By Glenn Walker
Has the furor died down yet? Is it safe to talk about it yet? Yeah, it might be time. There was a week or two there if you mentioned the kiss, also known as the Superman/Wonder Woman power coupling in the final few pages of Justice League #12, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, you might as well be wearing asbestos - because flames will fly. A month and a half having gone by however, it may just be safe to think about this one.
I am a hardcore Wonder Woman fan, and I'm a firm believer that Superman and Lois Lane belong together. I've labored on about that last point before, both here and other places. Whether Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor should be together is a whole other argument, but just for simplicity's sake, let's just say, in a perfect world, they too belong together. However, in the New 52 DC Universe, neither couple is together, in the former case, have never been together… so it might work out for Supes and WW… or would it?
To figure out the present, as always, we must look to the past. Despite both superheroes being around since the Golden Age, they never really had much interaction until the 1960s, and then to be honest, very little. Sure, both Superman and Wonder Woman were members of the Justice Society of America, but rarely appeared in the same issue. Superman's appearances were rare, as he was an honorary member.
Things were slightly different in the Silver Age's Justice League, but comics were simpler then, all about story, less about character interaction. By the time things had changed, and the way comics were written was more mature and character driven, the couple's positions almost reversed, with Diana becoming an ex-member of the League while she was without super-powers. Again, the two rarely saw each other.
Probably the first time I saw Superman and Wonder Woman together, outside of the League, was in Lois Lane #136, sadly the second to the last issue of that series. In that story, the two heroes announce their engagement, much to the heartbreak of Lois. In the end it's all a ruse to lure out a psychotic killer who wants to marry Superman herself.
Silliness, yes, and typical of Lois tales of the time, but the cover betrays something more. As the power couple save Lois from certain doom, she thinks in a good old-fashioned though balloon, "Now I know why Superman is marrying Wonder Woman instead of me… they're a super-team!" There you go, power couple, so much in common, etc. It does make sense. They are both strangers in strange land, both gods among mankind, and in the same profession, and both keeping big secrets. Of course they would fall for each other.
That issue of Lois Lane was a hoax, but later, in the post-Crisis era, the powers that be tried to put them together again, but this time explaining why not. It was in Action Comics #600, in a story by John Byrne and George Perez. Their big kiss this time was awkward, like a brother kissing a sister, as it is with most co-workers who try to make things happen. It's kinda ick.
Much later, in the classic alternate future epic, Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, Superman and Wonder Woman do actually wind up together, and work well together as both a team and a couple. There is one prime plot point that allows this to happen. In that story, Lois is dead, and if Diana had someone, they are also long gone. They are the perfect second chance couple, as long as their first choices are unavailable.
Now, we have a new continuity in the New 52. In this world, Superman and Lois Lane have never gotten together, and Wonder Woman has a tenuous if any relationship with Steve Trevor. In Justice League #12, the two come together out of loneliness and battle fatigue, as well as that old bugaboo, familiarity. But I doubt it will stick.
In the new 52, these two characters are not the same as they were. Given the Kingdom Come example, those two would get together under those circumstances, but in the New 52, they are now completely different people. Neither one of them is completely human. This should evident to anyone who reads their solo books. Superman is more alien than ever, and Wonder Woman is more god than ever. This might stand for now, but my prediction - doomed romance, at least in the New 52. You'll just have to stay tuned into upcoming DC Comics to see if I'm right.
By Glenn Walker
In Marvel Comics' Avengers #213, an unfortunate character-defining moment occurred with Dr. Henry Pym, then going by the name of Yellowjacket. He struck his wife, Janet Van Dyne, AKA the Wasp. Ask anyone who's a Marvel Comics fan about Hank Pym, and at some point during the conversation, early on usually, the phrase 'domestic violence' (or worse) will come up.
Now before we start this rollercoaster ride, please understand I am not supporting domestic violence in any capacity whatsoever. What Hank did to Jan is inexcusable. My question is why does one slap define his character forever? Especially in light of the fact it might not have been meant to happen in the comic at all? Oh yeah, you read that right, but I'll get to that later.
