By the late 1980s, it had been a LONG time since Wonder Woman comics were relevant or any kind of bestseller. She was very popular in the 1940s and drifted down from there. With the mod revamp in the late 1960s and then the return to her Amazon roots and the TV show in the 1970s, Wonder Woman got some attention, but it didn’t really translate into comic sales or much acclaim for the series. After Wonder Woman died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the character needed something new and invigorating.
Enter George Perez and Karen Berger. Perez gets pretty much all of the credit for the new Wonder Woman series that premiered in 1987, and he certainly deserves it, but you may not know that Karen Berger was the editor on the book for Perez’s entire run. Berger is better known for her work on Sandman and the eventual creation of Vertigo, but she played a key role in making Wonder Woman relevant again.
The new Wonder Woman brought the character into the modern world, keeping key aspects of her Golden Age origin while updating and re-inventing other components. The Amazons were more fleshed out, the gods became regular characters, Wonder Woman set up a new network of friends in Boston, and mythology became the core of the series’ stories. It also dealt with real world issues, though, like feminism, racism, drug use, and teen suicide. The book was extremely well-received, and for the first time in decades Wonder Woman made an impressive showing on the sales charts. Perez’s writing and art really sold the book, but Berger’s editorial influence and insights shouldn’t be overlooked.
Another of Berger’s big contributions to Wonder Woman was the impressive number of female creators the series had while she was in charge. Mindy Newell co-wrote over 10 issues in the middle of the Perez run, while Colleen Doran and Cynthia Martin each drew a couple. Jill Thompson was Wonder Woman’s regular artist for the last two years of Perez’s tenure, before she jumped over to Sandman. Tatjana Wood coloured the first few issues while Nansi Hoolahan coloured the last few, with Petra Scotese and Juliana Ferriter getting a colouring gig here and there in between. For the last 27 issues of the 62 issue run, there wasn’t a single issue of Wonder Woman that didn’t have a female creator in some capacity.
Perez and Berger both left the book after Wonder Woman #62, and it had a bit of a rough go until Phil Jimenez came along and righted the ship. Score another one for Karen Berger there. When Berger’s departure from Vertigo was announced, Jimenez tweeted that she was one of the 2 or 3 people to whom he owes his career. Berger may not have been involved with Wonder Woman anymore, but she was certainly involved in bringing along Phil Jimenez in the comic world.
Perez and Berger’s time on the book set a new standard for Wonder Woman, one that has inspired the creators that have followed. They changed the game and made Wonder Woman relevant again, and the influence of their stories can be seen in the much lauded Greg Rucka and Gail Simone runs that came years down the road.
Of course, the DC universe has been relaunched now, and the new Wonder Woman is a far cry from the Perez era. But guess what? Karen Berger is still behind it all, however indirectly. Writer Brian Azzarello established himself as a top creator at Vertigo with his run on Hellblazer and his own 100 Bullets, while artist Cliff Chiang was an editor at Vertigo before turning to art. Vertigo also published some of his earliest work. And when Cliff Chiang needs a break, who does DC turn to? Tony Akins, best known for his work on Vertigo’s Jack of Fables. Karen Berger’s influence knows no bounds!!
It’s an understatement to say that Wonder Woman wouldn’t be what she is today without Karen Berger. Her influence on the early years of the new series, along with the many creators she’s shepherded through Vertigo, have made a lasting impression on the character. It’s said that she’s leaving DC and Vertigo, but it’ll be exciting to see what fantastic things she does next!!