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Grumpy Old Fan | How Wonder Woman’s past can help the Finches

To coin a phrase

To coin a phrase

After three years, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are wrapping up their Wonder Woman run. Starting with November’s Issue 36, the new creative team will be writer Meredith Finch and her husband, artist David Finch.

While it would be silly to pass judgment completely on the Finches four months before their debut, I have to say my initial reaction wasn’t entirely positive. Consider the creative teams on the four main books of Diana’s Trinitarian brothers. Although detoured by the “Doomed” crossover, Action Comics’ team of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder has been well-received. Superman just kicked off the Geoff Johns/John Romita Jr. era. Detective Comics picked up Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato after their stylish success on The Flash; and Batman features the unstoppable Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. For that matter, Azzarello/Chiang was one of several distinct creative teams that debuted as part of the initial New 52 relaunch and set itself apart instantly from any DC house style. Besides Snyder/Capullo on Batman and Manapul/Buccellato on Flash, there were Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman on Animal Man, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman on Batwoman, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino on I Vampire, Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen on OMAC, and Snyder and Yanick Paquette on Swamp Thing. Accordingly, Azzarello and Chiang have seemed right at home helming Wonder Woman.

By contrast, as a writing/drawing team the Finches are an unknown quantity. Meredith Finch has written a few one-shots; and since coming to DC from Marvel, David Finch’s projects have been plagued by delays.

Now, these may all turn out to be moot points. The Finches may have the perfect take on Wonder Woman. They are certainly very enthusiastic, even if he has been a bit tone-deaf. We won’t know for sure how their Wonder Woman will read until this fall — but I can still offer some historical perspective, and maybe a little advice.

* * *

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Wonder Woman isn’t a difficult character to “get.” She’s an ambassador on a mission to spread the ideals of her home culture and thereby make the world a better place. She believes as firmly in those ideals (which sometimes contradict the Amazons’ actions) as Superman and Batman do in theirs. Her culture also taught her to fight unflinchingly for those beliefs, using the language of Ares to back up the principles of Aphrodite.

That said, she’s the product of creator William Moulton Marston’s unconventional ideas about women, and the roles they might play in society. Leaving aside the particularly unconventional elements of Marston’s philosophy, for our purposes it’s enough to say that he and artist Harry G. Peter guided Wonder Woman from her 1941 debut (in All Star Comics #8, her only solo story in that title) through Marston’s death in 1947. Those were the formative years of the Golden Age, when Superman and Batman were being adapted for — and consequently shaped by — radio shows, cartoons and movie serials. Wonder Woman’s own multimedia adaptations wouldn’t come until decades later, but she was popular enough to sustain her own series while scores of other titles were being canceled (including Sensation Comics, her first home, in 1951). Of course, that run of continuous publication was enough to earn her spot in what DC would come to call its “Trinity.”

Still, where Superman and Batman each starred in multiple comics and other venues from the ‘40s through the ‘60s, Wonder Woman tended only to be found in her own series and in Sensation (and occasionally with the Justice Society in All Star Comics, which also ended in 1951). Accordingly, while we can name a number of writers and artists who worked on the World’s Finest Heroes during this period, Wonder Woman went generally from one long-running creative team to the next. Bob Kanigher followed Marston as writer, working with Peter until 1958. Penciler Ross Andru and inker Mike Esposito then drew Kanigher’s scripts until 1967, when the “Diana Prince” phase (1968-72) — associated most closely with writer Denny O’Neil, writer/artist Mike Sekowsky and artist Dick Giordano — was just around the corner.

It’s tempting to skip straight from the end of “Diana Prince” to the 1986 debut of George Pérez and company, but that leaves out about 14 years’ worth of comics. The Wonder Woman of the early ‘70s to mid-‘80s is worth exploring because it saw a number of creative teams. This started with Kanigher, penciler Don Heck and inker Vince Colletta bringing back the costume and powers in January-February 1973′s Wonder Woman #204. Kanigher then wrote, and Ric Estrada penciled, most of the next several issues. After that, the guest star-heavy “Twelve Trials of Wonder Woman” arc — where she asked the Justice League to let her earn her way back in — was the product of rotating creative teams, and by the end of it (Issue 222, February-March 1976) the 1970s were half over.

