It’s confession time. I’ve never been able to fully get on board with Wonder Woman’s comic incarnation. As a character, she is fantastic, and her depiction in Bruce Timm’s Justice League animated series went a long way towards establishing Diana of Themyscira as one of the most compelling female characters I’d encountered. Indeed, where placed in the capable hands of writers title like Gail Simone and Greg Rucka, then the Princess of the Amazons shows us all why her character has endured for nearly 75 years. Sadly, this has tended to be the exception rather than the rule. With Wonder Woman set to make her live-action film debut in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was only natural that DC would seek to push the character in a big way. The Legend of Wonder Woman is a retelling of the character’s mythological origins and hopes to show everyone that Xena isn’t the only warrior princess deserving of your attention.
The Legend of Wonder Woman is a nine-issue limited series written and drawn by Renae De Liz (The Last Unicorn, Womanthology) with colouring, inking and lettering by RayR Dillon. It’s rare that you see this kind of auteur sensibility in mainstream comics anymore that would allow one creative mind to write and draw the comic. This singular vision provides the creator with the rare free ability to demonstrate their vision of the piece, but it also denies the opportunity to bounce ideas off others. Comics are a team effort, and some of the best ideas come from artists working with their writers to maximise the story’s potential or to highlight underdeveloped ideas. As such, these solo endeavors often lie on the extremes of quality. If DC were taking a gamble, then they chose the appropriate form for it. The Legend of Wonder Woman is a digital first series released on a weekly basis with this inaugural print issue collecting the first three chapters. DC has been pioneering this format for quite some time with standout titles including Batman Beyond 2.0, Batman ’66 and Injustice.
The first third of this issue is entirely without dialogue. Instead, important plot details and character motivations are relieved to us by an omnipotent narrator as if it were a folktale. Focusing on Diana’s mother; Hippolyta, we are given a whistle-stop tour of her life and in particular, the leadership that won her the favour of the Gods, granted her immortality and denied her the opportunity to have a child. The narrator hammers home the sorrow that fills Hippolyta as a result. At one point she betrays her people for the potential of having a child sired by a demi-god. No doubt, her turmoil at being unable to conceive a child of her own is immense, but it is unfortunate that the story does not go into more depth about why having a child is so important to her. Throughout the issue, the omnipotent narrator tells us of the ” vast emptiness” that she feels in comparison to other Amazon’s who have daughters. The problem is that information is told to us as opposed to shown, the Queen of the Amazons has no voice of her own. It risks essentializing Hippolyta’s status as a woman and does not do just to the multifaceted nature of her character. This is something that would seem opposed to the spirit of the Wonder Woman mythology. The whole point is that Amazonian culture subverts stereotypical notions regarding gender, but this issue denies Hippolyta to chance to voice her grievances herself. Obviously, Hippolyta isn’t the main character of this story, and we want to move beyond the birth of Diana as quick as we can, but there It is not a death knee for the comic, but it was immediately noticeable upon my initial reading. The artwork saves this potential problematic section of the issue, by helping to convey some of those raw emotions. De Liz’s interiors assure us that the hurt is all too real even if her thought process isn’t. It’s only disappointing because the rest of the issue demonstrates that De Liz can do better, and this section detracts from what is otherwise a fine first issue. Should DC or De Liz be interested in publishing a mini-series about Hippolyta’s backstory, rest assure that I would be the first in line for it.
Following this, we are introduced to Diana as a young princess, unhappy with her place in the world. Unlike her Amazonian sisters, her mother prevents her from training in combat. Hippolyta expects Diana to fulfill her role as a diplomat, not a warrior. Naturally, Diana rejects these constraints placed on her and seeks a more active method of protecting those she loves. De Liz’s highlights the distance between mother and daughter. There’s a strained relationship, defined by almost formal bonding sessions and it’s evident that they don’t truly know each other. The artwork does a fantastic job at showing us the pain that this impersonal approach causes for both of them and the impact it has on their lives. Diana’s evolving relationship with her mother as she eventually grows into her role as Wonder Woman has the potential to serve as the heart of the series, and hopefully, the coming issues will explore this more.
The constraints placed on Diana by her role as princess are indicative of a wider trend among the Amazons. The societal make up of Themyscira is fascinating, albeit disconcerting, operating on an almost caste system whereby each citizen is assigned a pre-determined role in life by the Greek Gods. Some are warriors, some are mothers, and some are priestesses. Each has a destiny that tradition demands they fulfill in line with the will of the Gods. It’s an interest subversion of the preconceived notions that some may have about the Utopian society that Diana’s island paradise is meant to represent. Utopia is always to some degree authoritarian. Indeed, it would seem glass ceilings exist even matriarchal societies.
The mythological-fantasy basis of this story provides an interesting background for those more personnel moments, particularly between Diana and her soon-to-be mentor Alcippe. The undercurrent throughout the issue is that there is something rotten in the state of Themyscira. Diana and Alcippe are the only one’s noting a dark sickness being to infect the island and the creatures on it. There are vague environmental concerns underpinning this notion of a foreign darkness polluting the island, but it is an interesting call to action for our young heroine. It reflects the mythology that inspired it and this issue has set itself up as an epic in the original sense of the word. This is Wonder Woman invoking the Iliad.
The artwork is gorgeous; De Liz is well suited to the sword and sorcery setting of Themyscira. There is a subtlety to her rendering of characters that comes from having a single authorial mind working on the issue. As writer and artist, De Liz understands the motivations and eccentricities of the characters on a fundamental level. As a result, her renderings of them are more true to the characters than if it were drawn by another. Sometimes there is a benefit to cutting out the middle man, and the result is an accurate representation of the author’s vision for the project. Dillon’s colouring and inking is also to be commended for allowing the stunning pencil work to pop from the page. It is refreshingly one of the brightest and more vibrant comics that I’ve read in quite some time. Although not overly similar to Mark Bagley’s work, the energy and dynamism that De Liz’s displays invokes the same feelings within me. For someone who will be relatively unknown to most of the mainstream comic audience, I suspect she will be getting a lot of work after this series has completed. Simply put, I’ve a new artist crush and its Renae De Liz.
In a time where the character has struggled to maintain relevance, this is classic Wonder Woman, born from clay, and the series is all the better for it. I care about Diana and her struggles because they are those that we all face as a result of societal and parental constraints places on us throughout our lives. The references to legendary figures, battles and the Greek pantheon of Gods may confuse some readers, but it serves to show the depth and richness of the world that we are entering. This lore heavy approach is what Wonder Woman should be. Part-Greek epic, part-costume drama, The Legend of Wonder Woman is worthy of title and has the potential to serve as one of the definitive runs on the character. Let’s hope that De Liz sticks the landing.
A review copy was kindly provided by DC Comics.