The Five Wonder Woman Comics You Must Own
As promotion for my forthcoming book on They Might Be Giants’ Flood (out this Thursday!), my co-author and I are guest-editing the 33 1/3 blog at 333sound.com this week. That’s right, you get double the blogging from me this week. Our first post is here, featuring bits of our interview with the band that didn’t fit into the book.
So, you’ve bought A Golden Thread, my critical history of Wonder Woman. And you’re one of the readers who hasn’t read any Wonder Woman comics – which is fine, as I wrote the book assuming a reader who hadn’t. But now you want to go read some because you’re interested.
Or perhaps you haven’t bought it yet because you don’t know enough about Wonder Woman, but you’re curious why I think the topic is so interesting.
Either way, here are my picks for the five Wonder Woman collections/eras somebody interested in knowing more about the fascinating history of the character should read. Or just the five Wonder Woman collections anyone looking for a good comic should read. Really, just read them. Then go buy A Golden Thread. Even if you’ve bought it already; just buy another copy. They make great Christmas presents.
The Wonder Woman Chronicles (Volume 2)
Volume 1 of this series is currently out of print, but the original William Moulton Marston/Harry G. Peter stories don’t really require chronological ordering anyway. What’s important is that this is nearly two hundred pages of World War II era Wonder Woman by her creators themselves. This is the era of Wonder Woman in which she was a propaganda figure for her creator’s imagined female supremacist bondage utopia.
What jumps out about stories in this era is twofold. First is their weird inventiveness. Marston was completely barmy, and his stories are packed with strange and wonderful ideas. Second is the fact that Marston has a radical vision of the world that is as idiosyncratic and sweeping as that of William Blake or Philip K. Dick. Wonder Woman is a part of a larger philosophical and intellectual system for him, and though the full nature of that system isn’t clear from the strips alone, they sparkle with a sort of mad passion lacking in any other superhero comic I’ve read. These are some of the weirdest comics ever to have a major cultural impact.
Diana Prince: Wonder Woman (Volume 4)
One of my favorite parts of A Golden Thread is the two chapters devoted to the so-called I Ching era, a period in the late 60s/early 70s in which Wonder Woman lost her superpowers and adventured as an ordinary human being. This era was pilloried by Gloria Steinem, whose objections were used as a pretext for sacking the creative team and replacing it. In practice, though, the creative team was a bunch of fabulous writers and artists, headed by Denny O’Neil, whose angry leftist take on Green Arrow remains one of the iconic comics of the 1970s. For the last two issues of the era they had Samuel Delaney writing, who was doing one of the most serious-minded feminist takes on the comic ever, before or since. And upon firing them DC replaced them with Robert Kanigher, who promptly created an evil black duplicate of Wonder Woman called “Nubia.” It’s one of the most spectacular own-goals for feminism ever.
This is the final set of stories from that era, including Samuel Delaney’s two-issue run and the appallingly bad Robert Kanigher issue where all of these plot threads are quickly abandoned. (Though not the one introducing Nubia) The entire era is worth looking at, but seeing just how good Samuel Delaney’s take on Wonder Woman was and just how stupid what comes immediately after it is fascinating. This is an era of Wonder Woman that shows just how broad the concept is. It pushes the idea of Wonder Woman further than any other era really ever has.Plus it has Wonder Woman and Catwoman teaming up with Fafhrd the Barbarian in a Sword and Sorcery epic. It sells itself.
The George Pérez Era (Comixology link)
That the trade paperback collection of this is out of print speaks volumes about just how poorly DC handle both Wonder Woman and their archival material. Following the universe-wide reboot of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman was revamped by writer-artist George Pérez when, basically, nobody else was interested and he felt like she deserved a high caliber creator. This was Pérez’s first book as a writer, and he absolutely killed on it. The comic is dense, with a mythic sweep to it that redefined the character brilliantly. Pérez’s take goes back to fundamentals and Greek mythology, but does so in a way that is grounded in the real world and in human experience.
This is not a surprise – the comic was edited by Karen Berger, who had overseen Alan Moore’s work on Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and matched the sophisticated, mature styles that mark all the work she edits with Wonder Woman’s more colorful world. There’s an alternate universe wher Wonder Woman was one of the books to make the jump to Vertigo in 1993, and got an extended run as a mature readers comic worked on by the best lights of the industry. Reading this, you see how close it came. This is a comic that is far, far better than it needs to be, and is a classic as a result.
