Wonder Woman is one of the longest-running characters in American comics, which allows for a lot of different interpretations. "Showcase Presents: Wonder Woman, Vol. 3" (DC Comics, $18) reprints the apex of one such editorial vision.
This tome collects 19 issues of "Wonder Woman" from 1963 to 1965 -- almost 500 pages, albeit in black and white. And while the stories are often kind of silly, they were that welcome comics rarity: comics that dared to appeal to girls. For that alone, they should be celebrated.
This volume is the peak of the second memorable Wonder Woman era. The first was by writer-creator William Marston and stylized magazine illustrator H.G. Peter, one that involved a lot of questionable psychobabble and an over-reliance on bondage imagery, but enthusiastically embraced the heartwarming concept that love conquered violence.
After Marston's death, the character was taken over by writer-editor Robert Kanigher. His run was drab and unremarkable, but the strip blossomed anew in 1958, when Peter was replaced by penciler Ross Andru and inker Mike Esposito. This, says Les Daniels in "Wonder Woman: The Complete History," "seemed to free the writer-editor from the pressure of the past, and he soon embarked on the most creative and best-remembered period of his long tenure as the Amazing Amazon's chronicler." He also, Daniels said, "seemed to be reaching out for an audience of young girls."
One tactic for reaching that audience was the introduction of Wonder Girl (1959), the adventures of Wonder Woman as a teenager. They proved popular enough for Kanigher to introduce stories of Wonder Tot, Wonder Woman as a baby, in 1961. Later that year he abandoned reality altogether by writing self-described "impossible stories," featuring "the entire Wonder Family," with Wonder Queen (Diana's mother), Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot appearing together as a sort of team.
Kanigher's stories never dragged. They were occasionally inventive. And sometimes he flirted with the fairy-tale quality so necessary for the original Princess Diana.
As to art, Andru and Esposito were fairly pedestrian. But they were clear and concise storytellers, and their Diana was -- amazingly -- somewhat small-breasted and petite. That's rather refreshing compared with today's Mammazons.
This volume shows the Kanigher/Andru/Esposito team at its vital peak, with the "Wonder Family" virtually taking over the book. The next volume's stories will shift into some odd sales-boosting experiments and the team's 1968 exit. So read now for the best this team had to offer.