Before he created so many of the Archie Comics characters we all know and love today, Bob Montana was just a kid at Haverhill High in Massachusetts, his first permanent home after a childhood spent traveling America with his family. He loved Haverhill so much that when he was asked to do a teen comedy comic book feature a few years after he graduated, he used Haverhill as the inspiration for Riverdale and his characters. And now, tomorrow night I’ll be talking about two of Montana’s most famous creations, Betty and Veronica, in an online Zoom talk for the Buttonwoods Museum in Haverhill, MA, and you can come!
My talk will be based on my book Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale, and I’ll trace the history of the characters from their Haverhill inspirations to their early stories to various reinventions over the decades, all the way to the modern day. Things will be weighted more to the past than the present, on account of it’s a museum and it seems fitting to spend more time in the early decades that everyone might be less familiar with, but we’ll cover their entire history.
Betty and Veronica are fascinating characters, and this talk will allow you to see a lot of the comic stories I mentioned in the book but couldn’t show. The presentation is chock full of old panels, and we do a deep dive on some of my favourite outings. If anything, the visuals are worth tuning in for alone, and you can just enjoy all of the cool art while I blather away in a small box to the side. I’m very excited to get to show these classic stories that made such an impact on how Betty and Veronica evolved over the years!
I started collecting Toy Biz’s Lord of the Rings toys as soon as they hit shops, over a month before the movie’s release. I’d read the entire trilogy for the first time the summer before and absolutely loved the books, and the movie looked so cool that I spent all of my birthday money that fall on collecting the fellowship. I got Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas right way, then got Boromir (and Lurtz, in a two-pack!) for Christmas. Strider proved elusive. That one was hard to find, and I finally got it years later when it was re-released. I’d accumulated several Aragorns in the meantime, though.
The line was unlike anything I’d ever seen from action figures before. I had a huge Star Trek figure collection, and while they were awesome, they weren’t exactly the most detailed or poseable. Toy Biz’s Lord of the Rings figures were both, with realistic, textured clothing and weapons, amazing sculpts, and they were so well articulated that I could set them up and recreate my favourite movie scenes. The initial wave was great, and the line only grew better and more comprehensive with each passing movie. Then the movies ended, and Toy Biz kept making new action figures for another two years! I collected them all the while, ultimately amassing in the ballpark of half of the nearly 150 different figures they released.
My article looks at the creation and impact of the line, using the fact that Toy Biz made THIRTEEN different Frodos as a jumping off point to explore the company’s fantastically over the top commitment to scope and detail. As the opening paragraph explains, Frodo only wore ONE outfit for the bulk of the trilogy! And still they made thirteen distinct versions of him. Toy Biz was hardcore, and their dedication and innovation changed the game. You can trace a direct line from the Lord of the Rings line to action figure behemoths like Hasbro’s Marvel Legends and Star Wars‘ Black Series.
Plus, the figures were just awesome, and awesomeness deserves to be celebrated.
Check out the article, and if you’re interested in learning more about the line I highly recommend the Lords of the Rings Toy Archive. They’ve got tons of information, along with a huge database of all the different action figures. If you’re a toy nerd at all, it’s really fun to explore the impressive breadth of the line and learn even more about these fantastic figures.
I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but it’s going to be really hard. Spoilers are terrible of course, and I can discuss my feelings about the film without them. I’m not wrapped up in the specifics of the movie here, so much as the general confoundingness of it all. But there is one thing, one spoiler, that makes me want to scream to the heavens. It’s the thing they hang the movie on, a thing so silly and poorly explained and yet it drives the entire film. A $200 million tentpole movie revolves around that? And no one thought to say, “Are you sure about this?” Until the day I die I will never understand why they decided on such a bizarre framework for this film.
