And so we’ve come to the magnificent, extremely fabulous elephant in the room. No other comic character is quite so engaging, and yet completely ridiculous, than Wonder Woman. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that she may be the hardest character to get “right”
in terms of character and tone, simply because there really isn’t any “right” with her. To some, she’s an example of an extremely misogynistic period in American history. To others, she’s an example of post-feminist 21st century pop culture. To other others, she’s just a hot chick that likes to tie guys up. I think the character can work, and in recent decades there have been some interesting Wonder Woman stories. But there’s also been some very bad ones. Here’s my 2 cents:
1 – She works better alone. Her story, and the story of the Amazons don’t fit that well into the modern DC era. Don’t get me wrong, there should be lots of magic and epic storytelling in a Wonder Woman book. I just think that the character becomes less interesting when you try to make her a traditional “super-hero”. I really liked Greg Rucka’s “Ambassador Oprah” (my words, not his) take on the character, where she is legitimately trying to change the culture of the world we live in, as opposed to just beating up bank robbers. The minute she becomes part of the JLA, or the traditional hero culture, it diminishes the character.
2 – She’s too powerful. Although J. Michael Straczynski’s recent reboot of the character proved quite controversial, the one thing he did get right is to tone down the power levels, and to build up her more militaristic tendencies. She should be DC’s version of Captain America, but in recent years she’s become nothing more than Superman with a vagina. The problem with that, is that DC already has a Superman with a vagina. His name is Superman.
3 – One of my favourite memories as a comic book fan was sitting in the audience of a panel at San Diego Comic Con, and listening with bemusement as an angry fan stood up and in a shaky voice complained to Dan Didio (DC big wig) about how DC wasn’t paying enough attention to how Wonder Woman’s costume looked from issue to issue. Seriously. He has the undivided attention of one of the most powerful people in comics and the topic he wants to discuss is how many stars Wonder Woman has on her panties. If fashion is your reason for liking comic books, you need to rethink your obsessions. Also, if you joined any type of online group opposing Wonder Woman’s recent costume change, you have no life, and I hope that you die a horrible death caused by burrowing Ceti eels.
Wonder Woman – The Naive Schoolgirl Years (Gods & Mortals, Challenge Of The Gods, Beauty And The Beasts, Destiny Calling)
We’ve talked before about Crisis On Infinite Earths, and how DC used that opportunity to “reboot” a lot of characters that were in need of a refresh. No character benefited from the reboot as much as Wonder Woman did, and George Perez’ run on the book is regarded as a golden age in Wonder Woman comic books. From a character perspective, I would agree. Perez (and the many talented co-writers and artists he collaborated with) had a clear vision on who Wonder Woman was, what her new motivations were, and how she would fit into the DCU. From a plotting perspective, it’s a little weak. It’s quite often overly dense, with far too much story in a relatively short period of time. That being said, this run is still well worth your time and money. George Perez’ art is absolutely stunning, and I don’t think that the Wonder Woman character has ever been as charming or likeable as when he was running her book. He also made Greek mythology more important to her mythos than ever before, and that rule has stuck with the book ever since.
Wonder Woman – The “Did Anyone Else Notice That There’s A Lot Of Naked Chicks On That Island?” Years (The Contest, Lifelines, Second Genesis)
I probably shouldn’t group these together, as Lifelines and Second Genesis were written by John Byrne, and quite different in tone from The Contest, and in fact were written almost as a defiant response to The Contest.
The Contest was an attempt to modernize the concept of Wonder Woman a bit. The contest in question, is designed to determine who will be the new representative of Paradise Island. A new, extremely unlikable and uninteresting character called Artemis won, and Diana was ordered to trade in her tiara for a black leather jacket (Oh, the ’90’s. I’m surprised they didn’t give her claws and a cigar to smoke while they were at it). Although not a bad story, Mike Deodato’s (who would eventually grow into one of my favourite superhero pencillers) anatomically unbelievable art makes this difficult to take seriously. It’s essentially a cheap way for DC to pack panel after panel of half-naked women into a comic book. And not good-looking half-naked women either. Again, this is Deodato in his formative years, and so every character looks exactly the same, with breasts the size of mutant watermelons, and thighs thicker than Elton John’s head. It comes across as sleazy, and not at all in keeping with Perez’ vision of the book.