With that issue, José Delbo became the regular penciler. He drew a total of 65 issues (through December 1981′s Issue 286), but it was mostly eight issues here and nine issues there from a host of writers including Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway, Jack C. Harris, Paul Levitz, and Conway again. The book also changed format for several issues, telling wartime stories set on Earth-Two (but not so much in the Marston/Peter vein) in order to capitalize on the Wonder Woman TV show’s World War II setting. When the action returned to Earth-One, various other tweaks followed: Steve Trevor was brought back to life a second time (he’d been killed at the start of the “Diana Prince” period, then brought back and killed again); Diana began astronaut training but quit to work for the United Nations; and for a couple of issues Wonder Woman was replaced by a redhead Amazon named Onara.

Actually, Conway’s second stint was fairly long, from Issue 259 (September 1979) through Issue 285 (November 1981), with the occasional break. Conway and Delbo were succeeded (as of February 1982′s Issue 288) by another notable creative team, writer Roy Thomas and penciler Gene Colan, who started by introducing the costume’s “double-W” design. Dan Miskin took over for Thomas with Issue 297 (although Roy and Dann Thomas co-wrote Issue 300), and Don Heck became regular penciler with Issue 306. Mindy Newell wrote Issues 326-28 before Conway returned for the volume’s final issue, February 1986′s Issue 329.

That’s a lot of detail, I know; but eight regular writers in 14 years (counting Conway twice) underscores the turnover on the title during the Bronze Age. Compare Conway’s long tenure writing Justice League of America (mostly with pencller Dick Dillin), or Cary Bates’ many years writing The Flash. It also contrasts well with Wonder Woman’s stability over the past 28 years. Since 1986, the Wonder Woman creative teams have been characterized largely by distinct visions and long tenures.

  • 1986-92: writer/artist George Pérez (with writers Greg Potter, Len Wein and Mindy Newell, and artists Chris Marinnan, Cynthia Martin and Jill Thompson);
  • 1992-95: writer William Messner-Loebs (with artists Paris Cullins and Mike Deodato Jr.);
  • 1995-98: writer/artist John Byrne;
  • 1998-2000: writer Eric Luke and artists Yanick Paquette and Matthew Clark;
  • 2000-03: writer/artist Phil Jimenez;
  • 2003-06: writer Greg Rucka and artists Drew Johnson, Rags Morales and Cliff Richards;
  • 2006-07: writer Allan Heinberg and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson;
  • 2007: writer Jodi Picoult and artists Drew Johnson, Paco Diaz, and Terry and Rachel Dodson;
  • 2008-10: writer Gail Simone and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson, Bernard Chang, Aaron Lopresti, and Nicola Scott;
  • 2010-11: writers J. Michael Straczynski and Phil Hester and artist Don Kramer; and
  • 2011-14: writer Brian Azzarello and artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins and Goran Sudzuka

Most of those teams got plenty of time to explore their own takes on Wonder Woman, and those which didn’t — i.e., the Heinberg/Dodsons and Picoult et al., who produced a total of nine issues and an annual — still kept the series moving forward.

It all comes back to the idea that Wonder Woman is one of the more creator-driven characters. DC can’t just put any old team on Wonder Woman; it must be the right team. Again, consciously or not, I think some of this thinking goes back to the singular Marston/Peter years; and some of it is the notion that Wonder Woman must be “done right” in order to make sure DC doesn’t screw up its most prominent — maybe the most prominent — female superhero.

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Make no mistake, though — this doesn’t mean that a distinct creative vision and an extended tenure automatically come out to “done right.” Readers complained about a number of the aforementioned creative teams, from the thongs on Mike Deodato Jr.’s Amazons and the execution of Max Lord to Picoult’s “innocent abroad” approach, the bleakness of the JMS-plotted “Odyssey” storyline, and Azzarello and Chiang’s bloody Amazonian backstory.

