Hey, it’s a brand new entry! How fancy is that?
Wonder Woman by George Pérez (writer/plotter; penciler/layouter/artist, issues #1-24), Greg Potter (scripter, issues #1-2), Len Wein (scripter, issues #3-16), Mindy Newell (scripter, issues #36-46), Chris Marrinan (penciler, issues #25-31, 33-44), Tom Grummett (penciler, issue #32), Jill Thompson (penciler, issues #45-51, 53-55, 57-59, 61-62), Cynthia Martin (artist, issues #45, 52, 60), Colleen Doran (artist, issues #45, 49), Joe Phillips (penciler, issues #56, 60), Bruce Patterson (inker/finisher, issues #1-2, 4-15), Bob Smith (finisher, issue #16), Dick Giordano (finisher, issues #17-18), Frank McLaughlin (finisher, issue #19), Bob McLeod (finisher, issues #20-22), Will Blyberg (finisher/inker, issues #23-31, 33-34), Steve Montano (inker, issues #32, 35-37), Mike Machlan (inker, issues #38-39), Robert Campanella (inker, issue #40), Romeo Tanghal (inker, issues #41-51, 53-59, 62), Kevin Nowlan (inker, issue #52), Pablo Marcos (inker, issue #60), Brian Stelfreeze (inker, issue #60), Rick Bryant (inker, issue #61), Tatjana Wood (colorist, issues #1-9), Carl Gafford (colorist, issues #10-24, 26-45), Petra Scotese (colorist, issue #25), Julianna Ferriter (colorist, issue #47), Tom Ziuko (colorist, issues #48-55), Nansi Hoolahan (colorist, issues #56-62), John Costanza (letterer, issues #1-25, 41-62), Agustin Mas (letterer, issues #26-40), and Helen Vesik (letterer, issue #26).
Published by DC, cover dated February 1987 – February 1992.
Some SPOILERS, of course, for a 30-year-old comic. Heck, there’s a spoiler in the covers I posted! But you can handle it, I think! And, as always, you can click on the images to see them in bigger splendor!
When DC rebooted their universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, they might have hoped for a creative flourishing in the aftermath, but they didn’t know they’d be ushering in a Golden Age of DC, as they allowed their creators more freedom to tell stories and also allowed the “real world” to enter into their fictional universe a bit more. Creators took advantage, and no iconic DC character benefited more than Wonder Woman. Batman is always Batman, and he was barely affected by the reboot. Superman is always Superman, and John Byrne did good things with him, but he didn’t really need it all that much. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Justice League all benefited, but perhaps no character needed it more than Wonder Woman, and with George Pérez at the helm, Diana of Themyscira got a creator at the top of his game. Pérez had, of course, drawn CoIE, and his insanely detailed artwork made that book far more interesting than it had any right to be. He was in his early thirties, he had built up a huge following thanks to his work on Avengers and, most notably, Teen Titans, and his version of Wonder Woman was a marvelous re-imagining of the character, grounding her in the real world while still using the Greek myths as part of her legacy. Despite this being a superhero title, Pérez was far more interested in writing a story about what happens when a powerful person is devoted more to peace than war. The results are impressive, especially for someone who was not known as a writer before this book. Pérez wrote the book for five years (and, it seems, would have written it longer if – stop me if you’ve heard this – DC hadn’t alienated him over petty junk), and he gave Diana a solid foundation for the future.
In this era of “compressed” comics, Pérez and co-writer Greg Potter don’t waste any time. The Amazons’ origin AND Diana’s origin are handled in the first issue (today, of course, it takes 4-6 issues to do it), we meet Steve Trevor and Etta Candy in issue #2, and by issue #3, Diana is in Boston meeting Julia Kapatelis and her daughter, Vanessa, both of whom will become the most important people in Diana’s life besides her mother. Putting the book in Boston is an important part of the goodness of the run. After CoIE, several DC characters “relocated” to real cities – Diana in Boston, Oliver Queen in Seattle, the Justice League with embassies in actual countries – and this helped ground the books a bit more. Gotham City and Metropolis, the two great fictional DC cities, were generic by design, with either dull names for things that showed up a lot (“Suicide Slum”) or things named after famous creators that were never referenced again. By setting Wonder Woman in Boston, Pérez could use actual places and names, and by tying her a bit more to the Greek myths, he could use places in Greece and Egypt and Turkey that would lend some heft to the goings-on. it’s a small change, but it works very well.
Potter left the book after issue #3 and Len Wein came on board as scripter, but Pérez, who plotted the book throughout, kept on throwing things at Diana. The first arc, such as it is (this is before the days when comics were specifically segmented into “arcs”) is about Ares, the Greek god of war (looking nothing like David Thewlis, I might add), plotting to destroy the world, and Pérez makes sure to embed it in the late Cold War politics of the day, with Diana not really understanding what’s going on. Diana’s naïveté is a big part of the book, not only in the early issues before she experiences more of “man’s world.” The Amazons are a coldly cynical bunch, having seen the worst of men, while Diana, who has never experienced men, looks only at the good in them. Pérez does a nice job toying with this throughout the run, and it’s on display very early on. She wants the Amazons to help Steve Trevor even though it appears he tried to bomb Themyscira (it wasn’t really his idea, and he tried to stop it, but nobody knows that at the moment), and she has to convince the Amazons. When she arrives in Boston, she just assumes everyone will be able to understand the truth, and she’s not ready for the layers of deception she encounters in “man’s world.” In the first arc, Phobos and Deimos – Ares’s sons – are manipulating things, but Pérez makes sure to show the readers that whenever supernatural beings are involved, they are simply using what’s in people in the first place and not creating emotions. That way, he can have his cake and eat it, too – Wonder Woman gets to defeat bad guys, but the bad guys aren’t working with blank canvases, which means Pérez can make points about humanity itself as well.
