Retro review – Wonder Woman #246 (1978)

A new reprint collection was recently announced, DC Through the Eighties: The End of Eras, packed full of pre-Crisis goodness. Along with the inevitable Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow? and gems such as the lead strip from The Brave and the Bold #200, we get less well-known, but equally great, material from the likes of Blackhawk #258, Sgt Rock #345 and Wonder Woman #311-#312.

This last made me grin broadly, as it’s from the Dan Mishkin/Don Heck teaming, introducing Glitch, ‘The Gremlin from the Kremlin’. The inclusion is significant because so little Bronze Age Wonder Woman has been collected. There’s the Twelve Labours storyline in which she ‘auditioned’ to rejoin the JLA and… what else? Since the Wonder Woman film of a few years back DC have been churning out collections, but while we regularly see Golden Age material, have had Silver Age Showcases, the entire George Pérez run, New 52 and up, and have even had the entire Mod Diana period, the Bronze Age has been the red-headed stepchild of Wonder Woman’s career.

It’s great, therefore, to see some of it make it into the pages of a Best Of… book. The Bronze Age was my era of reading Wonder Woman, the time I enjoyed the character most – she used the Invisible Plane to fly, rocked those star-spangled pants (satin tights? Not in my comics!) and a sword was for days out with her Amazon sisters only. If you ever see any issues from the Seventies or early Eighties, give them a try… there’s a good chance that as well as a fun Diana tale, you’ll get a great bonus back-up starting the Huntress.

All of which is a long-winded way of getting to the issue I’m focusing on, Wonder Woman #246 from 1978. The groovy years were behind Diana and, once again, with her Amazon abilities at peak level, she fought the forces of evil as Wonder Woman through space and time. This issue begins in a charmingly mundane manner…

Job done, Diana is heading back to her apartment when the lights go out and she hears a cry for help from someone trapped in an elevator.

Equally impressed and unnerved by adding his observations, Wonder Woman quickly makes her excuses and races upstairs to Diana’s place.

Didn’t she just magically change her clothes two minutes ago in the lift shaft?

There, she gets another shock – someone has burgled her apartment. Only one thing is missing…

Diana wakes to the sight of boyfriend Steve Howard, previously Steve Trevor, his surname and hair changed to disguise his Lazarus-like resurrection after his death at the hands of Dr Cyber.

Transported to a strange realm, Diana and Steve are confronted by weird creatures.

After fighting them off, Diana asks Steve to quell the panic among her neighbours while she finds the source of the magical black smoke.

Superheroine and sorceress meet!

A game of bullets and blasts ensues, with one of Diana’s fellow residents nearly coming a cropper.

The darkness gets more intense… but Wonder Woman comes up with a plan.

The magical light reveals the true nature of the witch.

Baddie banished, Diana redirects the eldritch flames around the building and reverses the spell, returning building and inhabitants to the Earth One realm. And so our story ends.

‘…at daybreak’, eh? That went over my head as a kid, but Steve has stayed the night. Looking back at Wonder Woman comics of the time, it’s now obvious that she and Steve were indeed having a pretty adult relationship. The scripts would actually describe them as ‘lovers’ but I thought that was simply cheesy slang.

I remember this issue fondly, from the creepy Joe Staton cover with Ditko-esque demon, to the final page hint at more weirdness to come. Reading it again, I may love it even more. Writer Jack C Harris packs an awful lot into 17 pages, from the literal soap opera of the opening page – remember when Diana had a sense of humour? – to the attempted invasion of Earth by demons who looked like gummy sweets.

There’s topicality with the reference to the New York blackouts of the Seventies, the entertaining secret identity shenanigans deemed too silly for today’s world, and a supporting cast with lives of their own – look at that super, a whole character implied in a single panel. The demons knocking at our door anticipates Stephen King’s The Mist, while the creativity of the bracelets as firestarter (I seem to have King on the brain) is appreciated. And when was the last time we saw a superhero desperate to pay for the damage they’d done while doing good?

Also, this issue taught me the word ‘condominium’. Comics am educayshunal.

José Delbo pencilled Wonder Woman for a good chunk of the Seventies without getting much in the way of fan attention, but by golly, he got the job done. This issue is a great example, with varied layouts, dramatic expressions and a super-spooky adversary. While I find his Diana Prince a tad too frumpy – even though, the lettercols insisted that she was dressed in the height of Big Apple fashion – his Wonder Woman is a winner – pretty, determined and convincingly athletic.

Steve Trevor – sorry, Howard – though, what was he wearing? The Freddy-from-Scooby-Doo look in the epilogue is bad enough, but why is he dressed for karate class earlier? There was a shortlived fashion for kids’ pyjamas in that style, but Steve’s bedtime was a long way off… and I doubt he kept his clothes on.

Speaking of surprising clothing choices, poor Mrs Kravitz in her scanties! And earlier, another elderly neighbour in bra and pants. It makes a change, I suppose…

I love the page with Diana and Steve silhouetted in front of the window, and the way the previous panel merges with the one below, making our heroes look like giants. And the top tier is nicely done, inks and colours combining to show Diana’s view of Steve as she wakes… it’s a bit of a reversal of the first time Steve saw his ‘Angel’.

Those inks are by Vince Colletta and while they don’t destroy the art, Delbo’s work looks far better under his other regular inkers, Joe Giella, Frank Chiaramonte and Dave Hunt. I’d love to have seen what someone with a more delicate line, such as Murphy Anderson or Al Williamson, could have done – Delbo did work with Alfredo Alcala on World’s Finest for a time (including the depressing final issue) and the results were great, despite the inker’s tendency to obliterate the artistic character of anyone with whom he worked – Delbo’s storytelling knack remained intact.

Veteran letterer Ben Oda contributes his usual professional job – decidedly unflashy but more than fit for purpose, while colourist Mario Sen impresses with some clever lighting choices.

All in all, this is a fast-moving, nicely presented done-in-one story, a snapshot of Seventies Wonder Woman – I reckon a trade paperback or two is well-merited.

4 thoughts on “Retro review – Wonder Woman #246 (1978)

  1. Jose Delbo was definitely the draw on Wonder Woman for years. Writers seemed to come and go with the seasons and no one wanted to use the status quo they had inherited. It was a very schizophrenic book that way but Jose Delbo’s dependably good art soothed so much of that. He’s kind of like DC’s Don Perlin. Both were master draftsmen and storytellers who just weren’t flashy enough to get the acclaim of Buscema or Byrne. And wasn’t Heck at heart a romance artist? I appreciate his skill much more now than I did back when but he sure did an unattractive Wonder Woman. What gave with that?

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  2. Heck certainly could draw some beautifully ladies and dapper chaps. I was just reading one of his later Wonder Woman issues, the one in which Dan Mishkin reconciled the various Steve Trevors – I think Geoff Johns was taking notes for Hawkman – and it really wasn’t him at his best. I do love, though, that DC didn’t abandon him, and editor Alan Gold said in the lettercols that he really liked his work still.

    DC’s Don Perlin, I love that. I tweeted out a pic today from one of those Delbo/Alcala World’s Finest issues and it’s total Pop Art in the making – if anyone reading this wants a look, check out my @MartGray timeline!

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  3. Unpopular opinion perhaps, but as a kid I loved the Delbo/Coletta combo. Ladies always looked prettier, at the time I was less interested in all the background shortcuts. Heck inking his own work – I would take a hard pass on that, looked like rough pencil sketches!

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