Greetings one and all, and welcome to my first review for The Fandomentals. My first anything, really. I’m new around these parts (Let’s hope this goes well, eh?), and so I decided to start smack-dab in the middle of not one, but two ongoing story-arcs in Greg Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman. Aim high, right?
For those who don’t know, Greg Rucka is doing something relatively uncommon in modern comics: He is writing two concurrent stories in the series at the same time. The stories are told in alternating issues as “The Lies” (Which began in Issue #1, then issue #3, and so on) and “Year One” (Which began with Issue #2, then #4, etc.). “The Lies” is the present-day story, following the adventures of Princess Diana of Themyscira ‘now’, and “Year One” is the origin story which chronicles how Diana first left Paradise Island ten years ago. This is not the first time that this has ever been attempted, a series telling stories in flashback along with the ‘main’ story is relatively common, but it closer approaches uniqueness by completely switching between issues. “Year One” is not being narrated during a pause in “The Lies” and it is not being shown to the reader clip-show style in highlights, it is a completely independent story with its own development and progression. Greg Rucka is essentially writing a story and its own sequel/prequel, and needs to make each one stand on its own while still fitting in with the other.
Thankfully, he does it well, because what Greg Rucka is trying to do with this series is correct and make sense of the New 52 interpretation of Wonder Woman that was all sorts of wrong about the character. He needs to address both Diana’s history and her current story all at once in order to redress the wrongs done in her name.
A little background is needed here: The new 52 Wonder Woman series, which was launched by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang, is a very technically competent series. Azzarello is a very skilled writer, and Cliff Chiang’s clear style makes him the kind of artist that Wonder Woman deserves (I told him so when I stopped by his booth at New York ComicCon and bought three of his Wonder Woman prints). The problem is that the story Azzarello was telling was not Wonder Woman. Ask ten different fans of the character what the “core” of Wonder Woman was and you will probably get ten different answers, but I will lay money that until the New 52 began not one of them would have said “her relationship with her father”. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Azzarello thought she needed. He re-wrote her origin story, changed the background of the Amazons, and told what was a generally compelling and mythic story that simply had no place being associated with the Wonder Woman name. Not only was it not Wonder Woman in the philosophical sense of not being the “right” character, but it also had problematic aspects that I do not think Azzarello ever realized were there with the way the series handled family, gender, sex, violence, and a whole lot of other aspects of life. Once we got a ways into it I could not even continue reading and I had to drop the series from my pull list.
And so that is what brings us to this series, because Greg Rucka is not just waving his hand and saying “Nevermind, look at this new thing!” and hoping that the New 52 will be forgotten. That is not his style. Rucka has a long history of taking characters that have been neglected or mistreated by other authors, or even just rarely appearing and unimportant, and reinventing them to staggering effect. He did it before with Renee Montoya, a character created for the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon that was brought into the comics universe. He reintroduced the Batwoman character that had languished in comic-limbo since the Bronze Age and built up Katherine “Kate” Kane so well that I wound up literally burning an issue of her comic after the creative team to follow him was mistreated and quit and the replacements tanked the character. His The Punisher series for Marvel is the only modern series starring the character that I can tolerate. Rucka does not retcon or ignore the preceding stories, he takes what was there and he expands it, finds explanations for what can be made to work and tweaks what cannot. He began the “The Lies” arc with Diana recognizing that her memories are not making sense, that her past story and present story do not mesh, and that her own personality has changed and is still changing. She is recognizing that her recent adventures from the New 52 are literally a series of lies, and so she is endeavoring to explain what is going on. She wants to find who is responsible, and separate who she really is from the false image she has been presenting recently. As “The Lies” explores her attempts to figure this out, “Year One” shows us what really happened when she first left Themyscira and entered ‘Man’s World’.
Issue #12 dropped this past Wednesday (12/14/16), and is part five of the “Year One” story as Diana is beginning to become acculturated to the new society she has encountered. She is also beginning to experiment with the new powers she has been granted by various Greek deities. In this continuity she was not born with her super strength or flight abilities, and they are not artifacts of her equipment and costume, instead she was visited by numerous gods after she had already made her way off Themyiscira. Specifically, when the gods shared some of their powers with her she was in a holding cell after the US military detained her for some reasonable questions. The Amazons were clearly above human-norms even without these new gifts—part of the final challenge to see who would venture into Man’s World was to deflect a gunshot using their bracers—but there is a difference between Big and Strong and Fast and being…well, Wonder Woman.
The issue proper opens with Diana’s human handlers reviewing news footage of Wonder Woman stopping a mass shooting at a mall in the previous “Year One” issue. Lieutenant Etta Candy (US Navy) and Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva (Also known as the Cheetah, a member of Wonder Woman’s classic rogues gallery) are discussing just what it all means. The shooting had been carried out by “Sear”, an apparently global terrorist organization that is planning some sort of huge domestic attack (Bigger than this shooting) and which Steve Trevor’s team had been attempting to stop when his plane crashed on Themyscira (In this continuity, Steve Trevor is a Navy SEAL). This time, because Diana was there, she was able to stop the shooters before they could kill more people than they already had, and she was able to capture some of the shooters alive, which had never been done with the Sear group before. Now they need to figure out what the Sear group is planning for the “big” attack, and how they can stop it.
