Where I Came In


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

I wouldn’t have considered myself a Wonder Woman fan when I was a kid. I liked her well enough, and the 1970s TV series starring Lynda Carter had a lot to do with developing my adolescent ideal of womanhood, but I was much more into Green Lantern, Batman or the Flash than Wonder Woman. Still, I knew her pretty well. She was a regular star of Super Friends, both the TV cartoon and the comic-book series it spawned, and in Justice League of America, and she teamed up fairly regularly with other favorite heroes. But I wasn’t a regular reader of her own comic, so when I think about what my first Wonder Woman comic was, it’s pretty easy to remember. Almost.

When I was a kid, I always usually my allowance on comics, but I couldn’t afford many at a whopping 40 cents a pop. (Nowadays they tend to be priced at $3.99 an issue.) So I quickly learned to love the 3-packs of comics available for $1.09 on rotating racks in the local 7-11. They were packaged by Whitman Comics and had the Whitman logo superimposed over the familiar DC “bullet.” I’m sure I bought my first issue of Wonder Woman in that context, when I was seven years old.

I was always a sucker for a bargain.

Some of these packs would actually collect three issues of a single series, but others would mix up a sampler of different superhero series. Although I suppose it’s possible that I bought a three-pack of Wonder Woman comics, it’s more likely that I was drawn to the two other comics in the bag.  I was particularly drawn to any of the team-up series: Superman teaming up with various characters in DC Comics Presents, Batman doing the same in Brave & the Bold, and of course the classic super-team Justice League of America. My favorite hero at the time was Green Lantern, but I also read The Flash and Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. In fact, looking at the stuff that was cover-dated December 1978 (and would have come out a few months before that), I know I bought at least half of those comics: Action Comics #490, Brave & the Bold #145, DC Comics Presents #4, Flash #268, Green Lantern/Green Arrow #111, Justice League #161, Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes #246, and of course Wonder Woman #250. Same with the following month, and most of not all of them were purchased in those Whitman packs. And I don’t actually know that the bags were necessarily clustered by month of publication in any case. I do have a strong association between my first Wonder Woman comic and DC Comics Presents #4, featuring Superman and the Metal Men, so that may have been in the mix, but I can’t say for sure.

The first Wonder Woman comic I ever bought was either Wonder Woman #250 or 251. It was a two-part story, and I remember feeling a huge amount of suspense that made me feel I had to track down the other half of the story as soon as possible. But I don’t remember now whether I first read the last half and had to know they into the mess to begin with, or whether I picked up the first half and had to find out how they’d get out of it. I go back and forth about which one was actually my first, but the cover of WW #250 is hugely iconic for me, whether it’s because it came first or because I worked so hard to track it down. I suspect the latter—that 251 was actually my first issue—but as I say, I go back and forth on that.

Two-part stories weren’t all that uncommon at the time, but they were the exception rather than the rule when most comics were done-in-one. It’s strange to think about that now, when it routinely takes at least six to twelve issues to tell a single story. This one seemed like a big deal at the time because it involved Princess Diana being officially replaced as Wonder Woman by another Amazon, Orana.

And that was the last we ever heard of lame old Diana. Orana forever!

Wonder Woman #250, DC Comics, December 1978.

As it turns out, this story was a perfect jumping-on point for a new reader. A bunch of confusing stuff had been happening in the comic: for a while it was telling stories about the Wonder Woman of Earth-2 set in the 1940s, and back on Earth-1 in the present day there was a whole thing about Steve Trevor brought back from the dead with a new name and hair color, only to die yet again. But you don’t need to know any of that to appreciate this story, which starts off fresh with a new Wonder Woman.

Written by Jack C. Harris in the middle of his modest 13-issue run, it’s billed on the first page as a “250th anniversary special” which seems kind of cheeky for a 250th issue. I mean, it’s not exactly 250 years we’re talking about. Heck, at that point Wonder Woman had only been around 30-odd years. Considering that she turned 70 a couple years ago, that’s crazy for me to think about now. When I started reading Wonder Woman (and Superman, and Batman), the characters were younger than I am now.

Diana is summoned back to Paradise Island by her mother, Queen Hippolyte, because someone’s challenged her for the right to be Wonder Woman. Under the laws laid down by the Olympian gods, that means that there has to be a new tournament to determine who gets to be Wonder Woman, just like the one that Diana won to take that mantle in the first place.

The challenger is Orana, a hotheaded, arrogant redhead who competes ruthlessly to take up the tiara. I’d love to know if artist Jose Delbo had anyone in particular in mind as a visual reference for Orana. Ann-Margret, maybe?

I love that this ancient Greek civilization just has giant sci-fi tanks lying around.

Diana knows that Hippolyte is conflicted about Diana staying Wonder Woman, because she’d prefer to have her daughter with her on Paradise Island, but she knows she’s made a life for herself in the outside world and is awfully good at this hero business.

