In recognition of Wonder Woman’s 50th anniversary in 1991, DC published the four-issue War of the Gods over a three-month period. Also touted as the crossover event of 1991, War of the Gods (working title: Holy Wars) was the climactic culmination of George Perez’s very successful revamp of the post-Crisis On Infinite Earths Wonder Woman. The story depicted an epic battle between the Greek gods and their Roman counterparts as provoked by Circe, arguably Wonder Woman’s greatest nemesis. Other gods of various pantheons around the world (and a distant planet!) appeared and garnered more exposure in the selected tie-in titles. The series is remembered as something of a mess, disjointed and muddled in places (pretty much a crossover given), with a few key chapters unidentified on the covers of the series and crossover-related titles, and some chapters published in the wrong order. There are even two Chapter 19s. However, War of the Gods is certainly not impossible to enjoy. Once I got past the publishing miscues I found it an overall creative success. In the wake of this summer’s Amazons Attack! debacle and the critical drubbing that has fallen upon it, perhaps War of the Gods deserves a reassessment. What follows is its chapter order along with comments sprinkled throughout to give you a better idea why the reader at that time (myself included) had difficulty adhering to its progression, and why I feel you might get a kick out of reading it now.
Chapter 1: War of the Gods #1. September, 1991 (released in July). Big set-up issue. It’s a vast stage to set, but there’s no doubt that there was some thought given to how it would unfold over the course of twenty-five comics. At story’s end, it is noted that the war continues in Wonder Woman #58, Superman: The Man of Steel #3, Hawkworld #15, Starman #38, L.E.G.I.O.N. ’91 #31, Captain Atom #56, Doctor Fate #32, Flash #55, and War of the Gods #2. Three upcoming chapters leading into War of the Gods #2 — Hawk & Dove #28, Wonder Woman #59, and Doctor Fate #33 — are not listed.
There is also a visually helpful hint on the covers to let you know it’s a War of the Gods-related book, and that’s a lightning bolt in the upper left-hand corner. However, it doesn’t appear on the covers of Captain Atom #56 and Justice League Europe #31.
Chapter 2: Wonder Woman #58. September, 1991 (released in July). Atlas’ plight and scheme are worth the price of admission. In the letters column, it’s noted that War of the Gods continues in Superman: The Man of Steel #3, Hawkworld #15, Starman #38, L.E.G.I.O.N. ’91 #31, Captain Atom #56, and Dr. Fate #32. The reader is also invited to join DC next month for War of the Gods #2 and Wonder Woman #59. No mention of Flash #55 and Doctor Fate #33, and still no mention of Hawk & Dove #28.
Chapter 3: Superman: The Man of Steel #3. September, 1991 (released in July). Phobos, god of terror, sets his sights on destroying Superman, and awakens Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent-god, to do the grunt work.
Chapter 4: Hawkworld #15. September, 1991 (released in July). Old Thanagarian artifacts are activated by members of the Celae, Thanagarian gods who have possessed attendees of a museum party. Also possessed is Shayera Thal, Hawkwoman. Circumstances lead to the Hawk’s first meeting with Wonder Woman. I know what you’re thinking. Five years into the post-Crisis DC universe, and the Hawks and Wonder Woman are just now meeting up? What about Invasion? Trust me, it’s a long, complicated story.
Chapter 5: Starman #38. September, 1991 (released in July). Achilles, Greek hero with the vulnerable heel, comes to Phoenix, Arizona, answering the call of Helen of Troy. Actually, it’s not Helen, it’s Phantom Lady dressed as Helen doing a perfume commercial. Starman’s part in War of the Gods is the obligatory lighter moment that every cataclysmic crossover event demands, and it’s quite entertaining.
Chapter 6: L.E.G.I.O.N. ’91 #31. September, 1991 (released in July). Captain Marvel momentarily drops out of War of the Gods onto Lobo’s back while the “Main Man” is having a drink at a bar. The obligatory fight scene ensues, although Captain Marvel gets brownie points for trying to avoid it. The Captain returns to War of the Gods, but unknown to him Lobo is in hot pursuit and will soon be making his annoying presence throughout the crossover event.
Chapter 7: Hawk & Dove #28. October, 1991 (released in August). While not listed as a War of the Gods tie-in, the chapter number is clearly indicated on the cover. Hank (Hawk) Hall gets a happy ending in this final issue of the series, and then immediately undergoes a bad new beginning over in Armageddon 2001. Take into account that with an October cover date, H&D #28 probably was probably released out of sequence a month later.
