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Wonder of Wonders – Star-Spangled Panties: The Startlingly Bold New Direction Eras of Wonder Woman!

by Carol A. Strickland

So here we are, just off issue #602 of Wonder Woman, and ankles-deep into a new era. Some fans may call what we’re reading an alternate universe or Elseworlds story, but since rumors are that it’s going to last for at least 12 months and it’s presented within the main title, I think it deserves a “new era” tag.

They’re easy enough to come by, if your name is Wonder Woman.

Some fans seem to think that presenting WW within a continuity that does not match the one she’d been in previously, is something shocking. They act as if there’s never been so much as a hiccup in presentation over her almost seventy decades of publication. But Wonder Woman has seen many eras come and go. Quite a few have been mere blips on the landscape; others have lasted for years. Far too many have twisted our gal at right angles or even upside down of her usual mode of operation.

DC also likes to throw a “Bold New Direction!” stamp on Wonder Woman stories even if they’re neither so bold nor so new, because Wondie’s sales have a habit of slumping. BNDs perk things up. (They also tend to anger some fans.)

William Moulton Marston established the original “Bold New Direction” for comic book superheroes back in 1941, when he created Wonder Woman. Then in the Fifties during the furor over Seduction of the Innocent and that book’s accusations about the anti-social elements of comics, Wonder Woman gradually underwent an unheralded new direction in which she “knew her place” in the superhero world, stopped being so daring and confident, and began palling around with younger versions of herself in order to find “acceptable” venues. This lasted until July, 1965.

Even the Wonder Family couldn’t keep sales up forever, so editor Robert Kanigher came up with the first “Return to the Golden Age.” Instead of Nazis, now Diana fought fairly identical Commies, and characters were inked with hashmarks on their cheeks as an odd nod to the style of WW’s original artist, Harry G. Peter.

This era lasted about eighteen issues. The lettercols were filled with irate fan opinion from both sides. In issue 171 Kanigher said, “…I made an attempt to recreate the unique flavor of [the Golden Age.] I don’t know whether it’s possible. But I had to make the attempt. I hoped the fans would be interested.” Two issues later he announced that the Golden Age was dead and that Wonder Woman would move forward again.

Good to know that the fans back then were as vocal as they are now!

From 1967 to 1968 came a gradual evolution into contemporary superhero-style comics. Fighting super-gorillas, teaming up with Supergirl (twice!), that kind of thing. It was a time of zero surprises but at least the stories didn’t make you want to tear the issues into tiny pieces.

Still, sales were getting dangerously low, so issue #178 shouted, “Forget the Old—The NEW Wonder Woman is here!” and the Diana Prince Mod Era was born. In a desperate, last-ditch effort to boost sales and reader interest, Wonder Woman was stripped of her powers and let loose upon a world as a human. It was a part of DC’s evolution into the Bronze Age, in which many long-running characters experienced out-of-the-box changes. Most were exciting, and DC as a whole certainly was. A reader didn’t know what to expect next. Anything could happen.

The Mod Era lasted a little over four (fabulous!) years. Then after another Return to the Sorta-Golden Age (Mr. Kanigher had also returned), we got an era of Bronze Age superheroics. That lasted until 1977, when DC finally realized there was a Wonder Woman show on TV. It had debuted in 1975. Oopsie! DC switched the WW comic to Earth-2 of the past in order to mimic the show’s first-season World War II adventures (but not the second and third-season contemporary stories, which the show had switched to by that time) while the “real” Wondie landed in World’s Finest and Adventure Comics for the duration—which was a little over a year.

After that came the rest of the Bronze Age. In the midst of this, someone thought that the advent of Wondie’s new =W= emblem was enough to warrant a “Sensational New Wonder Woman!” label. Okay, whatever.

Then came 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, followed in 1987 by the rebirth/reboot of WW in the “George Perez version,” the version most comics readers know her from today. Gone was any mention of Amazon Training (besides it being classic Bronze Age-level martial training with swords and shields, since these new Amazons had no modern technology). Diana was definitely brought up to Superman strength levels, she could now fly, Steve Trevor was no longer a love interest, Diana Prince was no more, and so on. Though the original staff eventually moved on, their basic world-building remained. More or less, we can say this era lasted 23 years. Pretty good job there in creating something with longevity, George. (applause)

Within the overarching Perez era, however, we got quite a few sub-eras, each heralded on covers and promoted about as well as Wonder Woman ever gets promoted. DC tried to counter the Perez mythos (whose sales must have been falling, or perhaps was too new-reader-unfriendly in its complexity by now) as well as inject T&A into the script during the later Messner-Loebs years, which lasted about 38 issues. If you’re unfamiliar with this era, I recommend it highly up to the point when it got too schizophrenic and T&A. Go grab yourself some issues and enjoy!

