RETRO REVIEW: Superman vs Wonder Woman (1978)

One of the things I love about doing the retro review is that I run into stories that shed light on the history of familiar characters I thought I knew. Take for example this one-shot from DC printed in the late 70’s. I never knew that Superman was involved at the battle of Midway. I didn’t know that during WWII Wonder Woman’s secret Identity, Diana Prince was enlisted as a Yeoman in the United States Navy.

As you may have guessed this story takes place in the heyday of the Second World War. Lois Lane and Clark Kent are war reporters who have traveled to the South Pacific and are covering the war efforts on the recently taken Midway island. A sneak attack breaks out against a Navy carrier off shore and Clark disappears just as Superman arrives to save the day.

It’s hard to not to laugh at some of the corny dialogue that Lois delivers as she does the classic shtick of “Where did Clark go?” as Superman miraculously shows up in the middle of nowhere to save her and the Navy. Sure! It’s easy to explain how this happens all the time in Metropolis, but Superman just happens to be “passing by” a small island in the Pacific? Supes comes off more like a creepy global stocker, trying to tail Lois around the world than a super hero.

Meanwhile in Washington D.C. Wonder Woman stops a group of suicide bombers from killing a scientist on the grounds of the White House. One of the attackers escapes and WW follows him to New York where she stops another attack on a gentleman in the subway. That man just happens to Albert Einstein! Later in her disguise as Yeoman Diana Prince, secretary in the U.S. Navy she discovers that the attack on Einstein and the other scientist are being denied.

The story plays out that both Superman and Wonder Woman have stumble across plans to uncover the United States secret nuclear testing project; the Manhattan Project. While Clark is updated by the Secretary of War, WW discovers the evidence by infiltrating a government base. Diana is angered that the world of men would create such a device and seeks the council of her mother on Paradise Island. WW comes to the conclusion that no nation should have the destructive power of the bomb and goes to Chicago to begin tearing down a testing facility at the local university. Superman receives word and you can guess what happens next.

If you guessed that both Wonder Woman and Superman fly to the moon to fight it out- then you are 100% correct.

In a bizarre twist of events, the two titans begin to square off with one another on the streets of Chicago, but Superman instead convinces WW to take their fight somewhere where onlookers will not be in danger. So Diana hops in her invisible plane- as Superman flies to the Moon.

There are a couple of quick hits here that I want to touch on. The storyline was progressing along just fine without the cosmic battle. The choice to take to the stars and fight on the moon is such a jarring and unforeseen turn that it takes you right out of the story. Not only do Superman and Wonder Woman travel to another planet to kick the crap out of each other, but they do so among ancient ruins!?! The story touches on the idea that there was once a population on the Moon that was destroyed by – you guessed it—nuclear war.

While I understand the need to point out the power and destruction of nuclear devastation, this plot device of using the moon as an example comes off as far-fetched; even in the confines of a super hero comic. The only thing that surpasses this twist within the story is how the two icons bring their fight to an end. Both heroes stop and look at Earth as the United States starts to flash. The military uses the power grid of America to send Clark and Diana a SOS! The entire country is blinking off and on!

The reason for the SOS is the machinations of the villains in this story. The axis of evil has brought together Barron Blitzkrieg and the Samurai to find and infiltrate the Manhattan Project; all in the hopes of taking the technology and making it their own. Thanks to mind reading of a kidnapped scientist, the dastardly pair find out about America’s secret base in Los Alamos.

The plot kicks into high gear upon the heroes return to Earth. Superman is dispatched to take on the Baron while the Amazon is forced to go toe to toe with the Samurai. The whole debacle finally reaches a climax on an unnamed isle in the Pacific where—for whatever reason—the pair of heroes meet up with the defeated bad guys and a stolen prototype nuclear bomb. —– Let that sink in for a moment. The heroes take the bad guys that they have already defeated to a un-named island, and Superman, using his best judgment, decides that the best place for the stolen warhead, is right there in the middle of the action! You may commence to shaking your head.

The tale wraps up with the two villains fighting over who shall have control over the bomb. Supes and WW both high-tail it out of sight as the bomb blows up. Leaving the reader with the impression that the first successful nuclear testing to ever take place in history is thanks to Superman and Wonder Woman, who left to villains to die at ground zero!

There is a lot to be covered in the story. It’s fascinating to see some of history’s biggest names make cameos in this issue; folks like Einstein, FDR, and Admiral Nimitz. While the story tries to ground itself in our reality, there are those moments when the ridiculous takes over and the reader is kicked out of what could have been an engaging story. I understand that this is a superhero comic, but let’s not shift back and forth between how serious I’m supposed to take this tale! The message of the dangers of nuclear war is very serious; yet watching WW fly in her invisible plane counteracts that narrative.

The artwork is just as you would expect from a title of this time period, the colors are bright, the poses are dynamic, and the heroes look amazing. The fight between Supes and WW is a good ole fashion beat down, with lamp posts used as bats, buildings crumbling…etc. The war scenes look like they came right out of a Hollywood movie; bombers and fighters appear ready to fly off the page. I have very few complaints about the art.

This one-shot comic is another example of the classic super hero crossover of the period. The heroes meet under strange or unusual circumstances, thanks to a misunderstanding the heroes fight, the misunderstanding is cleared up mid-battle, the heroes join forces to take on the real threat of the story. This is a comic that falls within that template perfectly.

Younger comic fans may not appreciate the play on history within these pages. References to the Manhattan project and its importance may fly right over the head of some; which would take away some of the enjoyment that is held within the covers of this book. This comic is perfect for those of us that yearn for the classic team-up, but I worry that modern audiences don’t have the time or patience to really enjoy this title.

Final Score: 2 ½ stars out of 5.

Superman vs. Wonder Woman (1978)
Publisher: DC Comics
Story: Gerry Conway
Art: Jose Luis Garcia and Dan Adkins
Colors: Jerry Serpe

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