Pérez settles into his themes early, and he returns to them often, but impressively, they never feel beaten into the ground because he examines them from different perspectives and using different plots. His most important theme is what “womanhood” means, which seems like an odd idea for a man to write about, but this was back when comic book companies still didn’t believe women could write comics, so it was up to Pérez to tackle it (yes, Mindy Newell scripts some of this series, but the very few women writing back in the late 1980s were not seen as economically viable, which is why DC and Marvel rarely put them on big books). This comic features more women in prominent roles than perhaps any series up until that time, and probably a fair number since this, too, and what makes it fascinating is that Pérez is able to give all them distinct personalities, so that Diana has to learn a wide variety of viewpoints as she navigates “man’s world.” This begins in the very first issue, before Diana is even created, as Antiope, Hippolyte’s sister, decides to lead a contingent of Amazons back into the world to get revenge on Heracles and his men instead of rejecting violence and leaving for Themyscira. The Amazons themselves, from the very beginning, are not a monolithic group. Once Diana arrives in Boston, she meets Julia and Vanessa, who will become her surrogate family in “man’s world.” Julia is a Harvard archaeologist who becomes Diana’s maternal figure in “man’s world,” while the teenage Vanessa becomes her “little sister.” There’s also Etta Candy, an Air Force lieutenant who’s in love with Steve Trevor and who becomes friends with Diana, despite the fact that she’s a bit jealous of the attention Diana gets from men in general and Steve in particular (in a completely non-romantic way; Trevor and Diana are never romantically linked). In issue #7, Pérez and Wein introduce Myndi Mayer, a publicist who wants Diana as a client. Julia rebuffs her initially, but soon realizes that Diana will be exploited by others – most pointedly by the American military – so she hires Myndi to shape Diana’s own narrative, which works extremely well. Barbara Minerva, the Cheetah, is also introduced in issue #7, and she will become one of Diana’s most dangerous foes. Pérez links Diana to Trevor in the “Challenge of the Gods” story arc (issues #10-13) by introducing Trevor’s mother, who ended up on Themyscira thirty years earlier and impressed the Amazons so much that they named Diana after her. The Silver Swan, another fierce foe of Diana’s, shows up in issue #15, while Circe, Diana’s most powerful nemesis, makes her first appearance in issue #17. In issue #28, Pérez begins the Bana-Mighdall story arc, which shows what happened to the Amazons who left with Antiope back in the day. Ares is the villain of the first story arc, but later, his daughter Eris (Pérez fudges the myth a bit here, as Eris isn’t Ares’s daughter, but it’s a myth, so who cares?) and her Golden Apples of Discord wreak havoc on the first “summit” between the Amazons and representatives (many of whom are women, including Lois Lane) from “man’s world.” We also get Vanessa’s friends, Eileen and Lucy, who are very important to the story. Pérez and his scripters do a wonderful job making sure that the women are not the same, but represent many different facets of personhood, so Diana gets a good education in the way many cultures shape many people. Part of the subtext of the run is that the Amazon culture, while not exactly stagnant, is extremely homogeneous (this is some diversity, but not much, and the lesbian angle is downplayed, although it’s certainly present), so Diana does not understand women, not really – she understands a female ideal, and that comes into conflict with the reality of “man’s world.”
All of these women are interesting, and Pérez does a good job with them (with a notable exception, which I’ll get to below). Julia is unusual in that she’s an older woman who takes an active role in the plots (unlike, say, Aunt May, who’s often simply Peter Parker’s conscience), and she is extremely capable in her field. She’s a widow, so Pérez even gives her a brief attempt at romance, which goes nowhere but is still not a bad path for the character. She can speak Greek (her parents still live in Greece), so when Hermes takes Diana to Boston and sends her to Julia, it’s a wise choice because then Diana has someone to talk to. Julia understands that Diana doesn’t understand “man’s world,” so she often acts as a buffer between Diana and the vagaries of the world, as Diana feels things deeply and can’t understand some of the cruelties of the world outside Themyscira. She and her daughter are the first outsiders allowed to visit the mainland of Themyscira (with the exception of Heracles, but he’s a demi-god and doesn’t really count and Steve Trevor, who is taken to the island of healing when his plane goes down and doesn’t get to go the mainland until much later), which is a great honor. Meanwhile, Vanessa becomes a sister for Diana (Diana’s age is never given, but it seems like Pérez wants to put her in her early 20s – older than a teenager, in other words, but still young enough to be impressed with the world), and Pérez does a really nice job writing her. Teenagers are very hard to draw, and Thompson does slightly better in that regard than Pérez (who draws Vanessa as slightly “older” than she is, but still does a pretty good job), but Pérez the writer really excels at making Vanessa a bundle of insecurities, hormones, and misunderstood feelings. She loves Diana, but she’s also jealous of her because Diana is gorgeous and Vanessa does not believe that she herself is. It doesn’t help that the first boy who likes her only does so because he worships Diana and knows Vanessa can get him close to her, so that fuels Vanessa’s insecurity and teenage rage. Vanessa veers between euphoria and angst with seemingly no transition, alienates her friends either inadvertently or deliberately, judges people too quickly but is also extremely empathetic when she stops to think about it, and wants to grow up faster than she is because then she’ll be a “woman” – Pérez has no children, but he must have relatives with children, because he really does nail the weirdness of being a teen, especially a female teen. The best single issue in the run is issue #46, “Chalk Drawings,” in which Lucy Spears, Vanessa’s current best friend, commits