Now we’d start to see new creative teams who threw out major established elements to make room for their own views of how Diana should operate. John Byrne superimposed doppelgänger versions of characters over WW’s Perez cast, plus shoved the Demon and his Kirby kohorts to the forefront. He also managed to complicate Donna Troy’s origin—bet you thought it was impossible to be any more complicated!—and proclaim Diana the SECOND Wonder Woman in the eyes of the world. This kind of thing lasted 38 issues.

After a few more staff shifts and approaches, Phil Jimenez came on board with a try at incorporating all of Diana’s eras into one cohesive story, an Amazonian Theory of Everything. Diana’s role as Amazon ambassador, teacher and extremely busy example-maker was emphasized, though she scored few victories along the way. Toward the end of this era we saw the Amazon monarchy collapse. It reorganized into the Republic of Themyscira on a completely restructured (and keen) floating Paradise Archipelago. Twenty-five issues.

But Greg Rucka came along and with one kick from Hera, did away with most of that era’s direction. Now WW joined the rest of DC’s Dark Age. Those changes affected the attitudes and mission of Diana. We now saw Diana as subservient (instead of respectful) to her gods, and she committed an “official” murder with accompanying blame and guilt, as opposed to all those other times she’s killed with little if any repercussions. This era lasted 32 issues.

DC began a number of forgettable (well, to me) Crises that did little to showcase Diana. With “One Year Later” DC tried to reinvigorate Diana’s sales with new volume/numbering and a new creative staff. Diana Prince was back, and Nemesis became a mild-mannered stand-in for Steve Trevor as WW’s romantic-ish interest. The engine was still revving up (though sputtering due to colossal scheduling snafus) as the book nosedived and crashed into Amazons Attack! in which the entire theme for sixty-odd years of Wonder Woman was derailed. This storyline oozed into other books across the DCU, spreading the word of this sickening version of Wonder Woman and her people and adding to the world image of WW being a villain.

Gail Simone took what remained and applied giant bandages to it. A few large jars of coverup were required while she strengthened Diana into a positive icon again, though one whose world wasn’t quite the one Perez had fashioned. Even so, it was a valiant attempt and lasted 32 issues.

Now we’re in a parallel past world which may or may not become canon, but is heavily hinted to affect what canon will be in a year or so. When we come out of this riff, it’ll be an even newer new era. Perhaps it will even be a bold one.

You can make a game of it: Reread your WW collection and take a drink every time a Bold New Direction comes up. By the time you’re through I guarantee you’ll be quite dizzy and confused. It comes with being a Wonder Woman fan. You learn to roll with the punches—I mean, eras.

So fans of WW can rest easy. Those who like this new era can see that other eras have lasted for years and even decades, and perhaps this will last for some time. Those who don’t like this era can tell themselves that this too shall pass.

Essay questions: What have been your favorite eras? Do fellow icons Superman and Batman get this kind of treatment? As often as Wondie? Why do you think that is?

Now discuss this column on the CBR message boards, here.

Carol A. Strickland is the author of two novels (more on the way!) and has a rather large Wonder Woman website she invites you to explore. It’s at http://www.CarolAStrickland.com

23 Comments

Golden Age WW, easily my favorite era. (awesome art and crazy, hilarious stories)

The rest, all the way up to modern age, is pretty much throwaway fiction and not worth reading. (and yes, I have tried Perez and Rucka) I know it’s said when the only readable WW comics are 60 years old.

Oh well, I can wait a few years more for Morrison’s take, I guess.

My favorite era is easily the heavily political stuff Greg Rucka did. Super-strong on character, vision, and emotion. I also loved with he did with the Greek Gods, which Greg Pak and FVL have sort of even expanded upon over at Marvel.

It was the Wonder Woman I wanted to read.

Wonder Woman isn’t respected by DC the way Superman and Batman are. My guess is due to sells.
It’s true Superman and Batman have been rebooted many times but they weren’t as mistreated. I think Batman has fared the best with Superman losing his title of first superhero(something I’ll never get used to) but Superman didn’t lose Lois Lane and the rest of his cast. Poor Wonder Woman lost Steve Trevor,her plane,and even her name. I don’t have a problem with things being tweaked here and there but to throw stuff away is insulting. For instance having her fly might look cool and is easier to deal with than an invisible jet but that jet was hers. That was her deal. She’s Wonder Woman not Superwoman. Throwing details like that out speaks less to cumbersome continuity and more to the laziness of writers.
As for the costume—well couldn’t they have given her a jacket that fits? Or how about an outfit that looks like a superhero costume. Batman loses his black bat-panties and Superman sported some electric blue tights but at least they still looked like superheroes. Now Wonder Woman looks like she just rolled out of trailer park cruising for the nearest beer joint. Maybe if she loses the jacket but I don’t know.

