4 Vital Wonder Woman Stories: Getting to Grips with the Amazing Amazon
Ah, Wonder Woman! While other people may argue the merits of other female superheroes, I can’t think of a more important one than Diana of Themyscira. The Amazon princess has been captivating audiences and saving Man’s World since December of 1941. As one of the very first female superheroes to be created and one of the longest continually-published characters in the genre, Wonder Woman’s veteran status in the pages of comic book history cannot be argued with. In addition, it’s hard to think of a comic character who has come to symbolise feminism more. After all, Wonder Woman’s stated mission is to teach Man’s World the values of the all-female Amazons, leading by example where necessary and thus showing the world the worth of femininity. With Gal Gadot’s casting as the Amazon warrior-princess in Warner Bros.’ upcoming Man of Steel sequel, it seems like the right time to look back at some of the stories that showcase what Wonder Woman, as a character, does best – and besides, a little preparation before the first big screen appearance of the character wouldn’t be too bad, either!
First, though, let’s look at the character’s history, and what makes her special. Created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and writer who believed – amongst other things – that the world would be better run through “loving matriarchy,” Wonder Woman was intended to be a female equivalent of Superman. In Marston’s mind, girls required a super-powered role model in the same vein that Clark Kent represented for boys, so that feminine qualities would appear desirable to them. After her first appearance in All Star Comics #8, Diana’s adventures were published regularly in the pages of Sensation Comics as its “flagship” character, regularly appearing on the cover until she gained her own series in 1942. Since then, she has been one of the longest-published characters in DC’s roster, even surviving the transition from the Golden to the Silver Age of comics relatively unscathed. Incidentally, this makes her one of only three characters to do so, the other two being Superman and Batman. Given the sheer amount of characters who were redesigned for the Silver Age or just plain cut loose, so to speak, to drift until they were brought back into the universe later, that’s quite an achievement. In short, this is a character really worth getting to know. With her publication history out of the way, let’s get into the four stories I feel give the greatest understanding of the character. They won’t be listed in any particular hierarchical order; for one thing, doing that causes more fighting than politics and religion at the dinner table, and for another I couldn’t bring myself to rank the tales I have in mind. Let’s get cracking!
4. Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth
Those who’ve read my previous recommended reading list won’t be surprised to see a Paul Dini/Alex Ross creative work here! Rather than dealing with Diana’s origins, Spirit of Truth instead deals with how people actually perceive her, and how she reacts to this knowledge. After visiting Themyscira to talk with her mother, Hippolyta, Wonder Woman heads to an unnamed part of the middle east, drawn there by the civil unrest and the suffering she sees there. However, after saving the life of a woman in the usual superheroic fashion – appearing as if out of nowhere, bright, colourful and larger than life – she’s shocked to find that the people aren’t necessarily grateful for her intervention. Indeed, the women she meets decide they have nothing in common with this brightly-clothed demigod, and treat her with mistrust because of her origins and incredible abilities. Given the current debates about the Western world’s interventionist tendencies and intersectionality within feminism, this recommendation seems to me to be a particularly interesting read. It’s only when Diana goes incognito and attempts to learn more about the people around her and their perspective on the world that she truly begins to be able to understand them, their struggles, triumphs, and what help they actually need. It’s not the sort of triumph one might expect in a superhero comic; there’s no sudden rush of gratitude, nor a complete change of heart from the people she saves there. However, there is triumph nonetheless, as Diana comes to understand humanity and it’s needs a little better, and earns humanity’s respect in doing so. No matter which side you fall on those aforementioned debates, this is a great read for those readers interested in getting to know Wonder Woman, and an interesting look at how Wonder Woman’s mythic origins affect her relationships with the people she rescues.
3. Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth
If I may indulge in a little personal preference here, Gail Simone’s work on Wonder Woman can’t be overlooked in any list like this. Simone really gets Wonder Woman, to use a flippant term, and her love for the character is apparent in every story she writes for the character. In Ends of the Earth, the readers are treated to another side of Wonder Woman, one that focusses on her mythic nature and the high fantasy of Diana’s world, as well as how this affects her work in the world we know. One minute, she’s handling the shades-of-grey operations of the Metahuman Affairs Department, and the next she’s fighting the devil itself with Beowulf at her side. While perhaps not the absolute pinnacle of Simone’s work with the character, it’s certainly noteworthy for the perspective; it’s honestly really refreshing to see Diana’s magical side portrayed in what is essentially a sword-and-sorcery adventure… mixed with just a little modern-day political intrigue. I admit, I’m something of a sucker for that kind of tale anyway, but I don’t think it diminishes how useful it is to see Wonder Woman in one. It reinforces that, as much as she’s kind-hearted and compassionate, Diana is still a warrior from a society of warriors so incredible that they were immortalised in myth. While she’s more famous for lassoing the truth out of people and being able to deflect bullets with her bracelets, it’s good to be reminded now and again that Wonder Woman is also extremely skilled with a sword. I feel that this particular story arc gets her warrior’s nature across really well, and is worth picking up for that reason.
2. Wonder Woman: Down to Earth
Greg Rucka is another writer I feel has done great things with Wonder Woman, which is of course why some of his work is on this list. Rucka’s run on the character is again generally considered to be one of the best by fans and critics alike, and when I decided to make this list of great Wonder Woman stories, I knew that Down to Earth would have a place on it. As the start of a larger plot arc, the point at which it ends is a bit of a cliffhanger, with no real “end” for readers to enjoy. It’s worth the suspense, though, as Down to Earth introduces the reader to the question of how the world might actually react to the existence of Wonder Woman and her ideas. Given the current debate about women in media, Diana’s experiences at the hands of the press, who treat her with awe but also a significant amount of suspicion and anger for “daring” to examine society and explore it’s faults, seem very relevant indeed. There are a few scenes which are especially fantastic to read, such as the live TV debate centred on Wonder Woman’s words, or the machinations of Veronica Cale, a powerful businesswoman and scientist who carries a serious hatred for all things Amazon. Like Spirit of Truth, Rucka’s work here is a great introduction for people who’re interested in Diana’s interactions with the human race, and in a way goes a little beyond that into how her day-to-day life as a diplomat and superhero actually [i]works.[/i] It really humanises the character and helps us, as non-immortal regular people, understand a little better what it must be like to be an Amazon in a world that’s unused to myth and legend.
1. Wonder Woman: Destiny Calling
Now what kind of list would this be if I didn’t mention a story by the great George Pérez? The entirety of the modern Wonder Woman mythos exists more or less only due to the work he put into the 1980’s post-Crisis reboot of the character. While her origin story is extremely worth the effort to find, I find that Destiny Calling is a little more worthwhile for the reader looking to understand the character and get what it is about Wonder Woman that makes her so compelling for readers. Reading about a young Wonder Woman, one who is still new to Man’s World but knows enough about it to begin to understand it’s problems, is fascinating stuff; all the more so for the fact that this is not a superhero who’s found her place yet, but one who’s still learning and growing even as she inspires the people around her to do the same. What makes this a particularly worthwhile read, however, is the insight it provides into how Amazonian society actually works and what Themyscira, post-Crisis, is actually like; we see segments of Diana’s early life, the myths and societal values that the Amazons uphold, and how they perceive Man’s World and the way things work there. Given how confusing the Amazons can be in the DCU – it sometimes feels like their origins, nature and technological advancements change with every passing writer! – the clarity offered by Pérez is truly refreshing. Really, if there’s one story on this list that I would say was indispensable for the collection of a prospective Wonder Woman fan, it’s this one.