First let's have some history on Dr. Henry Pym. He's one of the Marvel originals, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Tales to Astonish #27. As Ant-Man, the scientist-turned-adventurer continued on in that comic, gaining both a rogues gallery and a sidekick: Janet Van Dyne, who became the Wasp. While Ant-Man could shrink and communicate and control ants, he gave his heiress girlfriend slightly different powers. The Wasp could shrink, but at insect size she sprouted wings and had mechanical 'stingers.' She was a bit ditzy at the beginning, but let's be honest here, Stan Lee was not at his finest writing women back in those days.
The next big move in Hank's career was, along with the Wasp, becoming a founding member of the Avengers. By that time, Pym had improved upon the science that allowed him to shrink, and was also using the identity of Giant-Man, who could not only shrink, but also grow to incredible size. Retroactively it's been suggested that Pym kept trying to improve himself to compete with the bigger guns in the Avengers, especially fellow scientist Tony Stark as Iron Man. Me, I don't buy it.
Later after a leave of absence from the team, Hank and Jan returned to the Avengers, and this time, he called himself Goliath. Three identities and at least a half-dozen costumes, as well as a dozen outfits for the Wasp – a pattern was developing. It would stay in place for years. For the record, the Wasp has had more costumes than any other heroine in comics. He stayed Goliath for a while, and was even trapped at a height of fifteen feet for some time. It was during this period that things got bad.
Realizing that he fought better in the lab with his brain than he did in a costume and with his fists, Hank turned to his research more seriously. This, unfortunately, was his undoing. He created an artificial intelligence called Ultron that not only turned against him, the creature affected his thinking, and ultimately his mind. Later this monster became one of the Avengers' greatest foes. Failed experiments and damaged self-esteem added into the equation and Henry Pym had a mental breakdown. From this tragedy arose the new identity of Yellowjacket.
Yellowjacket was everything that Hank Pym wasn't, and he even claimed to have killed Pym. Yellowjacket was active, aggressive, acting first and thinking last. He wielded a disruptor pistol, didn't change size, and moved in on Pym's woman quickly – and asked Janet to marry him. The Wasp was the only one who knew that Yellowjacket was the product of a mental break and a backfiring experiment. So she not only humored him, she married him.
At the wedding, Hank came to his senses, but still thereafter was subject to mental stress. Mostly it was the guilt of having created one of the Avengers' deadliest enemies that weighed most heavy on him. For the most part – except for switching off to Ant-Man once or twice – Hank remained Yellowjacket for most of the 1970s. He later took on other identities like the scientific adventurer Doctor Pym, and more recently as the new Wasp in memory of his late ex-wife (yeah, we'll get to that). He also has gone back to Goliath, Ant-Man, and Giant-Man for short periods of time, that last is the identity he's using in current issues of Avengers Academy.
Ultron has returned on many occasions, often screwing with Hank's mind. In hindsight, it is hard to say how many of Pym’s mental problems have been his own, and how many have been the brainwashings and manipulations of Ultron – but that's a case for another time. This brings us back to the beginning: Avengers #213, and the slap.
Yellowjacket was under stress and mental strain again. He was getting careless, making mistakes, and taking it out on his wife Janet. Verbally, it should be stressed, he was yelling at her. Janet, in their relationship, had always stood by him. She would rather be superheroing, and he would always want to be in the lab, they quarreled occasionally, but they always stood by each other. In this issue, it changes.
Hank strikes Jan, knocks her down, and gives her a shiner. One strike is shown. Despite the idea that if it happens once, it'll happen again, we don't see it in the comics. He hits her once, and is labeled a wife-beater forever. In the events that follow, Hank is expelled from the Avengers, divorced from Janet, suffers a complete mental breakdown, does jail time, attacks the Avengers, is brainwashed by Egghead, and even seriously contemplates suicide – all of this in a very short time.
Hank has been forgiven, and redeemed himself, in his own eyes, in Janet's, and in those of the Avengers several times in the decades since. It seems that he is forgiven in everyone's eyes, except those of the majority of readers, and the writers at Marvel. And as I've always said: There are no bad characters, only bad writers. Seeing as Hank Pym is one of my favorite Avengers, it hurts me to see a character of such great potential treated thus. The slap remains a stigma, the stigma that defines the character.
