Welcome! Historia is a brand new bi-monthly series that will be examining The Amazing Amazon’s rich history. The feature will span the war-haunted Golden Ages in which she was forged, through the sweeping currents of The Silver Age, the shifts of The Bronze Age, the trials of The Dark Age, all the way to The Renaissance and The Prismatic Age of the modern century.
We’ll be looking at and discussing the various influences and archetypal antecedents that underlie the Wonder Legend, the power of the conceits it upholds, the politics of the whole enterprise, the terrifying nature of myths and narratives, and how the character and property have changed, evolved, or even regressed. What is this curious little experiment that began under a polyamorous polymath psychologist that became an icon of the feminist movement and a vital corporate symbol? Let’s dig in.
“What the hell?? Wonder Woman!!” – Wonder Woman #136
The Twilight Of An Era
The George Perez era
Under his time, Wonder Woman even experienced something unusual, something new and unheard of: her first ever event comic. War Of The Gods
But as much as the run represented the character at an iconic peak during the 80s, there were also certain missteps. Hercules (or Herakles) was ‘forgiven’ by the women he’d assaulted in the ages past, as written by a man here. Forgiveness, compassion and redemption are, of course, classical Wonder themes and concerns. Nevertheless, the whole endeavor felt like the most needlessly messy, unprocessed attempt at showing the audience the sheer extent of these women’s ability to forgive. But that point, that impossible ability to forgive, could be illustrated without wading into waters such as the above, given the very problem of how easily men keep getting away with sexual assault in reality. As we discussed in the previous entry, Julius Schwartz is Exhibit A, as the women who were hurt were forced to ‘get over it’, while Schwartz was only mythologized further. So there’s this mucky mess here and elements like that which recur, which do seem to be done with the best of intentions, but are tone-deaf or ill-conceived at points.
Beyond that however, the run relaid the groundwork for revamping antagonists and concepts for a new audience. The old Two-Face-esque rich heiress Priscilla Rich was replaced by Barbara Ann Minerva as the new Cheetah, who seemed to almost be a sort of Indiana Jones character. Out went the weird fetishistic cat-suit, in came something more monstrous and mythic, like a terror of the night. Meanwhile, Circe very much occupied the role of the elder matriarchal antagonist and supervillain, over someone such as Queen Clea, Paula Von Gunther or others. Perez, on the whole, had made the world of Wonder Woman feel more digestible and accessible to anyone through osmosis knowledge of the most basic myths or mythic names. Public Domain names were suddenly key figures, granted a dynamic redesign in the classical fantastical fashion. Perez had very effectively turned Wonder Woman into a soapy epic of myths and monsters, bringing in a new audience and making it easy to option for TV networks, as proposals were written up and timeslots were considered. And at the heart of this whole run were three women: Diana of Themyscira, Vanessa Kapatelis and Julia Kapatelis.
However, as time passed, Perez stepped back a bit. Soon, after two years, he was no longer doing the artwork on the book. He’d decided to return to his first love of The New Teen Titans
And so the twilight came, as Perez, Thompson and their lovely editor, Karen Berger, finally departed the book with Wonder Woman #62 in February of 1992. It was an explosive finale in the proper Perezian sense, with Diana’s little sister in the series, Vanessa, finally graduating high school. It had, in some ways, been her story. She was Perez’s key, big offering to Wonder Woman. She was the new, young woman whose life Diana had affected, who Diana grew close to and vice versa. Vanessa was the lens for WW, she was Diana’s Dick Grayson or Wally West, the one destined to be a Wonder Girl, in this Perezian vision of the property. Alas, she never was. But she did get to graduate and the finale was full of the trademark touching sentimentality and tearful moments that had defined the era, that had made it so resonant and appealing and emotionally engaging for many.
Perez, having pulled off a 62-issue epic, a proper epic, went off by writing a letter to Diana herself, telling her honestly and earnestly ‘I’d like to think I’m a better person for having followed your adventures.’. While it may have been messy, while it may have peaked early on with a first arc that was pure concentrated excitement of a creator dying to work on this character and book, while it may have had ups and downs and may not have been for many, it was an accomplishment. It was a worthy endeavor, in the end. It was one worthy of respect, of admiration, for what it had done not only to Diana, but for Diana and those who loved her. It preserved her for a new generation and made them fall in love with her.