The reason Hawk & Dove #28 was out of sequence probably had to do with Armageddon 2001. This was DC’s other big crossover event of 1991, beginning in Armageddon 2001 #1, running through a dozen annuals, and finishing up in Armageddon 2001 #2. Every clue and indication pointed to Monarch, the villain of the series, being revealed as Captain Atom. But then DC changed its mind and Monarch became Hank (Hawk) Hall. So both Captain Atom and Hawk’s adventures in their respective titles had to play out before Armageddon 2001 #2 was released in August. So Captain Atom #56 and 57 (the final issues) couldn’t be released concurrently with Armageddon 2001 #2 (Monarch Big Reveal Option #1), and Hawk & Dove #28’s release was probably tweaked to coincide with the publishing of Armageddon 2001 #2 (Monarch Big Reveal Option #2). This complicated the scheduling of their tie-ins with War of the Gods. Not even a Superboy-Prime punch was capable of fixing this!
Chapter 8: Captain Atom #56. August, 1991 (released in June). Noted at the end of War of the Gods #1 as a tie-in book, there is no chapter number printed on the cover. It also carries an August cover date, meaning it was released at least a week before War of the Gods started. Still, it’s a tie-in, with the creation of a “dark and angry god,” Shadowstorm,” who also makes his presence known in War of the Gods #2.
Chapter 9: Doctor Fate #32. September, 1991 (released in July). The female Dr. Fate and Wonder Woman battle the oldest of Egyptian gods. Then it’s on to War of the Gods #2 and Animal Man #40, which definitely throws Doctor Fate #33 out of sequence, as you’ll soon see.
Chapter 10: Flash #55. October, 1991 (released in August). Hermes, the swiftest Greek god, versus Mercury, the swiftest Roman god, with Flash, the fastest human, caught in the middle. Perfect tie-in sense.
Chapter 11: Wonder Woman #59. October, 1991 (released in August). War of the Gods occurred at a time when Wonder Woman and the Amazons were not on good terms with America (Wonder Woman had even been accused of murder!). I’d have to go back a few issues to refresh my memory. So Diana Prince knows she’s on sensitive ground here in requesting Batman’s aid to help her in the holy war. But Batman sees through the friction and both he and Robin join her cause.
Chapter 12: Doctor Fate #33. October, 1991 (released in August). How two issues of Doctor Fate ran ahead of War of the Gods #2 is beyond me, but it is kind of muddled because in this issue’s letters column you’re advised to next read War of the Gods #3, but War of the Gods #2 is the very next chapter. Aren’t you glad somebody took the time to make sense of all this?
Chapter 13: War of the Gods #2. October, 1991 (released in August). As with issue one, at story’s end it’s mentioned that the war continues, this time in Justice League Europe #31, Batman #470, Hawkworld #16, Animal Man #40, Suicide Squad #58, and War of the Gods #3. No mention of Wonder Woman #60. Also, a couple of asterisks can be seen at the end of dialogue balloons in this story, but no footnotes are cited (they would have been helpful in tying events to Captain Atom #56 and Justice League Europe #31).
Chapter 14: Justice League Europe #31. October, 1991 (released in August). There is no chapter number on the cover and there is no reference to War of the Gods inside, and that is surprising because this issue picks up directly from War of the Gods #2 as the Justice League arrives to help fellow members Ice and Fire battle Norse gods Thor and Loki. But officially, this is the sixth chapter of “Break Downs,” a more “subdued” crossover that only ran in Justice League Europe and Justice League America. The woman on the cover with the suitcases and the cat and the yellow and white costume is Power Girl. Honest, really.
Despite some assertions, Justice League America #55 is not Chapter 13.5 in War of the Gods, unless you consider Ice being summoned home, followed by Fire, for a confrontation she and the reader aren’t even aware of yet an official tie-in. I think that’s pushing it.
Chapter 15: Batman #470. October, 1991 (released in August). Three degrees of god-related separation: Maxie Zeus believes he’s the ruler of the Greek gods, and he’s a foe of Batman, and Batman is a participant in War of the Gods, and therefore this tie-in makes sense.
Chapter 16: Hawkworld #16. October, 1991 (released in August). Hawkwoman versus Wonder Woman for the first time, but only for a little while. They make up, and the Hawks aid Diana in her quest to reach Hermes.
Chapter 17: Animal Man #40. October, 1991 (released in August). Dr. Fate and the Phantom Stranger wait at a gas station for Buddy Baker. But Buddy’s not ready yet to play his role in War of the Gods. First, he must deal with a bunch of bear-killers near the town of Rosewood, a name which should be very familiar to Swamp Thing fans.
