WW #201Issue #201: July-Aug. 1972. Cover by Giordano, Story by O'Neil, interior art by Giordano. Number of pages go back to normal and price goes up or maybe sideways to twenty cents. Cover gives the issue the title of "The Fist of Flame?" This is the final complete story arc of the Diana Prince era, because I don't consider issue 203 to be in continuity. Nyah.

"You are IMPRESSED with the detective, JONNY DOUBLE?" Ching asks as he strolls down a city street with Diana. (It might be New York, but didn't Jonny operate from San Francisco?)

"Not IMPRESSED, exactly... He's sort of a LOSER... But he's SWEET..." High praise indeed.

When they arrive at Jonny's office, they find an open door, blood, and two Tibetan thugs dressed in bathrobes (well, that's what it looks like...) wielding daggers. Diana takes time out from the fight to label the thugs male chauvinists, and Giordano works to cover up Diana, who wears a micro-mini in the midst of the fight.

One thug throws himself out of Jonny's seventh-floor window and the other stabs himself. He whispers "Fist of Flame" as he dies, and Ching (1) identifies the thugs' dialect as that of a remote Tibetan sect, and (2) recalls "a giant ruby said to drive men MAD with greed! -- A CURSED stone... Unholy -- EVIL!" that this particular sect worshipped.

Later that night, Diana actual CONSIDERS not tracking down the mystery, which certainly involves the disappearance of Jonny. It is only that she cares for him that she even considers going after him. THIS is Diana Prince?!

Someone leaves a note on her pillow: "If you want to keep Jonny Double alive you must get the Fist of Flame!" so she decides to save Jonny. How decent of her. How very noble. Because she's broke all of a sudden (must have been all those European vacations and taxes on her Reserve Army pay), she sells her boutique -- okay, I'll give her brownie points for that -- and does it in under 24 hours -- she gets Girl Scout points for that one. The two board a plane to Tibet.

Another passenger on the plane seems familiar to Diana: she's blonde and "STRIKINGLY lovely!" When they arrive in Asia, everywhere Diana looks -- there's that blonde.

Winter costumeBut when their mountain guide suddenly disappears in a snowstorm, Diana and Ching find themselves huddling alone in a cave. A lit match shows air movement where there should be none, and the two find another exit to their cave, one that opens up to a green and warm valley, in which they can see a giant green Buddha with the Fist of Flame in his forehead. They shed their winter gear to investigate.

Diana defeats a guard at the foot of the Buddha and she grabs the jewel just to feel it sucking at her soul. Suddenly the Catwoman (who had been the spectacular blonde from before while wearing a wig) swings down, knocking the jewel from Diana's hands, but she, too, is sucked into its spell, long enough for priests to capture the two of them.

Catwoman and Diana are held suspended over a blazing pit and given swords to cut themselves free. As soon as one falls, the other will be saved to become a slave. Diana succeeds in cutting Catwoman's bonds and grabbing her before the flames get her. Then they have to face a horde of murderous priests. When their high priest commits suicide in the pit, the priests stand dumbfounded, giving Di and Cat a chance to grab the jewel, depositing it in a pouch where they can't see it to be swept under its spell (an aspect forgotten in the next part). Diana finds a bound Ching and frees him. As the three run through tunnels, Catwoman explains that she hired Jonny to find the Fist of Flame, but that a rival gang led by Lu Shan learned of her plans and kidnapped Jonny (also to be countered in the next part).

And suddenly the three find themselves falling through dimensions... into a land called Nehwon.

Very cool issue (except for Di being out of character there at the beginning). Lots of action, gorgeous art, mystic locations, and Catwoman in one of her better costumes.

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WW #202Issue #202: Sept-Oct 1972. The Dick Giordano cover gives the title as "Fangs of Fire!" Story by (get this): Samuel R. Delany, art by Dick Giordano and editing by Denny O'Neil. In the lettercol, Denny says of this issue,

Dick [Giordano] had some very special help in the person of one Samuel R. Delany -- known to his friends as Chip. If you read science fiction, you probably already know Chip, author of ten books and winner of no less than five major awards. If you don't read s-f... Well, listen to what Harlan Ellison said about Delany:

"To be in the same room with Chip is to know you are in the presence of an event about to happen. It isn't his wit, which is considerable, or his intensity, which is like heat lightning... or his sincerity, which is so real it has shape and substance. It is an indefinable but nonetheless commanding impression that this is a young man with great works in him."