My favorite Era was the Rucka run. It was the first time I had ever read Wonder Woman and I really enjoyed it. Aside from everything Matt D above listed, the title also had a strong supporting cast which shouldn’t be over looked.

For all of the “fifty decades” (heh) that I’ve been buying comics, I’ve never been a regular WW reader. The Golden Age is insanely fun, with the bondage and the circus parades and gorilla women and such, but WW has pretty much always been a second-tier comic to me. Wonder Woman is one of those characters that works best as a guest star or on a team book.

My pitch is that Wonder Woman should be a WWII comic. The Diana that’s in the JLA should have a few gray hairs and 70 years of warrior wisdom, because her own comic should be about her meeting downed pilot Steve Trevor, discovering Man’s World, and with the help of Johnny Cloud, Sgt. Rock, My Brothers with Wings and The Haunted Tank, winning WWII. Imagine if the first time you visited the Earth, it happened to be during WWII. And you had the power to fix it.

I think the coolest thing about Wonder Woman is that she is such an alien. Whether you prefer that she come from Ancient Greece or from the Lost Island of the Spankings, she is not of this Earth. On top of that, she was raised in a culture that was either lesbian or celibate. Now she is in a world of two genders. That has to be more mind-blowing than anything Kal or J’onn went through.

Looking at this from a different angle, and one that I’ll say is probably heretical to most comics fans, maybe what they need to do is jumpstart WW with a movie, instead of waiting and rehabing the character the way Johns did w/ GL?

Think about this: when Dini & crew started their stories w/ BM and SM, they did WONDERS (pun intended) in streamlining the history and putting it in front of the public eye. Their imagining, right up thru the JLU had become the dominant mental picture for the masses. And yes I know it’s based on the mature-post Miller stuff, but was still a lot more universal; you could pick any episode and understand it, and appreciate it’s quality.
Sure, Dini & Tim tweaked stuff, but rarely for the worse.
And largely, the templates they created are still feeding and informing the comic versions today.

Now, look at WW. If you go on the DC boards her forum is probably the most vitriolic and hostel on the sight–just ahead of the “should Barbara walk” crowd. And it’s because EVERYONE there feels they “own” the iconic version of WW, the one that is in their imagination–whether or not its ever existed anywhere.

This is a character who has been the face of the feminist movement, AND the bondage fantasy of lots of men (and women).

The public at large doesn’t care about the nitty gritty of WW. Her book-dominated fandom would accept a respectably done project that melds the best of the character.
They’d be SO HAPPY there’s a movie I believe most of its perceived shortcomings would be shrugged off.
More importantly, it would present a new definitive version to the MASSES, the new readers who are needed to make the book a financial sucess.

So, why not a Wonder Woman cartoon instead? Well, they already tried that, it tried to please too many people, and wound up pleasing few. But, more importantly, a movie would have the cache and force of promotion to draw lots of people to it. Can’t you see it, packaged like a Harry Potter fim with all the obvious spinoffs and tie-ins. (I’m not saying a HP content-style film, just ape the marketing and merch stuff)

Keep in mind also, I am not saying whatever WW comic is published after this movie has to parrot that story, but it needs to allow those new people to access the character. It needs to be bold.
Together those die hard old fans and the new people (hopefully lots of women and kids) that a good movie draws in would merge and push the character to a new level of development for today and the future and hopefully leave all the nitpicks and dead ends far far behind.
Then, given time, there’d still be the space and strength of the “central WW idea” to allow other creative takes on her (manga-WW, black-WW, boy-WW, teen-WW, ect . . .); a platform to grow the audience from there on forward.

In retrospect my favourite era was the Golden Age version. I liked the idea of training and disipline the Amazons underwent. The mythology was simple yes, but the stories were fun. She was a perfect counter force to the Nazi regime. The role of a woman, powerful and strong. She was not only a stranger in a strange land, but also a warrior, a champion. She was Wonder Woman.

Then men got afraid of her, due to that not to be named author/therapist. She was a threat, God forbid a self assured, powerful woman who could work a 9 to 5 job and save a world….Associated with Lesbianism (that man had serious issues)…and DC needed to change her. She became weaker, more docile always under a man (Steve Trevors) beck and call.