suicide. Pérez and Mindy Newell handle it so well, from the tragedy of it all to the anger that everyone feels because they didn’t spot the signs. Vanessa processes Lucy’s death as well as she can, and it’s an impressive piece of work from everyone involved, including Thompson drawing everything perfectly. Vanessa grows up over the five years of the run (she graduates from high school in the final issue, although Pérez seems to speed us there), and her development alongside Diana’s is marvelous to see. The third “good” woman in Diana’s life is Etta, who’s Trevor’s aide in the beginning of the series but becomes more important in the military after Trevor resigns. If you squint you can read the Maiden/Mother/Crone trope into Vanessa/Etta/Julia, which is something Pérez had to have known about but doesn’t push too hard, because it doesn’t work perfectly. While Julia becomes a surrogate mother to Diana and Vanessa a surrogate sister, Etta is never her best friend, but rather kind of an odd mirror. She is a warrior, but not on Diana’s level. She is attractive, but she has body image issues due to the fact that she is not as svelte and toned as Diana. As this is the 1980s, body positivity was not really a thing, so Etta frets about her weight even though Pérez draws her perfectly healthy – she’s just not quite as fit as Diana is. But this allows Pérez to examine the idea of jealousy and self-image problems that plague women (to speak generally; men certainly aren’t immune) – Vanessa has body image issues, too, but that’s mostly because she’s a kid who wants to be a woman, while Etta is already a woman – an attractive one – who doesn’t think she measures up to a person literally molded from clay. When Etta and Steve get together, it’s a charming love story, but due to Steve always helping Diana out, Etta becomes jealous again, and Pérez does a good job showing how contradictory she’s being – she knows it’s ridiculous that she’s jealous, but she also doesn’t feel like Steve is taking her feelings seriously, and Pérez is able to thread the needle between those two poles. Etta isn’t as important to the book as Julia and Vanessa, but she’s still a good, “realistic” counterpoint to Diana’s quasi-divine perfection. (I should point out that Donna Troy does make an appearance in this series and bonds with Diana, but she’s only in it briefly, so she’s not as important as the other three.)
The “bad” women in the run are also fascinating, as they stand in direct contrast to the quasi-sainted Amazons. In issue #7, Pérez introduces the Cheetah, a classic Wonder Woman foe whom Pérez updates, giving her a new (and third) identity. Barbara Minerva is a famous (if somewhat sketchy, according to Julia) archaeologist, and she appears in Diana’s life claiming she has the second “girdle of Gaea,” one of the gods’ gifts given to the Amazons millennia before. Diana’s lasso is forged from the first girdle, and she is ecstatic that Barbara has the second one. It’s a ruse, however, as Barbara only wants the lasso for herself, and Pérez uses that to introduce her alter ego, the Cheetah. Barbara transforms into the Cheetah with the help of a strange plant and a blood sacrifice, and she is obsessed with living forever (which is why she’s interested in the Amazons, who are functionally immortal). She transforms into the Cheetah because her servant, Chuma, told her that becoming the Cheetah makes one immortal, and despite the blood-lust and murder that comes along with it, Barbara is down for it. In a later story, we get her “secret origin,” and it’s clear that Barbara Minerva is nasty down to the bone even before she decides that drinking human blood is a small price to pay for living forever. However, Pérez makes her not completely unsympathetic, or at least not completely irredeemable. She’s clearly an addict, and later in the book, when Chuma is dead and her access to the strange plant that assists in the transformation is cut off, she’s a pathetic creature, worthy of Diana’s pity. Pérez also subtly alludes to the idea that she is ostracized by society because she’s working in a “man’s career,” and this has hardened her to the point where any empathy she might have had has been squeezed out of her. Pérez doesn’t push it, but it’s an interesting subtext to the Cheetah. With the next female “villain,” Pérez is not subtle – the Silver Swan has definitely been manipulated and influenced by a man, as it’s the primary reason she’s the Silver Swan in the first place. Valerie Beaudry is a mysterious woman who becomes pen pals with Maxine Sterenbuch when they were teenagers, but when Maxine finally tried to visit Valerie, she was rebuffed without ever seeing her. After she moved to Boston, Valerie contacted her because she was in town, and they finally met, and Valerie is a gorgeous blonde, which Maxine finds odd because Valerie never sent Maxine a photo of herself. Her “boyfriend,” an older man named Henry Armbruster, is a grumpy millionaire, and Maxine soon realizes he’s at least physically abusive to Valerie, if not abusive in other ways. We learn that Armbruster took a young, unattractive girl – we eventually see the “real” Valerie, and Pérez and Chris Marrinan make sure she’s physically very ugly – and preyed upon her need for love to manipulate her. He used COMIC BOOK SCIENCE! to turn her voice into a powerful weapon and also to change her appearance, and she was so grateful to him that she agreed to commit crimes for him. Armbruster is trying to develop organic sonic weaponry for the military, and Valerie is the perfect test case. The sadness of Valerie’s life and her desperate need for validation makes her a tragic villain, and Pérez eventually makes her realize that she doesn’t need Armbruster, and she is able to escape his gravity. The third main female villain of the book is the sorceress Circe, who’s the least interesting of the lot. Circe is simply out for power, and failing that, burning the world down. She instigates the big plot at the end that leads to the crossover War of the Gods, but the issues before she reveals herself are far more interesting, mainly because it’s more fun to try to figure out what’s happening and why everything is going wrong for the Amazons. Circe is a powerful witch, but she’s simply there to be more powerful than Diana, giving her a barrier to her goals of a more peaceful world. Both Cheetah and Silver Swan make much more interesting villains.
