Gail Simone: Rise of the Olympian, Fall of Wonder Woman

Gail Simone on Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman #27

After teases and promises and hype, “The Rise of the Olympian” storyline is rolling in earnest in Wonder Woman. As writer Gail Simone and DC Universe Executive Editor Dan DiDio have promised, the story of “Olympian” is a simple one – the gods of the Amazons feel that they have failed, and need replacing. Chief among those needing a pink slip: Wonder Woman, who has rejected the gods (well, technically, they did bail on earth and the Amazons, but gods are fickle…and fairly jerky as mythology teaches us) and sworn allegiance and devotion to Kane, a Polynesian god. Hey – at least he was there for her.

While the gods have just returned to earth from a sojourn in space, the Society has decided to take their battle against Wonder Woman to a new level – by creating a weapon that goes by the name of Genocide. Oh, and a little “oops” to the whole “Hey, let’s create a biological, conscious weapon” thing – it may have worked too well. There’s every indication that Genocide is a a man-made god.

Genocide handed Wonder Woman her tiara last issue (#26), and stole her golden lasso, leaving her to be found by Etta Candy and Tom Tresser – her best friend and…er, fiancé for lack of a better word. Yes, fiancé. Been a while since you’ve read Wonder Woman?

No worries – issue #27 is due in stores this week, and we sat down with Simone to get the inside story on “Ride of the Olympian,” Genocide, the gods being pricks, Wonder Woman getting married, and, oh yeah…that question, too.

Newsarama: Gail, unless I’m off in my counting, the start of "Rise of the Olympian" begins your second year on Wonder Woman. As you showed in our past conversations, you had a handle on the character before you even started, but what have you learned about her in your year-plus of writing her?

Gail Simone: I’d been fortunate enough to get to write Diana in some well-received roles in Birds of Prey and JLA: Classified, and I really began to see why she’s so compelling, so it’s not really a surprise that I’d enjoy writing her so much. I love that she tries diplomacy first, but when diplomacy fails, suddenly, she’s Conan in the Pottery Barn. Get the hell out the way, Wonder Woman’s here, you know? I enjoy that. There’s a quality there that’s like some of the great bruisers in comics, and to have that come from this endlessly dignified and strategically brilliant princess, that’s just a great combination.

But the surprising thing has been how fun the cast is. Diana’s supporting cast is always changing, but the key elements, Hippolyta, Donna, Cassie, and Etta, they just slay me with their awesomejuice. I realize I sound a bit fannish there, but it’s because I am a fan. It’s just a delight to write those women—the same kind of electrical jolt I used to get from writing Oracle and Black Canary, in fact. They don’t preach about being strong women, they simply are strong women.

Seriously, if I had a top ten list of dream assignments, I would love to write a Hippolyta graphic novel. I’d love to unleash her on the DCU properly, in a way that made sense, because she’s just one of those bigger than life characters that commands a certain awed response. She’s amazing. And Etta is great fun as well. I had a notion about what’s happened to her that’s made her a bit more confident and pro-active, and I got some encouragement and input from Greg Rucka, and it’s great fun. We’ll be seeing that transition story soon.

And I can’t help it, I love Nemesis. I, too, think of him as a super-competent espionage agent, as he was written by the great John Ostrander in Suicide Squad. But he had been portrayed quite differently in the Wonder Woman runs just before my own. So we’re trying to reconcile that—why did he behave that way? What’s he covering for?

There’s a lot of good story there. It’s a fantastic cast, probably my favorite since writing Action.

NRAMA: "The Rise of the Olympian" is a story that you’ve been building to since your start on the series, but what was the foundation that you wanted to, or needed to build before you got here with Diana? What pieces needed to be in place for the story to have its maximum effect for her as a character, and in your view, for the audience as well?

GS: The lasso, oddly enough, is a major player in this story. It’s something that, well, we’ve sort of left unexplored…in fact it may be the great undiscovered artifact in the entire DCU. I think for some, it’s been, gosh wow, it’s a glowing rope. Who cares?  

But it’s not that—it’s a weapon, a deadly weapon, that not only binds you, and follows its mistress’ commands, the damned thing can see into your soul.

So if you re-read my previous arcs, you’ll see some idea of what the lasso can actually do, and some idea of why only Diana can be entrusted to hold it. It’s a nuclear bomb waiting to go off, which is part of why Diana is so demoralized when it’s taken from her by force, and is left in the hands of a creature that actually wants to inflict as much damage and pain on the world as possible.

