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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The 1987 Dr Fate mini-series

Aesthetically speaking, ever since I first laid eyes upon his Super Power Collection action figure, Dr Fate was always one of my favorite DC characters. What's not to love? The yellow-and-blue color scheme. The ominous face-covering helmet. The big sweeping cape. He's pretty easy for an eight-year-old to draw. And the cherry on top: it's impossible to define his powers. What does he do? Just about anything. Can he beat Superman? Probably. Can he beat the Spectre? Maybe. Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman struck gold when they created this character back in 1940. I'm pretty elated to be re-reading the 1987 Dr Fate mini-series for this review.



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The year was 1987. DC was still trying to sort itself out with all the post-Crisis reboots and continuity conundrums. Dr Fate, who was now part of earth-one DCU thanks to Crisis On Infinite Earths, had been appearing in the new and very well-loved Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League ongoing series. It was an excellent time to revamp the character and get a new mini-series out there since interest in Dr Fate was at an all-time high. As an aside, for anyone who wasn't already familiar with Dr Fate from Roy Thomas' recent All-Star Squadron comics, you could've pick up The Immortal Doctor Fate three-issue deluxe reprint series that was released in 1985.

With a creative team of J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Keith Giffen (penciller) and Dave Hunt (inker), the house ad for this new Dr Fate mini-series... didn't really give anything away. I mean, it would appear that Dr Fate would be fighting some big monsters... but other than that, we had no clue that anything drastic would be happening in this mini.

House ad for 1987 Dr Fate mini-series

Needless to say, we were probably a little unprepared for the bombshells J.M DeMatteis and company would be dropping on us. True to the spirit of Dr Fate, it's a very odd story.

I'm telling you right now that this review is full of spoilers. If you want to stop reading this review, seek out this mini-series and read it on your own and be surprised, go ahead and do so. It's worth it.


I absolutely love this cover. Hell, I just love Keith Giffen art.

Kent Nelson is dying, or -- more specifically -- Nabu's host body is burning out. It's more or less revealed in the first issue of this mini-series that Kent is no longer in control when he wears the Dr Fate helmet and that Nabu is in the driver's seat. It's also revealed that Nabu is a Lord of Order. (I can't remember if this is the *first* instance of Dr Fate being named a Lord of Order, but either way, it's spelled out for the reader in this issue.) The Lords of Order want Nabu to cease his never-ending battle with the forces of Chaos since, according to the Yuga cycles, Chaos is just going to win anyways and then the cycle will restart... so why not just let this thing play itself out and they can restart the cycle from the beginning, and Order will come into power again?

panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

[It's probably worth mentioning that this 'Yuga cycles' stuff isn't fictional, and that DeMatteis is trying to educate us about Hinduism. Actually, a lot of DeMatteis' mystical writing is rooted in Hinduism, and now that you're aware of this you'll probably start to notice a lot of parallels you probably missed the first time.]

Despite the sage advice, Nabu decides that he needs to find a new host to keep on battling the Lords of Chaos. Enter: Eric Strauss. Eric is a 10-year-old boy who has always known he was destined for greater things. Kent Nelson goes out and abducts Eric from a playground so Nabu can begin training Eric to be the next Dr Fate host.

Dialogue between Kent Nelson and a young Eric Strauss. Note the close up of Inza Nelson's gravestone. panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Nabu then ages Eric Strauss from a 10-year-old boy to a 20-year-old man thanks to some unexplained magic:
A 20-year-old Eric Strauss. Hey, that's Kent Nelson in the background! Why does he have a mouth in his abdomen? page from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


We also can't forget Linda Strauss, who is also first introduced in the first issue of this mini-series. Linda is Eric's 28-year-old step-mother. I was really hoping to glaze over this, but it's so in-your-face that you just can't ignore it: Eric and Linda have a very *unusual* relationship. This will be prevalent throughout the mini-series:


panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Also introduced in the first issue: Dr Benjamin Stoner. Don't let the fact that he works at Arkham Asylum fool you: this is the first appearance of Dr Stoner (aka: he's not an already-established Batman villain) and he will re-appear at least once in the 1988 Dr Fate ongoing series. Dr Stoner takes his orders from Typhon, a Lord of Chaos, who also makes his first appearance in this mini-series.

The menacing Dr Benjamin Stoner.
panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


...and finally, there's Kent Nelson -- the golden aged Dr Fate. He's looking pretty rough; that mouth coming out of his stomach is a dead giveaway. Also worth noting: Inza Nelson is dead. DeMatteis spends the first issue of this mini-series turning everything you thought you knew about Dr Fate on it's head. It's all very weird and intriguing and, as far as sheer entertainment value is concerned, I just can't help but want to read more.
Nabu, Kent Nelson and a young Eric Strauss.
panel from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


As the story progresses, DeMatteis really delves into the whole 'Nabu is a manipulative jerk' idea and has Kent Nelson lashing out about Nabu's wicked ways. A sub-theme of this mini is Kent Nelson coming to terms with the fact that Nabu robbed him of a happy life, and that Nabu is really no better than a Lord of Chaos in the end.

Kent Nelson reflects. panels from Dr Fate v1 #2 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


Meanwhile, in an inner monologue, Linda Strauss decides to blurt out what we've all been thinking:

This is how Linda feels about Eric -- and she's not even aware he's an adult now.
panels from Dr Fate v1 #2 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Coincidentally, Linda Strauss is twenty-eight-years old... and already feels a "connection" to this young boy. Hmmm. I wonder what's going to happen when Linda discovers that Eric has been suddenly aged to a twenty-year-old? Hmmm... I'm getting flashbacks of Hal Jordan and Arisia here.

panel from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #1 (1981). Art by Joe Staton and Frank McLaughlin.


I've read enough four-issue minis' to know that in order to keep it interesting, at some point the antagonist needs to overpower the protagonist just so we can see how much damage and destruction would be caused if the protagonist gave up. This mini was no exception; Dr Stoner does, in fact, get possession of Dr Fate's mystical helmet and sacred amulet, he becomes a new Dr Fate (anti-Fate?) and plunges the world into chaos.

This appearance of Ronald Reagan here for no other reason than I collect images of Reagan from DC comics. panel from Dr Fate v1 #3 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


The Justice League and the Phantom Stranger make a special appearance in issue #3. Actually, they take up half of the issue. Not that I'm complaining -- seeing Keith Giffen illustrate and Dave Hunt ink the Justice League is just one more reason to hunt down and purchase this mini-series.

panels from Dr Fate v1 #3 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

On the topic of the Justice League, after this mini-series, Dr Fate would appear in only ONE more issue of Justice League International (it was a Millennium cross-over, too) and that would be it.


