2016 is proving to be a memorable year for a variety of reasons, and one of them is that it marks the 75th anniversary of DC Comics’ greatest solo heroine, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist and feminist William Moulton Marston (and longtime series artist Harry G. Peter) in 1941’s “All-Star Comics #8” as a counterargument for many of the “macho man” superheroes of the era (including Superman and Batman), her origin, motives, and powers have fluctuated a great deal since her lofty beginnings. Eking out a long career in print and even becoming a symbol of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970’s (thanks to Gloria Steinham’s “Ms.” magazine and Lynda Carter’s portrayal of her on TV), Wonder Woman not only became a member of longtime superhero teams such as the “Justice Society of America” and ultimately its Silver Age counterpart, the “Justice League”, but she formed the tip of the “trinity” of legendary characters published by DC Comics alongside Superman and Batman. While DC Comics arguably sought to supplant her position within that “trinity” with Green Lantern for much of the past six years, Princess Diana ultimately outlasted her emerald competition to retake her position within the greater DC Universe.
This year marked her live action film debut in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (played by Gal Gadot), and DC Comics spent the past year preparing for her arrival by granting the heroine her first secondary series in decades. “Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman” and “Wonder Woman ’77” (set loosely in the continuity of her late 70’s TV show) became part of DC Comics’ “digital first” libary of comics to offer a variety of Wonder Woman material to fans new and old in addition to her longrunning ongoing series (which under writer Brian Azzarello saw drastic changes to her world). This year alone has seen the printing of two revamps of her origin tale set outside of traditional continuity. One of them was the graphic novel “Wonder Woman: Earth One” by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette, which was in the works in some capacity for at least six years. The second is the digital first series “The Legend of Wonder Woman”, which is written and drawn by Renae De Liz (“The Last Unicorn”, “Womanthology”) as well as inked, lettered, and colored by her husband Ray Dillon. The series debuts in ten page digital installments before being printed in physical copies which collect three of those installments into each volume later on; at 27 digital chapters, it will be condensed into nine print issues. Four of those issues are available now and while it may seem like the third major revision of Wonder Woman’s origin since 2011 (and the second this year), it may very well be the best. Presented as a heroic mythological fairy tale which spans across centuries from ancient times to World War II, it pays faithful homage to many of the elements of her original 1940’s exploits in addition to her “New 52” alterations while updating or revising them into something wonderfully unique.
Wonder Woman was one of few superheroes whose mother was always involved in her upbringing and affairs since her inception, and this “legend” is no exception. It all begins with Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, who forged her own nation of woman apart from the lands of men and war alongside her sisters Antiope, Melanippe, Glauce, and Penthesilea, as well as close allies such as Alcippe (formerly known as “Philipus the Nomad Queen”). Impressing even Zeus himself of the Olympians, Hippolyta, her sisters, and key allies were granted immortality by the gods in order to act in their stead. Despite her triumphs and kingdom, Hippolyta longed for mortal desires such as companionship and children. Her longing led to a betrayal to Hercules and Thesues during one of his “twelve labors”, leading to much death and destruction and the near end of the Amazons. Forgiven by her sisters, Hippolyta reforged her kingdom and allied with the gods one last time to lay waste to a Titan in a battle so fierce it ravaged the world. Choosing to protect the world from themselves, Zeus commanded that the Olympians, the Amazons, and such “mythological” creatures were to seclude themselves from the outside world on the magical island of Themyscira. Protected by enchantments which prevented any who landed on the island from remembering their past (as well as preventing any who left from being able to return), the island was a seeming paradise to the Amazons for countless centuries. While the gods allowed random mortal Amazons to bare “virgin births” every decade, those granted immortality were forbidden from having children, which only increased Hippolyta’s yearning. Her despair ultimately led to the creation of her daughter, Diana, from clay, and from that moment Hippolyta vowed to do all she could to craft her beloved daughter into an immortal queen much as she was.
