In July, 1972, I bought my second-ever issue of Wonder Woman. My first issue had been #171 (Jul.-Aug., 1967) — and as I wrote here on the blog back in May, 2017, my nine-year-old self hadn’t been all that taken at the time with Robert Kanigher’s silly scripts, nor had the art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito held much appeal for me. So, what motivated me to finally get around to giving the title another go, five years later?
It wasn’t the whole “New Wonder Woman”, white-jumpsuited Diana
Rigg Prince thing, for sure; that had been around since 1968, and if it hadn’t inspired me to lay down my coin to check it out yet, it wasn’t going to. No, it was the appearance on the Dick Giordano-drawn cover of perhaps the two most unlikely guest stars I could have imagined — science fiction and fantasy author Fritz Leiber’s sword-and-sorcery heroes, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. What the heck were those guys doing on the cover of any DC comic book — let alone Wonder Woman?
I should specify here that, as of July ’72, I probably hadn’t actually read any of Leiber’s stories featuring his famous duo yet. I only knew the two heroes’ names by reputation, as more contemporary exemplars of the heroic fantasy subgenre typified by Robert E. Howard’s (and Marvel Comics’) Conan the Barbarian. Still, this was a period when I was grabbing pretty much all the sword-and-sorcery I could find (at least in comic-book form), and I couldn’t resist the notion of a couple of the subgenre’s best-known characters crossing over into DC Comics’ superhero milieu, even if it was in the pages of a title I didn’t care much about.
Of course, upon actually buying the comic, taking it home, and turning to its opening splash page, I had still more surprises in store…
The first was that I was coming in in the middle of an ongoing storyline. The second was that the costumed woman Diana Prince was battling on the book’s cover was evidently Catwoman, wearing an outfit which, while not actually new, was unfamiliar to my fifteen-year-old self. The third was that the script was by Samuel R. Delany — an author who, like Fritz Leiber, I hadn’t actually read anything by yet, but whom I nevertheless knew to be an award-winning young science fiction writer, associated with the same “New Wave” of more experimental, “literary” authors that also included Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock. As much if not more so than Fafhrd and the Mouser, “Chip” Delany’s showing up in the present context seemed highly incongruous; really, what was the writer of the Hugo and Nebula-winning story “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” doing scripting an issue of Wonder Woman?
According to Denny O’Neil, who’d immediately preceded Delany as the series’ writer (and had also been its editor since issue #199), the two men had met at a convention, and after realizing they lived in the same New York neighborhood, they began to hang out occasionally. Delany was intrigued by comics as a medium, and after some time it seemed “natural” for the comics pro O’Neil to ask his friend the SF pro if he’d be interested in having a go at Wonder Woman. As it turned out, Delany was interested, and in relatively short order came up with a plan for a six-issue sequence focused on issues associated with second-wave feminism (or “women’s liberation”, at the movement was generally referred to at the time).*
But before he could get to work on his own ideas, Delany first had to resolve the story that O’Neil had begun in Wonder Woman #201 — an issue which, as we’ve already seen, had ended with a cliffhanger.
In O’Neil and Giordano’s “The Fist of Flame”, Diana Prince and her mentor/partner I-Ching had traveled from New York to Tibet in search of the story’s namesake, a giant ruby, in hopes of saving the life of their kidnapped ally (and new love interest for Diana), private eye Jonny Double. Though they were successful in tracking the gem down to the Tibetan mountain fastness where it was worshiped by a sect of cultists, Diana and Ching were both captured by the cultists — as was Catwoman, who was trying to steal the ruby for herself. The two women were then forced to fight each other while suspended over a flaming pit, the intended outcome being that one would die, and the survivor would serve the cult henceforth. But Diana managed to save both Catwoman and herself, and the two of them fled with Ching…
And that, of course, is where we find ourselves at the beginning of WW #202 (though you’ll notice that Fafhrd has somehow managed to grow some distinctive facial hair between issues). Now, on with our story…
Fafhrd pulls out his sword (signifying that these guys are not your standard issue DC heroes), but Diana karate-kicks him in the gut, sending him sprawling…
This is probably as good a place as any to pause and note how the appearance of Catwoman in this storyline fits into her long and varied history. As I wrote on this blog a little less than five years ago, the Bat-villain also known as Selina Kyle had been more or less abandoned by DC in the mid-Fifties, about the time that the Comics Code Authority came into being. She’d made a comeback after being featured in the 1966-68 Batman TV series, only to be put back on the shelf once more (along with virtually every other extant costumed villain in the Caped Crusader’s rogues’ gallery) following the show’s cancellation, as DC waved goodbye to the campy “Batmania” era. Outside of a brief cameo in a “Black Canary” backup tale in Adventure Comics #419 (May, 1972), she hadn’t appeared in a new comic book story since Batman #210 in 1969 — and even after this showcase in Wonder Woman, she wouldn’t return to the pages of her traditional nemesis’ comic until 1974.