That last bit illustrates the more modern risk of emphasizing the Amazons’ combat skills in order to make them scary and/or cool. It cropped up in 2007′s Amazons Attack!, it was a big part of the dark Flashpoint timeline and it underscores Azzarello and Chiang’s revisions. It’s also a handy way to distinguish Wonder Woman from quite a few of her colleagues. When Wonder Woman snapped Max Lord’s neck in 2005, it was to show she was the only one of the Trinity who could realistically do so. There is an “other-ness” to Wonder Woman that doesn’t quite line up with her gender — although I’m sure that doesn’t hurt — but rather with her having been isolated in her own book for so many years. It gives creative teams the ability to take her places that the other A-listers can’t really go. (Messner-Loebs had her work fast food for a while, although that may not be a comparable example.) Such freedom isn’t necessarily bad, because it helps keep her from going stale, but it’s not always easy to pull off.

Nevertheless, I think it’s eminently appropriate to remember that Wonder Woman comes from Somewhere Else; and more particularly, from a place that still exists and still wants (at least on occasion) to interact with the rest of the world. Her moral code wasn’t formed by her parents being murdered, and it’s not an idealized version of the American Dream. It’s the collective expression of a separate, centuries-old culture, founded as a (mostly benign) response to the oppression visited upon its citizens. As such, Wonder Woman has arguably more in common with other agents of ancient civilizations, like Aquaman and the Green Lanterns, than she does with Supes or Bats. Unlike the king of Atlantis or the Guardians’ representatives, however, she’s on a distinct mission to spread the Amazons’ ideals. This gives her a definite point of view, and keeps her from being just another superhero.

Indeed, if there’s one thing that typifies the creative-team turnover of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it may well be the “just another superhero” approach. Sure, Wonder Woman fought evil gods and some of her classic foes, but there wasn’t much more than that. When Pérez and company arrived, they brought along a distinct point of view, and many of their successors did the same. Even the Luke/Paquette/Clark years (which tend to be forgotten between Byrne and Jimenez) were a good synthesis of what had come before. Among other things, they gave Diana an airborne Wonderdome headquarters, created a new mythology-based villain named Devastation, and presented a two-part story called “Trinity ‘98,” guest-starring Superman and Batman.  (I’m not sure it was the first instance of DC’s big three heroes appearing under that name, but Matt Wagner’s Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity miniseries didn’t appear until 2003.) Overall, we might see the Luke/Paquette/Clark run as a good transition between Byrne’s retro-Kanigher/Andru approach and Jimenez’ retro-Pérez (with some Marston/Peter) style — but again, it was its own thing, thanks to the series’ relative isolation.

Ironically, these days Wonder Woman’s increasing visibility is giving her home series some competition. From the beginning of the New 52, Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman has existed alongside not just her portrayal in Justice League (written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, et al.), but more recently in Superman/Wonder Woman (written by Charles Soule and penciled by Tony Daniel). Soon, the revived digital-first Sensation Comics will offer any number of interpretations, and Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s Wonder Woman: Earth One will no doubt present another.

Those are all great reasons for the Finches to stake out their own territory, and establish their own distinct style, rather firmly. The character of Wonder Woman has been resilient enough to handle many interpretations, but the Wonder Woman series cannot afford to be a clearinghouse for everyone else’s. If it were, it would be just another superhero comic, and that’s something Wonder Woman has spent decades avoiding.

