Not since George Perez and William Marston has Wonder Woman been so completely identified with one writer as with Greg Rucka. An industry legend who made his name writing scores of the most impressive female characters in comics, Rucka’s return, after a very honest falling out with DC no less, is an enormous win for “Rebirth”.
So how is the latest Wonder Woman #1? Well, not to oversimplify but, this relaunch is worthy of the Amazon Princess. Rucka, as ever, has a novelist’s sense of rhythm behind him and a mind as sharp as any writing capes today. The downside of this careful pacing and vast consideration is an intensely decompressed read. That might bother some readers, and I wouldn’t necessarily blame them. Hardcore fans are likely to read a Rucka-led Wonder Woman title no matter what, but I worry that such a slow opening could lead newer readers to trade wait this series, or even lose them altogether.
While such thoughts are distressing, it makes sense why Rucka opted for this strategy. Rucka is clearly writing for his artist. Liam Sharp’s work is bold, forceful, and highly detailed. Rushing him or forcing his work into boxes that can’t truly contain it doesn’t make sense. So this rather wide-screen approach is something of an organic necessity.
Additionally, the alternating storylines of this volume are a pretty fantastic way to utilize the bi-monthly schedule of “DC Rebirth” and help keep the artists rested, but it does complicate the reading experience slightly. Rather than push through, it seems that Wonder Woman vol. 5 may be embracing that start and stop pacing to tell very specific chapters. The result is a carefully plotted bit of auteur comic writing, where the creative team reveals only what they wish the reader to see and use the serialization of the story, that time pressure, to build a real sense of tension.
It’s a comic reading experience that is less ‘written for trade’ than most, but doesn’t lean into the older molds either. It’s a Wonder Woman comic that feels a lot more like a single episode or single scene of Game of Thrones…except…not at all like the last Wonder Woman #1 that felt much more like Game of Thrones. Basically this issue and Azzarello’s Wonder Woman took opposite halves of what endears HBO’s juggernaut to people. So while it may be frustrating to get less plot progression than you might like, it’s also rewarding to see an issue, especially a Wonder Woman issue, treated like the artistic exercise it can be.
Mr. Rucka’s last Wonder Woman run was cut woefully short and fans have been waiting for more for a long, long time. However, those expecting him to pick up where he left off will find that he’s far more creatively prolific than that. This is obviously still Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman, but it’s a new story and it’s exploring different elements of Diana.
Last time Rucka looked at Wondie as part of a team, this is Wondie alone.
Rucka’s first run saw Diana as a diplomat, an expert in working within the confines of etiquette, this is Diana at her limit and, thusly, unbound.
After all, more than even Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman is a creature of myth and the greatest attack she can sustain is an attack on her legend and that is precisely what happened. Perhaps the most impressive element of Rucka’s handling is that this doesn’t feel like an attack on the New 52 interpretation, even if it suggests a level of dissatisfaction with it.
That’s very important. Wonder Woman has a lot of baggage that at all times threatens to drag her down, or more accurately drag new readers down. Her greatest enemy has always been flawed systems of thinking, after all. Rucka wisely choses not to rage against the missteps of this version of the character, instead taking the path that Diana herself would and showing us a better way by example, explaining with patience and without talking down to the reader who Wonder Woman is.
From the first panel Rucka again considers Diana both as a person and a symbol, in many ways the problem that has limited the character and the element that has made his writing for her so impressive in its effortlessness. By showing what she wants to project and what she wishes she could, Rucka automatically gives Diana a level of agency and weakness that often elude not only her but most comic book characters.
I also love that, even as Diana is forced to venture out alone, Rucka is clearly intent on rebuilding her supporting cast. Two of Diana’s oldest allies are beautifully and naturally reintroduced, carrying over from the New 52 era while still feeling entirely fresh and new. It’s also a chance to lean into Wonder Woman’s military roots without straying from her role as an ambassador of peace. In a lesser story, this might be portrayed as a failing of the world of men, an example of how the patriarch’s children wage war while Amazons wage peace, but, refreshingly tired as Echo-Alpha and their support may be, there seems to be a genuine respect for those who try to fight for peace without magic bracelets.
Throw in a classic enemy and a well-realized subplot based in real-world hatred and misogyny and you’ve got a solid foundation for a new Wonder Woman series.
The trick about all of this is that Rucka’s confidence is enough to convince you instantly that, if this wasn’t how it always was, this is how it always should have been. The world feels fleshed out and natural. It may be a reintroduction, but this feels natural enough to be a jumping on point for an ongoing series.
Liam Sharp enters this title a returning hero, himself, but it would be wrong not to mention how odd some of his art is in this issue. There are a myriad inconsistencies in design and anatomy that seem beneath his talents. Diana’s new diadem and nose in particular seem to change from panel to panel and minor panels seem to suffer from the same kind of issues with bone structure as you might find in a David Finch book, though rarely as pronounced.
I say that up front because, despite these issues, this book looks lovely. Sharp brings an air of classical painting to Wonder Woman. The Echo-Alpha scenes are worthy of any war book or Big 2 event and the level of detail and beauty present in Diana’s odyssey is staggering at times. The juxtaposition of life and death, the verdant and the decayed, is beautiful and Sharp brings some well deserved gravitas to the book.
But while they’re obviously a specialty, it’s not just splash pages and ominous pastorals. A look at one page at Picket Command reveals a skill for the small and the cartoonish that also demonstrates a grasp of layout that is rather essential for Sharp.
Sharp’s art is not what you’d call kinetic. Each panel captures one moment, sometimes one moment that conveys an entire action, but one moment nonetheless. So its important that we see that Sharp is a comic artist, not just a talented penciler and, luckily we do. The layouts in this book are really nice, balancing pages and communicating ideas through montage that individual images may not be able to convey.
It also helps that Sharp knows how to pick the right one moment. I’ve just tried to defend Sharp from the criticism that he draws posters in sequence, and he does do far more than that, but, if we’re being honest, there are at least a dozen poster-worthy images in this book.
I also want to quickly touch on Laura Martin’s coloring. Though it’s very drab and earthy for the red and blue clad Wonder Woman, it does a fantastic job of communicating the corruption and decay that Rucka and Sharp are working with and does so without killing the beauty of the scene. Diana’s brick red costume immediately sets her apart from her surroundings, marking her as an outside aggressor, but the warm tones grow throughout the issue until Diana’s intrusion is answered with an aggression of the jungle’s own.
Wonder Woman #1 is not a perfectly satisfying issue. It is heavily decompressed, artistically inconsistent, and tonally fairly dark. However, these are all conscious choices and every member of the creative team proves masterful in executing those choices in a way that remains beautiful, grandiose, and respectful of Wonder Woman. Greg Rucka’s return is very different from his last three visits with the Amazon Princess, and, honestly, from most comics being put out today. But no matter what you think of the serialized approach he takes here, you’ll put this issue down knowing why he is almost unanimously respected as a Wonder Woman writer and why he believes Wonder Woman ought to be respected as well.