I’ve reached a milestone: I bought my first comic that wasn’t picked out for me by somebody else! (It was Year One.) I may be getting the hang of this.
“Rebirth” is a 2016 relaunch of the DC universe, which as far as I’ve gathered is what happens when a comics publisher decides everything has gotten too confusing and it’s time to wipe everyone’s storylines and start fresh as a jumping-on point for new fans. This is fine provided you, a newbie, can figure out which comics to pick up – until you start trying to read the older stuff. The problem is they have to make it make sense in-universe, so the reboot becomes just another part of the continuity for fans to get to grips with – except now you have yet another version of everyone’s origins, maybe a big apocalypse with ongoing repercussions, the issues are numbered differently, and you’re never sure whether whatever just happened is going to stay happened. Just to complicate things, it boosts sales, so they have done this more than once! Rebirth is supposed to combine the continuities from before and after the previous reboot in 2011, which was called Flashpoint and resulted in a relaunch called The New 52.
It’s okay if you’re new and none of this makes sense. It’s dumb and over-complicated. The big events do sell well, but for me it just made the whole thing more impenetrable and I think it’s a great way to scare people away from comics.
Anyway. Greg Rucka is back as Wonder Woman’s writer, with art by Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp. Volume 1 The Lies has Diana teaming up with her traditional enemy Cheetah as she tries to figure out why she can’t find her way back to Themyscira, while Volume 2 Year One is a re-do of the origin story. I was pretty happy with Greg Rucka’s treatment of Wonder Woman last time, so you guys, I was Psyched.
Year One is a fish-out-of-water story with plenty of humour and complexity, full of sweet, surprising moments, while The Lies brings the badass and the pain. It opens by addressing one of the things that makes Wonder Woman difficult for writers to define and for new readers to understand: her unusually fluid backstory. It gets re-imagined so often that she has no definitive origin. Was she moulded from clay by Hippolyta and given life by the gods? Brought to life by some kind of blood magic? The offspring of her mother and Zeus? Did she rebel to leave her island or was she chosen?
Rucka embraces the confusion as Diana, beset by conflicting memories of her various pasts, lassos herself and learns that a mysterious someone has deceived her. Meanwhile, Year One establishes the origin we’re going with in this particular run: after Navy SEAL Steve crash-lands on the island, the Amazons decide the gods are sending them a message to which they must respond and Diana beats out the other Amazons to be chosen as Themyscira’s champion and ambassador to the world (though it hasn’t confirmed whether Zeus was involved in Diana’s birth and I have all my fingers crossed that we don’t do that.)
So, I have a confession to make. I keep saying I just find Diana/Steve boring and predictable and I was all ready to be a curmudgeon about it for the rest of eternity but this time…I’m into it.
Rucka is careful to make Steve someone worthy of Diana: he’s a sweetheart, respectful of women, great with kids and unafraid to show love for his friends. He’s quick and brave in a fight and he finds the joy in life. He loses his shirt a lot.
But more importantly, he’s a fresh-faced 21 year old in Year One and he matches Diana’s youthful energy. As she learns about our world and her new powers, he’s right there with her, sharing in her excitement.
The cherry on top is that their relationship is extremely slow-burn. They don’t flirt right off the bat – in fact they can’t, because Rucka has introduced a language barrier just to shake things up. Twelve-ish years later, in The Lies, they’ve been distant for a while on account of Diana dating Superman (ugh. ugghhhh) but they share an unbreakable bond that carries them through. It even echoes something I noticed from Gail Simone’s run: Diana is good at love in a general sense, but not so great at romance. It’s believable, it keeps you guessing, it’s super adorable. Nailed. It.
Other notable things: Etta Candy is a black, possibly gay military commander! I may have squealed a little.
She’s not as quippy as I’ve seen her before, but she has an added air of authority (and a fondness for girly cocktails). Veronica Cale is back, woop! And Barbara Ann Minerva is basically Indiana Jones…
…before eventually becoming Cheetah.
I gotta say, Cheetah’s tortured ferocity becomes kind of hilarious when you remember that actual cheetahs are so skittish that they need emotional support greyhounds in captivity. They chirp. At their scariest they sound like an angry house-cat. We couldn’t have gone with, I don’t know, a tiger? Even a leopard would have made more sense. Sorry, Barbara Ann, you’re a nervous fuzzy kittycat and no amount of growly voice will convince me otherwise.
I also have a Petty Art Peeve with Year One, and it’s not high heels! …it’s colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr’s choice for Diana’s lip colour.
I have a bit of a makeup obsession and I can’t get over that unflattering light pink shade. C’mon, dude, you can make it look natural without washing her out like that. Somebody let me at her with a lip tint.
Pedantry aside: like the previous Rucka run, these are fairly light on action scenes, which suits me just fine especially because those it does have are some of the fist-pumpingest I’ve seen so far. Check out Diana literally blasting through jungle god Urzkartaga!
I’d recommend reading these trades in the opposite order to how they were published, with volume 2 first. Volume 1 collects issues 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 while volume 2 is all the even-numbered ones, but I found I got a lot more out of The Lies on a second read-through after I’d read Year One.
So yeah, overall I’m pretty happy with this. It does what it sets out to do in terms of providing an entry point for new readers and beginning the process of combining continuities. It doesn’t unseat Gail Simone’s run as my first pick for a Wonder Woman starting point, but that’s pretty hard to top.
Rucka’s Diana is still lovely, especially when she’s young – her reaction when the gods appear and gift her with her powers can only be described as “starstruck” – and for the most part she still has that touch of humanity I loved so much in Rucka’s previous run. The supporting cast is genuinely likeable and after an emotional nuke at the end of The Lies I’m keen to see what comes next.
Speaking of what comes next, the blog has caught up to my reading now and I don’t have anything immediately lined up. This newbie needs recs – what should I read next?
4 thoughts on “Comics journey #5: Wonder Woman Rebirth – “The Lies” and “Year One””
Down with Wonder woman and superman, up with wonder woman and lizard friend!
Also, If you would allow Wonder Woman to be unseated as topic number one, I would recommend:
Gail Simone’s Secret Six, either pre-52 or post. Pre is a little harder to get into because it’s wrapped up in wider continuity stuff, but the characters and humour are so good and jeez it gets that good darkness the Gail does so well.
Batgirl: Year One is a light and fantastic romp. Really shows Barbara Gordon at her best, with a lot of joy that is lacking in some of her other more modern renditions (because Gail does like to bring that dark).
Taking a step off super heroes I think you might get a lot from Red Sonja. She’s not exactly alike to Wonder Woman, but there are traits in common that I think would work (Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennet’s runs are both great). If you go for it though, start with Legends of Red Sonja, it’s a collection of shorter tales done by an all woman creative crew with everyone from Rhianna Pratchett to Mercedes Lackey!
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Pretty sure if it was up to you I’d read nothing but Gail Simone (not that I would mind). I’d love to get into Batgirl and Red Sonja sounds like a fun ride! A+ recs many thank