By Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark, Sean Parsons, Liam Sharp, Jeremy Colwell & Laura Martin
Created 75 years ago by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter, Wonder Woman has had a long eventful career both in comics and other media. In that time she has grown into one of, if not, the most iconic heroine in the history of comics. As with any other character possessing over seven decades of storytelling, she has accumulated a bit of baggage over the years. As with Batman, any new creative team approaching the character has a variety of, sometimes contradictory, interpretations from which to draw inspiration. Usually the writer will pick one or two elements which most appeals to them and pursue those ideas. For his part, Greg Rucka takes this creative process and blends it with the story itself. The result is an intriguing premise for what could be a bold new era for the Amazonian Princess.
Wonder Woman Rebirth opens with a page exploring the different origins DC has offered for Wonder Woman, such as the classic shaped from clay tale and Brian Azzarello’s Hippolyta/Zeus version for the New 52. One phrase (“or children”) references the recent revelation in Justice League that Diana has a twin brother. None of these are easily reconciled with each other which is Rucka’s point. He presents them as the thoughts of Diana who narrates the issue. They are illustrative of her current bout of self-doubt. She is questioning her identity, asking what “Wonder Woman” truly connotes. In the mouths of some men it is mere flattery, while others use it as an insult. In the end does it say more about how she is perceived by others than how she feels about herself? This is an intriguing line of thought which allows Rucka to turn what would normally be subtext (revising character) into the primary focus of the story. It also allows him the opportunity to turn a critical eye towards some recent story decisions, such as when Wonder Woman makes explicit her discomfort in assuming the mantle of her former arch-nemesis, Ares God of War.
When Azzarello made Diana the new God of War it was one of those narrative choices which made sense as long as the reader was not familiar with earlier versions of the character. This observation serves as a reminder for what makes Wonder Woman’s situation different than that of Batman. Unlike Bill Finger and Bob Kane, William Moulton Marston’s original intention for Wonder Woman was for her to be a political commentary on society. How to acknowledge and update Marston’s 1940s worldview for a shifting culture has been problematic for DC. Often they have defanged or even ignored it. As touched upon, Azzarello’s New 52 series was satisfying on a surface level, while undercutting some of Diana’s key elements. Earlier this year Grant Morrison tried his hand at the subject with decidedly mixed results. At the outset, Rucka makes some gestures towards the political (Wonder Woman is seen liberating women involved in sexual exploitation) which honors Diana’s feminist roots. Hopefully this subtext will continue to have a voice in Rucka’s narrative.
Art for the issue, as with many of these Rebirth one-shots, is split between two pencilers. Here again, though, Rucka and his collaborators are able to craft a narrative explanation for the style shift. The first two-thirds of the issue is penciled by Matthew Clark, who more or less fits in the New 52 house style. He is most impressive in the early action sequences during which Diana dynamically disarms her opponents while barely breaking a sweat. The following introspection section tends to be a bit static, yet, Clark does culminate it with a striking two-page spread of Diana smashing a mirror, the various shards of which reflect different past stories. Having realized the lies of her past, Diana resolves to uncover the truth. Her new determination brings about a fresh costume and penciler, Liam Sharp. Thus, what may have started as a logistical necessity (two artist sharing the workload) is presented as an aesthetic choice. With Sharp comes colorist Laura Martin who gives Sharp’s pages a dark red-orange motif, suggesting sunset. Together, Sharp and Martin create a new atmosphere more menacing and supernatural than the muted colors of the man’s world.
All of these choices add up to a promising debut for Rucka’s return to Wonder Woman. (In the 00s he wrote a well-received run on the title). If it has a flaw, it is that it feels more like a pitch for the series than the actual first chapter of it. Part of this is simply the nature of how DC has designed these Rebirth one-shots, the majority of which have felt like transitional moments. However, Wonder Woman Rebirth is compelling enough to not only motivate the reader to pick up the regular series, but also have high expectations for where Diana’s journey may travel next.