Everything Old Is New Again


All the world is waiting for…who?

On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments, including Greg Rucka’s run, the earliest 1940s comics, and the current “New 52” era. This is part two of a look at Allan Heinberg’s short 2007 run that reintroduced the “Diana Prince” secret identity that Wonder Woman hadn’t had since in the 1980s, and that this version of the character had never had. The first part is here

Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman?, DC Comics, 2009.

Mind you, Wonder Woman has not actually been in costume in the story yet.

Wonder Woman #3, DC Comics, October 2006.

When last we saw secret agent and thinly veiled secret identity Diana Prince, she was just about to turn into Wonder Woman despite having given up that role, ready to save her replacement and sorta-sister, Donna Troy, from the newly combined forces of old WW baddies Cheetah, Doctor Psycho, and Giganta. But she was tiara-blocked by none less than the Greek demigod and possibly reformed antagonist Hercules, saying this is man’s work.  Typical.

Leaping into the fray, Hercules single-handedly mops the floor with pretty much everybody. They all vanish, presumably through a trick of Doctor Psycho’s, so Herc can settle into everybody’s favorite pastime: guilt-tripping Diana. Calling her a sellout for abandoning her mission as the champion of the gods, he says they’ve sent him to replace her. Never mind that the gods abandoned her and this world at the end of the last series. Nobody ever said the gods weren’t massive hypocrites.

No, I’m pretty sure that would be copyright infringement.

To her credit, she points that out in her defense, but she also accepts Hercules’s guilt trip as her due, because apparently she’s Wimpery McPityparty now. Back at HQ, Diana Prince gives her colleagues—and the reader—a rundown on Herc’s history, his crimes and redemption. Tom decides they’d better check Herc out, so they go visit him at the Greek embassy in the middle of the night, only to find him changing painfully into a minotaur. And uh-oh, there are a whole lot of other beast-men around—including, suddenly, Tom—which is the familiar calling card of Circe. The Circe of The Odyssey, anyway; Wondy’s old foe has a much wider variety of tricks up her sleeve, but here she goes for the classics.

Can we get a fact-check on that claim?

And hey, she’s captured Cassie and Donna, too!  Have I mentioned yet that Donna is amazingly lousy at being Wonder Woman? And of course she’s the one who’s souped up all the other villains, because who else would it be?

And now even Circe gets in on the guilt trip, suddenly casting herself as the champion of wronged women that Diana was too busy fighting supervillains to be. Circe has fought Wonder Woman a lot over the years, more than anyone else in post-Crisis continuity except maybe Ares, and as far as I can recall this is the first time she’s brought that up. But it gives a handy excuse for the next plot twist: Circe steals Diana’s powers (and Cassie’s and Donna’s to boot) and appoints herself Wonder Woman! Oh no, Circe as Wonder Woman? How’s that going to work?  Well, let’s find out!

Snaky, snaky bondage!

Wonder Woman #4, DC Comics, November 2006.

Well, Circe’s efficient, I’ll give her that.  In her first 12 hours as self-appointed Wonder Woman, we’re told she’s freed over 2,000 women from sex trafficking on three continents “and murdered every man who stood in her way.” In fact we see her busting up a den of iniquity in San Jose. Bay Area represent! It’s nice that she’s tackling the social issues, but if this is in any way on the level, Circe is bizarrely miscast, because she’s never been shown to give a rat’s ass about her fellow womankind before.

I love that the W logo on her bodice is a dragon.

Diana has a powwow with her fellow ex-Wonders and with the Justice Society—or rather with all the ladies of the JSA, plus Doctor Mid-Nite—and they suggest getting everyone together and attacking Circe, which Diana says would be a fool’s errand. It’s a trap! The meeting ends with Cassie storming off as usual, saying she’ll do anything she wants, and Donna saying hey, good meeting, but we’re still totally going to get everyone together and attack Circe.

Although there’s really no reason for her to stick with the secret identity in heroic company, Diana does lots of foxy smirking in glasses, and Dodson takes advantage of the meeting, and Diana’s jumpsuit, to draw a whole lot of butts. Neither thing is particularly intrusive—nor unpleasant, though there are a few weird poses in there—but after a while you begin to notice.

