War­rior Princess

The mod­ern WW, from Mor­ri­son to Az­zarello: DC’s third most im­por­tant hero, fierce, con­fi­dent and tough as nails

Comic Heroes - - Complete Guide -

As things stood at the be­gin­ning of the ’80s, read­ing Won­der Woman was a pretty drab ex­pe­ri­ence – as it was with so many DC he­roes. The TV show was over, no cre­ative team hung around for long on the comic book, and, once again, no one seemed to know what to do with her. Worse, we en­joyed a suc­ces­sion of false dawns. First, with is­sue #288 (Fe­bru­ary 1982), we fi­nally got what looked like a good – and, hope­fully, sta­ble – cre­ative team. Roy Thomas and Gene Colan need lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion, and took Diana se­ri­ously, though some com­plained that the swirling, spooky Colan art was un­suited to a char­ac­ter as es­sen­tially sunny as this. They be­gan with a bang: “Look out, world! Won­der Woman is bust­ing’ loose!” screamed the cover, to­gether with the bizarre de­tail of one of the hope­less gun-thugs shoot­ing point­lessly at our girl shout­ing con­spir­a­to­ri­ally to the reader, with a fourth wall-break­ing grin, “An’ this time, noth­ing will stop her!” But it ended with a whim­per. Af­ter barely six is­sues both cre­ators lost in­ter­est and moved on.

Is­sue #300 went past, with in­ter­est­ing guest artists ga­lore, then a very unin­spir­ing-sound­ing team took over – writ­ers Dan Mishkin and Mindy Newell and vet­eran in­dus­try work­horse Don Heck – and, to ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, started to do rather well with the book.

Heck had al­ways drawn beau­ti­ful girls, and here re­ally started to kick against his hack rep­u­ta­tion, de­liv­er­ing some of his pret­ti­est art in years. Not that there was much chance for it to go any­where, for DC was just mark­ing time un­til the big­gest shake up in the com­pany’s his­tory: Cri­sis

On In­fi­nite Earths. Heck’s last is­sue be­fore the old Won­der Woman was re­placed with a brand new ver­sion saw her fi­nally marry Steve Trevor – “Hey, Zeus,” he asks, “how are you at per­form­ing mar­riages?” – and set­tle down; it’s no Alan Moore’s last

Su­per­man story, but it still brings a tear to

the eye.

The Chal­lenge of th e Gods

Post- Cri­sis, of course, ev­ery­thing changed. Won­der Woman had “died” in that out­with-the-old minis­eries, de­volved back to the clay she was orig­i­nally made from, and the way was now clear for a new, fresher in­car­na­tion of Diana, as cu­rated by su­per­star artist Ge­orge Pérez. As with all the other DC he­roes, it was now deemed that the ear­lier Won­der Woman ad­ven­tures had “never hap­pened”, and she would be rein­tro­duced as a brand new char­ac­ter, start­ing with a new is­sue #1. Pérez had ini­tially been teamed with

Jemm, Son Of Saturn- cre­ator Greg Pot­ter, who’d done much of the early de­vel­op­ment work on the new se­ries, but af­ter just three is­sues the writer dis­ap­peared from the book – and, seem­ingly, from comics – leav­ing Pérez to plot and draw the thing solo, bar a lit­tle script help from vet­eran Len Wein. That a fig­ure as prom­i­nent as Pérez should choose this gig of all the post- Cri­sis re­vamps sur­prised many at DC, not least the artist him­self. Of­fer­ing to take her on “just came out of my mouth,” he later said.

His new Won­der Woman, like the old one, had been fash­ioned of clay by Queen Hip­polyta of the Ama­zons, then given life by an­cient Greek magic. Steve Trevor still crashes near her home, but now Par­adise Is­land has a proper name – The­myscira – and the pi­lot was less wishy-washy, and not nec­es­sar­ily a ro­man­tic in­ter­est at all.