The Messner-Loebs Era
Following the big conclusion of a 5-year saga by Perez, Wonder Woman went on a 4-month hiatus. DC took its time and then brought the title back, with a number of new creators on board. Brian Bolland was to be the new cover artist for the book, drawing cover after cover of the Amazon Princess and those around her. His first issue was #63, the very first after Perez. His grasp of anatomy and the human body granted a certain realism to the Wonder Woman he put to paper and granted the book almost a prestige poster-look via every cover image. Even if the book was no good, you could bet your money that Brian Bolland cover would be spectacular.
Bolland aside, however, the new big voice for the WW series was to be William-Messner Loebs. And he came in with a new mandate from DC. Now that their big gun and prized star, who they could never say no to, wasn’t doing the book anymore, DC was really re-evaluating and reconsidering what they wanted out of Wonder Woman. They decided it certainly it wasn’t what Perez had defined for the title, as the mandate for Loebs was that Wonder Woman was now less this mythic hero and more of a typical ‘superhero’, winding through the books of others, doing team-ups and participating in crossovers. They really had no vision for what Diana was beyond the most generic checklist set of tricks to potentially garner bigger readership.
So what you got out of the Messner-Loebs era was a lot of…throwing stuff at the wall and just trying stuff out within the sandbox of the generic superhero stuff. The first key artist on the book, Paris Cullins, was someone whose strengths lay in doing outer-space stuff and so Loebs quickly launched Diana into space. And, listen, ‘[Insert Character] In Space!’ is not a half bad pitch. In fact, it can be a terrific one. And in Loebs’ hands its…alright? There’s certainly some fun stuff, to be sure, as you get Diana as a liberator figure amidst slavers in space and you even get Space Pirate Diana at one point.
But none of the above feels really standout in the way they arguably should. The book was very much in this weird transitional period and it shows. It wasn’t weird enough, it wasn’t epic or fantastical as it had been and it was generally generic in an unremarkable way. There was little to make it truly standout. Paul Kupperberg had become the new Editor of the book and if you’ll recall he did the Doom Patrol run prior to Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s
It was the 90s now, as you can evidently tell from the art and all we’ve discussed above. And this was a period and time where people were trying out all manner of outrageous ‘Well, why not?’ maneuvers to get attention. If the actual stories and storytelling weren’t going to attract readership to Kupperberg and Loebs’ book, Kupperberg banked on something else entirely. He banked on something tried and true, something safe and saleable: horniness.
It wouldn’t really be the 90s without the truly terrible outfits (for especially the female characters), the nonsensically bizarre long legs, with body-breaking poses and boatloads of objectification. And so sex appeal was relied upon, as Kupperberg brought in a whole new artist for the book during this new 90s age: Mike Deodato. A Brazilian artist who’d been struggling, Deodato found his career skyrocketing with Wonder Woman. He was there to make Wonder Woman ‘sexier’ and aimed for the most erotic, male-gazey vision of the character and if you believe Deodato, according to him, sales tripled on the book with this.
All this was, in many ways, of course the polar opposite of the Perezian goal and vision. He’d been very aware that things would change, saying famously, ‘I knew that my vision might not be the vision that everybody else was going to want. I know that in the world of comics nothing lasts forever; everything changes based on editorial decisions.’. But not even he could’ve never imagined the wildly different vision of Diana that followed- lacking the radical politics of the original books and also constantly looking at Diana and the other women with the eyes of a horny straight male teenager to garner sales in a shifting market.
That said, perhaps the most memorable visual from this period of Loebs’ era is that of Diana selling tacos and working that job, which, again, very much part of the ‘why not? let’s throw stuff at the wall and just try stuff’ policy. Diana moved from every possible role, whether it be Ambassador, Space Pirate to selling fast food. And there is a degree of charm there. Even past that, however, the actual most tangible bit of legacy of the Loebs and Deodato era would arrive in the form of Artemis Of Bana Mighdall.
