Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday Is Retroactive For All I Care #117

Justice League of America - The '70s #1
Wonder Woman - The '70s #1
Wonder Woman - The '80s #1

DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The '70s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
Confession? I bought this book purely out of geek completist imperative. I knew the Detroit League and JLI would be covered in successive editions, and I love those guys, so I went ahead and bought this. The truth is, I think the Satellite Era of the League was fucking shit, with boring ass Dick Dillin art and a revolving door of mostly crap writers. Basically, those books weren't fit to lick the boots of the contemporaneous Avengers. I didn't figure I'd like this affectionate look back, and I fuckin' called it.

The lead story is written by Cary Bates, whose work I generally enjoyed in the '80s, so this was completely hopeless. Unfortunately, not only does this read like the product of the regrettable era rather than Bates' better work, but it's also very much like a lost edition of those cheesy Julius Schwartz tribute books from years back following his death. The Andy Smith pages look okay, although he inks himself to look more like a Neal Adams knock-off, and by that I mean he seems to be aiming for the look of dudes like Rich Buckler. The Gordon Purcell pages remind you why he's best known for well starched licensed product from before Dark Horse pointed out that you could apply artistry to such ventures. The reprint features one half of a dreadful self-insertion yarn where Bates was joined by Elliot S! Maggin. The printing quality makes clear why that shit should have remained on browning newsprint.

DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman - The '70s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
I've always liked Wonder Woman, but certain runs of the character made me outright love her, and Mike Sekowsky's Diana Prince stories was one of them. Denny O'Neil contributed to that period, and took over entirely upon Sekowsky's departure, but his stuff was never as good. His politics, gender and otherwise, were rather screwy, and he's on record as apologizing for many aspects of his work there. I suspected his writing this special would see an attempt at contrition, and so it does, but in such an obtuse manner that it's hard to tell. The story starts off in a late Silver Age fashion recalling the pre-Prince period, until a psychedelic adversary transforms the Amazing Amazon into the mod adventuress. From there, the story runs as equal parts Silver Age flavor, O'Neil specific Bronze Age touches, and then the ambiguity of O'Neil's eighties work. It is an uneasy and not entirely satisfying blend, exacerbated by the unusual art by J. Bone. Typically, the artist works in a sunny animated style, but here seems to attempt channeling the coarseness of Sekowsky. It's interesting to see him work in a more realistic style, with the obvious intent of evoking the period, but that doesn't keep it from feeling off and indulgently experimental. The result isn't necessarily bad, just sort of funky, in the bleu cheese rather than chicken sense.

The back-up reprint is another kooky but decidedly more conventional tale from the early '70s, supported fantastically by lovely Dick Giordano art in full Adams-aping mode. It's a lot of fun, with a mystery guest villain in peculiar disguise, and the only major complaint a tire-screeching incomplete ending.

DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman - The '80s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
First, a few little things:
  • I love the 1980s Retroactive logo, as it perfectly captures the decade.
  • The blurbs are a sweet blast from the past, so why the lame digital type for the price and issue number?
  • Roy Thomas debuted "The Sensational New Wonder Woman" in 1981 alongside Gene Colan with a fresh logo and the devising of the Whataburger double-w chest symbol to replace the fifty year old eagle.It was actually one of Wondy's better logos, so it seems a shame they used one of the late '80s variations on the Perez era Post-Crisis logo instead. I always found that font blah.
  • While it's fun to tease some continuity "to come" in a story explicitly set in 1983, there were some anachronistic elements that kicked me right out of the story (specifically the "Wonder Woman 2.0" line.)

The new lead story starts out pretty well. Rich Buckler was a fairly popular Bronze Age artist, although his legacy is one of infamy, given that his already Neal Adams derivative style was often employed for the most egregious swiping of other artists of his day. In retrospect, especially compared to Rob Liefeld or Greg Land, Buckler's lifts were relatively benign. Anyway, joined by all-star inker Joe Rubinstein, the unusually ripped Wonder Woman looks hard core. There are some swell nods to the era, and the mystery villain is fantastically rendered for a few panels. Thomas' script is cute, and draws on plot threads left over from his run, including a rather final finale that takes advantage of its setting in the days prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Unfortunately, the good artists ditch on page fourteen with five(!) seriously cruddy replacements in the second half. If fact, the art is so terrible, I suspect Thomas had to rewrite those pages, because the story quality seems to deteriorate around the same point into a dunderheaded slugfest. The grim coda is jarring, in part because Rubenstein returns to own those last two pages.

I very much preferred the reprint back-up, Wonder Woman (1st series) #288. For starters, it was from the days when DC seemed like a professional operation, instead of an art project thrown together over the weekend for college credit. I'm not typically a fan of Romeo Tanghal's heavy handed inks, but I think Gene Colan's usual moody style needed the conventional polish to perk it up on an assignment like this. Tanghal necessarily tarts up the super-heroine, but is wise enough to get out of Colan's way where it counts. Thomas' plot is nice and dense, recapping a sixteen page preview comic in two pages, advancing subplots left over from the previous creative team, and still working out his own material.

I'd never read Silver Swan's debut, but happened to buy the original comic a few months back, and really appreciate the vastly improved printing quality. It's much easier to sell silver coloring when your paper stock isn't brown. Swan was much more interesting in this first incarnation, even if the ugly duckling aspect of the character is as believable as the hawt geek girl from '80s movies, with her big blue eyes, lush lips, and "blemishes" that more resemble freckles. Silver Swan as I've known her since 1988 has been a bore. This story not only gives her the ol' ominous foreshadowing, but follows it with a well thought out origin that provides the character with strong motivation and a hook perfect for a Wonder Woman adversary. It also reminded me how much more effective a foe Swan could be when the Amazing Amazon is grounded. Since Wonder Woman can't just fly herself, you get a great display of physicality as she relies on acrobatics and her lasso as she's forced to adapt. It's fun hearing her trash talk, as well.

Reading this story makes me realize what a huge mistake ditching the Diana Prince identity and divorcing her from the military were. I'm sorry, but "peaceful ambassador from an island nation" isn't the best story engine. Wonder Woman was far more iconic and motivated while managing a dual identity as an agent of military intelligence working out of the Pentagon than hanging out with a widow and her daughter in Boston. I don't fault Perez for shaking up a tired status quo, but I do fault all the writers that followed him for not restoring some of the elements once Perez's angle grew stale. Steve Trevor's spy games and General Darnell's sexual harassment really draw a reader into the soap opera. I must say though that based on this one story, Diana Prince is the worst secret agent ever. She leaves top secret documents in a trash can, blows off Steve in the hospital to fuck off to Paradise Island for a random battle, returns to visit Steve, has a team-up with Silver Swan, is actually surprised when the documents go missing, and then, upon retrieving them, decided to take a shower straight away while they sit in her living room.

The reprint makes the book a good buy. I really enjoyed how much information was packed into 26 pages, and that's before the cliffhanger that reintroduced one of Wonder Woman's best villains after a fifteen year absence. Good show!

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