Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Great Wonder Woman Comics of the Last Decade

Wonder Woman has notoriously been ones of comic's most difficult characters to write. There's the difficult balancing act of portraying Wonder Woman's famous feminist values, but without having her come off as annoying. You have to balance her super human strength and warrior upbringing, while also trying to keep her femininity and humanity. Then you have to also contend with what Wonder Woman's place is in the world. Is she a Super Hero? Humanitarian? Diplomat? Warrior? Unlike Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman does not have reliable back-drops, like the Batcave, or the Daily Planet News Room. She also doesn't come with many side-kicks, most of them having been weeded out of her history, like Etta Candy and Steve Trevor. So where does that leave her? Add the temptation to rely on sex appeal, and it's no wonder DC Comics have been struggling for years to make good Wonder Woman stories.

There have been some great Wonder Woman tales, not the least of which was the George Perez reboot that helped return Diana to her more mythological roots.

After that, though, there are quite a few low points in Wonder Woman's modern history. I think she was working at a fast food restaurant at one point.

Around 2000 things began to change. Artist Adam Hughes began doing covers for Wonder Woman issues, bringing a great level of realism and detail to Wonder Woman; each cover was fit to hang on the wall as a poster. I believe Adam Hughes interpretation of Wonder Woman is probably one of the most critical factors in elevating her in comic fans minds.

Yet the story inside the issues have to be equally as good. Phil Jimenez was the writer who delivered on that. Not only did his art and story telling help elevate Wonder Woman's world into a more complex and detailed landscape, but he pushed her forward with more challenges - like taking on Darksied again, loosing her royalty and her mother, and leading the Amazons to fight in the Imperex War. It also helped that Jimenez's detailed art was very much similar to that of George Perez. Under his writing Wonder Woman became a stellar book.

When Jimenez left Wonder Woman, Walt Simonson took over the title for a 6 issue fill in. Simonson is famous for dealing with mythological Super Heroes, having had a legendary run on Marvel's Thor. The story he did was very good, but he also managed to catch a few headlines - as Wonder Woman cut her hair shorter. It didn't last, but it's humorous to think that such an obscure event in the story actually garnered real media attention.

The next writer to tackle Wonder Woman was Greg Rucka. He first proved he could write Wonder Woman well with the graphic novel "The Hiketeia". It put WW and Batman at odds over the fate of a young woman. Batman wanted her captured, because she was a criminal - but Wonder Woman was placed in a situation where she has to protect this girl and keep Batman away. It was a stellar story, emblazoned in fan's minds - which is why Greg Rucka's tenure on the book was so anticipated. And Greg Rucka did not disappoint - though he took a noticeably different take on Wonder Woman than many might have been expecting. The beginning of his run focused a lot around the Therysciran embassy, and the more political world that surrounded Wonder Woman. Diana wrote a book, explaining her ideals and thoughts - which became a lightning rod of controversy. An especially horrible woman, Veronica Cale, launched a smear campaign against Wonder Woman. Cale was very much in the vein of Lex Luthor, but it fit the type of story Rucka was telling. Underneath everyone's noses, Wonder Woman suddenly became the West Wing of the DCU.

Rucka's run branched out eventually, with Wonder Woman facing off against the Gorgon. She was even blinded by this monster before she was able to cut off it's head. She was blind for quite awhile afterwords.

The most striking moment of Rucka's run was, during the tie-ins to the Infinite Crisis mini-series event, Superman's mind was taken control by Maxwell Lord - who had Superman go on a

rampage, with Wonder Woman on the receiving end. The battle was simply brutal, but Diana eventually stopped Superman. Capturing Maxwell Lord, she put him in her lasso of Truth, asking how she could stop him from controlling Superman. He told her the truth: kill me. And so she did. She snapped his neck, shocking Superman and the entire world. Wonder Woman made no apologizes, stating that she was a warrior, and that sometimes warriors are forced to kill. She even points to her earlier defeat of the Gorgon, who appeared as a monster, but was just as sentient as any human - and no one had any problem when she decapitated the Gorgon.

Rucka's run continues on with Wonder Woman, wishing to prove herself innocent, submitting herself to the court in the Huage. It doesn't last, though, as the events of the Infinite Crisis are closing in - with Themyscira being destroyed by Maxwell Lord's left over army of OMACs.

Infinite Crisis proved the turning point for Wonder Woman as a character, as her strident stance as a warrior was called into question by a long lost character, the pre-crisis Wonder Woman (the original 1940s version, if you will). She questioned when the last time Diana was human; her humanity was something Wonder Woman had slowly been loosing for years, as she had long been embracing the warrior side of her aspect.

After the Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman reinvented herself, returning with something she hadn't been using in comics for a long, long time: a secret identity. As Diana Prince, Wonder Woman became an agent of the D.M.A., the Department of Metahuman Affairs. Partnered with super spy Nemesis - this new direction for Wonder Woman took her back to her roots, with a situation similar to her being with Steve Trevor of years past. Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson relaunched the title as a new #1. While I think it was the right direction - especially in humanizing Wonder Woman - the run wasn't very successful. There where some less than stellar decisions in WW's wider world - as her mother, Queen Hippolyta, seemingly came back to life, and the entirety of Paradise Island was cast off, supposedly placed in human form. I wasn't actually reading the book during this time, so I can only tell you the cliff-notes version.

When Wonder Woman was seemingly sinking back into mediocrity, comic's real life wonder woman Gail Simone came to the rescue and took over the title. Many people praised that a woman was finally writing for the book - and Gail Simone did not disappoint during her run. I never actually read her issues, but from all I've heard it was a stellar run, and I'm sorry I missed it.

After Gail Simone regretfully left the title, a new writer was needed. The book went back to it's original numbering with issue #600 - which was a fantastic issue. New writer J. Michael Straczynski has come in with a bold new reinvention of Wonder Woman. She's been given a new costume, designed by Jim Lee. Not merely a stylistic choice, the plot of JMS's story is going to revolve around the suddenly altered world of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman's history has seemingly been washed away - and Paradise Island is no more. I was all ready to ignore this run, as I thought it was simply going to be JMS' take on Wonder Woman. Not so - this is a complete reinvention of the character - and JMS and DC aren't being half-hearted about it. The classic costume is gone, Themyscira is gone - Wonder Woman is totally different. This kind of drastic re-imagining might sound like a bad idea, but from the indications of this prelude, this looks like a bold new epic, one I intent to read. The art of Don Kramer is stunning, and the 'crashing down to Earth'-styte of the story seems new and fresh.

So, all in all it's been a pretty good decade for Wonder Woman. I hope the latest run proves successful, especially since DC is spear-heading an initiative to bring Wonder Woman to the silver screen.

1 comment:

  1. JLA: A League of One. Best Wonder Woman story EVER. :-)