Superman has “Up, up, and away!”and foiling the plans of Lex Luthor.
Batman has jumping around rooftops and fighting the Joker.
Wonder Woman has, um, well, a twirl.
Not that I’m dissing it. I loved the Lynda Carter to Wonder Woman twirl when I was a kid. But while Superman and Batman have undergone extensive revitalization since the 1970s, Wonder Woman hasn’t received a similar reworking of her image to the public at large. Most still remember the 70s TV version more than anything else.
That may be changing. DC has made an effort to get a new version of Wonder Woman into the public eye, beginning with hiring New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult to write a story arc in the latest comic relaunch and they invested in an animated movie this spring.
Unfortunately, both those efforts fell short. The animated movie has some interesting elements but to me, it missed the one essential component of Wonder Woman, which is her compassion.
And while Picoult’s run was a good effort, it was marred by a badly done company-wide crossover. Even worse, the relaunch of the Wonder Woman title under Picoult and popular comic writer Allan Heinberg pushed a run by Greg Rucka, popular among comic readers, completely to the side.
Enter Gail Simone.
Simone started out as a hairdresser doing a humor column called “You’ll All be Sorry” on a popular comic website, graduated to writing the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, wrote for Marvel for a time, and then became well-known as the writer of DC’s Birds of Prey, which featured a team of female heroines.
Her Birds of Prey run is when I fell in love with Simone’s writing and started frequenting her comic forums, eventually ending up as a co-moderator. Her writing is sharp, her grasp of character excellent, and her dialogue is among the best I’ve read.
But I was never a big Wonder Woman fan. It’s not that I didn’t get her (the most common complaint heard from people about Wonder Woman), it’s just that her skill set didn’t appeal to me. Like Superman, she’s so powerful that it’s hard to write good stories around her.
But Simone wrote a guest appearance by Princess Diana in a Birds of Prey issue and it was one of the few times that the character seemed compelling to me. So when her new writing assignment was announced, I decided to give Wonder Woman a try for essentially the first time.
Simone’s first issue, #14 of the current series, kicked off with Wonder Woman punching gorillas off a waterfall. Heh.
It’s been just as entertaining since, especially given that Simone takes plot elements familiar to many comic readers and twists them into different shapes. The above gorillas turned out to be genetically enhanced warriors who respected that Princess Diana beat them in combat and then swore fealty to her.
And while her first arc, The Circle, featured plenty of action, including a battle with Captain Nazi, it was also about a small circle of renegade Amazons driven more than a little crazy by the fact that they could never have children. It’s an intrinsic part of Wonder Woman’s back story that she was the only child on Paradise Island but no other writers have really tackled the emotional ramifications of that on the other Amazons. The vast majority are happy to be loving aunts. But a few were not.
It added to the myth without invalidating the rest of it, a hard trick to do when writing someone with over twenty years of current continuity.
In the second arc, Ends of the Earth, other myths are brought into the story as Diana ventures into a literal hell to retrieve the soul of the man who has none. She literally has to battle for her soul at the side of two ancient mythical heroes, Beowulf and Claw the Unconquered, an original character created for DC. Once again, Simone blended action, lesser-known elements of DC history, and some dark humor in a story that ended with Diana reclaiming her soul.
The third arc, Rise of the Olympians, dealt with Genocide, a monster visiting horror and destruction on America, including a number of Diana’s friends and allies. But Genocide turns out to be part of a very complicated plot by her old enemy, the war god Ares, to do away not only with Wonder Woman, but also the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus, and any peace in the world.
It’s this third arc that has the potential to have the longest lasting impact on the character. The Greek Gods have been gone for a time and when they return, they want to do things differently, starting with direct control of the Amazons by virtue of a puppet king, a newly created Achilles.
Like Diana, Achilles is created directly by the gods and imbued with all of their powers. Unlike Diana, Achilles is blindly devoted to his ‘parents.’ It would be easy to make Achilles an one-dimension villain but instead the new warrior keeps trying to do the right thing as he sees it. Currently, he also has the Amazons on his side, because Diana is the only one of her people willing to break from her gods.
Despite all these weighty plots, it’s the very human scenes that I stick in my head. The first happened in issue #19 as Wonder Woman confronts a very angry Green Lantern. Rather than beat down another hero over a misunderstanding, Diana lets the Lantern pummel her, taking every blow, until she can get the Lantern to listen to reason.
The second happened in the most recent issues, #34-35, as Wonder Woman teamed up with Black Canary to track down a missing supervillain. The friendship between the two women, so unalike, is very rare to read in mainstream superhero comics.
I’m not the only one in my household enjoying Wonder Woman for the first time. The eldest daughter grabbed the issues when they were delivered before I could read them, and has kept up since then, even though she was never a fan before. I don’t think she’s ever seen the twirl. (Though, after looking up the TV show clip for this article, I realized that I should give it more credit. It’s as iconic a moment as Clark Kent tugging on his shirt to reveal the Superman beneath.)
There are some flaws with Simone’s work, as with any story. Sometimes the transition from one plot element to the other are a bit confusing, and the subplot romance between Wonder Woman and secret agent Tom Tresser doesn’t quite work. But these are minor flaws in what’s been an excellent overall run.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some wonderful work by the art team on the book, primarily artist Aaron Lopresti. My favorite panel is a full-page spread during Rise of the Olympian as Queen Hippolyta stands in front of a monster from the deep looming over her and simply orders one of the Amazons to fetch her sword.
I’m not sure how DC can take this series and somehow manage to get it to breakthough from comic readers to the consciousness of the public at large but they have consistently put out collected books of Simone’s run. Wonder Woman: The Circle and Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth are available and Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian is due out in November.