Wonder Woman: Where do You Start?
Now that Wonder Woman will be a central figure in the sequel to Man of Steel, where she will stand?
With the announcement that Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, Batman vs. Superman (they've gotta do something about that title), fans might be wondering where to start! We've got six Wonder Woman stories that should help familiarize new readers with Wonder Woman's adventures while we wait to see her on the big screen for the first time. With any luck, we'll see elements of these stories make their way into the film!
To fully understand who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for, one must experience the original Golden Age stories by writer Dr. William Moulton Marston (writing as Charles Moulton) and artist Harry G. Peter. While some stories from comics' Golden Age are clunky and hard to swallow by modern standards, that doesn't include Dr. Marstons’ work on Wonder Woman. Originally meant as a reaction to the budding male dominated superhero movement of the late '30s and early '40s, Wonder Woman turned early comic book gender expectations on their ear.
In this first volume, which reprints the first 240 pages worth of Wonder Woman stories from Sensation Comics, All-Star Comics, and her own title, the newly minted Wonder Woman journeys from her home of Paradise Island to fight Nazis, crush a black market milk trade, and fight to improve working conditions for female factory workers. The early Wonder Woman tales are a perfect dichotomy of innocence and naughtiness as they were seemingly meant for young readers but also had an undercurrent of bondage and sexual tension. Wonder Woman's creator was a well-known sexual adventurer who lived in an almost lifelong polyamorous relationship with two women...his own personal island of the Amazons. The stories are playful parodies of the superhero genre, but the foundation they set up was so effective that the modern Wonder Woman morphed into a feminine icon from these original fun tales. Without the stories in this volume, there would be no Wonder Woman and these wholly unique works need to be experienced to be believed.
When novelist Greg Rucka took over Wonder Woman, fans knew big changes were in store. What they didn't realize was that Rucka’s work would be so good as to redefine Marston’s creation for a new century. Using the lens of Marston’s sociopolitical beliefs, Rucka crafted a Wonder Woman that was sensitive to the issues of a modern world and also kicked plenty of ass. Down to Earth reprints Rucka’s first six issues which see Diana publish a series of memoirs about her philosophies on morality in the modern world, a book that makes her a political enemy to those that stand in the way of progress and gender equality. The story manages to be poignant without being preachy, but don't think it's all political commentary. Oh no, there is plenty of classic comic book action as the volume sees the introduction of Veronica Cale, a villain designed to be Diana’s own Lex Luthor, and a character that Warner Bros. would be wise to remember for any future Wonder Woman films. Fans of Brian K. Vaughn’s Ex Machina will love the political bent of this book as will fans looking for the their first exposure to Diana’s world.
This single, oversized 64 page story, Spirit of Truth defines everything that is Wonder Woman. With lush painted art by Alex Ross that perfectly captures Diana’s power, grace, and beauty, Spirit of Truth is a treatise on why the character of Wonder Woman is so enduring and inspiring. The book is a look at Diana the woman, with quiet, understated moments lovingly rendered by Ross, featuring moments like her and Clark Kent having coffee, and Wonder Woman, the hero, with bombastic and powerfully rendered double page spreads of the Amazon Warrior lifting tanks, taking on subjugating armies, and fighting for the rights of women the world over. Each page is a tribute to Wonder Woman’s legacy and a powerful reminder on why she endures.
When DC decided to reboot their universe in 2011, one of the most extreme character makeovers was given to Wonder Woman. Her costume, mission statement, tone, and lineage all changed, but Diana’s bravery and inspiring message stayed the same. Using constant horror imagery and motifs, Azzarrello and Chiang create a dark world around Diana but never dim her spirit, and a Wonder Woman that isn't afraid to kill for the right cause. Make no mistake, the New 52 Diana is no Punisher, but she is an unrelenting force for good in a complex and dark world. Azzarrello redefines the Greek gods, who play a vital role in Diana’s origins, giving them an aloof alien like resonance. By introducing some truly disturbing horror elements to Wonder Woman’s world, Diana shines all the brighter.
The Hiketeia is a powerful look at the ancient idea of justice in the modern world. When Diana meets Danielle Wellys, Danielle evokes the ancient right of Hiketeia, bonding herself to Diana as a supplicant and ensuring Diana’s protection. Little does Diana realize that Danielle has been on a murder spree to avenge her slain sister, an act which brings conflict with the vengeance-seeking Furies of Greek myth...not to mention Batman himself. The story is a perfect look at what makes Wonder Woman tick, her obsession with fairness and justice and her unwillingness to bend in the face of adversity. The book also is a meditation on the relationship of Batman and Wonder Woman, two thirds of DC’s trinity. Their interactions and respectful but adversarial relationship should be a perfect guide to the filmmakers who will be introducing Diana in a film that also features Batman. Do not be surprised if character beats from this volume end up on the big screen in 2015.
Between the time of Marston’s seminal Golden Age run and Crisis on Infinite Earths, the quality of Wonder Woman stories was a mixed bag. For decades, capable writers struggled to find a direction for Diana, and some of these attempts were downright insulting. After Marston’s death, the familiar gender roles of comics sadly reared their ugly heads in Wonder Woman, with Diana now regularly being saved by Steve Trevor and other male character foils and, worse, a number of male characters became objects of desire for Wonder Woman to pursue. All this changed with the post-Crisis arrival of George Perez and a brand-new Wonder Woman #1. Gone were any sort of trappings of silliness, gone was the sense that Wonder Woman was the marginalized member of a boy’s club...in Perez’s world, Diana stood on her own and returned to her feminist roots as Marston envisioned.
Regular supporting characters Steve Trevor and Etta Candy became rich and layered characters in their own right. Perez added a sense of fatalistic realism, as he revealed that the Amazons put themselves in a self-imposed exile after Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyta, was put into bondage and raped by Hercules. The real world politics and gender issues were front and center when Wonder Woman arrived to man’s world and became an ambassador of peace. Continuity wise, the book removed Diana from the history of the Justice Society and the Justice League, but this allowed her to stand on her own and not need DC’s male pantheon for support. For the first time in years, Diana stood alone with her beliefs, strength, and heart as her sword and shield, and she never looked better, as Perez was putting out the best pencils of his career. At this time, the Greek gods became regular and fascinating supporting characters to Diana. Their characterizations ripped right from Greek myth, Diana questioned and inspired their world just as deeply as she did the world of mortal men. If Warner Bros. wants to make the character shine for a new generation of fans, they should take a close look at these stories!