With the death of William Moulton Marston in 1947, the WONDER WOMAN strip was entering into a new phase of its publication. No longer singlemindedly focused on issues of gender equality and submission, WONDER WOMAN instead took on a more straightforward adventure style, being handled primarily by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Ross Andru. Andru’s style was more clean and traditional than departed artist H.G. Peter, more closely resembling the rest of DC’s output. A minor revision was made in Wonder Woman’s costume, replacing her red-and-white boots with red Greco-Roman-style lace-up sandals.
Where previously Wonder Woman had been on a crusade to improve the status of women in Man’s World, now she was spending her time traveling into space with Steve Trevor, as in this moment from “Eagle of Space,” from WONDER WOMAN #105 (April 1959).
Wonder Woman also found herself battling outer-space aliens more frequently, such as in “Wanted – Wonder Woman!” from WONDER WOMAN #108 (August 1959), in which a group of mantis-like aliens subject Diana to mind control, forcing her to act against her own best judgment.
Overall, Robert Kanigher’s influence on the Wonder Woman character manifested itself in a much more lighthearted, almost fairy-tale approach to the narrative, one in which logic and continuity often went right out the window. Kanigher made use of Queen Hippolyte’s Magic Sphere (a television-like device introduced in Wonder Woman’s first appearance which allowed Hippolyte to see any place or time in the world) with a vengeance, utilizing it to tell tales of Princess Diana as a girl, and even as a toddler, known as “Wonder Girl” and “Wonder Tot” respectively. These adventures of a younger Diana would also involve her in innocent flirtations with mythological types like Bird-Boy and Mer-Boy. Even stranger, sometimes Wonder Woman would travel through the screen of the Magic Sphere and travel back in time, and Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot would have adventures together, despite the fact that they were all the same person.
This, by the way, resulted in the accidental creation of a new character, when the creative personnel at DC (who apparently weren’t steady WONDER WOMAN readers) putting together their new TEEN TITANS series took a look at issues of WONDER WOMAN and said, “Hey, there’s a Wonder Girl! Put her on the team, too!” not realizing that Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl were one and the same. When the mistake was eventually discovered, a backstory was hastily constructed for Wonder Girl, that of Donna Troy, an orphan rescued by Princess Diana and raised on Paradise Island as Diana’s sister.
Kanigher’s much looser hand didn’t just extend to the Magic Sphere. To quote comics writer and historian Mark Waid, “The great thing about it was that one month, say, you’d get a story about the Secret Origin of Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. Then, eight months later, there’d be a story about the Secret Origin of Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. And it would have nothing at all to do with the first story!”
The Kanigher/ Andru WONDER WOMAN wasn’t exactly tearing up the sales charts, and by 1968 it was decided that the series needed a serious shaking up. Then-publisher Carmine Infantino assigned writer Denny O’Neil and artist Mike Sekowsky to the project, and things changed dramatically with the publication of WONDER WOMAN #178 (September-October 1968), in which Princess Diana gives up her costume and her powers in order to stay on Earth, rather than leave along with the rest of the Amazons.
Only two issues later, Steve Trevor is killed, and Wonder Woman is taken under the wing of a blind martial arts master named I Ching, who teaches the now-powerless Amazon how to defend herself without bracelets, lasso, or super-strength.
The idea here was to make Wonder Woman a strong, sexy secret-agent type, a la THE AVENGERS’ Emma Peel, but putting the character in a white Diana Rigg-style jumpsuit wasn’t enough to bring back the readers, and after 25 issues the status quo had returned to WONDER WOMAN, with Steve Trevor even miraculously returning from the dead.
The character limped along through the 1970s, under the pens of writers such as Kanigher, Martin Pasko, Cary Bates and Elliott S! Maggin, with art by Curt Swan, Jose Delbo and Dick Giordano, among others. The series even briefly returned to a World War II setting so as to synchronize with the then-airing television series (about which more later).
