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Book Review: Wonder Woman Book 1: The Last True Hero by William Messner-Loebs

May 27, 2022

Wonder Woman Book 1: The Last True HeroWonder Woman Book 1: The Last True Hero by William Messner-Loebs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Messner-Loebs isn’t bad, but I had a hard time getting into this the way I did when George Pérez was writing. When The ComicbookDatabase existed, these issues had really low ratings around 3 and 4 (out of 10). A lot of this probably has to do with the art. I wasn’t crazy about Paris Cullins’s work here, and Lee Moder makes everyone look ugly and androgynous. Moder’s style would be more at home in humor comics, and he seems to have a strong penchant for drawing bare feet and hirsute bodies.

I didn’t reread the first part, which I read in single-issue form in 2019, but it involves a team-up with Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, the Terminator and the end of the Barbara Minerva Cheetah, and the company-wide crossover with Eclipso: The Darkness Within, in which Diana becomes one of many hosts of Eclipso. The Phantom Stranger’s old foes Tannarak and Tala, Queen of Evil are partly involved and continue to operate under pseudonyms (Tannarak calling himself Randolph Asquith and the White Wizard) throughout the volume, mostly behind the scenes. #65 is omitted because it’s a fill-in by Joey Cavalieri. The focus is on Dr. Psycho trying to take advantage of Vanessa Kapatelis’s jealousy of Diana, who has been like a big sister to her living in the same house. Diana doesn’t even make a quantifiable appearance in the issue. The only illustrations of her are scenes in which others’ think about her. The omission is kind of silly beause where else are people going to find it? Wonder Woman back issues from this period aren’t particularly expensive, but dealers tell me that they can’t keep them in the bins. It actually took me a long time to find #63 for a reasonable price–this collection did not come out until August 4, 2020, over a year after I acquired and read the back issue.

The second part of the book is a five-parter in which Diana is hired to rescue cosmomaut Natasha Terranova (rather corny name for a cosmonaut), who forunately taught herself to speak Greek as part of her interest in stage magic because she doesn’t speak English and Diana doesn’t speak Russian. They end up being sent into deep space and enslaved by an alien race that is normally all one gender for a millennia until it’s time to reproduce, and are massively sexist in their enslavement. Diana leads a revolt that takes over six months, and despite Natasha having a little girl at home, to whom she writes letters that she expects she will never see. When she finally leaves, it’s with the confidence that her followers will continue the slave rebellion without her.

When Diana gets back we finally see her unofficial adoptive mother, Julia Kapatelis, also writing letters to her. As she concludes the last letter, now certain she is dead, Diana comes to the door. Unfortunately, Julia has rented out Diana’s room to a woman named Quinn Thomas whom I mistook for a man. She is either very butch or trans, but like I said, the artwork is not very good.

Diana is now using the Prince surname that she brushed off when Mindi Mayer suggested it early in the series, although everyone knows who she is. Quinn even makes mention of the mental radio that she used in the Golden Age comic books by William Moulton Marston, so apparently such things are public knowledge in the DC universe, at least to fans. Diana makes reference to receiving a living stipemd from the Justice League. There hasn’t been a mention of her even being in the Justice League post-Crisis that I can recall, and she in fact joined in Justice League America #78 (August 1993) (collected in Wonder Woman and the Justice League America Vol. 1 ). The final issue collected here is cover dated July 1993, although the chronology of the stories can’t be evaluated strictly by the cover date.

As a new writer to the series, Messner-Loebs is doing a major upheaval to the supporting cast. Having difficulty sleeping in the Kapatelis basement, Diana gets a job at TacoWhiz, which she takes seriously enough that her boss, Hoppy, teases her for reading a book called The Romance of Hispanic Cooking. There’s plenty of room for Diana to make cultural criticism here, finding feeding people a noble form of work as she realizes the sort of clinetele she is serving, including college students, homeless, and retirees. Diana goes to a temp agency so that she can afford to rent an apartment, but no one seemes to be hirigng, something I didn’t know was an issue in 1993. In the Golden Age, Diana literally bought the identity of Nurse Diana Prince because the latter needed money to marry her fiance, and Princess Diana had just gotten money from a Bullets and Bracelets performance, but in our age of credentialism (which wasn’t dishonest because Amazons all received nursing training as part of their basic education), that’s not going to work the way that it did during World War II. And certainly, she doesn’t have a college degree although Themysciran education would probably help her pass a lot of Advanced Placement tests. She rents a room with no bed from a retired movie star named Camille Sly and teams up with a private investigator named Micah Rains (whose “eat the rich” T-Shirt makes him feel relevant today), whom Ed Indelicato despises.

