Wonder Woman Trade Post: Diana Prince Volume 4 & Who Is Wonder Woman?

diana_prince_vol_4 Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 4 (DC)
Written by Denny O’Neil, Samuel R. Delany, Bob Haney & Robert Kanigher, drawn by Don Heck, Dick Giordano, Jim Aparo & Don Heck
Collects Wonder Woman #199-204, Brave And The Bold #105

If you’ve already read my reviews of the first, second and third volumes of the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman you already know the basic idea behind this quartet of collections: Wonder Woman decided to stay in this reality when the Greek gods decided to go on a sojourn. Now on her own, the powerless Diana Prince still did her best to right wrongs while also learning martial arts from a man named I Ching, wearing a lot of white and opening up a boutique.

Before writing this review I went back and read the previous three, partially because it’s taken me five years to read four trades, but also because I needed a little refresher on my thoughts. All three reviews share two elements of this run that I got a kick out of: Mike Sekowsky’s writing and art are fantastic and the issues run the gamut of genres much like the films Roger Corman produced around the same time. This volume, unfortunately lacks Sekowsky’s involvement, but does continue the genre mash-up goodness that I so enjoy.

Much like she did in the first volume, Diana finds herself palling around with a private detective, this one Jonny Double (the same guy Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso rejuvenated in the 1998 miniseries). He’s a fun character because he’s your traditional down-on-his-luck guy, but also peppers his speech with some beatnik-ness which goes well with the overall vibe of this book. Diana and Jonny get paid to protect a guy. What sounds like a simple bodyguard job turns into all kinds of wonderful wackiness involving cultists, exploding dogs (not a typo) and jousters on motorized unicycles (also not a typo). The next story is even crazier, borrowing elements and characters from Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser, a concept I know nothing about but still involved swords, sorcery, mystical gems and Catwoman (she and the Gray Mouser both chase a mouse!).

The book ends a bit wobbly thanks to an issue of Brave And The Bold that doesn’t feature nearly enough mod Diana drawn by Jim Aparo. This one didn’t do much for me, but I do appreciate it in the book. Then you’ve got the penultimate issue which is fantastic. This one has Diana getting in on the Women’s Lib movement and helping bring down a man setting up a crummy department store to put women in danger while making money off of ladies wanting to get in on at least the fashion of women’s lib. There’s a lot of great stuff in this one from O’Neil who’s no slouch in the writing department.

Let’s call this SPOILER TOWN (for a decades-old book). This last issue feels like an editor coming in with a broom and just sweeping everything that I love away. I Ching gets killed by a sniper on page 4, Diana goes after him but winds up hitting her head and losing her memory on page 7, by 13 she’s back on Paradise Island and we’re treated to another retelling of her origins. Oddly, we’re also introduced to Nubia the Wonder Woman from another Amazon place called the Floating Island. Has this ever been brought up again? My Wonder Woman knowledge is just about zero between this time and the next time Diana lost her powers in The Contest, so it very well may have and I missed it. It seems like an interesting idea and while they don’t completely dump on everything that came before it or tell you that it never happened, it certainly feels like an unceremonious end to a series I really enjoyed. Even with a bit of a weak ending, I’m still a huge fan of this line of books and will proudly display them on my bookshelves…when I eventually get shelves big enough to support my whole collection.

wonder woman who is wonder woman Wonder Woman: Who Is Wonder Woman? (DC)
Written by Allan Heinberg, drawn by Terry Dodson with Gary Frank
Collects Wonder Woman #1-4, Annual #1

Much like with New 52, DC had different levels of failure and success when they pulled their One Year Later jump towards the end of the universe-altering Infinite Crisis. I’m still a huge fan of what Judd Winick did in Green Arrow and Outsiders and also Up, Up And Away which reintroduced us to Superman. But others didn’t go over so well. Remember Nightwing? Nah, don’t, it’s not worth it, I promise. Wonder Woman fell somewhere in between, but everyone was really excited about it. Allan Heinberg moved from TV to comics with Young Avengers which was pretty great and also joined Geoff Johns for a JLA arc that was heavily tied to Infinite Crisis. Teaming him up with Terry and Rachel Dodson seemed like a killer match. But, the book was super late. MyComicShop tells me that the first three issues came out consecutively, but there’s a four month gap between #3 and #4 with the annual hitting nine months after that. Much like they did with the first Geoff Johns/Richard Donner arc of Action Comics, DC switched gears with the ongoing to get the issues coming out more regularly and finished this story in an annual. None of this matters to you if you’re just reading this book, of course.