And now that we’ve established our comic’s Cat-context, it’s back to the narrative… as I-Ching tells the would-be jewel thieves Fafhrd and the Mouser that they’re in luck, because according to ancient lore, “the Fist of Flame and the Eye of the Ocean are in strange occult conjunction! Gazing into one, you can see what is before the other!”
Frustrated, Lu-Shan hurls the sapphire away from her…
Her own frustration a mirror of Lu-Shan’s, Diana pitches the ruby away as well. “Hey,” objects the Gray Mouser, even as his partner sprints to retrieve the gem, “that’s a valuable trinket!”
The group decides that Diana and Faf will make a frontal assault on the front entrance, while Cat and the Mouser head around the back to check for another way in; meanwhile, Ching will stay behind to guard the ruby.
At least, everyone says they agree with that plan. However, once Fafhrd and Wonder Woman are on their way…
I have to admit that, to this date, I’ve read only a few of the original Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories; even so, I have to say that I doubt that Fritz Leiber ever had the latter character chase an actual mouse. On the other hand, I’ve always found this a fun sequence, despite the inherent silliness.
I’m not sure what the point is of the pointy-eared cowls worn by Gawron’s guards; are they supposed to look like cats? Demons? And what sort of sword-and-sorcery genre-appropriate wizard keeps a high-tech “dimensional energy transfer matrix machine” in his stronghold, anyway?
As the struggle continues, Fafhrd and Diana push their way slowly but steadily into the cave. Meanwhile, the mouse has returned to where I-Ching still waits with the Fist of Flame; by following the squeaking and skittering noises made by the little creature, the blind man makes his way into the wizard’s lair as well, using the same back passage taken earlier by the Gray Mouser and Catwoman…
Seeing that both the Fist of Flame and the Eye of the Ocean are at last almost within his grasp, Gawron makes a beeline for them…
Delany appears to have missed the bit on the last page of WW #201 where O’Neil established that Catwoman and Lu-Shan were rivals in searching for the Fist of Flame. Oh, well…
Grasping the two stones in either hand, I-Ching hastens to where a doorway stands between two carved serpents’ heads. Thrusting his fists into the stone jaws, he calls to his friends and allies to run towards him…
And so our story ends with a half-page house ad pitching the debut of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s own magazine, Swords Against Sorcery (a title that nicely echoed the naming convention of the Ace Books paperback series reprinting Leiber’s stories, all of which began with the word “Swords”). The artist for the ad isn’t credited, but presumably it’s Howard Chaykin, who’d be the regular artist for the series when it finally appeared… in late December, and bearing the somewhat less unwieldy, but ultimately nonsensical revised title of Sword of Sorcery. (Oddly, another person who receives no credit — not in this ad, not in the preceding story’s credits, and not even on the letters page, is Fritz Leiber — which seems impolite at best, and legally questionable, at worst.)
I thoroughly enjoyed this story when I first read it fifty years ago, and despite the minor quibbles I’ve noted here and there, I think it still holds up quite well — not least because of the terrific art job by Dick Giordano, who really seemed to rise to the occasion this gig provided of having a larger canvas on which to show his pencilling chops, after having been primarily relegated to backup features by DC prior to taking over the full art chores on Wonder Woman with issue #200.
Even so, while I was now primed and ready to buy and read a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series whenever DC saw fit to give it to me, this issue did little or nothing to move the needle for me on Wonder Woman — which, for better or worse, I wouldn’t sample again until (checks notes) 1981. That meant that I missed out on the first issue of Samuel R. Delany’s projected six-issue arc, WW #203 (“Special! Women’s Lib Issue”) — which also turned out to be the last issue of the arc, as well as the last scripted by Delany.