The only significant change to the character in the early ‘80s (other than Steve Trevor dying and coming back a couple more times) came in February 1982, when Wonder Woman’s costume was changed in WONDER WOMAN #288, with the eagle on her chest plate being replaced with a stylized double “W” symbol.
By 1985, it was decided that Wonder Woman would be one of the characters completely revised by the DC Universe-changing CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS crossover event, and so the old Wonder Woman was wiped from existence at the miniseries’ end, erased as if she’d never existed. (That is, the Earth-One Wonder Woman, for those of you continuity-obsessed enough to remember the whole Earth-One/Earth-Two scenarios from DC Comics’ Silver Age. As for the original Earth-Two Wonder Woman, she and an aged Steve Trevor were granted permission to live forever amongst the gods on Mt. Olympus. But I digress…)
The problem was, DC hadn’t really finalized their plans for their new, post-CRISIS Wonder Woman. In his foreword to the recent collection WONDER WOMAN: GODS AND MORTALS, writer/artist George Perez recalls that there had been many proposals submitted for a new Wonder Woman, some keeping nothing but the name. DC was intent that the basic character remain recognizably Wonder Woman, however. Writer Greg Potter submitted a proposal that, while not entirely to DC’s satisfaction, retained enough of the original concept that DC intended to go with it, despite certain elements which reportedly didn’t sit well with editorial, particularly the female staffers. (By the way, if anyone has ever seen Potter’s original proposal, please send it my way, as I’ve not been able to discover precisely what made DC rather uneasy about it.)
When George Perez expressed interest in handling the Wonder Woman revamp, Potter was swiftly nudged out, to be replaced by Perez as both artist and writer, with longtime collaborator Len Wein lending a hand on the script. Of the three major revamps undertaken by DC in the post-CRISIS days of 1986, I’d have to say the Wonder Woman’s was the most successful creatively, as it catapulted the character back to a level of importance and significance it hadn’t seen in decades, as well as doing the best job of shaking off the detritus of years of neglect, combining the strongest elements of the original concept with a modern sensibility.
First off, Perez strengthened the series’ ties to Greek mythology, using all the Greek names for the deities, renaming Paradise Island Themyscira, and even giving Diana more traditionally Greek features. The origin of the Amazons and their encounter with Hercules (now called Heracles, his Greek name) was retained from the original Moulton origin, as was the Contest to determine the most worthy Amazon, chosen to leave Themyscira for Man’s World, in order to stop the evil threat of Ares, God of War.
Also retained from the original story is Steve Trevor’s crash-landing and convalescence on Paradise Island, although wisely, this time the creators don’t have Princess Diana fall madly in love with the first man she sees, which admittedly goes somewhat against what the strip is supposed to be about.
Also dispensed with was the notion of the “Diana Prince” secret identity, which wasn’t really necessary without the romance angle. 1940s Wonder Woman sidekick Etta Candy is also reintroduced, this time as a junior officer in the Air Force serving under Steve Trevor.
As always, Perez’s art on the series is gorgeous and intricately detailed, and his redesigns of Wonder Woman villains like Ares, as well as new characters like Decay, Deimos and Phobos, gave the series the brand-new spark it had been needing for decades.
Perez also took a page from artist M.C. Escher in his portrayal of the Gods on Mt. Olympus, as seen here:
As for characterization, in the new series Perez gave us a strong, confident and powerful woman, still uncertain about her role in Man’s World, innocent yet not naïve. The decision to begin the story with her introduction to the modern world, set years after the debuts of characters like Superman, Batman and the Flash, as much as I disliked it at the time (since it meant that Wonder Woman had never been a member of the Justice League, thereby rendering all of my JLA comics null and void) was a good one, as it allowed the reader to grow along with Diana as she made her way through the new world. It also allowed Perez to do some interesting things with the notion of Wonder Woman as a celebrity, as Princess Diana agrees to take part in a public relations campaign in order to introduce her to the public, and more easily teach mankind the Amazons’ message of peace.
