Across the DC Universe, newly empowered supervillains are stepping up to the plate and swinging at their worst enemies. In this week’s Wonder Woman #77, the forces of doom scored a big victory, one that’s going to cause a lot trouble for the princess of the Amazons.
So, we sat down with G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Invisible Kingdom), the writer behind Wonder Woman, to talk about the latest challenges facing Diana, and the news that she’ll be leaving the book later this year.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Wonder Woman #77.]
Polygon: Obviously, the big event of Wonder Woman #77 is that Cheetah used the God-Killer sword to kill the goddess Aphrodite. Now, the world is without love, and it turns out that that has a huge effect on Wonder Woman’s powers. How did you arrive at this particular way of challenging the character?
G. Willow Wilson: This has been an interesting story arc. The editors and I, when we were hashing it out at the beginning, really had to think about What does the implication of a loveless world have for Wonder Woman specifically? She’s really a character who’s motivated by higher principles, and really fights for the people that she loves. And so if that motivation is gone, in a sense you’ve taken away one of her superpowers. Because she really — not just as a superhero, but as a Themysciran, as an Amazonian; fighting for her family and fighting for her friends is one of the big things that keeps her going.
The idea that on some level she no longer has a reason to be a superhero was, I thought, very compelling. I think whenever you have a character like Wonder Woman — or like Superman or even a Captain Marvel, or something like that, a character who is extremely powerful — as a storyteller, it becomes an interesting trick to try to find things that really challenge them. Because it’s not easy to find stuff that they can’t just punch their way through. And this is a serious obstacle that she can’t simply punch her way through. She has to really think about who she is, why she does what she does and where the source of her power truly lies.
More than many other superheroes, Wonder Woman keeps loving and caring being at the forefront of her ideology. Do you see her depowering more as a lack of caring about people or an apathy about the world in general?
In her case, it almost manifests as a kind of physical heaviness you see in the issue; it slows her down in a very literal way. Because I think one of the powers that she doesn’t think about is the power that we all kind of have. That when you are in crisis, you manage to find that extra little bit of strength. It’s the mom who manages to lift up the car when the kid is trapped underneath, it’s somebody dashing out into the street just to save somebody. It’s that altruism, our endemic internal love for all of humankind, that is a universal superpower. But for her it’s a very literal thing.
So I think losing her powers is not just that she loses that she extra edge, but that in a loveless world her enemies are really empowered. Because they never operated on those principles; it doesn’t really matter to them that love is no longer there. Nothing about their arsenal is affected. So by depowering both benevolent superpowers but also ordinary people, the villains in her world gain a tremendous edge that they did not have before.
That’s the big challenge for her, is that she’s almost physically encumbered by this lack of love because she doesn’t have that extra motivation to go the extra mile to help people. But at the same time the people who’ve been stalking in the tall grass, literally in the case of Cheetah, now have this advantage over her that they did not have before. Which can be very appropriate for Year of the Villain. This is a time in which we are taking a look at villains and saying, “OK, well, what motivates them, and what are the powers or ideas that they have that maybe have been hidden? What happens if we brought that to the fore?” It seemed like a really appropriate storyline for this particular event as well.
I was going to ask about that, because as a reader, big comic book event tie-ins can sometimes feel like they’re ripping you out of the regular plot line of the book. But one of the things that appealed to me about Year of the Villain that it’s a very simple hook — Lex Luthor making literally empowering, tailored gifts for every villain — for other writers to use in their own series. Is that how it’s been for you on Wonder Woman?
It really has [been fun]. I think when you have good villains to work with — which Wonder Woman certainly does. She’s got a very interesting roster of villains. And what’s cool about her villains is that most of them are women, so you have stories in which both the protagonist and antagonist are women. That makes for a very interesting kind of dynamic that you don’t often get in superhero comics. So it was a fun one to pick up.
One of the interesting challenges that I’ve kind of come to enjoy as a writer working in superhero books is that you may have had a plot line in your head, or you’ve been building up to it for months in a book. And when you get a directive — “OK, we have to make it work within the context of this big, cool, multivalent line-wide event.” — you really have to challenge yourself and say, “How can I make this work?” And not just work well within the structure and the plot lines that I already have in place, but make it look like it was effortless. Like a ballerina or a gymnast, you have to hide the hard work.
I really have come to enjoy that challenge to make it all click together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, we’re all fallible, mortal human beings, but when it does work and when you can tie it really into those plot lines that you’ve been spinning along for months, it really creates something special. And people will say, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that it was this guy the whole time or You set that up way back when, how did you know?” And so it’s a good test of your skill as a storyteller.
You announced recently that you are leaving Wonder Woman soon to pursue a secret project you can’t talk about yet. Do you feel that you’ve achieved all you wanted to do when taking on the character?
You know, for me this run was less about what I wanted to say about Wonder Woman and more about what I was trying to learn about Wonder Woman. I went into it with an open mind, trying to figure out, OK, really, who is this character?
She’s been around for so long, she’s really one of the oldest contiguous superheroes in the canon. She has altogether 75 years of history and yeah, she’s been rebooted many times within that, but getting to the heart of who that character was was something that I was trying to figure out myself as I went along. And the plot was just a method to get there.
I have to say she is, so far, the most challenging existing character that I personally have ever written in in superhero comics. It’s really easy to make her stiff or one-note or one-dimensional. At the beginning I had a lot of fear about allowing her to get irritated with people, or impatient, or have moments where she’s just kind of had it, or she gets jealous, or something.
Those emotions, I think, are part of what makes her interesting, and it takes a while — or at least it took a while for me, as a writer, to get beyond my own feelings of intimidation and let the character breathe. To express a range of emotions, not having to be perfect all the time, and challenge this idea of what it means to be perfect. Is it that we feel and think and say the right things all the time? Or is it, when we make mistakes, to challenge ourselves to do better? And getting to that point with her was quite tough. She’s not an easy character.
When a character has very obvious flaws, it’s much easier to write them. Because they’re much more similar to us; shmucks wandering around being imperfect all the time. She was a real challenge. I think it really wasn’t until halfway through my run that I finally got comfortable and I said, “OK, I can hear her now. I can hear her speaking.” It’s not quite as intimidating to put words in her mouth as it was at the beginning.