- Books, Literature, and Writing
Wonder Woman Top Ten Graphic Novels
'Keep faith, trust to love. Fight with honor, but fight to win...'
In recent times, there have been two Wonder Woman's; not literally (lets not get into the whole Wonder Woman's mother becoming Wonder Woman back in World War 2, its...complicated) but in style and tone. We have the 'superhero' Wonder Woman, the Justice League heroine, fighter of bad guys, and top dog in the female superhero hierarchy; this is probably the version the public is most familiar with.. The second Wonder Woman is the 'mythology/ politics' version, who has a unique status as a demi-goddess on Earth who is representing her Amazon nation as an ambassador to 'man's world'. Writers down the years have struggled to reconcile the two, although have written fine stories of one version or the other; indeed, Denny O'Neil in the 1970s did away with everything, put her in seventies fashions and created a third 'human' version.
This confusion over her role, and how to portray her goes all the way back to her creation in 1941 by psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston in All Star Comics #8 ; created to give female readers a strong role model and heroine of their own, she soon ended up being the bondage cover of the month girl (Wonder Woman was tied up waaaay too much) and joined the Justice Society of America as its, ahem, secretary.
Although Wonder Womans sales have always been relatively low (men traditionally didn't flock to titles with female leads, until the 90's 'bad-girl' fad, and then for the wrong reasons) she has remained in print almost since her debut over 70 years ago, because she is a major icon, and a merchandising cash-cow. DC has often put out stuff that, to be honest, was at best quirky but average, at worst downright terrible. I've picked 10 collections that I feel give a good overall feel for Wonder Woman, old and new, very good and quirky.
Come jump in Princess Diana's invisible plane (how cool is that) and check 'em out...
Images are used under Fair Use (Comic Single Panels)
10. Wonder Woman: Mission's End
Writer: Greg Rucka Artist: Ron Randall
I like most of Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman, so certainly seek out his other volumes, but I've picked this collection as it was a real game-changer at the time; Wonder Woman's actions drove a wedge between her and many of her fellow heroes, notably Superman and Batman.The DC Universe was forever changed... It's a little confusing at first, as this volume also ties into the epic Identity Crisis and Project Omac storylines, but essentially Maxwell Lord manages to mind control Superman, who he sends on a destructive, bloody rampage, including beatdowns on Batman and Wonder Woman; Diana realises that there is only one way to stop Lord, and release Superman...so she snaps his neck.live.on television.
Rucka perfectly captures the angst of the moment; Diana knows she has to do it, but also knows by doing it she will possibly lose everything. There are some very human moments against an epic background of widescreen fighting, and its a fantastic read. We see Diana plumb the depths, but Rucka ends things on a more upbeat note that lets us know all is not lost.
Although the writing and characterisation is the star, the visuals are nice and complement well, and add up to a must-read collection
Brian Bolland did some legendary covers on Wonder Woman..
9. The Wonder Woman Chronicles Vol. 1
Writer: William M Marston Artist: Harry G Peter
If you love a character, I feel it is important to go back to the beginning and see how they began; only then can you get a feel for them, see how they have grown. With Wonder Woman you can do that with the Chronicles series or the Wonder Woman Archive Editions, both are fine collections.
In volume 1 here we have those very early tales - All-Star Comics 8, Sensation Comics 1-6, Wonder Woman 1,and Sensation Comics 7-9 (all 1941-1942). Obviously very simplistic by today's standards, but sometimes its nice to return to those simpler stories - bad guys are just bad guys, and get what they deserve! We get to see Wonder Woman's origin, her arrival in the U.S, the creation of her Diana Prince alter-ego, and rather a lot of ( boo! hiss!) Nazi beatdowns.
The material aside, a little more editorial input would have been welcome; a bit of text history on the writer and artists, for example.
Its a decent start though.
Even Wonder Woman needs a second job these days...
8. JLA: League of One
Writer/ Artist: Christopher Moeller
Very much a hidden gem this one. Although its got JLA on the front, forget that, its a Wonder Woman epic tale, and its fantastic. Written and fully painted by Christopher Moeller, this is an outstanding piece of work, and one of the best interpretations of Wonder Woman I think I have ever read.
When a mythical dragon appears to menace the world, the Delphi Oracle tells Wonder Woman a terrible prediction; the Justice League will defeat the beast, but die doing so. Wonder Woman decides to do the only thing she can think to do to save her teammates; take them out one by one, then face the dragon herself. We see her take down the entire Justice League, not just with brute strength, but cunning and smarts too. This is Diana's moment to shine, and Moeller is pitch perfect.