And that’s that, my personal picks for the most interesting or vital Wonder Woman stories for those unfamiliar with her. Overall, I’d have to express a little confusion as to why it’s taken Warner Bros. this long to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen – though, as that isn’t what this article is about, I’ll lay off on the speculation, and simply say that it’s about time! Diana is a fascinating, extremely easy-to-like character – at least in my opinion – and with any luck, newcomers to the Amazon’s adventures will agree after reading these tales. When done right, she’s a character of mythic proportions, able to duel with the gods on their own terms and yet human enough that she doesn’t seem distant or alien to the average citizens who she saves. Those old myths of the Greeks are as epic in scale as they ever were, and a good Wonder Woman story can take that epic quality, bring it into the modern world, and make the readers completely accept the idea of the two being perfectly compatible. Even the sillier aspects of her mythos – the lasso of truth, or some of her rogues’ gallery – become not only plausible in the hands of these writers, but in fact become powerful and dangerous weapon in the princess’ hands, or terrifying villains who could tear down the world around them if it weren’t for Diana’s intervention.
And let’s be honest here, the invisible plane is the coolest vehicle ever invented, and I will stand by that statement until the heat death of the universe. Happy reading, folks!
What do you think? Leave a comment.
I’d love to keep up to date with Wonder Woman.
The art is amazing and I just read a few issues of the new run and with the mixing of the mythology, it was very tempting to go beyond my strict budget.
But I guess I’ll be waiting for trades.
You and me both! I’ve been really enjoying the current Wondy run so far, but as I missed out on the issues, I’ve had to rely on trades myself.
I haven’t been reading WW. I think this list will be a good jumping in point.
Wonder Woman is my favorite DC series. It’s how I got my father into comics.
Wow, really? That’s so awesome! I have to admit, Wondy always gets one of the very top spots on my list of “best superheroes of all time.” I absolutely love the character, and I’m glad so many people share my enthusiasm.
WW has been great ever since issue one. Mr. Azzarello and the DC editors have done a terrific job in recreating the mythos around the New Gods by having them interact with the old ones, brilliant move DC, brilliant move.
It’s really strange, though, how underused the greek mythology was before this. Yes, Athena and Ares, Zeus and Hera have constantly been around, but now WW has an adversary in Hera, Eris, the First Born, Hermes, Hades, Apollo and Artemis as well. What’s even better is that these characters are sometimes her allies, the fluidity and the unpredictability of the surrounding characters has really helped emphasize WW’s own “universe”.
If only Superman was half this good 🙁
Azzarello’s version kind of ruined the character in many ways by making her a blind idiot who, instead of coming from a heritage of strong upright female warriors and being a “pure woman,” is instead fathered through an illicit romance and trained by a group of man-murdering baby-killing psychopaths because feminism is man-hating, yo.
She struck you as that? While I have to admit that there’s a lot that’s different about the new run, I don’t necessarily know that Wonder Woman herself is any worse for it. That said, I really wish DC would stop characterising the Amazons as man-haters. It’s not original or particularly compelling to read.
I dunno, nothing about Wondy as a character makes me think of her as blind or particularly idiotic, but then, maybe I’m just not seeing it. Is there anything that stands out particularly to you?
What the hell are you actually reading? That is an extremely disingenuous description of Azarello’s run. And did you actually imply that her character is somehow worthless because she was conceived in an “illicit romance”? Way to trample all over feminism while pretending to uphold it.
Wonder Woman is my favorite, Aquaman top 10…despite some faults (the horrible murder of the Teen Titans), the new 52 has done some amazing things.
I never read wonder woman before The New 52, which I picked up because I’m a big Azzarello fan. Absolutely love it—but I’m disappointed that Cliff Chiang isn’t drawing every issue. I was unfamiliar with his work, but have since fallen in love with it, especially bc he doesn’t over-sexualize female characters.
The fact that Cliff Chiang is so careful not to over-sexualise the characters he draws is, in my opinion, one of the great strengths of the current Wonder Woman series. Given that Greg Land somehow still gets work, I can’t praise Chiang enough for not following in his footsteps.