Such was my general experience with Wonder Woman 1984: Utter confusion. It’s not a movie that makes a lot of sense, narratively, visually, or otherwise. And the more you try to understand it, the less sense it makes. The plot is there to take you from one big set piece to another, though very slowly. This is a long movie that takes it sweet time, needlessly. But in moving from set piece to set piece, no one seemed to stop and consider if any of it made a lick of sense. Unfortunately, it does not.
There are several fundamental problems with the film, the most disappointing of which is Wonder Woman herself. From the trailers, we know that Steve is somehow back and that Diana is elated, even though sixty-six years have passed. Sixty-six years in which she could have moved on, met other people, fought a different world war, experienced personal growth of any kind. But between the Snyder films (Batman v Superman especially) and the trailer here, we know that’s not the case, and sadly Wonder Woman 1984 embraces Diana’s relentless pining. It’s a bad look that leads to some bad decisions, all because she can’t get over a boy she spent a week with one time. I love Chris Pine too, and I love love, but Diana’s inability to move on after so many decades is embarrassing. There’s more to life than boys, and Wonder Woman of all people should know that. She is alone as the movie begins, friendless and still heartsick, seemingly having done little to help the world over the last several decades. That’s not who Wonder Woman is, and the movie does little to rectify matters.
It also departs wildly from everything that worked about the first movie. Before Patty Jenkins showed up, Wonder Woman had never been involved in World War One, in the comics or anywhere else. That was a total invention for the film, a big swing that ultimately paid off well. They made the setting matter, grounded the characters in this new environment, and told a powerful, compelling story. Wonder Woman in No Man’s Land is such a brilliant idea, so beautifully executed. By borrowing existing concepts and mixing them together in new, interesting ways that felt real and true, the first film pulled off something remarkable.
All of that is upside down here. The setting is entirely arbitrary. This didn’t need to be set in 1984, or in the 1980s at all. It could be set now with a few tweaks and still be the same movie. There’s no necessary connection to the time period, no interesting allusion to Orwell. Just, the 1980s are fun! And rather than the gritty realism of the original’s 1918, they’ve gone for a garish pastiche of the 1980s that is painfully self-aware. I will say, the parachute pants joke is a hoot. Well played there. But otherwise, the setting feels like a vehicle for big hair and flashy outfits. The film has nothing to say about the period in which it exists, nor any reason to be there apart from aesthetics.
Even worse, Jenkins and company again borrow liberally from the larger Wonder Woman mythos, but nothing hangs together. Max Lord is unrecognizable and could’ve been an entirely new character. He’s more Dr. Psycho than Max Lord, really. We’ve got the invisible jet, but the hoops they had to jump through to do it, including a new superpower for Wonder Woman, deflate any impact. And Barbara becomes the Cheetah because Barbara is supposed to be the Cheetah, I guess? There are no real motivations, no intriguing reinventions of classic elements. Just a bunch of ideas haphazardly stuck together that fail to properly represent what came before or build something new and worthwhile.
The relationship with mythology is off as well. The first film doled it out deliberately, contrasting the fantastical home of the Amazons with the mundanity of the real world until the final battle. Wonder Woman was exceptional, but not necessarily magical before the finale. Here, it’s all magic all the time. It drives the entirety of the story, with only the barest connection to any mythological roots. Nothing feels tied to any particular character, least of all Wonder Woman. It’s a mystical free for all centered on an ill-explained MacGuffin haphazardly deployed throughout the movie.
Wonder Woman 1984 also fails technically. It doesn’t look good. The costumes are cool, at least, not 1984 per se but certainly a fun representation of our collective memory of the decade. Elsewhere, though, it’s rough. The action scenes are choppy and awkwardly put together, the occasional gorgeous image of Wonder Woman looking powerful and majestic undercut by the poor construction and mediocre CGI of the rest of the sequence. It also lacks a clear style and tone. An opening Amazon scene feels more like American Ninja Warrior. A mall caper is reminiscent of Home Alone in its slapstick antics.
