Some random Wonder Woman books, Part 3
Wonder Woman's namesake
The book I should have been reading in '86
"Echoes of the Pas: Challenge of the Gods, Book 3"
Plot and Layout – George Perez
Script – Len Wein
Finishes – Bruce D. Patterson
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Carl Gafford
Editor – Karen Berge
As we inch closer to Wonder Woman's big movie debut, I wanted to go back to the reboot from the mid 80's. George Perez took over right after both the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Legends gave a cosmic reset to everything.
This was the Wonder Woman I knew best, if I could say to know any of them at all.
I knew about George Perez in 1986. Knew he was a great artist. Heard marvelous, amazing, revitalizing things he was doing on his run on the revamped Wonder Woman title. How he was establishing a true mythological background and a huge cast of supporting characters.
Passed on it anyway.
To my eternal shame.
I was too much into Marvel male superheroes to pick up Wonder Woman. I admit to flipping through several issues, but none of them struck me as being what I was looking for. The soap opera feel of them and the harping of the interconnected feminine emotional subtext didn't resonate with me.
Foolish. I was foolish. These are some great stories. I've read a few since and I should have picked them up. All of them. However, I did pick up this issue. It was a Millennium tie-in and I was all about the tie-ins back then.
What I got was possibly the worst jumping on point, as this was also Part III of the Challenge of the Gods arc. That means the story meandered all over the place with far too many failed transitions and absolutely nothing at all in the way information about the Manhunters or their plans for Diana. It was a poor issue in terms of structure for a new reader coming into the middle of too many stories in progress, however, a majority of the content rose above those problems.
The Challenge of the Gods has Zeus mad at Wonder Woman because she turned down sleeping with him, getting all the goddesses on her side and preventing Zeus from using Themyscira as his personal harem.
So Zeus sets forth a Challenge that involves forcing the Amazon princess into navigating the the demon lair below Themyscira. She's faced a few mythological beasties in the first two issues of this arc and now you are up to speed. This issue is VERY convoluted, with plotlines and characters popping in and out in a mostly unsatisfying way. But it is not all bad.
For one, there were great moments as Diana's mother descended into the unknown forbidden cavern that lurked on the other side of this nasty "Doom's Doorway" portal.
Meet Hippolyte as she races to assist her daughter in her task, neglecting her own safety. Hippolyte is following a magical vulture that opens locked portals and shows her the correct route. She is taking all this with a great degree of blind faith.
She encounters bat things that threaten her, yet her ingenuity proves their undoing.
Here we have Perez in top form. His characters and visuals are all so crisp that they pop out of the panels. He knows how to focus attention masterfully. Why did I not start picking this book up immediately?
The next page holds a clue. It is all about Steve Trevor sitting beside his dying Father. Steve says his goodbyes to the man who raised him alone, his mom having died when Steve was little. A man who was dedicated to his son, but also dedicated to service to his country, a value instilled in Steve. While Steve shares a fond farewell, his friend Candy(who secretly pines for Steve) finds out an odd coincidence from Steve's Aunt.
So Steve's mom has the same name as Wonder Woman. Neat…I guess. Then we transition to this meeting between Wonder Woman in the limbo realm beyond the Doom portal with a woman wearing the Wonder Woman garb who claims she is Diana's namesake and she's also...well, you'll see.
This isn't really much of a challenge. Accept that you are important…kinda tough, but this won't provide much of a chance for punch-fests. Additionally here is where my problems with the issue start. Just like the George Lucas Star Wars movies after the first one, there are a lot of plotlines going on simultaneously.
This issue is a mess of one page "catchups" that try very hard to link things to a common cohesive narrative. Unfortunately that proves harder and harder to do as it goes on. You get 6-8 panels of one characters story, start to invest and then are cutaway to some other struggle that you forgot was even going on. It works against the narrative, which undercuts the point it is trying to get across.
But first, namesake Diana explains to Wonder Woman about her love of flying and how she was a pilot in World War II. She goes on to tell of her son. Her son Stephen Trevor!
It is an unusual thing to add to the Wonder Woman mythos, when you think about it. Diana is named after her romantic interest Steve Trevor's mother. How in the heck did this happen, you might ask? Well, let the disjointed and rambling narrative explain.
First off she was a pilot in the war. The war ended and she returned home to her family determined to take up the role of dutiful housewife. But it just wasn't enough so she…
We catch Pan, the Greek god of nature, following Hippolyte, and setting traps for mother and daughter. His machinations seem both diabolical and deadly with the intent of…what? OH, that other part of the story…the one where Wonder Woman is taking with Steve Trevor's dead mother? That one? Get used to moving from storyline-to-storyline in this issue, because it will happen a LOT. Without warning usually and right when you think you are getting an answer to something.
