This weekend, history will be made.
On Thursday the 1st of June Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) will bring the most enduring and iconic woman in comics to a broad, international audience.
It would take some doing to argue against the epochal nature of the character, or her status as a feminist icon. Created by psychologist, writer and inventor William Moulton Marston, Diana of Themyscara has always been intended to bring a message of female liberation and empowerment to the masses.
Of course, Wonder Woman won’t be the first superhero to enjoy an incarnation on the big screen (that distinction belongs to her DC alumna Supergirl (1984)) but early buzz indicates that the film will buck the trend of half-hearted and ill-conceived female led superhero films, and usher in an era in which comic book heroines will be… dare I say it… taken seriously.
While some may lament the fact that it’s taken this long to bring this quintessential character to the big screen, most fans appear happy to simply enjoy the anticipation for the film.
With that in mind, let’s return to Diana’s origins on the page.
As the hype and marketing materials for the film build to a crescendo and the character battles her way to the forefront of the popular consciousness I’m often asked by new fans which books I’d recommend as primers for the upcoming film.
I’ve even seasoned comics veterans clamour “Where is Wonder Woman’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’? Where is her ‘Death of the Stacys’?”.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 5 essential Wonder Woman graphic novels; one for every day leading up to general release on Friday.
This is by no means intended to be a definitive list of great Wonder Woman stories, nor is it intended to reflect the entirety of Wonder Woman’s entire publication history (let’s just ignore Denny O’Neill’s well-intentioned but misguided attempt to make Diana one of Charlie’s Angels in the ’70s). This is more a selection box of stories that represent a compelling depiction of the character that are also accessible for new readers.
There’s no order of preference or chronology here and all these stories are readily available digitally and physically.
The following is entirely spoiler free!
Gods and Mortals
Written by: George Perez / Len Wein
Art by: George Perez
There are few comic book writer / artists as prolific as George Perez. The mid 1980s were a transformative time for comics and Perez was the architect of many of DC’s most celebrated tales of that era from “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to “The Judas Contract” to his classic 5 year run on Wonder Woman.
As with John Byrne’s “The Man of Steel” and Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One“, “Gods and Mortals” represents a post-modern take on a well known origin story, but unlike its predecessors, it snowballed from a mini series into a half decade run.
Perez’ world building is phenomenal, positioning the ‘Old Gods’ of Greek mythology alongside the Kirby-esque New Gods and bringing them to the comic book page with all the hubris, neurosis and unmitigated power of their mythic counterparts.
In the wake of such irreverent pop-culture landmarks as Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, we’re well primed for seeing unflattering human traits from our deities but this is still one of the more satisfying elements of this story.
The art, while ostensibly very ’80s, is classic in its simplicity though the subtle palette may appear washed out to those younger readers accustomed to the vivid digital inking of contemporary comics.
Perez’ talent lies in creating incredibly dense panels, alive with detail and text. This approach may not work for those who prefer more economy in their visual storytelling but if you can get past this slight caveat there’s a wealth of incredible stuff here that would define the character of Wonder Woman and her supporting cast for decades.
Who Is Wonder Woman?
Written by: Allan Heinberg
Art by: Terry & Rachel Dodson
This graphic novel represents one of my favourite eras in Wonder Woman comics.
Following the events of Geoff Johns’ “Infinite Crisis” Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have been absent from the DC Universe for a year. Diana has spent a year in self-imposed exile after being forced to take the life of the nefarious Maxwell Lord after he used telepathy to turn Superman into his personal attack dog.
In Diana’s absence the one-time Wonder Girl Donna Troy has taken up her mantle while Diana herself struggles to find her place in the world now that she no longer considers herself worthy of the title.
Joining the Department of Metahuman Affairs as agent Diana Prince, she spends the first half of the story as an ass-kicking secret agent, trading barbs with Suicide Squad alumnus Thomas ‘Nemesis’ Tresser, with whom a romance eventually develops.
The story is rich in both DCU and Greek mythology with a diverse range of supporting characters including Batman, Robin, Superman and the Justice Society of America as well as Hercules and Circe (who serves as the story’s chief antagonist, alongside such WW staples as Dr Psycho, Cheetah, Giganta and Dr Poison).
Heinberg’s love of the character of Wonder Woman is palpable and best illustrated here by the love the other DC superheroes show her.
