The End of a Wonder Woman Era

G. Willow Wilson looks back at her time writing Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman by G. Willow Wilson and Cary Nord

Wonder Woman has been inspiring readers and saving the world since 1941. Over the decades the Themysciran Princess has been a pillar of the DC Universe, her adventures and bravery a moral compass in an often bleak, grim, and gritty world. Like all of comics’ longest running characters, Diana Prince has been helmed by many different creative teams, and most recently writer G. Willow Wilson took the reins of the character alongside an impressive roster of artists like Cary Nord, Tom Derenick, and more. As Wilson exits the title to head over to the world of Sandman and the Dreaming, Den of Geek sat down to talk to the co-creator of Ms. Marvel about her time writing the iconic hero and the lessons that it taught her. 

Den of Geek: Taking on a pillar character like Wonder Woman must have been a huge undertaking. What does that feel like now that your run has come to a close?

G. Willow Wilson: You know, it was quite daunting. It’s a lot of pressure to try to continue a story that’s meant so much to so many people over such a long period of time considering Wonder Woman is over 75 years old now. Different readers are attached to different aspects of her character and her story, so finding that right balance between the different parts of her history or the different aspects of her story–sometimes even different genres–is quite a tricky thing. It’s very different from working on a younger, newer character who has less of a backstory.

What was your personal reading of Diana and who she needed to be during her time in your issues? 

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I saw a lot of different takes on her character before I actually sat down to write any scripts. I read Greg Rucka’s wonderful run, Gail Simone’s, and several others to see how other contemporary writers had interpreted her character because with a character like Diana my temptation was to just kind of make her too perfect. I think that’s a real trap that’s easy to fall into when you’re writing a character like this because you think, “Oh, she’s beautiful, she’s strong, she’s intelligent, she has this deep seated sense of justice.” So it’s easy to kind of make her unflawed, and that’s a mistake. 

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I think the real challenge for this character is to find a character arc that’s meaningful to sort of show her more human side because, if nothing else, it has to be frustrating for somebody like her to exist in the imperfect world that we’re living in. So you sort of find the parts of her character that an ordinary human being, your average reader, can connect to. That was really challenging to let her get angry, let her become frustrated, to let her have those human emotions that carry her story forward because the perfect is great in theory but how does that operate in an imperfect world? It really was a challenge.

Something that I think is one of the most difficult parts to get a handle on is how do you get that voice? Where you capture those different aspects of her personality? It’s a tough thing. 

You’ve grappled with both the personal and political in your Wonder Woman arc. How did you balance those bigger picture messages and stories while still keeping Diana, her emotions, and her relationships at the core of the book? 

I think the fun of writing a single superhero book as opposed to a team book is that you see all of those different views filtered through the main character’s point of view; you have that first person perspective on whatever’s going on. So what I tried to do in the book was show Diana grappling with issues that exist in the world that have some sort of resonance with real things that are happening in the world today but have her particular unique perspective on it. She’s obviously very old–I mean, she’s kind of semi-immortal–so she’s been around for a while. She’s seen a lot of human conflicts that she has a very different perspective than someone who hasn’t seen all of that human history. So I tried to sort of make those play out in a way that’s unique to Diana’s story because, of course, she didn’t grow up here on Earth. She grew up on Themyscira in this very idyllic society, a matriarchal society that is very justice focused. I think that sets her apart in many ways from the rest of the characters in her series.

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Look at Etta Candy, an old longtime friend and ally of hers, but whose job is very specific. She’s a soldier, she sees things from an on the ground point of view. She’s been in the military for a long time and Diana challenges her about certain things right up front because she’s not truly from any one place. She has no dog in the fight of these big world powers clashing with each other so she’s able to step back. I think she sees the inherent hypocrisy of some of the conflicts around her in a way that somebody from inside would not be able to do.

This is a bit inside baseball, but during your stint on the title you and your collaborators managed to put out the book on a regular bi-monthly schedule, which is quite a feat. What was that process like? 

Oh my goodness, it was like being thrown in a blender. This whole year has kind of been on fast forward for me. I took the Wonder Woman job and I knew that I was going to have to go on tour for The Bird King–my novel without pictures–in the middle of it. So I knew had to write a couple of issues way ahead of time to sort of make up that time in the schedule, for when I would be on the road. Then, also, last fall I had a hemorrhage and ended up in the hospital and needed emergency surgery. It was like life was just throwing every conceivable spanner into the works that it possibly could. So it was an extraordinarily hectic year.

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I have a new respect for anybody who tries to put out a bi-monthly book. Whether from the writer side or the artist’s one, you really cannot have anything go wrong and you cannot leave the desk. You know, it’s quite a challenge. But I feel like I am now the most organized that I have ever been in my life because I really had to be. I had to become one of those people who sits down and makes a little chart and ticks things off on the chart and stays on task because there was really no room for error. It was a unique experience.