Orana’s awfully confident, charging her way through the challenges with not much finesse but a lot of brute force. Between trials she talks a lot of trash about how the princess isn’t “a true warrior.” Diana keeps veering off to save other Amazons who seem to be in deadly danger while Orana basically doesn’t give a crap. There are other Amazons in the competition, but none of them count, and we don’t even bother to learn their names.

I kinda like Orana. She’s cocky but hardcore.

The challenges are themed around earth, water, air and fire. Earth is just a straightforward brawl with each other; water is trying to survive in the ocean while Neptune sics his sea creatures on them; air is trying to stay aloft, gliding on air currents, while being attacked by a roc; but fire is just weird. It involves going up into space, just outside the earth’s atmosphere in one of the Amazons’ giant spaceships—because, you know, they have those—and hop from meteor to meteor to stay in space and avoid burning up on reentry. So if there’s any fire involved in the fire challenge, they’re doing it wrong.

You know how the ancient Greeks loved their giant space cruisers.

By this point it’s just Diana and Orana left, as everyone knew it would be. Orana tears her way across the meteors so powerfully that she’s kicking them down onto the earth too fast, and they’re wreaking havoc down below. It’s not clear how Wondy can see the damage done, seeing as how she’s on the edge of space, but anyway she does and has to focus on deflecting Orana’s meteors away from civilization.

The gods must be crazy!

To Hippolyte’s mind this heroism clearly makes Diana the winner, but the gods overrule her, saying that all this extra saving-people crap wasn’t part of the challenge, and Orana is the winner of the tournament. Cautioning her mother not to defy the gods, Diana accepts their judgment and turns her costume and lasso over to Orana. Contrary to later versions of Wonder Woman that tried to explain away the star-spangled panties to say that any resemblance between Amazon iconography and American patriotic gear is coincidental, Diana explains to her replacement, “Of all the nations in man’s world, we have found that the United States’ ideals most closely resemble those of the Amazons… and though they often need to be reminded of those ideals, your uniform is patterned after their sacred banner!”

And after all that, they’re STILL fighting.

Wonder Woman #251, DC Comics, January 1979.

Orana isn’t adjusting well. She has the costume, the lasso, the invisible plane, but she just doesn’t get any respect. Everybody thinks she’s a fake and are reluctant to do her bidding, and in her arrogance she doesn’t take the time to learn the customs of “man’s world”—like, for example, that the guys in blue uniforms are cops and are probably on her side.

Men! They all look alike.

Meanwhile, Diana defies the gods by going back to man’s world as well—not to reclaim her title, but just to go back to her life as Diana Prince. Of course, she doesn’t have her robot plane anymore, so she figures her best bet of getting home is to steal of one of those cool spaceships the Amazons have lying around. You’d think there would be some simpler way, but nope. Maybe those are the only aircraft that can safely make it out of the Bermuda Triangle, where this version of Paradise Island is located.

Well, that’s more or less how the Doctor got started.

Diana gets back home and into her Diana Prince duds just in time to be offered a new job with NASA. There’s a somewhat gratuitous changing scene that’s used as an excuse to say that without her magic lasso, she can’t just change clothes by passing it over herself like she usually does.  (She can only do that when she’s “attuned the atoms” of her clothes to the vibrations of her lasso. You know, because of SCIENCE!)

Now she has to put her pants on one leg at a time like anyone else.

Of course, Orana quickly shows up to confront Diana for breaking the gods’ law and for trying to steal her thunder, and Diana tells her to back the hell off because Orana may be Wonder Woman now but Diana still gets to be Diana Prince. But there’s no time to fight, because Warhead is on the loose!

Yes, Warhead. And no, there’s no reason you should know him, because, well, he looks like this:

Gentlemen! BEHOLD!

Warhead is a munitions expert who sells weapons to the highest bidder, but only after demonstrating their power by killing a whole lot of people. Or so we’re told; this is his only appearance, and it’s pretty easy to see why.

After a whole lot of squabbling, Orana finally accepts that Diana’s not just trying to punk her and goes to check it out. But she’s still pretty inexperienced, so Diana has to go save the day. I’d like to say that they learn to set aside their differences and fight side-by-side, but Orana doesn’t live long enough to make nice.

Alas, poor Orana.

This story would be retold in the 1990s when another rash redhead, Artemis, emerged as a rival and took over the mantle of Wonder Woman for a while. The difference is that while Artemis went on to become an ongoing character while Orana… didn’t. It’s a shame, because sure, she was pigheaded and overly aggressive, like Artemis, but sadly not as competent, and it proved a fatal flaw. Still, it made her more interesting than your run-of-the-mill heroine at a time when a lot of superheroes were pretty darned run-of-the-mill. She was the Guy Gardner of Wonder Women, and there just didn’t seem to be room for that. But if she’d stuck around a little longer, who knows? I might have become a regular WW reader way earlier than I eventually did.

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