It’s strange how certain characters can come to embody elements of stories, sometimes even feelings that they inspired. Greg Rucka’s original run on Wonder Woman is a masterpiece in a slew of different ways, but, in general remembrance, I tend to fixate on its attention to the ‘real’ Wonder Woman.
Who is the ‘real’ Wonder Woman? Is it Diana, ambassador of peace? Is it Wonder Woman, hero to millions? Is it Princess Diana, the public face? Is it Wonder Woman, the unachievable dream? Rucka’s run humanized Diana even as it demonstrated her startling perfection and the dangerous effects it could create. And so, to return to my original point, two characters have come to represent this spectrum of Wonder Womans to me. And it just so happens that they’re the two that get the spotlight this issue.
Seeing Ferdinand again immediately puts a big, stupid smile on my face and, it seems, that’s very much the point. Ferdinand’s very existence, aside from being surprising, summons both the fantastic and the down-to-earth of Wonder Woman and allows Rucka to further assemble a team that quietly demonstrates Diana’s importance through the devotion she inspires.
Ferdinand’s reintroduction also jumpstarts the scenes that he’s in enough to allow the reader to view them from the villains’ point of view without losing a connection to the heroes. So while these moments are relatively brief they pack an impressive punch. Wonder Woman’s greatest enemy has always been war and Liam Sharp conveys that beautifully, instantly summoning up the camaraderie and horror of a great war movie.
Of course, I mention the villains and it’s there that we find the other major character of this issue, as well as my fond recollections of the original Rucka Wonder Woman, Veronica Cale. I cannot say that Rucka’s handling of Cale is his most subtle this issue, but, nevertheless, I can easily call it masterful. Cale slithers between sympathetic pretender and out-and-out monster in the blink of an eye. From her first sentence her duplicity is on display, shoring up her ‘feminist’ derision even as she weaponizes patriarchy. There’s a slickness that proves how easy this is for her and a repetition that demonstrates how many times she’s played this over in her head. And though I highlight these contrasts and contradictions, what makes it work is how unified it all is.
Alongside these core pillars are a dramatic scene on Themysciera and another incredible check in with Diana. Rucka is positively Morrisonian in this latter scene, but, even if Morrison is not be a flavor to your liking, here it’s decidedly effective and clever. Even an exercise as simple as seeing Diana’s word associations is full of clever little insights.
If that sounds like a lot of content, you’re not wrong. This issue is pulling a lot of different ways and that robs it of a sense of focus. Diana’s struggles with her identity could easily have supported an entire issue, as could the temptation of Barbara Minerva, even including the attack on Ferdinand and co. One suspects that the parallel stories playing out in this bi-weekly title played a part in the somewhat harried structure of the issue. That said, it’s also obvious that Rucka was willing to only say what was needed, as even the limited space he was allowed is frequently used to set tone.The introduction on Paradise Island, for instance, is cool in how different it is, but it lacks a sense of necessity as of yet. It seems that both the opening and ending sequences were likely structured as they were to give Liam Sharp some playgrounds.
Speaking of Mr. Sharp, as ever this issue manages to combine lush fantasy with gritty realism in an impressive fashion. From cartoon snakes to grotesque, techno-magical transformations to proud Amazons at faith’s end, Sharp shows off his range this week.
More than simply being aesthetically pleasing, Sharp demonstrates formidable storytelling skills, particularly on Themysciera. Many of Rucka’s best scenes take the form of extended conversations, but Sharp and Rucka work naturally together and the layouts and compositions inject tension and narrative depth into nearly every page.
Noses have a tendency to look a little too flat and many of the characters in the spotlight lack the facial details that bring out the specificity in Sharp’s drawings, but between a nearly silent finale and a score of clever tricks – notably including a well placed window muntin – the issue remains visually intense.
Structurally, there have been far stronger issues of Rucka’s Wonder Woman and, if I’m to be honest, the cover summarizes most of the major plot progression. However, it’s plain to see that Wonder Woman #17 is the work of an incredibly talented creative team. The difference between proficiency and mastery is on display this week, as Rucka, Sharp, and Laura Martin present a masterclass in storytelling and make it look effortless. What could have been a middling issue if executed by another team proves narratively, visually, and conceptually rich and, though it’s clearly a part of a whole rather than a main event, it’s packed with fascinating and effective moments, both in the art and script. It tells a self-contained story, adds to the greater tapestry of the title, delivers spectacle, and comments on Wonder Woman as a character with refreshing subtlety. If this is what my review of a scattered and relatively low-energy installment of the Rebirth Wonder Woman looks like, there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll be talking about this run for years. Get on board now.