On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Well, this is it—finally the end of the mod era of Wonder Woman of the late 1960s and early ’70s, as seen in Diana Prince: Wonder Woman vol. 4. The bold experiment of making the superpowered Amazon princess into a regular karate-chopping human fashionista detective draws to a close.
The Brave and the Bold #105, DC Comics, February 1973.
But first we get another episode of The Brave and the Bold by the often outlandish writer Bob Haney and the always outstanding artist Jim Aparo, again teaming the mod Wonder Woman with series star Batman. This time, however, Diana may as well not even be in the comic.
Batman’s billionaire alter ego Bruce Wayne gets suddenly caught up in the woes of a couple of refugees from San Sebastian, although whether that means the Spanish city or a fictional country is unclear. A beautiful young woman and her angry firebrand brother insist that their revolutionary father is being held prisoner, and only he knows the location of a great treasure. Bruce recognizes this as the centuries-old Spanish Prisoner scam, which survives to this day as the Nigerian email scam, and he resolves to play along to catch the con artists.
So what does Wonder Woman have to do with all this? Well, Diana is walking through Gotham’s barrio on a mission from Batman when her Amazon guardian angel appears, warning her to watch her back. What the hell is an Amazon guardian angel, you may ask. Well, beats me, as we’ve never seen such a thing before or since. Bob Haney doesn’t have time to research that kind of crap.
Diana’s going undercover as a chaperone for Conchita, the young woman Batman’s sure is a con artist, getting herself hired despite using her real name and despite the fact that they’re not even looking to hire anyone.
Amazingly, it turns out that this scenario that’s exactly like the Spanish Prisoner scam isn’t a scam at all—there’s really a prisoner, really a treasure, and really horrible goons to pay off. And both Diana and Batman get knocked out by the goons—in separate places, and Batman gets held prisoner himself. As for Diana, well, what happens with her is weirder. She just gets left out in the road where she fell, and is about to get run over when she’s rescued by…her Amazon guardian angel! More amazingly still, this isn’t even discussed. It’s just something that happens, and we don’t give it a second thought.
Diana doesn’t do much overall, but she does find Batman and free him, picking the lock with a bobby pin because she’s a lady. And she contributes to the final fight a little bit, even diving through a porthole to kick a gun out of someone’s hand.
“It’s good I keep a porthole-trim figure—not an Amazon’s!” she says after the latter stunt. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Forget it, dear reader—it’s Haneytown.
Wonder Woman #203, DC Comics, December 1972.
When last we checked in with the mod Wonder Woman, acclaimed and epically bearded science fiction author Samuel R. Delany had just taken over writing the book with an odd adventure involving Catwoman (who was not particularly ubiquitous at the time, hard as that is to believe today) and Fritz Leiber’s sword-and-sorcery heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Now Delany brings Diana back to the gritty city where she comes face to face with…the feminists!
It starts right away with Diana getting hassled on the street by a bunch of guys just for being a woman walking down the street. It’s an effective and important point, made a little less effective by some heavy-handed narration involving a lot of, “What would you do?”
Diana tells the guys off, but another young woman doesn’t leave it at that, springing out of an alley to rumble with the hoodlums. The newcomer, Cathy Perkins, gets her ass handed to her pretty readily with her three months of karate, but Diana drives the guys off easily, because she’s known karate for even more months (and she’s kinda snooty about it)
Diana happens to mention that she doesn’t have a place to live anymore, so Cathy invites her to crash at her pad. Cathy’s a social worker who’s very involved in the women’s lib movement, and they tut-tut about the woman being loudly harangued by her dominating husband upstairs.
Diana also doesn’t have a job anymore, having sold her mod fashion shop, and lo and behold, the guy who was the most aggressive in harassing her shows up at Cathy’s doorstep, all nicey-nice, to say she’s wanted for a job at Grandee’s Department Store.
Mr. Grandee wants her to act as a kind of mascot for the store, using her name recognition to associate the store with the new liberated woman. He’s pretty clearly just in it for the publicity, but he’s offering Diana big bucks, and weirdly enough she seems inclined to go for it.
Of course, Grandee doesn’t actually give a good goddamn about the liberated woman, and in fact he’s exploiting all the women who work in his store, paying them below minimum wage. And more weirdly still, Diana is still inclined to take the job. Not as some sort of sting operation, but just because the money’s good and she doesn’t give a crap about the exploitation—or about women, really. Diana, you’ve changed, man.
Fortunately, Cathy yelling at her for a couple of pages puts Diana’s head straight, and she finally shakes the dollar signs out of her eyes long enough to realize Grandee’s up to no good. She even joins Cathy’s women’s lib group, or at least goes to a session and meets everyone. Good thing she does, too, because Grandee’s sick of them causing trouble and sends a bunch of goons to break the meeting up.
