6-10 of the Amazing Amazon’s latest periodical incarnation) sees Picoult pick up the threads of WW’s latest secret identity and hit the ground running.

Field agent Diana Prince is an operative of the Federal Department of Metahuman Affairs, tasked with keeping an eye on all those pesky superhumans that abound in the DC universe. Her partner is the dashing but annoying Tom Tresser, an extraordinary agent and master of disguise known as Nemesis.

Something is far from right at DoMA. Whilst Prince and Nemesis are babysitting a new government sponsored superhero nefarious doings are occurring at the office of their boss Sarge Steel, all engineered by one of Wonder Woman’s most relentless enemies. These culminate in the resurrection of Diana’s dead mother…

When Wonder Woman is subjected to a dubious “rendition” by DoMA and made an illegal captive, the hidden mastermind initiates a plan to use the Amazons of Themyscira to rescue her and coincidentally destroy America. But there are plots within schemes and another hand is actually manipulating the manipulators…

This is a strikingly effective tale that peters out towards the end not because of the excellent scripts or the stunning art of Terry and Rachel Dodson, Drew Johnson, Ray Snyder and Rodney Ramos but because the story dovetails with the publishing event Amazons Attack! and intervening episodes and story advancements occur in a completely separate book.

If you can revel in delightfully arch “get-a-room” dialogue and quirky “Moonlighting” sexual tension rendered in spectacular, clever, glamorous ‘big visuals’ this is a very fetching read, and a canny interpretation of the genre’s greatest female character, but if you want it all to actually make sense then you’ll definitely need to supplement your purchase with the aforementioned Amazons Attack!, but not after as the last page of Love and Murder advises, but from somewhere between parts 3 and 5.

Just don’t ask me what order to read succeeding chapters in…

© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman

By “Charles Moulton” & HG Peter (DC Comics/Tempo Books)
ISBN: 0-448-14531-6-125

Here’s another delightful pocketful of memories in a much-missed (by me at least) format: resized strips as paperback books reprinting a selection of the best stories money could buy. Released in 1978 to capitalise on the popular TV series starring Linda Carter, this dandy little black and white paperback was part of a continuing drive by DC to get out of the down-market newsstands and place their characters regularly onto the shelves of bookstores.

Of course this was before they gave up trying to fit their major asset – visual impact – into a limited format and went the European route of albums with such spectacular results that you’re now reading one of many, many blogs dedicated to reviewing graphic novels, trade paperbacks and items of related interest.

And just in case you were wondering why periodical publishers kept trying?

At its best, a comics title could reach about a million unit sales through magazine vendor systems whilst a book – any book – had the potential of reaching four to twenty times that number…

This collection opens with a re-presentation of one of the Amazing Amazon’s earliest exploits with ‘Wonder Woman’s Lasso’ (1942), an engaging yarn of World War II in which the world’s premiere female costumed foe of injustice (written by controversial psychologist and creator William Moulton Marston) battled spies and sister Amazons to win a magical lariat that could compel and control anybody that fell within its coils.

Too much has been posited about the subtexts of bondage and subjugation in Marston’s tales – and frankly I don’t care what his intentions might have been – I’m more impressed with the skilful drama and incredible fantasy elements that are always wonderfully, intriguingly present: I mean, just where does the concept of giant battle kangaroos come from?

Moulton died in 1947 but his fellow creator, artist Harry G Peter, continued until 1958, although the heroine (one of only three costumed characters who maintained a star presence from the Golden to Silver Ages of comics: the other being Superman and Batman) found the outlandish tenor of her adventures considerably subdued under the editing and writing aegis of Robert Kanigher.

From 1955 ‘The Bird Who Revealed Wonder Woman’s Identity’ found her trying to preserve her secrets after a gabby Mynah bird overheard a revealing conversation to mimic, whilst ‘Wonder Woman’s Wedding Day’(1954) is a charming, traditional romp of wicked thugs and wily mad scientists.

Psychological warfare is the subject of 1953’s fascinating ‘The Secret Invasion’ – a plot by the nefarious Duke of Deception, whilst both ‘The Talking Tiara’ (1954) and the concluding entry ‘The Origin of the Amazon Plane’ (1955) reveal the hidden stories behind Princess Diana’s fabulous accessories in tales rife with dinosaurs, aliens, sea monsters and fantastic quests.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, and the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity to these tales is a delight for all types of reader but the true value of these exploits is the incredible quality of entertainment they provide.

