Wonder Woman is the most iconic female superhero in the world. One of the greatest characters ever to grace any medium. She’s also one of the only big name superheroes who has not had a truly definitive run. There have been great runs-runs bordering on definitive but none have really pushed the Amazing Amazon to where she should be. I know this probably will catch me some flak but if you give me a chance I will detail, or summarize, her publication history. Shine a light on the trials and tribulations that have made Diana’s world an inconsistent mess with fans of the character splintered. I will show you that the best written runs were left incomplete or plagued with problems. The best drawn runs without a true vision.
Golden Age Through the Silver Age
To understand the problems with Diana’s book now we have to start at the struggle she had before. When you go through the various discussions of Wonder Woman, from historians to even of late Grant Morrison, they point to the original Wonder Woman by creator William Moulton Marston, pen name Charles Moulton, with artist Harry Peter as the definitive run. Originally debuting in All Star Comics #8 before headlining her own book in Sensation Comics and then adding a second title, Wonder Woman, a couple years later. This was WW at the height of her publication success. Other people picked and dissected at the proto-feminist ideals or the S&M imagery so I won’t waste your time on that. It is just important for us to recognize several aspects of this era that are truly important. The first is the Marston had almost complete creative control. Even in the later stages of his life when he was sick he co-wrote the series with Joyce Murchinson (the real first female writer on the character). The second point is that visually Wonder Woman remained extremely consistent from her debut until Harry Peter himself passed in 1958. Peter’s artwork was unlike what you saw in superhero comics at the time, and a departure from the look of earlier female superhero books. Whether you liked it or not, Peter drew more stories with Diana than any other artist in comics. The next points are common sense in that Martson and his collaborator set up the origin, secret identity, the villains, the supporting casts, and other important details. Despite all this work, Wonder Woman would be stripped of a lot of her working parts and consistency moving forward. She would never again have the commercial and critical success.
In the wake of Seduction of the Innocent comics became a very different place. In order to survive the industry adopted the Comics Code and worked to quash the uproar of the parents. Some companies were thrown under the bus due to this and the most the market was neutered so that all books were appropriate for their younger readers. Diana was a victim. SOTI’s writer Dr. Wertham asserted her strength and independence made her a lesbian. Plus his highlighted that bondage and S&M elements in the books.
She is physically very powerful, tortures men, has her own female following, is the cruel, “phallic” woman. While she is a frightening figure for boys, she is an undesirable ideal for girls, being the exact opposite of what girls are supposed to want to be.
DC went to work on softening her image. Starting in the fifties with making her book more like Romance comics and then a more traditional, if still weird, superhero series. Robert Kanigher was the writer after Marston, first keeping to the original creators tone and then from the brief romance era (which does not seem to have ever been reprinted yet) into the silver age. Kanigher wrote Wonder Woman for 21 years and nine of those years the book was drawn by the second most prolific WW artist Ross Andru. In the early days of the Silver Age at DC some of the changes that worked into Diana’s book include several big changes to her origin. The Amazons were no longer warriors but the widows of warriors. Aphrodite was the original patron Goddess for the Amazons but was changed to Athena. Hippolyta’s look changed and also had a lost love who was Diana’s father. Yeah, Zeus is not the first father Wonder Woman has had. More information here. It also seems that the creators nixed Etta Candy and Holiday Girls plus pushing for more time between Diana and Steve Trevor. I should note that officially DC claims that much of these changes have to do with declining sales, which I’m sure contributed, but its hard to imagine that the anger SOTI generated with parents and adults did not have anythign to do with Diana looking prettier and not playing tie up with Amazon sisters.
The Silver Age was a time-lets be honest how many people speak highly about this era? The sales figures for WW continued to decline and in the 60s DC had the great idea of stripping her powers, giving her a new costume and a blind Asian master in I-Ching. The Diana Prince era has many detractors, specifically for taking away the strength of the most recognizable female hero, but the run has become a cult favorite in some circles. The run kicked off by Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekoswksy was a rocky road and down the line DC set things back to a more classic version of the character. A combination of the success of the then TV series with Lynda Carter and the rising Feminist movement which saw Wonder Woman on the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine.
From here WW’s publication history continues to be rocky. There were a number of talented artists on the character, Gil Kane, Don Heck or Jose Luis Garcia Lopez for example but the books lack of direction continued to effect the works reception. It did not help that Diana was a character that baffled once editor, the legendary Julius Schwartz.
It was…odd. I first joined DC in an Editorial-support position, part of a new paid internship program devised by then-VP Sol Harrison. Julie Schwartz had just inherited WW from Bob Kanigher, who’d apparently gone round the bend for the second and final time, without having come up with anything quite as…uhm, memorable as what resulted from his first tour of duty. I mean, Nubia — if you’ll pardon the expression, she pales beside a giant egg with a prehensile mustache.