Finally, there’s the “splinter Amazons” of Bana-Migdhall. They’re first alluded to in issue #1, when Antiope splits from Hippolyte because she (Antiope) wants revenge on Heracles for his assault. Many Amazons follow her, and they disappear into history. In issue #29, they re-appear as part of the second Cheetah story, as Barbara Minerva has stolen Diana’s lariat of truth and Diana tracks her to the Egyptian desert, where she is transported via a magical sandstorm to the city of Bana-Migdhall, which the splinter group founded when they realized they couldn’t trust men. Antiope had married Theseus and been murdered, and one of their own, Phthia, had been blamed for the crime. After escaping, Phthia and the Amazons became mercenaries and weapons makers, and for centuries they had been dealing with men in that capacity. They do not trust Diana and her time with them is fraught with tension, but they are still an interesting group, as they are very good warriors and they do have a strong sense of duty to their community. They are stubborn and brutal and that leads to their destruction, but they aren’t completely irredeemable, and Pérez does a good job showing how they remain Amazons even though they’ve been “corrupted” by “man’s world.” Pérez doesn’t necessarily point to men as being a corrupting influence on the Bana-Migdhall Amazons, even though they split from Hippolyte simply to get revenge on Heracles. Before Heracles assaults Themyscira, they are still powerful warriors and they do not trust men. The Egyptian Amazons simply cannot move past that, and they learn how to live in a world where martial skills are lauded. They are angry at the world, but they have reason to be, and they no longer trust outsiders, even one as obviously an Amazon as Diana. They’re a fascinating counterpoint to Themyscira, as Hippolyte and her Amazons have never had to deal with the “real” world, so they are able to remain “pure.” Pérez does a good job showing that perhaps the Amazons of Paradise Island are only the way they are because they live in a vacuum, and not because they’re so wonderful. It’s an interesting, subtle point that Pérez doesn’t belabor, but it’s still there.
The last strong woman in Diana’s life is Myndi Mayer, who’s the most interesting character in the run and probably one of the best female characters in DC’s post-Crisis history. Myndi isn’t in the book that long – she first appeared in issue #7 and she died in issue #19/#20 (we hear of her death in issue #19, but #20 is the investigation into it) – but she has a profound effect on how Diana views the world. When she first shows up, it’s in the aftermath of the first arc, when Boston was attacked by a creature called Decay (a daughter of Medusa), who aged Vanessa almost to death, and who is still recovering in issue #7. Myndi visits Julia at Harvard and insists that Diana needs a publicist, and Julia, waiting for news about her daughter, does not take kindly to her intrusion. In two pages, Péez and Wein show us what “kind” of person Myndi is: she smokes (that’s bad), she’s pushy (that’s bad), she doesn’t know that Julia has a daughter (that’s bad), she only thinks about money (that’s bad), and she dresses provocatively and “cheaply,” which is code for “like a whore” (that’s bad). Obviously, Pérez and Wein are pushing all the buttons for “bad” because they want to subvert them, but in 1987 and even today, a woman like Myndi is coded as “bad” while Julia – who doesn’t wear make-up, doesn’t dress fancily, and doesn’t like smoking – is coded as “good.” Myndi is far from stupid, however, and later in the issue, when Julia decides that Diana needs to be in control of her own narrative before the military takes control of it, she takes Diana to see Myndi, and the publicist is dressed down, in jeans, a sweater and shirt, with her hair pulled back with barrettes. She even holds her pen like a cigarette so she doesn’t smoke, a nice touch by Pérez. She disarms Diana easily, and the publicity blitz gets underway. She receives the letter from Barbara Minerva about the girdle of Gaea, and when it turns out to be a hoax, Diana turns on Myndi briefly, claiming she only cared about the money she would get if the story was true. Diana says “You are interested solely in exploiting me! How could one woman do that to another?” She’s not wrong, either, but it’s a bit unfair to Myndi, who couldn’t really know Dr. Minerva was lying. Diana returns to Themyscira before Myndi can apologize to her (and, perhaps as importantly, before she can make any more money off Diana), and we don’t see her again until issue #14, when she’s cozying up to a man in her apartment as Diana returns to “man’s world.” She’s back in Diana’s good graces in issue #15, apparently, organizing a charity event with Diana that the Silver Swan crashes, but the man she was getting cozy with, Skeeter LaRue, is now part of her firm, and her long-time employees are disgruntled because he’s a bit much to take. She was drinking with him in issue #14, and to celebrate their new campaign, they go out to drink, which is another not-too-subtle indication that Myndi is “bad.” In issue #16, she organizes the meeting with Superman that occurs in Action Comics #600 (which doesn’t really tie into this series), because of course she would know Clark Kent, big-time reporter. In issue #17, we see that she’s having increasing problems with her drinking, but she’s too enamored of Skeeter LaRue to figure out that he’s the problem. Diana is in Greece in issues #17-19, so after we see her in issue #17, we don’t get anything about her until the very end of issue #19, when we find out she’s been murdered. Issue #20 is all about her death and how it came about, and it’s another interesting peek into the life of Myndi Mayer. One of her employees is arrested for the murder, but it’s clear he’s innocent, although his problems with Myndi’s drug usage (cocaine) and her shoddy management due to her alcohol and drug abuse are certainly valid. The obvious suspect is Skeeter LaRue, who’s a scumbag, and while he’s using Myndi to sell cocaine to her clients and got her hooked on the drug so would have no reason to shut down the gravy train, we find out in the course of the issue that Myndi finally stood up to him and told him off. Skeeter panicked and shot Myndi, framing her employee, but the final irony we discover is that Myndi was already dead when Skeeter fired at her – she couldn’t resist the cocaine he left on her desk and overdosed on it. The sad saga of Myndi Mayer doesn’t take up a lot of space in Wonder Woman, but she’s still, as I noted, one of the most interesting women a DC comic has ever featured. She’s independent – at least at first – and she built her own business at a time when it was unusual for a woman to do that. She is sexually liberated, at a time when even many of the men in DC comics were not, and although Pérez and Wein don’t necessarily portray this as a good thing (the man she is screwing around with kills her, basically), it’s still notable that she’s a “normal” woman (that is, not a superhero) with a regular sex life. She’s a role model to Vanessa – not one that Julia approves of, either – because she’s independent and successful, and she genuinely seems to like the teenager. She takes advantage of a space in Diana’s life, sure, and while she wants to make money off of Diana, she does try to keep in mind Diana’s mission to educate and uplift the women of the world. She’s a good boss with major flaws, a yearning for attention being the biggest one. While she’s not necessarily presented as “good” – especially in contrast to Diana’s saintliness and Julia’s “salt-of-the-earth”-ness, she is a far more complex character than either one of those women, and it’s kind of a shame that Pérez killed her off so quickly.
