Wonder Woman by George Pérez Volume 1 begins collecting the superstar creator’s landmark run with the world’s foremost female superhero.
The climax of Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986 had essentially removed Wonder Woman from the DC Universe. With a clean slate, Pérez re-launched the Amazon warrior, serving as plotter and penciler for a long stretch. Working with co-writers Len Wein and Greg Potter, Pérez stripped the Wonder Woman concept down to its essentials.
Gone were the invisible plane, the secret identity, the purple healing ray and the idea of Wonder Woman as just another costumed adventurer. Under Pérez, Wonder Woman was more akin to Thor. Her recast origin tied her closely to the pantheon of Greek gods and her adventures were deeply rooted in classical mythology.
The first arc centered around a plot by war god Ares to ignite a nuclear war between the Americans and Soviets. Diana, princess of the Amazons, went through the traditional contest to become her people’s emissary to the outside world. Old standbys like Steve Trevor and Etta Candy were on hand. But in a twist, Steve became romantically linked to Etta, while he and Diana were more like brother and sister.
After the Ares affair, Pérez showed Diana navigating the modern world. In a nice nod to realism, Diana had to learn English. And instead of acting as a typical superhero, she was presented more as an ambassador and peace activist. New characters included Julia Kapatelis, a Harvard professor, and her teenaged daughter, Vanessa, who became Diana’s surrogate family in “Man’s World.” PR shark Myndi Mayer maneuvered her way into Diana’s circle. Pérez presented a fascinating new take on Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s principal foe, that steeped the villain in African lore.
Volume 1 concludes with the “Challenge of the Gods” saga. After a misunderstanding with a wrathful Zeus, the Olympians sent Diana on a harrowing gauntlet through the demonic pit beneath Paradise Island. She encountered one mythological threat after another, eventually discovering her true destiny.
The renovation executed by Pérez and his co-writers gave Wonder Woman badly needed relevance. The character had been adrift for years before Crisis and attempts to send her in new directions had fallen short. Grounding her in mythology and recasting her mission injected vitality and distinction into the series. The folklore concepts that Pérez used to drive the action were compelling and unlike what was going on in the rest of DC’s line at the time. He and Wein did an especially good job with Diana’s characterization, bringing out the nobility and strength. But also showing how Diana could be very naïve and at times overwhelmed by the new world she’d entered. The book also worked feminist concepts into the story in a way that felt organic and not like a forced program.
But more than anything, it was the dazzling visuals that Pérez crafted that made Wonder Woman a must-read at the time. Working primarily with inker Bruce Patterson and colorists Tatjana Wood and Carl Gafford, the series was bursting with ideas and energy.
Pérez mixed traditional layouts that moved the action along with some innovative page designs and truly stunning splash pages. His depictions of the physics-defying architecture of Olympus and the sun-kissed beauty of Paradise Island were especially memorable. Whether Diana was on the streets of Boston or in a demonic underworld, Pérez and company made the images come alive. It was the perfect marriage of traditional fantasy and superhero action and stands among the artist’s most notable work.
Wonder Woman has aged rather well. While the dialogue and narrative boxes bear the marks of their time, the grounding in mythology gives the stories a more timeless feel. Some of the then-contemporary fashions can look dated, but aren’t prominent. Those familiar with the Boston area might scratch their heads at the depictions of some neighborhoods of the city, or roll their eyes at the idea that a Boston resident would maintain a “summer house” in a suburb a half-hour north of the city. But those are minor quibbles and don’t weigh down the stories.
Wonder Woman by George Pérez Volume 1 is a no-brainer for fans of either the artist or the character. These are great stories that have set the course for the character ever since. And DC has made this edition comparatively affordable. Highly recommended.