But, as longtime fans know and the narrative itself acknowledges, Diana’s destiny was not to be queen of Themyscira, but to forge her own legend abroad. Their land was a timeless empire of peace and understanding, to the point that the wars with which the Amazons once fled to many were distant memories. Yet each one of the immortals became the patron of one of the Olympic gods, and any who know mythology knows that the gods have always schemed with each other, even with the Amazons acting as their own substantial worshippers. Sensing a darkness emerging throughout the land due to the exploits of dark gods Ares and Hades, Diana was a restless child always seeking greater understanding and exploration beyond what Hippolyta desired. Venturing outside the limits of her city and ultimately training with Alcippe in the arts of combat, Diana eventually became her own woman seeking out her own choices independent of her mother’s will (even as Hippolyta remained aware of her actions). The sudden crash landing of U.S. pilot Steve Trevor ends up playing into Antiope’s schemes to supplant Hippolyta as queen of the Amazons on behalf of Ares, as well as grants Diana her first glimpse at “mankind” away from the island. At first hesitant to befriend him due to the many cautionary tales she’s heard, Diana ultimately tends to his wounds and cares for him as he becomes a pawn in Antiope’s goal of turning the Amazons against her mother. A decree from Zeus himself leads to the formation of a tournament to determine which of the Amazons will control Steve’s fate; Hippolyta forbids Diana from taking part, but her desire for the greater good causes her to break her vow and attend in disguise. Winning the tournament despite treachery from Antiope’s minions, Diana soon reconciles with her mother and is tasked with leading Steve away from the island safely by boat. Insisting that her daughter take along many of Hippolyta’s enchanted armaments (including the lasso, tiara, bracelets, and breastplate that everyone should recognize), her wisdom proves correct when a monstrous turn of events washes both of them into the sea. Finding herself in 1944 era Boston, Diana sees herself taken in by a kindly old woman (and her cantankerous husband) and eventually traveling to Holliday College. There, Diana meets a kindred spirit in Etta Candy, lead singer and head of the local fraternity (the Holliday Girls) with plans to forge her own show business career away from the limited goals of her own family. Yet there seems to be little time for Diana to come to terms with the complexity of the outside world as well as her own seeming failure to protect Steve and her people, as the supernatural threat of the “Duke of Deception” in the war front soon attracts her attention as the key to her life’s mystery.
From the first page through the middle of the work which readers find themselves now, Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon succeed in crafting a fascinating world for Wonder Woman which is seeped in tradition and history plucked from her seventy five year history. The Greek gods have always been a part of her origins, but have played a larger role in her destiny in recent years, and it is that spirit which propells this tale. Yet the landscape of Themsycira is not a mere recreation of Greek paintings; many of the unique elements within the comic book “Paradise Island” are featured. Kangas, large mounted kangaroos, are but one pleasant detail from that past who make their appearance (especially Jumpa). Diana’s relationship with Hippolyta is greatly explored and relatable, as the tale of a parent wanting to protect their cherished child while also allowing them to flourish on their own into who they want to be is a tale as old as time. Alcippe proves to be a stern but wise mentor, forging Diana into becoming a formidable warrior; even Antiope proves to be more than maliciously evil since she is acting to please her patron god much as Hippolyta often does with Zeus. Steve Trevor quickly introduces himself in the third issue as a good-natured (and talkative) fellow who quickly is willing to sacrifice his own flight from the island to try to repay Diana’s kindness towards him and the sacrifices she’s made to save him. Etta Candy all but steals every scene she is in as a spirited example of what the modern woman should be – ambitious, proud of her figure, and above petty squabbles with other women over men – and not only acts as Diana’s immediate best friend, but her counterpart in the mortal world. The pair quickly find themselves with a lot in common when introduced to each other in the fourth issue, even if Diana is hesitant to reveal all of her secrets. Readers have seen little of the “Duke of Deception” so far, but what little has been seen is a creepy revision of one of Wonder Woman’s oldest (and rarely seen) enemies; he debuted in 1942’s “Wonder Woman #2” and has been erased from continuity for the past thirty years. Princess Diana herself arguably fares the best out of her cast as De Liz seems to completely understand what makes the legendary heroine tick. She is not only driven by a desire to protect her friends and family, but to explore the world beyond what she’s heard in books or stories. She may strive to become a master of combat, but she sees it only as a necessary tool in her quest to protect others, not a means to an end. Ironically, for someone who has little desire to be a queen, Diana proves able to quickly make unlikely allies all around her through her ability to express her feelings as well as observe the feelings of others – from Alcippe to Steve to ultimately Etta. The artwork by De Liz and Dillon is utterly majestic and timeless, akin to some of the greatest work of the Disney studio. There are many moments throughout the story where key things are foreshadowed or shouted out to, such as Diana’s meeting with a deer to a sacred item of Hippolyta that the “Duke of Deception” somehow uses as the source of his power. All of the women featured within look different and unique unto each other, from Diana to the Amazons to Etta herself, offering a display of many shapes, sizes, and ethnicities.