Dead on, Harlan.

This is Chip's first comic book We're hoping it won't be his last. Welcome aboard, Chip.
Ching, Gray Mouser, Catwoman, Fafhrd, and Diana

So they got Delany to write and used another author's characters: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were Fritz Leiber's creations (and this issue spurred me to buy their book series and even their comic book series that this particular issue of WW advertised on its last page as "coming soon").

Lu Shan with styleBut when we'd last left our trio, they'd been plunked onto Nehwon with two barbarians, the aforementioned Faf and GM, leering at them. Di takes care of Fafhrd but GM holds Catwoman at sword's point. Ching alters the standoff by revealing the Fist of Flame, and the two barbarians ease back.

They've been sent to steal another jewel, the Eye of the Ocean, from the mountain sorcerer, Gawron. Ching informs them that the two jewels are in conjunction and looking into one, you can see what is before the other. (Note that the jewels also bring about random dimensional jumping; note also that this monitor capability negates the "don't look at the jewel" caveat from the previous issue.) Looking into the Fist, Diana sees Jonny captive with Lu Shan (who is dressed in matinee Chinese Princess high style) at a technological Dimensional Energy Transfer Matrix Machine (which I'll call a DETMM). She needs the Fist so that she can loot Nehwon.

Ching tells everyone that if the two jewels are placed in a DETMM, dimensions can be crossed at will and not by chance. They combine forces with the two barbarians.

GawronGray Mouser and Catwoman have a neat little panel where the two thieves bond because of their mutual callings: to thievery and to cats. They run after a mouse Ching looses to find a way into Gawron's domain, to stumble onto the sorceror himself.

Meanwhile, Di and Fafhrd have to fight their way through Gawron's guards into his inner sanctum, and in a more dignified manner, Ching joins them, arriving just in time for Lu Shan, Jonny, and a couple of Shan's thugs to appear with the Eye of the Ocean.

The sanctum erupts in melee. Diana frees Jonny and Catwoman quits Lu Shan's service (but... she said that Shan was leading a competing gang. She lied?)

In the confusion Ching gets his hands on both jewels and triggers a dimensional doorway in the DETMM. All our heroes hurry through and the Mouser grabs the Eye just before he disappears. The gang appears safely in Jonny's office and Fafhrd and the Mouser go out to explore. They hurry back soon enough, not having any taste at all for Earth. A random jump of the jewel sends them back to Nehwon.

Danged cool story. All kinds of fantasy elements thrown together into a rollicking adventure. I particularly liked the comparison of the Mouser and Catwoman, and I shall forever be thankful for the introduction to Fritz Leiber's work.

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WW #203Issue #203: Nov-Dec 1972, marked Denny O'Neil's last one as editor. Script: Samuel R. Delany, who should have known better, and art: Dick Giordano. The story ends with loose threads that seem to call for a conclusion next issue -- but that wasn't to be. The cover (by Giordano, which had an unfortunate emphasis on Cathy Perkins' breasts) screamed "SPECIAL! WOMEN'S LIB ISSUE." This was a time when the term "women's lib" was already old-fashioned. I recall cringing when I saw this on the stands the first time.

Diana finds herself verbally accosted by a gang of white boys one night and she tells them off. As she walks peacefully away, who else but Cathy Perkins throws herself at the gang members "In the GUT, big boy!" and attacks them, thinking they are muggers. Diana has to save her and the gang runs off.

Interestingly, Cathy finds a piece of paper that fell from one of the gang guy's pocket, a note that reads: "Mike -- Your first job. Get W.W. for me!" and it's signed, "Philip Grandee."

"People call you WONDER WOMAN," Cathy says. Funny; in the rest of the DCU, the fact that Diana is the former Wonder Woman seems to be fairly common knowledge. Diana says that "W.W." probably doesn't refer to her but that it is a fair coincidence. They pass a Grandee Department Store as they talk.

