Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wonder Woman #288 (February, 1982)

I thought I owned DC Comics Presents #41, which featured the 16 preview premiere of "The Sensational New Wonder Woman" creative team of Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, and Romeo Tanghal. If I do, it's gone missing, so it's a good thing their recap explained that Captain Diana Prince and Colonel Steve Trevor had been attacked by enemy agents. Trevor was injured, but managed to pass a briefcase of secret documents for Prince to escape with. Wonder Woman dealt with the spies, only to be surprised by representatives of the new (unauthorized) "Wonder Woman Foundation." In order to gain financial backing to spread their message of equality, they asked the actual Wonder Woman for a show of support in the form of a newly designed (and undoubtedly copyrighted) breast piece. As Trevor was carted away in an ambulance, Diana flew to Paradise Island to consult her mother on the matter. Once there, she found the Amazons in chains, and had to outrace Mercury to recover Queen Hippolyta's magic belt of immortal strength. To free the Amazons, the Amazing Amazon bested the main schemer, Hercules, in a match of strength. Finally, Hippolyta advised Diana to abandon her classic eagle breast piece for the new double-W halter, to see if it would do some good in the world.

16 pages, and only 14 for the story. That would be at least one story arc today, and the recap alone would take up an issue.

Back in the States, Wonder Woman learned Steve's injuries were more serious than previously thought, and paid an in-costume visit to Metro General Hospital. This meant she had to brush past insensitive autograph hounds, Dr. Prescott that Trevor was slowly perishing from an unknown cause. Angling for the 1982 Least Credible Doctor Award, Prescott claimed "It's almost as if he-- I don't even know how to put this in medical terminology-- as if his body and his soul are struggling to get out of this world-- into another one!" Sister, I'd look cross-eyed at Zatanna over that line, so you might need to defend your license in the near future. Better yet, Prescott thought Trevor was dying an hour ago, but now "I just don't know." Diana cried and told Steve that she loved him with a kiss, and he woke up briefly for his angel. That's sweet, but nothing says I love you like a Purple Healing Ray, which never came up. Maybe Diana forgot about that along with her knowledge of having loved a previous Steve Trevor who died but had now fallen for this parallel Earth version that she had only known a few month. Yeah, the Crisis happened exactly because of stuff like that.

Cheerfully racing through the streets of the District of Columbia at super-speed, Wonder Woman ran smack dab into some bank robbers. Playing bullets and bracelets slowed her down enough for one thief to escape in a helicopter, until a woman dressed in white with artificial underarm wings flew after the chopper. The seeming heroine tossed a hood out of the helicopter, to be rescued by the grounded Wonder Woman. The vehicle lost stability, and the Amazon Princess noted, "Whoever she is-- she's apparently willing to let the pilot die! With my Magic Lasso, I can guide the 'copter down," into some sort of large water fountain. "Now to find out who that bird-lady is, 'cause she sure isn't Sacajawea... or the Black Canary!" The Silver Swan landed to thank Wonder Woman for her assistance and beguile every man on the scene with her beauty. "I must leave now... but remember my name, won't you?"

Wonder Woman continued on to the alleyway where she had hidden the briefcase full of classified government documents in a trash can, "Zeus knows" how many hours ago. The rubbish remained, and held an indention from the briefcase, but that was it. Wonder Woman mentally called for her Robot Plane to fly to the Pentagon and report her blunder.

Landing her invisible vessel nearby, Wonder Woman became Captain Prince with a spin of her lasso, and asked Etta Candy if their superior was in. "For you, roomie, he's always in." Even under the circumstances, General Darnell was gentle, welcoming, and totally skeevy, offering to protect Prince from inquires into her foul-up while caressing her hair. "I don't want any special favors, sir. May I go now... General Darnell?" Etta was eavesdropping the whole time, and drove her roommate home in her big orange sedan. "Whatever Darnell wants, Di, you sure got it! I haven't heard so much heavy breathing since my last obscene phone call." Prince didn't find it flattering, "since I made it clear I'm not interested in his attentions... or his 'protection.'"

Arriving at their apartment, Etta had forgotten to mention that she was soliciting a third roommate, since their $300 a month rent had just gone up by 50%. Diana was of course worried about her secret identity being compromised, but couldn't let on to Etta that she had vast Amazonian wealth. Their first prospect had already spoken to Etta on the phone, and came by to properly introduce herself. Helen Alexandros, a shy girl with a poor complexion, brought with her the gift of a lost briefcase. Helen had heard Diana and the General's names mentioned after witnessing the aftermath of Steve's attack, and connected her to the found briefcase. It was in fact the reason that she had contacted Etta, with the roommate proposition then offered by Etta. "I... I hope I'm not being pushy, coming over like this. But rooms are so scarce in the Washington-Arlington area...!" Helen specifically sought out Prince because "Men frighten me a little... They always have. I suppose it comes from being so plain all my life... not to mention this skin problem." Diana agreed to accept Helen as another roomie, and planned to make a "middle-aged general very happy" in the morning.