As the author related to Back Issue‘s Andy Mangels in 2006:
Apparently, Gloria Steinem, who was then the editor of Ms., was taking a tour through the DC offices one day, and they were proudly showing her Wonder Woman. She didn’t read the story, she just looked at some of the artwork, and the first thing she saw was that Wonder Woman was no longer in her American flag and bikini briefs. And she said, “What’s happened to Wonder Woman? You’ve taken away all of her super-powers. Don’t you realize how important this is to the young women of America?” Unfortunately, she wasn’t paying any attention to the storyline at all. It was just in terms of the image. So I think probably the Powers That Be were kind of intriguingly dubious about my storyline. They were probably not terribly happy where it was going. [Note: Delany’s plan was for his six-issue arc to culminate with an episode set at an abortion clinic.] So suddenly they say, “Ah! Gloria Steinem herself has spoken!” So the word came down from The Powers That Be that by the next issue, Wonder Woman had to be put back into her American flag bra and her magic bracelets. Well, there was no way you could continue my story arc. It wouldn’t have worked at all. So I just said, “Okay, I bow out, guys, there’s nothing I can do with it.” And I wasn’t particularly interested in carrying it beyond that.
Thus, beginning with issue #204, everything old was new again. Both Delany and O’Neil were gone, respectively replaced as writer and editor by the returning Robert Kanigher; and while Giordano was still around, his role had been cut back to inking Don Heck’s pencils. The era of the “New” Wonder Woman, as launched four years earlier by editor Jack Miller, artist Mike Sekowsky, and writer Denny O’Neil, was officially over.
Was Gloria Steinem’s disapproval of the non-powered version of Wonder Woman responsible for the change back to the original model? Perhaps, although I’m doubtful that DC’s then-publisher Carmine Infantino would have taken that action had the sales of the O’Neil-edited issues been sufficiently robust. But in some ways, the reversion to the character’s norm may have been inevitable; even allowing for a fashion upgrade or two, it’s hard to imagine the ’68-’72 iteration of Diana Prince still karate-kicking a half-century later. Which means that if she hadn’t changed back, she may well not have survived to the present day, save as a figure of nostalgia… though, as with any other such speculation regarding the road not traveled, there’s no way we’ll ever know for sure.
*Andy Mangels, “Catsuits and Karate: Diana Prince Leaves Wonder Woman Behind!”, Back Issue #17 (Jul., 2006), pp. 35-43.
I know I’m getting old (ain’t we all?), but I have no memory of a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser comic from DC or anyone else. Like you Alan, I hadn’t read the books at that point…in fact I just read the first collection, Swords and Deviltry, about a year ago, but I was a big fan of heroic fantasy and can’t believe that I don’t at least remember the comic, even if I never read it for some reason. How long did the run last? If you tell me it ran for years and years I’m seriously going to start wondering about my long-term memory! Regardless, Wonder Woman hardly seems to be the appropriate jumping off point for a series based on the two anti-heroes, however long it lasted. No aspersions cast in Mr. Delany’s direction; I’m sure part of the assignment was to include these two characters in his first story, but beyond the characters’ names and physical description, there’s very little here that resembles Leiber’s creations in the first place. Granted, I haven’t read a great deal of fantasy written in the fifties, but I have read some, and most of it seems to be seriously wrapped up in Norse mythology, like Thor. Leiber’s stories, as well as Poul Anderson’s “The Broken Sword” all include names and locations and even gods that seem to be inspired by, if not lifted directly from that part of the world, while this WW story seems to be set against a more Asian backdrop, though I confess that impression may come solely from the inclusion of both I Ching and his daughter. In other words, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouse definitely feel shoehorned in here and this hardly seems a fitting introduction to two such iconic literary characters. I’ll give Delany some credit for trying to draw parallels between the Mouser and Catwoman, but not much. And who in the world decided that the world’s greatest cat burglar needed pirate boots to skulk around on rooftops and shimmy down drainpipes? Sheesh! Super-hero costume design…go figure.
Anyway, no surprise that I missed this particular issue. I hated the whole de-powered Wonder Woman concept and wasn’t a big WW fan to begin with. In fact, I’m not certain if I’ve ever bought an issue of Wonder Woman in my life. Anyway, if it was Ms Steinem’s visit to the DC offices that put an end to the “hip” Wonder Woman, then thank Hera she dropped by. I agree with you Alan, that as a concept, the whole Diana Prince Woman of Mystery thing had a short shelf life and would not have lasted.
