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A (Perhaps) Unnecessary Guide to Diana Prince

I wrote this one in June of 2006 (and I had written a similar piece on another site in April of 2005), so you know I am super pleased to announce that DC is, in fact, releasing a trade collection of this Wonder Woman run in February 2008. Awesome.

The events of Wonder Woman #1 are steeped in nostalgia, and there is a chance that a small portion of the comic book readership is not steeped in late 60s/early 70s comic book stories (I know, I know, with the current comic book audience, it’s only a small chance), so I figured it’d be nice for a little refresher on what I think is one of the coolest eras in Wonder Woman history, one which I feel quite lucky enough to have read (there really, really, REALLY should be a trade collecting these issues).

With no further ado, let’s get down to the tale of Diana Prince – the NEW Wonder Woman!

In late 1968, editor/artist Mike Sekowsky totally revamped the Wonder Woman comic (along with Denny O’Neill on scripts and Dick Giordano on inks).

Here is the cover of the first issue…

I love it – so bold.

The basic idea is that Wonder Woman gives up her powers when the Amazons leave this dimension, so she must become “Diana Prince.”

Check it out, they really were not messing around. This was a major step. As seen by the next issue’s cover.

In #180, we meet I-Ching, a blind former monk who trains Diana as a martial artist.

In the same issue, Steve Trevor is killed off!! In fact, Sekowsky was quite upfront about his reasons for killing off Trevor,

Steve Trevor was dull and boring and I didn’t like him much so I disposed of him.

I don’t really AGREE per se, but I gotta admire his honesty.

Sekowksy continued his run on Wonder Woman for the next two plus years (the book was bi-monthly at the time), and had Diana open up a dress shop as her home base while going on many exciting missions with I-Ching.

Over the run, her outfits changed…

Check out Diana with the machine gun!

Sadly, though, after a weird “women’s lib” issue (Sekowksy had left the book by this time), DC basically just abruptly ended this era in Wonder Woman’s history. The change is as abrupt as the difference between these two covers (the first one probably has the closest outfit to the one Diana is wearing in the current Wonder Woman comic)…

Pretty big change, eh? But not as big of a change as what the STORY had in store for followers of Diana and I-Ching.

New writer Robert Kanigher, in his debut issue, had I-Ching murdered, with Wonder Woman having a case of amnesia while trying to avenge him. When the Amazons returned her memories (and her powers), they just decided to leave out out her memories of her experiences as just plain “Diana Prince.”

HARSH.

Still, the run exists as a daring example of forward thinking in comics!

As Sekowsky so bluntly put it,

The old Wonder Woman was dropped because the sales on the old WW were so bad that the book was going to be dropped. The new Wonder Woman was given a chance — (a last chance for the book) and it worked!… Super characters… aren’t doing too well with today’s readers — and it’s to today’s readers that we must cater to, not to a bunch of old fuddy duddys who only look back… As for my hollering about WW’s sales, I can honestly say that I am quite pleased to have taken a sow’s ear and turned it into a silk purse…. I personally feel that too many of DC’s stories are still being written and plotted for the year 1940 instead of 1970….

Well put, eh?

I got the Sekowsky quotes from an amazing piece on the Diana Prince run by Carol Strickland, where she goes into a LOT more detail than I did. In fact, I may as well have just linked you to her piece from the beginning, as she really does a good job, but what fun would THAT be? Check it out here.

31 Comments

FunkyGreenJerusalem

June 15, 2006 at 6:19 am

Man, that’s a hilarious!

“Special Womenis Lib Issue” with a picture of a girl bound and gagged on the cover!

I’m suprised CSBG got to this before ‘What Were They Thinking?’ did.

Can anyone give me a quick recap on what the deal with the ‘One Year Later’ WW is?
Some of us live by the trade and really want to know which titles to check out when they are released.
(only certains so far for me are Blue Beetle, Batman and Hawkgirl… maybe Manhunter, but I need to see the 2nd trade before I commit to any more of that).

“I-Ching” may be the only comic book character name for a Chinese guy that is dumber than “Shang-Chi,” which is a homonym for Chinese Chess. We’re talking like “let’s create a Japanese superhero for Superfriends and then make him say fake Japanese” dumb. Was it an alias, like “Superman” or “Wonder Woman,” or was his name really supposed to be “I-Ching”?

