I just finished reading DC’s collected DIANA PRINCE WONDER WOMAN (VOLUME 4), which concludes the early 70s saga of Wonder Woman as a depowered “mod” gal who eschewed her costume for white slacks and shirts (generally). By the time of these stories, Mike Sekowsky (who had initiated the run) was long gone, and the scripting was handled by Denny O’Neil and sci-fi writer Samuel R. Delany. The art was handled by Dick Giordano and Don Heck.
The O’Neil issues are standard early 70s silliness, highlighted by a Catwoman appearance (in her short-lived blue and red outfit), and dragged down by a lamebrained romantic subplot with roguish wisecracking private dick Jonny Double (who just vanishes in Delaney’s second issue). The first Delaney issue rather bizarrely introduces barbarians Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (I couldn’t explain the plot to you if we had an entire weekend to do it), but the second issue (a SPECIAL! Women’s Lib Issue!) is kind of interesting.
The second Delany issue (sequenced in this trade paperback after a typically strange Bob Haney/Jim Aparo issue of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD) is WONDER WOMAN #203, which, by coincidence, was the very first Wonder Woman comic I ever read when I was a kid. I think it must have come into my possession via a stack of old comics my dad brought home from work one day (a gift from a co-worker whose kids had long since outgrown comics). Anyway, I’d seen Wonder Woman in the Justice League, and on the Super Friends, so I knew what she looked like, and this chick in white wasn’t exactly her, so it always fascinated me. I’m sure I read the issue (I read every comic book I could get my hands on as a kid, no matter the content), but rereading it all these years later, not much of it was familiar.
I find it interesting because it’s clear that Delaney was attempting (presumably with editorial support) to push the book in a new direction. The story concerns Diana Prince being hired by a sinister department store to model their “women’s lib” clothes. She only realizes that she’s being used by male chauvinist pigs running the store when the local women’s lib organization hands her proof of their intentions, and also proof that the store is paying their female employees less than minimum wage (for some reason they have no male employees). Although, really, she probably should have known the department store (Grandee’s) was up to no good when the guy who showed up to offer her the job was the same guy who had harassed her on the street the night before because she blew off his sexist catcalls (before she kicked his ass with the help of a saucy blonde companion). The plot is a little complex and convoluted, but the story introduces some cast members who were clearly intended to stick around for a while, including a female black belt karate instructor and a female dog trainer with a handful of dobermans at her disposal. And Diana’s blind “Oriential” teacher, I-Ching, was still around, as he had been for the entire DPWW run.
The issue ends when a bunch of angry women barge into a Liberation meeting, angry that Diana and her bra-burning pals have put so many women out of work by shutting down the piggish department store. In the last panel, Diana looks at the reader and exclaims, “What do you say to them now? And will we have time? They look like they mean business!” Under her face is a caption that reads, “What will Diana do now?”
I have to say, as ham-fisted as much of the commentary was, the general thrust of the issue is unusual enough to make me curious exactly what Diana would do next. Dick Giordano always drew great women, and the mind conjures all kinds of crazy scenarios for Diana and her new pals to stumble into. Hot-blooded libbers with rabid dogs and karate at their disposal?
Alas, it was not to be. The next issue (written by Robert Kanigher) completely ignores the question, and opens with a sniper randomly taking out innocent civilians, including, on page four, Diana’s mentor, I-Ching. Diana sheds a tear, hugs the “father she never had,” and never mentions him again. What follows is a ridiculos amnesia plot that sees her stealing a fighter jet and ending up back on Paradise Island. By the end of the issue, the hip, modern Diana Prince has been dispossessed in favor of the familiar golden lasso wrangler, complete with tiara and star spangled hot pants. It’s one of the more abrupt dismissals of a concept I’ve seen, but I’m sure it was driven by sales, and as commendable as the effort might have been, it was no doubt doomed to fail from the word go.
An issue later WW was featured on the cover with her legs wrapped around a chubby phallic bomb, and it was business as usual once again. But I do wonder what Delany had in mind before he was kicked to the curb. And I give him a lot of credit for trying to address some of the issues concerning the women’s lib movement, even if the plot reduced every man in the story to a standard chauvinist.