The fourth issue of this mini is the big showdown: Eric Strauss, Linda Strauss, Nabu, and Kent Nelson versus Dr Stoner (aka: the Anti-Fate). The battle's not going too well for our heroes, when -- out of nowhere -- one more BIG bombshell is revealed:

panels from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

...and we finally discover Linda Strauss' part in all of this:

page from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

The mini-series reveals that Dr Fate was always meant to be the aggregate of two human hosts. Kent and Inza Nelson were always meant to be merged into one, but Nabu put a stop to that... because he's a manipulative jerk. So that explains the whole Eric/Linda connection: she felt a 'connection' to him (easily confused for love) because they were meant to be the new Dr Fate! That explains it.

...but wait! There's more:

panels from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Well... so much for that theory.

So, this is the part where I try to defend the weird Eric Strauss/Linda Strauss relationship dynamic.

Keeping in mind that J.M. DeMatteis had a consciousness-altering experience when he was 17 years old that set him on a course towards the teachings of Meher Baba, it's safe to presume that the teachings of Meher Baba's most popular book, God Speaks, The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, had a big impact on DeMatteis and his story-telling.

As it so happens, reincarnation is a central tenet of Meher Baba's teachings. Thus, I'm choosing to explain this away as reincarnation -- Eric and Linda were meant to be together, and were probably together in a previous lifetime... but it just so happened that Linda was reincarnated thirteen years sooner than Eric. There. Something that, at first glance, may appear to be confusing and creepy can now be explained away as mystical and slightly romantic.* Anyways, will Eric and Linda be able to sort this out? Well, not in this mini-series, so we'll need to wait for the ongoing series to see how this unfolds.

* J.M. DeMatteis even chimed in on this via twitter:

God bless you, social media!



Kent Nelson, who finally get the peace he's been longing for, is unceremoniously re-animated by Nabu to be his living vessel (again).

panels from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

So, how did I enjoy this mini-series? I loved it. It's the perfect storm of 'excellent storytelling about a character I've always been interested in' combined with 'art that I just can't get enough of'. Giffen does a great job with setting a dark and ominous tone to this mini-series; he includes lots of shadows and lots of things with sharp teeth.

This is my favorite kind of Keith Giffen art  -- it's bold and dramatic, it's heavy on contrasts, it's filled with vibrant colors and has a 'pop art' feel to it --  it's the same Keith Giffen art that had me take a look at Legion of Super-Heroes with a new set of eyes. You can find similar Giffen art in The Heckler and the Ambush Bug minis and specials. A major appearance by the Justice League was just the icing on the cake.



The big takeaway:

1) Dr Fate is now a composite of two people: Eric and Linda Strauss. I'm not sure how this is going to play out -- will it be a 'Firestorm thing' where, when they merge, Eric is the body while Linda is a voice in his head? I guess we'll need to wait for the ongoing series.

2) Kent Nelson is back -- but he's actually Nabu. Yeah, that won't be confusing at all. To be honest, I just kinda feel bad for Kent... all he wants to do is rest and be with his late wife, Inza.

3) Dr Fate got his powers (of a sort) in Cairo, Egypt and his magic was always being represented with an ankh (a symbol of life used in ancient Egypt) -- so I'm pretty surprised to learn that there's some Hinduism mixed in there.


Coming up next: The 1988 Dr Fate ongoing series.


-Justin

Monday, September 10, 2018

John Byrne at FANEXPO 2018

The 2018 Toronto FANEXPO came and went last weekend -- August 30th to September 2nd -- and the BIG news this year was that John Byrne would be appearing, and that this would be Byrne's LAST convention appearance for the foreseeable future. This is especially enticing since I don't think Byrne has attended more than 8 comic conventions in the last 15 years. For an eighties comics fan site, this was a landmark moment indeed.

Unfortunately, our on-the-scene journalist was unable to get access to the John Byrne Q&A panels. Fortunately, Eric Anthony of the Cave of Solitude podcast was able to come through and provide audio for this event. When asked if we can transcribe the audio, Eric replied with "I figure all the comic fans should have a chance to hear Mr Byrne chat it up with the fans." Truly appreciated, Eric. The crew at the Cave of Solitude podcast are fan's fans and are based out of Toronto, ON. They do a lot of interviews with comic pros and discuss some very interesting comic book stuff -- go ahead and give them a listen.

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This is transcribed audio from two different John Byrne Q&A Panels held at the at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on September 1st and September 2nd, 2018. It was an hour of Byrne opening up the floor to fan's questions. No question was refused.

True to our namesake, we only transcribed the questions and answers that had anything to do with DC comics and the eighties. We omitted questions and answers about Byrne's work on Marvel comics (ex: Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and X-Men) or Byrne's creative process -- unless it had something directly to do with DC comics.

(Please note: we have NO clue which attendees asked which questions. If we quoted one of your questions from the panel, feel free to take credit in the comments section of this article. Without further ado....)

Panel host Chis Ryall (on the left) and John Byrne (on the right). 2018.
Photo source: Eric Anthony of Cave of Solitude podcast

Q: "What were the circumstances in the 1990s that allowed for all the cross-overs between Marvel and DC? Do you think that it would happen again anytime soon? "

Byrne: "Well what happened was a lot of people were flowing back and forth, of course. Y'know... Marvel people were going to DC [comics], DC people were fleeing [Jim] Shooter and ending up at... y'know. I've often said -- and I'm going to go on a slight tangent here -- back in those days when you guys didn't know 3 months in advance what was coming, and the first time anybody found out about the Superman/Spider-Man book was when the house ads appeared in the comics, and I figure there was some kids who walked into the local drugstore and THERE IT WAS on the spinner rack... and they didn't know it was coming... and their heads must've exploded. THAT was, in many respects... the first Superman/Spider-Man... was the last gasp of old time comics. Because Ross Andru penciled it, except -- you may not know this -- it was given to Dick Giordano to ink, Dick took it up to the Continuity Offices where he worked with Neal [Adams], and Neal redrew all the Superman figures. Y'know? He erased Ross' and redrew it. He put it inside the profile that Ross had drawn it. But he redrew it. And then there was an editor who went in afterwards and put a white line around all the foreground figures to make them jump... all because people wanted it to be the best book that anybody had ever done. And today, well just what Neal did would make all the lawyers commit harakiri -- y'know... they'd just go out of their minds. And yet it produced this wonderful little moment of time."

cover of Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1976). Art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano

"Then, of course, they had to kind of run it into the ground. The moment that the cross-overs became an ongoing monthly series... what was that called... 'Amalgam'? Whatever that was. This is what we do in the business: we take something special and just run the wheels off it. So they kind of went away for a while. Luckily, in that span, I got to do Darkseid vs Galactus. That was fun, because  I was at a convention and George Perez was sitting next to me at our table, and this kid comes up and says "Why don't you do Darkseid versus Galactus?" and George and I just looked at each other and said "How come we don't think of stuff like that? Holy Crap" and of course I got to do one of my all-time all-time favorite jobs ever which was Batman/Captain America."

cover of Darkseid vs Galactus: The Hunger (1995). Art by John Byrne.