All of this focus on the women in Wonder Woman is interesting for a DC comic of the late 1980s/early 1990s, even one whose hero is female. The reason, it seems, is because it’s difficult to do too much with Amazon society, and so Pérez was forced to create many different kinds of women in “man’s world.” The Amazons are the ideal, and despite some divisions in their society (mostly a small contingent that is against interacting with “man’s world”), they march in lockstep toward the future. They aren’t exactly boring, but they do feel a bit stultified, as their culture has had no impetus to change in millennia. They are still a society to be admired, but in the way we might admire other closed societies that never have to deal with stresses to their way of life – the Amish, for instance. Yes, Themyscira is a paradise … precisely because everyone thinks pretty much the same way. Pérez certainly doesn’t condemn this, and he makes Themyscira much more dynamic than some writers have done, but it’s still a place that feels like it wouldn’t deal with change all that well. When women and men from the outside world finally do arrive, Pérez tends to downplay the culture clash that might arise, making sure that the Amazons “let’s love everyone” philosophy triumphs, because, after all, it’s a hopeful book. However, Pérez knows that not all women are like those on Paradise Island, and his take on the variegated panoply of womanhood in “man’s world” is why those women are so interesting. Diana has no idea what’s going on with Vanessa, because she was never a teenager in the truest sense of the word – one wonders if Diana even experienced puberty, as she was “grown” from clay. Vanessa can be the most steadfast friend or the most disloyal of enemies, occasionally to the same person. She doesn’t understand boys even though she yearns for one, and she hates feeling jealous of Diana but can’t help herself. Her role model dies from an overdose and her best friend dies from suicide, and she feels her life is out of control and nobody understands that. Meanwhile, Myndi represents a contradiction – the independent woman who allows a man to gain control over her. She can’t let her guard slip even for a moment, because she knows that in “man’s world,” a dependent woman is a vulnerable one, so even though she gets that Skeeter is ruining her, she can’t even turn to her old female friends for assistance, at least she doesn’t think she can. Barbara Minerva and Valerie Beaudry are two other kinds of women who allow men to dictate to them. Barbara turns this into an evil urge to dominate, while Valerie turns it into an ugly desire to please a man who asks her to do horrible things. The implication is that all of these problems stem from men, but Pérez doesn’t make it explicit, which allows us to speculate if there’s something innate in these women that makes them who they are – the old “nature/nurture” conundrum. What would Barbara Minerva or Myndi Mayer be like if they had been born Amazons? We will never know, but it’s a question that lingers over the series.
The second big theme that Pérez tackles during this run is religious awakening, or perhaps “atheist” awakening, given the flow of the series. In a comic about Greek myths, the use of gods and goddesses is never a surprise – most Wonder Woman iterations involve the deities to some degree – but Pérez cleverly uses this series to critique mainstream, monotheistic religions without putting them under the microscope, which would probably have been frowned upon at DC in the late 1980s, when conservative Christianity was in the ascendant (perhaps Pérez could have gotten away with it if he had focused on Islam, but that would not have resonated at all with an American audience). So instead, he shifts the critique to the Greek gods, which are, after all, more easily dealt with. The only time the monotheistic religions come into play, really, are when Diana takes a representative group of regular folk to Themyscira in issues #37-40, and a minister and a rabbi are included. Pérez has them debate the Amazons very little, but that’s all we get. However, the way Pérez shows the Amazons’ relationship to their own gods can be read as an interesting critique of Judeo-Christian thought. Obviously, the big difference is that the Greek pantheon can be seen by everyone and interacts with their worshippers far more than Capital-G God does these days, but the foundation is the same. The Amazons are given the “Promised Land” by their gods, and some – the followers of Antiope – are the heretics, as they reject said Promised Land. Over the course of the millennia, the Amazons keep the faith, but the gods themselves become more distant. With the yearning of Hippolyte for a child and Diana’s creation, the gods once more take a more active role, as Menalippe, the Amazonian oracle, discovers that Ares is once again meddling with the affairs of men, which leads Hippolyte to hold the contest that Diana wins. Hephaestus forges one girdle of Gaea into the Lasso of Truth, and Hermes arrives to take Diana (and Steve Trevor, an unwitting pawn of Ares) to “man’s world,” where Diana can battle Ares and his sons, Phobos and Deimos. So far, so normal in terms of what happens when mortals interact with the Greek gods. They receive gifts, the gods help them in other ways, and some gods are jerks. Nothing too shocking.
