Wonder Woman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

There seems to be a theme on this section of “the shelf”, consisting of a handful of “Greatest Stories Ever Told” collections for various superheroes.  Next up on the list is Wonder Woman.  I’m always excited to see a Wonder Woman collection coming up on “the shelf”, possibly because she’s the only female DC superhero to be represented on the shelf with her own trade (Mistah J may correct me on this, as I haven’t studied every single title.  Still, Wonder Woman is the most frequently appearing female hero on the shelf, and any others that appear likely do not have nearly as many trades to their name.  At least, not enough that I’ve noticed them after cursory glances at the titles.)

Fresh off the Superman collection, I was excited to see what stories would be included here.  Since all of these “Greatest” collections feature stories from the 40’s all the way up through the early 2000’s, Mistah J has marked off one or two stories in each collection that I shouldn’t read, so as not to give away any spoilers.  A part of me feels dishonest in writing about a collection when I haven’t technically read all of it, so I felt I should make that known.  Still, with only one or two stories left out, I’m getting most of the overall collection.

The stories presented here were, unsurprisingly, very fun to read.  Wonder Woman is depicted in all of her badass-feminist glory, defeating bad guys left and right.  It seems to editors were aiming to collect some of her more intense and hair-raising adventures.  One of the major stories in this collection consists of a group of female villains banding together to take over Paradise Island.

wpid-wp-1446748766564.jpgSucceeding (at least for a little bit), the women capture both Diana and her mother, Queen Hippolyta.  This saga has Diana battling numerous forces, both on Paradise Island and in America.  The story was written early enough that I never really worried that Diana wouldn’t succeed (I’m already aware that as the decades progress, superhero victory is not guaranteed), but there was still a fair amount of tension to the story, which made it quite entertaining to read.

Reading collections such as these always surprises me, as there are often plot points addressed that I may have missed otherwise.  For example, one issue in the trade retells the way in which Diana adopts the secret identity of Diana Prince.

wpid-wp-1446749895000.jpgGone is the Doppleganger Diana Prince, whose identity the Amazon princess adopted upon first arriving in Washington, D.C.  Instead, an entirely new backstory is presented here.  I suppose this is one of the liberties comic writers can take with such a long-running character.  She can be reinvented for newer generations.  Reading her stories in such a compacted amount of time, It’s odd to read multiple backstories for the same character.  Still, it’s fun watching her change and evolve through the years as the writers and artists decide how best to portray her.

I was surprised how, especially in some of the later comics, there were moments of sheer poignancy.  In the 1981 story, “Be Wonder Woman…and Die!”, an unnamed man(who states he was a Holocaust survivor) stands up to criminals, and pays the ultimate price for his bravery.

wpid-wp-1446771790199.jpgThis is not the first time a character has died in a comic, certainly.  However, it was odd for a nameless, random man to meet such a fate in these stories.  Generally if a random city-person is in peril, the superhero swoops in at the last second to save the day.  At least, that’s how it was in the earlier stories.  Perhaps here we see a shift in the storytelling again, with the writers making the stories more realistic, for no matter how “super” a hero may be, they can’t save everyone.  There will always be casualties.

Making this panel even more moving is the fact that Wonder Woman joins the man in reciting a Jewish prayer as he dies.  Attention is paid to this man’s death, even though from the comic’s standpoint he’s no one important.  Once again, with such emphasis on human life, any human life, the story takes on a more serious, heartfelt tone, and leaves a lasting affect on the reader.

Luckily, while the comic contains serious moments, there were also a handful of light-hearted scenes as well.  Perhaps my favorites were those that included the reappearance of the greatest sidekick ever, Etta Candy:

wpid-wp-1446749204279.jpg

Oh Etta, how I love you.

I’ve already written about why Etta Candy is friggin’ awesome, so I was happy to see her pop up in this collection.  Unfortunately her appearances are brief, and she isn’t given many opportunities to make her quippy one-liners that I love so much.  Still, her inclusion in a trade about the best Wonder Woman stories ever written, even if she remains on the outskirts, made me really happy, and had me searching for her throughout the trade.

While I found the stories depicted here to be entertaining, I must admit I felt they were a bit lacking.  I found myself unsure how certain stories could be considered “The Greatest Ever Told”.  Maybe I’m comparing this collection to the similar Superman collection too much.  Those stories felt more cohesive, and each seemed to show the character evolving.  Here, Wonder Woman remains virtually unchanged.  She fights for truth and justice, and there is little if any self-doubt or reflection.  Her stories are much more cut and dry than Superman’s, and I suppose that left me wishing that the writer’s had explored her personality more.  Perhaps they do in the comics themselves, and that’s just not depicted well here.  Still, I’m left wondering what criteria the editors used in selecting these stories above all others for this collection.

Overall the collection was good, but I must admit I’m itching to get to later stories.  I want to see how Wonder Woman develops in the 80’s and beyond, and if any major changes to her character occur at all.  Her earlier stories are fun, but I want to see the character become less of a cartoon and more of the Amazon warrior I know she could be.

As always, I’ll just have to keep reading to see what happens.

-Jess

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