++++++++++++++++

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 9.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Cadmus Island pages: 7 (counting a double-page spread)
  • Odds that Lois’ coordinates actually led her to Themyscira, and the sequence’s proximity to the Cadmus sequence is a fake-out: 8:1
  • Madison/Rampage/Superman pages: 4
  • Mr. Terrific/Brother Eye pages: 2
  • Wounded Duck pages: 2
  • SHADE Team pages: 5
  • Number of dismemberments: 0
  • Number of characters newly missing an arm: 1, but it should grow back
  • Number of Earth-2 characters visible in the two-page spread of Cadmus cells: 11
  • Number of those characters you’d think could bust out before the page turn: at least 3

NOTES: I think this is the first appearance of the New 52 Rampage. A hulked-out version of STAR Labs scientist/administrator Karen Faulkner, she was created by John Byrne early in his Superman tenure, and she popped up here and there throughout the next 20-odd years. However, a Google search for “Ethan Boyer” didn’t turn up anything.

Patrick Zircher is a reliably good artist, although I was fairly confused by the initial Rampage fight choreography. Was that the non-super Rampage sitting next to Madison in the baseball cap? Otherwise, did Rampage just bust in and start smashing? And the fact that the Masked Superman knows who Ethan Boyer is, but the reader apparently doesn’t, isn’t quite enough to establish his villainous bona fides — considering that we don’t know much about the Masked Superman’s history at this point either.

I spotted a couple of apparent old-school callbacks in this issue. One was the traditional Atom/Hawkman pairing (since The Atom and Hawkman series brought the two together in the late ‘60s). The other was the Wounded Duck sign, which looks like the Red Robin “R” symbol if you make the background black and the duck a yellow silhouette. Subtle — or does Tim really want to be found …?

Also, as an avid hate-reader of Funky Winkerbean, I can’t help but think that Madison’s dad looks like FW “star” Les Moore. Don’t let him smirk at you, Madison! Jail’s too good for him!

Seriously, I know there’s a well-thought-out explanation on the way, but that double-page spread of all the Earth-2 characters really does not sell the idea that these characters are securely imprisoned. I mean, Mister Miracle, Power Girl and Doctor Fate are just standing there? Are they on the honor system?

I suppose we can add 2001 to the Terminator homages in the “cyborg from the future” sequence. ALFRED is worried that Brother Eye will be reactivated, but this looks a lot like that’s already happened.

Generally I thought this issue ended abruptly, not so much on a cliffhanger but as a result of sketchy pacing. It seemed to be a list of strung-together plot points, which made it feel like all setup; and that seems to be all we’ve gotten out of the series recently. (Meanwhile, Batman Eternal’s individual issues have been focusing on particular characters and telling fairly self-contained stories about them, while still managing to advance the overall plot.) Granted, some things have started to pay off (even underwhelmingly), so perhaps the plot will start to pick up.

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Blown up in just his pants! Stalked at the cafeteria! Everybody shoots at Masked Superman! And … plans come together (one hopes) at the Wounded Duck!

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Comments

26 Comments

Great article. An excellent summary of WW’s publishing history. But it seems like the new team is going to go for traditional super heroics from what they said.

“Wonder Woman was replaced by a redhead Amazon named Onara.”

Um, no. DIANA was replaced as Wonder Woman by a red-headed Amazon named ORANA. (Somebody seems to have forgotten that “Wonder Woman” was a codename–not a personal name. The issue where Diana was replaced explained all that. Incidentally, it was a concept which had been established some time earlier in the series’ history. I know I remember reading one from the early Silver Age stories–reprinted in one of the Showcase volumes–where Diana explained having to return to Paradise Island periodically to retain her title as Wonder Woman.)

Call it nitpicky if you want, but to go into so much depth and miss a critical point deserves a nitpick.

About the comparison to “Batman Eternal,” it should be noted that “BE” pretty much sticks to the Bat-family while “FE” has the whole of the DCU to cover. “[F]ocusing on particular characters and telling fairly self-contained stories about them, while still managing to advance the overall plot” is a bit easier to do when (A) you have a smaller cast and crew to work with, and (B) you’re dealing with a storyline set in the present (as opposed to a story set 5 years in a potential future intended to stop a more horrifying future from coming to pass).

