Diana Prince, the New Wonder Woman

WW #177Jack Miller took editorial control with issue #177. While Irv Novick had been doing the art for the past few issues, now Win Mortimer pencilled a team-up story in which Supergirl and Wonder Woman had to battle each other for the "honor" of being selected as a mate for a galactic conqueror. (Of course, since they were both females, their story had to be romantically/matrimonially/sexually inclined.) The slant of the story was totally awry from the way the series had been running: it was science fiction of a comic book vein, and it brought the reader up short.

It's interesting to see that the innovative Miller's letter column that issue declared that the Wonder Girl in Teen Titans was Wonder Woman as a teen, and "that Wonder Woman does not have father living," implying that she has a father dead. But that's okay; Miller was going to give Wonder Woman the biggest break she'd ever had.

WW #178If issue #177 brougth the reader up short, issue #178 made his mouth hang open. Diana Prince went mod. No longer a drab office-type, she blossomed into a with-it detective who was actually pretty as portrayed by artists Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano.

New writer Denny O'Neil gave Diana the excuse to change her image by having her go undercover to dig up evidence to save Steve Trevor from a murder rap. In doing so, she discovered a world she'd been missing. Can you dig it: at one point Steve tells a groovy chick, "Greatness, that's a fab ring you're wearing..." and "I'm feeling kinda up tight myself -- how about a drink and we'll loosen up together?"

It was a radical departure from what had gone before, and when Wonder Woman finally appeared in costume in the story, she looked out of place -- incredibly old-fashioned in her star-spangled shorts and strapless bodice. It was on Diana Prince that the readers' attention was riveted, as she played the shrewd and beautiful detective in an intelligent murder mystery.

Landmark issue #179 (Nov.-Dec. 1968) displayed the first story credits ever in Wonder Woman, and they were well-deserved. Denny O'Neil and Sekowsky/Giordano made a Great Change the way such Changes should be handled: those major parts of the scenario the editor and writer didn't like were simply shelved, not blasted away by some Crisis.

Thus it was that the Amazons announced that their magic was running out and they had to retreat to another dimension in order to recharge it. Wonder Woman decided to stay in Man's World to help Steve, who had just been branded a traitor to the U.S. Actually, he had framed himself in order to go undercover and track down a dangerous criminal genius known only as Dr. Cyber.

In an elaborate ceremony, WW divested herself of costume and powers (again with the magical powers!) and took off for Man's World as Paradise Island disappeared into the other-dimensional mists.

The unlikely combination of Sekowsky's almost uncontrolled pencils and Giordano's machinelike inking chronicled Diana's setting up a new career: she left the army and bought a boutique (at 301 Blocker Street, New York City). While she was shop-hunting, she ran into an ancient, blind oriental man who fended off some muggers with martial arts ease that would have made Bruce Lee or David Carradine jealous. He introduced himself as I Ching (ouch!), and told Diana that he knew she used to be Wonder Woman. He taught her fighting arts that she learned quickly due to her Amazon Training.

(One could ask, if Diana had indeed had Amazon Training, why she had lost that knowledge and her power in the first place, and why Amazon Training wouldn't have taught her martial arts far superior to Ching's skills. But the story was too good to question these points.)

The series continued as readers met Tim Trench, a pre-Star Wars Han Solo type who doubted the effectiveness of Ching's teachings upon Diana. With Sekowsky now helping O'Neil write, we saw the dream of millions of WW fans come true: Steve Trevor was killed in issue #180 in a wonderful scene filled with courage and blood and machine gun bullets. (Only in such dismal cases as Steve's was annihilation warranted. As Sekowsky, who became editor with issue #182, later said, "Steve Trevor was dull and boring and I didn't like him much so I disposed of him." Amen!)

To say the Diana Prince era was exciting is a supreme understatement. Here we had an ordinary woman who found herself battling in extraordinary, often profoundly so, circumstances. there were local street toughs to deal with, international crime cartels, plots to destroy Japan, Red Chinese who wanted to stop refugees... and she even crossed dimensional boundaries to land boot-deep in sword-and-sorcery adventures. And yes, the Amazons were even brought out of cold storage to star in a two-parter that knocked the socks off of every Wonder Woman fan to read it (issues #183-184, reprinted in issue #198).

Some fans turn up their noses at this period and say that Diana Prince was just a white-suited imitation of Avengers TV show heroine Emma Peel. Well, she was, but she was a fabulous imitation who far outdistanced the original. Mrs. Peel couldn't have found herself doing any of the things Diana Prince did. Neither could Superman or Batman or any of the female replicas of same (although Sekowsky's Supergirl could have come pretty close). Diana Prince was an original, and her sales reflected it -- at first.

Sekowsky wrote, "The old Wonder Woman was dropped because the sales on the old WW were so bad the book was going to be dropped. The new Wonder Woman was given a chance -- (a last chance for the book) -- and it worked! ... Super characters... aren't doing too well with today's readers -- and it's to today's readers that we must cater to, not to a bunch of old fuddy duddys who only look back.... As for my hollering about WW's sales, I can honestly say that I am quite pleased to have taken a sow's ear and turned it into a silk purse.... I personally feel that too many of DC's stories are still being written and plotted for the year 1940 instead of 1970...."

