Wonder Woman made quite an impression in her big screen debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last year and an even bigger one with her solo movie breaking box office records this weekend! There’s no better time to get familiar with the comics and stories that shaped Wonder Woman over the years.
Wonder Woman has long been an American icon, but not many people are aware of her diverse and sometimes very strange publishing history. Here are some must reads for fans, from her earliest stories all the way through to the modern era!
Wonder Woman Chronicles
Writer Dr. William Martson (Charles Moulton) Artist: Harry G. Peter
To fully understand who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for, one must experience the original Golden Age stories by writer Dr. William Martson (Charles Moulton) and artist Harry G. Peter. Many of comics’ original Golden Age stories are clunky and hard to swallow by modern standards, but not Dr. Marston’s work on Wonder Woman.
Originally meant as a reaction to the budding male dominated super-hero movement of the late ’30s and early ’40s, Wonder Woman was an exercise that turned early comic book gender expectations on their ear. In the original Wonder Woman strips, it was the woman who did the saving every time Steve Trevor got in a bind (as he frequently did).
In this first volume, Wonder Woman journeys from her home of Paradise Island to fight Nazis, crush a black market milk trade, and fight to improve working conditions for female factory workers. The early Wonder Woman tales are a perfect dichotomy of innocence and naughtiness, suitable for young readers but with just a hint of kink and counterculture. Marston was a well-known sexual adventurer who lived in an almost lifelong polyamorous relationship with two women, his own personal island of the Amazons.
The stories are almost playful parodies of the superhero genre, but the foundation they set up was so powerfully effective that the modern Wonder Woman morphed into a feminine icon from these original fun tales. Without the stories in this volume, there would be no Wonder Woman and these wholly unique works need to be experienced to be believed.
Wonder Woman: Down to Earth (2004)
Writer: Greg Rucka Artists: Drew Johnson, Eric Shanower, and Brian Stelfreeze
When novelist Greg Rucka took over Wonder Woman in the mid-2000s, fans knew big changes were in store. What they didn’t realize was that Rucka’s work would be so good as to redefine Marston’s creation for a new century. Using the lens of Marston’s sociopolitical beliefs, Rucka crafted a Wonder Woman that was sensitive to the issues of a modern world and who also kicked plenty of ass.
Down to Earth sees Diana publish a series of memoirs about her philosophies on morality in the modern world, a book that makes her a political enemy to those that stand in the way of progress and gender equality. It manages to be poignant without being preachy, but don’t think it is all stolid political commentary. There’s plenty of classic comic book action with the introduction of Veronica Cale, a villain designed to be Diana’s own Lex Luthor, and a character that the movies would be wise to remember for any future Wonder Woman projects.
Wonder Woman’s memoir acts as the catalyst for this volume’s key conflicts, but there is plenty of action to satisfy the hardened super-hero fans as well as the newcomer to the world of Wonder Woman. Fans of Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina will love the political bent of this book as will fans looking for the their first exposure to Diana’s world.
Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth
Writer: Paul Dini Artist: Alex Ross (2001)
While just a single oversized 64 page story, Spirit of Truth defines everything great about the character. With lush painted art by Alex Ross that perfectly captures Diana’s power, grace, and beauty, Spirit of Truth is a treatise on why Wonder Woman is so enduring and inspiring.
Spirit of Truth is a look at Diana the woman, filled with understated moments rendered by Ross of Diana and Clark Kent having coffee, and Wonder Woman, the hero, with bombastic and powerfully rendered double page spreads of the Amazon Warrior lifting tanks, taking on subjugating armies, and fighting for the rights of women the world over.
Each page is a loving tribute to Wonder Woman’s legacy and a powerful reminder on why she endures.
Wonder Woman: Blood
Writer: Brian Azzarello Artist: Cliff Chiang (2012)
When DC decided to reboot its universe in 2011, one of the most extreme character makeovers was to Wonder Woman. Her costume, mission statement, tone, and lineage all changed, but Diana’s bravery and inspiring message stayed the same.
Using constant horror imagery and motifs, Brian Azzarrelo and Cliff Chiang created a dark world around Diana but never dimmed her spirit. This new take on Diana creates a new Wonder Woman who isn’t afraid to kill for the right cause.
Make no mistake, the New 52 Diana is no Punisher, but she’s an unrelenting force for good in a complex and dark world. Blood redefines the Greek gods, beings that play a vital role in Diana’s origins, giving them an aloof alien like resonance. Azzarello and Chiang up the ante, introducing some truly disturbing horror elements to Wonder Woman’s world, but in the darkness, Diana shines all the brighter.
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (2003)
Writer: Greg Rucka Artists: J.G. Jones, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Dave Stewart
The Hiketeia is a powerful look at the ancient idea of justice in the modern world. When Diana meets Danielle Wellys, Danielle evokes the ancient right of Hiketeia, bonding herself to Diana as a supplicant and ensuring Diana’s protection. Little does Diana realize that Danielle has been on a murder spree to avenger her slain sister, an act which brings her into conflict with the vengeance seeking Furies of Greek myth and Batman himself.
The story is a perfect look at what makes Wonder Woman tick, her obsession with fairness and justice and her unwillingness to bend in the face of adversity. It’s also is a meditation on the relationship of Batman and Wonder Woman, two thirds of DC’s trinity. Their interactions and respectful but adversarial relationship should be a perfect guide as Batman and Wonder Woman interact more on the screen in the future.
Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals (2004)
Writers: George Perez, Len Wein, and George Potter Artist: George Perez
Between the time of Marston’s seminal Golden Age run and Crisis on Infinite Earths, the quality of Wonder Woman stories was a mixed bag. For decades, capable writers struggled to find a direction for Diana, some of the attempts downright insulting. After her creator’s death, the familiar gender roles of comics reared their ugly heads in Wonder Woman, with Diana now regularly being saved by Steve Trevor and other male character foils and, worse, a number of male characters became objects of desire for Wonder Woman to pursue. For a time, she even had the ignominious position of becoming the secretary of the Justice League, not a member of equal standing.
All this changed with the post-Crisis arrival of George Perez to the relaunched Wonder Woman title.
Gone were any sort of trappings of silliness, gone was the sense that Wonder Woman was the marginalized member of a boy’s club. In Perez’s world, Diana stood on her own. Her character reverted to her feminist roots as Marston envisioned, as regular supporting characters Steve Trevor and Etta Candy became rich and layered characters in their own right.
Perez added a sense of fatalistic realism, as he revealed that the Amazons put themselves in a self-imposed exile after Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyta, was put into bondage and raped by Hercules. The real world politics and gender issues were front and center when Wonder Woman arrived to man’s world and became an ambassador of peace.
Continuity wise, the book removed Diana from the history of the Justice Society and the Justice League, but this allowed her to stand on her own, to not need DC’s male pantheon to support her and give her importance. For the first time in years, Diana stood alone with her beliefs, strength, and heart as her sword and shield, and she never looked better, as Perez was putting out the best pencils of his career.
At this time, the Greek gods became regular and fascinating supporting characters to Diana. Their characterizations ripped right from Greek myth, Diana questioned and inspired their world just as deeply as she did the world of mortal men. With the arrival of Perez, Wonder Woman was changed forever.
Each of these sensational Wonder Woman tales first appeared online, but DC packaged these tales in Sensation Comics a monthly comic dedicated to every iteration of the Amazing Amazon.
Written and drawn by some of the finest creators in the industry, Sensation Comics is a look at Wonder Woman in every age. From the modern age warrior to the feminist crusader of years past to the ambassador of peace and love of the ’80s and ’90s, all these interpretations of Wonder Woman are front and center in Sensation Comics.
Every issue was a grab bag of goodness that took Diana to every corner of reality and beyond. This book also serves as a primer for many of Wonder Woman’s villains and supporting characters so Sensation Comics really is where you might want to go to meet some of Wonder Woman’s nearest and dearest (and most hated) before they take Hollywood by storm.
Wonder Woman ’77
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t the first time a live action Wonder Woman has taken the world by storm. In 1977, Wonder Woman hit the network airwaves. Suddenly, the superhero who had been fighting so long in the pages of DC comics had become a national phenomenon, and in turn, actress Lynda Carter and her nylon tights became pop culture icons.
In truth, Carter was so perfect as Wonder Woman, it’s almost hard to imagine anyone else wielding the magic lasso. Wonder Woman ’77. followed on the success of the Adam West inspired Batman ’66, DC turned to the great Lynda Carter tales of yesteryear to deliver some classic action to legions of fans who remember when Wonder Woman fought crime under the bright lights of disco balls. And you know what? Despite the campiness and bell bottomed nostalgia, or perhaps because of it, Wonder Woman ’77 truly delivers some great Diana stories.
The tales in these collections are so gleefully aware of what they are that it is impossible not to fall in love with the whole anachronistic package. Wonder Woman ’77 proves that in any era, Wonder Woman is timeless.
Wonder Woman: Earth One
Brilliant and always quirky writer Grant Morrison takes Wonder Woman back to her roots in this must read alternative take on the Wonder Woman mythos. Earth One combines modern day super hero storytelling with sexual fetishism and post-modern feminism to create possibly the only modern Wonder Woman story true to Marston’s original vision of the character. With plenty of action, the story presents the idea that submission to peace is the only solution to violent dominion in this feminist take on comics’ leading lady. And oh, that art. Paquette’s renderings of Diana and her world are achingly beautiful.
Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies
Some of the big problems that fans and creators have had to deal with over the years is the many reboots, reimaginings, and retcons, that Wonder Woman has had to endure over the years. But DC tries to fix all that in The Lies, the first volume of the Rebirth era of Wonder Woman. For those of you not in the know, Rebirth was DC’s attempt to restore classical elements to its pantheon of characters after the wholesale changes of the New 52. Some of the New 52 Wonder Woman stuff was pretty darn compelling, but if Diana was going to return to her roots, some origin exploration and explanation had to be made. Sounds complex, right? Not with Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp at the helm.
The Lies is the story of a powerful and mythic Amazon Princess who is determined to uncover the truth of her fractured past. Rucka did some amazing things with his run on Diana in the early 2000s, and with Rebirth, he proves that he is indeed the greatest WW writer of this generation. The Lies takes Diana on a journey to break through her false pasts to find the real hero of the Rebirth era.
Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Year One
While Diana searches for her true origins in The Lies, Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott present her past to readers in Wonder Woman: Year One, a perfect amalgamation of Diana’s many past origin tales.
Year One is a story of war and sacrifice that is a perfect primer for those that need an introduction to how Wonder Woman is represented in modern comics. It’s fascinating to read Year One and Earth One together to see how malleable and timeless the story of Wonder Woman can be. And Nicola Scott’s artwork! Diana never looked more regal!