Not trying to suggest that your points aren’t valid, but there is a reasonable explanation why “FE” seems a bit more spread out than “BE” (the fact that “BE” got started a month earlier might have a bit to do with its appearing more focused and “self-contained” as well).

Thanks Tom for another great article (and for giving me an idea for my own Wonder Woman article for my blog !). I echo Batzarro’s concerns, it does seem the Finch’s are looking to make Wonder Woman more “mainstream” by having her be just another hero. I am fervently hoping this is not the case, but at the moment their comments have not given us old school fans much hope.

I loved Gail Simone’s run, but I mean Azz/Chaing’s was vastly superior. They were the best thing to happen to WW since Greg Rucka. I have no faith in the coming “creative” team.

Brian from Canada

July 4, 2014 at 9:05 am

I disagree with your premise, Tom. The Amazons have shifted personality far more than Wonder Woman to a point they are no longer the noble society they were once presented as — and certainly there is no place for them amongst the modern versions of the world’s nations. The idyllic utopia of today is what’s envisioned by the extremists and you can bet someone will make the connection at some point.

As for the Future’s End question about the Earth 2 heroes, I had thought that immediately obvious! Grifter was “modified” because of his hero-sensing ability. Faraday answers to someone secretly at Cadmus. Cadmus has the O.M.A.C.s. This is Brother Eye’s territory, and everyone on the island are its weapons. The Earth 2 heroes, then, are awaiting instruction from their new master.

I will give the new creative team a chance, but honestly this last run was the only Wonder Woman run I picked up steadily for more then a year, a return to traditional Super heroics or potentially a bland and less dynamic story for Diana will probably lead to me dropping it. I wish the Finches the best but if their run becomes Superman/Wonder Woman 2 or Wonder Woman team up, I’ll be out in 6 months flat.

This is part of that attempt to get woman super heroes written by women. I’m all for it unless the writing sucks. Then whats the point. We shall see.

On a side note, why can’t we just clone Gail Simone and make her write all of the women’s roles? Then I don’t have to worry about lack of ability of unproven writers, or DC hiring women for the sake of women instead of hiring talent? (Not neccesarily a commentary on this specific book)

People tend to forget that Gail was released from her run on Wonder Woman for declining sales and poor reviews.

I really enjoy the current team of WW. Finch is a great artist, but by no means a Chiang. His portrayal of WW is great, powerful and I like Azzs’ inclusion of the Greek gods. We will see, I try the first issue.

I hope to God Wonder Woman will be good again, but I’m not sure how much can be fixed without rebooting all of the New 52 stuff out. She needs to come from a good place, with actual good ideals, not a land of evil murderers of innocents who go out on seduction and murdering raids three times a century. Sickening. Having decent gods again would be good, too.

TorchwoodXIII

July 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Those complaining about the “murderous nature” of Azzarello’s Amazons should take notice that you are complaining about what is widely considered to be historical fact as recorded and told for thousands of years about Amazon culture. Even if all you did was wiki up “Amazons” without continuing and reading all the references as well, it’s made pretty clear that this is likely what they actually did to continue their single gendered culture, and a lot more often than three times a century. So essentially, you’re upset that Azzarello made these Amazons closer to historical and “real” Amazons. Only this time he worked out a way to keep the male borns alive that makes sense.

Great piece and nice to see Eric Luke’s run given some attention. It was a solid piece of work and threw Diana into some different world mythologies, which worked well.

I love this line ‘Her culture also taught her to fight unflinchingly for those beliefs, using the language of Ares to back up the principles of Aphrodite.’

Great piece. I don’t know what to think anymore. A Wonder Woman who’s every thought revolves around Superman and who isn’t free to pursue relationships with anyone in her own supporting cast is not only not a Wonder Woman that I recognize but also not one that I want to purchase. The minute the Finches confirmed that this forced relationship with Superman was going to be shoved into their book was the minute they lost my business and interest as a female reader.

Guess I’ll have to wait for the next run.