I must say though that based on this one story, Diana Prince is the worst secret agent ever. She left top secret documents in a trash can, had an impromptu meeting with her booster club, blew off Steve in the hospital to run to Paradise Island for a random battle, returned to visit Steve, had a team-up with Silver Swan, was actually surprised when the documents went missing, and then, upon retrieving them, decided to take a shower straight away while they sat unguarded in her living room. How did we ever beat the Russians?

Lieutenant Candy showed Helen to her room, and told her that she used to have zits, too. "My skin cleared up; there's just a lot more of it now." After the door closed, Alexandros laughed with "a malignant triumph... and a lingering, half-stifled bitterness." Helen grew up constantly berated by her mother for taking after her "dirty" father. Her one chance at being beautiful was through ballet, leading her to join a troupe that toured to an Ancient Greek theatre in Athens. The company was in need of a new prima ballerina, and while Helen had the talent, "In real life, the ugly duckling never really gets to play the swan. We'll give Karina a try, eh?" Furious at the injustice, Helen cried out to the heavens while alone in the amphitheater. "Why did you make me so plain-- in a world that values beauty over everything? I-- who was named for Helen of Troy, most desirable woman of all time! Oh, how I hate men-- men, and this cruel and horrible world they've made!! Do you hear me, you gods! I HATE MEN!!"

Helen's own immortal ancestor did hear her, but did not return the hated in kind. "I am he whom the Ancient Greeks did call Ares-- the Romans, Mars, God of War!" Zeus had come to mate with beauteous Leda in the form of a swan, and Helen of Sparta was born of that union. Helen's abandoning of her Greek husband for Prince Paris and Troy ignited the Trojan War, and caused much death and destruction. Helen had heard these stories all her life, and Mars sensed the depths of hatred within her that he hoped would drive her to cause even greater misery for human males. Mars bestowed upon her beauty that could turn strong men into "stammering fools," enhanced strength, the power of flight, and a devastating voice. For now, Helen Alexandros could only become the Silver Swan for an hour at a time, but she would be graced that form forever upon the death of Mars' arch-foe, Wonder Woman.

The Invisible Robot Plane flew the Amazing Amazon toward the Pentagon, and was trailed by the Silver Swan. As Wonder Woman leaped out to deliver the recovered briefcase, it was stolen from her by the Swan. Princess Diana slapped the briefcase from Silver Swan's clutches, though she retained the busted handle. Wonder Woman tossed the case to General Darnell and his men, who had been awaiting her outside. Silver Swan didn't care about the briefcase, preferring the life of the "star-spangled fool!" The flying Swan seemingly had the advantage over the earthbound Amazon, but amazing acrobatics leveled the field. "I'm tangling with that killer parakeet-- right now!" Wonder Woman launched herself high into the air at the Silver Swan, only to be blasted by "the soul-piercing cry of the Swan," which buffeted her about "like a straw caught in a whirlwind." The soldiers below were pained by the sound, yet also delirious for more. When the Silver Swan unexpectedly broke off the attack, she was acclaimed upon landing by the soldiers for her patriotism and aid in retrieving the briefcase.

Meanwhile, Dr. Prescott looked over the documentation of another physician who would be taking over the care of Steve Trevor. "...One must be doubly trustworthy, doesn't one-- when one has a name like-- Doctor Psycho!"

I'd never read Silver Swan's debut, but happened to buy the original comic a few months back. Swan was much more interesting in this first incarnation, even if the ugly duckling aspect of the character is as believable as the hawt geek girl from '80s movies, with her big blue eyes, lush lips, and "blemishes" that more resemble freckles. Silver Swan as I've known her since 1988 has been a bore. This story not only gives her the ol' ominous foreshadowing, but follows it with a well thought out origin that provides the character with strong motivation and a hook perfect for a Wonder Woman adversary. It also reminded me how much more effective a foe Swan could be when the Amazing Amazon is grounded. Since Wonder Woman can't just fly herself, you get a great display of physicality as she relies on acrobatics and her lasso as she's forced to adapt. It's fun hearing her trash talk, as well.

I'm not typically a fan of Romeo Tanghal's heavy handed inks, but I think Gene Colan's usual moody style needed the conventional polish to perk it up on an assignment like this. Tanghal necessarily tarts up the super-heroine, but is wise enough to get out of Colan's way where it counts. Thomas' plot is nice and dense, recapping a sixteen page preview comic in two pages, advancing subplots left over from the previous creative team, and still working out his own material.

Reading this story also made me realize what a huge mistake ditching the Diana Prince identity and divorcing her from the military were. I'm sorry, but "peaceful ambassador from an island nation" isn't the best story engine. Wonder Woman was far more iconic and motivated while managing a dual identity as an agent of military intelligence working out of the Pentagon than hanging out with a widow and her daughter in Boston. I don't fault Perez for shaking up a tired status quo, but I do fault all the writers that followed him for not restoring some of the elements once Perez's angle grew stale. Steve Trevor's spy games and General Darnell's sexual harassment really draw a reader into the soap opera. I really enjoyed how much information was packed into 26 pages, and that's before the cliffhanger that reintroduced one of Wonder Woman's best villains after a fifteen year absence. Good show!

The Bronze Age

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