Had the comics code not been issued, and she allowed to flourish on her own. We would have found a Wonder Woman who decided to return to Paradise Island after WW2. This was done wonderfuly in “JLA: the new Frontier”. Having been patronized by Roosevelt (her being a woman and all that) and it was no place for a woman to be strong back then. Being a princess she would enjoy life with her sister, albeit a bit resentful towards man’s world.

She again would leave to see what was happening with trouble brewing in South East Asia, and keep an eye on her friend (not lover/boy friend) Steve Trevor. This would allow Diana to work her way through the military, and continue her adventures..(helping womans causes around the world as well). It would lead up to the time she rescued Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) from the fire and brought her back to Paradise Island . It also allows continuity. No need for the always new incarnation of WW.

She would be one of the founders of the JLA and also an honored member of the Justice Society.

Wonder Woman is immortal, timeless, and always learning about man’s world and how dark it can be, and yet there is always hope. She brings forth compassion and strength. Her very being empowering women and men alike.

DC dropped the ball. There was no need to constantly reinvent her. Wonder Woman was fine the way she was both in the 40’s and had she continued on her growth path would be fine today. Yes her costume has been edited and been very sexist as well. Speaking as a man, I think her 50’s look was good. Hated the 80’s W emblem and resented it more when she looked like a pin up girl. This new look is “ghetto”…return her to her origins/roots and we find all along she was truely a wonder for both yesterday and today.

“My pitch is that Wonder Woman should be a WWII comic.”

That already happened, sort of.


DC switched the WW comic to Earth-2 of the past in order to mimic the show’s first-season World War II adventures (but not the second and third-season contemporary stories, which the show had switched to by that time) while the “real” Wondie landed in World’s Finest and Adventure Comics for the duration—which was a little over a year.

Now, if your pitch was “Wonder Woman in the ’40s BUT GOOD” I’d totally get behind it.

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The first issue of Wonder Woman I ever read was from that non-powered/mod period. It confused me because I’d already seen her on Super Friends and she appeared to be a completely different character. The first issue I ever owned was from that World War II period. (But the way I remember it, the show was still on ABC and set during the war when I bought that issue.) I didn’t know it was set on Earth-2 until just now. I didn’t even know about Earth-2 at the time.

Anyone see any irony (or intent) with the initialism for “brand new direction” / “B n D”? Given Wonder Woman’s history which is steeped in such practice – as touted by her creator, this seems like more of an inside joke than a coincidence.

Great writeup, Carol. I came into comics during the Perez era, so that version of WW has always held the biggest place in my heart, though I recently started reading some of her immediate pre-Crisis stories (the Thomas and Mishkin runs) and have been enjoying them for their what-the-heck attempts at Amazon culture building. I tried Jiminez’s and Simone’s runs on WW and while I enjoyed them both, I never fully warmed up to either. The new JMS direction I have found myself caring nothing about. I’m patiently waiting when another ‘bold new direction’ leads us back to something resembling WW…

Eric… man you should handle the next WW direction….those points are on point man….

With each run I find things I like and loathe, however I have the Simone run first followed by Rucka, Byrne, Perez, and Deodato…

Wonder Woman is the most convoluted, confused story in the history of comics. Anyone studying the history of Wonder Woman comics would infer that her publishers and editors Don’t Have A Clue. And haven’t for 50 years.

I’ve tried dozens of times over the last 50 years to enjoy Wonder Woman comics, but yuck, every few years her history has been rewritten and she becomes even more crappy and diluted.

The worst offense has been stripping Wonder Woman of the things that made her special and turning her into a female Superman. But turning her into T&A Woman was also, well, sleazy. Every time I looked at her nearly naked costume, it shouted “DC will even whore their most famous female character.”

DC keeps trying to force Wonder Woman into being a top tier character but it ain’t gonna happen. DC can pretend she’s on the level of Superman and Batman, but she’s not even up there with Flash and Green Lantern.

Ah, Watcher, but she is with some of us. I first discovered WW during the Wonder Family years. Back then Diana may have been a sell-out to her gender and concept, but her family and especially Wonder Girl were fabulous! Our BX didn’t get WW for a few years, so I skipped the Return to the Golden Age, which might have turned me off Wondie permanently. The next time I saw her there was Supergirl on the cover and some idiotic girly plotline inside. I followed Supergirl, so I picked up the issue. Then came the Mod Era—hitting right during my prime comic imprinting years—and I was hooked for life. To me, that shows the importance of how good a particular era can be, no matter how short it runs.

