Wonder Woman by John Byrne Volume 3 (2019)
Reprints Wonder Woman v2 #125-136, additional material from Wonder Woman Secret Files #1 & Adventure Comics 80-Page Giant #1
Written by John Byrne
Art by John Byrne, Phil Winslade, and Tom Palmer
The final act of John Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman did something a little unexpected; it nearly sidelined Wonder Woman until the last issue. Now, you might be wondering, “What would you do in a comic titled Wonder Woman if the main character isn’t around much?” Byrne hands the title over to her supporting characters and Hippolyta and gives the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick almost more space in the book than Princess Diana herself.
It is a strange gambit, but so in following with Byrne’s decision making at the time. He essentially didn’t care about continuity or expectations outside of his own work, so Byrne just tells the stories he wants. It is clear he was deep into Jack Kirby’s world and wanted to feature as many of that legend’s creations in these pages. He also seemed keen on revisiting the Golden Age and tinkering with Donna Troy’s backstory. The result is a very mixed bag.
Princess Diana is in a coma after her confrontation with Neron, the demon king of the Underworld. She’s visited by Superman, Martian Manhunter, Batman, and Green Lantern, all of whom try to help bring her out of this state. It appears that Diana might not make it…and then Byrne drags into the crossover he was writing at the time, Genesis.
I reviewed Genesis in the summer of 2018, and it is, in my opinion, the worst DC Comics crossover event I have ever read. It’s full of the most generic moments where you throw many characters into a scene and have fights happen without ever really understanding just what the hell is going on. We’re drug into a side story about Zeus and his participation in the Genesis story and how that transforms him. While Diana is in a coma, she is also used by Dr. Doris Zeul as part of a mind transference plot, but that just concludes with Zeul trapping her consciousness within a gorilla (don’t ask, it’s complicated).
Byrne finally gets to his main story arcs about three issues into this collection when Diana officially dies. Aha! But not really as the Olympian Gods bring her back as one of them, Diana will now be the Goddess of Truth and live with them. Hippolyta takes up the mantle of Wonder Woman as a way of carrying on her daughter’s legacy. Meanwhile, Dr. Helena Sandsmark is desperate to save her lover Jason Blood aka The Demon Etrigan, so she and Merlin embark on a worldwide journey.
Oh yes, and Donna Troy is under the thrall of the wretched Dark Angel who forces her to live through multiple incarnations that all end in tragedy. By the way, the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick suddenly recognizing Hippolyta when he sees her on tv. You see, she served alongside the Justice Society of America in the 1940s, so he’s got to take her back in time to ensure that happens. Meanwhile, with Dr. Sandsmark missing, her daughter Cassie aka Wonder Girl, Artemis, and Gateway City officer Mike Schorr embark on their own chase to discover what has become of her. I hope you can see what I meant by how Diana gets sidelined and things become convoluted.
I think I liked this volume the most out of three that collect Byrne’s run simply because of my personal fondness for the Justice Society. Those Golden Age heroes have just always been my favorites since I first learned about them as a kid. I love seeing Hippolyta alongside them, revealing that DC has been trying to figure out a way to make Wonder Woman a long-standing member of the superhero community despite continuity changes to try and streamline things. Currently, a retcon has been put in place that makes Diana Wonder Woman from the 1920/30s and the inspiration for all those who came after. Here, Hippolyta doesn’t come first, but she definitely secures a spot of prominence in that first alliance of heroes. In JSA’s pages a few years later, Hippolyta would appear, and they would make reference to these adventures chronicled by Byrne.
Donna Troy didn’t really have any of her continuity issues solved in this story, and Byrne probably just managed to make them even difficult to unentangle. Ever since Crisis and Diana’s reboot, that left Donna out in the cold because there was never a time where Wonder Girl could have existed. Marv Wolfman addressed it in the pages of New Teen Titans, Perez touched on it briefly in his Wonder Woman run, and Byrne probably takes the most head-on approach. Still to this day, writers don’t quite know what to do with Donna because every incarnation of Wonder Woman since has never had a sidekick. However, no one is willing to erase Donna’s tenure with the Titans because it’s so beloved. I personally love Donna Troy and think she is a fantastic character and am waiting for the day someone unscrambles this whole mess.
By the end of the collection, Byrne rushes through a massive rest that preserves the supporting cast and the world he built but brings Diana back as Wonder Woman and restores Hippolyta as Queen of Themysciria. He did bring in elements that had a long-lasting effect on the DC Universe. Artemis is still around as a counter to Wonder Woman, and Cassie has become one of the most beloved characters among the sidekicks. I think Byrne takes lots of risks in some aspects, but in others, he was lazy. His art continues to be frustrating, with the most glaring element being his lack of backgrounds. So often, characters are just placed on a monocolored background after an establishing shot of the location. It reads as incredibly lazy on Byrne’s part. These aren’t perfect comics, and they certainly aren’t the best Wonder Woman stories, but they do serve as such an interesting left turn in the middle of the series.