I enjoyed most of the stories on the list. Having said this none of them are stellar to me. They are average by the same standards that I judge Batman and Superman stores. In my opinion, the definitive WW story has yet to be written. But my fingers are always crossed.
Thank you for these recommendations! I’ve never been a huge comic buff but since I caught up a bit on Superman last year, I really want to get more into the subject. And with a Wonder Woman character coming up in cinemas I have even more reason to do so.
I’m glad you found them useful! Comics can be a really great medium for stories, when at their best, and I’ve always found that the greatest comics rival anything more established media has to offer. I hope you like Wonder Woman’s stories as much as I do.
I am actually loving the most current run, it is an interesting new take on the gods and her place in their world, also very cool tie in to the New Gods. I am disappointed it feels completely disconnected from the rest of the DCU though.
Looking forward to see Wonder Woman on the screen again, but Lynda Carter was the perfect Wonder Woman back in the day.
I love The Hiketeia. It’s one of the very few stories that shows Batman is an ant compared to Wonder Woman.
I’ve heard extremely good things about it, but unfortunately I’ve not had the chance to pick it up yet. Clearly, I need to rectify this, given it’s reputation!
The New Frontier – Darwyn Cooke = automatic purchase
Good list. I like any of george prez’s run should be number 1. Way better written, drawn, just about everything.
I recommend The Chronicles, League of One, and Eyes of the Gorgon.
I’ve got quite a vested interest in feminist theory in literature which is why I was happy to see this article published. I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Wonder Woman but she holds her own in a medium dominated by male characters. I just hope that they don’t sacrifice her integrity for sex symbol status in the 2015 movie.
You and me both. It’d be such a step back for the character if all she was in the newest movie was a brief bit of eye candy; totally unacceptable, really, considering her importance to comics overall and DC’s universe in particular.
Gods of Gotham is my fav.
I never really was a huge fan of the Amazon, but this article most definitely broadened my view of her. I cannot deny she has an incredible mythological background about her. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Paul Dini/Alex Ross’s “Spirit of Truth” on this list, Since it was one of the few WW stories i’ve dived into. Great art, and an incredibly wholesome narrative.
Nice variety of stories. I’ve read & enjoyed most of them.
Watching Linda Carter heterosexual back in the day made me realize I was a heterosexual. Getting into the comics made me love Ms. Prince even more. I mean, who can’t fall in love with the heroine that, when asked by her sidekick what turns her on, she replies: ‘Justice’
I can’t believe the direction ‘Batman vs Superman’ is taking her. She’s basically going to be their sexy martial-arts secretary like Scarlett Johansson in ‘The Avengers’
So over that movie already.
Despite being a feminist who’s neck deep in comics at any given time, I can’t say that I’ve ever read a solo Wonder Woman story. The Diana I know simply comes from the animated Justice League cartoons as well as her self-titled direct to DVD movie. I’m really grateful that you’ve put together this article because if there’s nothing I love more than diving into the history of iconic women in a male dominated genre.
Well, if this list helps anyone at all to get more into Wonder Woman, then I think it’s done it’s job. Glad I could help! c:
Great article! I’ve only recently gotten into DC comics but I’ve loved the Wonder Woman books! Don’t think I’ve read “Ends of the Earth” but I will definitely be looking out for it!
I have never read anything with Wonder Woman in it, but this list has compelled me to have a look into some of her history. I too am baffled that there has been no film series for her, it would provide a very refreshing change from all the testosterone-fuelled supermen we see zipping across our cinema screens.
Lovely post! Wonder Woman has always been my favorite superhero 🙂
This is great! I’ve wanted to get into more Wonder Woman titles (so far I’ve only read the New 52 version) and these seem like the perfect place to start. I’ve also recently bought Sensational Comics featuring Wonder Woman, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
There does seem to be some allusions to Ancient Greek mythology here.