In many ways the new Won­der Woman was closer to the orig­i­nal Marston ver­sion than she’d been for years, in that this Diana only out­strips the other Ama­zons by virtue of brav­ery, de­ter­mi­na­tion and skill, not through in­her­ent additional magic pow­ers. The em­pha­sis, too, is back on Won­der Woman fight­ing to im­prove Man’s World by good ex­am­ple.

Other sub­tle changes were made too. Bos­ton – so lit­tle seen in comics – be­comes

her new home, and Won­der Woman de­vel­ops a new sup­port­ing cast. Pérez got rid of the old idea of Diana us­ing a se­cret iden­tity too. Fi­nally, in the in­ter­ests of keep­ing the mythol­ogy straight, the old Ro­man names were binned in favour of pure Greek – Mars is now re­ferred to as Ares, for in­stance. This meant an end to the weird su­per-tech of the old Par­adise Is­land too. “I wanted to pu­rify the con­cept,” the artist said.

Look Back in Won­der

So how well does this rein­ven­tion work? Bril­liantly, most would say.

In gen­eral, Pérez – work­ing with fe­male ed­i­tors like Janice Race and Karen Berger – pulls a blinder. His Won­der

Woman is well-paced and lov­ingly crafted, with well-rounded char­ac­ters, in­trigu­ing plots and the great ben­e­fit of his fetishis­ti­cally de­tailed art. There’s a grandeur and an epic feel to it, with many of the gods – not least the pushy Her­mes – be­com­ing ma­jor sup­port­ing char­ac­ters.

With #25, though, things slightly stut­ter. Though Won­der Woman was sell­ing bet­ter than it had for years, it still wasn’t do­ing well enough to make an artist like Pérez the roy­al­ties he might ex­pect, and he felt he had to give up draw­ing it, mov­ing on to bet­ter-pay­ing gigs. The slightly muddy work of Chris Marrinan strug­gled to cut it as a re­place­ment, and though Pérez con­tin­ued to write Won­der Woman for a while, the sto­ries swiftly went off the boil.

Pérez pulls a blinder: his

Won­der Woman is well-paced and lov­ingly crafted

And it got worst post-Pérez, with Diana soon en­dur­ing a point­less run of ad­ven­tures in space. For a while it was only a ter­rific set of Brian Bol­land cov­ers – from #63#100, vir­tu­ally ev­ery one iconic – that kept

Won­der Woman on the radar at all. The years since have been a mixed bag. The Bill Mess­ner-Loebs is­sues of the mid’90s, with their in-your-face Good Girl art by Mike Deodato, sold like gang­busters, but split fan­dom – some ap­pre­ci­ated the in­tro­duc­tion of im­por­tant new char­ac­ters like Artemis, but oth­ers couldn’t see past the ridicu­lous boobs and teeny out­fits.

Then came John Byrne – who should have been a saviour for the book, ush­er­ing in a new Golden Age at least as strong as Pérez man­aged – but who some­how failed to bring the magic. He had fun re­plac­ing Diana with Hip­polyta for a time, and send­ing her back for WW2 ad­ven­tures, but in large part he stripped the char­ac­ter of ev­ery­thing dis­tinc­tive and cool.

In­deed, it was of­ten in DC’s events and team books that we’d en­joy the strong­est re­minders of the Won­der Woman we all wanted to see. In Grant Mor­ri­son’s block­buster sum­mer movie ver­sion of the

JLA, ev­ery char­ac­ter got po­et­i­cally cool mo­ments, but Diana more than most. At one point she takes out a vast heaven-sent bat­tle­ship: from be­low we see ex­plo­sions march­ing along its length, as – KaChoom, Ka-Choom, Ka-Choom – Diana smashes all op­po­si­tion from the in­side, and an awe-struck Aqua­man whis­pers “An­gels… meet Diana.” This was Won­der Woman as icon, and other su­per­heroes were awed by her pres­ence.

Later, in the much-dis­liked Bat­man: The

Dark Knight Strikes Again, Frank Miller adds a throw­away 300- style Spar­tan nose guard to the tiara, and it makes per­fect sense; sud­denly, it’s a war­rior’s helm.