I have to wonder why this is not the case with other comic book characters. Have we forgotten that Hal Jordan slaughtered most of the Green Lantern Corps? How many people has the Hulk killed in his rampages? How many times has Spider-Man knocked Mary Jane around? In post-Crisis continuity, Superman sentenced the three Phantom Zone villains to death. Reed Richards struck his wife Sue physically and verbally to shake her out of her Malice identity.
Let's not even get into the weird physical relationships Batman has had with Catwoman and Talia, among others – you know there was more than slapping involved there. Add in the archer couples Hawkeye and Mockingbird, and Green Arrow and Black Canary, and you have enough dysfunctional relationship there to make Hank and Jan seem positively healthy. Why is it Henry Pym that takes the blame?
Recently it has come to light, although I had heard rumors for years, that the slap was never meant to happen as we saw it on the page. The writer of that issue, Jim Shooter, who was also Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, posted a blog entry about the incident. You can read it here. It's called, appropriately enough, "Hank Pym Was Not a Wife Beater." What is most interesting is that artist Bob Hall collaborates this in the comments section of the blog.
So where does this leave us? Well, continuity is as it was printed, not what was meant to be printed. I mean, this is the way it is: Hank hit Jan. Of course, Janet is no longer with us, killed at the end of the Secret Invasion. In Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers, Hank was in the process of finding a way to bring her back. The subplot remains in Avengers Academy by Christos Gage. Both Slott and Gage are good writers – no, make that great writers. Maybe Hank is headed toward another redemption, and maybe this time it will stick.
By Glenn Walker
There's been a lot of buzz about DC Comics' new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series, and for those who aren't long-time comics readers, or not so nostalgic for the Silver Age, you might be asking the questions: Who are the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents? and Why should I care? That's what I'm here for, with my vast storehouse of useless comics knowledge I call my head. Let me tell you folks, about the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents…
Back in the day, or the late 1960s, the comics industry was a bit different. If you were looking for superheroes, you only really had two choices: DC Comics or Marvel Comics. Occasionally however, a third option would pop up. One of the most intriguing was Tower Comics, which made the scene in 1965 with the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. They were a different take on the superhero concept, riding the trend of espionage, and borrowing an acronymonic name (for the record The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves) – they presented something new, and readers were thrilled. Tower presented more pages and fewer ads, albeit with a higher price (a whole quarter in a world of twelve cent comics), and introduced a whole new universe of super-powered characters.
This superhero universe, however, was rooted in reality with its espionage background. Powers came from devices, and those devices came with a price. Use the power, lose your life. Also, they weren't heroes in the traditional sense – this was just their day job. New concepts drew in the readers, and the characters, while some weren't that original at first glance, offered new spins on those ideas. And some of the amazing talent that worked on the titles included Wally Wood, Gil Kane, and Steve Ditko.
Dynamo utilized the Thunderbelt, which made him super-strong and almost invulnerable. NoMan was an android, so popular in the Silver Age, who not only wore a cloak of invisibility decades before Harry Potter, but if he died, he could transfer his mind into any one of numerous other robot bodies. Menthor was a double agent, yet when he wore his helmet, he gained mental powers and also became a force for good. Lightning was a speedster who aged a bit every time he used his super speed. Raven was a streamlined Hawkman, while U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent (I told you acronyms were hot) was Aquaman as a secret agent. They even had a support team called the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad led by a guy named Weed who was what guys like Snapper Carr and Rick Jones should have been.
The heroes were countered by the evil acronym S.P.I.D.E.R., and a host of other baddies, the most infamous of whom was the Iron Maiden. Part Doctor Doom, part Catwoman, her relationship with Dynamo was hotter and more complicated than any we had seen in comics so far. We even had our first real superhero death in comics with Menthor in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (1966). It was violent, gripping, and unlike later comic book deaths, no take-backs. Dead was dead.
The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents titles (there were several, the main one and various solo books) lasted for a few years and then eventually the money and the interest died down. However, the characters were fondly remembered by those who saw them first, and over the years, many revivals flourished. Legal complications made anything permanent almost impossible, but for the past decade, DC Comics has struggled to get the rights – and now they have them.
The new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents title is written by Nick Spencer (of Morning Glories fame) with art by "CAFU" (Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano), whose work graced some of the Superman books this past year. The concept of the superhero gig being a job as opposed to a legacy, and the deadly aspect of the powers, are the central themes here. The latest issue (#4) even featured a history of the team by artist George Perez, who had worked on one of the more visible revivals of the characters in the 1980s.
