Thursday, June 08, 2017

What to get if you loved the Wonder Woman movie

I've been waiting for a long time to see the Wonder Woman movie, and it seems I'm going to have to wait a little while longer. While Astro Theatre's is not bad at bringing in big movies on their opening weekend, they obviously don't get them all in. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened here a solid three weeks after it opened everywhere else, for example.

And it seems the same thing will happen with Wonder Woman. Barring a miracle, I suspect it'll be close to the end of June before it shows here. Annoying, but I'm not about to drop $2600 to fly to Ottawa to see it.

However, I am relieved to that it's opened to critical acclaim and very solid box office. For a number of reasons, I consider it the most important movie of the year. If it had bombed it might have been years before a woman got the chance to direct another big budget movie. And plans for the next woman super hero movies probably would have quietly been pushed back. Is that fair? Not even remotely. Welcome to Hollywood.

Now? Expect to see more women getting the chance big budget movies. Along with Captain Marvel I suspect you'll see an increased push on movies like Batgirl, Gotham City Sirens (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy), Silver and Black (Silver Sable and Black Cat from the Spider-Man universe). Maybe Marvel even might wake up and give us the Black Widow movie we've been begging for for years.

I'm not the biggest Wonder Woman fan in the world, but I do have a love of the character. Here's a sample of my collection.

Yes, I own more than this.
However, with so much focus on the movie, it occurs to me that not everyone may know where to start with the comics. She's 75 years old. There's a few books been published over that time. Most of the links I'm going to put here go to Amazon (ironic), but whenever possible I recommend going to your local comic book store and supporting them.

1. If you want to read her early adventures, then the best place to start is Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1. These are her first stories written by William Marston (with uncredited help from his wife Elizabeth and their partner Olive Byrne. Read The Secret History of Wonder Woman for more on their relationships). Golden age comics can be...challenging if you're used to more modern books. The stories are simpler, the production values are cruder and the art can be rougher. The book is worth a look if for nothing else for just how blunt Diana was in her dealings with men. It would be unusual today, it's extraordinary for the 1940s. And yes, there is a lot of bondage going on.

After Marston left the character a lot of the comics are, to be kind, pretty unremarkable. She was treated pretty badly by DC for years, often turning her into another woman pining after a man, or stripping her of her powers. I'm sure there are good books in there, but for simplicity sake, let's skip ahead to 1987.

2. This is around the time that DC relaunched most of their major comics. After decades of convoluted continuity, they decided to blow the whole thing up and launch everything fresh. For Wonder Woman, that meant a brand new and desperately needed origin and launch. And for that they brought in George Perez (with big assists from Len Wein, Greg Potter and Karen Berger). Marston created Wonder Woman, but Perez saved her. Wonder Woman has been gifted with any number of great artists in the last 30 years, but Perez remains the best. There are few in the business better at detail, conveying action and drawing beautiful women without distorting their proportions. Even in a book that does not have modern production or colouring, that occasionally crams too much dialogue in, it's a beautiful book to look at. (the sketch on the right side of the picture above is something Perez did in about 5 minutes at a comic con. It's a treasured possession)

But along with the art it's the gold standard origin that every other one has tried to top. You can read it here with the second volume just coming out about now. Or you could get ambitious and buy the first omnibus

It's a remarkable bit of world building and crafting. The first issue has the history of the Amazons and the origin of Wonder Woman. In 40 pages. It's astonishing. But among its tricks is to make the Greek Gods more prominent - Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Hestia, and Hermes are her "patrons". Perez's Diana is younger, maybe 19, when she first enter's Patriarch's World and much of his early run centres on her adjusting to a radically new culture. He changed Paradise Island to Themyscira, the ancient name of the Amazon's city. It also features, to this day, the single best explanation for her costume looking so American.

Yes, it's a bit dated, but they're fun, fun books and let's be blunt, Wonder Woman as we know her today does not exist without this run. That's pretty much ever comic in the last 30 years and the movie. It's that important.

Perez stopped drawing the book around issue #24, but stayed on for several more years as writer, which you can read here if you have the money.

After that we have another dry spell. There are some stories there that are well received., but nothing that jumps out as a must read.

3. From there we can skip ahead to the early 2000s and Greg Rucka's run. If the Perez books are about a young Diana trying to find her way in the world and her naive beliefs in teaching peace, Rucka features a more mature, wise and focused Diana. Not a princess, but now an ambassador between Man's World and Themyscira. 

There are three things you have to get right if you're doing a long run on Wonder Woman. Diana, the Amazons, and her the Olympian Gods. It's a harder trick than you think. Rucka manages to nail all three. His Diana is much more interested in starting a debate with conservatives as she is fighting a bad guy. The Amazons are smart, fearless and as much in awe of Diana and frustrated by her convictions. And his take on the gods, especially Athena, are probably some of the best in the run. Also noteworthy was Drew Johnson's art early in the run which made the "controversial" decision to make Diana look more Greek.

I love Rucka's writing, so I'm always going to be biased, but this is a great, fun, thoughtful run. It also shows exactly how dangerous Diana is when she puts her mind to it, kicking the crap out of the Justice League, even when at a considerable disadvantage. It sadly goes off the rails a bit towards the end when the book gets looped into a DC crossover.  But until then go and get Volume 1 and Volume 2. Volume 1 also includes the standalone "The Hiketia" which is being mentioned on a lot of Best Of lists. I like it, and the art by J.G. Jones is great, but I think too many focus on Diana beating up Batman than the fact the story is a little light and the ending a touch too pat.