It was the 90s at DC, which meant that your big hero had to be ‘broken’ and replaced in some fashion. Superman died, with 4-replacement Supermen arriving to take his place, two of which were fairly dark takes on the conceit. Batman had his back broken by Bane, as Azrael took his place as a darker Batman. Hal Jordan morphed into the dark Green Lantern himself, with his replacement being the good one, so on and so forth. It was par for the course. And so, Wonder Woman had to have an equivalent, being this key figure of the mythology. She was, even if DC never treated her as such, still a part of ‘The Trinity’, so if Bruce and Clark had it happen, Diana had to follow suit in some measure.
Thus you got Diana being replaced as ‘Wonder Woman’ by Artemis, who won The Contest, which determined who WW would be. Wonder Woman was, afterall, a proper title of the Amazonian Champion and representative and not Diana’s own personal title akin to ‘Superman’ or ‘Batman’. So you got the fiery redheaded angry 90s warrior Wonder Woman, who felt Diana was no longer worthy at all of this title, with Deodato continuing to deliver the ‘sexiness’ that he’d set out to by trying to cater to a certain audience. Diana was Wonder Woman no more and instead got a redesign, too, in keeping with the aforementioned motto.
And so you got this utterly odd, terrible design and outfit where Diana wore almost nothing on top. She tended to have a short jacket on at times, but really, the whole thing was an abysmal mess. Given it is derided as one of the worst redesigns even to this day, we won’t spend much longer on it, given all the possible mockery of it has been made. But yeah, not great, folks. Real not great.
As you might expect, all of this, the whole thing, while selling loads of copies, even at the tripled rate as Deodato has said, ruffled features. There was controversy and Deodato proved controversial, as did Artemis as WW, while Diana got this ridiculous outfit. Soon enough, as time progressed, Artemis died in a brutal, gory mess of a scene, affirming to Diana and the readership that Diana was the one true Wonder Woman and that Artemis had been wrong, while Diana had been right. And so Diana was WW once more, as sooner and sooner that ever massive Wonder Woman #100 approached. It was to be the final issue of the Loebs and Deodato era, as both of them went out with Artemis bouncing right back from her death in the seminal issue. And thus, by July of 1995, the run was over. The Loebs era wrapped, having picked up the baton at #63 and carrying it to a grand #100. (Artemis would go onto get her own mini-series, so she didn’t do too bad!)
And as it did, there was a sense of possibility in the air. Here was this pure 90s expression of Wonder Woman, and finally the worst, most indulgent and adolescent stuff was over. Now what might be next? What could arrive after this? What light lay at the end of this tunnel?
As breaths of relief were being let loose and excitement for possibility was building up, few could have scarcely known what was to come.
“I normally do copious amounts of research and read all the back issues, and I haven’t done that on Wonder Woman. I very deliberately said I’m going to do what I think she is, what I always felt she was.” – John Byrne
Ah s*&t. It’s John Byrne. There really is no escaping the man is there? Sigh. Well, let’s talk about this.
Paul Kupperberg and John Byrne were old friends and so when the former called and offered, the latter accepted. Byrne insisted that not only would he be the writer, but he wanted to do damn near everything. He would pencil, ink and even letter the thing. He wanted the book, proper and he wanted maximum control. He wanted to be The Creator on it, doing everything. And he wanted this to be a fresh start, telling audiences that if they’d never read Wonder Woman before, his debut issue, Wonder Woman #136, would basically be a new #1.
Now, this is all exciting in theory with a potential creator. Say if you heard the former about Walt Simonson. You’d probably get very excited and rightfully so. But…this is John Byrne. And if you know anything about John Byrne, you know exactly what that entails. The man loves to take something and totally throw out literally everything under the sun that he doesn’t agree with, like or feel is ‘important’, the baby and the bathwater, to get to his ‘idea’ of something. Byrne is the creator who will take that pedantic obsession and eliminate anything and everything that doesn’t fit with his One True And Best Interpretation. (See: The Legion Of Super-Heroes and his relentless wreckage on them, over and over.) And, well, if he doesn’t even bother to read the back issues or the history on top of that as makes his One True Interpretation? Gulp. Well, folks, as they say, this is certainly not The Good Place. This is The Bad Place.