Although there are excellent and comprehensive collections of her earliest adventures the post-War years of the Amazon have been woefully neglected, and are long over due for some serious compilation attention. Until that time little gems like this are all we can turn to…
© 1978 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 2

By Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-900-0

Back for a second delicious helping of pop nostalgia and startling action is Diana Prince, erstwhile Amazon superhero, but for a brief moment a mortal woman with all the power and wit that entails – solving problems and fighting injustice with great style and incredible fashion-sense.

In 1968 superhero comics were in decline and publishers sought new ways to keep audience as tastes changed. Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales, and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero then in the marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics’ T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war comic Fight The Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and now he was stretching himself with a number of experimental, youth-market directed projects.

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

When the Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, they took with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons … Now no more or less than human she decided to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal. Blind Buddhist monk I Ching trained her as a martial artist, and she quickly became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Her one true love Steve Trevor was branded a traitor and killed…

This volume (which collects issues #185-189 of her comic book, a guest shot from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #93 plus the first of two appearances in the Batman team-up vehicle Brave and the Bold #87) shows just how bold were those changes to the Amazing Amazon’s career. With young scripter Denny O’Neil moved to other projects Sekowsky took over the writing himself, surprising everyone with his savvy ear for dialogue and a refreshingly original take on the old conventions.

With apparently nothing to lose, the switch to espionage/adventurer in the fashionable footsteps of such popular TV characters as Emma Peel, The Girl from Uncle and Honey West, not to mention our own ultimate comic strip action-heroine Modesty Blaise, seemed like desperation, but clearly struck a chord with the public. Sekowsky opens this book with ‘Them!’ – one of the most original tales of the period, with few to match it written since.

Steeped heavily in the hippie counter-culture and Mod-fashion explosion, the New Wonder Woman had opened her own boutique and into it rushes a young girl seeking to escape three women who took her in and then made her their slave. Today this sort of psychological thriller is more recognisable, but in 1969 themes of bullying and peer abuse were utterly unknown in comic books, and this groundbreaking tale is uniquely informative: exploring other solutions than simply punching bad guys – although there’s enough of that so that the regular readers aren’t completely bewildered.

This is followed by ‘Morgana the Witch’, (WW #186) a spectacular flight of whimsy tapping into the then growing interest in the supernatural wherein a trio of teenaged girls with a talking frog (who was originally the boy friend of one of them) request help after accidentally summoning a powerful (and clearly bi-polar) sorceress to the 20th century.

Next is ‘The Superman-Wonder Woman Team!’ (by Robert Kanigher and Irv Novick from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #93), a less adventurous and unreconstructed yarn where the also socially evolving girl-reporter seeks to uncover the reason the ex-Amazon is making an ill-concealed play for her man, and a superbly tense thriller by Sekowsky and Giordano from Brave and the Bold #87 entitled ‘The Widow-Maker’, wherein the son of one of Batman’s foes tries to add to his tally of murders by luring the Caped Crusader into a rigged high performance car race.

The book concludes with a gripping three-part saga revealing some of I Ching’s past  and reintroducing the deadly Dr. Cyber before seamlessly transiting into an exotic Cold War thriller. In ‘Earthquaker’ and ‘Cyber’s Revenge’ Diana’s mentor is summoned by old friends to Hong Kong where he and his astonishing pupil happen upon a plan to blackmail the island with catastrophic artificial earthquakes, before attempting to smuggle an entire village out of Communist China in the delightfully epic ‘Red for Death’. The spectacle is broken up by a wonderful extra two page strip vignette ‘Crime does not Pay’ which brilliantly demonstrates the wit and economy of the medium

Comics are an art-form dictated by markets, driven by sales and influenced by fashion. For a brief moment all these factors coalesced to produce a compelling, engaging and utterly fabulous sequence of tales that are timelessly perfect and eternally fresh. And now you can read them whenever you feel the need for better times simply by opening these pages…

© 1969, 1970, 2008 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Wonder Woman: the Once and Future Story

By Trina Robbins, Colleen Doran & Jackson Guice (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-373

Every so often the intention to do good generates an above average comics product such as this one-shot created to raise awareness of domestic violence. A hugely important issue, and one that far too many unfortunate children are sadly aware of from an early age, it is also one of the oldest “relevant” topics in comic book history: Superman memorably dealt rough justice to a “wife-beater” in his very first adventure (Action Comics #1, June 1938).

