On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Wonder Woman #600, DC Comics, August 2010.
Yeah, the last issue was 44, and this one’s 600. That’s because this is the third series of Wonder Woman, and someone at DC Comics was keeping track enough to notice that if they hadn’t done all those reboots and just kept the series continuous (they way they had with Superman in Action Comics and Batman in Detective Comics), this would have been the 600th issue. So what the heck, they decides to make it official, and kept the new/original numbering through the end of the series. Mind you, the end wasn’t far away—just 14 issues of a single story arc later—whereupon the whole DC Universe was rebooted again and all its series relaunched from issue 1, even grandpas Action and Detective. But that comes later. As for now, how better to celebrate 600 sorta-consecutive issues of Wonder Woman than yet another character reboot?
This issue quickly became notorious for introducing J. Michael Straczysnki’s all-new Wonder Woman, an amnesiac street-level vigilante who grew up on the mean streets of New York instead of the island paradise (one might even say the Paradise Island) Themyscira. And the thing is, this wasn’t someone new taking over the role of Wonder Woman—this was the new status quo for Diana herself. Pictures of her new costume by DC’s new copublisher Jim Lee flooded the media, and they seemed really, really… dated. Lee was one of the artists that came to define the artistic excesses of the 1990s, with his rise to popularity on X-Men; his cofounding of Image Comics, where he created WildC.A.T.S. and Stormwatch (now owned by DC); and his return to Marvel with the forever infamous Heroes Reborn, in which several of Marvel’s hottest properties were taken over entirely by the Image crew for a year.
Lee’s fashion sense seems to still be very stuck in the 1990s, because his Wonder Woman looks very much like some junior recruit for the X-Men. She’s got a too-small biker jacket reminiscent of one of her own most notorious costumes from the 1990s, black stretch pants, a choker, and some kind of weird fingerless gauntlets that leave W-shaped scars on the people she punches. There are some small nods to her classic iconography: the tiara, the small “W” along the top of her bodice, the stars on the shoulder of her jacket. Her later “New 52” costume that she’s wearing in the current comics, also designed by Lee, would be a hybrid of this reinvented version and her classic look.
But this issue is made up of a lot of small, distinct parts, short stories and a whole lot of pinups from Adam Hughes, Nicola Scott, Ivan Reis, Guillem March, Greg Horn, Francis Manapul, Jock, Shane Davis and Phil Jimenez—all of them focusing more on how badass and inspiring Wonder Woman is than, say, how curvaceous she is. Jimenez’s is particularly interesting, a two-page spread featuring most of the supporting cast and significant adversaries from last 20-odd years of the series.
The issue opens with a short essay by Lynda Carter, the TV Wonder Woman of the 1970s, about what an inspiration the heroine was to her when she was growing up, just as Wonder Woman would be to kids of my generation as embodied by Carter herself.
Most of the stories feature Wonder Woman teaming up with other heroes. The first one is created by the dream team of Gail Simone and George Perez—Simone being then the most recent writer of the series and still the only woman writer to written Wonder Woman for any significant stretch of time, and Perez being the guy who reinvented Wonder Woman in the 1980s, after the mammoth reboot of Crisis on Infinite Earths (for which he was also the artist).
This one takes on a recurring theme in Wonder Woman over the years, having Wondy lead an army of assorted superheroines in battle—no men allowed (as also happened in Wonder Woman vol. 1 #293 and vol 2 #175). This time the group is almost entirely made up of newer heroines who weren’t even around the last time this happened: Miss Martian, Batwoman, Bulleteer, Misfit, Black Alice, Cyclone, Grace, Stargirl, Ravager, Lightning, Skyrocket, and the new Batgirl, Manhunter, Supergirl, Terra, Question, Dove, and Judomaster. Nobody does group scenes like Perez, so just seeing them all leaping into battle together is stunning.
They have to take out some robot sirens created by Professor Ivo that paralyze all the men with desire, so the women have to whup their asses. Apparently the effect only works on men, not on women who happen to swing that way, which is pretty convenient for this particular group. It’s mostly just a whole lot of kicking ass, but it also captures what a huge inspiration Diana is for pretty much every other superheroine out there, and how starstruck the newbies are around her.
But Wondy has to run off to attend the graduation of Vanessa Kapatelis, Diana’s teenage pal from way back at the beginning of Perez’s run in the 1980s. Vanessa had been through some rough times since then, being made into the new Silver Swan and trying to kill Diana for abandoning her—and when last we saw her during Greg Rucka’s run, she was still hospitalized from her body rejecting the cybernetic implants that made her a supervillain, so it’s nice to see that she turned out okay.