Normally this builds suspense, but in this instance it is done so often and with such a choppy jump from one to another that I found it quite annoying and destructive to the book's emotional impact.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah: Pan. Pan is our Millennium tie in. Hard as it may seem to believe, Pan is a Manhunter. So Hippolyte faces off against these Hydra-teeth, Ray Harryhausen-extras, planted by Pan. Up they pop and she readies for their attack and…
Steve Trevor pulls out the family album to show pictures of his mother to Candy. They sit on the couch fondly listening to his reminiscing about her as gods-only-know-what is happening to Hippolyte.
(See the worst part of this is that I know what Perez is trying to accomplish here. By leaving each storyline at a cliffhanger, he's hoping to build interest in each even for people unfamiliar with who this cast of characters are. For the most part it works but it makes your head spin with machine-gun pace at which they are fired at us.)
Anyway…I'll quit complaining about all this and just go on.
Steve mentions how his Mother was a transport pilot and that she vanished when he was a boy…meanwhile the spirit of his Mother is filling in her namesake on how she came to be Paradise Island wearing a Wonder Woman outfit and how Diana came to bear her name.
This is kind of "like mother-like son" part, as it appears, just like son Steve, she also had an accident in the skies near Themyscira and was dropped in the drink.
Pause for a moment here and just appreciate the beauty that Perez can bring to a book. I've always thought he was great for "crowd scenes" when you have tons of heroes on the page, but the REAL truth is that Perez can not only draw all the characters, but also balance out his panels so well. He makes it look effortless too. Damn, I am sorry I missed these first go around.
While Diana and Diana stand around recounting stories, Hippolyte is battling the scull faces.
She finds herself backed up against a cliff and running out of options.
But don't you worry about a thing. That's Diana's mom up there and the leader of the Amazons. Total butt-kicker if ever there was one.
Pfft! You wish, Pan-hunter! She's going to paddle your goat-behind.
We switch back to Diana Trevor's arrival on Themyscira, as she washes up on shore to the sound of screams. After chambering a round she rushes off to see if she can assist whomever is under attack in any way possible.
And encounters what is possibly a scene straight out of a nightmare. The multi-armed monster Cottus is threatening to break out of the demon-filled abyss beneath Themyscira and he's going through a legion of Amazons to break free.
Diana doesn't hesitate to throw down, saving Philippus' life and then following her to rescue Menalippe, who Cottus refuses to let go of, even though he retreats behind his portal again.
The monster's retreat is a ruse, and once the two get closer, it comes at them full force. Diana is engulfed, but as the monster strikes a fatal blow against her, she is able to squeeze the trigger one final time…
Wow! I love this part of the book. My only wish is that it was longer, maybe even its own epic. We (and by we, I mean me) know too little about the individual Amazons to really feel the loss or the stakes of losing any of these characters. These four pages could easily have been a book-length tale all its own.
Still, it is pretty damn good.
Diana finishes her tale to Wonder Woman, as an actual God shows up to recount what happened next.
This occurs as Steve saying goodbye to his Father.
Diana Trevor imparts a last bit of wisdom before leaving with Hades to rejoin her beloved in the afterlife.
And we close on Steve at the graveside. Fitting and proper ending to this scene.
We then cut back to Diana, now with the power of flight (thank you so much Perez and the powers of DC Editorial for righting that wrong), winging her way through the caverns. She high on the newfound knowledge of why she feels so connected to Steve, Diana becomes distracted by the piping of Pan.
Pan delivers her next quest as part of the challenge of Zeus, which is fitting since he is the mole in Zeus organization and who inflamed the god's passion for Diana.
Of course Diana accepts the challenge and leaps through the portal, which is convenient or else she would miss out on all those crossover sales.
Off she goes?…what do we have to keep the people coming back from the crossover? Why the mystery of Diana's mother finding Heracles, screaming in agony and turned to stone. Sadly that wasn't enough for me to pick up the title.
The main problem I have with this issue is not that it isn't a great story, nor even that it quick cuts between so many different plotlines. Both items are troubling. No, my greatest fault with the book is that as a tie-in it should really sell the main character, and in this particular story Wonder Woman takes a backseat to everyone else. At most she sits and listens to a story. Diana Trevor and Hippolyte do all of the glamourous jobs of fighting off monsters and skeletons, leaving nothing for the title character to do.
I read this in 1986 and quickly tossed the idea of jumping in. Sure the art was great and parts of the story were really cool, but the title character didn't seem to do much. I looked for a Wonder Woman title where SHE was an active character.
I thought I would get that a few months later when she joined Justice League Europe, but that never amounted to anything either. Still this was ONE issue in Perez's run. The others I am sure are much, much more Wonder-ous!