Wonder Woman by George Perez Vol.1 (DC Comics)
Written by George Perez, Greg Potter, and Len Wein
Art by George Perez and Bruce Patterson
Collects Wonder Woman (1987) #1 -14
With the release and overwhelmingly positive response to the Wonder Woman film, I thought it would be interesting to go back to a run on the comic book that has always felt definitive to me. When I was first collecting comics, I would eagerly save up $10 and purchase one of the grab bag boxes offered up in the Sears catalog. They were typically split by a company, DC Comics or Marvel, and I have always had a soft spot for DC when it comes to the periodicals. In one of these random assortments, I ended up with three issues from writer-artist George Perez. I can’t say I was a huge fan of Wonder Woman beyond seeing her on Saturday morning cartoon appearances, but Perez’s reimagining of the character had me captivated.
This reboot of Wonder Woman came in the wake of DC’s 50th Anniversary, a time they used to wipe the slate clean for a lot of their flagship titles and bring in the hot talent of the day to reinvent them. John Byrne was given Superman, Frank Miller got to work on Batman, and Perez chose to take on Wonder Woman. One of the first things Perez did to set the heroine apart from the rest of the heroes was to ensconce her fully in Greek mythology. The myth angle had always been present in Wonder Woman comics, but she had drifted away from it due to certain villains (The Cheetah, Dr. Psycho, Egg Fu, etc.) and attempts to focus her series around her romance with Steve Trevor.
From issue one of this Wonder Woman, Perez made a strong statement that this Wonder Woman was tied heavily to her Greek ancestry. This entire first issue is a retelling of the origins of the Amazons, their fall from grace at the hands of Hercules, and their eventual self-imposed exile on Themyscira. Near the end, he relates the story of Queen Hippolyte shaping a child from clay and the goddess imbuing the form with life to create Diana. One point of contention I had with the film was the focus on the importance of male deities in the creation of the Amazons. The Amazons of Perez’s run were the offspring of a collective of goddesses, Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite primarily. The male figures of myth are shown as egotistical and lecherous, which is more in keeping with their traditional portrayal in classical myths. When Zeus begins to show a little too much interest in the Amazons, his daughters worry about what would happen if he were to decide to make them his pets.
Perez also faced a problem with Steve Trevor. He felt Trevor was a distraction from Diana’s heroism and that, while Trevor was an important piece of the mythos, his role needed to be retooled. This time around, Steve Trevor is a Vietnam veteran who testified before Congress about war crimes committed by his brothers in arms. He still remains in the Air Force but over the last fifteen years has been labeled a pariah and traitor by many others. He’s also considerably older than Diana, and so Perez plays it, so there’s never a sexual angle to him and Diana’s relationship from the get go. They are comrades, but not lovers. Instead, Perez took Etta Candy, a character who has become a walking fat joke by the 1950s and made her a lieutenant in the Air Force and friend of Trevor’s. By the end of this first collection, a relationship has formed between Candy and Trevor, and thus Perez has avoided making Diana simply a boy-crazy Amazon.
Wonder Woman’s traditional costume was present in this reboot, complete with stars and stripes, and therein was another wrinkle Perez had to deal with. She dons the armor before Trevor arrives on the island, so it doesn’t seem inspired by American iconography. It’s also revealed the Amazons have a service revolver locked away that they use to show Diana the power of her bracers. Slowly, Perez creates a mystery surrounding these elements on the island. In the second half of the collection, we’re given the Challenge of the Gods storyline, where Zeus and others are tricked into running Diana through a gauntlet of mythological monsters. It’s beneath the island where she learns the truth behind her given name, her armor, and how it all connects to Steve Trevor. This was yet another way to establish a healthy but non-romantic relationship between the two.
Perez was keenly interested in making Wonder Woman a series about female relationships, so he populates Themyscira with a supporting cast of interesting and well developed Amazons. Phillipus is the head of the guard, and a relationship between she and Hippolyte is implied. There is also Melanippe, the seer of the Amazons, who has visions about impending threats. Perez also ensured racial diversity in the Amazons with Caucasian, African, Asian, and other faces represented.
Additionally, when Wonder Woman reaches Man’s World, she comes to Boston where she meets Dr. Julia Kapatelis, a professor of Archaeology at Harvard. Julia is able to communicate with Diana, who speaks Greek only for the first few issues. Julia is in her late 40s and has a teenage daughter, Vanessa, that ends up becoming a point of light in the series in the same way Robin or Kid Flash played that role in their respective parent titles. The relationship between the Kapatelis family and Diana would be the chief human contact the princess of the Amazons would have during Perez’s run. After he had left the book around 50 issues in, other creators pushed the Kapatelis’ to the side until Phil Jimenez took over the book in the early 2000s.
For villains, Diana fights her traditional arch-nemesis Ares in the first arc of the collection. With the title being set in the contemporary 1980s, the Cold War proves perfect fodder to play off of the god of war. The children of Ares have set about to manipulate members of the U.S. and Soviet militaries into staging coups, arming weapons, and pointing them at each other. Steve Trevor uncovers this which is what sends him to Themyscira. With Diana and Etta Candy’s help, they take on the forces of Ares and work to prevent Armageddon. In the second arc, the Olympian gods, mainly Zeus, are manipulated by the god Pan into pushing Diana into an arena of monsters. Due to editorial influence, this storyline ended up getting overtaken by the event du jour “Millennium.” As a result, the latter half gets a little spotty at moments but resolves itself and provides a solid conclusion to the collection. In the middle, there is a sort of interlude, where The Cheetah is reintroduced, and I found it to be one of the weaker parts of the book. It seemed to hint at a larger mystery that would be addressed in a later storyline.
This collection brought back a lot of pleasant nostalgic memories for me. The mid-80s reboot of the DC Universe was an exhilarating time and was incredibly original. Since then, DC had almost bi-annual tweaked and changed large swaths of continuity so it could be hard to see just how special this series is. There is a lot of acclaim still heaped around for Frank Miller’s Batman Year One, and Byrne’s Man of Steel is well-regarded. I would argue that Perez’s Wonder Woman is right up there as both the writing and artwork is beautiful. There are some fantastic themes of hope, and the final chapter in the book was a sort of reaffirmation of feminist ideology. If you liked the message of mercy over wrath in the feature film, there is a lot of that going on in conclusion here. Perez’s Wonder Woman still stands up as one of the best reimaginings of a classic superhero and is definitely worth a look for interested parties.