‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Wonder Woman, by Stan Lee and Jim Lee 6.5
I’ve never had much interest in Wonder Woman. My first exposure to her was through Lynda Carter, who filled that sexy suit nicely. The show sucked, and the comics weren’t really any better. At least at the time. I like the notion that Wonder Woman is an Amazon, but I never really understood how this tied in to her being Caucasian, dressed garishly, using a lasso as her chief weapon and flying an invisible jet. She’s always been a mystery to me.
Stan Lee’s Wonder Woman is rooted in Peruvian mythology. She is human, but she becomes empowered by the staff of Manco Cápac, which she finds in an archeological dig in the former mountainous city of Cuzno. With this power, Maria Mendoza seeks to stop Armando Guitez, a rich treasure hunter who is desecrating her country’s sacred ground for a profit and who gets his hands on evil runes that make him even more powerful than ever.
Her father, who is Santa Atalaya’s official judge, has cowardly allowed Guitez to take advantage of the locals and to break laws in order to protect his daughter, who lost her mother when she was just a baby. His rationale: by being friends with the enemy, she is safe. Duh. Naturally, Guitez has his eye on the daughter and plans to have her too. Suddenly, after years of servitude, Mendoza’s father opposes Guitez – who promptly murders him.
In cold blood.
Mendoza, now transformed into a Sun Goddess, chases the newly-empowered Guitez to Los Angeles to get revenge and, after a protracted battle that the locals write off as a monster flick being filmed, she decides to remain there. Naturally. Even though she could easily return home. So she gets a job working as a publisher’s assistant at the National Exposer, who is trying to find this Sun Goddess again, whom he’s branded Wonder Woman.
It’s all very mundane and contrived, but at least it’s not nearly as bad as the Batman one. Still it’s not stellar writing and you really have to wonder about Mendoza staying in L.A. What would be her motivation? The art makes up for it all, though: Jim Lee is one of the better artists of his generation and the book looks really good, enlivening the script. His version of Wonder Woman, all white and gold, is absolutely breathtaking.
Although I love the character design, I’m not so sure about her powers, which seem forced to echo the original’s. She can fly, she has super strength (and, presumably, endurance, speed and invulnerability, although this isn’t specifically established). She has a staff and a shield (which shoots out energy strands she can turn into cable – instead of a lasso). The staff transforms into a bracelet when she’s in her human form.
I’m not especially attached to the Wonder Woman character, so I didn’t mind this reinvention. But it didn’t seem particularly original or different. Perhaps that was the point, so that fans don’t feel too alienated. However, it left me indifferent. Thankfully, the book looks amazing, thanks to the artwork, and this makes it a fun read. But I really don’t see much future in this character, who feels somewhat bland/generic in some ways.
Still, it’s an improvement over ‘Just Imagine… Batman’.
On the street: This short bit at the end of the book, which was written by Michael Uslan and Stan Lee, is slightly incomprehensible. There’s a white light that is healing the sick, replacing despair with hope, stripping ill will from the criminal elements of Los Angeles. What is it? How is it doing this? And why would we need any superheroes anymore if this white light is changing everything for the better? Who knows?
But, before we get any answers, we then go to a museum where Diana and Carter Prince receive (from their Cuzco contact Steve Trevor, who died protecting Maria Mendoza) two ancient runes that look like hawk heads. Diana says that these runes could allow them to become a hawk-man and hawk-woman. Of course they do. Sigh… it’s all so very contrived and poorly-established. It’s a real stink nugget at the end of an otherwise passable book.
Next week: Superman!