My next reading assignment is from the distant past of 2002-2004: Volume 1 of Greg Rucka’s first run on Wonder Woman, another writer who I’d heard great things about. Volume 2 of this is only now about to come out…why, I don’t know. Rucka is also writing Wonder Woman right now and the current stuff will be appearing here soon!
Volume 1 starts off with Hiketeia, which has Diana bound by sacred tradition to protect someone Batman is hunting. It throws up all kinds of moral questions but, Greek tragedy-like, you know there can eventually only be one resolution. You might recognise it by its very excellent cover.
I have to confess here that I harbour a little petty bitterness towards Batman. The dark and edgy thing has never done it for me and yet they keep making movies about this grumpy dude and his city full of terrible people. His appearances in this volume have a saving sense of humour, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take great joy in seeing Wonder Woman lay the smackdown on him.
Whack-a-Bat aside, the main thing I enjoyed about this volume was the domestic moments in Diana’s life. We see a lot of her day-to-day as the Themysciran ambassador, living with the embassy staff who see her in all her roles; they know her better than just about anybody. She’s a little homesick, having lost a few loved ones, and you can tell they’ve come to feel oddly protective of her. It makes her feel so real.
This Diana will ring true if you’ve ever worked for a really stellar boss. She works damn hard to balance bureaucracy with the straightforward superhero life, which is tough even for a born diplomat. There’s also a lot here about the demands and risks of being a public figure, perhaps because she has no secret civilian identity to hide behind. The main plotline involves the media flurry around Diana’s first book, which turns out to be secretly manipulated by genius billionaire Dr Veronica Cale, who believes Wonder Woman is stealing the spotlight she deserves.
Oy. It took me a while to figure out what it was about Cale that bugged me, exactly. Part of it is the fact that she’s motivated by attention rather than power seems like a gendered choice with some unfortunate implications. But mostly it’s because, although she’s not exactly lovable, I couldn’t hate her. Veronica is smart, rich and powerful, she works hard and does a lot of good, and she feels like that deserves to be acknowledged. And that means she’s “crazy”?
You know what, Veronica Cale? As much as I love Wonder Woman, I’d be pissed off too. You’re right, it’s not fair. They should care, and you’re allowed to care that they don’t care.
The issue of rivalry between powerful women cropped up in Gail Simone’s run too, when Power Girl’s underlying resentment made it all too easy to trick her into attacking Wonder Woman. Both Power Girl and Veronica Cale project their own pride onto Wonder Woman and try to use it against her. The difference is that Power Girl learns what Diana is really about and the two eventually develop a mutual admiration. Resentment isn’t shown as the essential underpinning of how powerful women relate to each other; it’s something individual born out of misunderstanding, and it can change. It doesn’t have to be this way. Bam! Inspiring!
On a related note: it may be just a product of its time, but this comic also has a tendency to default to sexually abusing women to evoke the reader’s sympathy. The supplicant in The Hiketeia is out for revenge on the men who tricked her sister into drugs and prostitution; Veronica Cale’s mother was a stripper seduced by a client who abuses and abandons her after getting her pregnant. Doctor Psycho goes straight to sexual harassment with every woman he encounters. Read in 2017, it feels boring and cheap. There are plenty of ways to get us to pity a character. It doesn’t have to be sex just because she’s a girl.
Oh, and Themyscira is under threat. Again. For an island of well-trained, pacifist warriors Themyscira sure does end up in jeopardy a lot. This time it’s because Ares has decided war is passé and he is now the God of
Trolling Conflict. He tells Diana under the lasso that he won’t mess with Themyscira but his shit-stirring ends in Hera throwing a natural disaster at her own Amazons to spite Zeus. I anticipate a delicious incoming stomping.
Meanwhile, Circe strikes a bargain with Poseidon and the Gorgons of Greek myth to bring Medusa back to life. Stheno the ditziest Gorgon might be a new favourite.
Something that was totally new to me: Vanessa Kapatelis, the Silver Swan. I had to Google her and I have clearly missed some shit. Wonder Girl Cassie, Diana’s protégée, showed up briefly in the Gail Simone run and has a cameo here too. Man, do I want to see more of her and Diana’s dynamic. That’s a side of Wonder Woman I haven’t seen yet and I am super curious.
Of the artists and art teams, the standout was Stephen Sadowski (pencils) with Andrew Curry (inks). They do some of the best facial work I’ve seen combined with striking, unusual angles. They’re a great choice for the chilling scene where Veronica Cale reveals her motivations.
Finally: Superman’s cameo. Now, I have no beef with Superman and this was a cute, funny scene. But come on. The dude is like, eight feet tall. You seriously expect me to believe this man-mountain can maintain a mild-mannered secret identity?
Despite my gripes and the datedness of this volume, I generally approve of Rucka’s take on Wonder Woman. Her strength, compassion and truth all come through clearly; she’s still somebody you want to follow. It’s not a bad jumping-in point for a new fan – The Circle etc are more self-contained, but unfortunately they’re out of print and pretty hard to get hold of right now. You’ll miss a few things in the Silver Swan plotline but you’re in at the beginning of the other subplots, and with Vol. 2 coming out you know exactly what to buy next.
I seem to be going further back in publishing time with each volume so far, but don’t worry, the future is almost here…in one sense, anyway. Next up is World War II with Marguerite Bennett’s 2015 Bombshells!