Both may have been an amazingly cool characters and far ahead of their time, and both may have been created with the best of intentions. However, both of those names still trigger a half-gag, half-laugh reaction from me every damn time I see them.

Wonder Woman is another great test case for the whole Real Change vs. Illusion-of-change dynamic; the thing is that battle isn’t actually traditional fans vs. change-is-good fans. That one is change-is-good fans vs. the licensing department. Even traditionalists like myself are pretty indifferent to Wonder Woman, it seems; the Diana Prince as Emma Peel era was my favorite in the book’s history, lame names and all. And I am pretty sure that Wonder Woman only ever gets a sales bump when someone comes in and revamps her whole premise, like George Perez or John Byrne or Phil Jiminez or Greg Rucka now this new guy. Those are the only times Diana is interesting in her own book.

Where Wonder Woman works best is in the JLA. That’s the only place she can be interesting AS the swimsuited Amazon warrior, because she has a bunch of other superheroes to play off of. On her own, she has all of Superman’s inherent story problems (too much power to make plotting come easy) and none of the charm of his secret identity or supporting cast to pick up the slack. Jiminez’ big idea was to get her laid; Rucka’s was to have her become a killer. Compared to innovation like that I’d take Emma Peel any day and just pray that another TV deal doesn’t come along and force a back-to-basics license-driven reboot.

Thanks for this. I’m one of the few you mentioned who has never heard of her. I have to say I’m not a hundred percent sure of this new WW but things like this make it a bit easier to understand.

I give it a year before the “Women’s Lib” issue winds up on Superdickery.com; less, given Cathy’s two-breasted salute on the cover.

I ALWAYS assumed that I-Ching was an alias.

And… “Diana Prince, Action Hero” was really my first encounter with Wonder Woman, so I have something of an affection for this version of the character.

Thanks for that! I’ve only had a passing interest in the character over the past few years and the new WW #1 kind of left me puzzled. Thanks for putting the pieces together.

I certainly consider this version of WW among WW’s best – if not WW’s best.
in the for what its worth department. Jack Miller was the editor up to #182 – when Sekowsky took over the writing and editorship. Jack Miller was doing alot of good stuff at DC in the late 60s….

Look here for Carol Strickland’s utterly brilliant theory as to “I Ching’s” real name.

Poor Steve Trevor, he seems to be one of the most hated supporting characters in superhero comics. I can recall reading a character study by Alan Moore (which was technically about Rob Liefeld’s Glory but was largely on Wonder Woman) where he called the character “the most emasculated man in comics” or something to that effect. It’s like the idea of a straight military man who would be willingly subserviant to a strong woman is somehow offensive. I always thought the character and his relationship with Wonder Woman was a pretty funny gender-reversal spin on the typical superhero love interest stories of the time.

I don’t recall much on this era of the character, it was largely before my time and back issues of it seem hard to come by. The first issue of Wonder Woman I had ever read had her fighting some guy with a domino for a head. We need more guys with dominos for heads, Kinnikuman can’t fill the void all by itself!

I’ve never read any of these issues (I’ve barely read any Wonder Woman issues at all, and most of them were Messner-Loeb), but I still hold an immense fondness for them.

If I wrote Wonder Woman, you could probably expect my first story to feature Wonder Woman and I Ching vs. Egg Fu.

Brian, I’m surprised you didn’t check my take on this period, since I’m sure you are aware of it, and I fill in a few of the gaps.

Although the cover to #203 is totally wrongheaded, the story is about the closest thing the comic ever got to feminist pre-Crisis.

And Robert Kanigher was hardly new to Wonder Woman, having written it for more than twenty five years before Sekowsky showed up.

As for Sekowsky, himself; it was a great idea (and not entirely his. I know Denny O’Neil admits the blame for naming I Ching) but the execution was pretty abominable at times. It wasn’t until long after he had left the book that it really started working, and by then it was too late.

[b]As for Sekowsky, himself; it was a great idea (and not entirely his. I know Denny O’Neil admits the blame for naming I Ching) but the execution was pretty abominable at times. It wasn’t until long after he had left the book that it really started working, and by then it was too late.[/b]

The concept only “working” after Sekowsky left is certainly only a matter of opinion.

Those early Sekowsky issues were great fun with some simple but exciting stories and some of the mans best artwork ever. His loose style really worked well during the “hippie” era and he obviously had a good time with all the different fashion shots.