When they appeared, the Amazons were characterized as having magical powers which could be stripped by the gods or through mystic ceremonies. Mars was now correctly identified as Ares. He tended to meet the Amazons on a human level, albeit as Supreme Commander of demoniacal armies. He was also identified as Hippolyta's father, differentiating her origin from that of the other Amazons and making him Diana's grandfather. Curiously enough, this didn't play that fast and loose with mythology; many myths named Ares as the father of the Amazons. Of course, here he was just Hippolyta's father, which although not stictly correct, made for an interesting situation.

Sekowsky fashioned armor for the Amazons that seemed a little more Greek than previous armor had been. The Amazons were characterized as just as intelligent, just as resourceful, just as spirited as Diana. As they faced certain death by the hoards of Ares in issue #183, one Amazon general remarked "They outnumber us 5 to 1 -- and every day more barbarians from the outer lands flock to Ares' banner!" To which another replied, "But we are Amazons! We will win!" "Of course!" another added. "What are odds of 5 to 1 to us?" These women were all heroes in their own right.

We are Amazons!

Here, Diana and the Amazons had no code against killing and didn't kill only in times of self-defense. Diana was a leader, a strategist, a general, and when war came she fought as any warrior would.

Yet throughout this phase she contrasted her human state to what she enjoyed as Wonder Woman. "As an Amazon princess -- as Wonder Woman -- I had perfect control of my emotions! As plain Diana Prince, I'm human -- too darn human!" she thinks at one point. Often during the series she'd muse, "This being human hurts!"

Diana found out just how much she could hurt as she faced the menace of Dr. Cyber, a ruthless woman who employed mostly females to help her gain world domination. One of her employees was Lu Shan, who turned out to be I Ching's long-lost daughter, hell-bent on revenge against her father, whom she thought had deserted her and her mother when she was a child.

In those days Cyber wasn't the cyborg she became in later years. She was a woman who had a propensity toward survival. Diana and her cohorts would blow up Cyber's headquarters only to have the evil doctor show up later, hale and hearty. Over her appearances, Cyber was burned, electrocuted and finally blown up. What could happen next?

With issue #197, Dorothy Woolfolk took over as editor for two reprint issues, bowing out to Denny O'Neil, who began with #199. He also served as writer, his slick style contrasting to Sekowsky's emotional, earthy writing. O'Neil enlisted the Big Names to try to increase sales. Renowed artist Jeff Jones did the covers to #199 and #200, a sharp opposite to the Don Heck/Dick Giordano art inside.

For two issues Diana appeared in a uniform, a pseudo-oriental white jumpsuit with a "W" on the belt. She also got a new boyfriend, Jonny Double, who had debuted not that long before in Showcase as a freeloading but charismatic private detective. He now became a second-rate Steve Trevor, just a bland male with a habit for making easy insults and getting into trouble.

By issue #200, Dick Giordano was doing full art in his antiseptically clean style. Dr. Cyber again appeared, her plan for world domination now permanently shelved in favor of destroying Di and getting her beauty back. It is interesting that O'Neil chose to reprint a Wonder Family story in the back of this issue. In a framing sequence, he had Diana say that Wonder Girl in the story was herself as a girl, even though it was clearly Donna Troy. O'Neil had an artist redraw the Wonder Woman and Wonder Tot in the story in Amazonian dress, but didn't explain to readers what a toddler was doing on Paradise Island.

Issues #201-202 stand out as two of the best-ever WW stories. The first reason may be because noted f/sf writer Samuel R. Delany wrote the second half of the story. The second reason is that the story plot combined so many different, unusual and interesting characters. Wonder Woman and Ching went to the Far East to find a hidden civilization and instead found Catwoman, Lu Shan... and Fritz Leiber's creations Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser! The story tumbled from Earth to the fantastic world of Nehwon and back, with mystic jewels, humor, and sword-and-sorcery action abounding.

WW #203Delany was back for issue #203, proclaimed as a "Special! Women's Lib Issue" on the cover. This was during an era where the term "women's lib" was fast becoming outmoded. And this was also on a magazine which had always reflected to some extent the Women's Movement. Certainly readers did not expect to see the story of a Male Chauvinist Pig (spitting image of publisher Carmine Infantino!) who victimized his female workers. Nor did they expect Diana Prince not to know anything about the Women's Movement and have to be introduced to it through a wordy and preachy series of scenes. But most especially, they never expected Diana to say, "In most cases, I don't even like women..."

"In most cases, I don't even like women!"

The story might have ended at a weak point, with Diana defeating Grandee (the MCP) by pointing out his fire codes violations to the police instead of by mounting a publicity campaign against him. Instead, it ended with the ex -- now unemployed -- women workers of Grandee's confronting Diana about making them lose their jobs, a perplexing issue that was not to be concluded.

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