"Even as I was doing those, the whole thing was dying, and then just some nasty stuff between Marvel and DC. Politics. It's always about politics -- one of the reasons I left both of them was that there was just too much 'stuff'."



cover of The Man of Steel #1 (1986). Art by John Byrne.

Q: "How much creative freedom did you have when you reset Superman Man of Steel?"

Byrne: "When I was hired, or ASKED, to do Superman, they asked me to turn in a proposal. I turned in, I think it was, 20 points -- which I called 'my list of unreasonable demands'. Some of you may have seen the SYFY channel interview that I did, so you may have already heard this. Of all the things I wanted to do, the only thing that DC -- that Jenette Kahn -- pushed back on was...  well, as I tell it, I was sitting there going 'Well, Kryptonite can kill Superman. How do we know that? That's kind of a test of destruction, isn't it? How do we know Kryptonite can kill Superman? ' So I came up with the idea that it wasn't Kal-El who was sent from Krypton -- it was the pregnant Lara. (This was before I did the big change and all that stuff.) She arrives on Earth, the Kents find her and take her home. She has the baby, and then she finds a lump of Kryptonite and it kills her. So now we know Kryptonite can kill Kryptonians. Jenette didn't like that. She thought that, of all the stuff I wanted to do, that was too extreme."

"And she [Jenette] said "What if the pressure is in the core that are going to cause the planet to explode are already creating Kryptonite? So people are dying of Kryptonite radiation on Krypton before it blows up?" and I said "I'll steal that! That's good! I'll take it!" So we did THAT instead, and that's how I got my "Out of the Green Dawn" title and all that stuff. That persuaded me to do the cold, anti-septic Krypton instead of the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers Krypton."

panels from The Man of Steel #1 (1986). Art by John Byrne.



Q: "To take you back to Superman with your 20 points there, you took him down several paces. Was that your idea?"

Byrne: "Oh yeah! I went into Superman saying "y'know, it's the 'Man' that's important. Not the 'Super'". Denny O'Neil once said to me, long before I got anywhere NEAR Superman, he once said "It's hard to write interesting stories about a character who is so POWERFUL that he can destroy entire alien races by listening hard." And I said "yeah!" Y'know? The Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve, the first one, which I saw 127 times in the theater. That is not an exaggeration, that is the number of times I saw it. It struck me that every time I saw it, he's doing all this super stuff -- y'know? Pushing over mountains, and whatnot -- but the moment the audience cheered, every SINGLE time, was when he tore the car door off to get to Lois. And I said "That's relatable!" Who among us hasn't had THAT moment? That's something we can all comprehend. I said "That's why he needs to be Superman, but not Superman Who Can Push the Earth Around". As a kid, I used to have problems with that image too, because I always think 'well, they draw it sideways', but he's standing on his hands, isn't he, to push the earth? Why doesn't he just bore into the earth? Y'know?"

"So I said "Let's bring down and let's make him comprehensible" and I also tried to introduce some science, so that his x-ray vision, for example, was NOT him firing x-rays out of his eyes. I said "That's not how x-rays work! If he was doing that, he'd have to fly around to the other side to intercept it." I said "He can see the WHOLE spectrum. He can SEE x-rays. Y'know? That's how he can see through stuff. He can probably see radio waves." I thought about getting rid of heat vision, because that wasn't a natural extension of what people can do -- but I found it useful."

panels from The Man of Steel #4 (1986). Art by John Byrne.


[Another fan asked a similar question on Sunday. Byrne elaborated on his answer a little more...]

Byrne: "When I went off-contract at Marvel, Dick Giordano called me immediately. He said "Okay, you've been bitching about Superman for years... put your money where your mouth is." Let me add parenthetically that I wish I had said "no", but I said "yes" and got together with Dick and Jenette [Kahn] and Paul Levitz and talked about stuff, and I came up with, what I called, my 'list of unreasonable demands'. It was about 20 points, and they accepted most of them.  They said "yeah, you can do this." "

"Superman is, once again, the sole survivor of the doomed planet Krypton. That's kind of important, I think. I wanted to make Ma and Pa Kent younger, so it was more reasonable that he was THEIR kid and didn't have to pretend that they got him from their cousin in Milwaukee or something. I wanted to emphasis that it is the MAN that is important, not the SUPER. I also wanted to make Clark Kent more dynamic. My favorite Clark Kent is George Reeves. I've often said that when you watch that and show Lois will come in and go "Oh Clark! Oh, something horrible is happening!" and he'll go "Oh, get off my case, Lois. I'm working!" And then she leaves and he just goes. He was such a dynamic... He was a very dynamic Clark. He wasn't a wimpy Clark."

George Reeves as Clark Kent (circa early 1950s)
Photo source: unknown

"Although I've said many times: Christopher Reeve convinced me that that disguise works. That you can part your hair on the other side, slouch, wear a pair of glasses, and look like a different guy. I'm sure you all remember the scene where he comes to Lois' apartment (after Superman has flown her around and Clark comes to take her out on a date) and he's standing there -- and she's gone into the bedroom to change, and he looks at the bedroom door and he takes off the glasses and stands up like another 6 inches, and then she comes out and he puts the glasses back on. But, he really convinced me that you could do it if you sold it properly. You could do it. So that was a lot of what I brought to it."

Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent (circa late 70s/early 80s)
photo source: unknown

"I also wanted Lois to NOT be a bitch. Margot Kidder made me understand why Superman would be smitten with Lois, because up until then I was like "Why?". I remember the Superman parody I did in What The?... it was Park Bench and Nosy Dame were their names. I also wanted Lana Lang to be a more important character. I felt she got a short shift. When Superboy was created, the character/the comic, the Superman editorial office ignored it for, like, 10 years. They just pretended the Superboy comic didn't exist. This whole thing was going on with Lana, and if you were reading that independently you'd go "Oh obviously he's going to grow up and marry Lana, right?", but for years in Superman [it was] "Oh obviously he's going to marry Lois, right?". So the first time they brought Lana into a Superman story, she was this cold, hard sort-of baby Katharine Hepburn-like character. She's Lana Turner with red hair. So yeah, I wanted to get into the history and the background and build the characters from the ground up with a more realistic approach."

cover of Superboy #93 (1961). Art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.

Q: Have you any Superman stories left? Or did you tell them all?

Byrne: "Oh, I could tell some more Superman stories probably, but I really feel it's a case of 'been there, done that'. Once you do Superman, you almost feel like your career is over once you've done Superman. "Well, nothing left here." So, yeah, I don't think I'd ever go back."


