This summer, Wonder Woman is on a search for the hidden truth of her identity, and crafting the modern version of that story is the project of a lifetime for Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott.
A little while ago I told you that there’s never been a better time to start reading Wonder Woman — that’s because the book is actually running two stories at the same time. That might sound complicated, but it’s the only Rebirth book about one of the DC Universe’s so-called Trinity (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) that I can unreservedly recommend to readers without a background in the recent events of the DC Universe.
In "Lies" — written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Liam Sharp and told in the odd numbered issues of the series — Diana realizes that she can take none of her memories at face value, and everything she knows about herself may be false. It’s the story of her setting out to uncover the truth and come back to herself (which actually makes it a really great story for readers who have no history with the character). In "Wonder Woman: Year One," told in the even numbered issues, Rucka and artist Nicola Scott are creating the Wonder Woman origin story they’ve wanted to put on paper for more than a decade.
I sat down with Scott to talk about how "Wonder Woman: Year One" came to be, just as Wonder Woman #4 hits shelves and shows us precisely how the Princess of the Amazons wound up traveling to Man’s World.
Scott and Rucka first met more than ten years ago, while Rucka was working on his first stint as the lead writer on the Wonder Woman ongoing series. He wanted to get Scott on the book with him at DC. (Those attempts never quite worked out entirely, though Rucka and Scott would collaborate on a three issue Wonder Woman miniseries, and Scott would eventually draw three issues of the core Wonder Woman series with writer Gail Simone.)
"[We] just started talking about wanting to work together," Scott told me over the phone, "slowly but surely getting to know each other, and it became clear that we both saw Diana, and her place in the greater DC Universe, and her role and her society and such in a very similar way."
From that connection, the philosophy behind "Wonder Woman: Year One" was born, ten years in the daydreaming. To Scott, much of it boils down to iconography:
"Superman and Batman have their origins retold in various ways to the point where — I think it was in All-Star Superman — they did it in three panels," she pointed out. (Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did it in four, a single page — but the point stands.)
"One of the things that so effective about all of these different retellings of Batman and Superman’s story is that there has become very specific iconography ... It doesn’t matter how it’s adapted, that iconography has weight and meaning. People know what it means now when you see a planet exploding and a rocket jettisoning away, you know that’s Superman. When you see pearls falling, you know that that’s Batman. It’s iconography that just puts you in the moment."
Conversely, Scott said, Wonder Woman’s story is often told differently rather than retold, sometimes completely changing her origin. "It’s muddied the water rather than enriched it," Scott told me. "And certainly the goal that Greg and I have is to say ‘No, no, there is actually a classic story, that has been retold a couple of times, it just hasn’t been done for 30 years,’" referring to the character’s 1987 reboot under writer/artist George Pérez.
Indeed, within the past few years, we’ve seen Wonder Woman revealed to be the child of Zeus and the Amazon Queen Hippolyta rather than a clay child brought to life by the gods in pity for Hippolyta’s desire for a daughter in Wonder Woman. We’ve seen a fresh take on Amazonian society in Legend of Wonder Woman, where Amazons are not defined by immortality and Diana is not the only child on the island. And we’ll be seeing Wonder Woman’s origin story in one form or another in next year’s Wonder Woman feature film. It's a smorgasbord of character deconstructions and variants-on-a-theme to choose from — but as a critic who is most frequently asked "Where do I start?" and "How much of this is actually canon?", it's made un-qualified recommendations tricky.
Ultimately, Rucka and Scott hope that "Wonder Woman: Year One," will do just what has been done so many times with Superman and Batman — embrace the variety in the cycle of superhero origin retellings by distilling a character’s origin to its most streamlined points, presenting it from a new angle, and giving it a modern context. And, hopefully, that enduring iconography.
Wonder Woman #4, which hits shelves today, is the second installment of that origin, and concerns two very important elements of Wonder Woman’s story: the secret Amazonian society that gives her her ideals, and her traditional ally and love interest, Steve Trevor. Both those elements have taken a backseat in the Wonder Woman stories of the main DC Universe in recent years. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run on the series saw the Amazons revealed as murderers and slavers of men and male children, after they were transformed into snakes by godly wrath. Steve Trevor simply hasn’t appeared regularly in a Wonder Woman comic since before the New 52 reboot. Instead, Wonder Woman dated Superman for a while.
Scott had a simple analogy for anyone who might suggest that the classic idea of the Amazons as peaceful warriors was nonsensical: "They’re like Jedi Knights, or Shaolin monks.
"This is the race of people who have decided, ‘You know what? Your wars are crazy. We’re going to go and live over here by ourselves, rack off.’"
"The reasons for war are often political and ridiculous," she continued. "They’re not often as moral as people would like to make out. Certainly, they can find a moral core, but the motivations for starting war can be pretty ridiculous. So this is the race of people who have decided, ‘You know what? You and your wars are crazy. We’re going to go and live over here by ourselves, rack off.’ And that’s essentially what they’ve done, like Shaolin monks up in the misty mountains, or Jedi Knights off on Dagobah."
In the meantime, thanks to Amazonian immortality and an island paradise that provides them with all the resources they could need, the Amazons have elevated every science to a fine art — to the point where their technology is almost unrecognizable as "tech."
"It’s not knowledge that is passed on generation to generation," Scott emphasized, "they’re just building their collective knowledge, because they were all there."
But that Amazonian way of life is disturbed by the arrival of the castaway soldier, Steve Trevor, who traditionally serves as the catalyst for Diana to leave the island — and as her romantic partner.
I asked Scott how one crafts a male love interest for a story about a female hero whose battle for justice is largely against patriarchal evils. She said that her first question for Greg Rucka, after asking whether or not Steve would be in the series, was actually about whether he’d be Diana’s love interest.
"I felt it was important that — for Diana — that she isn’t just every other superhero guy’s girlfriend at some point. Because that’s a little insulting to her. It doesn’t really serve her terribly well, and it doesn’t really serve any of the traditional love interests of any of these characters." Characters like Lois Lane, for example.
"Greg was saying to me ‘Steve Trevor is a little bit Steve Rogers [aka Captain America].’ They’re of the same generation, they’re of the same era, traditionally. They’re good guys looking for a cause, and finding a modern version of that is providing Diana with a good guy that is completely and utterly unthreatened by her ability. Because he’ll just think that she’s awesome, because she is. And she’ll just think that he’s awesome because he is. And the fact that there’s an incredible power difference and genetic difference between them is irrelevant."
I couldn’t help but point out that the Steve Trevor she and Rucka have shown readers in the first few issues of Wonder Woman was already breaking the conventions of characters with similarly masculine, action-hero-type backgrounds by being depicted as loving and emotionally vulnerable — and by being depicted as shirtless and naked quite a bit.
"Oh good!" she responded, after I made it clear that I was not complaining in the slightest. "I love drawing him shirtless and naked, and there will be more of it."
If you’d like to be around for that, you might want to give Wonder Woman a try. In fact, you can check out a five-page preview of this week’s Wonder Woman #4 below, followed by two more pages (sans dialogue) from #4 that DC Comics have allowed Polygon to reveal.
Update: This post has been edited to clarify the extent of Steve Trevor's appearances in the New 52 and recent retellings of Wonder Woman's origin story.