As to this issue in particular, aside from the fact that it does Fritz Leiber no favors, it’s a pretty good comic book story. The pieces fit and there are no huge plot holes to explain. Catwoman seems a bit out of place, but the bit at the end when Fafhrd and the Mouser decide to take Manhattan and then return five minutes later begging to be sent home was funny. I like Giordano better as an inker than a penciller, but the art is good here and overall it’s a pretty solid issue of a book I didn’t really give a damn about.
Alan, are you going to be blogging about the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser book at any point? Did you buy it fifty years ago? I’d kinda’ like to see what I missed out on.
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Don, as noted by a couple of your fellow commenters, the series ran for a mere five issues. I’ll definitely be blogging about one or more of them (as Brian noted, I’ve kind of already given that away in the header photo 😉 ).
Every month I play a game with myself of looking at Mike’s Amazing World and trying to guess which comics in that month you are going to blog about – I didn’t see this one coming but I’m very glad that you did! I had liked the the de-powered Wonder Woman. Like yourself I had only ever bought on issue of the “traditional” Wonder Woman, which by coincidence just happened to be the last one before the big change to the martial arts Wonder Woman. I had never been a big Sekowsky fan but really enjoyed the last 5 issues (199-203) of her de-powered run and I think Dick Giordano’s art had a last part to play in that. In fact one of my all time favourite comics covers appeared on Wonder Woman #199 by an artist I know nothing about, Jeff Jones. It’s worth having a look at. It conveys a sense of menace and helplessness that really surprised me at the time and I think that it is still very powerful.
I was still young enough at that time to think that change in comics was permanent so I was very surprised and disappointed when issue 204 came along and she was back in her original costume with her powers returned. I had bought and read issue 203, which had been the first part of a continuing story and I had been looking forward to see how that was going to pan out, alas the ending to that story never saw the light of day.
Jonny Double was also jettisoned at the end of #203 also. He had had a checkered career as a DC character. He was first seen as the title character in Showcase 78, then appeared in Challengers of the Unknown 74 and Adventure Comics 419 before turning up as Wonder Woman’s new love interest. He would subsequently pop up in Kobra 5-7 before disappearing for years before making his next appearances in the later issues of Crisis on the Infinite Earths. Thereafter, I haven’t been able to find out if he made any subsequent appearances.
As you say, there is no mention of Fritz Lieber in the above story and this was the first time that I had come across Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser but somehow I knew that they were his characters. Maybe it was explained in the Sword of Sorcery comics that came out later that year. I remember buying issues 1 and 4 of that series which only ran fro 5 issues and would have bought the others if I had seen them. I was again disappointed when I realised that that comic had been cancelled but I won’t say any more on that comic because I expect your will be posting about at least issue 1 as I saw it amongst the covers in the new updated title photo that you are using for this phase of comic publishing. I remember finding and buying Swords against Devilry at couple of years later and really enjoying it. I searched for the other books in the series but couldn’t find them anywhere in Scotland and had to wait until the 80’s when they were all republished in the UK when I was finally able to buy and devour them. It was the first time that I had come across heroes of a book who weren’t really heroes but lovable rogues and I really enjoyed the novelty.
Finally, prompted by Don above I looked up the info on Batman 210 and it looks as if the new Catwoman costume was created by either Neal Adams who did the cover or Irv Norvik who pencilled the story – does anybody know?
Thanks again Alan for bringing back more great memories.
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“…one of my all time favourite comics covers appeared on Wonder Woman #199 by an artist I know nothing about, Jeff Jones.”
The great Jeffrey Catherine Jones (sadly no longer with us) worked more in the area of SF/fantasy illustration than in comics (one of her paperback cover paintings appears in this very post, if you missed it!). Her work is well worth checking out. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Catherine_Jones
I agree that Jeffrey Catherine Jones Cover to Wonder Woman #199 was an exceptional work of art.
Interesting series of coincidences. Jeffrey Catherine Jones also did the cover to Wonder Woman #200, just before Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser made their first appearance in a DC Comic book. Jones was the artist that did the covers for the first five volumes of Ace Books paperback series of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Sword and Sorcery stories that came out in 1968 and 1970. Jones covers, in my humble opinion, had a lot to do with the success of the series. Next to Frank Frazetta, I thought Jones was the best fantasy illustrator working at the time.