But this issue, though it deals with the aftermath of the mall attack and leads into them interrogating the Sear members to foil the big attack, I will not say is about these events. Instead, this is a character issue. Diana and Barbara and Etta and even Steve a little bit, giving us small character insights and touches and flairs, some of which are just bits of fun, some of which are fundamental and almost unprecedented.
Let us start with the fluff stuff, shall we? Wonder Woman can talk to animals.
I will be completely up front, I love that panel, because I know that if I ever gained the ability to talk to animals I would be doing the exact same thing, down-in-the-dirt and all, face-to-face with a lizard. As I said before, these powers are new to Diana, she just gained them a few issues ago and does not even know if she has discovered them all. Flying and super strength and super speed are not old hat to her, every time she figures out a new power it is the first time she has ever done that, and they all have mystery and wonder for her. Elsewhere on the same splash-page are images of her doing the Big Things, but this tiny moment has the same kind of connection as her flying or lifting a tank over her head: Reveling in the new experience and treasuring the wonder of this event.
She is also not a fan of Soder Cola, it being—as she said—“is very sugar” (They are dealing with the language barrier in this series, which pleases me to no end). Apparently she has not yet gotten used to the high sweetness of the American diet yet.
“Suffering Sappho!” is an iconic part of the Wonder Woman lexicon that has been in use for decades. Like “Up, up and away!” or “To the Batpole!” it is not used in earnestness much anymore, too associated with the campiness of the Silver Age, but it has a long history with the character. It is also one of the hallmarks of the way that Diana has been queer-coded since she was originally conceived. Sapphos was a Greek poet whose work contained so much content about women-loving-women that her home island—Lesbos—is the origin for the modern term ‘lesbian’, and ‘sapphic’ itself has become a way to refer to wlw without stating if they are gay or bi or pan or otherwise trying to narrow down their attraction. That was never the explicit reason in the comic for her use of the term, the writers managed to slip it by the censors because “Sapphos was Greek, the Amazons are Greek, there’s nothing else here” but the new issue decided to confront this subtext head-on.
Fans have been picking up the subtext between Barbara and Diana since the early part of “The Lies”, where Cheetah’s hostility and emotions with Wonder Woman came across as lovers-turned-enemies, but in this issue Greg Rucka does not let it linger with just the same light subtext. Barbara and Etta’s conversation about Sappho is an all-but-explicit confirmation that they are both attracted to women as they each recognize the implications of what the other is saying. It is “only” implied here, yes, but this is a direct implication, as Etta says that she is “quite familiar” with Sapphos’ works and they both blush and avert their gazes.
And then Greg Rucka blasts “implication” out of the water when Steve Trevor asks Diana if she left anybody special behind on Themyscira.
Once Diana understands the question she tells him her “someone special” was Kasia, and there is no equivocation here: She does not say “best friend” or “like a sister”, Steve is obviously asking about a romantic/sexual partner and Diana clearly understands what he is asking, and her answer is the same: Kasia.
There had been implications—strong implications—that she and Kasia were in a relationship in earlier issues, and as I said earlier Wonder Woman has been coded as queer since she was first introduced, but to my knowledge this is the first time it has ever been directly admitted with her character in the main DCU continuity. She has been involved with women in alt-continuity stories before (The phenomenal Bombshells ongoing series being published now, in the Grant Morrison Year One hardcover published a few months back, etc.), and writers have been able to include wlw characters amongst the other Amazons, and some authors have publicly said that they have written her as attracted to women, but this is different: This is Wonder Woman herself, in the main DCU continuity, and this is an explicit statement.
Wonder Woman is canonically, officially and explicitly a woman who is part of the LGBT community.So, we’ve gotten these huge confirmations about Diana, Etta and Barbara and this emotional connection to Diana as she explores her powers, what else happened in this issue?…..oh, right, the actual story. Sorry, I got a little distracted.
Having captured the Sear gunmen, Wonder Woman decides to use the Lasso of Truth (Here known to the Amazons as “The Perfect”, and with Diana only having discovered its properties just prior to the attack) to get something more from them than the single repeated sentence of “His Will Shall Not be Denied”. More she most certainly gets, as they begin to scream about Terror, Panic, Discord and War, with tears in their eyes and breaking down in fear at how many people are going to die and begging forgiveness. Clearly these men are not in their right minds, brainwashed and controlled by some evil power, and to such a degree that there was never an inkling of resistance until the Lasso got involved.
As the cast discusses what it could all mean after the interrogations, Barbara pulls Diana aside and reveals that she has been playing a little bit of terrorist boggle, trying to figure out if ‘Sear’ has some other meaning. ‘Ears’ does not mean anything, obviously, but ‘Ares’…
That means something.
Images courtesy of DC Comics.
Wonder Woman #12
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Nicola Scott
Colors: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Cover: Scott & Fajardo, Jr.