Superman 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 device.

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 Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez, inked here by Dan Adkins in what was, along with Neal Adams' "Superman 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 device.

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 out.

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...