Q: "Back when you were doing Action Comics as a team-up book, is there anyone you didn't get to use that you wanted to use?"

Byrne: "Swamp Thing. They wouldn't let me. I went to the editor and said "I want to use Swamp Thing in Action Comics", and she said "No, no, we can't allow that to happen. Oh, by the way, we're using [Lex] Luthor." and I said "Well I don't want THAT to happen, because I haven't fully developed Luthor yet." She replied "Oh, it's already done." Oh, okay. That's how we're going to play THAT game, is it? Fine. So I didn't get to do Swamp Thing.

Spot Lex Luthor. panels from Swamp Thing #53 (1986). John Totleben art.


Q: "Any comments on the Superman/Big Barda sex tape?"

Byrne: "Are you familiar with an old story called 'The Lady or The Tiger'? Okay, the whole point of that story was this guy had fallen in love with a princess -- it's set in India --  and the King/Raja doesn't approve, so he condemns the man to be put into an arena... and there are two doors: behind one door is a beautiful lady -- a princess he will marry if he opens THAT door. And behind the other door is a tiger, and if he opens THAT door, he's dead. So the princess he's in love with is sitting above this, and she points at one of the doors. And that's where the story ends. So we don't know -- what did he choose? What did she tell him to choose? Did she tell him the lady... or the tiger? And that's what I wanted to do with Big Barda. Superman and Big Barda. We don't know. Did they have sex? I don't know. Let the reader think about that."

panels from Action Comics #593 (1987). Illustrated by John Byrne.


Q: "I have read somewhere that when you worked at DC you wanted to do something with Hawkman. but it never came about. I was wondering if that was true? And what your plans for Hawkman were?

Byrne: "Yeah. I've had a great love of Hawkman ever since the Joe Kubert days. I picked up the first Silver Age Hawkman [issue] from a magazine flat at the end of an aisle in a grocery store. The opening scene in the first Hawkman story with a little dog who turns into a bear scared the crap out of me. I was what? Nine, ten or eleven years old?"

panels from Brave and the Bold #34 (1961). Art by Joe Kubert.


"I've always wanted to do Hawkman. Hawkman was sooooo messed up when I was there and since. And I came up with this whole thing to 'fix' Hawkman. We were rolling along on it, and then DC said "No, we're going to have THIS guy do it." and I said "Ok. Fine. I can do something else." I kept asking for [Etrigan] The Demon, and it took them, like, 15 years to give me the Demon."

Blood of the Demon #1 (2005). Cover by John Byrne and Alex Bleyaert 


Q: "Mentioning [Jim] Shooter, how much control did you try to preserve on your part?"

Byrne: "All of it. Shooter had/has, what I call, the 'Whim of Iron'. It almost seemed, literally, like he'd come in on Monday morning with a new idea, and we all had to follow it until he forgot it next the week because he had ANOTHER new idea. I mean, one of the main reasons why Roger Stern and I quit Captain America was because Shooter came in one day and said "Everything has to be one issue stories." and we said "Okay. We're just starting a three-parter, but as soon as we're done, we'll do one-issue stories.", and he said "No. Now.". And I said "Well, I've drawn six pages of this first issue, we can't fit the next three issues into what's left of the book." So he got huffy and pulled it. And that was in the days when the fans still supported me when I quit. "He must've done it for a good reason", they said [about me]."

These panels from LEGENDS #5 (1987) inserted for NO REASON whatsoever. Art by John Byrne.


Q: "So for Fantastic Four, you came on five issues before the 20th anniversary, and then you left right before the 25th anniversary. What was the history there?"

Byrne: "Well, I was having fun working on the Fantastic Four. I was looking for a bit of a break. I'd been talking to John Romita Jr about drawing it while I wrote it. We were cruising towards that -- I think that would've been fun. And then I accepted the Superman gig, and in my innocence, I assumed that I would do Superman AND the Fantastic Four -- but as soon as Shooter found out about Superman, suddenly nothing I was doing on the Fantastic Four was any good... things kept getting changed and I had to do this and I had to do that. And I said to Mike Carlin, who was my editor then, "I'm gonna just leave. You shouldn't have to put up with the crap just because I'm going to do Superman." Mike Hobson, who was the publisher of Marvel in those days, he congratulated me on Superman and said "Anything that's good for DC will be good for Marvel -- it will be good for the whole industry." So I left, and then Shooter fired Carlin because it was 'his fault' I left.   "

[Editor's note: After Carlin was 'fired' by Marvel, he became an editor at DC comics and oversaw the Superman titles (among other things). He remained an editor at DC from 1986 to 2011. Not bad, not bad at all.]



Q:"You've done extensive work with both companies (Marvel and DC), what did you find were the differences in which you approach those characters and the rules you have to abide by with them?"

Byrne: "I'll tell you a funny story. When I left DC, and I went back to Marvel, and I was doing West Coast Avengers. I had an issue that opened with a scene of Hawkeye out on the practice range firing his arrows. I drew him standing there, firing his arrows, and I said "oh! come one!" and I put him on this whirligig machine that's throwing him around and he's firing and he's still getting bullseyes. That seemed more Marvel. I mentioned that to Walt Simonson and Walt said "That's what you should've been doing at DC!" "Yeah", I said. "There was a different mindset the minute I stepped through the door at DC -- everything went down a few hundred notches." Stan [Lee] used to say "In Marvel comics, people don't reach for the phone,... they REACH for the phone!" It's true. You don't 'come in' through the door, you COME IN through the door. So yeah, that was the biggest difference, it was mainly psychological. DC is.... calmer. As I often said, seriously now... setting aside which characters are your favorite and all that, which universe would you want to live in? Because the DC universe has Superman, and the Marvel universe has Galactus. I think I'd want to live in the DC universe, because it's SO much safer."

panels from Avengers West Coast #42 (1989). Art by John Byrne.


On his work with Jack Kirby's Fourth World series:

Byrne: "The first time I ever read New Gods (when it first came out), I had missed the first issue. So I started reading it at the second issue, and the second issue has that whole sequence "There came a time when the Old Gods died...", I read that and this double-page spread with armageddon and all that kinda crap, I read that and said "[expletive]! What was in the FIRST issue?!?". Which I ultimately tracked down, but that stuff just blew me away. That was one of those worlds that I just fell into and went 'wow'."

opening page from New Gods #2 (1971). Art by Jack Kirby and Vince Coletta.