The final issue in the volume seems to leave Diana rather glib on the death of all the Amazons at the hands of Circe–duty calls at the TacoWhiz, but a quick glance at volume 2 shows that this is the setup for the next volume. It’s really nice to see the return of Doctor Fate. Messner-Loebs wrote Doctor Fate’s series, which was cancelled with #41 (cover date June 1992). So Kent and Inza come back from their Mexican vacation for Inza to help and Inza gets rescued by Wonder Woman.

The title for the volume does not refer Wonder Woman. It refers to small-time crook named Dickie Loder whose sacrifice wins a fascistic cop, Isabella Modini, over to Diana’s side. Modini suffered serious injuries hanging from Diana’s lasso, keeping her away from Moder while she was trying to reason with him. When Loder saves Modini’s life, Diana now has a friend who used to hate her because the force is talking about early retirement when all she ever wanted was to be a cop. The politics here and throughout, as I think I’ve implied are a bit heavy heavy-handed in comparison to Pérez, but Messner-Loebs’s heart is in the right place. (I should add that Messner is his wife’s surname–they agreed to both hyphenate their names when they got married.) I am going to read the next volume, Wonder Woman Book 2: Ares Rising, but I certainly don’t blame anyone who got fed up and dropped the book during this run. The third volume of Messner-Loebs’s run, which lasted to issue #100, was published in 2016 as Wonder Woman by Mike Deodato (named for its illustrator–who, based on what I’ve seen, is an extraordinary improvement over what Moder, who would go on to create Stargirl, was doing at the time) and is already an out of print collectible, so it may be reissued soon. It includes issue #85, but otherwise picks up with #90, the issue immediately following Book 2, which ends with issue #89.

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One Comment
  1. Unfortiunately, dcugcuide.com (https://dcuguide.com/w/Wonder_Woman_(Diana)_Chronology) is not particularly helpful on chronology, currently omitting Wonder Woman #72-81, but these JLA appearances would likely explain the reference to the stipend.

    Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #71 (February 1993): “Home Again”
    Justice League America #70 (January 1993): “Grieving”
    Superman: The Man of Steel #20 (February 1993): [5] “Funeral for a Friend Part 3: Funeral Day”
    Superman Vol. 2 #76 (February 1993): [6] “Funeral for a Friend Part 4: Metropolis Mailbag II”
    Justice League America #71 (February 1993): “A New Look”
    Justice League America #73 (April 1993): “Destiny’s Hand Part 2”
    Justice League America #74 (May 1993): “Destiny’s Hand Part 3”
    Justice League America #75 (June 1993): “Destiny’s Hand Finale”
    Action Comics #690 (August 1993): [24] “Lies & Revelations”
    Justice League America #78 (early August 1993): “Lives in the Balance”
    Justice League America #79 (late August 1993): “Extreme Measures”
    Superman Vol. 2 #83 (November 1993): [34] “On the Edge”
    Justice League America #80 (September 1993): “Running from Justice”
    Justice League America #81 (October 1993): “Do the Right Thing”
    Justice League America #82 (November 1993): “Guilty As Sin”
    Justice League America #83 (December 1993): “The Trouble With Guys”
    Guy Gardner #15 (December 1993): “Collateral Damage”
    Justice League America #84 (January 1994): “Absolute Power”
    Justice League America #85 (February 1994): “They Might Be Giants”
    Bloodbath #1 (early December 1993): “Bloodbath”
    Bloodbath #2 (late December 1993): “Bloodbath”
    Valor #14 (December 1993): “D.O.A. Part Three: Yesterday’s Hero”
    Guy Gardner #16 (January 1994): “Total Warfare”
    Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #82 (January 1994): [Ares Rising Part 1] “The Path To War”

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