- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
When a character has been around as long as Wonder Woman, it is hard to know where to start with her. Here are five storylines and/or books that should give you a solid look at the Maid of Might.
“Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus” Vol. 1. and 2 by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter
Back in 1941, comic book heroes were far from being the carefully regulated hunks of intellectual property they are today. It is easy to forget that during the Golden Age of comics (from Action Comics #1 in 1938 to about 1950) not only were all of these new characters being invented, but the American comic book itself — the tone, the pacing, the material, the look — was being invented month to month.
And, frankly, Wonder Woman was perhaps never better — never more purely the idea of Wonder Woman — than in the stories written by her inventor, psychologist William Moulton Marston.
Marston folded his notions about feminism, the submission of men to the will of women, peace, war, justice and power into these stories of Nazi punching, giant kangaroos and men transformed into beasts.
The punchline is that much of this material scans as bizarre today, and not just in the dream-logic way of much Golden Age material.
Wonder Woman is easily one of the stranger characters to last this long (there are far weirder, but most of them didn’t make it past, say, V-J Day.) She is forever being bound and exploding from her chains, attempting to reform rather than punish (well, after doing some punching) and generally being a righteous example to Man’s World. Boy howdy, are these stories nuts.
The first of these massive volumes goes from the character’s first appearance in December 1941 to somewhere in 1943. The second, which arrives in stores July 7, covers ’43 to ’45 , which is about the time Marston, citing ill health, turned writing over to others, most notably his assistant Joye Murchison, who may very well have been the first woman to write a superhero. Marston died in 1947. (These two books are massive and a bit awkward to read; some of the material can be found in other collections).
Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) #1 -24 by George Perez with Greg Potter and more
Wonder Woman ambled along in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, surviving the crash of the superhero market in the 1950s (along with Superman and Batman). She lost her powers for a bit, became a secret agent and wore a white jumpsuit but spent most of the time as sort of a generic hero.
When, in 1985, DC Comics hit the reset button on their continuity with “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Wonder Woman was radically revised. In ’86, she was stripped down to her mythological roots, made more of an ambassador than a straight-up warrior, given Ares the God of War as her arch-villain and provided with stunning art (and decent plotting) by the legendary artist George Perez. The first two years of this new Wonder Woman are a masterclass in rethinking an icon from the ground up while keeping the iconic bits intact. Some of the writing is a bit dated and stiff (and Wonder Woman can come off as a bit naive), but the art is just gorgeous. This material can be found in various collections, but the whole run can be found in “Wonder Woman by George Perez Omnibus Vol. 1”
“Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
This is a controversial choice in some circles, but I submit it’s a good Wonder Woman story. In this 1996 series, Waid writes and Ross, with his Norman Rockwell/realist style, illustrates this story of what happens when Superman quits being Superman.
Long story short: Without his moral leadership, the good guys start acting an awful lot like the bad guys, and Superman must join with his generation of heroes to make the good guys start acting like it before humanity nukes the lot of them. Here, Wonder Woman is as much a military leader as an ambassador, the one to say to Supes (and I am paraphrasing): “Look, this is war. I’m a warrior, I’m going to act like a warrior. You can’t make an omelet…” etc.
Thought it ends with the always-eye-rolling idea of Superman and Wonder Woman getting together as a couple, I thought Waid did a nice job of amping up Wonder Woman’s take-no-prisoners side without making her bloodthirsty, which is a mistake subsequent writers would make.
“Wonder Woman: The Eyes of the Gorgon” by Greg Rucka and various artists
Rucka, who is the current writer on “Wonder Woman,” is one of the stronger writers of his generation, and his first run on the character, which started in 2003, was very well regarded. He amped up the idea that Wonder Woman is as much a politician from a sovereign nation as a superhero. But Rucka didn’t skimp on combat. I am especially fond of this storyline wherein, in order to fight the mythical Medusa (upon whom one gazes and turns to stone), Diana blinds herself, which is just incredibly badass. The original “Eyes of the Gorgon” collection is currently out of print, but this material is being reprinted in “Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka Vol. 2” which is out July 11.
“The Circle” by Gail Simone and Terry Dodson
Simone is one of the most significant comics figures of the past 20 years. First as a fan and then as a writer, Simone combined feminism with stellar craftsmanship, and eventually getting to write “Wonder Woman” in 2008 seemed both right and natural. Simone did a terrific job balancing the warrior and ambassador aspects of the character. Every issue Simone wrote is strong, but this early storyline sets the tone for the series, a complex tale of how events in Themyscira’s past impact the present. This story also contains talking gorillas, which are always awesome. (This trade paperback is currently out of print, but the material can be found digitally, and individual back issues — “Wonder Woman” Vol. 3 #14 to 17 — are easy to come by.)