The intent of this book was to set up a new status quo for Wonder Woman. This comes after the lead up to Infinite Crisis which found Diana killing Maxwell Lord who had the power to control minds and did exactly that with Superman. Wonder Woman dropped off the face of the map for a year — just like Superman and Batman — but is now back…as Diana Prince, an agent of the Department of Metahuman Affairs partnered with Nemesis. While she’s working at being a secret agent, Donna Troy has stepped in as Wonder Woman and Cassie Wonder Girl is pissed off at the whole thing. But, Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery — Cheetah, Giganta, Dr. Psycho and a small fleet of others — wants her to return so they go after Donna and Cassie. The real baddie then gets revealed and Diana winds up with a new status quo: when she turns from Wonder Woman back into Diana, she loses her powers.

It’s not a bad set-up and if this was a simple four issue lead-in to whatever happened next, it’d be great. But, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Issues #4-13 feature issues by Will Pfeifer, novelist Jodi Piccoult and J. Torres, but my memories of those issues aren’t very good. This was also around the time that Amazon’s Attack happened which also doesn’t have a good reputation in my brain. With #14, Gail Simone hops on board and creates one of the best Wonder Woman runs in recent memory (I’ve got to read Rucka’s stuff). I don’t remember her stuff taking muck or anything from this arc, so it winds up feeling a little pointless upon further reflection.

Trade Post: Criminal 3, Buffy 4 & Diana Prince Wonder Woman 3

Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips
Collects Criminal Vol. 2 #1-3
I’ve read Criminal here and there. I know there was a push at some point during the first volume to try and convince people to read the book in single issue form instead of waiting for the trade. I’m a big fan of the monthly comic book format, but I’ll be honest, I think most of Ed Brubaker’s comics work better in trade form, and usually reading several trades in a fairly short time period. You don’t have to do that with Criminal because it works in an arc system that doesn’t really crossover (maybe a few names here and there, I really can’t remember names from the first volume or if I even read the second volume).With that in mind, a Brubaker trade is usually something I really look forward to because it’s been so many months since I last read one. Unfortunately, this book was a pretty big disappointment. In the three issues, you see a heist from three different perspectives, the problem though is that, by the last issue I knew all the important parts of the story and didn’t really care about how crappy of a life the girl in the story had. I’ve read enough crime and mystery fiction to get where it was going from page one.

I will say that Phillips’ art is top notch as always. He really sets the mood and tone of the stories with details that go unnoticed at first. Plus, I liked the first issue, which followed a black boxer as he tried to set his life straight even though his former friend and current white gang leader started causing all kinds of trouble. Even that, though, felt familiar. Not like it was swiped from somewhere, but like I’d seen it or it’s parts elsewhere. If you haven’t seen or read a lot of crime or mystery movies, books or comics, I recommend checking this out. If that’s not the case, go check out the first volume of Criminal or, better yet, Brubaker and Phillips’ Sleeper for WildStorm. That’s one of the best mystery/crime/espionage/superhero comics of all time.

Written by Joss Whedon and Jeph Loeb, drawn by Karl Moline and Georges Jeanty
Collects Buffy #16-20
I’ve gone back and forth between not really caring about the Buffy comics and loving them. In the beginning, the whole story seemed a little off, but then the missus and I rewatched the whole series and I like where Whedon and Co. took the story with there being tons of slayers and Buffy being in control of all of them. And, for the most part, I’ve been pretty impressed with how well all the different writers have been at nailing that tricky Whedon-esque dialogue. Every time I pick up one of these comics, it can hear the actors and actresses’ voices easily tossing off the verbal calisthenics. My big problem has been the art. It’s not bad, but I’m often left scratching my head when a supposedly big reveal happens. “Who the hell is that?” I’ll often ask myself.

With this fourth volume of the Season 8 comics, that’s not too much of a problem as Buffy’s transported to the future where she teams up with and faces off against the future slayer Fray who starred in her own Dark Horse mini back in 2001. I will say that Whedon’s future dialogue is a bit too much at times, but all the other future stuff is pretty rad and the story fits well into current continuity while also wrapping up the Fray-verse. There’s also a big villain is interesting to see, but I think, with the end of the book, that won’t be a problem anymore. The trade also includes the one-off Jeph Loeb issue which finds current Buffy in the world of the animated series universe that never was. I actually ignored this issue the first time around because I don’t really care for Loeb’s writing generally and it seemed like a throwaway, but this time it was probably my favorite of the bunch because it put Buffy back in the early seasons of the show, but with her current thoughts, so it was kind of cool to see where she had come from and how much she’s made it through and changed (and not changed). It’s a funny little issue that’s definitely worth checking out.

Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky, with Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin
Collects Wonder Woman Vol. I #190-198 and World’s Finest #204
I’ve talked about how much I love these early 70s depowered Wonder Woman volumes here and here and that continues on with this collection. I’m blown away every issue by Sekowsky who writes and draws all of the Wonder Woman issues in this issue (O’Neil and Dillin did the World’s Finest issue). These comics are filled with the elements that I love about Roger Corman movies: crazy fights, weirdly fantastic battles and mysterious houses filled with potential murderers. I think it’s awesome that DC let Wonder Woman get played with in such a way that basically made her the hero of a different kind of genre movie every single month. I would imagine all of this was because of lagging sales, but I don’t really care, I’m just glad they happened. I will say that #194 falls short as it’s basically a Prince and the Pauper/Dave riff with Diana turning out to look just like the princess of the country. She even takes the princesses  place when she gets captured. It’s pretty by the book and not all that interesting, but it’s but one stumbling block in an overall solid collection.

One interesting thing about this collection is that it actually leaves out a big chunk of #191 is missing. Right in the middle of an epic medieval-like war in an alternate dimension, Diana sits down to tell her new friend how she came to be de-powered, but you flip the page and it says “Later.” I thought that might be how the original comic was written until that issue ended after a total of only 5 story pages. I guess it’s kind of cool that they didn’t bother with a huge recap of something in the first volume of this series as I probably would have just grazed it anyone. On the other hand, I did have to go back to the original volume and give it a flip through as it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it.

In addition to the huge amounts of enjoyment I got from reading this story, it also pushed me towards digging into the history of comics a little more. I looked up Sekowsky on Wikipedia and found some really interesting stuff about him and a fellow creator. That got me thinking about a potential story set in the days of comics past. That got me reading Comic Book Artist #9, a TwoMorrow’s mag I ordered a while back and never got around to reading. The issue focuses on Charlton Comics which is freaking fascinating. It’s packed with history and interviews that have given me even MORE ideas. It also introduced me to how amazing Dick Giordano was as an editor from the accounts of his former Charlton co-workers. There’s a 31 page interview in the issue that I was saving for last. The next day Giordano passed away. Weird timing right? Of course, as I was finishing this Wonder Woman trade, I realized I had actually seen some of Giordano’s work as an inker and cover artist. It makes me wonder if he edited this book as well, considering it’s so interesting and eclectic and clearly focuses on the writer/artist’s strengths (a hallmark of Giordano’s editing style from what I’ve read). It makes me wish there was some kind of intro in these books. Hopefully someone’s working on a big book about Giordano like that Kirby book I want to pick up.

The Incredible Wonder Woman

2:27:43 am

Like I said during my review of Demon in a Bottle, I didn’t really read a lot of older comics, especially pre-Crisis DC stuff. I used to feel like if it didn’t matter as far as continuity is concerned then why bother? I also assumed, wrongfully, that a lot of the books from back then were too corny to be read. I’ve been proven wrong plenty of times since getting to Wizard and having access to the library. So, with that in mind, I decided to give DC’s recent Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 trade a whirl.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 (1968-1969)

Written by Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky

Drawn by Mike Sekowsky

Collects Wonder Woman Volume 1 #178-183

Okay, so, there’s no intro in this book to give any context as to what the heck was going on in Wonder Woman before the trade starts, so it’s a jump-in-the-pool-and-swim situation. Also, I read this book over a few weeks, picking it up and putting it down as other things came across my plate, so my memory might be a little fuzzy (well, fuzzier than usual).

We open with Wonder Woman’s love interest Steve Trevor getting picked up by the cops on murder charges. Like any good girlfriend, Wonder Woman sets out to find out what’s really going on, but thinks that rolling out as WW might be a little too obvious so she goes out as Diana Prince and gets herself some very mod clothes. And man, does Sekowsky revel in the psychedelic backgrounds and clothing, which unintentionally transport modern readers back to the time period this book was being created in (or at least what we like to think the ’60s were like). Diana/Wonder Woman figure out what’s really going on with Steve and everything’s okay.