After Diana defeats Ares, however, the gods start to take a more active interest in her, especially Zeus and Hermes, which in the first instance is never a good thing. Pan starts planting ideas in Zeus’s mind, and in issue #10, Zeus tells Diana to attend to him and comes onto her, which Diana rebuffs. This does not sit well with Zeus, who starts zapping her with energy. Hippolyte, who knows a thing or two about the gods, starts off by begging Zeus to release her daughter, but when Zeus tells her to wait her turn, essentially, and says “I shall show thee the respect only a god can show!” (“respect” in this instance being a euphemism for “my penis”), Hippolyte has had enough, and she says “Your cruel son Heracles showed me such ‘respect’ centuries ago, Zeus! That which would not be freely given, he stole! And I shall not allow his father to trifle thus with my only daughter!” Before Zeus can do something really horrible, Hera, who’s sick of his shit, yanks him back to Mount Olympus, but soon Diana is summoned there, too, where Zeus sets before her a challenge – to open the giant door at the center of Themyscira that the Amazons have guarded for millennia and find out what’s behind it and what to do about it. Diana, of course, accepts readily.
This is an interesting beginning for this theme, as Hippolyte is the more skeptical one, having already dealt with gods and demi-gods before. Despite Themyscira’s highly religious culture and the presence among the Amazons of one person, Menalippe, who actively communicates with the gods (or at least hears them make pronouncements), Hippolyte has seen a thing or two, and she doesn’t trust the gods. Diana, being younger and more naïve, believes the gods are there to help, and while she rebuffs Zeus, she seems to think he’s not aware of what he’s asking her. When he puts the challenge to her, she accepts without hesitation – she’s a hero, sure, but she also trusts the gods even after Zeus reveals himself as lecherous. Hippolyte is unhappy with the arrangement, naturally. Diana tells her that the challenge is “the will of the gods,” and she snaps, “Then how can I believe we will ever truly be free — when the goddesses who bore us surrender to Zeus’s every whim! Sometimes I believe that we are all merely pawns in some incomprehensible celestial game … and frankly, daughter, I have begun to tire of it!”
Diana completes the challenge, with Hippolyte’s help, and along the way she learns a bit about the gods’ capriciousness but also that they can be fair, as Zeus recognizes that Diana is far more noble and full of grace than he is because both Diana and Hippolyte are able to forgive a contrite Heracles. Heracles is allowed to stand on Themyscira, the first man to ever do so, and Diana’s faith in the gods has been shaken, but not destroyed. The Darkseid subplot that occurs in Action Comics #600 has consequences in Wonder Woman, as Mount Olympus is wrecked, and in issue #21, the gods decide to destroy what’s left of it and head off for a new adventure somewhere else in the cosmos. Only Hermes stays behind, and his arc is where Diana learns that the gods are perhaps not to be worshipped so blindly. Hermes tells Diana he didn’t leave with the other gods because “How can humanity be expected to worship us without some tangible evidence of our existence?” He goes around dispensing riches to the masses, who love him, but this does not endear him to Julia when Vanessa starts asking him for things. She tells him that she doesn’t want him buying her daughter’s loyalty, then says, “I’m not flattered by Lord Hermes’ assertions that faith is chattel which we humans would readily sell to the highest bidder.” When he offers her “youth and beauty,” she declines, saying, “Is this what Olympus has come to? That the gods must now barter for the faith they cannot earn?” Diana calms him before he gets angry, but he decides to leave, and Diana goes with him, because he’s the god. Even with what she has learned about Zeus, she still thinks the gods are superior. She still can’t completely accept him, though, because she thinks of herself as human, and she doesn’t want to rule over them. Hermes doesn’t push it, even though he thinks she’s foolish. His pomposity backfires when Phobos and a gorgon appear and start to trash Boston, and Hermes flies off in a sulk. Diana has learned yet another lesson about the gods and how fallible they can be. (I wrote above that there was one exception to how Pérez writes the women, and Julia’s rebuff of Hermes is it. She’s not wrong at all, yet she attributes her grumpiness to menopause, which is certainly something that comic book writers could discuss, but it comes off as apologetic, both from the character and the writer. Hermes is being a dick, and Julia is right to take him down a peg, so there’s really no reason for her to apologize. I appreciate Pérez working menopause into the story, but it’s kind of the worst way to do it – “Oh, the woman is hysterical because her hormones are going nuts!” No, the woman was angry because the male god was being a dick.)
Hermes shows up again in issue #26, telling the Bostonians that he will restore the city exactly as it was, which ought to make amends, but he does it in the most arrogant way possible, telling them, “For a god to seek pardon from mortals is unprecedented, but it is an honor I bestow upon you freely and joyously.” Julia, watching on television, rightly calls him out on it: “There’s something about his tone … his assertions that our forgiveness is a gift he has allowed us to grant him.” As he begins his work, the Creeper shows up and attacks him, messing with him as only the Creeper can, and while Hermes eventually defeats him, the Bostonians are, naturally, more inclined to favor the underdog who lives in the city than the god who got it destroyed and is deigning to restore it. Hermes shows that he has learned nothing so far in “man’s world”: “Ungrateful rabble. I come to restore their city and they cheer the lionmaned lunatic. They choose a fool over me … Can they not see the esteem I bring them? How can even a god of messengers communicate with those too thankless to listen?” Before the Creeper can attack again, Diana arrives and lassos him, and Hermes, while still arrogant, seems to show some semblance of self-awareness about his actions. It’s momentary (the “gene bomb” from the Invasion! mini-series goes off right when he begins thinking about it), but it’s a start.