It’s touching, too, as a fond farewell to the Wonder Woman that Perez reinvented, and to the classic version that she so closely resembles. Although we wouldn’t necessarily know it when this issue came out, this is the last we’d be seeing of the Wonder Woman we know and recognize for quite some time. JMS’s version introduced later in this issue wouldn’t last long, of course, but it would be followed immediately by another meant-to-be-temporary reinvention in the linewide event Flashpoint, which led directly into the New 52 reboot. That’s three all-new Wonder Women in just few years—or four reinventions if you include the “soft reboot” that started this series a few years before, reintroducing the Diana Prince identity. It’s no wonder DC has such a hard time selling Wonder Woman; they never even give her a chance to get her footing.
This is followed by a delightful story by Amanda Conner—not just drawn by Conner but also written by her, which is rare. Conner had been working on the Power Girl series with husband Jimmy Palmiotti and cowriter Justin Gray (and those first 12 issues before the creative team shifted are great and well worth picking up in trade paperbacks), and this story teams PG with Wonder Woman against Egg Fu, one of Wondy’s most notorious villains from the 1960s. He’s essentially a giant egg with a prehensile Fu Manchu mustache, and very much a “Yellow Peril” stereotype. DC had brought him back in the recent series 52, renamed Chang Tzu, although people still call him Egg Fu as an insult. Oh, and the Cassandra Cain Batgirl is helping too, I guess, though she mostly sticks to the background.
I can’t say enough great things about Conner’s artistic style, which combines a bit of cheesecake with a lighthearted, cartoony touch that makes it adorable. And her banter, it turns out, is fun and frothy too. I especially enjoy Power Girl trying, or rather avoiding, explaining to Wondy what tentacled manga monsters are all about. There’s also a great scene in which Diana helps PG better understand her tempestuous cat, an old favorite cast member from Giffen and DeMatteis’s Justice League Europe. It’s a wonderful little gem of a story. It’s a pity that, as far as I know, nothing from this issue has been reprinted or collected except for the JMS story at the end that starts his arc for the rest of the series.
Writer Louise Simonson and artist Eduardo Pansica contribute a corny and forgettable team-up with Superman against Nikos Aegeus, a very minor supervillain who’d only appeared a couple times before, circa 1983, and never post-Crisis. Basically he’s a Greek terrorist who happened to get hold of several powerful items of Greek myth, from the winged horse Pegasus to the thunderbolts of Zeus. Pegasus was last seen in the possession of Wondy herself in Rucka’s run, but never mind that. Never mind the whole thing.
Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins provide a story that isn’t even really a story; it’s just a little bridge to tie the preexisting Wonder Woman into JMS’s reinvented version. What’s weird about it is the need to establish that the new story begins at the exact moment that everything changed, whereas from the way it’s written we might think (and Diana certainly does think) that it’s been that way for a while.
At the start of JMS’s story, drawn by Don Kramer, she’s running through an alley, but how’d she get there? Answer: She ran into the alley. And she suddenly has a completely different costume, personality, powers and history—how did that happen? Answer: Presumably we’ll be exploring that some more later, but for now, there was a flash of light, and everything changed. Some guys are chasing her and shooting at her—what’s up with that? I dunno, but they were doing that to her when she was the real Wonder Woman just a minute ago, too. Add some portentous narration from unseen forces and a seeming cameo from her own teenage self, and voila! You have whatever the hell this is.
And finally, you have the debut of the scrappy all-new Wonder Woman, beating up a bunch of goons in suits in an alley. It’s unclear whether she even has any superpowers anymore, but she sure can fight. Oh, and she makes a big deal about not knowing anything. “I don’t know who I am. I know only what I’m told. I don’t know where I came from. I know only what I’m told.”
Diana apparently lives in the sewers with a bunch of Amazon refugees in burkas, and consults a blind oracle dressed as a hooker under a bridge, who tells her all about how Paradise Island was destroyed and Diana’s mother was killed by a mysterious cabal of evildoers 18 years ago, and how she and the surviving Amazons have been in hiding ever since.
The oracle lets us in on the secret we already know, that the world has been changed somehow and the Amazons are not what they were. The fact that this is acknowledged in the story itself gives us hope that Diana will somehow manage to restore things and find her way back to the way things were.
That, to me, shows the weakness of this story right off the bat. Nothing feels right about this new Wonder Woman, even to the people who created her. The goal of the story has to be to somehow get rid of this ridiculous new status quo and get back to the previous, better Wonder Woman. But in a way that was reassuring, to know that whatever silliness took place in this story, we’d surely get the real Wonder Woman back at the end. If we only knew that wasn’t what was going to happen at all.
The last five pages, oddly enough, don’t have anything to do with Wonder Woman. They’re just a sneak preview of a Lex Luthor story by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods in Action Comics, which is interesting enough and does pique curiosity about the series, but it’s weirdly out of place in an anniversary issue. They really couldn’t keep the spotlight on Wonder Woman for the whole issue? It’s a weird way of celebrating her.