Immediately, Byrne basically flushes almost everything that’s been down the drain, which, no shocker there. He has Diana move over from the very real city of Boston (as established by Perez) to the fictional Gateway City. Now, this is potentially interesting. Diana given a fictional city of her own in the vein of Metropolis/Gotham/Central/Coast/Opal/Keystone? Sweet, yeah? Perfectly fitting DC tradition. The only problem is…in practice it’s very poor. It’s Byrne doing it, so it ends up being…Walmart Gotham. You’d imagine it’d be some clever character/franchise-specific setting that lays out a story engine and mechanics for WW, expands the potential for her stories. But it is…not that. There’s virtually nothing remarkable, interesting or worthwhile that makes this a vibrantly distinct setting and base that Diana ought to be in. It’s just a kinda-neat name with little else to go with it. Byrne also fairly quickly introduces a cop love interest, which feels rather odd. Fear not though, these are all just scratching the surface. We’re just getting started.
You remember Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis, of course. The lovely mentor figure to Diana and her daughter who adored Wonder Woman, who Diana was close with. They were practically family. Well, they’re gone now…replaced with replicas with very few differences, in the form of Helena and Cassie Sandsmark. (It doesn’t help that both Julia and Helena are from Harvard, no.) Pretty much every purpose and point Byrne made his new characters to create could’ve and was, indeed, served by the established cast members, whom Byrne just did not care about. He was there to make his one true interpretation above else and so he did. In a lot of ways, all the absolute worst impulses, messes and screwups that plague WW even now to this day, can be seen and traced back to Byrne, as in the modern era, his run was the poster child of every single mess you could note in a WW comic that would follow. ‘Diana is a heterosexual virgin!’ Byrne declared, which is perhaps the most John Byrne read of the character.
Kirby Toys and Donna Troys
Even getting past all that though, one thing was fairly clear early on: Byrne wasn’t actually terribly interested in Wonder Woman herself. It’s part of why he didn’t feel the need to readup. He wasn’t really here for Diana. Her book was just a vehicle, an opportunity, for him to do the other things he actually wanted to do. And those other things? Well, to the shock of no one reading this who’s also well-aware of Byrne: The Kirby Toys. Byrne really, really wanted the Kirby characters and catalog at DC and he knew they couldn’t sustain books, but he could ostensibly use Wonder Woman, who had all these divine, magical, supernatural and mythic connections, to get his hands on those toys he dug so much. It’s part of why you get the full control on the book.
This is all evident fairly early on, as Etrigan pops up in the book and is more vital than you’d ever expect. And that would be totally fine and likely even interesting and expansive and lovely under others. But under Byrne, it’s just thinly veiled ‘I really want to be playing with the Kirby toys’ comics. This ethos fully culminates in a plotline involving Darkseid and The Amazons which sees a spectacularly, almost paradoxically, bad take on both, with the Amazons violently suffering due to his cruel villainy. It would also establish the running pattern of WW/Fourth World mythology collisions being absurdly terrible. And Byrne would, ultimately get his wish to an extent, as he’d ride this WW book, with all its Kirby catalog usage, into an event mini dubbed Genesis with The Fourth World and The Source, which posited an extremely terrible and homogeneous Unified Theory Of The DCU, as envisioned by John Byrne, explaining ‘everything’ and connecting it all. It is as bad as you would expect.
Byrne’s most lasting mark on WW is, of course, Cassie Sandsmark. But really, all the credit for making Cassie what she is goes to Peter David in Young Justice. Byrne doesn’t do terribly much here that’s enticing. However, Byrne’s actual most lasting impact on Wonder Woman wouldn’t be Cassie. That’d be something else entirely. It requires a slight tangent, but we’ll go there.