As Hermes begins to re-assess his attitude, Diana realizes she can’t rely on the gods as much. When the Cheetah arranges to have her lasso stolen, she asks Hermes to help her appeal to the gods for guidance, but when no god responds, she understands it’s up to her. She tracks the lasso to Bana-Mighdall, where Hermes eventually find her, after he realizes the separatists Amazons have the second girdle of Gaea. He is in a rage, and Diana has to calm him down. Hermes helps save the day when the Egyptian air force attacks Bana-Mighdall, but it’s Diana who is the true hero. As Hermes slowly loses his god-like power, Diana begins to see him in a different – and less reverent – light. She still respects him and wants to help him, but it’s more as a friend, not a worshipper. Hermes, naturally, is in love with Diana, but Diana does not see that because of who she is. After Diana returns from Themyscira and the first “outsider” summit, she writes a letter to Julia in Turkey, in which she writes: “I know he can be arrogant at times, and self-serving. But my Lord Hermes can also be self-sacrificing and noble in the cause of man.” Diana has gained a new appreciation of Hermes, not because he’s a god, but because despite being a god, he has begun to understand humans. Instead of accepting him uncritically because he is a god, she has started to accept him as a friend because he’s learning. This is more evident in issue #50, when she returns the source of his power – his caduceus – to him. He had given it to her so she could transport people to Themyscira, as it’s the only thing that will allow it, but she thinks he needs it. It’s an important conversation, even if it does leave Hermes with divine power once more. He tells her that gods have always underestimated how hard it is to be mortal, and how humbling the experience is. He says that he’s not very good at being human, and she says that it’s time for him to be a god again. He initially declines, but she now feels strong enough to challenge him, telling him: “We Amazons have dedicated our lives to you. Even when you appeared petty and capricious, we’ve always kept the faith. How can we show humanity the Olympian ideal when the sole Olympian they have ever seen spurns his children at their hour of triumph? I’ve seen one sister plagued by doubts because she feels abandoned by her gods. I shan’t allow you to forsake any more!” Hermes says that in the old days, he would have “smote” her for her “impertinence,” but he’s learned a better way, and he recognizes that Diana could keep the caduceus and remain powerful, but she always thinks of others first. He admits that she is a better human than he could ever be. Even though Diana reiterates her belief in the gods, she would never have been angry at Hermes earlier in the series because she was too deferential and worshipful. She has grown into a person who doesn’t hesitate to challenge her gods, which is as close as Pérez could probably get to atheistic leanings in this kind of comic at this time. Diana could have rejected the gods, but that would be a bit too close to a Christian rejecting God.
Pérez’s big, final plot starts kicking in to high gear with issue #51 (he started laying the groundwork in issue #45), and the doubts about Diana’s faith are weaponized by Dr. Psycho, but they’re also manipulated, so they don’t feel quite “real” anymore. She and Hermes battle in issue #54, but it’s because they’re both being influenced, and while Pérez builds upon what he had been working on in earlier issues, it also seems too melodramatic to be a valid critique of Diana’s crumbling faith. The endgame for Pérez’s run is the “War of the Gods” crossover, and despite the presence of many pantheons, Pérez doesn’t pause to examine the validity of faith in the event. Circe kills Hermes in War of the Gods #3, and by issue #62, Pérez’s finale, the gods have finally left this plane of existence, and Pérez implies that it’s partly because the Amazons have outgrown them. As a subplot, it comes to a good conclusion, as Diana herself has grown into her role as Themysciran ambassador to “man’s world,” and she doesn’t need any god – particularly a male one – looking over her shoulder. Pérez never is too blunt about it, but it’s an interesting way to show a person examining her faith and realizing that perhaps she doesn’t need it without challenging the dominant (and sadly, often intolerant) religion in this country.
Some of these columns focus more on writing and some more on the artwork, and it’s odd to think that a book drawn by George Pérez for two years isn’t as important, art-wise, as it is story-wise. Pérez is obviously excellent, and his art to begin the run is often brilliant, but it’s also a bit inconsistent. This is perhaps not surprising for a monthly book drawn by an artist like Pérez, whose details and use of complicated layouts can’t be something that can be done quickly. Pérez is the penciler in issues #1-8 (with Bruce Patterson inking him), which is, perhaps not surprisingly, when he had the most lead time; layouts in issues #9-16 (with Patterson “finishing”); back to pencils in issues #17-18 (although Dick Giordano is credited as the “finisher,” not the inker, so who knows how loose the pencils were); he’s upgraded to “artist” in issue #19 (but Frank McLaughlin is also credited as “finisher,” so how much is Pérez is still in question); he’s the “illustrator” in issue #20 (with Bob McLeod credited as “finisher”); he’s the penciler on issue #21 (with McLeod getting credit for “finished art”); “artist” shows up again in issue #22 (McLeod is still the “finisher”); he’s doing pencils on issue #23 (Will Byberg steps in as “finisher”); and finally, he’s the “artist” on issue #24 (with Blyberg still “finishing”). The art looks great, naturally, but it’s clear that early in the book, the pencils were a bit tighter and more “Pérezian,” for lack of a better word, and after issue #8, Pérez had a bit less time to devote to the pencil art, so the look of the book varies slightly depending both on how much time he had to devote to the art and the quality of the “finisher” (and everyone who inked his work is quite good, just different in their styles). It’s interesting to track the differences in the hatching and the definition of the figures as inkers come and go. Marrinan, who never became too big a deal in the comics world, does a decent job in his year-and-a-half on the book – he did try to ape Pérez’s layout style a bit, which isn’t the worst idea, and Marrinan is another interesting case study in inking, as Blyberg’s inks on his pencils early in his run make his work a bit too angular, and when Steve Montano and then, especially, Romeo Tanghal (who’s a wildly underrated inker, in my view) started inking him, they smoothed out his edges a bit and made his work a bit more “realistic.” This was Jill Thompson’s first big comics work after doing some stuff for Comico, and she’s marvelous. She drew some of issue #45, but her first complete issue was issue #46, the one in which Lucy commits suicide, and she does a wonderful job. Thompson has always been good at drawing crying people (yes, I notice these things!), so an issue about suicide is a pretty good place for her work, and when Vanessa breaks down in Julia’s arms because she thinks it’s her fault that Lucy committed suicide, it’s a powerful moment (as is Diana’s amazing worried look when she and Julia think Vanessa might have done something similar to what Lucy did). Thompson draws Lucy’s mother with a superb mix of sadness and rage when she blames Vanessa for Lucy’s death, and later, when she’s calmed down, Thompson shows her sadness exquisitely. Thompson also makes Diana look more “Greek,” for lack of a better word. It’s hard to explain, but while Pérez’s Wonder Woman is terrific, when Thompson gets her hands on her, she becomes something a bit different and more interesting. Thompson tightens her curls, so her hair is astonishingly curled (not unlike Thompson’s own hair), and while Pérez usually drew it in a fairly sedate style, Thompson’s Diana has hair that reminds us slightly of Medusa, as it always seems about to explode outward in a frenzy of follicles. It is a marvelous look, and it makes Diana a bit more wild, a bit more exotic, and a bit more alien. She’s not of “man’s world,” after all, and Thompson does a nice job subtly implying that she’s a warrior as well as an ambassador. The other artists on the book try to keep to the style that Pérez established, and they all do a solid job, but none of them can match Pérez, naturally, and none of them have the idiosyncrasies that Thompson brings to the table. Still, the art is very good in many places, and solid in the other places. It’s certainly never bad.