I am loving this series, and it just gets better with each issue – it's recommended. And if you'd like more insight into the history of the world and characters of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, you might want to check out my feature article in Comic Fan! #4, available here from Main Enterprises. Yeah, shameless plug, but they're good folks.
By Glenn Walker
If that title sounds familiar, it should, it was used just one of many times somebody in the media tried to make Wonder Woman relevant. "The New Original Wonder Woman" was the tagline and temporary title of the 1970s television series starring Lynda Carter. At least then, the character of Wonder Woman was recognizable.
If you've been paying attention the last week or so to pop culture media you've heard of the newest brew-ha-ha over everyone's favorite Amazon Princess. Not for the first time, DC Comics has decided to mess with Wonder Woman, and writer J.M. Straczynski, notably the man who erased Spider-Man's marriage from existence and more recently grounded Superman, has been named the man for the job.
The dirty deed happens in the iconic landmark issue #600 of Wonder Woman on shelves now. This oversized comic also features an introduction by the aforementioned Lynda Carter, great stories by Gail Simone (the exiting WW writer who has done tremendous work with the character), Amanda Conner and Louise Simonson, amazing art by George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Greg Horn and Ivan Reis, a handful of pin-up pages all that I quite enjoyed - and the offending new version of Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman has been changed and/or rebooted several times over the last almost seven decades. The most notable change was in 1968 and lasted almost five years. Wonder Woman was stripped of her powers, arsenal, costume and her supporting cast, including her Amazon sisters. She found a new mentor who trained her in the martial arts and she fought crime using her wits and fighting skills in a white jumpsuit as Diana Prince.
Then, as now, there was a public outcry against this change. Feminist Gloria Steinem in particular railed against this depowering of the strong female role model. While the stories themselves weren't really all that bad, they weren't Wonder Woman. The status quo was returned in 1973 as Wonder Woman found her sisters and her powers again and became weirdly amnesiac of her time in the white jumpsuit pretending to be Emma Peel of the Avengers. No, not those Avengers, but I'm glad you're paying attention.
Wonder Woman, like many of DC Comics' characters, was also rebooted in 1985. Writer/artist George Perez jettisoned the invisible jet, the Diana Prince secret identity, and Steve Trevor as a romantic interest in favor of a father figure role. Perez also upped her power levels, gave her finally the full ability to fly and tied her origins and backstory more tightly to the Olympian gods. This was a good change, and most of all, she was still Wonder Woman - trademark, imagery, continuity and marketing were all intact.
The current change, presented in a ten-page story in Wonder Woman #600, is a serious change, more in line with the 1968 shake-up. Note the similarities. Diana no longer has her Amazonian supporting cast as Themyscira is destroyed. She's wearing a full bodysuit and depending on simply fighting skills. There seems to be a serious depowering going on, as she doesn't fly and is shown fighting human agents in an urban setting.
The new costume is practical, and makes sense, but it's not Wonder Woman. Sorry, I hate to be the crab here, but sometimes tradition and recognition trump practicality and logic. Take Superman. Capes are dumb, but he's not Superman without the cape. Same with Diana. No armored bathing suit, no Wonder Woman.
Her origin has been mucked about, from all indications, by time travel and some diabolical villain. And Diana's mission seems to be to uncover what really happened and ideally reverse it, right? If she does, and she wins, won't everything go back to the way it was? I doubt it. Logic seems to dictate our heroine will lose this fight - another reason for me to dislike this new paradigm.
What is most disturbing to me about the story by JMS and artist Don Kramer, is that the main character, Wonder Woman, if she is even being called that, is completely bland. And the elements that are interesting - the sewer of guardians so similar to the mysterious subway in Captain Marvel's origin and the so obviously Neil Gaiman Oracle, are lifted from other sources. Indeed, the Oracle is far more interesting than the reputed star of the story.
It's a shame that the other three and half stories in this issue outshine the one we're supposed to be the most interested in. I guess we'll have to wait for Wonder Woman #601 to get a better idea of what we really have here. And if not, Wonder Woman has returned to her original and most known form after every other change - let's hope it happens this time as well.