Less visceral, but far more even-handed, is this beautiful, subtle tale-within-a-tale from Trina Robbins, illustrated by Colleen Doran and Jackson Guice. Wonder Woman is summoned to an archeological dig in Ireland by a husband and wife team to verify the finding of a 3000 year old tomb that contains the body and burial trappings of a princess from the fabled island of Themyscira.

As Wonder Woman translates the scrolls detailing the story of Princess Artemis of Ephesus, daughter of Queen Alcippe, who was taken as a slave by the Greek hero Theseus, she slowly realizes that the animosity of dig-chief James Kennealy is perhaps more than professional jealousy, and that his wife’s Moira’s defensive attitude and constant apologies mask a dark secret. Artemis’s brutal, painful quest to rescue her mother mirrors Moira’s journey to awareness as both women, separated by three millennia, take control of their so different, tragically similar lives.

Challenging, powerful but still wonderfully entertaining, this is a tale both worthy and worthwhile.
© 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack!

By Will Pfeiffer & Peter Woods (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-654-2

Beware any book that begins “the Story So Far…”

Have you ever watched a film or read a book when you were so tired that you kept nodding off, only to repeatedly wake and find whole chunks of the story gone by and you unable to work out where you were and how you got there? If not you could closely mimic the experience by reading Amazons Attack!

And now that I’ve got that off my prodigious chest I’ll attempt to be a little more generous and helpful. But I will say this: if you’re new to comics or need all the details to enjoy a story – buy something else.

They could at least have provided a list of the other titles and issues the story strands this six part miniseries wove through so that interested readers could track them down…

Before all this kicks off the Department of Metahuman Affairs has ordered the arrest of Wonder Woman, on the orders of a shape-shifting agent called Everyman who has replaced the real boss Sarge Steel. On the magical island of Themyscira the evil sorceress Circe has resurrected the Amazing Amazon’s dead mother, but the once serene and stately warrior queen seems a little strange…

When Queen Hippolyta learns that Wonder Woman has been captured and is being tortured by the Americans she declares war on the United States, unaware that US agent Nemesis has already helped her daughter escape…

Now begin reading…

The great pity here is that when taken in conjunction with the missing chapters that comprised this braided mega-event, Amazons Attack! is a tremendously entertaining and powerful read, with Washington DC, Kansas, Gotham City and many other locations spectacularly reeling under the magical assault of the mythological super-women and their fabulous war-beasts surpassing anything you’ve seen as movie blockbusters.

With the US government in retreat, the President declares anyone with Amazon connections a potential terrorist, equalling the iniquities of Japanese internment in WWII, and forcing heroes to choose sides, torn between friendship and love of country.

Naturally Batman deduces that there’s a deeper, double game being played, Superman proves the power of true nobility and Wonder Woman is forced to confront some ugly truths before the whole rotten mess is resolved in a shock ending.

And then there’s another, bigger one that impacts both Countdown to… and Final Crisis!

Will Pfeiffer and Pete Woods produced superb work in the miniseries that manages to amaze and entertain as well as make some telling points about the real American war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s borderline criminal to produce a collection that only gives half the story – and yes I know there’s a text catch-up page preceding each chapter; my point is there shouldn’t have to be!.

Can we have a complete book, pretty please – even if it does have to be a whacking great Absolute Edition?
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Vol. 4

By Denny O’Neil, Samuel R. Delaney, Bob Haney, Don Heck, Dick Giordano & Jim Aparo (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-156-4

In this concluding chronicle of the de-powered Wonder Woman (comprising issues #199-204 of her own comic plus her team-up with Batman from Brave and the Bold #105) the unique vision and quirky style of Mike Sekowsky is noticeably absent as sometime scripter Denny O’Neil returns for a by-the-numbers thriller illustrated by Marvel veteran Don Heck, with visual continuity assured by inker Dick Giordano.

‘Tribunal of Fear’ is a muddled, fashion-based crime thriller guest-starring private eye Jonny Double, and the concluding part (WW #200, by O’Neil and Giordano) sees the return of an old foe in ‘The Beauty Hater!’. Perhaps these tales should be best remembered for their covers, crafted by the illustrious Jeff Jones.

Catwoman contended with the mortal Amazon in #201’s ‘The Fist of Flame’ when Diana and her mentor I Ching journeyed to Tibet in pursuit of a fabulous, cursed gem which precipitated another extra-dimensional jaunt. Designed to introduce DC’s newest property, noted novelist Samuel R. Delaney joined Giordano for ‘Fangs of Fire’, a helter-skelter epic as Diana, Ching and Catwoman battled with and beside Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd the Barbarian and the Gray Mouser (the soon-to-be stars of the brief but superb Sword of Sorcery licensed comic).