And while I’m glad this film has moved on from Wonder Woman’s sword, its replacement is a bit of a mess. The lasso of truth feels untethered, utilized in ways that stretch believability even for a superhero movie. It behaves impossibly, almost as if it has a personality of its own, violating the laws of physics time and again to unintentionally comical effect. The lasso should be cool, and instead it comes off like a silly gimmick. And yes, I realize it’s dumb to be irked by a magic rope, but it’s representative of a larger issue. The lasso isn’t thought through. It doesn’t have rules, or a specific purpose, or any consistency. It just does what they want it to do in any given scene, as bombastically and over the top as possible. Such is the entire film, unfortunately.
The performances are uneven, largely because the actors were given a poor script to work with. I still think about lines from the first movie. I get chills every time I remember the weight, the sorrow, the anger of “Where I come from, generals don’t hide in their offices like cowards. They fight alongside their soldiers. They die with them on the battlefield!” It’s so cutting, so heartbreaking. There’s nothing like that here. All of the dialogue exists in service to moving along the plot, and the plot is ridiculous. The final act of the film even hinges on a dramatic speech, but it falls flat. I don’t remember a word of it now. The two hours of storytelling chaos that preceded it sapped all of the gravitas from the moment.
While Gal Gadot was born to play Wonder Woman, the pining and anguish take away from the power of the character. She has her moments, but they are few. Ditto for Chris Pine, whose wonder at the future is played up to corny lengths before all of the action takes over. Despite the long run time, the film never bothers to recapture Gadot and Pine’s original chemistry. Kristen Wiig is intriguing, and her transformation from wallflower to villainess plays out decently, but again the character lacks motivation. While Wiig does the best with what she’s given, the script falls short too often. And Pedro Pascal’s just having a blast chewing the scenery, going to town with his utterly nonsensical character.
In short, the movie’s a dang mess. The specifics of this film are ludicrous and believe me, I spent a lengthy chunk of last night talking over them with friends, utterly flabbergasted by the innumerable bizarre decisions that went into this film. My spoilery thoughts are legion. But the specifics aren’t what sinks Wonder Woman 1984. They are indicative of a deeper issue: The fundamentals of the film are deeply flawed. The broader approach to the characters and the mythos, the major decisions that shaped the minor ones, everything is askew. It lacks intentionality, a larger purpose, a clear vision. And it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of great talent on the screen and behind the scenes. I wanted to love this movie. I was pulling for it with all my heart even as I watched it go off the rails. Alas, it was terrible. Disappointingly, confoundingly terrible.
Okay, here’s the major spoiler that vexes me so…
LOOK AWAY, I’M GOING TO SPOIL A BIG THING!
Seriously, don’t keep reading if you haven’t seen the movie yet!
I MEAN IT!
All right, it’s just us. Here goes:
THIS IS A MOVIE ABOUT MAGIC WISHES?! FROM A MAGIC WISHING ROCK?! WHAT?! HOW?! WHY?!
First, know that I suffered for this. Enjoyably so, though. It was really fun to put this together! But so many favourites didn’t make the cut, and I’m still lingeringly sad about several of them. Second, this sort of list is also meant to be an introduction for new readers. That means it’s half a “best of,” half key moments and important elements of the mythos, so we’re serving a couple of purposes here.
That being said, I think it’s a pretty solid list! I’d gladly recommend any of these books, for general excellence and/or importance to the character. We’ve got all the big stuff, of course. Marston and Peter’s original Wonder Woman, Rucka and Scott’s Year One, the landmark Pérez run, Simone’s beloved tenure. There are also great historical moments, some well known like the first appearance of Nubia in the 1970s and “The Contest” that made Artemis Wonder Woman in the 1990s, and some lesser known gems like DC’s first all-female team up “Judgment in Infinity” from 1982.
