Vs. Wonder Woman
Wait a minute, Superman versus...Wonder Woman?!!
The cover blurb blares, "the Battle You Never
Thought You'd See," which must qualify as
one of the few times a comic was actually marketed with
an understatement. I remember when this was first advertised
all I could think was, "How are they going to make
that work? The answer, as it turns out,
is: better than you might think.
Gerry Conway scripts this tabloid epic,
set without explanation or apology during World War II (there's
not even a "this adventure happens on Earth-2"
line. Nuthin'.) and it works nicely. The opening splash
shows "classified documents" from the war era,
finally de-classified for release to the public and promising
to reveal at last the formerly top-secret battle between
Superman and Wonder Woman. As the story unfolds, each chapter
will be introduced in similar fashion. It's a neat narrative
We first see Superman in a spectacular two-page spread,
flying to the aid of an American aircraft carrier under
attack from a squadron of Japanese fighter planes. It's
just the first of many visual treats from the ever-amazing
Garcia-Lopez, inked here by Dan Adkins
in what was, along with Neal
vs. Muhammad Ali," easily one of the best-looking
DC tabloids of them all.
The Zeros turn out to be flown by cutting-edge "calculating
machines" (a helpful editorial note reminds us computers
have not yet been invented in WWII), so Superman is free
to cut loose on them. Then he detects a Japanese submarine
and makes short work of that as well.
The commander of the submarine lets slip a plot to disrupt
something called "the Manhattan Project" and when
Superman asks Admiral Chester Nimitz what
it's all about, he's sent to Washington for a debriefing.
Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is already in D.C., saving a high-ranking
official from kidnapping at the hands of Nazi agents outfitted
with explosives. Ever practical, she drops a car on the
lot of them and Ka-Boom!...problem solved.
When a mysterious car near the scene of the crime pulls
away from the curb and drives off, Wonder Woman follows
it to a train station, where she prevents another attempted
kidnapping. This time the intended victim is none other
than Albert Einstein himself. Following
clues and instinct, Diana Prince uses her
security clearance to enter the War Department H.Q. and
pilfers the file on the Manhattan Project. Shocked and enraged
at what she reads, she heads to Paradise Island to seek
her mother's advice.
Meanwhile down in Mexico we encounter the Nazi supervillain
Baron Blitzkrieg. First introduced in a
Wonder Woman (of Earth-2) story in World's Finest Comics
#246 (and later to figure prominently in All-Star Squadron),
Blitzkrieg is a former concentration camp commandant whose
face was destroyed when a prisoner threw acid at him. Efforts
to restore his features were unsuccessful (so he wears an
iron mask), but under the care of Nazi doctors he gained
super-strength and the power to fly and shoot optic beams.
However he can only use one such power at a time.
Blitzkrieg is meeting up with Sumo, a
Japanese super-soldier trained to expert levels in various
martial arts and embued with even greater strength (and
stature) by a mysterious potion. The two agree to cooperate
in locating and stealing two halves of an atomic device,
but each secretly has his own agenda.
Soon afterwards, Superman follows up on reports that Wonder
Woman is terrorizing the University of Chicago campus. He
arrives to find her swinging a lamppost to demolish a building
at a busy intersection. When he tries to stop her, things
get ugly fast.
As they battle, Wonder Woman reveals her motives; having
learned of atomic research on the campus, Wonder Woman intends
to confiscate all related materials, in the belief that
the atom bomb is too dangerous for any nation to possess,
even her adopted home of America. Superman on the other
hand has by now been briefed on the Manhattan Project and
is convinced America's in the right.
When buildings start crumbling around them, the two agree
to continue their fight in a place no bystanders can be
hurt, which turns out to be the Moon. When they arrive,
Wonder Woman spots the radioactive ruins of a lost civilization
and tries to make it a teachable moment, but Superman is
not in a listening mood and goes on the attack. Here we
come to a show-stopping moment for me as a youngster, as
Garcia-Lopez seems to forget to draw Wonder Woman's clothes.
Adkins likewise doesn't fill in the blanks and the colorist
seems unsure just how to handle the situation. Consequently
I probably spent more time on this page than any other in
the book. Dirty kid.