This wonderfully extravagant delight was followed by ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ (by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, Brave and the Bold #105) as Diana joined Batman in Gotham City for a gritty, fast-paced thriller involving kidnappers and South American revolutionaries, before Delaney and Giordano took her into a fascinating new direction in the socially-aware Women’s Rights tale ‘The Grandee Caper’.

Comic fans love to gossip. When the next issue appeared it devoted the first twelve pages to undoing everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers in issue #179, before revising her mythical origin and returning her to her world of immortal Gods, Amazons and super-villains, with a new black nemesis, Nubia.

‘The Second Life of the Original Wonder Woman’ by Robert Kanigher, Heck and Giordano is not such a bad story, but its abrupt reversals had tongues wagging and heads spinning. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

I think not. Sales were never great on the title, and the most logical reason is probably Television.

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

Comics are an art-form dictated by markets, driven by sales and influenced by fashion. For a brief moment all these factors and a few gifted creators gelled to produce a compelling, engaging and utterly fabulous tranche of tales that are timelessly perfect and eternally fresh. And now you can read them whenever you feel the need simply by opening these pages…

© 1972, 1973, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman volume 3

By Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-016-1

With this third collection of the brilliant mod avenger sequence of Wonder Woman Mike Sekowsky hit his creative peak, seamlessly blending whimsical comedy with barbaric fantasy, high adventure with high fashion and street credibility with the so, so “in vogue” supernatural. The quality came at a price though, as of the nine issues covered here (Wonder Woman #190-198) two and three quarters were reprints necessitated by missed deadlines. Comprehensively filling out the page count is the heroine’s team-up with Superman from World’s Finest Comics #204.

‘Detour’ (issue #190 and superbly inked by the great Dick Giordano) finds the capable ex-Amazon and her blind mentor I Ching crossing interdimensional divides to visit her mother Queen Hippolyta when a cosmic storm deposits them in a dark, feudal world. Captured by slavers they befriend a barbarian and join a revolution against the oppressive Empire of Chalandor, but the second part in #191 was only five pages (padded by reprints) before the epic concluded in #192 with an ‘Assault on Castle Skull’.

The heady brew of swords, armoured combat and fantastic flying machines was balanced by a powerful drama of very human scale in ‘Angela’ when a troubled mother came seeking justice for her daughter, poisoned by a spiked drink at a party. This topical tragedy was followed by an effective and engaging pastiche.

The Prisoner of Zenda (as interpreted by the splendid 1952 Richard Thorpe film rather than the book written by Anthony Hope in 1894) inspired #194’s ‘The Prisoner’, a wonderfully lavish piece of action-packed fluff that proved the sheer versatility of the Single White Female Crime-fighter concept.

Wonder Woman #195 was a mini-masterpiece of spooky thrills. ‘The House that Wasn’t’ found Diana and Ching carjacked by escaped convicts and taking shelter from a blizzard in a haunted Inn. This classic tale is enhanced by the lush, moody inking of the legendary Wally Wood.

The aforementioned team-up with the Man of Steel follows: a cautionary tale from the early days of the ecology movement. ‘Journey to the End of Hope’ (WF #204) is by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella, and featured a computer from the future which begs the heroes to save an unidentified man destined to die in a campus riot – else the Earth will become a toxic ruin!

Issue #196’s ‘Target for Today?’ is the last inclusion in this book (#197 and 198 were both all-reprint editions and are only represented by their covers), a taut thriller wherein Diana becomes the bodyguard for a visiting monarch targeted for assassination…

The uniquely eccentric art of Mike Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for decades, and he had also garnered kudos for The Man from Uncle, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Fight The Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had contributed to its overwhelming success, but with the stories collected here he was reaching the end of his tenure on the experimentally de-vitalised heroine.

Superhero comics were in decline and publishers were impatiently looking for fresh ways to stay in business as audience tastes changed. Back then, with the entire industry dependent on newsstand sales, if you weren’t popular, you died. Within six issues Wonder Woman would regain her magical powers and return to a world of Greek gods, aliens, and super-villains but that period of cool, hip, bravely human heroism and drama on an intimate scale stands out as a self-contained high-point of quality in a largely bland career.

At least there’s enough fab and gear frolics for one last volume. I can’t wait…

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.