I managed to sneak in a few of my recent faves as well. I think Fontana, Andolfo, and Messina’s Heart of the Amazon was super fun and a great showcase for Etta, so that’s there. I also love Wilson and Nord’s recent team up of Wonder Woman and Giganta, so that’s there too. And DC Comics Bombshells. OF COURSE DC Comics Bombshells! Bennett and her amazing artists turned a bunch of pin-up covers into one of the best series of the past decade! I still miss that book.
As for my much lamented faves that didn’t make the cut, here’s a quick list for extra reading:
Wonder Woman: Dead Earth – Daniel Warren Johnson’s recent Black Label book is so brutal and beautiful. I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, the “Multiverse” section was packed and it just missed the cut!
Kingdom Come and Spirit of Truth – Also cut for the same reason, I had these books on my early list for Alex Ross’ gorgeous art. He’s just so good.
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia – Wonder Woman vs. Batman makes for a compelling read here, but I had so much Rucka already. His entire first run on Wonder Woman was on the maybe list from the get-go, too.
Wonder Woman: Twelve Labors – As much as Wonder Woman having to prove herself to rejoin the Justice League in the 1970s isn’t a great premise, there are so many cool team ups and fun stories from some of the marquee creators of this era here.
Smallville: Olympus– Dang, I loved this story. Bryan Q. Miller introduced Diana brilliantly in a new and compelling way, and the art from not-yet-a-superstar Jorge Jimenez is fantastic. Such a cool read.
So yeah, check out the list and sound off in the comments with your thoughts! I’m sure a lot of you will disagree with where I landed, and that’s half the fun.
With Wonder Woman 1984 set to hit theaters (and streaming in some countries) on Christmas Day, I had the pleasure of writing an article for Polygon on the state of Wonder Woman in the 1980s. The issue that would’ve been available in comics shops in December 1984 was Wonder Woman #323, and coincidentally it featured several folks we’re about to see in the movie: Wonder Woman, of course, but also Steve Trevor and the Cheetah! So I used that issue as a jumping off point to discuss where the book was as a whole.
In short, it was a continuity mess. Four decades of stories, along with a rotating series of creators with big new takes for the flailing title over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, had made things nigh incomprehensible. Check out the article to see all the details, but suffice it to say Wonder Woman was a poster child for why DC decided to clean up it’s continuity in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
But good news was on the horizon, with George Pérez stepping in to reboot the series in 1987 and start a new era of creative excellence for the Amazing Amazon. The Pérez era would go down as a classic run, and inspire future Wonder Woman stories for generations to come, including Wonder Woman 1984!
Marvel’s post-lockdown ramp up continues to be surprisingly slow. They were cranking out nearly a hundred books a month before the virus shut everything down, and they’re just a little over half that currently, with fewer books this month than last. Female and non-binary creator representation has been even slower to bounce back, with several titles exiled to digital only and some books still in limbo waiting to return, but October looks to be a small step in the right direction. Let’s dig into who’s doing what at Marvel this October:
Tini Howard: Excalibur #13 (writer), X of Swords: Stasis #1 (co-writer)
Valentina Remenar: Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #5 (cover)
Vita Ayala: Marauders #13 (writer)
All together, there are 17 different female and non-binary creators scheduled to work on 16 different books at Marvel in October, four fewer creators than in September on four more books. So that about evens out. Plus, we anticipated that the creator numbers would drop after last month’s Giant-SizeX-Men one-shot with scores of artists each drawing a page. That boosted the September total considerably. What’s more encouraging is the growth from 10 books in August to 12 in September to 16 now. Marvel’s output hasn’t increased that much, but we’re seeing better representation across the line.
The percentages bear this out. Marvel’s only releasing 54 books in October, two fewer than in September, and with female and non-binary creators on 16 of those books, we’ve got representation across 30% of the line. The percentages were a few points higher pre-hiatus, but 30% is a big jump from September’s 21%. We’re slowly getting closer to normal.