It is hard not to compare the way Robert E Howard’s Conan was introduced into the Marvel Line of Comic books to the way DC introduced Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser into their line of comic books. It would have been as if Conan was to first appear in a run of the mill issue of Daredevil before beginning his own series. Fritz Leiber’s Sword and Sorcery pair were not treated with the tender loving care at DC that Roy Thomas gave to Robert E. Howard’s Hero at Marvel.
Not that I want to keep dumping on Carmine Infantino, but I cannot help but notice a pattern to things during Infantino’s stewardship of DC both as Editorial Director and Publisher that leads me to come to the conclusion that he did not do a very good job. The way DC introduced Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser at DC was just the latest example.
Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories were my favorite Sword and Sorcery/Fantasy outside of the stories of the Weird Tales big three of HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. One of my all time favorite fiction stories is Leiber’s first Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story “Adept’s Gambit”. I bought the first six Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser paperback books back in the day and I still have them.
Fritz Leiber was a very gifted writer and also very much alive in 1972. Did DC seek out his advice or input before launching the series? It would appear not to be the case. The times were changing in comics and DC had to change with them, but DC was managing the change poorly.
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Thanks for the link Alan, I’ve spent some time checking out her other work. She certainly was a great artist, had an eventful life and hopefully found some peace before she passed.
I somehow knew about the Gloria Steinem incident. It never seemed to make sense to me. I had always felt that a woman who had dedicated and trained herself to be an expert in the martial arts and was more than able to take on the baddies would be more of a feminist icon than one who had gained her superpowers magically from the gods without any effort on her own behalf. I can see from others who have commented that I’m not alone in my affection for the short lived de-powered Diana Prince.
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Echoing Don’s comments, I never collected Wonder Woman either, but then I didn’t collect any DC comics in the ’70s, and I only started collecting Conan the Barbarian in the late ’70s, starting circa 1978. I also never read many sword & sorcery novels — my younger brother Terry collected a few, including Conan, and I read some of those, and in the ’80s I got several of Moorcock’s Elric novels, but that was about it. I’ve heard of Delaney & LIeber, but hadn’t read any of their works, and the only comics I’d read featuring Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser were Fables, in which they made a rather brief, ill-fated, but memorable appearance, going to a lot of trouble to open up a large, heavily chained box, only to find it didn’t contain anything of any genuine wealth but instead an incredibly dangerous being!
Fifty years ago, while it’s possible I saw this cover on the racks, I don’t think it really registered with me that Wonder Woman hadn’t been wearing her iconic costume for several years. It wasn’t until the next year that the Super Friends made their tv debut, featuring Diana Prince in all her classic costumed glory, along with Supes, Bats, Robin and Aquaman, and two kids and a dog. Not sure how Aquaman made the cut rather than any of the other Justice Leagers, other than having been the star of his own earlier popular animated series. My brothers and I watched S-F regularly on Saturday mornings for years, although I couldn’t remember a single plot of any episode if my life depended on it!
Anyhow, this was a rather fascinating story, as is the backstory behind it all. I had previously read about Gloria Steinem’s trip to the DC offices, and her response to finding out about the current status of comicdom’s most famous female superhero. A pity that Delaney couldn’t finish his story as planned, but, yeah, it was rather silly for DC to have depowered and de-costumed their most prominent super-heroine. I can sort of understand why Denny O’Neill thought it would be a good idea, but it’d be as if they took away everything that really made Superman “super” and had him running around in plain blue pajamas, but now taking a couple of hours just to run through Metropolis rather than zipping around the planet in seconds, and struggling to life the front part of a VW Beetle a foot off the ground, never mind pick up a VW van with one hand and toss it to the moon without breaking a sweat. They’d taken what wonder there was in Wonder Woman away from her. Of course, what they really needed was better stories and art, and seems it took until George Perez arrived well over a decade later to really bring that to the series.