4. Next would be Gail Simone's run on the series. Unfortunately it's out of print (and judging by some of the prices on Amazon, my signed copies could get a decent price). You can buy it digitally through Comixology.

If it's difficult to buy, then why recommend it? The run is beloved in some circles and it's easily one of the most quoted runs of the series. It includes what many consider to be the most famous line, summarizing who Diana, and the Amazons, are supposed to be - "We have a saying: Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't subdue if you can pacify, and don't raise your hand at all until you've extended it first."

Simone's run is five books - The Circle, Ends of the Earth, Rise of the Olympian, Warkiller, and Contagion. It's not a perfect run....too much of it feels like cleaning up other people's messes rather than striking out on her own. But she's gifted with some amazing artists such as Terry and Rachel Dodson, Bernard Chang, Aaron Lopestri, and Nicola Scott. And while the overall arcs might be a bit wobbly, few are better at hitting individual scenes or understanding what makes Diana tick. And the first story arc, The Circle, is top notch if for no other reason than it has gorillas and they're awesome.

5. I mention this run not to encourage you to read it, but to warn against it. About six years ago DC did another relaunch called The New 52. I never liked it and the fact that they're in the process of wiping it out goes to show I'm not alone. They relaunched Wonder Woman with another new origin written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang. Unless you want to just look at the art, then by all means go ahead.  Diana has always been gifted by great artists, and Chiang is up there with Perez. His Diana is sharp and powerful and his visual take on the gods is unique. But Azzarello's story can be deeply unpleasant.

Remember what I said about Diana, Amazons and Gods? Well, he makes the gods interesting for the most part. Diana he does ok (although I loathe the change from her origin of being created from clay and her mother's prayers to more...conventional means). But his treatment of the Amazons is so horrific (please, let's make them into slavers, rapists and murders) that pretty much every female geek I read online disavowed the book.

It's beautiful to look at, but a frustrating slog to read. Buyer beware.

6. In the last year or so, there have been two Wonder Woman books of note. The most straight forward is The Legend of Wonder Woman (the paper back comes out later this year) by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillion. Bizarrely, given her appeal to young girls, Diana has never had an all-ages comic. This is as close as you get. It's another origin, but this one set in the 1940s. It's a slower reader, with more character study on Diana on Paradise Island and adapting to Man's World, but it's still entertaining. It also has one of the best uses of Etta Candy, Diana's friend and sidekick, that I've seen in years. And De Liz art is beautiful. A second volume was planned but sadly one of the creators mouthed off about DC on social media. DC has no patience for that sort of thing and the volume was cancelled, which is a tremendous pity. However, this certainly stands on its own.

7. The others book(s) are by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott. DC lured Rucka back by basically promising not to mess with his run like they did last time. It's an odd run, because the series ran bi-weekly with one issue set in the current time (art by Sharp) and Diana tries to determine who has been messing with her memories and history, and a Year One story (yes, again. With art by Scott). Vol. 1: The Lies and Vol. 2: Year One. Of them, the Year One story is the easiest to get into for a new reader. The Lies is a great read, and Sharp's art is fantastic, but again, a lot of this is continuity cleaning. Neither of these stories are complete right now, and additional books will be coming out later this year, concluding the stories.

Oh, it's also of note that this is the book that makes it fairly clear that Diana is queer. Obvious, really. But yes, she has a girlfriend in the Year One book on Paradise Island.

8. These are the major ones. There are others that may be of interest for different reasons. I also recommend:

Bombshells, which is not exclusively a Wonder Woman book, but is set at the start of World War 2. It's all of DC's major super heroines (my favourite remains Batwoman, who is a former woman's baseball player, turned super hero/secret agent), in pin-up style outfits, fighting the Nazis. With scarcely a male hero to be found. I love the costumes, it's fun, and writer Marguerite Bennett is making it as gay as she can. Not bad considering the idea started as a bunch of variant covers, then moved to statues, and is now a series of graphic novels.

If you want an assortment of Wonder Woman, including some of the stories I mentioned above, there this Best Of collection, featuring stories over her 75 years.

New Frontier is another team book, featuring DC heroes in the 1950s. Worth it just for how the amazing, gone way too soon Darwyn Cooke drew Diana, and for her scene chewing out Superman. But she only plays a small part in the book.

Earth One is another origin, by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette. I haven't read it, and like most of Morrison's writing, people either love it or deeply loathe it. Paquette's art is quite lovely, however.

The True Amazon is another one I haven't read, but it's written and illustrated by Jill Thompson. I might not be able to speak to the quality of writing, but Thompson's art is always fantastic, so it'll be at least pretty to look at.

And there you go. She may not have the volume of top notch material to choose from, like Batman, but there are still plenty of good Wonder Woman books out there.

Last Five
1. Strobelite - Gorillaz
2. Relative surplus value - The Weakerthans
3. Our time - Lily Allen
4. Lights - Interpol
5. Strike the band - Amelia Curran*