"And then, how many years later, DC said "Do you want to do New Gods? We're going to do Fourth World and put all those books together." [And I replied] "So I can do the New Gods, and the Forever People, and Mister Miracle all in one book? I'm there! Present!" So that was a lot of fun, and y'know, Fourth World was a lot of fun, Wonder Woman was a lot of fun. I could've done a hundred issues of either one of those, but the editor told me one day that he was going to be leaving DC, and I was very close to the end of my contract. I said "Oh god, I could re-sign for a year and end up with some nazi as my new editor. Do I want to do that? Do I want to risk being trapped for a year on these books the I LOVE, but with some editor that doesn't 'get them'?" So I left, I left both the books. And then the editor DIDN'T leave DC. Thanks a lot. It was one of those things that I always felt that I'd still be doing the New Gods today if that hadn't happened."

panel from Jack Kirby's Fourth World #3 (1997). Illustrated by John Byrne.



It was revealed in Saturday's panel that Byrne's FAVORITE super villain costume design was Silver Banshee's.

Q: "Silver Banshee's costume... do you consider that to be actual flames?"

Byrne: "Yes. Silver flame. That was my attempt to do a Dave Cockrum costume. She's got the opera gloves and the thigh-high boots... which Dave did 500 times and every time he did it looked different. 'Oh! Storm has the SAME costume as Corsair!' "

Action Comics #595 (1987).  Cover by John Byrne.


Regarding changes to his characters by different creative teams:

Byrne: "I've had to train myself not to care, because when we let go, we have to let go. A somewhat recent example is what they had done to Cassie Sandsmark in Wonder Woman once I had left. I'd done this 'all elbows and knees' fourteen year old girl, and they turned her into Britney Spears. And that's because there's an awful lot of artists out there, sadly, male, who can ONLY draw Britney Spears. They can't understand, and there's an awful lot of fans who won't accept anything else. There were a lot of males saying how 'ugly' Cassie was, and I'd say "She's not ugly, she's ordinary. You guys are just used to seeing these cookie-cutter whatnots.""

Cassie as seen on the cover of 1996's Wonder Woman #105...

...Cassie as seen on the cover of Teen Titans #3 (2003)


Q: "Was the LEGEND imprint within Dark Horse a response to the Image movement?"

Byrne: "In many ways. We looked at Image and said "That's a good idea.", and then we built LEGEND, and, as Jo Duffy so aptly put it, "It sure didn't take long for LEGEND to become MYTH." Yeah, that was unfortunate.What can I say? Jim Lee had actually asked me to join Image, and I had just signed with Dark Horse to do Next Men. He said "well, what does that matter? Come do it for us." and years later I thought "Y'know... if I had done that, I'd be a multi-multi-multi-millionaire, but I would have to have all the mirrors taken out of my house." 

introducing LEGEND comics!
gatefold cover from Wizard Magazine #31 (1994)

Another fan asked about future plans on bringing back The Next Men:

Byrne: "No, that's finished. It's done. Stick a pin in it."

John Byrne's Next Men #1 (1992). Cover by John Byrne


On other 'greats of the industry' he respected:

Byrne: "I used to be really good buddies with Frank Miller -- I don't know what happened -- but while we were both doing our stuff (I was doing Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight, and he was doing Daredevil) we'd be talking to each other all the time, and being subversive in ways. Walt [Simonson] and I have always been good buddies."


A few other random factoids DC comics fans might be interested in:

-Byrne feels that his *best* technical comics work is 1991's OMAC: One Man Army Corps. I honestly cannot disagree with him on that one -- such a great mini-series.

-The comics work that he had the most fun with was 1997's Batman/Captain America. He'd like to go back and re-ink it.

-Laurie S. Sutton was once Frank Miller's girlfriend.

---

To hear John Byrne talk is much different that reading his words. Byrne will change his voice when he's quoting someone in a story, he uses a lot of inflection in his sentences, and he'll often stop a sentence in mid-stream and begin a new one. In short, we did the best we could to transcribe, but go ahead and listen to the ACTUAL audio if you get the chance.

If you'd like to hear the WHOLE audio broadcast of the Saturday Sept 1st 2018 John Byrne Q&A panel, you can listen to it here.

If you'd like to hear the WHOLE audio broadcast of the Sunday Sept 2nd 2018 John Byrne Q&A panel, you can listen to it here.


-Justin

Eric Anthony (and by extension, the Cave of Solitude podcast) has our eternal gratitude for sharing this with us. In addition, we want to give shout outs to Martin Slam Duncan and the Fastball Special podcast, as well as Aaron Broverman and the Speech Bubble podcast  -- check 'em out for some great comic book coverage.







Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wonder Woman in the 80s: the Dan Mishkin run

Wonder Woman is one of those titles I've always wanted to 'dive into' but never had the opportunity -- mainly because my early collection of DC comics contained a hodgepodge of Wonder Woman comics from different eras (i.e.,  a few pre-Crisis issues, a few post-Crisis issues, a few early 90s issues, a few post-Zero Hour issues, etc). Sure, I have a 'functional' knowledge of Wonder Woman -- from what I've picked up from Super Friends episodes and Justice League of America comics -- but it always seemed too daunting to read her books since I knew her history (and powers) had been retconned a few times too many. For this article, I'm going to ignore all that, just dive into it and simply accept it all at face value. This is where I actually sit down and read a whole run of consecutive Wonder Woman issues and give an honest-to-god review. This will be my FIRST time reading this, so I really have no preconceived opinions or biases here.


A bit of background:

Dan Mishkin took over as writer for Wonder Woman in mid-1982. Previously, it was Roy Thomas writing Wonder Woman, but he needed to drop the title due to his hectic schedule. Mishkin started scripting over Thomas's plots for issues #295 and #296, and by issue #297 he was THE writer on the title. Marv Wolfman became the editor of Wonder Woman just as Mishkin was becoming the main writer on the series.

You might recognize Mishkin as the co-creator (along with Gary Cohn) of Amethyst and Blue Devil -- and you'd be correct -- but these came AFTER Mishkin started on Wonder Woman. At this point, Mishkin had worked with Cohn on material for DC's mystery/horror/supernatural anthology titles (i.e., House of Mystery, Unexpected, Ghosts, Weird War Tales) and a few one-off stories for Flash, Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. It's safe to say that Mishkin was still an 'unknown' to comic fandom when he took over Wonder Woman.

When Mishkin took over the title, the Joey Cavalieri/Joe Staton Huntress back-ups were already in full swing -- you were only getting 16 to 18 pages of Wonder Woman per issue (which may been a bonus or a nuisance, depending on who you ask). A few readers had even speculated that Wonder Woman's sales would drop if the Huntress back-up feature had been taken away. Since this is a Wonder Woman review, the Huntress back-up features will be reviewed at another time.

