The non-Wonder Years!
There is no way you can have WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT MONTH and not have a post about Wonder Woman. My partner-in-crime the Mustache realized this. My daughters realized this. Even I realized this but the problem you see is that I didn’t want to do it. Not because I don’t like Wonder Woman. Far from it. I love Wonder Woman. She is not my favorite female character – that honor goes to Mrs. Peel – but Wonder Woman is still up there in my top five and I love talking about her. The problem is she has an eighty years history! EIGHTY YEARS!! The idea of tackling that in a post made me want to cry.
Wonder Woman made her debut as a back-up story in ALL-STAR COMICS #8 January 1942. That same month she appeared as the lead feature in SENSATION COMICS #1 JANUARY 1942. Five months later she was given her own comic WONDER WOMAN #1 JUNE 1942. Since her first appearance she has, for the most part, appeared non-stop for the last seventy-eight years. Wow! That is a lot of ground to cover and I had no idea how to go about doing it. I really had no desire to start out writing a post for this blog and then end up writing a book.
I said as much to my daughters. They advised me (actually advice isn’t the right word. Insisted was more like it) to take a look at one aspect of Wonder Woman’s history and focus on just that. That was also the advice given me by my partner-in-crime. Having no wish to get beat up by my daughters (they hit so hard!) I started thinking about what aspect of Wonder Woman would interest me to write about. Then I remembered something. There is a controversy that occurred back in the late 1960s that fans still talk about and that still gets people worked up. It is also something that my particular point of view happens to be contrary to the vast majority of Wonder Woman and comic fans. If I chose to write about that there would be the potential of making some people angry. I therefore decided to do it. I love making people angry!
By 1968 Wonder Woman had been appearing in her monthly title non-stop for 26 years. She was one of only a handful of super-heroes who survived the end of World War II when comic book sales were at their best. By the late 1940s sales had dropped and dozens of comic book titles had been cancelled and whole companies stopped production. Those that remained switched their focus from super-heroes to romance, western, war, and funny animals. At DC Comics the only super-hero survivors were Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But by 1968 her adventures had become stale.
There was nothing particularly exciting about her book. Her character had not changed in the last two decades nor had her occupation or her relationship with her supporting cast – most notably her love interest Steve Trevor. Like Clark Kent and Lois Lane over at the Superman comic, Steve and Diana Prince were the same old same old. Even her adventures lacked any imagination. In fact there wasn’t anything particularly wondrous about her either as a hero or as a woman. You could have taken her out, put in a male Superman, and it would not have made a difference to the story. Frankly, it was boring and I for one had stopped buying the comic.
But then a strange thing occurred. Two gentlemen, Mister Dennis O’Neil and Mister Mike Sekowsky, took over the comic book and instead of continuing with the same old boring crap they decided to turn the book over on its head. Denny O’Neil had already done much the same thing with the Green Lantern comic book teaming him up with Green Arrow and tackling stories about urban decay, the plight of Native Americans, and drug addiction. With Mike Sekowsky’s influence they were going to do the same thing with Wonder Woman. But before that there had to be some changes – and that is where things start getting controversial.
Diana Prince had always been shown as an Air Force officer and as such was always drawn with glasses and in uniform. This poor woman had been forced to wear the same clothes, and sport the same hairstyle, for more than 25 years. But in issue #178, Diana Prince was allowed to join the swinging 60s. She tossed away her uniform and put on clothes that were straight out of the fashion magazines of that time. All of a sudden Diana Prince was beautiful. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman still looked like Wonder Woman. She had to change also but that came with the next issue.
Steve Trevor was accused of treason. At the same time Wonder Woman discovered that her mother and her fellow Amazons, in fact all of Paradise Island, was going to have to leave this dimension and reside in another dimension for a time in order to replenish their magic and they wanted Diana to go with them. But she was unwilling to desert Steve when he needed her the most so she gave up all her powers and remained in Man’s World while her mother and the Amazons took off. Now a non-powered Diana Prince would have to take on the world.
The changes didn’t end there. She gained a new occupation. She opened her own women’s boutique in Manhattan. She also gained a mentor – a venerable older Chinese gentleman named I Ching. Among other talents he was a martial arts instructor. Now Diana may have lost her powers but she was still an Amazon warrior. She took to her martial arts instructions like a duck to a pond and in what would have take months or years for others to master she did in weeks. But the biggest change came in the form of Steve Trevor. They decided to kill him off. Now this was shocking not only because it was like killing off Lois Lane but also people in comics just didn’t die. Not regular characters. That was how it was – until now.
Let’s do a quick review. For almost thirty years Wonder Woman had been a super-powered Amazon of Greco-Roman mythology. She had worked as a military officer and had worn her uniform and glasses to conceal her dual identity. Plus her love interest had always been Steve Trevor. Now Diana Prince had no super-powers and her being an Amazon didn’t mean much. Instead she was a kick-ass martial artist. She was also the owner of a mod boutique in Manhattan where she interacted with her neighbors. Plus her best friend and mentor was I Ching and her former love interest Steve Trevor was dead. I think you can appreciate just how profound these changes were. It would be as if Superman lost his powers and was just Clark Kent and then quit being a reporter and buried Lois Lane. Shocking isn’t it!
Everyone agrees that in order for characters to remain relevant – especially characters with longevity – they need to change over time. But at some point too many changes at the same time means the original character is no longer there. He or she has ceased to exist with someone else in their place having the same name but being a different person. That is what happened here – and some fans didn’t like it. Now you may think that by my saying this I also disliked the changes made to Wonder Woman. Here is where I’m going to make some folks mad. No, I actually approve of the changes and consider it a vast improvement.
The reason for that is simple – the quality of the stories was vastly improved. Not only did I start buying this comic book again but it also became one of my favorites – one of the titles I eagerly waited for. The imagination of Mister Sekowsky and Mister O’Neil – and later Mister Samuel R. Delaney – knew no bounds. The adventures of Diana Prince took on a whole new scope and flair. Amazingly it was greater than when she was a super-hero! One issue she would be fighting the mad scientist Doctor Cyber. The next issue she would take on a street gang in New York City. One issue she would be fighting in Switzerland and the next it would be lower Manhattan. She would take on Morgana the Witch in a horror-type story, then trade punches with Catwoman, and then lead an army of ancient warriors against Mars the Roman God of War. The stories left you breathless. The old Wonder Woman comic was never this good!
Okay gang I think this is a good place to leave off until next time. In part 2 I’ll give you a rundown on what happened next, how Gloria Steinem couldn’t mind her own damn business, and how the old Wonder Woman returned. Until then I’ll leave you with the following quote from one of the issues we’ve just been talking about.
“I won’t scream – I promise! I won’t scream because (THRUST) I don’t need to! (WHOCK) While we’re having this discussion (WUDD) I’ll remind you it’s bad manners (CRUNCH) to prey on helpless females (THWACK)!”