And even if the trades are out of print, you can get it issue by issue from Comixology, with the first issue costing only 99 cents. (Don’t be fooled by the zero issue – it does not meaningfully come before #1, and belongs to a later era of the comic)
Out of print, but at least affordably priced. Rucka is a phenomenal writer who’s become known in comics for his well-done female characters, who are not “strong female characters” in the ordinary and frustrating sense, but who are instead rounded and developed characters who are women. His Wonder Woman run is a thing of beauty, even if it was interrupted and then brought to a premature halt by another big DC Universe event and relaunch.
This graphic novel predates his run, and is a stand-alone story of Wonder Woman and Batman (another character he had an iconic run on) coming into conflict over the life of a young woman. Batman is hunting her because she murdered three people. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is protecting her for her own complex reasons. It is in many ways the themes and vision of the Marston era brought into the present era, and written in a more grounded, mature manner. The contrasts between Wonder Woman and Batman are amazingly well done, with Wonder Woman having a moral code that is at once utterly strange and utterly sensible. Pay attention to how the themes of dominance and submission from the Marston era come back and are updated for the present day. If you buy only one thing on this list, buy this. There should not be a used copy left on Amazon at the end of the day.
Ironically, in amongst the frequently misogynistic and almost universally awful dreck of DC’s “New 52” relaunch is Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s take on Wonder Woman, which by several miles the best comic coming out of DC right now. But that’s not saying much, so let’s try again – there’s no era in DC’s history where this wouldn’t be one of the best books they had coming out.
Azzarello calmly sidesteps the endless navel-gazing that Wonder Woman comics sink into, instead penning an unnerving book of mythological horror. Instead of tediously analyzing what the role of Wonder Woman should be, as virtually ever other Wonder Woman comic does these days, Azzarello just tells a rolicking story that features Wonder Woman as its main character. He has a clear ear for her, capturing much of the essence of the character without ever having to indulge in patting himself on the back for how well he writes her. Instead the book displays a steely confidence that has made every issue a solid read. And the art is phenomenal, particularly in its unnervingly haunting depictions of the Greek gods. Buy it. Catch up. And then start grabbing the new issues.
November 12, 2013 @ 12:29 am
I'm afraid I actually gave up on Azzarello's Wonder Woman after the first story arc. I looked back and realised that while I'd been appreciating these comics were technically brilliant, I hadn't actually been enjoying them. I'll give it another shot.
Otherwise, I agree absolutely, although I also think the Gail Simone run should probably be up there.
November 12, 2013 @ 12:42 am
Yeah, I'm also puzzled by the absence of the Gail Simone run. Otherwise, it's a good list–the I Ching era in particular is one I've always meant to read and never gotten around to.
Also, it's really high time I picked up the book, I've been meaning to since it came out.
November 12, 2013 @ 1:12 am
Good list but like DaibhidC I wasn't moved much by the Azzarello first arc either, feeling that it was just covering the same ground as the Potter/Perez/Wein issues, which are much prized by me to this day. Your own tome is an intended treat for Christmas.
I recall a story that might interest you. Back around the time he first became a Big Name, DC approached Frank Miller to revamp Wonder Woman. He intimated that he would turn her into a genuine Amazon Warrior by having her lop off one of her breasts, the better to draw back her bowstring.
So they offered him Batman instead.
November 12, 2013 @ 1:57 am
Okay, bought it. It was too much of a hassle finding an app that would let me put a Smashwords purchase on my phone, so I bought it via Barnes and Noble. E-mail me and I'll paypal you the difference in royalties.
November 12, 2013 @ 5:07 am
So… can we talk about Doctor Who again, yet? :-S
November 12, 2013 @ 6:10 am
Which just shows the breadth of Frank's ignorance. The breast mutilation nonsense was traced back to a mistranslation ages ago. All classic depictions of Amazons have the full rack. And there are plenty of modern female archers who manage just fine without body modification.