In the reg­u­lar comics, mean­while, Phil Jiminez – whose art style re­sem­bles Pérez’s – did his best to recre­ate the ini­tial post- Cri­sis glory years, then Greg Rucka mod­ernised the Greek gods, giv­ing them busi­ness suits and lap­tops. Gail Si­mone be­came the char­ac­ter’s long­est run­ning fe­male writer, and J Michael Straczyn­ski guided an al­ter­na­tive time­line story not un-rem­i­nis­cent of his Thor run, where the Ama­zons have been liv­ing amongst mankind all along, not re­al­is­ing who they are.

Par­al­lel to all this, mean­while, ran a some­times in­trigu­ing, of­ten an­noy­ing, sub-strand, wherein the Ama­zons are made to look like vi­o­lent semi-bad guys. When Won­der Woman snaps the neck of hero-turned-vil­lain Maxwell Lord in the painfully vi­o­lent In­fi­nite Cri­sis, she prob­a­bly saves count­less lives from the prospect of a homi­ci­dally mind-con­trolled Su­per­man, but the other he­roes turn against her, re­gard­less. And in the hor­ren­dous six-part 2007 “event” Ama­zons

At­tack!, The­myscira launches all-out war against Wash­ing­ton DC, ap­par­ently killing in­no­cent, un­armed chil­dren.

There should be vi­o­lence in Won­der Woman’s world, of course – it would be in no way loyal to the Greek myths on which it’s based if there were not – but surely, not like this?

Gods draw blood

Since 2011, of course, Won­der Woman has been en­joy­ing some­thing of a Golden Age – if some­thing so bor­der­line hor­rific could be called such. Writer Brian Az­zarello and artist Cliff Chi­ang – il­lus­trat­ing in a bold colour palate of reds and blues, hot and cold all at once – have been in charge of Diana’s New 52 in­car­na­tion for knockingon three years now, and it’s been ter­rific: an in­tel­li­gent re­vamp, heav­ing with new sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, rev­el­ling in yet an­other re­vised ori­gin, and, by re­mov­ing the Ama­zons for the time be­ing, free­ing up plenty of space for very mod­ern takes on the Olympian gods.

The cur­rent team has been run­ning chunky year-long story arcs that are prov­ing to be one of the true sales and crit­i­cal smashes of the mod­ern DC – IGN, for in­stance, voted it Best Comic Se­ries of 2013 – and it’s all been build­ing to­ward this sum­mer’s “Bat­tle For Olym­pus”, at which point the run will end, leav­ing some­one with al­most im­pos­si­bly big boots to fill.

The changes are legion. Char­ac­ters are killed off with a Game Of Thrones

style glee, and both Won­der Woman and the Ama­zons in gen­eral have been al­lowed to be much more in-your-face sex­ual than they’ve been in the past, kinky-bitch bondage games aside. For­get moon­ing over the plas­tic Steve Trevor: now Diana’s in a re­la­tion­ship with Su­per­man – well, of course she is – while the sex­ual ten­sion with the brash, vi­o­lent Orion of the New Gods (a stroke-of­ge­nius foil for Diana) is off the hook. And then there’s the con­tro­ver­sial “Sex Pirate” an­gle, in which the Ama­zons are re­vealed as vi­cious killers – sirens who pe­ri­od­i­cally go to sea, se­duce ran­dom sailors, then toss their ex­hausted bod­ies into the Briny. It’s shock­ing, but it feels real – and ef­fec­tively ex­plains why Diana is dif­fer­ent to the other Ama­zons. Af­ter all, her fa­ther was the King of the Gods, while theirs were scruffy seadogs, ef­fec­tively raped for their seed.

Which brings us to the smartest change of all – mak­ing Diana the bi­o­log­i­cal daugh­ter of Zeus and Queen Hip­polyta. Now re­leased from her weird and creepy ori­gins, this Diana now has all the deities of Olym­pus as her rel­a­tives, with the com­pli­ca­tions and op­por­tu­ni­ties that brings. Heav­ing with prophecy and fam­ily drama, and with the men­ace of the First Born – Zeus and Hera’s first child, buried deep be­neath the earth many cen­turies ago – ever present, this is a dark rein­ven­tion that rings ex­cit­ing and true.

