Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

A hip Amazon who swings? Wonder Woman begins the Diana Prince years

Some years back, I began rereading my run of Wonder Woman, which I do with most of my old comics eventually, and blogging about them, which I don’t usually do. I think the blogging is partly because DC tinkered so often with WW’s formula it’s easier to break down her adventures into specific story arcs or settings. I can blog about her Twelve Trials, her stint as a UN crisis agent, or as space shuttle pilot and wrap it up in one post. Superman and Flash don’t divide up their stories so neatly.

Counting reprints I have everything from the early Silver Age through the end of the 20th century, except for the 1968-72 period when Wonder Woman lost her powers and became Diana Prince, mortal adventurer. When one of the columns here mentioned DC had released WONDER WOMAN: Diana Prince: Celebrating the ’60s Omnibus I picked it up as soon as I had the money. I won’t be reviewing the whole thing here, but I will cover the transition from Diana Prince, superhero and military officer, to Diana Prince, the new Wonder Woman!

Wonder Woman #178 is a one-shot that alerts readers change is afoot, but doesn’t tie into the changes directly. “Wonder Woman’s Rival” (Denny O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky) opens with the police arresting Steve Trevor for the murder of one Alex Block. Steve says he met a girl at a hippie nightclub who can alibi him, but he didn’t get her name and can’t locate her (undoubtedly a riff on the 1940s Cornell Woolrich thriller, The Phantom Lady, which uses the same set-up). At the trial we learn Block insulted, then groped Wonder Woman, after which Steve decked him. WW, instead of thanking Steve for protecting her honor, flew off later in the middle of making out so she could deal with an emergency. A frustrated Steve went out and picked up the nameless girl.

Even by the legal standards of comic books, the case against Steve is thin. No evidence tying him to the crime, no witnesses, no weapon. Just the lack of an alibi, and WW testifying that Steve told her Block deserved to die. That’s enough for the jury to find Steve guilty though and it leaves him seething: how could Wonder Woman betray him by testifying? Because she’s totally the kind of woman who’d perjure herself under oath, am I right?

Unable to clear Steve as Wonder Woman, the Amazon decides to find the mystery woman as Diana Prince. That requires visiting counter-culture hangouts like the club, so Diana needs a whole new wardrobe to fit in.

With the help of Steve’s best friend, Roger, she find the girl, Tina. Then it turns out Roger’s an embezzler who murdered Block to hide his crimes. Now all he has to do is eliminate the two women — too bad he has no idea who Diana Prince really is.

Steve forgives WW at the story’s end, but tells her Diana’s been so awesome he wants to date both of them. As WW’s always been annoyed Steve doesn’t find her other identity attractive, this should be a win; instead, she worries that Steve will jump from dating Lt. Prince to dating more women. To keep Steve’s love, she’ll have to change.

It’s hard to look at this story objectively a half-century later, particularly when I know what’s coming next. It must have been a startling break from the Kanigher norm, with a stronger plot and a more contemporary feel. On the other hand, Steve/WW doesn’t work at all well here — though of course, that’s irrelevant, given Steve’s imminent demise. Indeed, the change of direction this issue suggests is nothing like the changes that began in #179. Were Sekowsky and O’Neil pulling a sleight-of-hand so what happened next would be more of a shock?

That said, the story does set up the feel of the reboot: hip settings, cool fashions, ordinary crimes rather than supervillains or monsters. And a Wonder Woman who cares about fashion in a way that seems out of character for her.

The reboot was Mike Sekowsky’s brainchild, according to this quote on Comic Book Herald: “What they were doing in Wonder Woman, I didn’t see how a kid, male or female, could relate to it. It was so far removed from their world. I felt girls might want to read something about a super-female in the real world, something very current. So I created a new book, new characters, everything, I did up some sketches and wrote out some ideas.” The article at the link says Sekowsky’s “new book” was a separate character who became a Wonder Woman reboot but Comics Bulletin assumes Sekowsky’s idea was a WW reboot all along.

Either way, change was about to happen.

#SFWApro. Top cover by JL Garcia-Lopez, everything else by Sekowsky. This was an older post from my own blog.


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