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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Wonder Woman: The 12 Labours

Writer: Len Wein, Cary Bates, Elliott S Maggin, Martin Pasko
Pencils: Curt Swan, Irv Novick, John Rosenberger, Dick Dillin, Jose Delbo
Art: Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordiano
Colours: No credits given
Inks: Tex Blaisdell, Phil Zupa, Vince Colletta
Letters: No credits given
Covers: Bob Oskner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordiano, Ernie Chan
Publisher: DC

What's it about?
Back in the 1960s Wonder Woman lost her powers and spent several years fighting crime in her civilian identity of Diana Prince (this is commonly known as the white jumpsuit era).  In 1974 she regained her powers and was asked to re-join the Justice League of America (JLA).  Questioning her abilities and skill after so many years without them, she demanded that she put through a series of tests to determine if she was still Justice League material.  These tests would take the form of other members of the JLA observing her adventures and judging for themselves whether or not she was fit to work with them again.

It's worth mentioning that the JLA were ready to take her back and it was only  Diana that insisted on being tested (so you can probably see a plot flaw right away, but more on plot devices later).

Anyway, these adventures form her 12 Labours and the meat of the book.  Each adventure takes place over one issue and as such comes with titles such as The Man Who Mastered Women, Amazon Attack Against Atlantis, The Day Time Broke Loose, and Revolt of the Wonder Weapons.

The Wonder Woman of this book has a different power set to the modern Wonder Woman (because these sorts of things are continually being updated, and Wonder Woman herself was rebooted after the 1980s maxi series Crisis On Infinite Earths).  In this book she glides on air currents rather than flies, has an invisible robot plane, loses her powers if bound by a man, and knows all worldly languages.  The bullets and bracelets trick is still there, as is her magic lasso, and her Amazon strength and skill.

What's good about it?
Despite the old fashioned style of story telling, this is a really charming story.  It was produced in a time when comics just tried to be enjoyable, escapist entertainment.  There wasn't the need to make the story realistic, grounded in everyday fact or - gods forbid - gritty.  The aim was to produce stories that stimulated the imagination and were fun.  This doesn't mean that there is no continuity or characterisation, far from it.  It does mean that the book doesn't take itself seriously.
Some people deride the Silver Age (1970s) of comics for being silly and childish, but I think that view derides and ignores their strengths.  This comic has a lot of daft ideas in it, but it's not immature.  It addresses themes like heroism and ethics, and packages it up in a bundle that appeals to a variety of ages.  The lack of adherence to hard science results in some really inventive action.  Wonder Woman can't find a wind current to glide across the city on?  Fine, we'll make her magic lasso endlessly elastic so she can use it like Spider-Man's webs.  She can't hear what's happening in a building below her?  Have her use a mental radio, ably modelled by Hal Jordan (he of the Green Lantern Corps) in this panel:

There are more logical ways she could have solved these problems, but they wouldn't have been as fun. Throw off your cynicism and delight in these nonsensical ideas.

Even with the surface silliness this book does have good characterisation.  The JLA are not wooden ciphers: we do see their individual personalities, even if they are sometimes a bit one dimensional.  Throughout it all is a positive attitude towards women and womanhood.  Like the Batgirl Showcase, whenever anyone asserts that women are less capable, less intelligent, or less strong than the men, Wonder Woman proves them wrong - and, if not Wonder Woman, then another woman.  OK so comments about women's intuition persist, but overall this book strives for equality.  There's also a complimentary (if somewhat confused) story about feminists!

I've tagged this volume as suitable for children because that's probably who it was aimed at.  But if you're an adult, don't let that put you off reading it.  Hey, I'm 32 and I loved it.  It's great fun and it has enough sophistication to keep more mature, questioning readers interested.

What's bad about it?
As mentioned in What's it about?, some of the plots are paper thin.  Certain events, if judged critically, are incredibly contrived and rely on the flimsiest of coincidences and agreements between characters.  The comic is not in any way a realistic portrayal or life, and it does use dated language - or perhaps language that the writers thoughts hipsters used.  This isn't a book for someone who likes post-modern, self-aware texts.  It's not sensible.

What's the art like?
Like the writers, the artists have let their imaginations run a bit wild.  They have been influenced by the story, but they've come up with some great panels to enhance and amplify each scene - so we get spooky demons, moving statues and interesting sound effects.  The colours are bright but the pencil work is far less detailed than in modern comics.  Maybe this is due to limitations of the printing technology of the time.

Another difference between this and more modern art is the lack of objectification.  Here, the women are drawn attractively but their poses fit in with the story.  There are no arched backs and inflated breasts, drawn just to titillate the reader.  The action shows show the heroines in action, not flailing with their breasts and bottoms pointed towards us.  It feels a lot more honest and respectful than some modern day horrors.

More information
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2

For further Wonder Woman reading in a similar old fashioned style, try The New Frontier, or any number of Showcase books.  For further reading in a modern vein, try Wonder Woman: The Hikietia, Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon (part of Greg Rucka's amazing Wonder Woman run), or Superman: Sacrifice.  Or you can look through our posts tagged Wonder Woman, JLA or DC.

As an aside, see here and here for information on Diana's history, as counted through her costume changes.


  1. This collection just arrived! I knew it would be hard to track down the individual issues (like I usually do...collector mentality and all)....can't wait to read it.

  2. I really wanna get this one^^

  3. Do get it! It's a lot of fun. :)

    I've just noticed I didn't include the cover picture. Will remedy that now.

  4. ...and I just did! XD
    I'm at the middle, more or less. Like you said, some plots and details are kinda paper-thin, or silly. But it is a fun read nonetheless!

    Some of the art provided by these artists are actually quite great! Loved the art on the Elongated Man issue. (not pictured here!)

  5. hoorah!

    I was having real difficulty deciding what art samples to put in. I kind of wanted to scan everything.

  6. Wonder women costumes is a very impressive and better idea for women.

  7. Scan any WW that Vince Colletta inked and she will be guaranteed sexy!

  8. Thanks for uploading these scans. I make art accessories out of recycled comics and I almost bought a used copy of the 12 labors based on the cover art. But looking at the scans I see that most of the interior art was not exaxtly what I was looking for.