Henry R. Kujawa
November 12, 2013 @ 9:45 am
My comics-shop manager once said the Golden Age Wonder Woman Archives were his favorite of all the reprints DC was doing. When I got ahold of the first 3 volumes… I had to agree. I've read a lot of different versions of WW, though not as many as some. But now, having read the William Marston-Harry Peter original, I feel that nobody– and I mean NOBODY– not even George Perez– ever came close to getting her "right".
Those Archive books should remain in print perpetually.
November 12, 2013 @ 12:54 pm
Barnes and Noble is a perfectly fine way to buy it. I wouldn't put it on sale there if I minded people buying from there.
If you want to give me more money, go buy the Last War in Albion chapter that goes on sale Thursday. 🙂
November 12, 2013 @ 12:58 pm
You know, and I recognize that it's in part just me, but I was let down by the Simone run. Plenty of smart people with good taste adore Simone, but she's never quite done it for me. To me, the main advantage she has over something like the (quite underrated) Eric Luke run or Phil Jimenez's time on the character is that she's still in print.
I think. Is she? Actually, I bet she's gone out of print like every other good Wonder Woman comic. But yeah. If you asked me to pick among her, Luke, and Jimenez, I'd have a really hard time.
November 12, 2013 @ 3:08 pm
Thanks for this, I am indeed A Golden Thread purchaser who has never read a Wonder Woman comic outside of crossovers (Death of Superman/Kingdom Come is all that comes to mind) and Seanbaby's Hostess Cupcake scans/mockery reviews (http://www.seanbaby.com/hostess.htm).
I was just wondering what Graphic Novels to pursue next – having exhausted the good Daredevil stuff published in larger volumes – so this is perfectly timed!
November 12, 2013 @ 3:56 pm
Oh good — I'm glad you posted this, because I really needed it. I own the first and last items on your list, and I just finished the last one the other night.
I loved 100 Bullets. I'll admit the art was a big part of that, but I wouldn't have made it to the end if the writing hadn't equalled or exceeded its quality. And I do love a good Greek mythology story. But I can't help feeling that Azzarello is, at least in this first volume, WAY more into reimagining the Greek gods (and embroiling them in a fairly embarrassing soap opera, as you point out in your chapter on this era in your book) than in actually having Wonder Woman do much of anything. It's hard to get invested in the revelation about her birth when the false story is sprung immediately before (as opposed to something we've always assumed about the character — see Swamp Thing), and I really can't see what else she does in these early issues apart from being generally awesome. I guess I don't need to analyze what her role should be, but I would like her to have one that isn't defined in terms of everyone else around her.
It's like: yeah, Hades and Apollo look wicked cool, but I thought I'd bought a book called Wonder Woman.
It's cool, though. Someday I'll read more of Azzarello's run, because even if his habit of torturing dialogue to produce double meanings and puns is a little irritating he's still, well, wicked cool. And now I can go back and read the Chronicles and maybe get what I was after in the first place.
November 12, 2013 @ 9:43 pm
Hey Phil – Sounds exciting! To respond first to your work with Flood and They Might Be Giants – I am going to see them live in Edinburgh this Friday for the first time! I have bought surprise tickets for me and my partner as a treat for completing a 2 year's training in leading outdoor learning. The venue is a lovely converted church called the Queen's Hall. WILL buy Flood and check out your blog posts.
Also – I had in a way always written off Wonder Woman as a character without really looking into her. Your suggestions make me want to look further and of course, buy your book.
November 13, 2013 @ 10:28 am
Ive never heard of this book of yours and am intrigued – where can I get a copy of it?
November 13, 2013 @ 10:30 am
Right here, good sir: http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Thread-Unofficial-Critical-History-ebook/dp/B00G8U22UW/
November 14, 2013 @ 10:28 am
JL A League of One. Not a WW but WW centric and really really one of my favorites!
November 15, 2013 @ 5:55 am
Doctor Who is the only thing that doesn't get talked about. Although I must admit Wonder Woman is way more interesting than either Torchwood, which apparently produced twice as many episodes as Doctor Who or Alan Moore comics that aren't Killing Joke, Watchmen or Swamp Thing.
December 14, 2013 @ 1:54 pm
Well, her run drags early, but I really thought she was finding a marvellous tone during the latter half… before the unceremonious dumping for JMS who didn't bother to stay.