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.