Not hugely well-known, any true fan of WW should seek this out...if nothing else, just to see Batman get his!
A brief history of Wonder Woman..
7. Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors
Writer: Various Artist: Various
This may be my guilty pleasure, but it had to be on the list. Its Bronze Age..er..gold. You know what I mean. Collecting together Wonder Woman issues 212-222 (1974-1976), we see Diana return to the role of Wonder Woman after stepping away, and as she wishes to return to the Justice League of America, she is set 'Twelve Labors' to prove herself worthy. The fantastic part is that each issue features a JLA character monitoring the task, so we get a whole slew of great adventures, (by which I mean totally over the top scenarios, battles, and resolutions) with great guest stars; the less great part is that, yes, its a little dated. The characters are their 1970s selves, so don't expect post-crisis 'mad and bad' Hawkman for example...although Black Canary has always been hot!
If you like the old days, campy fun, plenty of classic Wonder Woman moments (bullets, bracelets, standing on invisible planes, 'classic' Paradise Island) you'll enjoy. Probably twice. I did.
6. Wonder Woman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told
Writer: Various Artist: Various
In the same way I always think a top ten needs an 'origin' collection, it needs a 'best of', to showcase different eras and interpretations of the character. I want people to like Wonder Woman after all! This collection fits the bill perfectly. The introduction is by none other than Lynda Carter herself, which is a nice touch, and we have eleven separate tales, stretching all the way back to her early appearances. I like the fact that there has been a genuine attempt by the editors to cull stories from every era, so we have a really good range of material - we have 40's goofiness, 60's zany, 80's realism and a lot more besides. Not really a true 'best of', as it would be full of mostly newer post-crisis material, but more a good 'snapshot' of WW throughout her publishing history. The talent involved is impressive - William Moulton Marston (her creator), Robert Kanigher, Denny O'Neill, Elliot S Maggin,and artists HG Peter (her first artist), Ross Andru, Mike Sekowsky, Curt Swan, Jose Delbo, GeorgePerez, and Phil Jimenez (the last two also wrote).There is also a 2 page Paul Dini/ Alex Ross origin recap which is a nice addition. If you want to get a good feel for the character, pick this up, its a good introduction to one of the longest published characters in comics.
Bad guys, be afraid.....
5. Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol. 1
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski Artist: Don Kramer
I expected to dislike this intensely, truth be told. I'm not a fan of change for changes sake, and J. Michael Straczynski is very hit and miss; when he's on form, he is quite an innovative writer, but he can also be oddly out of tune with a character and its readers. Fortunately, he got this one right. This collection collects together Wonder Woman issues 607-614, and is a bit of mystery/ history tale. Everything has changed for Diana, the timeline seemingly throwing her into unfamiliar surroundings, in an unfamiliar costume; why? how? who? the reader goes on the journey with the character, and its a good one. Not a pointless re-boot, but rather a re-examination of Wonder Woman as a person, a symbol, and a hero. Make no mistake, this was not a quick story arc that came and went, and returned Diana to her previous staus quo; this WAS the new status quo!
Good characterisation, great set-up, nice art all combine to form a tale that sweeps you along, leaving you genuinely curious as to what has happened, and why. Odyssey, vol.2 continues the storyline, so I would recommend the two together to get the whole story, especially as its a finite arc; you get a definite conclusion at the end.
Sadly, DC launched the New 52 soon after, and this Diana ceased to exist, which is a shame, but at least with this collection you can enjoy a genuine high spot in her history.
Still not sure about that costume though...
Which is your favourite Wonder Woman?
4. Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
Writer: Greg Rucka Artist: J.G Jones
Greg Rucka is firmly from the politics/myth side of the Wonder Woman character, and his stint on Wonder Woman was really, really good. This book, however, was a stand-alone deluxe story out of her book continuity, its tone deliberately darker, and is a good examination of the personal conflicts Diana endures as hse is torn between ancient beliefs and custom and the laws of the modern world. The Hiketeia of the title is an ancient Greek ritual whereby an individual becomes a supplicant to another, and therefore under their protection; in this tale a young woman's sister is murdered and she in turn murders the killers after receiving the help of the Furies, Greek goddesses of vengeance. Batman gets involved, and she flees, seeking Wonder Womans protection under Hiketeia; Danielle, the young woman, is granted sanctuary in the Themyscira embassy, and when Batman comes a-calling to bring her to justice Wonder Woman must honor her pledge, which she does.
