These days, we probably have become enamoured of radical re-thinks of characters, of changes in their status quo which means they “never will be the same again.” Somehow, even the most fanatical comics fan becomes jaded when it happens, realising that sooner or later someone will press the reset button again.
It was a different world in 1968, especially in the DC universe, where for year after year the major characters had gone on their way in tales that tended to broadly follow the same pattern. ~The last big shake-up had probably been with the Batman TV series, which ushered in the “Go-Go Stripes” era that gave titles such as Scooter prominence. Nowhere was that more true than in Wonder Woman, but all of that was about to change.
Issue 178 of the long running title proudly boasted “The New Wonder Woman is here!” with Diana Prince suddenly boasting a new look modelled somewhat in Diana Rigg in the Avengers. Inside, we find Steve Trevor arrested on a murder charge, and then blaming Wonder Woman for giving the evidence that convicts him. When she visits him in prison as Diana Prince, his reaction causes her to re-think the way she lives her life as Diana, and one speedy shopping trip later she transforms herself from the grey clad Army officer into one of the swinging set.
Having cleared Steve of the trumped up charges, however, she now faces another dilemma as she receives word that the Amazons are leaving this earth. Reluctantly, she decides to stay here, but has to relinquish the outfit and powers of Wonder Woman to do so. At the same time, Steve Trevor has to go undercover to infiltrate an organisation led by the mysterious Dr Cyber. Alone in the world, what is Diana Prince going to do to find her place and help mankind?
In the course of just two issues, the team of Denny O’Neill and Mike Sekowsky re-defined who Diana Prince was, and her mission in Man’s World. O’Neill had only recently joined DC from Marvel, and this was his first major assignment, taking over the title at the same time as Justice League of America. Sekowsky, meanwhile, had left JLA a year or so earlier, and worked on a number of other titles before coming over.
The model for this new Wonder Woman, as stated earlier, was plainly Diana Rigg, and this was made even clearer when she runs into a mysterious Chinese gentleman called I Ching. Although blind, he reveals himself as an expert martial artist, who proceeds to train Diana as a fighter and also to use her own Amazon skills to fight crime, and also find and defeat Doctor Cyber.
Over the next twenty or so issues, Sekowsky (with O’Neill on board for the first four) continued to redefine Prince as a secret agent, working alongside I Ching and at the same time trying to run a fashion boutique and make ends meet. The scene goes from New York to Switzerland, and all around the world as Doctor Cyber attacks, is defeated and returns from the dead. She also gets to meet her former team-mates, particularly Batman and Superman in a couple of interesting little side tales, while at the same time almost learning what it means to be a human.
I Ching is also a fascinating character, with aback story that weaves its way throughout this series of stories, ultimately leading to apparent tragedy.
Sekowsky left the title with issue 198, but O’Neill returned to bring the story full circle, bringing the story of Doctor Cyber to a conclusion before a two-parter with CatWoman (here in her Frank Robbins designed outfit) that also brought Faifer and the Grey Mouser into her world.
With issue 203, Diana had found a home and a purpose in New York, but she was left wondering what would happen next. What happened next was DC editorial change – and the small issue of the success of the Wonder Woman series.
Suddenly, in one issue, I Ching was killed off, Diana was attacked and left with Amnesia, and the healers on Paradise Island restored both her memory (well, most of it) and her powers, and the original Wonder Woman was back.
In that brief period, however, you got a Diana who was strong, confident and even without her powers her a hero. The art by Sekowsky reflected through a slightly distorted mirror the styles of the time, as the photos scattered around here show, but still with the skill and eye for detail that made him a fan favourite. It’s sad that following this run, he only got the occasional art job at Marvel, as well as his involvement in the Atlas/Seaboard line.
The work is now available in four reasonably cheap DC collected editions. I may be losing my copies, but if you want a good quick read that is a real child of the time, dig them out.