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As you were crafting your story for Diana, was there anything that surprised you or took you in an unexpected direction? 

I sat down initially wanting to keep everything within the outline and having to outline very rigorously just to keep the book on schedule and so that everybody knew what was in the pipeline because there’s not a whole lot of room for improvisation when you need to get multiple covers out per month. The cover artist needs a lot more intro time so they need to know what’s going on in that issue before you’ve even written it most of the time. So there wasn’t a ton of room to say, “You know what? Let’s throw out the entire outline and work from scratch.”

But having said that, I went into this wanting to kind of get Diana to a point where she could travel back and forth between her old homeworld because I thought that opened up a lot of interesting, dramatic possibilities. But I really found a new love and appreciation for her classic rogues gallery who are very much part of our world. So Giganta, Cheetah, and Veronica Kale, who’s kind of like the Lex Luthor to her Superman if we’re going to make that comparison. 

I ended up a lot more interested in those characters than I was expecting to be. That opened a lot of doors but also challenges because one thing I think that’s unique about Wonder Woman that is less true of say Batman or Superman is that her story is kind of multi-genre. You have the high fantasy Greek gods element where you have mystical creatures and it’s very much a high fantasy book. Then you have the more classic Golden Age kind of pulpy superhero stuff, these very archetypal superhero stories. And then you’ve also got her military connections–a lot of her supporting cast are soldiers or career diplomats, and career foreign service people–so there’s a governmental aspect to her story. And those don’t always mesh very comfortably. It’s a really interesting thing to try to make one coherent narrative out of such disparate genre elements.

Your final issue created a new status quo for Diana. Was having her end up seperated from Steve Trevor always the plan? 

Not in so many words. I thought it would be interesting to introduce a tension between her and Steve into the story because they’ve been a couple for so long that I’ve got to believe that–although they have a wonderful rapport together–because she’s obviously in a position of greater power than he is and, you know, he’s kind of a macho guy, I’ve got to believe that it took some grilling for him to be able to be a partner to somebody like her. I really like their relationship and I’m sure it’ll come back in the future, it’s comics! I never really intended to leave them broken up. Yet because it’s the Year of the Villain and the theme of this year right now kind of across books in the DC Universe is the bad guys are winning, I was like, “You know what would be interesting? To leave her on kind of a pyrrhic victory. She’s won the battle, but at what cost to herself and what new status quo is going to be spun out of this?”

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That pathos, that dramatic tension, was kind of too good to pass up because I think for any superhero they’re stronger than us. They’re faster than us. They’re smarter than us. And so to get to real drama you have to say what do they give up? What do they give up to be that strong? To be that fast? To be that superhuman? There are things you can’t punch your way out of and this is one of them. So as we were talking about Year of the Villain and how we could make that work in the specific context of Diana’s story, I was like, “Oh, what it would really do is leave her and Steve tacitly broken up,” which was not something I planned to do. I thought they’d probably have a tough conversation that would change their relationship but not end it. So that situation was sort of spun out of Year of the villain.

This is a tough, sort of esoteric question, but do you feel like you’ve achieved what you wanted to during your time on Wonder Woman?

I have to tell you, I am very much Type A perfectionist. This has been one of the more challenging series that I’ve worked on for all the reasons that we’ve been talking about, and now that I’m done, I’ve been doing something that I don’t usually do when I wrap up a project which is just going back and saying, “Oh, you know, I really love to do a story with this. I really would have loved to follow this storyline or lean into this dramatic point a little bit more to figure it out.”

So yeah, I don’t know if I’m 100% satisfied. As soon as this wrapped up I got these ideas for a standalone and a one shot. But I think with these O.G. superheroes who’ve been around for decades and decades there’s always another story to tell. They’re kind of like our contemporary pantheon, so I really think that we’ll never run out of stories to tell about them. In that way I think it was inevitable that I get to the end of the run and think I wish I’d done this or change this or I wish I had five more issues.

Did you learn any lessons on this series that you’ll take forward when you move on to the world of Sandman and the Dreaming? 

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The main thing that I had to learn to with this character is how to keep multiple plates in the air in terms of meshing different storylines. I think that comes part and parcel with a series that’s been around for a long time. There are different story threads that begin in the runs of different writer/artist teams, different secondary characters will come into the story and then out of it, and you have to decide, “Do we want to bring it back in and how?” It’s really a unique experience play in a world that’s the work of many hands, that’s been created over sometimes decades by many people. And that’s certainly true of the Sandman universe as well. This is a different pantheon, but one that has its own fan base, its own rules, its own pantheon of characters, and has been changed and altered and carried forward by multiple writer/artist teams and so on. It’s a similar kind of challenge. You want to see something new and fresh, but also honor the work that those people have done.