Review: Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

[Guest reviewer Greg Elias writes for Speed Force]

Collecting for the first time issues #212-222 of the first volume of the series, Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors presents the mid-1970s tale of Wonder Woman's reinstatement into the Justice League.

Having previously been de-powered (see Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Vols. 1-4), the Amazon Princess has regained her abilities. Suffering from memory loss, she struggles with reintegrating herself into what had been the super-heroic status quo. She mistakenly visits an abandoned Justice League headquarters, has an incomplete recall of her adventures leading up to the issues in this collection, and doubts her qualifications to re-join the League. In response to their insistence that she enlist, Wonder Woman recruits her former teammates as judges. Each must invisibly observe her on an adventure, report their findings back to the League, and vote for or against her re-admission.

If the structure seems familiar, Wonder Woman patterns her idea on the twelve labors of Hercules, or "dodekathlon," wherein the mythological hero performs twelve trials as an act of atonement. The familiar story format is one of a few dimensions that make this a good jumping on point for those new to Wonder Woman, considering the character was essentially being reintroduced at the time of publication. Her labors are written with small nods to the tales of Hercules, including a rampaging "Rhinotaur" cast as a beast like the Ceryneian Hind or Cretan Bull, but there are not many literary parallels to be drawn.

The Wonder Woman seen in this collection is perhaps the most recognizable to the public -- the "Super Friends" version, if you will. Magic lasso, "bullets-and-bracelets," and the invisible robot plane are in full effect, softening the impact of a sweeping reversion to the classic interpretation of the character.

As someone who has had limited exposure to Wonder Woman's solo series', especially pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, having the stories narrated and co-starring members of the Satellite-era Justice League is another hook. The most complete example of this angle is the second issue in the collection, featuring The Flash. Written by Cary Bates, with Irv Novick and Tex Blaisdell on art, readers are essentially given a bonus issue of Flash, starring Wonder Woman, in the latter's title. This was not an unusual occurrence in DC books during this era, but it is done here with a deliberate attempt at grabbing a crossover audience.

Other examples include Mike Grell's cover and Dick Dillin's pencils on the Green Arrow story. Elliot S! Maggin, Martin Pasko (both Superman scribes) and Len Wein (Justice League scripter at the time) round out the writers involved, while Superman legend Curt Swan handles pencils along with John Rosenberger, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano and Jose Delbo. Vince Colletta inks five of the stories here, with mixed results.

The stories themselves are, by nature, done-in-one adventures featuring a Justice League member watching Wonder Woman in action, without her explicit knowledge and with a vow not to interfere. Since Wonder Woman came up with the idea of proving herself via the "labors" and the nature of the observance, the story empowers Wonder Woman in situations involving group judgment and being secretly watched. This is all done on Diana's terms, which, despite her own lack of confidence in some instances, builds up her rediscovered super-heroic identity; it also employs some of the psychological angles associated with the character's origins and early history.

There are small continuity beats along the way, mostly in the first issue featured. This happens to be the strongest chapter, with many measured emotional and revelatory moments handled deftly by Wein and Swan. Readers learn the fates of Steve Trevor and I-Ching at the same time Wonder Woman does; the brief but substantial scenes build a bridge to the Mod-Diana days. The stories are each exciting and fast-paced -- DC brought out the big guns for Wonder Woman's return to form, and the results are a high-quality piece of 1970s DC-style storytelling.

The book stock is a heavier, non-glossy printing. The reproduction is of good quality throughout, with the paper lending itself to richer blacks and an overall retro experience. The design is great, including a cover featuring the original issues in the background behind an interesting choice of panel detail. The image used is from a particularly busy panel on the second page of the first issue, but it works. The title page is one of my favorites since the slipcase Deadman Collection.

Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors is a fun collection featuring an era of DC Comics that has not been heavily mined. Despite the number of hands involved, the reading experience is fluid and consistent. The talent pool and supporting cast give this volume a place in any collection, alongside the Crisis on Multiple Earths books or tales of the Justice League, as well as filling a major gap in Wonder Woman's trade publications between the Diana Prince era and the post-Crisis run by George Perez. Hopefully, we'll see more stories from the 1970s and 1980s getting the same treatment.
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3 comments:

  1. This review helps make so much sense out of the "Wish Upon a Star" story included in the TGSvolume for Wonder Woman. http://collectededitions.blogspot.com/2012/03/review-wonder-woman-greatest-stories.html

    Great review!

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  2. It's nice that DC is going back and printing some of those gaps. Marvel could learn a thing or two from this!

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  3. What are you still waiting on Marvel to collect, Mel?

    ReplyDelete