Diana and friends fight them off, but the goons abduct Cathy, and Diana has to go rescue her with a couple other members of the group, a karate teacher and a dog trainer. Not only do they rescue Cathy, but Diana manages to shut Grandee down entirely, because of course he’s breaking all kinds of safety laws as well. So far so good, right? Well, you’d think so. But just as they’re patting themselves on the back at their next meeting, the group is confronted with a whole lot of angry poor women who lost their jobs now that the department store is closed. What about them, Ms. Smarty Pants? Hmm?
It ends on a kind of social-justice cliffhanger, with Diana wondering what she can possibly do to set this right. Well, she’ll just have to keep wondering, because this story is not to be continued after all. Because the grand experiment of Diana Prince as just a mod woman in the world was about to come to a hasty end.
Wonder Woman #204, DC Comics, February 1973.
Delany was reportedly supposed to write a six-issue arc on Wonder Woman, that would tackle such meaty issues as a struggle over an abortion clinic, but that was cut short abruptly when DC decided to go back to the traditional superpowered Wonder Woman. The change was supposedly because Gloria Steinem had criticized the fact that the feminist icon that she’d featured on the very first cover of Ms. magazine had been made less powerful. The timing on this was a little unfortunate, as Delany was just starting to get into some actual feminist subjects, but it was time to draw all that to a close.
Robert Kanigher was the guy who had written Wonder Woman for more than 20 years before DC decided to take her into another direction with the mod era, the guy who’d taken over from William Moulton Marston himself when the Wonder Woman creator died. And when DC gave him the chance to restore the status quo, he went all out with a scorched earth policy. The first thing that happens in this issue is that a woman’s magazine editor named Dottie Cottonman is assassinated by a sniper, a pretty clear and pretty messed-up reference to Dorothy Woolfolk, who’d edited Wonder Woman for a while during the mod era (and who is credited with coming up with the idea for Kryptonite in an earlier stint at DC).
The sniper then kills a few more random victims before gunning down I Ching, Diana’s aphorism-spouting martial arts mentor, who really defined this whole era in the comic. Diana quickly puts a stop to the crazy assassin’s killing spree, but in the process she hits her head so that she doesn’t even remember I Ching—or anything else, for that matter. All she knows is that she has to get back…somewhere.
That somewhere, of course, is Paradise Island, and in a daze Diana steals a military fighter plane, which of course is pursued and shot down. But Diana survives, plunging into shark-infested waters. There she’s fished out by…her sisters the Amazons, of course! Ever technologically advanced despite their ancient ways, the Amazons plug her into a machine that will newly embed her memories and those of the Amazon people, except Hippolyta has them leave out a few chapters that are her little secret. What could they be? This being an era not known for its long, drawn-out plot lines (unlike today), I imagine it won’t be long before we find out.
I might mention at this point that as sudden as all this is, it’s not much more abrupt than what happened at the start of the mod era, when the Amazons were conveniently disposed of, Diana gave up her powers and her military job, and Steve Trevor was gunned down almost offhandedly.
Anyway, we get a whole recap of how the Amazons came to shun the world of men and Diana’s origin of being sculpted from clay by her mother and then being brought to life by the gods. Between the sculpting and the vivifying there’s that conspicuous missing chapter, lest we forget about it, and a curiously plural reference to Hippolyta’s statues: “They’re beautiful, Athena! If only they were alive!” Also the goddess Aphrodite answers that prayer but looks exactly like the goddess the queen was just talking to, but that’s probably just a continuity mistake by Kanigher and artists Don Heck and Dick Giordano.
No sooner does Diana regain her memory, her costume and her Amazon identity—and seemingly her superpowers along with them, although that’s not really discussed—than she’s challenged for the title of Wonder Woman by a mysterious armored warrior. As usual, that means they have to have a tournament to settle the matter, and it comes out a draw! Who is this mighty warrior? Why, it’s the first black Amazon we’ve ever seen, called (sigh) Nubia, from a mysterious Floating Island hidden in the mists.
But wait! This stranger seems awfully familiar to Hippolyta. Could this have something to do with that missing chapter? Something to do with sculpted babies, perhaps? Cooooould beeeee.
No time to hang out here, though! Diana has to get back to Man’s World, abandoning the mod look for her former mousy attire, and quickly gets a job at the UN as a guide, seeing as how she speaks every language on earth. Hilariously, she’s referred to as a “plain jane” simply because she wears glasses, even though she’s clearly a statuesque beauty. But, you know, glasses! Ewww! “I feel like I’ve been reborn!” Diana says. “I wonder what’s going to happen to me — the second time around?” My guess is, whatever it is, it’ll be a lot like the first time around.