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I loved the Super-Friends, Fred, and watched it religiously every Saturday. In fact, one of the first instances I can ever remember of looking for info on a show I was watching outside the show itself was when I saw in a random TV episode that the upcoming season of S-F (don’t know which season that was, two? three, maybe?) would actually feature other DC characters outside of the main team that hadn’t been on TV before. I remember Green Lantern and the Atom specifically. Of course, looking back, the show hasn’t aged well at all and now that I know Casey Kasem is doing Robin’s voice (as he also did Shaggy’s in Scooby Doo), I can’t un-hear it.
Oh…btw…I went back and checked and I did actually buy a copy of WW years later during George Perez’s excellent run. Better late than never!
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I meant “random TV magazine,” not “random TV episode.” Jeez, I hate getting old!
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Yep, I remember other members of the JLA guest-starring periodically, mainly if I recall correctly in later seasons. Although I didn’t collect the JLA, I was familiar with most of their most popular members, particularly those who had their own series and I recall wondering why the tv show didn’t feature more of them and was called Super-Friends rather than the Justice League of America. I suppose the main purpose was to make it what the producers deemed as more kid-appealing, hence the two kids noticeably younger than Robin and the dog. I have no idea if that made for better ratings than if it had been more like the actual JLA, but with Robin. Due to the tv show in particular, in the public mind at least in the late ’60s and ’70s, Robin was practically an appendage of Batman and for any Saturday morning cartoon featuring Batman at all, Robin had to be part of the package as well, even if they weren’t hanging around one another quite as much anymore in the comics.
BTW, my youngest brother, by six years & four days, is named Donald. A certain former President who also has that name was born exactly 16 years before I was, had an elder brother named Fred, although unlike that other Fred, I haven’t died of alcoholism. Don himself shares a birthday with Paul McCartney, as did our late mother. Boy George is the only other famous person I know of who shares mine. I find some of these random coincidences amusing.
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I meant to write “lift” not “life” in regard to Superman battling the VW Beetle! Egads, the Typo-Creep strikes again!
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I’ve been enjoying your blog for a couple of years now, but this is the first time I’ve posted a comment.
I really liked this issue. First, it was my introduction to Fafhrd and Mouser. I later read a few of Lieber’s short stories, which I enjoyed. I also dug the five issues of Sword of Sorcery. But the best feature of this issue was the fact that Dick Giordano had replaced Mike Sekowsky as the artist with #200, after a brief interlude with my least-favorite Silver-Age artist, Don Heck. What a huge improvement.
As for the whole de-powered Wonder Woman thing — O’Neil started it with #178, but he passed it on to Sekowsky after the first two issues. I agree with the central idea that Wonder Woman had been the most awful superhero comic since at least the late 1940s, thanks to Kanigher’s lame scripts and the terrible artwork by Andru and Esposito. The title needed to be rebooted somehow. Was de-powering her and ditching her costume the solution? Maybe, maybe not. What it really needed was good writing and good artwork, which, sadly, it didn’t get. Still, I sort-of enjoyed Sekowsky’s run on the series, and to this day they are the only Silver-Age issues of Wonder Woman that I own.
I was thrilled when Denny O’Neil took over the scripting with #199 (unfortunately, that issue was drawn by Don Heck). With #200 we got a great combo of O’Neil with Giordano doing the art chores. I was hoping to read the rest of Delany’s story after #203. Imagine my chagrin when I picked up #204. I was never opposed to Diana returning to her super-powered costumed self, but this was a total reversal in terms of quality. The writing was bad, the artwork was bad (again, Don Heck), and the way Kanigher killed I-Ching and threw out all of the previous 5 years of continuity seemed deliberately mean-spirited, as if he personally hated what had gone on since his absence. Wonder Woman wouldn’t be a good comic book until the George Perez era, circa 1987. By the way, don’t get me wrong about Kanigher — his war stories were good, and even some of his Flash stories were cool, not to mention his esoteric Rima the Jungle Girl. It’s just that his Wonder Woman failed on so many levels – stupid villains like Angle Man, the overt sexist undertones of his scripts. As for Ross Andru – I thought his Spider-Man was really good, and I think he even did a few pretty cool Fantastic Four issues in the 1970s, but I never cared for his work at DC — WW and Metal Men were titles I didn’t like in the 1960s and still can’t even look at without disdain….
Keep up the good work! You’ve been covering “my” Golden Age, and our comic-buying/reading timespans are almost identical based on your previous posts.