And while I enjoyed most of the later run, it’s those early issues that I’ve held onto all of these years.

Finally, as a side note, while it is true that #203 was the first time that “Womens Lib” made an apperance in WW, the suggestion that this was the only time before the Crisis that feminism appeared in WW, completly ignores the Roy Thomas and Gene Colan run from the early 80’s that introduced the Wonder Woman Foundation which was dedicated to the advancement of womens rights and causes.

The appearance of the Wonder Woman Foundation in the comic was exclusively to promote the actual foundation set up by Jeanette Kahn. A bunch of women pop up and say to Wonder Woman “wear this new bra we designed for you because it will mean you represent women” and she does and they are never seen again, and the foundation is never mentioned again.

That’s not feminism, it’s product placement.

Well it actually was featured for at least a good 10 issues or so. And since the storylines actually involved Wonder Woman working on “women’s” issues as opposed to having WW say things like that she doesn’t even like women, it certainly while maybe not the best written issues ever, deserves some mention as an attempt to add a bit of feminism in the pages of Wonder Woman in the Pre-Crisis era.

one year later superman was so much better when he didn’t have any powers…

I really enjoyed Rucka’s wonder woman run, the whole amozonian embassy thing was cool.

it was too bad infinite crisis had to kick in only after 2 years.

That medusa arc was exciting, but i had never read wonder woman before.

Hey Greg, you’re oversimplifying to say:

“On her own, she has all of Superman’s inherent story problems (too much power to make plotting come easy) and none of the charm of his secret identity or supporting cast to pick up the slack. Jiminez’ big idea was to get her laid; Rucka’s was to have her become a killer. Compared to innovation like that I’d take Emma Peel any day … ”

She HAS a supporting cast, one that Perez and Jiminez and Rucka did great things with. Perez rebooted Diana’s mom and Steve Trevor and even Etta Candy (Etta fucking Candy, fer chrissakes!) and made them all interesting. (Well, OK, maybe Steve still wasn’t THAT interesting, but he wasn’t a WW love interest any more; he fell for chubby Etta. Loved that.) And Perez introduced Julia and Vanessa Kapetelis (sp?) and the immortal Myndi Meyer (well, immortal till she died). Some great stuff.

Now, I HATE it when writers come in and completely ignore the existing support to create new characters all their own. That’s just REALLY lazy writing. (Yeah, Byrne, I’m lookin’ at you! You too, Messner-Loebs!) Jiminez returned to the saga of the Kapetelis clan, and actually evolved it naturally, given what had transpired. Rucka didn’t ignore the Perez foundation either (though he played more with the Greek pantheon, which he revamped and had a ball doing it). That’s largely why his run was so great.

And Rucka did way more than make her a killer, which was, let’s face it, probably a DC-directed edict rather than his own idea. (I’m just guessing on that though.) He did the most logical thing with the character, especially given what Perez had begun: Rucka made it explicitly clear she’s a freaking liberal. In his very first ish, she reveals she’s a vegetarian. Of course she is! Perfect. And remember the debate she had with Flash over a forest fire? Let nature take its course, she demanded. Well done. And she riled up the right wing with her book tour. Loved it.

Rucka also amped up Diana’s ambassador angle. All that stuff was WAY fun, just as much fodder for storytelling (no, MORE) than any secret-identity stuff with Clark Kent or Peter Parker. In doing so, he invented new supporting cast members without ignoring old ones.

Do I like this new WW? Maybe. We’ll give it a few more issues. Nice start, but I’ve gotta see where Heinberg’s going before I cheer. The fact that he doesn’t seem hell-bent on ignoring what’s inconvenient to his storytelling whims bodes well.

I finally managed to read these issues a few months ago. What an absolutely brilliant run. I thought I was going to hate it but instead I found it to be one of the best uses of the character ever– they made Diana a compelling character by making her genuinely vulnerable, and the stories themselves were exciting and action-packed in a way that made me overlook the clunky parts. I’m definitely buying the trade.

The only things that dampen it (aside from the ridiculousness of ‘I-Ching’ as a name) was the last ‘Women’s Lib’ issue (not written by Sekowsky but shame on Denny O’ Neal and Samuel Delaney) that’s pretty patronizing and dunder-headed on a massive scale (Diana, raised by amazons, is uninterested in feminism, saying “I don’t even *like* women”). I disagree with Marionette– if that’s the only appearance of feminism in Wonder Woman, perhaps that’s why. It may be the most embarrassing end to a run ever… except Bob Kanigher topped it by killing off I-Ching and having Wonder Woman forget the past three years worth of adventures within the *first ten pages* of the next issue. That’s more than harsh, Brian, that’s downright mean.