Through­out it all, how­ever, it re­mains true to the char­ac­ter – so this Won­der Woman is still win­ning over some of her great­est en­e­mies (lately Hera, Zeus’s wife and one-time Queen of the Gods) and mak­ing them her staunch­est al­lies. Af­ter all, chief amongst Won­der Woman’s for­mi­da­ble ar­ray of su­per­pow­ers has al­ways been the abil­ity to turn people around.

Fol­low­ing the Az­zarello run will be quite the chal­lenge for some lucky cre­ative team, but in the mean­time there are still Won­der Woman sto­ries to look for­ward to, not least the 120-page Won­der Woman: The Trial

Of Diana Prince, a glossy mother-daugh­ter story – packed with the in­evitable love-hate dy­namic of such – by Grant Mor­ri­son and artist Yanick Pa­que­tte, de­signed as the lat­est of DC’s pres­ti­gious Earth One out-of-con­ti­nu­ity graphic nov­els.

“It’s not like a su­per­hero comic,” Mor­ri­son has said. “It’s about the sexes and how we feel about one an­other, and how she rep­re­sents the best of some­thing.”

Con­sid­er­ing all the dis­ap­point­ments the char­ac­ter has suf­fered in re­cent years – the col­lapse of the much-an­tic­i­pated Joss Whe­don movie project of the mid­noughties, the dis­ap­point­ment of both the ac­tu­ally-made 2011 NBC TV pi­lot and the never-shot Warner Bros TV project

Ama­zon – and un­cer­tainly over what sort of promi­nence Diana will re­ceive in the up­com­ing Man Of Steel se­quel, it’s good to know that the comics, at least, are in the rud­est of health. All th e world is wait­ing for you Won­der Woman re­mains a con­fused, and some­times con­fus­ing, fig­ure. The fact is – and it’s largely to do with her be­ing a woman, the first and most po­tent fe­male su­per­hero by far – she’s nu­anced in ways

Writ­ing Won­der Woman well is one of the great chal­lenges in comics

that most of her male coun­ter­parts are not. She’s a helper, proud and supremely self-aware; she’s the Spirit Of Truth, with an un­break­able sense of hon­our. And she boasts a level of com­pas­sion that’s al­most self-sac­ri­fic­ing.

Per­haps the prob­lem is that she’s such a strong per­son, so grounded, that some cre­ators get frus­trated – how do you stop her look­ing so damn per­fect? What can you throw at her that will con­vinc­ingly up­set her? It makes writ­ing her well one of the great chal­lenges in comics.

And on top of all the comic book tri­umphs, old and new, Won­der Woman has an ex­tra weight to her too. Is she the first pop cul­ture Fem­i­nist? Quite pos­si­bly. She cer­tainly works at a level of camp and of to­tal se­ri­ous­ness, as woman and as icon. When the fash­ion de­signer Diana von Fursten­berg did a Won­der Woman-themed collection a few years ago – “She’s so pow­er­ful,” she’s said, “I love her” – no one bat­ted an eyelid. Women are the way of the fu­ture and sis­ter­hood is stronger than any­thing, Won­der Woman says. And what comic book mes­sage is more chal­leng­ing, or more ex­cit­ing, than that?

1980-2014

Above: Don Heck’s sur­pris­ingly good run cul­mi­nated with Diana get­ting hitched to Steve Trevor, right.

Above: Deodato’s highly sex­u­alised mid-’ 90s take on Won­der Woman, all glossy lips and heav­ing breasts.

Left: Bill Mess­ner-Loebs took over with #63; he would later cre­ate Artemis.

Above: A par­tic­u­larly bizarre-bod­ied Diana – what’s go­ing on with her arm?! – in Miller’s Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Above: Az­zarello and Chi­ang’s New 52 in­car­na­tion of the Ama­zo­nian Princess is the best she’s been in years.

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