|"I walked through a burning fang of fire..."|
Those early 1970s Wonder Woman stories – wherein she’d lost her powers, her costume, her mission, her boyfriend AND the top half of her masthead – had a bad habit of focusing on anyone else than Wonder Woman. The uncomfortably represented Asian mystic martial artist I-Ching was already taking more-than-equal billing with Wonder Woman, and the book was as likely to promote guest-stars, new villains and supporting characters as it was Diana Prince herself.
Take, for example, Wonder Woman vol.1 Nos.201-202 (August/September 1972), wherein Wonder Woman splits the cover with Batman baddie Catwoman in the service of introducing Fritz Leiber’s popular fantasy characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to their short-lived DC Comics incarnation.
The story opens with Wonder Woman attacked in her apartment while saddled with two useless men. On the one hand, there’s nearly-incompetent private detective Johnny Double, currently abducted and on the other there’s her “mentor” I-Ching, peppering his running commentary on the events with useless aphorisms like “Persistance in Righteousness brings reward!” Hold it, that’s from a fortune cookie, isn’t it?
|PS We're out of milk.|
Ching has a lot of opportunity to comment as Diana and he are wrapped up fighting ninjas or something right out of the gate. It’s worth mentioning that, with her powers gone, Wonder Woman has to fight menaces like that using contrived martial arts, primarily in the form of kicks which allow the reader to look right up her skirt. No wonder Gloria Steinem campaigned to have her get back in costume.
To get the ninjas off their backs and rescue Johnny Double, Ching and Diana are tasked with retrieving The Fist of Flame, which sounds like a medical condition. It’s actually a mysteriously powerful gem ensconced in a statue inside a hidden land in Asia. Oh, THAT Fist of Flame.
Naturally, they head there right away, only to find Catwoman also on the trail of the Fist of Flame. In fact, they get there at the same time and there’s literally a segment of this book which is just people looking at the Fist of Flame and then getting conked in the back of the skull. First Wondy, then Catwomen, pop pop.
Waking later, they’re not only captives of the resident secret landians, they’re also forced to fight some sort of Cirque de Soleil battle over a flaming wok. This kills a little time until the hidden purpose of the gem can be revealed – it can cross dimensions! It can cross dimensions – to Erewhon, where Catwoman and Wonder Woman find themselves, the home of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser!
It’s exciting to see two beloved sword-and-sorcery characters show up in a Wonder Woman comic, except that the duo … really rapey? As the titanic Fafhrd looms over Diana, she thinks “He’s grinning, but what he’s reaching for probably isn’t what I want to give!” Oooooh, Fafhrd – friendzoned!
|A dignified form of attack.|
Ching adds his own two cents, even though they weren’t reaching for his elderly goodie bag. “I sense thievery – or worse – as these men’s motivation!” Maybe he’s talking about murder here, but is it really better if he is?
The introduction of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser actually doesn’t accomplish much that Wonder Woman and Catwoman probably couldn’t have done. The story, though, is basically a stealth pilot for the characters’ soon-to-be appearance in the racks in Sword of Sorcery. In the interim, everything that happens is basically dumb nonsense that doesn’t make anyone better, anyone smarter, or anyone more interesting. Suffice it to say that everyone ends up back in their own dimensions, in their offices, and made bereft of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser at the last second so that the last half-page of the book could be an ad for their series. Some guests.