When Mishkin picked up Wonder Woman, he was finishing up a story arc Thomas started about video games that were taking control of players and turning them into zombies for General Electric (a 1970s Sandman villain). Wonder Woman was at a good place by this point. Readers wrote in expressing excitement for the 'sensational new' Wonder Woman -- as of issue #288, the series had received an updated logo, a new writer who seemed to know his Wonder Woman history (Roy Thomas), a new penciller (Gene Colan), and her costume had gotten a slight update. According to fans, the book was definitely on an upswing. Issue #297 would be Mishkin's proving grounds.


Wonder Woman v1 #297 (1982). Dan Mishkin's first issue. Beautiful Mike Kaluta cover.

It's important to note that Gene Colan was the penciller on Mishkin's first eight issues. Colan's contribution to the book should NOT be overlooked -- Colan becoming penciller at issue #288 brought a surge of renewed interest to the book (if nothing else for the new readers who just wanted to check out his art).

Gene Colan art from Wonder Woman v1 #298 (1982)

Unfortunately, Mishkin's first story arc gets interrupted by a 16-page Masters of The Universe comic book preview insert. (I say 'unfortunately', but this may have actually encouraged more comic fans to pick up the issue due to the MOTU insert.) Regardless, we're introduced to a NEW Wonder Woman foe and a plot to destroy the Amazons on Paradise Island in a three-issue story arc. There's a bit of info about Themiscyra and we get a bit of a mythology lesson about Bellerophon and Pegasus. Mishkin also throws in some reminders that America was still in a cold war with Russia, and that Diana is still an accomplished fighter pilot. All in all, I enjoyed this story arc and quickly dove into the next issues. This leads us to the 300th issue of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman #300 v1 (1983) wrap-around cover by Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano

The 300th issue is a 72-page landmark issue -- with contributions from about a dozen different pencillers and inkers -- all written by Roy and Danette Thomas. Before he left, Thomas had already written Wonder Woman #300, and advanced solicitations dropped the big spoiler that Wonder Woman would accept Steve Trevor's marriage proposal. This was the first appearance of Lyta Trevor (who later becomes Fury from Infinity Inc.), and the Sandman (Garrett Sanford) plays a big supporting role in this story. Mishkin had no part in this issue. Thankfully, everything returns to status quo before we move onto Wonder Woman #301.

Issue #301 has Wonder Woman hanging out on Paradise Island with the rest of the Amazons. We're seeing a lot more of this under Mishkin's creative direction -- he's really bringing Wonder Woman back to her Greek roots. It's a set-up for a new story arc -- this time about the previous Amazon who held the title of 'Wonder Woman'. I found this story to be very well-written and intriguing. Mishkin knows how to set the pace to keep things mysterious. I'm enjoying this very much. (As it happens, Wonder Woman #301 is also around the same time when Mishkin and Gary Cohn debuted their Amethyst preview story in Legion of Super-Heroes #298.)

Gene Colan art from Wonder Woman #301 (1983)

Wonder Woman issues #303 and #304 features a super-villain who last appeared in a Green Lantern story written by Marv Wolfman. This is somewhat fitting, since Wolfman was the editor on Wonder Woman by this point. I always enjoy stories that have another hero's villain cross-over to another character's title, so Mishkin's run is batting 1000 as far as I'm concerned. Ernie Colon takes over as editor in issue #304.

Wonder Woman #303 (1983): In today's edition of 'Guess that Green Lantern villain'...
Art by Gene Colan

The next issue (#305) in this run has Wonder Woman battling Circe (one of her more 'classic' rogues) and reminds us that Wonder Woman has a four-decade-long legacy with her own rogues gallery. So far, it would appear that Mishkin is managing to keep Wonder Woman contemporary (and not campy) while still respecting her roots.

Starting with issue #306, Don Heck becomes the new penciller AND inker (replacing Gene Colan). Colan's art is very moody and atmospheric (see: Marvel's Tomb of Dracula), while Heck has very crisp lines and makes it feels like a bright and cheerful 'super hero' comic. Colan also had the tendency to use a lot of BIG panels in his stories -- making them feel a lot shorter than their allotted 18 pages.

Panels from Wonder Woman #306 (1983). Art by Don Heck.

Issue #306 also begins to see Wonder Woman's support characters getting more exposure -- Etta Candy, Steve Trevor, Phillip Darnell, Keith Griggs, Lisa Abernathy  -- they're all in here taking part in one of the most confusing cold war espionage thrillers I've ever read. It would seem that Mishkin is trying to build on Wonder Woman's strong supporting cast and show readers more of Diana's personality. I'm seeing a strong trend towards realism and depth in Mishkin's work. While I couldn't understand the conclusion to the cold war spy thriller, I still thought this story arc had strong character development and I was interested enough to keep reading. 

So far, at this point into Mishkin's run, readers had written in asking to see: more about Diana's ties to her Amazon heritage, appearances from her old rogues, and more attention to her support characters. For anyone keeping score, Mishkin has delivered on all three.

Next up, there's a two-issue story arc (#308 - #309) in which she teams up with the Black Canary and Elongated Man (reinforcing her ties as a Justice Leaguer). I had trouble maintaining interest in this story arc -- partly because Mishkin put all of the interesting sub-plots he'd brewing up on hold, and partly because I was more interested in Wonder Woman's civilian life and interactions with her support characters (I wasn't kidding when I said his characterization was really really good). Additionally, issue #308 was when Ernie Colon left as editor on Wonder Woman to illustrate Amethyst v1 (also written by Mishkin and Cohn) and to work on his science fiction graphic novel (see: The Medusa Chain). Alan Gold becomes the new editor in issue #309.

Panels from Wonder Woman #308 (1983). Art by Don Heck.

Issue #310 features more Greek mythology. I'm feeling that Mishkin is taking some creative liberties with his recounting of Greek myths, but it's adding to the Wonder Woman lore and fills us in on the mysterious origin of the 'previous Wonder Woman' -- so hey, I'm enjoying this. Mark Beachum is the guest penciller on this issue and Pablo Marcus inks.

panels from Wonder Woman #310 (1983). Art by Mark Beachum and Pablo Marcus.

A major obstacle with writing Wonder Woman was deciding what to do with her love interest, Steve Trevor. Readers had polarized views on Trevor's role in the series -- some felt that he was crucial to Wonder Woman and her love for him was the only tie to man's world, while other readers felt he was boring as hell and should get killed off (again). Mishkin took the higher ground here and tried to turn Steve Trevor into a character fans would care about...

...as demonstrated in issue #311 when Steve Trevor narrates the story. This two-issue story arc had Wonder Woman solving a sci-fi/supernatural mystery which I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did.

The supernatural force that is destroying jet fighters in mid-air is... [dramatic pause]... gremlins. That is correct, folks. Gremlins. Coincidentally, I was about to put the finishing touches on this review and publish it, when I discovered Brian Cronin of CBR posted an article of his own about this. Cronin points out that Mishkin added the whole 'gremlins' several months BEFORE the movie Gremlins was released, which just happens to be a HUGE coincidence. The Gremlins in Mishkin's story gave off a friendly, helpful Smurf-like vibe as opposed to the type of creatures that may or may not devour a human infant from the Gremlins film.

