Wonder Woman has been around for a really long time – since 1941, in fact! Yet, there are huge swathes of her comic book history that modern readers know next to nothing about. Diana, Princess of Themyscira, is a character that spent a notable portion of her history being written by writers that didn’t seem to fully click with her, which makes revisiting her vintage era a pretty dubious prospect for even her most ardent fans.
Yet, it is also true that a lot of the less-remembered comics of DC’s Silver and Bronze Ages are full of underrated gems, so it’s always at least worth a look. With the release of Wonder Woman 84, it got me wondering – what exactly was Diana up to in 1984? For that, dear reader, we have to look to Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #311-322.
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Well, There Were Gremlins, For Starters
January 1984 saw the release of Wonder Woman #311, which I read twice so that I could confirm that the plot is actually about some tiny green gremlins infiltrating and taking over Diana’s Invisible Jet then refusing to give it back. This story takes up an incredible two whole issues of space, but when it comes down to it, there are two things I could be – here for it, or not here for it. To make my own life easier, I choose: here for it. What I am less here for, however, is the fact that one of the stowaway gremlins becomes a major supporting character for most of the rest of Wonder Woman Volume One (which ends in 1986 with #329
At the end of this gremlins story, Wonder Woman makes a point to take Steve Trevor aside and disclose her greatest secret to him, that of her secret identity as Diana Prince. Rather than actually listen to her (this era of Steve Trevor was not about that), he cuts her off and tells her that he actually prefers not to know because he wants to view her as an angel-goddess-mother-figure more than he wants to see her as a human being with flaws and desires of her own. Of course, looking back, we can say that this is about six different red flags going full Voltron and morphing into one giant sign that just says “NO!” but Diana, paragon of virtue that she is, shrugs it off, and their weird relationship continues.
This might seem like a throwaway moment in the greater scheme of things, but it perfectly encapsulates what we’re dealing with when we read Wonder Woman comics of the era. The series showed undue focus on Steve Trevor and most of the stories were through his perspective and not hers. This spotlight on Steve is slightly less grating when we see it in recent years because we’ve seen so many stories in which Diana stands on her own. In 1984, Steve’s first-person narration and his constant presence distracts from any meaningful character exploration of Diana, so it’s for the best when he mostly departs from the book a few years later.
And Then There’s Circe
Fans of Greek mythology will be aware of the legend of Circe, who nearly ends Odysseus and his men by turning them into pigs. In Wonder Woman mythology, this same Circe is a constant presence and threat to Diana and the Amazons.
One of the highlights of Wonder Woman’s adventures in 1984 is Circe’s over-the-top presence. She captures one of Diana’s friends from the Pentagon, Keith Griggs, and transforms him into a half-human, half-ram hybrid. When Diana tracks her down and demands to know why Circe spends such a baffling amount of time trying to destroy her, Circe replies that an oracle once told her that a daughter of Hippolyta would bring about her death. After that, Keith breaks free, and helps Wonder Woman end Circe’s rampage, if only temporarily. Keith goes on to be another inexplicably centralized male figure and continues to make appearances through the run.
One of Circe’s “pets,” a man who had taken on the form of a jaguar, transforms into the 1980s comic book take on the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, who went on to be a major recurring villain for much of the rest of the series under editor Alan Gold (and then never, ever again). This does emphatically not lead to greatness, as most Tezcatlipoca stories involved writers of the time running through a handful of stereotypes while Wonder Woman and Arbitrary Male Hero Keith beat up his “Aztec” minions. Still, when Tezcatlipoca captures Diana and taunts her for her insecurities, calling her waifish and weak, he almost has a point, considering the fact that Diana of this time period does nothing but defer to any random male character that steps into a position of authority. She ultimately overcomes her doubts and breaks free, but Tezcatlipoca would return to monopolize space for a few more issues within the year.
Some Stuff About Love
In issues #317 and 318, Paradise Island is invaded by Faceless Horde Of Genre #1,812,615. Hippolyta and the Amazons are enraged by this intrusion, and they act with vengeance and anger in their attempts to expel them from the island. Though this is an incredibly reasonable emotional response to have when a literal horde attempts to destroy everything you hold dear, the message of this story is to love your enemies, so their “moral failings” become the subject at hand. Though they do succeed in vanquishing their foes, much damage has been done to their home. They call out to Aphrodite, who will not hear their pleas. The Amazons fear they may have lost her grace forever. Diana becomes impatient and snaps at them for acting without pride and begging Aphrodite for her attention. Hippolyta concedes that Diana is correct and that the Amazons sometimes lose their way.
The best part of Wonder Woman comics in 1984 is when Aphrodite returns to the island, turning the sky into a fabulously bright pink. In so many words, she more or less tells them that love is all they need, and that with love in their hearts, they will never fall out of her grace. The Amazons celebrate, and Diana and her mother again know peace.
The last few issues closing out this wild year are nothing short of bizarre, with a handful of disparate plot lines just kind of haphazardly colliding into one another at random. We discover that Hippolyta erased Diana’s memories of love for Steve Trevor (this actually already happened once before in the Twelve Labors story-line that ran from Wonder Woman #212-222). Meanwhile, Eros becomes convinced that he himself is Steve Trevor and that Diana “belongs to” him and he becomes very aggressive trying to force a relationship on her. A villain called Doctor Cyber jumps into the mix for absolutely no reason and nothing comes of it. Finally, Diana decides to exile herself from Paradise Island due to her mother’s interference in her life. This is definitely not the first nor the last time Diana would leave Paradise Island “forever,” but those are stories for another day.
The original Wonder Woman series only made it seven more issues before seeing its cancellation, but the constantly rotating cast of fill-in writers and the directionless stories that comprised a lot of its run make us feel pretty okay about that. Yet, it was no so long after this that writer and artist George Perez would begin his legendary re-imagining of the character, which was how our girl Diana finally started to get her groove back. There were a lot of starts and stops along the way, but at least now Princess Diana is getting her chance to shine in 1984, even if we had to wait until 2020 to see it happen.