We’ve discussed Donna Troy a bit prior and it’s time to touch on her again. Her basic origin used to be that she was in a fire, she was taken in by Diana, boom, Wondergirl, simple. After Crisis On Infinite Earths, things changed given Diana was a ‘newcomer’ hero now (Black Canary instead got the slot as Founding Member even into the 2000s due to this) and so the decision was made to separate Diana and Donna a bit more. So now her origin involved The Titans Of Myth, with her as part of 12 other chosen ‘Titan Seeds’, detaching her from Diana and The Amazons further. All of this was done, of course, in The New Teen Titans, the key Perez book, written by his iconic collaborator and Crisis writer Marv Wolfman.
Now, that we’ve gotten those details out of the way, we can get to the key thing here. Marv Wolfman had…a self-insert in Teen Titans by the name of Terry Long. And Terry Long was…a much older man than Donna, who was also her professor. Terry is this man that a number of the women in the book are incredibly impressed by, including Starfire and the blatant ever-adored self-insert marries Donna, to much celebration and they even have a kid. Now, you can see all the problems here. Ostensibly, so could John Byrne. And when John Byrne seems something he perceives as a problem he takes a very John Byrne solution route. All of which is to say, Byrne has Terry and his son die in a car crash, just straight up killing them and taking them off the board without mercy. And ever since, no reader or writer has had to suffer the presence of Terry Long, except for that one time he was a zombie in Blackest Night.
However, even getting past that nugget, Byrne is the essential, fundamental modern root of the mess that is Donna Troy. Previously, you had the girl rescued from a fire, which then got replaced with a Titan Seed origin. Fair enough, that can be processed. This is comics, after all. Then came John Byrne, ready to ‘fix’ Donna, as Byrne tends to do. And so he made up a whole new convoluted garbage mess of an origin involving a villainess named Dark Angel, magical clones of sorcery, Donna being tortured and suffering for all eternity, with her life being restarted over and over and memory shenanigans erasing Donna from existence over and over. So if you ever wanna know what modern creator is the source of the absolute trainwreck mess that has become Donna Troy…well, you now have some idea.
Byrne’s era is a lot of him trying to ‘fix’ things by getting stuff back to his osmosis assumption and idea of a thing and its One True Interpretation, as understood by him, so it tracks that he’d do that. The other arena where this comes through big time however is where Byrne is deadset on the idea that Wonder Woman should be the age-old mythic hero, arriving during the late 30s/early 40s, being in the JSA. And so he has Diana ‘die’ and become ‘The Goddess Of Truth’ and through shenanigans has Hippolyta become Wonder Woman, too, with her having been the old WW of The Golden Age and a member of the JSA. Even if that completely undermines and messes up Diana’s own story and its point, Byrne isn’t really one to care, as he cares more about a nostalgic notion than the actual details and ramifications of that and what that means and actually says about the characters and stories that have been told and are being told. But of course, none of this should come as a surprise to you if you’re familiar with Byrne and his mode of operating. It is simply what he does and his harmful effects on Superman are massive, too, so that he got to do things like this both to Clark and Diana is…depressing.
Once it was all said and done, Byrne had a 3-year long stint on the title, running from #101 to #136. He departed the title in 1998. The whole run is currently collected in 3 full volumes by DC, linked in the heading for this section. I can’t say I particularly recommend this era in the slightest, but if you must, there it is.
Kingdom Come and The Great Gap
She is pretty cold-hearted at the end. I’ve said to you before, one of my failings with that story is that I never could fully understand Wonder Woman–and, so, she became a plot device more than a character. – Mark Waid
What comes after Byrne is worth discussing, but before we do, let’s discuss this behemoth from 1996. Kingdom Come was, of course, massive. It featured a dystopic Ragnarok-esque scenario of the DCU and in it, Diana boasts the shame golden eagle warrior armor that is now seen in subsequent runs (particularly Simone) and especially in Wonder Woman 1984. But even the visual influence aside, it is maybe the most influential modern WW text, in a sense. More people read Kingdom Come than the collective number of folks who’ve read WW comics. And so the portrayal of Diana there, given so many readers had no sense of who she was to start in the way they did with Superman and Batman and some others, became THE portrayal for many. Nevermind the fact that Waid blatantly admitted he just did not get Wonder Woman and didn’t do her right there or that the entire point of the story was that the characters were their worst, most nightmarish selves, these weren’t ‘definitive’ or ‘right’ portrayals. These were everything to be strictly avoided!