What I find interesting is that for years this was portrayed as a mistake in DC company lore, even though the sales were actually better than before; indeed the only reason they went back to the old format was the first issue of Ms. featuring Wonder Woman on the cover and the criticism was that by making her human and ‘ordinary’ was somehow de-valuing her, when in fact I would argue after reading these is the exact opposite occurred: she became better than ever.

Interestingly, Sekowsky performed a similar radical change to the Metal Men, giving them human bodies, which is not nearly so well remembered!

I cannot wait for the trade for this.

God, it’s like they’re publishing stuff just for the blogging audience, now. Seriously. I love it.

I loved Sekowsky’s take. It was actually an adventure comic again under Sekowsky, which it hadn’t been under Kanigher for a decade or so. Check out the Wonder Woman Showcase — it’s got great art, and some charming fantasy, but no real conflict.

Sekowsky seemed to be DC’s go to guy for minor series that needed major changes — In addition to WW and MM, he handled Supergirl’s post-Weisinger revamp as well. But he was bounced out of his editor spot relatively quickly. I’d love to see a book about Mr. Sekowsky, with lots of original art reproduced a la the various TwoMorrows books.

I didn’t see Rucka’s take making it clear that Diana was a liberal — I see it as making it clear that our society’s assessments arent’ universal.

Rucka’s handling of Diana killing thing was pretty clumsy, no matter whose idea it was. The villain thinks killing is the only answer, so Diana accepts that? Superman, a former friend is fighting her, but he’s mind-controlled. Max, a former friend is fighting her, and has been mind-controlled in the past. Max under the lasso says killing is the only answer, which just means he believes that is the truth, and Diana doesn’t even knock him out and take him to the JLA to see if anyone else has any other ideas? She doesn’t even try to find out Max was also a victim, or if he had any other plans in mind? That just shows Diana as not very bright. I was very glad to see Rucka move on to work that he’s better suited for.

She HAS a supporting cast, one that Perez and Jiminez and Rucka did great things with.

I think even in pre-Crisis Wonder Woman, she could have a great supporting cast. Probably my all-time favourite Wonder Woman outside of the ‘Diana Prince’ era is Dan Mishkin’s criminally ignored run on the title, which used the pre-Crisis incarnations of Steve Trevor and Etta Candy plus some other characters in lots of fun and interesting ways.

Edward Liu — I think I-Ching is miles worse than Shang-Chi as a name for an Asian character. It’s rather like naming a European character “King James Bible” or something.

According to Doug Moench, “Shanmg-Chi” literally means “the rising and advancing of the spirit,” and was chosen for that reason.

Though I guess that could also be the reason it’s the name of Chinese Chess….

I give it a year before the “Women’s Lib” issue winds up on Superdickery.com; less, given Cathy’s two-breasted salute on the cover.

All I can say is that, damn, it must have been *really* cold in that warehouse where the bad guys left Cathy all tied up!

I could totally get into the adventures of King James Bible, Secret Agent, and his battles against the New International Vermin.

If Wonder Woman forgot that she’d never had powers, why did she think the JLA put her through a months-long tryout in the 210s for readmission?

Sorry– “If Wonder Woman forgot that she’d *ever not* had powers.”

Back in the day, I pretty much dropped Wonder Woman when they killed Steve. Never cared for Sekowsky art at all.

Keeping in mind that I got this from Wikipedia which is not always reliable:

when used as an adjective, [I Ching] means “easy” or “simple”, while as a verb it implies “to change” or ‘to exchange/substitute one thing for another’.

Considering the change in the book’s direction, I think the name is quite appropriate actually.

Well, also, the return to the original costume coincided exactly with the launch of the original Super Friends cartoon. They probably wanted to capitalize on that, and having Wonder Woman be some uncostumed Emma Peel type didn’t help.

It must have worked to some extent, because the Lynda Carter series came along only two years later.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 17, 2007 at 6:31 pm

Wow, a post from me from over a year ago saying I was going to check out Hawkgirl.

Well, that never happened.

This was my favorite part of Diana’s life, especially when Nubia appeared.

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