One of the principal goals of any comic book publishing initiative, particularly one entitled “Rebirth,” is to offer the audience a fresh starting point: for new readers, casual fans, and even the devotees excited for original storylines. This can be a daunting task, particularly when trying to balance character and origin introductions with engaging plot directions that adhere to decades of continuity. No other fanbase is as devoted to the sanctity of said continuity than that of DC comics, so if you’re going to muddy up the timestream, or reorient the multiversal topography, make damn sure you know what you’re doing. Lucky for us, the creative team of Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, and Nicola Scott know exactly what they’re doing and, with Wonder Woman, have crafted not just one of the best comics in DC’s Rebirth, but one of the best monthly books of 2016.
Dealing with DC’s publication schedule for the Rebirth initiative was another tall order for many creative teams. DC pared down its slate of books to a more focused number (29 new series through the first half-year), but many of those books were scheduled to ship twice a month. Unlike Marvel, whose recent history suggests a company policy of never letting a schedule get in the way of a good story, DC has done an admirable job keeping up with its biweekly comic book blitz. Admirable, if not for the glut of rushed or half-assed scripts, layouts, and artwork. The Wonder Woman team, better than any other group of writers and artists on the Rebirth books, seemed to have appreciated these challenges from the very beginning, and structured a series that actually embraced the publication schedule, using the two books per month to its advantage. Wonder Woman, with its twelfth issue due this week, has woven together two distinct storylines that, while narratively independent of one another, work together to offer both a welcome perspective on the character’s past, as well as an exciting new chapter in the revitalized DC universe.
And because we have two stories, series writer Greg Rucka is able to work with two different artists – a comforting assurance to fans, really. Knowing that neither Liam Sharp nor Nicola Scott would be responsible for more than one book each month made me feel better from the beginning. Both artists are outstanding talents, and on an iconic title like Wonder Woman, none of us wanted to see bailouts from occasional fill-in pencilers or, worse-yet, hurried sub-par pages.
“The Lies” is the first story, teased in the Rebirth prologue issue and beginning in issue #1. Rucka and Sharp take Diana into the dank, dark rainforests of a fictional African kingdom in order to track down Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, otherwise known as Cheetah, one of Wonder Woman’s oldest nemeses. No longer sure of her true origin, Wonder Woman is trying to go back home to the mythical island of Themyscira. She believes she has been lied to for some time; pre-Flashpoint and New 52 stories have become conflicted and her memories, understandably, are convoluted. And for a hero accustomed to illuminating the truth, this is no small matter. For reasons unbeknownst to her, however, Diana is unable to find her way back and, because of their shared history together, she believes that Minerva might be the one person to help her find her Amazonian birthplace.
Of course, Cheetah has her own problems, and her own lies to struggle against. In exchange for helping Diana, Minerva recruits the warrior princess into battle against the “Great God of the Ancient Jungle,” Urzkartaga, the entity responsible for Cheetah’s curse, and currently being resurrected by a megalomaniacal warlord.
Liam Sharp and Laura Martin’s artwork on these jungle sequences is intense, with full-page spreads dripping with Rick Veitch-inspired dread. Set against the darkness and decay, the resolute strength of Wonder Woman and the feral tenacity of Cheetah are incredibly vital, moving with respective power and purpose. The symbolic representation of the jungle deity and his summoning zealot as embodiments of a chauvinistic male-dominated society is a bit heavy-handed, but maybe after seventy-five years of Wonder Woman comics the time for nuance has passed. It’s the 21st century, and there are still far too many cultures, communities, and industries – including the comic book business – in which women are made to feel inferior to men. Portraying those outmoded and cancerous ideals as rotting putrescence made to be razed and purged might be just what the world needs right now.
“The Lies” alternates with the second storyline, which presents a new interpretation of Wonder Woman’s beginnings. Already this year, two other comic book auteurs – Grant Morrison and Jill Thompson – have released versions of Diana’s origin story. Do we really need another?
The answer is yes, absolutely. For one thing, this particular origin works hand-in-hand with “The Lies,” creating flashback-style narrative cohesion with the present-day. We see a young Dr. Minerva, an archaeologist obsessed with the legend of the Amazons. We learn more about Diana’s departure from Themyscira, further underscoring the significance of her quest for home. And the complicated relationship with Major Chief Steve Trevor, a developing plot point in the series, is likewise highlighted in Rucka and Scott’s “Year One.” As an added bonus, many of Wonder Woman’s iconic accessories, from the Lasso of Truth to the invisible jet, are given their own deft introductions.
But there’s another reason this second arc feels so important. The story of Wonder Woman, for all the character’s cultural significance and status as a revered member of DC’s holy trinity, may be the least well-known of any important superhero in popular culture. We’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s parents murdered countless times. Anyone can tell you about Kal-El getting shoved into that tiny spaceship, or what kryptonite does to Superman. But what percentage of comic book fans can even identify Wonder Woman’s alter-ego? Rebirth creates an opportunity to set the record straight, as it were.
Nicola Scott is perfectly suited for this half of the story. If Sharp and Martin are darkness and shadow, Scott and colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. provide the sun and radiance. This is a young Diana, experiencing the outside world for the first time, and the pages reflect this wide-eyed exuberance. Over the course of “Year One,” comic book readers new and old appreciate the transformation of Diana into Wonder Woman, as well as the connection to humanity that has made her the soul of DC’s pantheon.
Superheroes are the modern gods of our era. They are herculean and larger than life, inspiring us and highlighting the best qualities in all of us. In the recent New 52 incarnation of Wonder Woman, Brian Azzarello made a literal connection between Diana and the gods and heroes of ancient Greece. Instead of being formed from clay by her mother Hippolyta, and breathed to life by the gods, Wonder Woman discovered that she was actually the daughter of Zeus. Much of that brilliant Azzarello run integrated the full classic cast from Hera to Ares, Hades to Hermes. No longer supporting cast members in Diana’s backstory, they were now the story.
And as much as it appeals to my sense of cultural continuity, I appreciate the fact that, in this Rebirth, Greg Rucka is taking the opportunity to allow Wonder Woman to become her own hero, for our time. The complete fallout from “The Lies” is yet to be revealed; perhaps the Zeus origin is one of those falsehoods. Whatever the truth is, there looks to be an important distinction between a character that was, for lack of a better term, a spinoff of ancient tales, and is, now, a truly focal character in our ever-expanding modern mythology.
Speaking of Rucka, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to appreciate his veteran skill and creativity. So many of the books in this Rebirth initiative seem to be bogged down with over-exposition, excessive narration that not only crowds the page, but devalues the efforts of the artists. Not to belabor the point, but I can’t help wondering if this, too, is an effect of an aggressive publishing schedule, and a lack of interaction between writer and artist. Rucka knows how to create comics. And, just as importantly, he knows how to collaborate with his team and allow both words and pictures to tell the story. He trusts his artists. I’m glad DC trusted him with one of their most important characters.