Review by Ian Keogh
John Byrne’s three year period controlling Wonder Woman’s destiny remains divisive. He began in 1995, almost ten years after his revision of Superman had proved a resounding success, despite many readers so against the idea of a re-boot they were unable to see the positive. Hindsight proved Byrne’s approach to Superman the right one, but hasn’t been as kind to his Wonder Woman. This is partly because he wasn’t re-creating, but working within parameters, and instead of building on what had preceded his tenure Byrne made wholesale changes to the background and supporting cast, yet his alterations resulted in characters very similar to those he’d displaced, and there was never any great reason for doing so.
Three distinct stories occupy the majority of the pages, also available via the now long out of print collections titled Second Genesis and Lifelines. In the first Wonder Woman deserts her previous home town of Boston to live in Gateway City, a thinly disguised San Francisco, which soon becomes the target for crooks with technology way beyond their capacity to create. It leads to a confrontation with Darkseid. Wonder Woman then has to cope with the attentions of sorceress Morgaine Le Fey, before meeting an escalating series of threats who’re not quite what they seem.
Byrne’s not short of ideas, but overwhelms them with panel after panel of word-heavy captions. The intention is to set the scene or explain what’s going on, and it’s odd that Byrne, who’s such a good artist, ignores the adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. Actually, there’s a qualification regarding the art, because Byrne takes a few issues to bed in with regard to Wonder Woman herself. He decides early that he doesn’t want to draw all the stars on her costume, and the Wonder Woman presented in the opening chapters is almost painfully thin and wiry. It’s an interesting removal from the traditional curvaceous representation, but after several issues Byrne himself has a re-think.
In this material there’s a deliberate decision to distance Diana from her Amazonian background, which is reduced to second hand threats, and to integrate her with the mainstream of DC’s superhero universe. Guest stars abound, even if they’re not always who they seem, and Byrne maintains Diana’s character as a wise and understanding warrior, always concerned about others.
Byrne’s lasting donation to DC from this series was Cassie Sandsmark, fourteen year old admirer of Wonder Woman, and in turn indulged by the Amazon. She’d develop into a superheroine with a track record, mostly with the Teen Titans, and here takes her first faltering steps. Byrne’s depiction of her using Mercury’s winged shoes is consistently charming. There’s an irony in the best individual story being the closer looking back on Wonder Woman’s previous supporting cast. It has some neat twists, constantly wrong-foots and a good explanation.
Book two starts featuring Byrne’s Wonder Woman not previously available as graphic novels.