Gluteus mythicus!

Diana teams up with Hercules to stop Circe, whom he says has stolen her powers too. They go to Aeaea, Circe’s mythical home, armed with the herb moly to protect them from her spells. (Holy moly!) Apparently Heinberg likes to keep it old-school with the Circe references, because most of that’s straight out of The Odyssey. Diana gets to be badass without her powers, tackling Circe with a jetpack and riding a dragon.

Riding a dragon. You know, like you do.

She’s also come up with a clever way to get her powers back. She can’t force Circe to do it, but she can force Circe to tell her the magic word it would take to break the spell—and in so doing, to break the spell. Of course, that would never work if it wasn’t just a matter of a magic word, but it is, so don’t worry about it.

Magic is complicated.

There’s a little more treachery—Hercules tries to get all the power for himself—but Diana manages to outwit him and get her powers back, finally turning into Wonder Woman for the first time in this series. (She uses that whirling transformation from the TV series, because nostalgia is king here.)  And just in time, too, because a zillion old enemies are massed outside to whup her Amazon behind.

Princess Diana of Themyscira. Amazon ambassador to Man’s World. Not Diana Prince. Not a golem.

Wonder Woman Annual #1, DC Comics, 2007.

No sooner has she kinda-sorta defeated Circe and Hercules—both of whom are back to their formidable normal power levels, which is a far cry from actually defeated—than Wonder Woman is confronted with a massive army of largely forgotten foes that demonstrates that her rogue’s gallery was never all that impressive. Aside from the big guns—Giganta (1944, revived 1997), Cheetah (1943, this version 1987), and Doctor Psycho (1943, revived 1991)—there’s Queen Clea (1942, revived 2002), Gundra the Valkyrie (1946), Osira (1977), the Mask (1947), Kung the Assassin (1977), the Duke of Deception (1942), Angle Man (1954, revived 1999, though he’s dressed like the 1970s pre-Crisis version), Silver Swan (1982, revived 1988, and the one shown isn’t even the most recent version), Doctor Cyber (1968, revived 2002), Minister Blizzard (1948), Doctor Poison (1942, revived 1999). Somewhere out there, Paula von Gunther and Egg Fu are feeling awfully left out.

Well, I’m convinced. These are clearly the good guys.

Several of these villains are making their first post-Crisis appearance in this fight scene—a couple of them (Gundra, the Duke of Deception) despite the fact that they’d already been replaced in the new continuity by similar characters (Gudra, Phobos). Now, this could be explained away by saying that reality was altered by Infinite Crisis and some elements of Wonder Woman’s pre-Crisis history were merged into the post-Crisis version. That’s certainly the explanation given in Phil Jiminez and John Wells’s The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia. A simpler explanation, to my mind, is that Heinberg is just indulging his nostalgia without regard to established continuity. Just get ’em all in there!

Somehow Circe’s banded them all together to—dare I say it?—rule the world! But just, you know, in order to save it, because they care about all those little people who are making a mess of things all over themselves.  Not that they’ve ever cared about stuff like that before, but dang it, it makes for some convenient rhetoric, and there’s no room for such a big mass of villains to have anything like individual motivations that you might have to make sense of. Really, as far as their psychology, they might as well all be illusionary constructs created by Doctor Psycho. Which, come to think of it, may be the simplest explanation for the fact that many of them shouldn’t even exist.

Also, they complete each other’s sentences. Always a good sign.

Despite all the Z-listers there are some heavy hitters in the mix, even with Herc and Circe apparently content to stand back and watch, so Diana is soon overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers.  But not for long!  Donna Troy comes to the rescue with pretty much the whole extended JLA and JSA, with some Titans for good measure—and Nemesis, for some reason. Rather than her Wonder Woman costume, or any recent outfit for that matter, she’s wearing the Wonder Girl costume that she hasn’t worn since 1989. Because, you know, nostalgia. (I know I’m saying that particular n-word way too many times here, but it really does seem to be the only explanation for a lot of what happens in Heinberg’s Wonder Woman.)

The gang’s all here!