Back on Earth, Sumo is launching a one-man raid on the
atomic research facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico while
Blitzkrieg and his men attack the one at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
With only mere mortal soldiers to oppose them, both succeed
in stealing their respective halves of a protoype atomic
A desperate search for Superman ends when an astronomer
spots him on the Moon (bitchin' telescope, there). With
no other way to contact the Man of Steel, U.S. officials
elect to turn all the lights along the Eastern Seaboard
off and on repeatedly in a Morse Code S.O.S. sequence (neat
touch, that). Sure enough, the heroes spot the signal and
make haste for Mother Earth, where Secretary of War Henry
L. Stimson updates them on the situation. Though
divided on the issue of whether America should have the
A-bomb, both heroes at least agree the Axis powers shouldn't
have it, so they split up to battle the villains.
Baron Blitzkrieg has taken his half of the device to New
Orleans, where he waits in vain for Sumo to appear with
the other half. Superman shows up and the two battle through
the streets of the city. Superman takes some punishment
before realizing Blitzkrieg can only use one power at a
time. He pummels the Nazi with a series of blows that break
his mental control over his abilities and leave him knocked
Wonder Woman tracks Sumo to a small island in the South
Pacific and the two battle over the remaining half of the
atomic device, which Sumo intends to keep for Japan despite
his earlier promises to Blitzkrieg. Wonder Woman triumphs
just as Superman shows up with an unconscious Blitzkrieg
and his half of the device. However, it turns out Blitzkrieg
was just playing possum; jumping to his feet, he fits the
two halves together, creating an atomic reaction that somehow
paralyzes the heroes.
Superman uses his heat vision on the device and frees himself
and Wonder Woman, but in the process starts a chain reaction
that will result in a nuclear explosion. He and Wonder Woman
flee the island but the villains stubbornly refuse to leave,
battling each other for possession of the weapon. In a two-page
spread, the island goes up in a mushroom cloud as the heroes
look on in horror.
As the story ends, the heroes are granted an audience with
President Roosevelt, who promises Wonder Woman she needn't
worry about the bomb on his watch:
This is a really fun book despite my early misgivings.
For fans of Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, it's a gold mine, with
gorgeous double-page spreads of Paradise Island, the Mexican
coast and the Lunar landscape (among others) and masterfully
staged action sequences throughout. As to the latter, the
fights with the villains work better for me. Superman is
able to let loose on Blitzkrieg to an extent he can't on
Wonder Woman, and Diana's judo-intense battle with Sumo
is much more graceful (and seemly) than her bare-knuckled
fisticuffs with Superman.
The elephant in the room here for continuity buffs is the
incongruity of finding an Earth-1 Superman and Wonder Woman
operating in the WWII era. At one point, Superman mentions
the Justice Society of America, suggesting events are unfolding
on Earth-2, but the costumes are all wrong for that, and
to my memory the war-era Superman wouldn't have been able
to travel to the Moon and breathe in space unaided.
The most logical explanation is that DC wanted to use the
most widely recognized versions of its characters, and with
the Wonder Woman show airing on TV and Superman:
The Movie just around the corner, the more media-established
designs won out. This would also explain the WWII setting,
since viewers of the Wonder Woman show would have
associated her with that era.
One minor quibble here is the Moon battle, where Wonder
Woman shows up wearing a glass helmet. It's hard to understand
just how Superman considers it a fair contest to battle
someone reliant on oxygen when he isn't. If you rule out
blows to the head (which would break the helmet and kill
her) and blows to the upper body (which features...umm...girl
parts), that means the only tactic he has left is punches
to her stomach. Kind of limiting, don't you think?
Writer Gerry Conway is in much better form here than in
his later Superman vs. Shazam book. The main improvement
is that both heroes in this story remain true to character
and in their right minds, rather relying on the time-worn
comics tropes of misunderstandings, mind control and/or
mistaken identity. At the heart of the battle this time
is a genuine conflict of equally legitimate beliefs. Consequently
we are for once interested in seeing who comes out on top,
and not just to settle fanboy arguments about who's strongest.
So despite its flaws and against all expectations this
book remains one of my favorite "versus" tales.
In closing, just because it's cool, here's the back cover
to the book, which could as easily have been the front cover...