Julie knew nothing about Wonder Woman — that would have meant actually having to listen to Kanigher talking to himself all those decades they shared an office, instead of just keeping Bob’s records. So my first job when Sol assigned me to Julie was to read every WW story published up to that time and give Julie a report.
Julie’s associate editor, the ever-anal-retentive Nelson Bridwell, was charged with the same task, as I recall. But Nelson did it with a straight face, waxing rhapsodic about such things as eluding Nazi anti-aircraft fire with an invisible plane that didn’t confer invisibility on its pilot, so that she would, in real life, appear to be zipping across the sky in a squatting position.
I, unlike Nelson, ambled back into Julie’s office and was, like, “Julie, you won’t believe how sick this shit is!” Truly, that peek inside the fevered brain of Dr. William Moulton Marston was astonishing — a three-week immersion in a four-color Psychopathia Sexualis.
That quote’s form a Martin Pasko interview I have on my computer that was once on CBR’s message board. Pasko would go on to write Diana and help produce the cult run that produced the 12 Labors of Wonder Woman.
You came on board Wonder Woman vol. 1, I believe, with issue 218, in the midst of the “Twelve Labors” arc. Can you elaborate on why DC felt that Wonder Woman needed to prove herself with so many tasks to rejoin the JLA? Was there an underlying desire to build the character up, simply a loose allusion to Greek mythology and Heracles’ own labors, or…?
Look, there was no grand design there, OK? No party planning. Instead, we were shipping books on time, y’know? As you can see, I have no allusions about anything. You wanna talk about underlying desires, talk to Vinnie Colletta. Look in the Meadowlands, he’s next to Hoffa. Ba-da-BING!
Or ask Len Wein. He started the damned thing, then went to run Marvel or something. I always thought the Hercules’ trials bit was just the first thing Len and Julie could think of five minutes before they had to give a cover concept to Oksner. Besides, it gave ‘em a way to vamp for a year and a half and pray that Kanigher’s thorazine would kick in. Otherwise I’d’ve gotten stuck with the Aegean stables story, as if I wasn’t already trying to clean up too much shit.
The “official” reason for the trials gimmick was that all those guest stars would supposedly attract new readers. I mean, because of all those skillful pairings of artists with the heroes with whom they were most closely associated. Those perfect-pitch matches of tone and style. Yeah, that’s it. Curt Swan and Elongated Man. Batman and Jose Delbo. “Men used to call me The Phantom Stranger, but now they don’t know who the f*** I am because Kurt Schaffenberger is drawing me.” Yeah, that must’ve been it.
Interesting huh? That famous run also featured writers Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin and Len Wein with almost a dozen artists. As the 80s came on Diana’s book continued to struggle, writers coming on and off including Mindy Newell (first solo female writer on WW. Second to work on the book. I’m making fun of the whole Jody Picoult deal). Comics legend Jim Shooter a few years ago posted a copy of comic sales from 1985 and showed that Wonder Woman had a print run of 85k but was only selling through 19K. Luckily big changes were happening at DC and in 1987 Wonder Woman got the big reboot.
George Perez and the Return of Wonder Woman
For a number of people George Perez got Wonder Woman right. A superstar creator spearheading the first lady of comics title after a massive company wide reboot which gave Diana a fresh start. The book, in its first few years, looked great and helped bring in new readers and connect with old readers. Its no surprise that this is the closest to a definitive run of the contemporary age.
The series starts from a pitch by Greg Potter that got a mixed response. Perez was interested in the character so he was brought in, along with the legendary Len Wein, and they turned in a series that was both a throwback to classic WW mythology but with a modern approach. Much of the classic origin is retained with some changes. They kept Athena as the patron Goddess but included Hermes and Aphrodite in reduced roles. A pantheon of Gods similar to Captain Marvel(Shazam!). They made the Amazons more than warrior women but the reincarnation of women who died in pre-history. Steve Trevor was no longer the love interest, but an older gentleman who helps Diana on her first mission. Her first mission was no longer to help Trevor back to Mans World (which she did anyway) but was to stop Ares plans to kick start WWIII. Etta candy was back and while she was still overweight she was no longer the sorority girl but a military woman. Diana was stripped of a secret identity and became one of the first celebrity superheroes, living with the Kapatelis family. Perez and company also added a new history behind her famous costume. Changes were made to WW’s rogues too, most famously to Cheetah who no longer dawned a cheetah suit but was a cursed woman.
The series was filled with stories that appealed to the audience but much like many reboots certain decisions would be criticized and in case of Diana-would come back and bite DC in the ass.
