This is a story that’s been kicking around for a number of years now, and yet, despite the fact that the pencils for this job are complete, it’s never been finished or published officially. It’s a short 10-page Wonder Woman adventure produced in the late 1970s, and if nothing else, it gives us the rare opportunity to take a look at the uninked penciled pages of DC backbone artist Curt Swan. Swan’s work was always top flight, but the end product often varied depending on who was doing the inking. If you put a Murphy Anderson or a Bob Oksner over Swan, you’d get magic. Whereas a Vince Colletta would kill the pencils. Accordingly, fan opinions of Swan’s work tend to run the gamut. So here’s an opportunity to look at what he did without any filters.
Well, that is apart from the opening pages, which were penciled by John Rosenberger. This job was apparently still on Rosenberger’s drawing table at the time of his death, and so it was handed over to Swan to complete.
There’s some disagreement concerning where this short story was intended to run. Some think that it was being done for ADVENTURE COMICS when that series went to the Dollar Comics format, but that doesn’t entirely track for me. No, this feels more of a piece with the earlier Julie Schwartz-edited era on the amazing amazon’s title. It has the flavor of a Schwartz-edited job somehow. The three-panel sequence on this page showing Diana using her lasso to change into her star-spangled costume was a bit that Julie and his creators repeated ad infinitum during their tenure.
No, I think the more likely explanation is the other one I’ve seen offered up: that this story was being done for a special anti-drug comic book that somehow never got completed. There’s a similarly unpublished Batman story from this era of the same length and with a strong anti-drug message, so I’m inclined to think that they were both for the same unfulfilled project.
The story was written by Denny O’Neil, who was Schwartz’s go-to guy at a certain point for stories with a message behind them. He had already produced the famous GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW drug issues with artist Neal Adams, so he would have been a natural fit for an anti-drug special assignment.
So why didn’t this job ever get completed? My guess is that the short length was one factor in that outcome. After the anti-drug project fell apart, you couldn’t make this story a whole issue of WONDER WOMAN–even in the 1970s, you’d need to include a back-up story as well. And it doesn’t quite fit properly into ADVENTURE COMICS or WORLD’S FINEST COMICS either, both of which carried shorter Wonder Woman tales at separate points. More crucially, the status quo of Wonder Woman in this story–working for the United Nations–was one that went away after the Wonder Woman television series became popular and her adventures were switched to a World War Two setting. So it may simply have been out of tune with what was wanted from Wonder Woman stories at that point. And thereafter, it may have been forgotten about entirely.
And to be honest, it’s not a great story. But it is a good one, solidly crafted in the manner of a lot of DC’s output in the 1970s.Its events are basic and told in a straightforward manner that makes sure that every action any character takes is explicitly spelled out–not simply because htis was a story likely intended for relatively young readers given its anti-drug message, but because that was very much the ethos of DC during that decade.
And it has to be said that Curt Swan could draw just about anything, but he was especially good with emotion, as in the case of Mitzi’s face in Panel 5 on this page. There was a wonderful subtlety to Swan’s work–subtlety isn’t a quality that is routinely cherished in comic books, especially super hero titles, where artists are much more often judged on their ability to depict bombast and destruction (and maybe the prettiness of their people.) Swan’s work always felt classy and reserved compared to a lot of his contemporaries.