One thing about the “white pantsuit” era of Wonder Woman (though she didn’t wear that outfit half as much as people remember), it didn’t stick to a formula.After setting up the new status quo for Diana Prince, no longer super but still formidable, Mike Sekowsky’s stories went in multiple directions. There were more stories of international intrigue and battles with Dr. Cyber. We met Lu Shan, I Ching’s vengeful daughter (she says I Ching killed her mom, though we never learn how). In some stories Diana functions as a neighborhood hero, protecting people living near her boutique from various threats; most were mundane but we also had the chaos sorceress Morgana.
Then there were one-off stories such as Diana and I Ching stopping at a bed and breakfast ghosts are using to prey on travelers. A couple of stories show Diana going to visit her mother on Paradise Island, which may have been fun for older fans but also undercuts the brand new Not Your Mother’s Amazing Amazon image the book was trying for. I waver back and forth on whether the diversity of stories shows the New Wonder Woman was a wonderfully flexible set-up or whether Sekowsky wound up throwing ideas at the wall. Or maybe both.
What I’ve no doubts about is that this era deserved a better end than Wonder Woman #203. Samuel Delaney is a science fiction legend but like so many writers established in other fields, he didn’t write comic books well.
Delaney took over with the previous issue, a rather awkward one in which Diana, I Ching and Catwoman are hurled into Nehwon, the setting for Fritz Leiber’s sword and sorcery adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. It’s awkward because it’s trying both to wrap up the current plotline and introduce the swashbuckling swordsmen, who were getting their own (short-lived) book from DC.
Delaney got to chart his own course in “The Grandee Caper” the following issue. Jet-setting all over the world has apparently led to Diana going broke — it’s hard to manage a retail start-up when you’re not there — so when Grandee, the owner of an upscale department store, offers to hire her as the new face of his business, she’s interested. Part of Grandee’s interest is the PR value of having Wonder Woman on his payroll; I guess nobody told Delaney that Diana’s former identity wasn’t public knowledge. Still, that’s a minor continuity glitch. My problems with the issue run deeper.
Just as Diana is anticipating a comfortable, more upscale existence, her friend Kathy reveals Grandee is a sham. He stocks his supposedly classy store with clothes and goods made in local sweatshops; as the work is all done in-state he doesn’t have to pay the federal minimum wage. Diana’s unbelievable response amounts to “I’ve got mine.” She’s getting a sweet deal so why she should risk it for someone else’s benefit? It’s not like she sees any point to this women’s liberation stuff Kathy’s so excited about — she doesn’t even like other women! Kathy’s response is to point out (hold on to your hats) that Diana is a woman. That simple observation opens Di’s eyes and makes her see she needs to fight for the women Grandee’s sweatshops are exploiting.
To give Delaney some credit, the issues he’s tackling are serious ones, much more so than I thought when I read this as a teen. However they’re a very poor fit for a comic book because they can’t be resolved by Diana’s martial arts skills. It comes off more like an Issue Of The Week TV movie than Wonder Woman.
To keep the book from being 90 percent talk, Delaney has one of Kathy’s feminist friends unleash her trained guard dogs to harass Grandee and his staff, which comes off as the Unhinged Angry Woman’s Libber stereotype of the time (feminists! So unreasonably mean!). There’s more action at the climax when Delaney’s men try some strikebreaking but find they’re no match for martial-arts trained feminists. Neither scene juices the story enough to make it interesting.
Delaney’s handling of Diana is much much worse. Message-heavy stories often use one of the characters as a surrogate for skeptical readers who will (at least in theory) have their beliefs shattered when the character switches sides. Making Diana that character, the woman who just doesn’t get feminism, is absolutely batshit. If you’re writing Wonder Woman as a woman who doesn’t like other women and doesn’t want to help people in trouble YOU’RE DOING WONDER WOMAN WRONG! Period. End of statement.
It wouldn’t have mattered if the story had been good. When Gloria Steinem discovered Wonder Woman had been depowered and publicized the fact, DC did a sharp about face and clumsily restored her to the old status quo. Samuel Delaney’s six-issue feminist arc died unfinished,
I can’t say I’m sorry.
#SFWApro. Art by Dick Giordano, Mike Sekowsky, Sekowsky again and two Giordanos.