Perez’s stint on WONDER WOMAN was a sizable one, lasting nearly five years, and it still remains the modern benchmark for the character. Following Perez was writer William Messner-Loebs, who took the character in an interesting direction when he had Diana stripped of her position as Wonder Woman after losing a second Contest to Artemis, one of a lost tribe of banished Amazons recently returned to Themyscira.
While Artemis struggles with her new role as Wonder Woman, Diana works to find a place for herself in the world without the comforts of her former status. The story is quite good, and the art by Mike Deodato is slick and streamlined, although Diana’s new costume, consisting of bicycle shorts and a bolero jacket, positively screams the ‘90s.
You can find these collected in trade as THE CONTEST and THE CHALLENGE OF ARTEMIS.
John Byrne took the series over for a much-ballyhooed 36-issue run as writer and artist in 1995.
Most obvious were the changes Byrne made to the costume, giving Diana a much larger tiara and bracelets, and replacing the many small stars on her tights with two large ones, a change I was felt was motivated more by laziness than by any sound design decision. Byrne’s run had much to recommend, as well as a few things to condemn.
Most infuriating was Byrne’s insistence that former Wonder Girl Donna Troy be returned to his toybox, unceremoniously ripping her from a satisfying storyline in the pages of GREEN LANTERN, where she was involved in a long-term romantic relationship with new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Not only that, Byrne disposed of Donna’s child and ex-husband Terry Long so swiftly that one might miss it if not paying close attention, perfunctorily killing them in an auto accident off-panel, all so he could torment the character for months while establishing a new, even more convoluted backstory for Donna Troy, involving repeated reincarnations and the revelation that she was a magical twin of Diana created from a fragment of her soul. If this was meant to clean up an already confusing character, well, it didn’t help.
However, Byrne more than redeemed himself with the two other major plot points from his run. First he introduced the new Wonder Girl, young Cassie Sandsmark, the daughter of Diana’s friend Helena Sandsmark, curator at the Gateway City Museum of Cultural Antiquities. Seeking to assist Wonder Woman in battle, Cassie put on her Girdle of Strength and Sandals of Flight, powers that were eventually granted to Cassie permanently by Zeus, impressed with her valor.
While Cassie, with oversized glasses and a horrendous black wig, wasn’t all that interesting in WONDER WOMAN, the character blossomed into one of DC’s most appealing young characters when written by Peter David in the pages of the much-lamented YOUNG JUSTICE, and is currently used to good effect by Geoff Johns in his new TEEN TITANS series.
Even better was Byrne’s elegant solution to the JSA dilemma. Follow along, if you will: one of the more unfortunate side-effects of DC’s reordering of their universe in 1985 with the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was that their “Big Three” trademark characters, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, no longer could have been members of the World War II-era Justice Society of America. Now, in the case of Superman and Batman, this was no big deal, as they only appeared twice in the JSA’s original 67-issue run. However, Wonder Woman appeared regularly throughout the series, making her absence from the continuity much more problematic. Several attempts had been made to retroactively plug that Wonder Woman-shaped hole in the JSA membership, with characters like the Quality heroine Miss America and the Roy Thomas-created Fury. However, none of them had really stuck. Byrne’s answer? While Princess Diana was briefly dead (which is much like the common cold in the DC Universe – you’re down for a while, but you eventually feel better), her mother, Queen Hippolyta, took her place as Wonder Woman, and subsequently wound up traveling back in time to the 1940s, where she remained for some years, serving as a member in good standing of the Justice Society.
Bingo – everyone remembers that there was a Wonder Woman in the JSA. Nicely done. Eventually, Hippolyta returned to the present, and handed the mantle of Wonder Woman back to the now once-more-living Diana.
Writer/artist Phil Jimenez also had a notable run on the series, starting in January 2001 with WONDER WOMAN #164, and ending in #188, some two years later.
Jimenez displayed a keen understanding of characterization in this, his first high-profile writing job, and utilized Diana, Hippolyta and Donna Troy quite well. As for the art, well, it’s hard to complain about Jimenez’s heavily Perez-influenced style. If you can’t get Perez, Jimenez is the next best thing.