Chapter 18: Captain Atom #57. September, 1991 (released in July). Another out of synch chapter, aligned with the October-dated tie-ins, but published a month before. This is the final issue, and the reader is encouraged to follow Captain Atom’s destiny in the pages of Armageddon 2001 #2, which would go on sale in August. As noted earlier, it wasn’t Captain Atom’s destiny that was taking a tragic turn, but Hank Hall’s.
Chapter 19: Suicide Squad #58. October, 1991 (released in August). Black Adam coerces Amanda Waller to have the Suicide Squad aid him in attacking Circe’s stronghold in the Amazon rain forest, where she is surrounded by her powerful beastiamorph servants. First and last appearance of The Writer, writer John Ostrander’s brilliant tribute to Grand Morrison’s use of himself in Animal Man.
Chapter 19 (but really 20): Wonder Woman #60. November, 1991 (released in September). So if this book is numbered Chapter 19, and Suicide Squad #58 is numbered 19, how does one know which is the real Chapter 19, and the other actually Chapter 20? By the cover date. Suicide Squad #58 is cover-dated October, and Wonder Woman #60 is cover-dated November, so it was released after Suicide Squad, but before War of the Gods #3. Fortunately. Or it would have been even messier.
Chapter 21: War of the Gods #3. November, 1991 (released in September). Wherein the Phantom Stranger tells Animal Man, “You have your part to play in this convoluted drama — and I have mine.” You see? This series was meant to be convoluted! Case in point: There is no chapter number on the cover. There is no mention of tie-in books leading up to War of the Gods #4 (The Demon #17, The New Titans #81, and Wonder Woman #61). With this installment, the reader was on his own in figuring out the series’ progression. Thankfully, there wasn’t much left to progress with.
Chapter 22: The Demon #17. November, 1991 (released in September). After much deliberation with myself I’ve decided that a Spoiler Warning sixteen years on isn’t really necessary, but you have been warned. Wonder Woman dies at the end of War of the Gods #3 (actually, she devolves into clay). As her spiritual essence rises from her body to be claimed by, well, I’m not exactly sure who claims it as all her gods are at war with one another, the mischievous Klarion the Witchboy (looking nothing like the Klarion in Seven Soldiers: Klarion) zaps her essence to Hades, setting up her encounter with The Demon.
Chapter 23: The New Titans #81. November, 1991 (released in September). Pariah is fated to appear on the eve of destruction of any given universe, but this time around he’s happy because Circe is on the verge of destroying all creation, replacing it with a new New Olympus, and with that in effect Pariah can claim the peace he has not had for millions of years. I want to feel sorry for the guy, but his constant crying and whining and dark eye shadow and lousy costume drives me nuts! Nice pencil work by Curt Swan, though.
Chapter 24: Wonder Woman #61. January, 1992 (released in November). The super-heroes rally after the death of Wonder Woman. This penultimate War of the Gods installment was delayed and actually released after War of the Gods #4. This is confirmed by the cover date.
Chapter 25: War of the Gods #4. December, 1991 (released in October). Wonder Woman returns to life and helps her fellow super-heroes in defeating Circe. The gods provide their input, and all is well, except for Pariah, but nothing good ever happens to Pariah. The end. Probably having learned some kind of lesson out of all this, DC would relegate its crossover events to its annuals for the next two years (Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Bloodlines).
Free mini-posters were included in all four issues of War of the Gods, illustrated by Chris Sprouse and George Perez. They feature all the major players in the story.
If you were a long-standing fan of the former Charlton hero Son of Vulcan, then you weren’t happy at all with the character’s final fate in War of the Gods.
Wasn’t that fun (even the Armageddon 2001 part)? Do I think Amazons Attack! could be as much fun sorting through and restructuring fifteen years down the line? Absolutely. It is one of the great, joyful insanities of long-time comics collecting, piecing particular crossover events together, especially the convoluted ones. Aided by the tools of perspective (and some detective work) they get a second chance (War of the Gods was certainly a more enjoyable reread for me today than when it first came out — I really appreciated the Old Wizard Shazam/Metal Men connection). And that may also encourage a lot of new readers to give them a first look. Keeping comics history alive is important, no matter how sprawling and unwieldy any crossover event can be!
P.S. Some bonus graphics:-
The first three are part of a DC trading card set that I believe came out in 1991 or 1992, and War of the Gods had three cards. You don’t see these around, so I thought it would be a nice touch to include them.
Also, I scanned in a house ad for War of the Gods.
Note that there is no list of crossover titles with the ad.
It was a tough series to keep track of!