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I owned a lot of the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser paperbacks and remember well that one with a Jeff Jones cover. How ironic that Jeff did the covers for WW 199 & 200, but didn’t get to draw one with Leiber’s characters on it. Jones also did the original cover for Sword of Sorcery #1, but it was rejected, and DC had Mike Kaluta draw it instead. Loved Chaykin inked by the Crusty Bunkers, but more on that when (and if) you review that short-lived series in the future.
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An aside: Jeff Jones often reused figures in paintings and comics panels, and the Leiber paperback cover preceded this one by a year (May, 1973):
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I bought everything except war comics and westerns when I started reading comics and before I read this post, I checked what Wonder Woman was doing at the same time as the earliest Superman comic I recall, which I use as my start of reading DC comics. It meant nothing to me so I assumed I had started with the issue before Kanigher’s bloodbath since I knew it ended on an ignored cliffhanger. I was surprised to have remembered reading this! I even bought Sword Of Sorcery and buy Lieber’s books with the duo whenever there’s a Kindle sale. I also have to admit this Catwoman outfit is my favorite, edging out the updated classic costume she’d wear next. I think this must have been my first issue of Wonder Woman read and I stuck with it until I gave up on Perez’s downgrade.
I do wonder what Steinem would have thought of the Perez reboot and if she’d have had the dissatisfaction I’ve always had. Probably not since she looked at the pictures and not any words. For me, I’ve always hated that the advances the Amazons made through the centuries was stripped away. They had made scientific progress greater than Man’s World had and had also grown in philosophical ways. Along comes the reboot and suddenly (and ever since) they’re just scantily clad barbarians who have not progressed at all.
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I wonder what Wonder Woman comics sales were like over the decades of her existence. From my understanding, WW creator Marston cut a contractual deal with National Publications that if the company ever ceased publication of the character, rights to WW would revert to Marston’s estate, which apparently was the main reason WW was kept in publication even as pretty much every other superhero comic that didn’t prominently feature Superman or Batman was cancelled in the late ’40s & early ’50s. Apparently DC eventually outright purchased the full rights to Wonder Woman, but doesn’t seem there was ever a period when comics fans near universally loved WW comics. I’d have thought maybe Perez’s run may have been the most popular, but Steve’s comments above raise some doubt about that, and Terry & Brian preferred the de-powered era, although I’d guess that was largely due to better writing during that period, with O’Neill as writer or editor trying to make her more socially relevant and relatable than the more pure escapist and childish fare of the earlier version. Certainly, Wonder Woman’s been an iconic character for nearly 80 years now, but seems that’s as much or more due to what she represents as a super-heroine role-model for girls than for any particular standout comics stories.
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George Perez was probably the first time an A-list creator was working on Wonder Woman, as well as the first time an A-list creator *wanted* to be working on Wonder Woman. It is not at all surprising that many people, myself included, regard the Perez run as one of the major reasons why subsequently Wonder Woman truly became a flagship character for DC Comics that creators have actively lobbied to write or draw.
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I have observed this several times in the past: the Wonder Woman comic book was on the verge of cancellation after 20 years of Robert Kanigher writing it with increasing mediocrity. Something needed to be done to save the character. O’Neil and his collaborators made a good faith effort to try to pull the Wonder Woman series out its nosedive. Perhaps their approach was ill-considered, but it was made with earnest intentions.
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Even as a kid I found O’Neil’s attempts at social commentary and modernizing comics ham fisted and superficial. I honestly never thought that improved with age. He was a master plotter and could be good at dialog and when he stayed with what was expected du jour, he could put out great books. The Question turned me off quickly, I bought his dreary Iron Man solely because I had always bought the book, and to be honest I disliked Hard Traveling Heroes immensely.
I think Swords Against Sorcery may also have been riffing on the title of the golden age comic Guns Against Gangsters.
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As a Fafhrd/Mouser fan this issue hooked me, and then I kept reading Wonder Woman. Now that I’ve read earlier in the de-powered period, it’s annoying they reduce Lu Shan to generic villain, but Delany didn’t care much about continuity — in the follow-up issue suddenly everyone knows that Diana Prince is the former Wonder Woman.
And you didn’t miss much not getting that one. “Wonder Woman fights bad guy who sells sweatshop-made goods at inflated prices” isn’t a good plot at all for a comic. And Delany making Diana a selfish twit who doesn’t see the point of feminism indicates he had no idea who the character was.
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