Then in order to get Steve out of the way for some time, Steve Trevor gets sent out on a secret mission to infiltrate Doctor Cyber’s criminal ring that makes him look like traitor. In the same issue Diana gets word from her mother that the Greek gods are moving to another dimension to rest up. Diana agrees to stay in our dimension to continue helping mankind, a decision that strips her of all her powers.

It’s pretty crazy to think that they were trying things like this back in the day. We’re used to it by now, but can you imagine if they stripped Superman of his powers back then? From what I can remember, the ’60s were a pretty rough time for DC’s superhero comics (what with those upstart Marvel Comics coming out), so it seems like this was DC’s way of trying to keep readers who were into the martial arts and spy fiction of the time. I’d like to think that it’s the kind of book that would have sparked my interest if I was reading comics back then (I got into comics with the death of Superman, Batman getting his back broken, Wonder Woman becoming a red head and Green Lantern going crazy).

So, Diana Prince finds herself powerless on a world she still doesn’t quite understand, having to worry about things like food and rent. Luckily for her, an old blind Asian dude is getting accosted by some hoods right outside her new place, she jumps in to help him, but he proves a formidable foe and easily dispatches the criminals. The man’s name is Ching (sometimes called I Ching, though I’m not sure if that’s part of his actual name or just the way he talks) and he’s on Dr. Cyber’s tail too. By the way, yeah, Morrison recently brought Ching back in the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul. So in exchange for Diana’s help in tracking them down, he’ll train Diana in the martial arts in some really freakin’ cool splash pages.

Have I mentioned how much I like Sekowsky? I’d never heard of him before picking this trade up, but the artist turned writer (O’Neil left a little over half-way through the book) wowed me to the point where I’d give just about anything he drew a shot. And of course, Denny O’Neil is one of those incredibly prolific writers that I’ve read and enjoyed for years.

Back to the story, Ching and Diana spend a few more issues going back and forth with Doctor Cyber’s evil ladies, accompanied by Tim Trench for a while. Trench fills the roll of the hardned private dick who’s ready to help until something more profitable shows up. Again, I really enjoy the different genres that O’Neil and Sekowsky played with. The next guy that comes along ends up betraying Diana and Ching to Dr. Cyber, leading Diana to beat him within an inch of his life. For some reason, Cyber (who, by the way, is a woman, even though they assumed it was a man for the first few issues, I assume this was way more of shock back then) leaves her to beat on him.

Distraught, Diana runs out of the house. By this time Sekowsky was flying solo in the writing department and the combination of his words and pencils really reveal the betrayal that Diana feels as she collapses in the street from exhaustion only to be approached by an Amazon asking her to return with her to the Amazon’s new dimension. Diana agrees and brings Ching with her.

It turns out that Diana’s grandfather Ares wants Hippolyta’s secret of interdimensional travel which only she holds. Hippolyta refused, so Ares’ sister puts her in a coma after fighting the first battle in a war of the gods (no, not that one). The Amazons brought Diana back to fill her mother’s role as general of the Amazonian army, a roll which she fills with gusto, leading them into battle against Ares’ monster army.

But Diana and the Amazons realize they’re no match for the god’s armies. Diana comes up with a plan: to travel to the dimension of history’s heroes and ask them to come to the Amazon’s aid. The dimension-hopping Amazon takes her there only to find that the heroes are sick of fighting for no personal gain. Luckily the Valkyries offer to fight side by side with the Amazon’s against the hordes of Ares, even though they know they can not win. The combined forces do a serviceable job defending themselves, but still fight a losing battle, until the heroes eventually show up and turn the tide in their favor. With Diana’s mother restored, Ares admits his defeat and leaves the Amazons be, for now. In the end, Ching opts to stay with the Amazons for a while as Diana returns to her adoptive home.

Overall I really liked this book. It’s a great mix of genres with a number of rad stories, some fantastic art and a good balance of action and mythology that plenty of other Wonder Woman writers have aimed for and missed. By stripping Diana down to her bare bones, O’Neil and Sedowsky really showed me why Diana is a great character. My only problem with the story is that this strong woman who we’ve seen grow as a person, a fighter and a warrior needs a group of men riding in on their horses to save the day, even though I love the idea of a dimension filled with heroes (like a hero heaven). Maybe it’s just those women’s lit classes I took in college kicking in, but it does seem to take a little bit away from the story. I can’t wait for the next volume to hit shelves (and by shelves I mean the Wizard library).