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Sunday, March 30, 2008

John Byrne & Rewriting History Better

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Forty-eight hours after I mailed a column on John Byrne's work on Wonder Woman, I learned that he would be leaving the title. Ouch!

Actually, this is no great shock. Many notable artists stay with a title for a short time, although their impact is significant for years. Jim Steranko's work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D was brief, but it changed comics radically. Long runs, such as Jack Kirby's 100 issues of Fantastic Four now seem an exception.

One good thing about Byrne's later issues of Wonder Woman is his wrapping up of subplots. The rapid convergence of those subplots has been logical and shows little evidence of haste. At the same time, new writers and artists will have ample ideas for future development.

Particularly impressive is the resolution of Etrigan the Demon's plotline. I never cared much for this character when Jack Kirby created him in the 1970's. His human identity, Jason Blood, has survived and we have to assume that Etrigan will reappear somewhere in the DC universe.

Another fertile seedbed is Byrne's rewriting of the World War II era. In his version, Hippolyta, mother of the original Wonder Woman, went back in time for eight years and served with the Justice Society. This is a drastic revision of the post-Crisis history of the DC universe.

Rewriting comics history is nothing new; DC recently reprinted (for $4.95) its 1963 special Secret Origins. That anthology was an early acknowledgment that a new audience for superheroes was emerging and interested in the origins of newly popular heroes such as Adam Strange, Green Lantern, etc.

One story therein is an origin of Wonder Woman. It contradicts the idea that Diana was created from clay, and seems to be the origin for an early version of Wonder Girl. That fits somewhat Byrne's reworking of Donna Troy's origin.

Dr. John Suter

Wonder Woman's Growing Popularity

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

I recently saw an interesting sign in a bookstore that carries large stocks of old comics. Because of overstock, the store was purchasing very few titles. Of the titles listed, only one was "mainstream": DC's Wonder Woman. No Marvel, Dark Horse, or other DC titles.

Since then, I have gathered that other dealers consider Wonder Woman a "hot" title even though the 1998 Overstreet Price Guide does not indicate any rise in prices. This might be a good time to look for bargains.

The surge in interest has to stem from John Byrne's work on the title. The earlier versions of the characters were rarely interesting. (But I knew several rabid fans in the 1960s and 1970s.) Few wept when the first two Wonder Women characters were wiped out in DC's "Crisis on Multiple Earths."

George Perez recreated the character and emphasized her roots in Greco-Roman mythology. After Perez, William Messner-Loebs had some interesting plots, but it is Byrne who has had the largest impact on the basic premises of the series.

Messner-Loebs had Diana, the "true" Wonder Woman, lose her role briefly to another Amazon named Artemis. Byrne topped this by killing Diana. To prove that she was dead and not subject to resurrection ala Superman, we were treated to a grisly autopsy.

The late Diana now lives with the Olympian deities. The role of Wonder Woman has been taken by her mother Hippolyta.

Byrne has tied Wonder Woman to plots in his "Jack Kirby's Fourth World" and to characters from Kirby's Demon. It pays to keep up with what he is doing.

Byrne is also tinkering with Wonder Girl. Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, is changing rapidly while a new Wonder Girl has appeared. At this point, we don't know if Diana, Hippolyta, or Donna Troy will become permanent, but this title is certainly more interesting than Superman.

Dr. John Suter