Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: WONDER WOMAN!
The Concept and Characters: Thanks to bed sheets and Underoos and action figures and television shows and Halloween costumes and Gloria Steinem, Wonder Woman has held her place as part of the DC “Trinity” for decades, alongside Superman and Batman. Everyone knows Wonder Woman, and her importance as an icon remains undiminished, if troubling. After all, much of the recent debate around her character tends to center around whether or not she should be wearing long pants or a bathing suit as she punches bad guys in the face. Hardly the embodiment of feminist principles. Or, even if she is, the discussion around her tends to be far more superficial.
(And, for the record, though the cover image here shows her with pants, the interior pages show her without them. And the cover will be recolored to match. So the debate is settled. For now.)
As part of DC’s Trinity—a pseudo-status that has been featured in at least two series called Trinity, one by Matt Wagner (which was okay, but not worth seeking out) and one by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley (which was pretty terrible) Wonder Woman has an odd role. Because even though she’s of immense cultural significance, she hasn’t actually been featured in many comics that were any good.
Unlike Superman and Batman, who have been featured in more great comic book stories than could be easily collected into even a bookshelf full of “Best of” volumes, the feeble Greatest Wonder Woman Stories Ever Told collection shows just how weak her comics have been. She has had two defining runs in her entire 70-year career. The original William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter run from the Golden Age, and the George Perez run of the 1980s. That’s it. And even those two runs never did anything to transcend the genre, the way the best Superman and Batman stories have.
The only run that came close to doing something truly interesting with the character was the much-maligned Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky take on the character from the 1960s, in which a mod, de-powered Diana battled street-level crime with the help of her wizened mentor I Ching and Emma Peel fashions. Yup, that really happened, and it was wonderfully odd.
The problem with Wonder Woman has been her lack of clear definition. She began as a bondage character, really, and no one is likely to return to that concept in a mainstream DC comic. So she’s been portrayed as a goddess-hero, or as a politician. A warrior, or a costumed superhero. Sometimes she’s an ambassador of a foreign culture, and other times she’s a stoic field agent. She’s a social worker and a savior and a female Superman. She’s none of those things and all of those things, depending on who is crafting her stories. Few writers have been able to pin her down.
This relaunched series is a soft reboot, rather than a radical revision, according to writer Brian Azzarello. It’s about a tough-as-nails hero in a world filled with horrors. It’s a simple take, but an elegant one, divorced from much of the continuity baggage that has made the character elusive for so many readers, but keeping the essential backstory.
The Creative Team: In my post on Swamp Thing, I mentioned that it featured one of the strongest creative teams in the new DCU lineup. That’s true. That comic has one of the best writer/artist teams. But this comic has the best creative team. Writer Brian Azzarello has done truly superior work on 100 Bullets and Hellblazer for Vertigo, and his superhero comics have given us an unusual take on Superman with Jim Lee and this summer’s best Batman comic in the unlikely form of a Flashpoint spin-off. He has repeatedly claimed that he doesn’t much like superheroes. And his approach to the characters shows that, not because his superhero comics are bad. But because they are good precisely because he avoids so many of the tropes that have become cliché.
He also wrote a back-up series for DC (later collected) called Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality in which he provided a hilarious and poignant take on the adventures of a gang of written-out-of-continuity characters. His collaborator on that series was Cliff Chiang, the amazingly-talented artist who also happens to be drawing Wonder Woman.
Chiang is not only one of the best artists working in the industry, he’s the best artist who has never done a high-profile book. His work is simply stunning, as anyone who has seen his pin ups or convention sketches or previous comic books can attest. But he hasn’t been put on a major project, other than a few issues of superhero comics here and there, or a gorgeous Vertigo graphic novel that was saddled with a weak rock star concept.
He is the perfect artist for Wonder Woman, and the pages we’ve seen so far attest to that.
Recommendation: Buy every issue. As long as Azzarello is writing this series, it’s worth buying every month, and as long as Azzarello is working with Chiang, it’s worth buying a copy for you and a copy for that friend of yours who is only vaguely interested in comics. The whole premise of the DC relaunch is to streamline its characters and attract a new audience. Out of the entire lineup, this is the one comic that seems to have gotten it exactly right, with a strong writer and a stellar artist. This could be very well be the gateway comic everyone has been looking for this fall. And it’s a chance for someone to finally do a Wonder Woman comic that matters. Or at least a Wonder Woman comic that will be well worth reading.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.