“Those complaining about the “murderous nature” of Azzarello’s Amazons should take notice that you are complaining about what is widely considered to be historical fact as recorded and told for thousands of years about Amazon culture.”

But this is not a history book. It’s a fiction of the fantasy genre based on Moulton’s creations which were only vaguely connected to the legendary Amazons

I don’t think they need help with SOMETHING that hasn’t come out yet. And we haven’t read yet. Geez.

@Torchwood: Actually the Amazons were revised as a murderous lot by sexist historians who wanted to undermine the popularity of the mythic race, especially among women. What Marston did was use the original, unblemished history of the warrior women. As he felt those earliest examples of empowered women in Western civilisation would make an excellent backdrop and point of origin for his creation, comics’ first superheroine.

@Kate
What hyperbole. Typical stuff most people say who don’t read the books. And I know women read Azz’s WW and Soule’s SM/WW. Seems women like men have varying tastes.

Don’t leave that there.

The defense of the raping murderous amazons as being historically accurate is laughable. But so is the way it keeps getting framed. Azzarello wrote a compassionate, thoughtful, strong and really inspiring Wonder Woman, placing her in a story less about good and evil and more about violence, about family, about responsibility. And about change. The amazonians now that they are resurrected are starting to change relinquishing the old ways (ways imparted by old white men/gods) for the new ones brought by Diana. Which is, I think, much more powerful and makes her character so much better.

This is a really good series, a little dark sure, imaginative, with really strong and diverse female characters, with a lot of nuance, with really great, sensible art. But sure, dismiss it because Wonder Woman didn’t straight-up punch Orion in the face when he slapped her posterior while being in hurry to save a baby’s life.

The cells with all of the earth 2 heroes reminded me of the scene in Cabin in the Woods with all the different monsters in stacks of cubes

The biggest wrong done to the Amazons wasn’t done by the current team. It was done by Perez. Pre-Crisis the Amazons in isolation advanced scientifically and philosophically. They had Reformation Island and the other outliers. They were a society that had surpassed us and it could make sense for one of its best and brightest would bring their message to Man’s World. Perez left us with a stagnant culture that had not progressed one iota in millennia. It sent the message that a one gender society would stagnate. Perez’s Amazons have zero to offer the world except maybe as barbarian mercenaries and even then they’d be useless if the enemy had discovered projectile weapons…

@Alin R. your comment here is the best I’ve seen regarding Azz and Chiang’s series. I may save this page so I can point others to this comment.

Thanks.

I would just give Diana something to do when she’s not being Wonder Woman. It doesn’t have to be as lofty as an Ambassador for Themysceria, or as “slummy” as working in fast food, but just give her somewhere to be and something to do, while tongue-in-cheek acknowledging that it might be a short-lived and fleeting as the premise of your average sitcom/dramedy. Have her use that identity not to further her cause or inform her superheroic efforts, like Batman/Superman/Flash etc, do, but to have her enjoy herself and live a life outside of saving the planet, a bit more like Hal Jordan or some of the younger superheroes.

@MK, Yes, I’m sure there are some women who purchased Azzarello’s Wonder Woman after the reveal with the Amazons and I’m sure there are some women who purchase Superman/Wonder Woman. Just as there were women who purchased Teen Titans. Women can and do contribute to sexism. Just as there are plenty of women who reject these things. I can’t control what other women do or what they choose to buy.

I’ve kept very up to date with the content in the books. Though I believe Azz had good intentions, I struggled a great deal with his choices with the Amazons. As for Superman/Wonder Woman, that is simply not a book that will ever get my money nor something that will ever interest me. I don’t like the relationship. I think Soule has worked very hard to sell a difficult premise but it’s simply not something that I buy into. I’m not interested in reading stories where Wonder Woman is in love with Superman. For me, it’s a very damaging choice that they’ve made with the character and it has affected the way I view her and how I feel about her.

While I wish the Finches luck, if they are including the romance in their book, then it’s not a book I’m interested in reading. I’ll stick to Sensation.

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