The run isn’t perfect, of course. The Bana-Mighdall epic, which is important to the book, runs far too long. It begins in issue #28 with the re-emergence of the Cheetah and lasts eight issues, which is long today but back in the days before specific “arcs” must have felt interminable. (And, to be fair, it’s not a bad story, it just feels like it could have been trimmed a little.) The most egregious thing about the run is the way it ends. Pérez lays the groundwork for an epic battle in issue #45, and in issue #51, right after the Amazons have arrived in New York to great acclaim, he begins tearing things down. Things happen that make everyone think the Amazons are villains, and Pérez is unsubtle with the xenophobia and sexism of the American commentators, but he’s done such a good job with those aspects of the book leading up to this conclusion that it works quite well. Diana feels increasingly isolated, as the people she loves seem to push her away, not because of anything she’s done, but because they have their own lives to lead. She is accused of murder and flees custody, returning to Themyscira and safety. Part of this is a plot by Dr. Psycho, whom Pérez and Thompson re-imagine as a vile manipulator, but one whom, it turns out, was doing the behest of Circe. Circe is pulling the strings of a lot of puppets, and she’s eventually revealed as the final villain, one who just wants to watch the world burn, essentially. She has a big scheme, but it’s complicated and not terribly interesting, and Pérez – either by choice or editorial fiat – decides to include the entire DC Universe in the plot, which gives us War of the Gods. The four-issue series is a huge mess, to be honest, and when I first got this run of Wonder Woman, I was able to get what was going on in Diana’s story perfectly fine without reading it. Now that I have read it, things aren’t any clearer and, frankly, more muddled than before. Circe manages to kill Hermes and Diana, turning our hero back into clay, but she gets better, naturally. It’s not a very good story, and, sadly, unworthy of Circe, who was a terrific villain earlier in the book. It puts a bit of a damper on an otherwise terrific series.
George Pérez’s Wonder Woman came out at a time when DC was willing to experiment and willing to get good creators to do the experimenting. On the surface, Pérez seems to be simply starting Wonder Woman at zero and introducing her in the modern world instead of World War II, and updating her various bad guys and letting her dispatch them while still preaching a message of peace. But there’s a lot more going on in the book. While Diana is perfectly capable of fighting, Pérez does have her attempt everything else before fighting, and he does show the effect using violence has on her. By introducing many women into the book, Pérez made it stand out even more. At this time and even for many years afterward (even to the present day?), many comics did not have a wide variety of female representation. Even after this, when it became more commonplace for women to star in comics, the women were often indistinguishable from each other (to be fair, this is a problem with a lot of men in comics, too). But Pérez and his scripters gave us all kinds of women – young, powerful women, of course, but also older women, girls, bad women, morally questionable women – and all of them complex in their own unique ways. And by introducing the religious element, he was able to show how people worship, yield to deities even when it might not be the wisest course of action, and challenge their own beliefs. While still telling exciting stories, Pérez was able to make Wonder Woman a mature, thoughtful comic that delves into many topics about what it is to be different in the world and what it means to be similar to others and how people can reconcile themselves to a world that might seem hostile but can also offer grace and beauty. To most people, this is a “superhero” comic. But it’s a lot more than that, and it’s nice that Pérez was willing to push against that designation and that DC was willing to let him. Of course, Wonder Woman has been rebooted so many times since 1987 that this series might seem a bit quaint. However, it’s still a powerful look at our society and what we think about the world.
DC has released these in trade paperback – the sixth and final volume came out this month! – so that’s probably a good way to get them. Volume 2, for instance, collects the first annual, which is about Myndi Mayer but doesn’t sound too essential (I haven’t read it). Volume 4 collects the second annual, which is about Julia and Vanessa visiting Themyscira, the first outsiders to be allowed there. Both the annuals sound fine, but also not essential for the greater story. I linked to the first collection below (which is the digital price, but you can get the printed copy, too, if you want), but they all seem to be available. It’s a terrific and fairly important series, and you can always use more George Pérez art in your life!
(As always, I enjoy reading old letters columns, and DC always had pretty good ones. In this series, not only did we get a letter from famed comics raconteur and current Frisbee™ Golf Enthusiast Tim Callahan, but in issue #7, we find this cheeky youngster:
Boy, that guy has a good head on his shoulders, doesn’t he? I bet he went on to do great things. Maybe he even writes for a famed comic book blog!)
As always, you can take a look at the archives for more fun stuff!