Calling All Heroes


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.

You see what happens when you never call?

Wonder Woman #183, DC Comics, August 1969.

Practically no sooner does writer/penciler Mike Sekowsky take away Wonder Woman’s powers, supporting cast and costume and turn her formerly mousy alias Diana Prince into a karate-chopping mod fashion plate than we get this fantasy tangent set among the Amazons she had to tearfully leave behind at the beginning of the arc. So after five issues setting up Diana’s vendetta against the megalomaniacal mastermind Dr. Cyber, collected in the first part of the trade paperback Diana Prince: Wonder Woman vol. 1,, Sekowsky abruptly abandons it for a two-part fantasy adventure with the heroes of myth that would have been much more up the old Wonder Woman’s alley.

It seems like this always happens when Wonder Woman’s in the middle of something serious—her mom calls her back to Paradise Island. And apparently it doesn’t matter if the Amazons are way the heck in another dimension, and Diana had to give up her powers and everything to stay in this world. When Hippolyta calls, she’s got to come a-running.

OK, that’s a cool page, despite what a crybaby Diana is all of a sudden.

Technically it’s just some nameless Amazon who comes to fetch Diana, but it amounts to the same thing. And her self-appointed sensei I Ching invites himself along, which as Diana’s self-appointed mentor I guess he feels entitled to do. Now, men aren’t usually allowed on Paradise Island, and at a lot of periods in Wonder Woman’s history just one man setting foot on the island would be enough for the Amazons to lose their powers and their immortality. I guess this must not be one of those times, because nobody even says anything about Ching roaming around the island.

Mind you, they have other things to worry about. Paradise Island is under attack! All that classical architecture lies in ruins, and Queen Hippolyta’s in an enchanted coma. Why? Because Ares, god of war, wants her to tell him “the secret of dimensional travel,” which is how the Amazons wound up in this other dimension to begin with. You’d think that gods could just do that willy-nilly anyway, but, well, shut up. They can’t, okay? Only the Amazons know how! I guess.  In any case, Ares doesn’t, and he needs it so that he can bring craploads of war to earth.

Now, there are some funny things about Ares here. This is the first time we’ve seen him in a form other than the Golden Age version that William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter created, whom they always called by his Roman name, Mars. For one thing, he’s got a big red beard now. But more importantly, he’s apparently Hippolyta’s father now, and thus Wonder Woman’s grandpa. There’s some basis for this in Ancient Greek myth, but this is the first we’ve heard of it in the comics. Still, it’s not presented as some big revelation but just something that everybody takes for granted.

Ares is there with his sister Eris, goddess of strife, and his sons Deimos and Phobos, the gods of terror and fear. This is pretty much the only time we see those sons pre-Crisis, but they popped up several times in George Perez’s post-Crisis reboot of the series. They basically fill the roles of Mars’s lieutenants in the 1940s—the Duke of Deception and company—and honestly, they don’t do much in this story at all.

Anyway, Hippolyta refuses to give it to him, and the forces of Ares wage war on the Amazons and eventually defeat them, but still she won’t give up the secret. So Eris puts her in a coma and traps her in nightmares until she complies.

Man, no wonder she doesn’t hang out with her family. They’re jerks.

Ares shows up to try to get Diana to convince her mother to give it up, but no dice. They’ll defy him to the end. Ching pipes in some common comic-book science—that even though Ares is a god, he gains power from worship, and nobody’s believed in him for a long time. It would be different if he made his way to earth, of course, but for now he’s far from full strength and might be beaten. And do the Amazons feel up to that?  Hera yes, they do, and despite being human now, Diana leads them into battle. Apparently, whatever made her give up her powers when the Amazons left, they don’t automatically kick in when she’s back among them or anything like that.

More crying? Sheesh!

OK, I take back what I said about Deimos and Phobos a little bit. They don’t do anything in this story directly, but they do send their Beast Men to attack the Amazons, who honestly look like a motley assortment of low-level D&D antagonists but apparently strike terror into the heart of anyone who beholds them.

The horror! The horror!

The Amazons hold their own, but their prospects look bleak. What’ll Diana pull out of her, um, bag of tricks to win this one? Only the craziest plan ever. But that comes in the next issue, so let’s just hop on over to that one.

That little dude is badass.

Wonder Woman #184, DC Comics, October 1969.

So what’s Diana’s plan? Well, inspired by a completely random comment from Ching about this being when the cavalry would come a-running in a Western, it dawns on Diana that she has to go for help.  And from whom?  Her teammates in the Justice League of America, maybe?  No way. Her sister Donna, or any of her many other allies from past stories?  Nuh-uh. Her patron deities from the Greek pantheon? Nope. How about a random assortment of heroes from legend? King Arthur, Siegfried, Roland, El Cid, that sort of thing? But of course! They’ll help because, you know, they’re heroes.

Um, what?

Never mind that they’re from different cultures, different times from each other, and never mind that Diana’s never met them and they have no attachment to this fight. Apparently they all exist on “other dimensional worlds,” and because Diana has access to the secret of dimensional travel that Ares has been after, she can go after them. You’d think that Ares might have someone spying on them just in case they revealed that secret, like they’re totally doing right now, but fortunately nobody seems to have thought of that.

That’s not the only outrageously lucky break Diana has on her incredibly random mission to go round up these strangers to save the day. Her first stop is Camelot, which just happens to be having a tournament that’s attracted a lot of the other heroes she’s looking for from their home dimensions. That’s the good news. The bad news is, they’re a bunch of jerks, and they pretty much tell her to fuck off. In fact, Siegfried is such a jerk about it that they get into a full-on brawl.

When men were men, and heroes were dicks.

Only one hero agrees to help her, and it’s Brunhilde, who has quite a history with Siegfried herself, and she brings her Valkyries along.  So now it’s the Amazons and the Valkyries teamed up, which is a pretty cool thing, even if Diana still has a pretty defeatist attitude about their chances without the menfolk.

Wait, what the hell is Diana about to do to her mom?

Interestingly, this is about a year before Marvel’s Valkyrie debuted, and more than three years before the familiar Brunnhilde version showed up as a member of the Defenders.

Now, THERE’s a team-up I’d like to see.

In any case, it’s funny that the only way to deal with the god of war is to go to war with him, which seems like exactly what you don’t want to do. And it’s funny too that in order to defeat war, Diana has to try to convince a bunch of guys who are sick of fighting and have decided there’s no point in it to fight once more. Somehow the idea that the only way to defeat the god of war is through superior forces doesn’t seem like the right message at all, but I guess Wondy’s “stop a war with love” TV theme was still a few years away. And honestly, I would have been perfectly happy to keep it as a “sisters are doing it for themselves” story without all the fixation on whether the menfolk are going to pull their heads out of their asses and come save the day. But, you know, it is what it is.

So, do they come a-running?  Well, what do you think?  The point is, the good gals win, and Ares is duly impressed and buzzes off to fight another day. What’s interesting is that once the day is won and Paradise Island is rebuilt, Diana takes off back to earth and her new mentor Ching… doesn’t. He decides he’s going to stick around with the Amazons for a while and pick up some of that sweet, sweet ancient knowledge. And this apparently being a rare period where no one cares if there are men on Paradise Island or not, everyone’s cool with that. Never mind that he and Diana are supposed to be saving the world from Dr. Cyber right about now; I think we’re all pretty tired of that by now. Still, you’d think they’d at least mention it for continuity’s sake, but nah, they have all the time in the world.

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