As someone with over 75 years of history to choose from, many of the choices made by Renae De Liz to include in her iconic retelling of Wonder Woman’s story seem to be right on the mark. Keeping the “clay baby” origin continues Diana’s legacy of being a complete creation of womankind and a maternal need to forge a child, rather than being a mere attachment to a male god’s black book. While it is a cliche to claim that the setting in a fictional work is “a character unto itself” (especially in regards to New York City), the island of Themyscira quickly proves the exception as a unique land full of an ever changing landscape and many wondrous gods and creatures. The decision to establish that Diana has no physical advantages over the rest of the Amazons and all of her triumphs as their “champion” come from higher mastery of their skills, her unique personality and having legendary gear inherited from her mother is a wise one which not only links Diana to countless legacy heroes (from Hercules to even the Phantom) but also ties back to Marston’s original work in the 40’s. Getting Steve Trevor right was also imperative, as he represents Diana’s first taste of what “man” is and if played wrongly, can hinder her narrative due to the idea of the princess of the Amazons literally falling for the first man she meets. Many modern revamps of Wonder Woman (including the Post-Crisis version from 1986) omitted Steve Trevor, but he proves crucial to the series. De Liz gives him a sense of humor and a warm disposition and a rugged curiosity without having him be a perpetual flirt or “macho man”. Etta Candy (and the Holliday Girls) were also key members of Diana’s supporting cast in the 40’s and 50’s who have mostly fallen by the wayside ever since, with the former even remodeled into a slim and picturesque beauty herself. This misses the point, as Etta is beautiful not because she’s a size zero, but because she’s a size ten and zealously proud of it (and herself). While Ares often proves to be Wonder Woman’s primary nemesis, this story is smart to keep his direct involvement in the background, instead centering the antagonism on figures that readers are less over familiar with such as Antiope and the much neglected “Duke of Deception”. How can one go wrong with someone who raises armies of zombie Nazis? Rather than emerge fully formed as Wonder Woman, readers are getting an imaginative and fascinating saga in which Diana slowly but gradually evolves into the heroine everyone knows she will be. Even the choice to have Diana’s first exposure to “the world of man” be a smaller area of Boston rather than a huge metropolis (complete with being taken in by a kindly old woman) offers a good contrast to most retellings of Wonder Woman’s first venture into modernity. Wonder Woman is all about forging connections to people (sometimes one at a time), so introducing her to smaller pockets of mortal life proves to be a terrific way to go about it.
As with even the best works, not all of the choices are perfect. Most versions of Wonder Woman’s origin had the patron gods of the Amazons and/or Hippolyta be either the goddesses Aphrodite or Athena. While Zeus is the head of the pantheon much as Hippolyta is the queen of her people, as well as the god attached to Diana’s most recent origin retelling from 2011, there seems to be something awkward about Hippolyta worshipping a male god despite being the symbol of feminine power. There are also moments where extended monologues of exposition are dropped which can occasionally ware on a little too bluntly than they should. However, such things tend to be common to most classic fairy tales, and in many ways that is the approach Renae De Liz has taken with Wonder Woman.
With terrific art, a great sense of scope, a lush and wondrous cast and above all a sincere love and devotion to its source material, “The Legend of Wonder Woman” lives up to its grand title so far. Those seeking a spectacular new perspective on one of the most important heroines of pop culture should venture to DC Comics’ digital store (or the back issue bins of one’s nearest comic book shop) and get aboard the adventure while one can. Despite the added focus over the past couple of years, genuinely great Wonder Woman stories that appeal to fans new and old are rare; even rarer is to see her written, drawn, and even edited by women! DC Comics’ digital division has often provided a variety of consistently great comics (such as “Batman Beyond Universe”), and this is one of their grandest editions to such a library. Answer the call to adventure with “The Legend of Wonder Woman” today!