But alas, thus began the reign of the sword-toting, ‘Let’s kill’ Wonder Woman interpretation. The sort of ‘badass’ version who would ‘do what was necessary’ became imprinted in the minds of many. You got the reduction of ‘Superman the naive compassionate american farmboy, Batman the untrustworthy asshole and badass cold warrior Wonder Woman’ as an understanding of The Trinity. Diana in the book is very much the individual egging Superman and others on, making the stern ‘tough’ decisions and constantly pushing for aggression and war, being a cold, unsympathetic, distant figure. A ‘badass’ and that is all. Able to cut the hell out of her foes and do so without blinking much? Sure. But the heart, the inspiration, the love, the compassion? All not there. Despite not being a WW book, its influence on WW and how she’s been interpreted is impossible to overstate, so it had to be brought up.
Getting back to the Post-Byrne period, however, we get into what can only be called The Great Gap. It’s very much the filler space before the next big, proper runs start. You first kick off with two decent fill-ins by Christopher Priest in #137-138 and you end the period with Brian K. Vaughn doing a two-issue Clayface related narrative in #160-161, as well as Ben Raab doing an unremarkable two-issue thing in #162-163 to follow.
Thus, the most meaty and meaningful thing during this period is the space in-between. The ‘run’ in between that kick off of Priest and the end of BKV/Raab. And that run? It was by Erik Luke, joined for a good number of issues by an up and coming artist by the name of Yanick Paquette (who we’ll be talking about later down the road). This run is the point where Adam Hughes started to do the covers for the Wonder Woman book. So, again, like with Bolland, if you didn’t vibe with the comics, you still got some all-time great cover work with Diana. Hughes is a key artist associated with Diana and this being his starting point is something worth noting. Luke’s era is perhaps most notable for its revamp of the Doctor Poison concept and legacy, building it up and trying to lay the foundation for a big, scary threat that’s both old and new at once in some fashion.
But apart from that, the run largely centered on Devastation, the ‘dark mirror’ of Wonder Woman, made from Themysciran clay, much like Diana and imbued with dark gifts from Dark Titans (as opposed to the good gods). This was all done by Cronus, the once lord of The Titans, who wanted to rule all and with his legion of dark titan children and Devastation, his key champion. Devastation is, of course, an impetuous, cruel, cackling evil child, as pictured above and on the whole, the dark titans and the whole antagonist crew of this era do have interesting aesthetics. They’re the sort that would’ve been perfect for a Cliff Chiang-drawn dark fantasy comic with Wonder Woman!
In the end, Diana of Themyscira is not Superman or Batman. DC certainly doesn’t treat her with even quarter of the respect or consideration, to be sure, but even past that, she’s an icon we constantly put on trial. Why isn’t she good enough? Why isn’t she like this? Why isn’t she like that? We’re always judging her, in ways we never would those men. And we’re constantly seeing her compared to the two of them, as people point out what she doesn’t have that they do, good treatment aside. She carries a great burden on her shoulder and many expect her to stand in for every single woman, which is so, so difficult.
But you know what? Maybe that’s the thing. Diana isn’t just a reporter. Diana isn’t just some millionaire CEO. She’s not just this one, fixed, consistent thing, with a clear, fixed, defined role for all time. Poor Diana has to be a nurse, then she has to be a secretary, then she has to play ‘girlfriend’, then she has to prove her worth to the Justice League. She’s an ambassador, a teacher, a writer, a poet, a scholar, a scientist, a fighter, a god, a space pirate AND a taco saleswoman. She’s many things to many. She inhabits many roles for a myriad of individuals, a different kind of Wonder Woman to each one, a pressure that is nonexistant for the men. She is the icon who tries so, so hard, so that is the weight on her shoulders. And in a curious way, that also reflects a lot of real women. They’re not just one thing, they’re not playing one or maybe two fixed roles. They don’t have that privilege. They’re doing a billion things, a million jobs and getting stuff done all the time, to the point you’re wondering when and how they even have the time to sleep. They’re often overlooked or taken for granted. And sometimes, even a Wonder Woman can’t escape that.