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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Shawn Reviews Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Trade Paperbacks

I picked up all four volumes of Diana Prince: Wonder Woman in Trade paperback on eBay two weeks ago. I started reading these comics expecting some horrible storytelling based on what I had heard over the past decade from other comic fans online. But after I read through all four volumes I was surprised. I really enjoyed this run of Wonder Woman.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman is a radical departure for the Amazon princess. From issues 178 to 204 Wonder Woman has given up her tiara, magic lasso costume and super powers and the Diana Prince alter ego is the primary focus. With the help of a blind Chinese mentor I-Ching, Diana hones her body through martial arts to become a well-oiled fighting machine. Yeah, it was a gimmck DC used to spur sales on a struggling Wonder Woman title.

But in this case it worked very well. Yeah, the Diana Prince stories are different, but in this chase the change is good. Writers Denny O’Neill and writer/artist Mike Sekowsky stay true to Diana’s character in these Mod tales and integrate her jet-setting adventures seamlessly into DC’s super-hero Universe. Even without her super powers, Diana is still a Wonder Woman, transitioning from her dual life as military woman and superhero to Mod shop owner and karate kicking globe-trotting adventuress.

Underneath the flash of the mod clothes Diana wears there’s a lot of substance in the O’Neill/Sekowsky Wonder Woman run. One of the strongest parts of this run is how it focuses on Diana’s internal character traits as opposed to her external superpowers. Usually in regular Wonder Woman stories we often see that Diana is the physical equal of Superman. But I was glad to see in this run that she is the mental equal of Batman. Diana in these stories is a cerebral thinker with an array of marital arts skills on par with DC’s Dark Knight, and was starting to develop the analytical skills to make her the world’s greatest female detective.

Diana shows a new power in the Sekowsky run: Power over herself.  I loved seeing how she has the strength of character to remain a hero in spite of her power loss and the fact that she used her brain to overcome the challenges in front of her. She’s a different type of Wonder Woman and that’s a great thing. These issues really add some richness and depth to Diana’s character and really make her stand out as a superhero.

Most of the issues of the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman run are filled with action in the style of 1960’s James Bond spy movies and TV shows like Get Smart, Amos Burke: Secret Agent and It Takes a Thief. And Diana’s globe-spanning adventures that are just as fresh and exciting as those Alexander Mundy, Amos Burke, or James Bond had at the time. Over the course of two dozen plus issues we see that Diana is the equal of any man in the spy and secret agent game.

There are some standout stories in this run; I particularly liked THEM! and Morgana the Witch. I also liked the build up to Diana’s first encounter with Dr. Cyber. Dr.Cyber is one of the best Wonder Woman villains I’ve read. She has this great over-the-top voice and personality. Seeing her in action reminded me of GIJOE’s Cobra Commander. If I were writing a Wonder Woman run, she’d get a big push and be put up front and center.

Along with her globe-trotting adventures, karate-kicking Diana also teams up with Superman in issues of World’s Finest and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, and Batman in Brave and the Bold. Even Catwoman pops in with her pirate boot costume for an adventure. Yeah, these stories are different, but they clearly show how Diana is still a great superhero even without super powers. We learn who she is makes her a Wonder Woman, not her superpowers.

There were some fun tidbits in this run I found interesting such as:
Superheroes smiling. Man, I haven’t seen a smile on a superheroes’ face in a comic book in over 20 years. And the last time I did see a smile was when Wally West was The Flash and Tim Drake was Robin. Superheroes have gone from our friends we can trust to aloof overlords who we’re taught to fear. That’s a shame.

Superheroes having a social life. In between jet-setting missions, Diana still had time for a social life. She went to visit family, went on dates and even cracked a joke or two. I remember when this was the norm, and I wish kids today could see that superheroes in comics weren’t so obsessed with putting on a costume and beating up the bad guys. There’s balance to life and even a superhero took time to smell the roses once and awhile.

Superheroes who were friends. Even without her powers, Diana was still a friend to all those around her lending a helping hand to whoever needed it.

Batman Smiling WTF? 
Batman smiling. When I saw Batman flash a smile in one of the Brave and the Bold books I was shocked. Over the last 25 years the Batman has been a…Douchebag. A dark brooding loner with a bad attitude who thinks he needs no help from anyone. I kind of found the Batman in these comics to be a breath of fresh air. He was driven to do his crimefighting, but he was still friendly and approachable. More Knight than Dark, with a bit more focus on chivalry. He had time for Bruce’s social life and wasn’t afraid to ask for help from other heroes. I miss THIS Batman, and I’d love to see him make a comeback to comics.

Wonder Woman Vs. Catwowman
We'd NEVER see this today!
The only drawbacks to the Sekowsky/O’Neill Run were that a lot of the storylines weren’t as tight as they could have been. A lot of the writing on the issues in this run are uneven and there are a few story points that could have been developed better. I’d like to have seen a little more development of Diana’s new supporting cast like Cathy Stevens and I-Ching, and I’d like to have seen some stronger interpersonal relationships between Diana and her new friends and arch-enemies. As it stands, stuff kind of just happens during this run but we really see no real close interpersonal relationship to connect the reader on a personal level like I’ve seen in Spider-Man titles at the time. For every THEM! and Morgana the Witch that made me care about the characters there was a middling story or two like Detour that dragged on and on.

The Dr.Cyber/Diana feud could have been one of the next great Super-hero rivalries like Diana’s feuds with Cheetah and Ares, but because there was no strong interpersonal relationship between them it never reached its potential. Shame too, because the way Dr. Cyber is written she’s the kind of villain readers would love to hate. I’d like to have seen the Dr.Cyber Wonder Woman feud had gone on a little longer and get more personal after the death of Steve Trevor. The way I see it, Diana would be driven to bring her to justice to avenge Steve’s death. But none of this gets developed.