Perez would become the sole writer on Wonder Woman a few years in and eventually step away from the art table. A number of talented artists would work on the book (including Jill Thompson) but this had a mixed response. George Perez, as a writer, has a mixed track record according to critics and historians. What is not in doubt is that Perez leaving the art table was a blow because he is, and definitively at the time was, one of the phenoms of the American comic market. All things considered WW title was at its strongest since the original run and while there were detractors for one reason or other Perez’s run was monumental and would have been complete if not for editorial conflicts seeing the book handed off to William Wessner-Loebs and Perez quitting in response. It was 1991 and things were going to get tough for the Amazing Amazon.
William Messner-Loebs was tasked with taking Diana into a new direction. This includes a new home in Gateway City on the West Coast. WW in pre-crisis jumped from Washington DC to New York, at the reboot she was based in Boston. Diana also got a job at Taco Whiz. WW also got a change in her supporting cast as well. I’m not as familiar with the start of Messner-Loebs work but I do know the final stretch of his run that included popular comic artist Mike Deodato Jr. on his first American assignment. The Contest had Diana put her championship status on the line in a new Contest which she lost to the recently introduced Artemis of Bana-Mighdall. That story was actually the first Wonder Woman story to ever be collected. Before the Archives. From there Diana got a new costume designed by then cover artist and legendary comics artist Brian Bolland.
I was asked to design her new look, which I did despite my misgivings. My view was “Why mess with perfection?”
Everybody disliked it, including me.
From Bolland’s DC Cover Art collection. Back to the run, we watch Artemis tried to hold up the mantle with ehr and Diana battling the evil White Magician and others (including an interest battle with the Joker.) Artemis dies (spoiler warning) and Diana was back in her costume with the start of John Byrnes run which turned Diana into the Goddess of Truth. Despite Byrne’s status as a legend, not many people talk about this era of WW. I know that the few trades from this run are out of print and the general response seems to be it was not worth looking into. Based on the sales figures I have seen Byrne did at least pull the sells of the book up from under the 100 spot to being outside the Top 60. Byrne worked on the book from 95 to 98 and from there you had Eric Luke take over writing with artist Yanick Paquette, who will soon return to the character with Earth One. From there die hard Wonder Woman superfan Phil Jimenez took on the book. Influenced by the TV series and the classic Perez run he seemed to be an excellent choice.
As someone who’s had some experience with Wonder Woman –writing and drawing a very uneven 2 year run a little more than a decade ago (uneven for multiple reasons, including my lack of professional skill as well as unrivaled editorial interference/ineptitude (I had three editors on my first two issues), plus two crossovers (in which I was forced to kill her mother and destroy her island home), and 9/11, which derailed the book further),
Part of Jimenez’s comments on a recent Comics Beat article about Wonder Woman. Another instant of editorial mismanagement.
However things started looking up when novelist and comic writer Greg Rucka took on the title. Rucka produced one of the finest, and one of the very few, widely acclaimed Wonder Woman stories in the Hiketeia. Drawn by JG Jones the short graphic novel has become the first suggestion of almost any WW fan when asked “Where should I start with Wonder Woman?” Greg Rucka, joined by Drew Johnson, run was met with mostly positive reviews. At this point Diana as an Emissary for her people was a much more important aspect to her series and Rucka seized on it further. He played up the politics of the character, the view the world had of her, as well as the politics in Olympus. The run did have a few draws back which I believe stops it from being a seminal comic run, though an important run in Diana’s long publication history.
Reviews and personal opinions aside, WW was a buzz book under Greg Rucka’s pen. Art inconsistency strikes. Drew Johnson, who himself is a fine artist, was replaced with then hot Rags Moreles but do to personal issues could not stick to the book. He would only draw part of certain books including the issue of the Sacrifice crossover that would give WW a huge sales boost. With Morales gone Cliff Richards took on the book and I don’t think his work really matched the book, but at the time the sales were WW’s best in years. Of course DC ruined that with One Year Later reboot. Removing Rucka and not allowing him to tie up his plotlines which were swept under the rug.
DC Drops the Ball Again and Again
Screenwriter and co-creator of the Young Avengers Allen Hienberg kicked off a WW reboot with superstar artist Terry Dodson. It should have been great but it was not. The book’s launch was delayed, though it still had a high order number. Heinberg however was only on for five issues and quickly into the book it started hitting delays to the point where the book was put into the hands of another writer and Heinberg would finish his run in an Annual months later. Heinbergs relaunch included the return of the Diana Prince identity but now an agent of the Department of Metahuman Affairs. She had a new love interest in the character Nemesis. Once again inconsistency reared its head and WW was in a whole new place creating a whole new set of problems (and maybe some new fans).
