Wonder Woman

 a review of vol.2, #1-46

“Ya shoulda been there!” That’s what I said to myself as I read the post-Crisis relaunch of Wonder Woman, a decade after it began. But at the time, I was engrossed in my studies of computers, alcohol, and the guy down the hall at college, having stopped reading comics a few years earlier. Just my luck to miss out on one of the most heady periods of DC’s publishing history.

But through the magic of back issues, I’ve been able to pick up some what I missed… often at bargain prices. The down side is that some of these copies have not aged gracefully, with the ink spreading out and bleeding through the pages. {Insert standard plea for paper better than newsprint, but not that glossy stuff they’ve been using lately} Why, oh, why are there two TPBs keeping the recent (and IMHO, inferior) Loebs/Deodato issues in print, but none of the Pérez issues? (I know: “The coloring process used back then is outdated.” I’d settle for black and white, or “outdated” color on non-glossy paper.)

When I did get back into comics, I was a bit taken aback by the “new” Wonder Woman. I mean, what’s with this flying business? It just seemed wrong to me. (Everyone knows you need a cape or wings to fly! {grin}) But Pérez’ reinterpretation of the character of Princess Diana worked on many levels, and strengthening the connection to Greek mythology (the source of the flying hero archetype) sold it to me. Flying certainly made more sense in this context than an invisible plane. And the lack of the “Diana Prince” ID seemed perfectly natural.

Pérez’ art (with Bruce Patterson inking) was beautiful. I was especially impressed with his ability to draw such different faces and body types, especially in a book with so many female characters. Diana, Julia Kapetelis, Vanessa Kapetelis, Etta Candy, Myndi Mayer, the various goddesses… all distinct, all looking their respective ages (except the Amazons and goddesses, of course). By contrast, the women in the Deodato-drawn Wonder Woman #0 I bought were nearly indistinguishable except for their hair and the accessories they wore with their nipple covers and g-strings. Pérez’ men were equally varied: middle-aged Steve Trevor, beefy Heracles, fleet-footed Hermes, teen heartthrob Barry Locatelli, etc. The fact that Diana wore different clothing (including battle-armor and classical Greek versions of her costume, as well as the proverbial turtleneck sweater) also impressed me. After all, even feminist women like to change their outfits from time to time. {grin}.

Unfortunately, Pérez only did the art for the first two years. Chris Marrinan took over the pencilling, and did a decent job, but he wasn’t Pérez. I got used to it. {shrug} Marrinan stayed with the series until #44, replaced by Jill Thompson on the last few issues I read. To be frank, I haven’t liked much of Thompson’s work (too much outlining, not enough modeling of features), but her work on these issues was good.

Pérez cut back on the writing a year after he stopped drawing, continuing to plot the stories, but leaving the scripting to Mindy Newell. (He had similar assistance from Len Wein for the first year.) The impact of this wasn’t as noticeable. In fact, I found #46 to be more powerful and moving than many of the early Wein- or Pérez-scripted issues. I think there was a more noticeable decline in the stories when Pérez stopped drawing them, than when he stopped scripting. I think the switch from writing for himself to writing for another artist diminished his emotional involvement in the series a bit.

But when Pérez was “on”, he was very “on”. The storyline that launched the series had an epic flavor that successfully caught the spirit of the ancient myths as recorded by Hesiod. Kirby fans can have their New Gods; I’ll take the original, as interpreted, updated, and extended by Pérez as the source for my “modern myths”. The Greek gods were a special interest of mine in high school. I did character designs and basic plotting for what I intended to be the “sequel” to those stories (before turning my attention to the aforementioned computers, alcohol, and dorm-mates). And it’s clear to me that Pérez did lots of research… probably even better than mine.

I wasn’t as impressed when Pérez turned to more traditional “superhero” characters and situations. (This makes me reluctant to pick up Byrne’s Wonder Woman, as he’s reportedly doing more traditional superhero things with it.) I didn’t follow pre-Crisis Wonder Woman in her own book, but I suspect that the Cheetah and Silver Swan stories were efforts to reintroduce old Wondy villains into the post-Crisis universe. (It strikes me as typical of old-fashioned thinking that a heroine would have a stable of villainesses to fight, in contrast to all the male villains that the male heroes opposed.) I didn’t need them or the occasional “cat fight” they brought, though I suppose fans of longer standing probably appreciated their inclusion for tradition’s sake. After all, the German Nazi army that Wonder Woman originally spent her time fighting was no longer available.

Of course, the post-Crisis DCU was riddled with Major Crossovers involving lots of “superhero” situations, but Pérez managed to work them into the series with minimal pain. I picked up no crossover or tie-in books when I read this series, and except for missing the “encounter” between Diana and Superman in Action #600, I didn’t feel like I’d been cheated out of a complete story. The “Millennium” crossover required the writers to retcon disguised Manhunters into their books. Pérez’ retcon wasn’t at all plausible, but I don’t consider that his fault… it was a lame idea. And if you could
accept it, it became a rather effective element concluding his “Challenge of the Gods” storyline.

One of the series’ strengths was the breadth and depth of the supporting cast. With an island of Amazons (especially Queen Hippolyte), retired Col. Steve Trevor and Lt. Etta Candy and their Air Force associates, archaeologist Julia Kapetelis, early teenager Vanessa Kapetelis and her schoolmates, slick publicist Myndi Mayer, police inspector Edward Indelicato, the huge Greek pantheon (especially Hermes, Heracles, and the Olympian goddesses), to work with… who needs to bother bringing in Supes or Bats for a guest spot?

And Pérez didn’t just use the supporting cast; he developed them. He showed the relationship between Diana and Julia grow and change. We saw Vanessa struggle through adolescence, both socially and biologically. We watched Hermes’ attempts to live as a god among mortals, and saw the effect on his unwilling roommate, Steve Trevor. (Compared to his prominence at times pre-Crisis, Trevor gets limited exposure, but he’s still more complex than the old Trevor usually was.) The villains (including the ones I didn’t care for) had comprehensible motivations, not just maniacal plans for world domination. Even when Pérez killed a character, they generally stayed dead, but gained new depth in the process… and the impact on the rest of the cast was carefully explored.

It was definitely worth my while tracking down these four years’ worth of comics. But reading them several years after the fact was a bit bittersweet… knowing that Wein and Patterson would leave, that Pérez would stop drawing and scripting, that later the series would be taken over by William Messner-Loebs (whose writing on Wonder Woman I haven’t read enough of to comment meaningfully on) and Mike Deodato (whose typical drawing style I despise), and that John Byrne would eventually take over and do it his way instead… in other words, knowing that it wouldn’t last.

But I still have another year or so of Pérez stories to track down, and (assuming I find Loebs’ writing palatable) a bit longer before Deodato kills the series (for me). And I still have the first 46 issues to reread… as long as the old newsprint holds out.

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