That's right. Gremlins.
panel from Wonder Woman #310 (1984). art by Don Heck.
As an added bonus, the long-running "Will she reveal her secret identity to Steve Trevor? Or won't she?" subplot that had been running *forever* finally gets resolved. By the end of it all, this sci-fi story ends with Wonder Woman getting a new side-kick/supporting character... who is a Gremlin.

Issues #313 and 314 have Wonder Woman battling Circe (again). In the background, the plot thickens as it is revealed that Wonder Woman had memories erased by her mother, Hippolyta. A new villain is introduced: Tezcatlipoca -- a chieftain of the Aztec Gods. Issues #315 and #316 are spent battling Tezcatlipoca. For anyone who's curious, Blue Devil #1 (created and written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn) was released around the same time as Wonder Woman #316 -- Mishkin is now the regular writer on three DC books (i.e., Wonder Woman, Amethyst and Blue Devil).
introducing... Tezcatlipoca!
panel from Wonder Woman #314 (1984). art by Don Heck.

I can appreciate Mishkin introducing a NEW god-like threat that isn't based on a Greek mythological figure, but once again, I'm eagerly waiting to find out what memories Diana's mother had stolen from her and I'm wondering if Mishkin is deliberately stalling because he hasn't written that far ahead in the plot, yet. (ha!) We are giving a few tidbits of info... like Steve Trevor had already died -- which makes me even more eager to discover who this current Steve Trevor is...


Issue #317 is filled with even more revisions to Amazon mythology -- we are introduced to a 'lost' tribe of South American Amazons:

panels from Wonder Woman #317 (1984). Art by Don Heck and Rick Magyer.


Wonder Woman #318 was a Kurt Busiek and Irv Novick fill-in issue -- so I'll be skipping over this one. Editor Alan Gold revealed that it was planned to occur out-of-continuity, and meant to give Mishkin and Heck a breather. It doesn't mean that we can't appreciate the cover, however:

Wonder Woman #318 (1984). Cover by Eduardo Barreto

And this brings us to issue #319. This... this is what I've been waiting for! Some answers at last! But first, we need to deal with the dramatic return of Dr Cyber -- a Wonder Woman villain I had little familiarity with but was always genuinely curious about. The next few issues deal with more Cold War intrigue as Dr Cyber steals the launch codes for America's nuclear warheads and Wonder Woman narrowly averts World War III.

Dr Cyber finally gets the drop on Wonder Woman.
panel from Wonder Woman #320. Art by Don Heck and Rick Magyar.

In issue #322, after a climactic battle with Dr Cyber, the entire 'missing memories and the mysterious death(s) of Steve Trevor' storyline wraps up. I wasn't aware at the time of reading this, but the mysterious return of Steve Trevor had been an unresolved plotline in Wonder Woman's continuity that had been running since 1980 -- and it wasn't even the first time the writers had killed Steve Trevor and brought him back to life! (Which is probably the most telling detail of how badly Wonder Woman's continuity was messed up.)

For the curious: the answer involves parallel earths, which gives us a bit of foreshadowing to the upcoming Crisis On Infinite Earths. The living and breathing Steve Trevor we see now accidentally came from a parallel reality and crash landed into this reality. After a lot of exposition and a fistfight, Steve Trevor is ultimately restored to his 'whole' self after merging with Aphrodite's son, Eros.

...yeah, I'm still kinda unclear on all of this.

What the hell? From Wonder Woman #322.

Issue #322 was the first issue in a long time with NO Huntress back-up, just 23 pages of Wonder Woman. This may have also been the kiss of death on this series, since Wonder Woman #322 was the last monthly issue and would be published bi-monthly starting with issue #323.

Issue #323 was quite possibly the funnest issue of Wonder Woman Mishkin had written in a while. There were a lot of Wonder Woman villains in this one (ex: Angle Man, Silver Swan, Cheetah, Dr Psycho), Etta gets Wonder Woman powers, the Monitor and Harbinger make an appearance (it was an unofficial Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in), and there's a bit of romantic tension building between Diana and Keith Griggs. According to editor Alan Gold, this story was originally pitched by Mishkin to be several issues long, but Gold asked Mishkin to keep it contained within one issue to give readers a break from long, complicated storylines.

panels from Wonder Woman #323 (1985). Art by Don Heck


According to editor Alan Gold, like all DC writers at the time, Mishkin was obliged to add Harbinger and the Monitor to Wonder Woman's regular continuity in issue #323, quite possibly without really knowing what the aftermath of Crisis On Infinite Earths would be or what the Monitor was all about. (I personally love reading about editorial curve-balls that were thrown at writers and how they dealt with them.) Hence, we get a Monitor who is more or less a power-broker for villains -- which is how he was introduced in the Teen Titans books:

panels from Wonder Woman #323 (1985). Art by Don Heck


To conclude Mishkin's run, issues #324 and #325 featured the return of the Atomic Knight -- a DC sci-fi character that first debuted in the sixties, ran in about twenty stories, took a twelve year hiatus, and re-appeared in 1983's DC Comics Presents #57 (also written by Mishkin and Cohn). After Mishkin left the title, the Atomic Knight no longer appeared in Wonder Woman... but that's okay because we'd see Atomic Knight reappear again in 1985's Outsiders v2.

re-introducing...the Atomic Knight! panels from Wonder Woman #324.

These were 'bridging issues' meant to bridge Mindy Newell as the new writer (much in the same way Roy Thomas had done for Mishkin). Mishkin's last issue of Wonder Woman would be #325. Mishkin was nice enough to write 'Glitch' (the gremlin sidekick that Steve Trevor befriends back in issue #311) out of the series, and Newell was freed up to take the series in the direction she chose to. Curiously, a new female supporting character, Lieutenant Lauren Haley, is added to the roster -- and I'm wondering if this was at Newell's request because it's kinda late in the game for Mishkin to be throwing in new characters...

introducing Lieutenant Lauren Haley. Wonder Woman #325.

This more or less concludes Dan Mishkin's run on Wonder Woman. It was announced in issue #324 that Mindy Newell would be succeeding Dan Mishkin.

Following Wonder Woman #325, Mindy Newell took over writing chores for the title. The letters column hinted that Newell had big plans for Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman, and a few great storylines of her own dealing with Hippolyta and her son... but alas, these never saw print. The series ended four issues later at issue #329. Curiously, Newell decided to finish up the Tezcatlipoca storyline after Mishkin left, which built up to and was immediately followed up by an official Crisis On Infinite Earths tie-in. The last issue of this series (a Crisis tie-in) was written by Gerry Conway.

