DC Retroactive 1980s Wonder Woman #1 review

Dr Psycho and the Silver Swan are up to their old tricks, bidding for power and love as each, in their own way, fixates upon Wonder Woman. The book opens with an Amazing Amazon rescuing a little girl from a speeding car, and it’s obvious this isn’t the Amazing Amazon – this heroine is just too rough with the idiots in the car. It’s Helena Alexandros, the onetime Silver Swan, disguised by Dr Psycho’s ectoplasm to look like Diana. 

On learning that there’s another Wonder Woman running – nay, flying – around Washington DC, the newly promoted Major Diana Prince gives up on her efforts to help Etta Candy stick to her diet and throws a sickie to investigate. Colonel Steve Trevor then shows up and asks Etta for advice on winning Wonder Woman’s love. Dissatisified with Etta’s wise and honest response (“There isn’t any ‘way’. Either she loves you – or she doesn’t.”) he borrows a military jet to find Diana and win her heart. The lunkhead.

Without spoiling the details, Wonder Woman wins the day as Dr Psycho and Silver Swan lose big. Etta Candy, though we don’t see it, is presumably still at work, doing not just her own job but that of her self-obsessed, irresponsible, gadabout colleagues.

And I’m OK with that, as writer Roy Thomas deftly recaptures the voices of Diana and co in the early 1980s. He’s revisiting the Dr Psycho and Silver Swan storylines of the time which centred on twisted love and self image. And for anyyone who missed them, the issue’s back-up is the first part of that very storyline, from the debut issue by Thomas, the incomparable Gene Colan and inker Romeo Tanghal.

Like Marty Pasko in last week’s 1970s Superman, Thomas surrenders himself to the writing style of the time, producing a convoluted, mildly silly and undeniably entertaining story. I hope he gets let loose on a modern Diana tale sometime.

Nice touches include the confirmation that the robot plane isn’t simply invisible to the public – Diana can’t see it either – and a fun science lesson as one enemy, shall I say, falls for Wonder Woman. I can’t recall Diana ever saying ‘Holy Hera’ or adding a ‘long-‘ to ‘Suffering Sappho’, but what the heck, this was fun.

Veteran artist Rich Buckler makes a decent substitute for the late Colan, not trying to ape the latter’s style, but bringing a similar vibe to the book. He’s inked mainly by Joe Rubinstein, another stalwart of the Seventies, and one of the stronger embellishers to emerge from the time. Their Dr Psycho is a horrible beast, like something from EC’s horror line. Also pencilling are Tim Smith 3 (er, OK) and Carlos Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s couple of pages aren’t a bad match for Buckler’s style. Smith’s remainder are more jarring and I can only assume he was severely rushed as the two Wonder Women appear mighty peculiar in terms of faces and proportions. In one panel they look like two demented Cabbage Patch dolls fighting over who has the dopiest face, as the image of a Captain Wonder inflatable hovers behind them.

The gaggle of inkers is also a hint that this comic was likely a rush job – as well as Rubinstein we have Jack Purcell, Norman Lee, and Rodriguez inking himself. I think I’ll simply thank everyone for their efforts and see how they do next time out. 

Kevin Colden colours and produces some unusual, attractive tones, expecially in the sky sequences. And he pulls off a clever colour hold hinting that the first Wonder Woman we meet is the SIlver Swan. Both Steve and Etta’s hair is a tad dark, but I suspect that’s to do with not knowing DC were printing the issue on heavy newsprint. Letterer Travis Lanham uses a blockier style than usual, helping evoke the Eighties. There’s one dodgy moment when Dr Psycho’s dialogue comes out of the Silver Swan, but any ten-year-old kid after a No Prize could easily explain that away.

Buckler gave Diana some of her best Bronze Age covers and here he produces a good layout, though his Dianas are a tad more defined than Wonder Woman appeared at the time – they’re more akin to the heroine as drawn by George Perez a few years later, after the Crisis. That logo’s also post-Crisis, heaven knows why … maybe DC didn’t wish to use the masthead of the time in case even more people noticed how much the New 52 Wonder Woman logo homages it.

The back-up, Swan Song, is the beginning of one of my favourite Wonder Woman eras – well, bar a preview in DC Comics Presents, in which Diana adopted a new bodice in a truly weird way. The change is a plot point in this Retroactive issue’s new story, and in this reprint  Diana wears it proudly as she fusses over an injured Steve Trevor and is attacked by man-hating god pawn the Silver Swan. With Thomas and Colan at the tiller, it’s a very Marvel-style tale and it suits Wonder Woman. Thomas’s talky narrative style and Colan’s impressionistic intensity gel well, while Tanghal’s blacks preserve Colan’s lines with good grace.

Overall, despite the inconsistent art, this Retroactive book is a pleasantly diverting callback to a fun perod in Wonder Woman’s history, much better than last month’s Seventies entry. Roll on the Nineties.


5 thoughts on “DC Retroactive 1980s Wonder Woman #1 review

  1. I know you like writing extremely positive reviews but I'm surprised by how upbeat you are about this one.

    It's a shame to encourage anyone to waste £3.60 on this as it's one of the most hideous Wonder Woman comics I've read for a long time.

    Besides the extremely bad art the fact is the colourist made mistakes throughout – Steve Trevor is blond so why is his hair brown here?

    You imagine the colourist wasn't colouring for newsprint – which doesn't explain why Captain Wonder's mask is blue in this issue but yellow in his other appearances.

    This whole issue looked like it was done in five minutes. I've seen higher standards of work in self published comics.

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  2. Yeah… didn't work for me. A lot of these Retros are rush jobs, and this one perhaps most of all. I'd like to believe in such justifications as the one about the wrong logo, but it was probably just a stupid mistake.

    And speaking of that logo, that's what I would have liked to see here: A Perez era story. Instead, it feels like a lost episode of the tv show (which I did love, but the 70s vibe hurts its 80sness).

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  3. Finally read this one — I loved the era that it centered upon (and honestly, the Perez era WW was largely represented in the 90s, even if Perez's own work on the character wasn't), and it was great to see Dr Psycho & the Silver Swan depicted as they were back then. But yeesh — that fill-in art for Buckler was truly hideous. Must have been *really* rushed. At least Joe Rubenstein helped to pull the last couple pages out of the nose-dive.

    Regardless, though, I had a lot of fun reading this — particularly since I picked it up for a buck at a convention.

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