A Tribute to the of

This won't come as news to anyone who reads this feature, but Adam West has left the building. He passed on June 9th at the age of 88. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the old Batman television series, but it had a huge impact on Batman’s survival and legacy and for that I’m grateful. These days I can now watch it without wincing and even enjoy some of it and of course there’s the hometown connection since Adam (William West Anderson) was born and spent most of his formative years in my hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. I never met him or spoke with him, though I did have an opportunity that promptly evaporated to do a brief phone interview through another gig. As I said, it didn’t come to pass, but it’s kind of a shame. I had my opening line all figured out: "I’m from Walla Walla, too."

In better news, the new Wonder Woman film is doing very well and rightly so. I enjoyed the heck out of it and obviously I’m not alone. Even though I recently did a WW review [Sage #410] to herald its coming, I thought I’d check out an issue I’ve long been curious about. It’s Wonder Woman #178 with a September/October 1968 publication date. Edited by Jack Miller with cover and interior art by the team of Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano, with cover lettering by my friend Gaspar Saladino, "Wonder Woman’s Rival" was written by Denny O’Neil. This is the beginning salvo of the controversial phase of the Amazon’s career with the "new look." I’m still shaky on whose idea it was (through the years Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Denny O’Neil have all claimed credit for the revamp; I recommend you seek out a copy of Les Daniels' Wonder Woman: The Complete History for further details), but it was certainly new and different.

Interestingly, the previous issue (+ house ad), with a different artistic team, Win Mortimer and Jack Abel, had a lead story by Batman co-creator Bill Finger. I’ll have to check that one out, too.

Things begin pretty dramatically when Colonel Steve Trevor is accuse of murder and is grilled by detectives about his whereabouts the night of the demise of his friend Alex Block. Unfortunately, Steve’s alibi is flimsy as he said during the specified hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. he was with an unnamed girl at the Tangerine Trolley, a "downtown hippie club." I’m sure Trevor, in full uniform, blended right in...

To make matters worse, he’d previously held a farewell party for Roger Seely at his apartment. Seely was Block’s business partner and of course Block was there, got a bit snockered and first insulted, then made a pass at Trevor's squeeze, Wonder Woman. Steve summarily knocked him out with a right cross.

So now Colonel Trevor is on trial and Wonder Woman is called to the stand where she admits that Steve remarked on that fateful night that Alex Block didn’t deserve to live. Somehow this is enough for a conviction and a guilt-ridden Wonder Woman is determined to make things right via her alter ego of Diana Prince, closing out part I.

Part II opens with Diana visiting Steve in jail and he’s peevish, blaming Wonder Woman for his predicament and stating that only the mysterious girl who wouldn’t give her name at the club is the only one who can exonerate him.

As she leaves, Diana is more determined than ever to make things right, but she’s apparently more savvy than Trevor, deciding that if she’s to infiltrate the club, she’d stick out like a sore thumb in her usual attire and needs an update, so off she goes to the haberdashery she goes and comes out "mod."

At the Tangerine Trolley, Diana seeks information on the girl whose only distinctive characteristic was a cat-faced ring. The local "cats" dig this new chick, but she’s not getting the information she needs. Then a man astride a motorcycle just outside offers his services including a ride on his scooter. Diana agrees, asking why he’s willing to help when others aren’t. "For a ginchy chick like you, I’d take a trip to the moon! Name’s Buck, by the way."

She soon finds herself near a cemetery, which is actually “hippie land,” and Buck explains that the "fuzz" was also seeking out the nameless girl and a man offered Buck some money to keep her under the radar for a while. She also had to pawn the distinctive ring, but before he can offer any more information, a motorcycle gang wearing the colors of The Stompers arrives, looking for "hens" for a party. Time for Wonder Woman to make the scene, where she quickly mops up the gang and saves their captives, but somehow Buck was killed in the melee, so she’s got to find answers elsewhere.

Later, Diana learns that Roger Seely has found out about Steve’s predicament and is coming back from Europe to try and help. Meanwhile, she visits all the pawn shops until she finds the ring. She asks the pawn broker for the name and address of the person who pawned the ring and he quickly offers it. How things have changed.

Speaking of security changes, when she gets home, the super of her building didn’t blink at letting Roger Seely into her apartment to wait for her. Diana is pleased to see him, fills him in on what she’s found and suggests he call the warden to get word to Steve that things are moving in a positive direction, but curiously, Roger only pretends to make the call, closing out Part II.

Part III has Diana and Roger at the door of Miss Carvan, who has been oblivious to all that has happened as she’s been “…holed up in my pad day and night, cooling it with my painting bit!” Does this dialogue get tiresome to you, too? Diana Prince is elated that the girl is willing to sign a statement for the D.A.’s office and they’re soon on their way when things take a bad twist. Roger Seely pulls a pistol and tells Diana to keep driving…right over a cliff! It seems he’d hired Buck to keep Miss Carvan under wraps after snuffing his partner who’d discovered Seely’s theft of company funds. Now he’s going for the final coverup. He leaps out of the car just as it’s going over the ravine.

He didn’t count on Wonder Woman, however and since the girl has lost consciousness, it’s a handy time to switch personas and use her magic lasso to gently lower the car to the bottom of the ravine and then to fly over to Seely’s private plane and force it down.

In the final panels of the story’s last page, WW and Trevor are cuddling and she asks if she’s forgiven. Steve agrees that she is, but he’s intrigued with the work Diana Prince did for him and muses he should ask her out so he can get to know her better. Wonder Woman’s thoughts reveal her unease: "If he can fall for Diana like this, he can fall for any woman! And I’ll lose him forever if I don’t do something to keep him interested in me! Wonder Woman must change…"

I will grant you this was a story of the day and it’s been almost five decades hence. The counterculture is a thing of the distant past and while Denny O’Neil couldn’t hold a candle to Bob Haney for hokey, “hep-cat” dialogue, this still was a little painful, at least for this reader. It was also kind of strange seeing an Amazon warrior desperate to hang onto her man.

So, curiosity satisfied, although the bigger changes in Wonder Woman herself were still coming. The last panel tries to set the stage with: “You saw the great change in Diana Prince! Now watch what happens to Wonder Woman in future issues!

We, of course, have the distinct advantage of knowing how things would unfold and while it was an interesting experiment, in my judgment, it wasn’t a very good idea making such radical changes to our favorite Amazon princess. At some point it must have become obvious when they abandoned the notion altogether. I recall when I first interviewed Denny he had some regrets about things he’d written for the series. Luckily Wonder Woman has survived and is now in the process of reaching new heights.

I’ve learned to gain more appreciation for Mike Sekowsky’s work over the years, though he’ll never be my favorite. Dick Giordano’s wonderful inking talents helped make this story a little more palatable then some of Mike’s other work. Interestingly, in just a handful of issues, Mike would take over the editorial chair for this title, and I’m told that he wrote some good stories in the series, too. One day I’ll check them out. Meanwhile, this effort gets a 5 on my 10 point scale. Even taking into account the times, it just isn’t that appealing to me.

One little bit of trivia to pass on, gleaned from the comics.org. This issue can be seen in the movie, Midnight Cowboy, where a little girl is seen reading it on a bus.

Okay, to summarize, go see the Wonder Woman movie, come back to this location for a new review on July 1st and if you’ve got thoughts on this review or anything else related, give me a shout at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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