They make short work of Wondy’s rogues’ gallery, because, as I may have mentioned, they’re really not all that impressive—and Diana is left with weirdly little to do in the fight. Even Batman takes out the Cheetah relatively easily, which really should not be able to happen, because she’s given the Flash a workout even before Circe’s power-up.

Superman vs. Minister Blizzard. That’s just not fair.

Maybe because she felt so left out of the big battle, Wondy declares that she need to fight Circe and Hercules alone. That’s got to be just an ego thing, though, because when you’ve got a small army of heroes to quickly subdue them, why not take advantage of it?  She arrives to find them fighting among themselves and joins the fun, laying into Herc just as he’s about to try to kill Circe.

She’s got a point there. Nobody minds when she kills the mythical beasties.

Hercules continues to be more and more of a sneering pig, offering Diana a chance to rule by his side in one panel and threatening to rape her in the next. Classy! Just as Diana is threatening to kill Herc for the third time in a few pages, Circe steps in to offer him eternal torment instead, which is nice of her. Diana essentially lets Circe go scot free because she meant well (when has she ever meant well?) and because she says that her eternal life is already a torment because she sold her soul to get it. Ummm, okay, I guess I’ll let you go if you promise to be really emo about it.

Anyway, they bond.  In the course of it, Wonder Woman says that she’s not even a real person, that she’s a golem, made out of clay.  That’s sorta kinda true about being sculpted out of clay, but she’s not clay now. She was made into a real person when she was brought to life, and she’s certainly never had this kind of angst about it before. This smacks of the writer trying to make a clever connection and profoundly missing the point in the process.

Wondy Wondy Wondy! I made you out of clay!

Diana soon learns that Circe left her with a parting gift. Because Wondy was moaning about how much she wanted to be human all of a sudden, Circe made her human, at least when she’s out of costume.

The Blue Fairy made me a real boy!

So now she really is plain ol’ Diana Prince—an identity, let’s remember, that she was assigned by Superman and Batman—until she does the TV spinny thing and turns into Wonder Woman. So in her quest to find herself, she finds that she’s whoever Batman, Superman, and Circe want her to be. That’s a moral I think we all can get behind.

There’s a backup feature in this annual, written by Heinberg with art by Gary Frank. “Backstory” is exactly what it says on the tin; it’s basically explaining who the heck all the characters are in a page or two apiece, framed as a gossipy conversation between Nemesis and Diana Prince, and then between him and Wonder Woman, with a big crazy battle with mythical beasties tossed in to give Frank something cool to draw.

Freaky smile!

Frank’s art always freaks me out, especially because people often have crazy eyes that make even happy expressions make grotesquely sinister. His Nemesis, for some reason, looks exactly like Brad Pitt.

OK, this part was cute. Tom’s not too bright for a superspy.

There’s a little bit of flirty talk here between Nemesis and Wonder Woman, setting him up as a possible romantic interest, which seems like a pretty bad fit. I mean, I’m not a proponent of the current matchup with Superman for any number of reasons, and I don’t think she needs to be paired romantically with another superhero at all, but she seems way out of Tom’s league. And with him set up as her superior officer, it’s all faintly reminiscent of Golden Age Wonder Woman’s early relationship with Steve Trevor, complete with the belittling of Diana Prince and comparing her unfavorably with Wonder Woman.

And there ends the Heinberg run, setting up a new status quo out of the flotsam and jetsam of eras past: the depowered white-suited Diana of the mod era, the twirling transformation of the TV show, and the weird quasi-rivalry between Wonder Woman and her alias Diana Prince. I’m fond of all of these eras, but the sudden throwback to them is needless and not really well thought through. One of the great strengths of post-Crisis Diana was that she didn’t need a secret identity, so bringing it all back in feels like a great leap backward, and this thing of making her powerless in her civilian guise, like Billy Batson or Donald Blake, is something that’s never been the case before with Wonder Woman and feels like a demotion. And setting her up with Nemesis looks like a terrible, terrible idea. I’ve always liked him in the past, but he’s a bit of jerk in this series so far.

But the real test of this new status quo is what subsequent writers will do with it. So I guess we’ll just have to see what happened next time. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

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