Diana informs her employee that she's sold the boutique (Didn't Cathy notice? Perhaps she quit just before Diana sold out.) and needs a place to crash. Cathy volunteers her apartment. Turns out the place has thin ceilings and the marital spat in the apartment above them comes through loud and clear. Cathy's tried to introduce the wife to her Women's Lib (ouch) group, but the husband doesn't approve.

The next day one of the gang members, MIke, knocks on the door. He's surprised to find out that his target last night is Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, and apologizes for his behavior. His boss, Mr. Grandee, wants Diana to see him about a job.

Grandee, a dead ringer for DC honcho Carmine Infantino, is hiring women for his latest grand opening. He needs a spokesmodel and offers the job to Diana. "You'll wear our clothes, go to the best places, appear on JOHNNY CARSON!" he tells Diana. "Grandee's store is designed for that newest factor in the American economic scheme, the new LIBERATED WOMAN!" He offers her a penthouse apartment and a thousand dollars a week. Diana has to slap herself in awe of the offer.

Suddenly some guard dogs break into the office and Diana has to subdue them. Coming out of his hiding place under his desk, Grandee says, "You've got to hand it to the NEW LIBERATED WOMAN! What do you SAY, little girl, to my OFFER?" Diana leaves to consider and Mike and Grandee are left alone.

They gloat over her naivete, that she's worth far more than they offered to pay her. Mike says, "That LIBERATED WOMAN stuff you spouted, Mr. Grandee!? That's the first time I've heard you do anything but LAUGH at women's lib."

Grandee"Take a lesson," Grandee says. "Grandee is for ANYTHING that puts money in Grandee's pocket... and against everything that keeps it OUT."

Diana discusses it with "her friend" Jonny at his office (guess he moved to NYC after all) but meet up with Cathy, who says that she's found out that Grandee hires women at a quarter an hour below the legal minimum wage. Because he only hires women, he can't be made to pay equal wages, and because he buys only cheap in-state products from downtown sweatshops and such, he can't be forced to pay federal minimum wage.

Diana protests that Grandee stands for the liberated woman (god, I'm so tired of that term by page 13), and when Cathy tells her that she must come to her women's group and hear them out, Diana says, "I'm for equal wages, too! But I'm NOT a JOINER. [Guess she didn't like all those years with the JLA... or the Amazons.] I wouldn't FIT with your group. In most cases, I don't even LIKE women...?"

Surely the nadir of sixty years of Wonder Woman in print.

Cathy rightfully turns her back on her and even Jonny leaves while Diana thinks, "Just like a MAN, to leave in an emotional situation!" Cathy gives Diana a big sermon about women's place in the world and how as Wonder Woman, Diana has "skilled enough to OVERCOME some of our problems. Lucky enough to AVOID others!" and suddenly Enlightment hits our Diana. Oh, how she was wrong! Now she knows how men truly treat women, even more than Cathy knows. (bleah!)

Protesters gather outside Grandee's grand opening and Diana goes to the "Lower East Side Women's Lib" meeting, which is interrupted by a gang of white guys, who begin to tear up the joint. As the women battle the thugs, who obviously were hired by Grandee, the men haul off Cathy so that some of the women and Diana sneak into Grandee's place that night to rescue her. Diana accuses Grandee of a convenient fire code violation (no sprinkler system) and Mike says, "But WE were just having some FUN with you girls...! WEREN'T we--?"

The story ends with the former Grandee employees confronting the women's group about their responsibility for 250 women being out of work.

Ick. Ick. Ick. Of all people, WONDER WOMAN doesn't know anything about the women's movement? She doesn't like women? She's not a joiner? She doesn't believe in changing society? WONDER WOMAN?!!!

I can only shake my head at this preachy, preachy story and declare that for me at least, it was out of continuity. Never happened.

The lettercol says, "I think Chip's tale is a small but nonetheless polished milestone; it gets Diana solidly into women's liberation. In the story, Di and her friends echo the sentiments of millions of women throughout the world who are... well, sick of being second-class citizens. If you missed that particular aspect of the yarn, read it again. And think about it." But it's so difficult to think when I've just been clobbered so hard by the story's thematic two-by-four.

O'Neil also reports that his tenure as editor is at an end and that Robert Kanigher takes over with the next issue. "He hasn't told me his plans for Di, but it's certain he has some nifty ideas," O'Neil says.

Cue the ominous music...

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