Following the last issue of the series, Trina Robbins wrote a four-part Wonder Woman mini-series meant to satiate Wonder Woman fans while they tried to figure out their next move -- because, really, I don't think THEY even knew what was happening next:

(from Wonder Woman #325)


By issue #323 (after the title went bi-monthly), it was pretty much known by fans that the Wonder Woman series was in trouble.  I'm wondering if Mishkin knew that the writing was on the wall for this series by this point? In issue #327, readers KNEW that sales on Wonder Woman were really poor. From this point on, every Tom, Dick & Harry wrote in to suggest how to save the series or who to blame for faltering sales. Many readers felt that nothing, short of killing her off and starting all over again, could resolve Wonder Woman's messy continuity. A recurring suggestion was that there weren't enough *good* guest stars and why couldn't Wonder Woman make an appearance in [insert title of best selling comic here]? Finally, a lot of readers complained that Don Heck's sub-par art was responsible for bringing the series down (ouch!).

As hard as editor Alan Gold tried, Wonder Woman just didn't have enough of a readership to justify a Wonder Woman Special.



A recurring theme in Mishkin's run is that the readers were hard to please; some absolutely adored the supporting cast, some wanted them all killed off. Some readers wanted Wonder Woman fighting more super-villains and to feature less mythological characters, while other readers wanted more mythology and Amazons in Wonder Woman's title. Some long-time readers just didn't like the way Mishkin was handling the book, in general. Most notably, Mishkin "gets into it" with Wonder Woman super-fan, Carol Strickland, in the letter column of Wonder Woman #321 with a two-page letter that editor Alan Gold felt was worth printing in it's entirety.

To break it down, Strickland wasn't satisfied with:

1) The sexism in Mishkin's Wonder Woman stories,
2) Mishkin's treatment of Queen Hippolyta,
3) Mishkin's Artermis sub-plot,
4) A few details about Wonder Woman's powers, history and abilities that Mishkin may or may not have gotten wrong, and
5) Wonder Woman's new gremlin sidekick, "Glitch"

I don't necessarily believe that Strickland spoke for ALL die-hard Wonder Woman fans, but she DID reiterate a few points that had come up in the letter column before. She was also coming at this from the perspective of a fan who lived and breathed Wonder Woman, and had a much better grasp on her history than I did. (I mean, had I been reading Wonder Woman since the seventies, I probably would've felt as strongly as Strickland did.) To his credit, Mishkin replied gracefully to Strickland's feedback and handled it like a pro -- while he did agree with her on a lot of her points, he also did remind her that Wonder Woman's continuity is rife with inconsistencies and that he's doing the best he possibly can with the assignment he was given.

[By the way, Carol Strickland is still very much alive and active online, and we hope to grab an interview with her someday soon.]

Ultimately, it was editor Alan Gold who blamed Wonder Woman's disappointing sales on "a bad rep because of lackluster fabulation over the years. That bad rep is what we're up against, I think." (Wonder Woman #324, letter column)

----

As someone who already knew the basics of Wonder Woman (i.e., daughter of Hippolyta, came from Paradise Island, lived among Amazons, had a love interest with Steve Trevor, a good friend named Etta Candy, lasso of truth, her alter ego was Diana Prince) this wasn't the worst jumping on point and I was able to pick up the story pretty quickly.

Due to the luxury of owning all twenty-something issues of Mishkin's run, I had no trouble keeping track of what was going on. While these were really good story arcs, if you missed a few issues, you were kinda lost. With the exception of Wonder Woman #323, none of the stories were 'one-and-dones'. (Which is probably why I don't think I've EVER seen a Mishkin Wonder Woman story appear in a Wonder Woman anthology.)

Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano cover


I really really enjoyed the ex-Wonder Woman story line Mishkin wove up. Same with the 'missing memories about Steve Trevor' thing. There were lots of things happening with the support characters, too -- even Etta is included in a subplot. I saw some strong character development, and at some points I was more interested in the subplots involving the supporting characters more so than the main story at hand.

The entire 'Etta getting Wonder Woman powers' reminded me of the crazy days of the Silver Age of DC when just about anything could happen thanks to 'imaginary stories'. Wonder Woman #323 is probably the most memorable issue among Wonder Woman fans, just for the sake of Etta getting to play the 'superhero' of the story for once.

Wonder Woman is a larger-than-life figure, a Greek goddess (sorta) who has immense power. Almost like a DC comics counterpart to Marvel's Thor, perhaps. So, she SHOULD be in big EPIC stories and not battling street crime.

Another distinct thing about Wonder Woman... well, what is she? Is she an adventurer? A soldier? A mythological hero? A fighter pilot? An Amazon trying to understand man's world? A superhero? An emissary sent to protect mankind from itself? Well, she's all of these things. You can more or less fit Wonder Woman into any type of story you want. While Roy Thomas' prior run saw Wonder Woman having a lot of adventures with other super-heroes, it seemed like Mishkin wanted to explore her mythological ties. Also, I don't remember ever seeing as many skeletons as I have in Mishkin's run -- maybe a nod to the supernatural/horror stories he'd been writing in House Of Mystery?

Frank Miller and Dick Giordano cover


I felt that Mishkin wrote a 'very strong' Wonder Woman -- a 'woman of the eighties'. No-nonsense. Knows what she wants, what she's fighting for, has principles and values, upholds the American ideals. Characterization is key, and Mishkin's characters had loads of it.

---

Two subplots that never saw resolution:

Why does Sofia look like Diana Prince? Sofia was introduced WAY BACK in Wonder Woman #297 (Mishkin's first solo issue) as a terrorist that Wonder Woman rescues and "reforms" to become an Amazon. Over the course of Mishkin's run, Sofia becomes more ingrained in Amazon culture and even discovers Hippolyta's cover up to keep memories from Diana.

panels from Wonder Woman #322. Sophia is the woman in the green blouse. Compare to Wonder Woman. Hmmm...
Sofia last appears in the series at issue #322 (just before the Atomic Knight team-up) and decides to 'stay' on Paradise Island. My guess was that Sofia was originally introduced to somehow play into the post-Crisis Wonder Woman pitch Mishkin had been rumored to have proposed, but was written out of the story when Mishkin's proposal was refused.


A second unresolved subplot involved Diana Prince (Wonder Woman's alter ego) and Major Keith Griggs becoming an "item". The storyline was cut short due to the series only lasting four more issues after Mishkin left:
panels from Wonder Woman #323 (1985). Art by Don Heck


This concludes my review of Dan Mishkin's Wonder Woman run. I don't believe it's been reprinted as a TPB yet, so if you want to seek it out, you'll need to pick up the back issues like I did.



-Justin