The delays and mixed reviews no doubt helped the book to shed it order numbers quickly. That with Jodi Picoult’s brief run and the reviled Amazons Attack crossover did serious damage with Wonder Woman. Jodi Picoult is known as the first woman to pen Diana’s adventures (which is an outright lie). While Picoults run will not go down as an important run there was some strong reviews for her brief issues. By the time Gail Simone had the book her first issue (#14) had orders at almost 80k less than the debut issue of the new volume. Gail’s run had, like much of WW’s publication history, a mixed response but their was a strong support for her work. With the help of Terry Dodson at the start, Aaron Lopretsi and Nicola Scott the book became-for the most part-a solid Wonder Woman run but did not have a strong enough buzz to keep the book from shedding readers throughout. By her last full issue the book had slip to orders just above 25k. Next month the number of the series was changed to #600 to celebrate the total number of Wonder Woman issues published. Also to tie it to issues #700 of Superman and Batman.
J. Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer were tasked with a relaunch of the character and they used a time shift to fundamentally change the character. The Odyssey, as it was entitled, was controversial. A new origin, a new attitude, and a new costume. The reviews were mostly brutal but for some audience this was exciting. There was some problems with the writer left and Phil Hester took over writing duties. Fans once again shouting out the DC did not know what they’re doing. Of course the tardes of this run were spotlighted in DC’s recent Essential Graphic Novels list for Wonder Woman. Sort of happens when you allow most of a characters bibliography to go out of print.
Superman’s Girlfriend and ‘Where Do we Go From Here?’
The New 52 included a new Wonder Woman book. At first, the reviews were raves. Now… not so much? Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiangs run has included a couple major reinventions of Diana’s background including Zeus as her father. The one that struck a nerve with long time WW fans was the Amazon’s as attacking ships, raping the men, and giving away their male children. Then things got more controversial with the relationship between Diana and Superman. Which is leading to the upcoming Superman/Wonder Woman series.
I should really mention her Rogues. One of the constant complaints, one that is very rarely addressed, is the writers reliance on the Greek mythology and the usual suspects (Cheetah, Dr. Psycho and maybe Giganta). Diana has waves of other villains with untapped potential. Some creators have given a little time to the other rogues, but they seem to be window dressing. Just minions with minor roles for Circe or some other character pulling the strings.
So lets recap. Changes to characters origin, locale, supporting cast, and so forth as the series moves from writer to writer. Editorial mismanagement. The mishandling of popular or acclaimed runs. Writers plans being altered and changed by company directive. Reboots to get more readers but quickly shed readers. Ideas designed purely for new readers or male readers. The splintering of the fanbase to the point where reconciling that different groups will be damn near impossible.
Looking ahead its going to be a rocky road. WW’s sales are steady and while a number of people are angry the reviews tend to still be more positive than negative with people saying ‘A good fantasy series but a bad Wonder Woman series.’ Comics legend and controversial best selling writer Grant Morrison has been talking up his long await Wonder Woman graphic novel, part of the original Earth One series, for years and the press has built up of late. Whether or not you looking forward to this, its neat that the word is getting out almost a year before the release of the book. Even if the reviews are bad there is little doubt that OGN will be a hot seller because Morrison is one of the few comic writers who can really sell a book on his name alone so you couple that with Wonder Womans popularity and it will be success in some regard.
Still, the point is we’re searching for the definite run of a modern era. We’ve come close only to have it snatched away. Wonder Woman needs that run. One that has a writer who can bring out the best of her. A consistent, or at least strong, art team(s). Someone who can go beyond the mythological elements and rework her vast rogues gallery. One who can produce a strong supporting cast. Most importantly, WW needs to be familiar. Having a series where a past fan can come on the book and not have a safety blanket-much like other Trinity members of Superman and Batman have-is just plain idiotic. If we can get a team to do this with good reviews, Diana can only prosper. But we could also just use a best selling run or book. Sometimes a bad book can benefit the characters visibility. It would be better if we can have both commercial and critical success. I have some serious doubt we’ll see that in the near future.
[Details used from wikipedia, Supergirls by Mike Madrid, information I read on sites like Comic Book Resources and Comic Beat. Plus the wealth of WW books I have including but not limited to all the WW Archives, Showcases, the Conest and Challenge of Artemis, the four George Perez trades, the Diana Prince trades, and runs from Greg Rucka and Gail Simone plus more.]
[I no doubt missed some important elements, I suck.]
[WW fan status: I am a Morrison mark so yes I'm looking forward to Earth One. I recommend Greg Rucka's work and Gail Simone's work. I think the George Perez trades are fine too, but I'm not the biggest fan of Perez's writing especially solo. The Golden Age Wonder Woman is interesting, but I would not recommend it for more than its historic importance.]