We don’t have any new creators this month, though, which isn’t a huge surprise. With a reduced slate and not a ton of new books across the line, Marvel seems to be keeping to their usual stable of creators right now. Hopefully this will open up a bit more if they return to their previous publishing levels.
In terms of new books, Champions is back! It was solicited a while back but delayed for obvious reasons, along with the “Outlawed” event it’s meant to tie into. It’s coming out in October now, giving us another book with Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, and that is always a good thing. The “X of Swords” event is in full swing this month as well, and while it’s mostly taking place in the ongoing X-titles there are a few one-shots here and there you should keep your eyes peeled for if you want to get the full scope of what all of the X-ladies are up to.
Overall, October is looking okay for female and non-binary creator representation at Marvel, at least relative to the past couple months. We’re not quite where we were pre-hiatus, but nothing is right now. It’s good to see growth even as Marvel keeps to a limited state, and ideally we’ll see commensurate gains should the line expand in the months to come. We’re also seeing a decent base of steady gigs holding solid through this process, which is encouraging. While this is superhero comics and it could all go off a cliff at anytime, representation looks to be improving little by little right now.
DC’s post-lockdown roll out (I almost called it a post-pandemic roll out, but no, we’re still firmly in the middle of all of that) got off to a slow start in terms of female and non-binary creator representation, but the numbers are finally trending upward. The only question is, for how long? This month’s numbers are buoyed by special issues rather than steady gigs, so the number of creators guaranteed to be back next month are few indeed. Let’s dig into it all as we take a look at who’s doing what at DC this October:
Alyssa Wong: DC The Doomed and the Damned #1 (co-writer)
Nik Virella: Dark Nights: Death Metal Rise of the New God #1 (interior art)
Peach Momoko: Teen Titans #46 (variant cover)
Rachel Dodson: Batgirl #50 (variant cover)
Robin Eisenberg: Wonder Woman 1984 #1 (variant cover)
Vita Ayala: Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween Spectacular #1 (co-writer)
All together, there are 22 different female and non-binary creators set to work on 17 different books at DC in October, eight more creators and six more books than in September. These are solid gains, if perhaps momentary. In terms of the line as a whole, DC’s putting out 49 books in October, just one more than last month, and with female and non-binary creators on 17 of them we’ve got representation across 35% of the line. This is a huge jump from September’s 23%, making this the best month we’ve seen in some time.
But the list above does not inspire long term confidence. October has several one-shots with various special and tie-ins on the docket, plus the usual assortment of variant covers. Batgirl is also wrapping up its run, so the creators on the big final issue aren’t locks to be back either. Taking all of those issues into account, 15 of the 22 female and non-binary creators in this round of solicits don’t have ongoing gigs. So seven of these creators should be back next month, for sure, but everyone else is up in the air. Some of them will be back, most likely, but how many is the big question mark.
In terms of new creators, the Wonder Woman 1984 special has been resolicited and Anna Obropta and Robin Eisenberg can now make their DC debuts. Alyssa Wong’s done a bunch of work at Marvel, but she seems to be making her first appearance at DC in the Doomed and Damned holiday spooktacular, and we’ve got Katana Collins writing Batman: White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn.
That title is the only new book with a female lead this month, as the White Knight universe continues to grow for reasons I can’t fathom. Collins has written several romance novels, so that could be an interesting background to bring to the series. She’s plotting the book with her husband Sean Murphy, though, who has proven to be not the best writer through all of his other White Knight books. They sell, though, so some folks must like them. I don’t know. Also, with Batgirl wrapping up we’re net neutral in terms of female-led series. Hopefully this is just a pause, and we’ll get a new Batgirl book soon. Preferably with a better costume. I miss the Batgirl of Burnside so much.
Overall, the numbers for female and non-binary creators at DC look solid for October, though only for October. Hopefully a lot of these names will be back in November, with a bunch of new ones too, but this month is awash with one-time gigs and that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for the future. I’m eager for DC to prove my skepticism wrong, though! Time will tell.