Batman and Wonder Woman are very alike, both trapped in their belief system from which they cannot, or will not, change. Its a modern tragedy in that there is, ultimately, no winners, just more questions for Diana about her place in the modern world.
The visuals are amazing, perfectly complementing a really nice, mature take on Diana. If you seek this book out, you won't be sorry.
A fun montage of Wonder Woman through the ages in animated form...
3. Wonder Woman: The Circle
Writer: Gail Simone Artist: Terry&Rachel Dodson
Its sad to say, but comics big female superstar has rarely been written by women, which I have always found a bit strange. When Gail Simone was given a shot, she showed just how misguided that was. She brought a whole new feel to the character, and a true appreciation of what the character represents to the female fans - role model, icon, just as competent and capable as the male heroes.
Although titled 'The Circle', that arc takes up the first part of the book only; the second half, 'Ex-patriate' is very different in setting and tone, and not as good it must be said; originally published in Wonder Woman, vol 2, issues 14-19.
'The Circle' is Amazon/ Paradise Island/ Hippolyta heavy, but Simone is clearly comfortable with this side of Diana and even manages to introduce a split in the ranks of the Amazons, going back many years; it took a female writer to write that maybe Paradise Island wasn't so perfect after all! We get a fun ride as well, including a welcome return for the Secret Society of Super-Villains and Captain Nazi.
The 'Diana Prince' identity, reintroduced by another writer, seems a little unnecessary to me, and seems to be there just to justify the relationship with Nemesis; Etta Candy also returns, but not the one us long time fans remember. The second story arc is Wonder Woman in space, mixing it up with a renegade Green Lantern and the Khunds, a 'superhero' WW less than the Rucka 'political' one.
Its a decent enough read.
Simone's take on Diana is spot-on; when the story itself is good, the character really shines, and even when the story is a little lacklustre Diana is still written and characterised well. Simone sort of drifts between the two camps of Wonder Woman scribes, bit of bubblegum superheroics here, some mythology there but carries off both equally well.
I'd recommend pretty much all her Wonder Woman books, but this collection, for me, is some of the best writing to date.
2. Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth
Writer: Paul Dini Artist: Alex Ross
This is very nearly the perfect Wonder Woman book; although short, at 64 pages, it is over-sized and the fully painted Alex Ross artwork will simply make you drool! There is not a traditional storyline as such, but more a look at Wonder Woman the character and Princess Diana the character. The double page action spreads are stunning, and the quieter 'Diana' moments are captured equally well, in smaller, more subdued panels.
Diana questions her role in man's world. Is she most effective as a superhero, fighting evil? As an Amazon, promoting her values? as an Ambassador for peace? a female role model? She lacks focus, and through the course of the story seeks to define her role and does.
Its a slight story, but one that has resonated through the years with Wonder Woman; Just who is she? I felt Diana was a real person in this book, with the same confusion and lack of faith we all get in ourselves sometimes.
As you would expect, probably the real star of the book is the art, it is simply stunning, and worth the price of admission alone.
Paul Dini and Alex Ross are a great team, and Diana can thank them for this book, one of her best.
Alex Ross always captures the majesty of Wonder Woman...
1. Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Gods and Mortals
Writer: Len Wein, Greg Potter Plotter/ Artist: George Perez
Wonder Woman 'died' during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and so George Perez was given a clean slate with which to relaunch her title; he decided to ditch most of the pre-crisis silliness, and return Diana to her roots - mythology. Boy, did he do it right. This collection collects Wonder Woman issues 1 to 7 (which I bought monthly when they originally came out) and they were incredible. George Perez plotted and drew the issues, and his intricate detail was perfect for Paradise Island, and the Greek gods.
Naturally, we begin with the 'new' origin for the new Diana. This new Diana was given superhuman powers by the gods, trained to be a formidable warrior yet taught to promote peace in the name of Gaia, and to protect the innocent from harm. The first storyline sees Diana starting off with a tough task, as she must prevent the powerful god Ares (and similarly power crazed sons Deimos and Phobos) from starting a worldwide nuclear holocaust.
These issues both redefined Wonder Woman for a new generation, and gave long time fans a Wonder Woman truer to her roots than had been seen for a long time. Old history wasn't just thrown away but dusted down, and given a more relevant reason for being (bullets and bracelets, the Amazon contests etc)
Its Wonder Woman done right, and this interpretation dominated the next 20 years. I loved it then, and I love it now, and urge you to seek it out. You won't be disappointed!