After The Contest’s failed attempt at modernization, DC brought John Byrne to the book, in an effort to bring back some of the class that the book had lost. Class he brought. Good comics he didn’t. Although I know this run is loved by some fans, I found it to be quite dull, even though Byrne has some pretty big events befall Wonder Woman and the Amazons. First of all, Byrne does the inking on his art himself, which is never a good thing, and really makes it hard to remember that at one point he was one of the most popular pencillers in the game. Secondly, Byrne turned this into just another superhero book. In fact, you could have put Superman, or Captain America, or even Batman into a lot of the stories here with very little change. Thirdly, Byrne’s attempt at making Darkseid into Diana’s number one villain seemed forced, and rushed. A villain like Darkseid should be used sparingly, but with major buildup. All in all, although I admire Byrne’s efforts here, his run has to be considered a disappointment.
Wonder Woman – The “I Can’t Believe She Just Squirted Poison In Her Eye To Win A Fight” Years (Paradise Lost, Paradise Found, Down To Earth, Eyes Of The Gorgon, Land Of The Dead, Mission’s End, The Hiketia)
This is my personal favourite run of Wonder Woman, and it’s one that I think was cut short before it had a chance to fully develop. It started with Phil Jimenez’ intensely personal and reverential take on Diana, and continued with Greg Rucka’s well-plotted, yet absolutely action packed version. The Wonder Woman as written here is probably the most fully realized she’s ever been in regards to character development. She’s the world’s greatest warrior, but most importantly she’s the world’s most reluctant one as well. Although her pacifism is still a high priority, Rucka removes the naiveté that the character has often possessed in recent years, and replaces it with an optimism that serves her well. There’s also a lot of mythological action, and Rucka does his level best to turn Wonder Woman into the baddest bad-ass character in the DCU. He also gives her the most interesting supporting cast she’s had since the Perez years. Special mention should go to Jimenez’s sweet Wonder Woman and Lois Lane bonding story from Secret Origins 2, and Rucka and J.G. Jones wonderful The Hiketia, which is one of my favourite contemporary Wonder Woman comics.
Wonder Woman – The “What Were They Thinking?” Years. (Who Is Wonder Woman, Love and Murder, Amazons Attack)
So because Rucka’s run was both popular and critically acclaimed, it made perfect sense for DC to remove all of the great work he had done with the character and reboot it from scratch. The premise here is that Wonder Woman had removed herself too much from humanity, and that since she didn’t really know who she was anymore, decided to take up a secret identity. Quick note: If you’re ever deciding to take a break from being a super-hero ambassador goddess in order to regain your lost humanity, becoming a Bondish Super Spy for a secret paramilitary organization specializing in supernatural occurrences MIGHT not be your best bet. Long story short, this was an extremely misguided attempt at “fixing” a character that really didn’t need fixing. It’s poorly written, not even remotely in keeping with character continuity, and barely enjoyable. The art by Terry Dodson is fun, but not enough to hide the run’s other faults.
Wonder Woman – The “Too Little, Too Late” Years (The Circle, Ends Of The Earth, Rise Of The Olympian, Warkiller, and Contagion).
So since the character had been completely devalued by delays and poor storytelling, DC finally went to the writer that they should have gone to in the first place, Gail Simone. When Simone took over the book, the feeling was that she was finally going to make Wonder Woman into the A list hero that DC had been telling us she was for decades. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. While it’s a good run, with some very readable stories, they never really clicked with the mainstream comic book audience. I’m not really sure why. While Simone has had great success with rebuilding damaged DC characters before, it’s possible that Wonder Woman was too much of a sacred cow for Simone to really do anything drastic with. Simone is at her best when left in her own little corner of the DCU. The Wonder Woman character by definition is extremely high-profile, and so Simone’s stories come across as readable, enjoyable, but extremely safe.
Next up: The odds and ends of DC: Final Night, Several different Crisis’, WW3, New Frontier, 52, Kingdom Come, and others.