As long as DC gives Wondie a firm, positive direction that stays true to her theme of positive empowerment and shows her as warmly human, I’ll gladly keep reading. (At other times I’m not so glad, but I keep reading.)

It depends on what you define ‘Top Tier’ as. Ask the general public to name a female super-hero and I’d bet that nine times out of ten, they’d say Wonder Woman. She’s up there with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man in name recognition in the public’s eye.

Within the comics world, I honestly feel that there are two elements that cause her trouble: the predominately male readership continues to raise a nose at the idea of a female with that level of recognition and, similarly, that the predominately male creative staff over the decades has no idea how to really handle a strong woman as a character. They’ve been fighting for years (as shown in this article) to find a voice that both appeals to the broadest group of readers…following trends and fads the whole time…but never finding something that’s acceptable to the comic reading audience.

I’m not really down on the male readership–I honestly don’t think they get the same visceral thrill out of reading the adventures of a super woman than that of a super man. There’s less to identify with and pull for.

Sad that the recent run of power girl was better than any wonder woman ive ever read

My problem with Wonder Woman is that any comic book incarnation has never bettered the level of excitement I had as a seven-to-nine year old watching Lynda Carter play the role on TV. I know this is like saying “the only version of Superman that’s ever appealed to me is George Reeves and comics could never better it” but there you go.

That said, discovering the mod-era Wonder Woman was one of those occasions that came close. I was expecting ’60s kitsch. I got that… but I also got some really great characterization, a Diana I cared about, and probably some of the best superhero comics DC did in the late ’60s. It only ever really falters near the end when Sekowsky leaves and Denny O’Neil starts undermining it in the last issue or two.

But the Mod-era Wonder Woman kind of proves the problem with Wonder Woman and superhero comics in general: there can be no radical fixes ever. JMS’ new version of Wonder Woman will be back in the familiar haltertop and hot pants soon enough.

About the only sustained run of Wonder Woman that really otherwise appealed to me was Dan Mishkin and Don Heck’s run in the last couple of years before Crisis. I just came upon an issue by random chance and I became totally hooked on it. It was the best superhero comic of the 1980s that no one was reading. It wasn’t radical departure territory at all. Just good solid comics with a Wonder Woman and a supporting cast I cared about. Shame it isn’t better regarded.

My favorite WW era was the George Perez reboot; it seemed to be the one that tried the hardest to make Diana sound interesting, logical, and get her the attention she deserved. Plus writing and art by Perez! :) The only thing I never liked about it was his reinvention of the Amazons; not only was everything that made them unique (their technology, their philosophies etc.) taken away, leaving us with a bunch of Xena wannabes (probably intentional due to the popularity of that character at the time) but they were even revealed as THE REINCARNATED SOULS OF WOMEN MURDERED BY MEN. What the Hey? I understand Perez wanted to focus on the very serious issues of women being abused through history, but from the POV of the casual reader it means that that Amazons now had to be man-haters (which was not the fact, but can you blame anybody for getting that opinion?) More importantly, it deflated Diana’s basic mission… that of coming over to Man’s World to teach us their Better Ways. Like, you know, beheading your foes. Riiiight. Adding the Bana Amazons to the picture -who were ACTUAL misanthropes- didn’t help things. Fortunately later versions focused more on Diana’s work as an ambassador and philosopher.

Also, I may get stoned for saying this, but I *liked* Byrne’s version too, to a point. It felt more like a superhero book which, let’s not forget, is what Wonder Woman is supposed to be, above things like feminism, religion or politics. Byrne gave us things like Diana versus Sinestro! (OK a fake one, but still! ) :D

Sijo: “Xena” was created in 1994 (or so). The Perez reboot was in 86 or 87.

bernard the poet

September 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Wonder Woman is a Greek, who parades around dressed in the American flag. Wonder Woman is on a mission of peace, but is always hitting people. Wonder Woman is a feminist, but runs around in a playboy bunny outfit. Wonder Woman was a great example of Golden Age fun, but comics aren’t aimed at seven-year-olds anymore.

Aquaman, who talks to the fishes, and Hawkman, who has his own spaceship, but chooses to fight crime bare-chested with a mace, have the same problem. There core identities are just too childish to sit well modern comic book readers. But they have such strong name recognition, DC can’t bring themselves to let them fade away.

Another sharp piece, Carol, and great montages. I’d forgotten there’d been quite so many wonder-spinning changes of direction.

And Graeme, thanks for reminding us of the Dan Mishkin period, it was a tremendous time for the Amazing Amazon.

seriously, fuck dc and their continuity reset button. this why i always have and always will make mine marvel.

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