Like Frank Miller’s “Daredevil: Born Again“, the story is a deconstruction and reconstruction of what makes makes Diana the hero she is and why only she can bear the mantle of Wonder Woman.
Allan Heinberg shares a story credit with Zack Snyder on the Wonder Woman film and that alone is enough to assure me that the film will be awesome. That’s how good this book is!
Ends of the Earth
Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: Aaron Lopresti / Bernard Chang
Gayle Simone’s run on Wonder Woman is so phenomenal it’s difficult to select a stand-out graphic novel.
While its predecessor “The Circle” marks the start of her celebrated run, Ends of the Earth is unparalleled in its balancing of various classic mythologies with the DC Universe’s own mythology.
This was the first Wonder Woman trade paperback I ever picked up and Diana’s opening encounter with a pack of rabid wolves while in search of Beowulf is both heartbreaking and beautiful and made me fall completely in love with the character.
In this story, Wonder Woman teams up with Beowulf and Hawaiian sea-God Kane Milohai in a battle with demons and monsters (including Beowulf’s nemesis, Grendel) in a battle where her very soul is at stake.
As well as the epic mythological battles, the story features some great interactions with Etta Candy (no longer the blushing secretary, now an ass-kicking field agent), and some great development in her romance with Nemesis.
The story also features Wonder Woman grappling with her own status as a feminist icon while consulting on the Wonder Woman movie…
Aaron Lopresti’d rendering of Wonder Woman is still my favourite ever committed to paper, conveying the exact right balance of power and femininity and his art depicts the appropriate grandeur for a battle as epic in scale as this while still nailing the smaller, interpersonal moments.
The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1
Written by Renae De Liz
Art by Ray Dillon
Okay, so it’s another origin story but this hardcover collection of digital firsts represents possibly the most intricate and in-depth depiction of Wonder Woman’s origin to-date, along with sumptuous, vividly coloured art.
The husband and wife team have made well-trodden ground feel fresh and exciting with just the right amount of reassuring familiarity.
The story is, as one may expect, rich in Greek mythology with stunning renderings of manticores, mermaids, Pegasus and more, sliding seamlessly into science fiction territory with the introduction of the Manhunters in later issues.
The series adhere’s closely to the Golden Age facets of the origin, as conceived by William Moulton Marston and the World War II era setting creates a pleasant symmetry with the artwork.
Steve Trevor and Etta Candy are charmingly rendered in a depiction that seems congruent with what we’ve already seen from the upcoming film.
The synergy between the story and art is as harmonious as one might expect from a husband and wife team and it was a great disappointment to many fans when the second volume was cancelled late last year.
Both Renae De Liz’ words and Ray Dillon’s art give a real sense of celebration of the female form without sexual objectification. The women are all beautiful (it’s a comic) but the art celebrates women of all colours, shapes, sizes and body types.
While the art may be a wee bit cutesy for some, those looking for an accessible yet intricate take on the origin need look no further.
Written by: Brian Azzarello
Art by: Cliff Chiang / Tony Akins
Brian Azzarello’s hard-boiled and ultra-violent approach may not immediately seem ideally suited to a character as wholesome and optimistic as Diana but this first trade paperback of his 35 issue run represents an amicable meeting point between authorial style and subject matter.
Azzarello uses the continuity-wide reboot of the New 52 to fundamentally alter Diana’s birth to be the product of sexual union rather than being a clay figure brought to life by Zeus as per the pre-Flashpoint continuity.
This sets her, and her mother Hippolyta, at odds with their fellow Amazons (re-imagined by Azzarello as aggressively anti-male) who are open in their disgust at the Princess’ birth.
With his “Luthor” and “Joker” mini-series, Azzarello sought to explore the psychology of DC’s best known villains and his work in exploring Diana’s psychology is one of the strongest elements of this book.
If you’ve a taste for violent and darkly psychological stories that also feature the kind of swash-buckling monster slaying you’d associate with Wonder Woman then this is an ideal jumping-off point.
There you go, fandom feeders. That’s a bullet blocking, lasso twirling epic yarn for every day leading up to Wonder Woman‘s release. I hope you’ll take the time to read at least one story on this list, or better yet pass the list on to a friend and let them see just how great this character is before we see Gal Gadot work her magic.
See you on opening night, folks!