To me, the feud took a wrong turn when Cyber’s face got disfigured and she became a female Dr. Doom. When she was a an egotistical, over-the-top diva with a dream of taking over the world she stood out from all the super villainesses. Once the coals burned her face, that twist sucked the heat out of their feud for me. The way things were going, I was kind of hoping Diana and Dr. Cyber would throw down in a Karate catfight where we could see Cyber as not only Diana’s mental equal, but her physical one as well.

My only other beef was with the abrupt end of the Diana Prince run. It just felt like a cop-out. In the span of one issue, Her mentor I-Ching is killed and five years of fascinating character development and storytelling are just wiped out by a simple snipers’ bullets, amnesia, a delirious sequence of events leading up to a trip to Paradise Island and memories re-programmed into her mind by Amazon computers. Wonder Woman with her Tiara, satin star spangled trunks and magic lasso was back.

But unfortunately, that kind of left a BIG CONTINUITY PLOTHOLE for me. Doesn’t Superman, Batman and Catwoman know about her past as Diana Prince? Didn’t she tell the JLA she was quitting due to the loss of power? And all she did have adventures with both Supes and Bats in her white costume. And the world knew that Diana Prince was The Wonder Woman dressed in White.

Yeah, that can be explained away as her being someone else named Diana Prince to the public in the DC Universe, but there’s the issue of Donna Troy. How Did Donna keep her powers when Paradise Island faded away? I mean, Diana had to give up her powers when Paradise Island disappeared, but Donna got to keep hers when she was with the Teen Titans? Oh well, Continuity has never been a DC strong point. Not to worry, the Crisis of Infinite Earths coming up in twenty years would wipe all these plotholes from Diana’s existence.

Nubia! Black Shero! HOLA!
A long time ago, I learned the main reason why the Diana Prince run was cut short wasn’t sales. Strangely enough, this run of Wonder Woman sold fairly well over the five years it was in print bi-monthly. No, it was complaints from Gloria Steinem to DC. Thanks to Gloria Steinem and her article in Ms: Magazine: What happened to Wonder Woman, DC’s editors just decided to bring back the old Wonder Woman in one of the most awkward and ham-fisted ways I have ever seen. If you thought Flashpoint was a shitty ending to the Post-Crisis DC Universe, feast your eyes on The Second Life of the Original Wonder Woman. Good Gravy. Even though I love addition of Nubia (Black Wonder Woman HOLA!), I would have appreciated a close to the Diana Prince run that would have transitioned things back to standard in a more organic fashion. Diana grew so much in the Diana Prince years and I felt all of that great character development could have added to the richness of depth to the Wonder Woman mythos if it were integrated organically.

The greatest irony of Steinem’s complaining about Wonder Woman was the fact that she was upset about Wonder Woman not being an icon of feminism. But If one looks objectively at the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman run, they’ll see Diana was acting more like a liberated woman as Diana Prince than she did as Wonder Woman in some of the earlier stories where she spent so much time pining over Steve Trevor. In the O’Neill/Sekowsky stories She clearly shows tremendous strength of character, courage, and intelligence. She ran her own business. She looked out for other women in the community like Cathy Stevens. She honed her body and mind to the peak physical condition of the Batman and had globe-spanning adventures on par with the Dark Knight. She worked with both Superman and Batman and earned their respect on the cases they worked on. She lived life on her terms and dated whoever she wanted. And she did all this in clothes that fully covered her body.

Yeah, she wasn’t the princess of Paradise Island and she didn’t wear the colorful costume or have the super powers, but she was a Wonder Woman because that’s who Diana was on the inside.

The art in this run is top notch. Mike Sekowsky’s art really pops and the legendary Dick Giordano’s inks really compliment Sekowsky’s visual style. Both add a bit of grittiness to the visuals that give Diana’s adventures a pulp feel, that’s perfect for a book that’s supposed to be reflective of the 1960’s spy craze. I’ll have to say Mike Sekowsky is the master of facial expressions, he can set a tone for a panel with just a look on Diana’s face. His panel work really makes this run of comics stand out as a classic. I love how they transition from Diana wearing green outfits symbolizing change to Black and White representing how she sees the world. It’s a simple nuance that’s overlooked in this run.

As a writer of novels and screenplays featuring strong female lead characters and a fantasy series featuring a goddess, I bought this run of Wonder Woman to get a better understanding of the character, and to get a better understanding of superhero women. I thought I’d learn from all the mistakes made in this run, but I found that I learned more from all O’Neill and Sekowsky did right. The Diana Prince years gave Diana humanity and complexity on par with Chris Claremont’s X-Men and Marv Wolfman’s Teen Titans. If anything this run of comics was ahead of its time.

I also learned from these stories that change doesn’t mean suck. Change is good. And change can be different and still flow organically into the history of the character. While In these stories the primary focus changes from Wonder Woman to Diana Prince, the heart and soul of the character remain the same. Diana Prince is Still Wonder Woman and her voice and personality remain true to the character, not like that horrible New 52 abomination calling herself that name.

I learned a lot about Diana and her history from this run, and I feel other comic fans could also learn something from it too. Yeah, the stories are different, but the Diana Prince stories make her distinct for a different set of reasons. I highly recommend these trade paperbacks to all the Wonder Woman fans out there and to fans of great comics. They’re great reading.

*Also Picked up Huntress: Darknight Daughter as part of this TPB haul. So there will be a review of it soon!

1 comment:

  1. So in the end this run is one of those things that only sound worse than they really are?