NRAMA: You began issue #26 with the Olympian Gods returning to Earth – they’ve been away since …hmm …prior to Infinite Crisis, right? And then they were held captive by Darkseid…

GS: Right, and they’ve come back disoriented and clearly not fully in command. They’re acting a bit out of character … they feel a bit lost and hopeless, and on top of that, a few details don’t quite match how they were prior to their abduction.

But they were rescued and brought home by a coalition of alien gods called the Ichor, and we’ll learn more about that as the issues progress. Zeus in particular decides it’s time to take an active hand in humanity’s future again.

NRAMA: Speaking of Darkseid – was it he and the Apokaliptan New Gods that defiled Mount Olympus?

GS: Yeah, and you know, I did hear some grousing — people saying Darkseid wouldn’t do this. But man, I’ve been reading the early Darkseid stories in the big DC collections, and oh, yes, he absolutely would. Darkseid wasn’t created to be aloof…he was a despoiler. He creates despair. We get hung up sometimes in the ‘noble’ world-beating villains, but Darkseid is really all about breaking your spirit. He had a whole planet devoted to nothing else.

I think Darkseid would look at the Greek gods as reminders of a past that has no place in his universe any more.

NRAMA: Let’s talk about the creation of Genocide. First off, this is something you’ve wanted to do for a while now, right – add to Wonder Woman’s rogues in a substantial way, right?

GS: Absolutely. There’s a myth that Diana doesn’t have a great rogue’s gallery and I couldn’t disagree more. Dr. Psycho is one of the best sadists in comics, the Cheetah is wonderfully arch and sneering, I can’t wait to get a Dr. Poison story going, and there are several more really good ones out there.

Wonder Woman #28

But let’s face it; we’ve seen Diana beat these people. If we want comics to live and breathe, I firmly believe we have to keep inventing; we have to avoid doing only the old reliable stories with the old reliable characters. And what Diana hasn’t really had is a brute, a straight out monster. And above that, Genocide has an aura of sorts that creates shame and despair around it, very much Diana’s opposite.

The heroes aren’t any good unless they’re challenged, unless they’re tested. Genocide is kind of a living example of a problem that even the near-godly DCU heroes can’t simply punch into oblivion. In that way, it reflects a bit of the real world …that strength alone doesn’t stop evil from happening to innocent people. More is required … more sacrifice, more commitment, and probably, more pain.

NRAMA: What goes into creating a key enemy for a hero? That is, why is Genocide the perfect enemy for Wonder Woman, rather than Superman or Aquaman? Not saying that they won’t ever fight, but it would feel as “right” as Wonder Woman fighting Doomsday…it would be interesting, but yet … off …

GS: Well, because if Diana’s about hope, none of her enemies really are about the lack thereof, if that makes sense. You can say that Psycho is hate to counterpoint Diana’s love, and Circe is ambition to Diana’s charity, but none of her current rogues really counter her base characteristic, of hope and a desire for peace. Diana cares about everyone; Genocide really wants to pull the wings off of every last fly in the world.

NRAMA: On the story side of things – Morrow, Minerva, and the rest of the Society tasked with creating Genocide – does anyone other than Morrow realize what they’ve created?

GS: The rank and file of the Society doesn't know about Genocide, and most would object to its creation. Most of the Society doesn't want to destroy the world; they just want to plunder it. It’s the freaks at the top who think grander thoughts, and have wilder ambitions. But someone, or two someones, at the very top of the Society, feels that it’s worth the risk.

But it’s like trying to keep a nuclear explosion in a bottle. Genocide won’t be contained.

NRAMA: And how spot-on was Wonder Woman’s assessment of Genocide? Did the Society accidentally create a god?

I can’t answer that second bit yet, but Diana got it right. She’s fighting a god.

NRAMA: Putting Genocide aside for a moment – you’ve taken things a step further than others have in regards to Wonder Woman’s relationship. She and Tom – is betrothed the proper word to use here?

GS: It’s a very interesting thing, because it’s fun to see how people respond to the relationship. Both inside the story and in the real world, people seem to be interpreting what they think is going on, rather than just what’s on the pages. Hippolyta, for example, seemed to assume a great deal that neither Diana nor Tom had actually said. And in fact, Hippolyta may be having some second thoughts, and not for the reasons you might think.

 If you read carefully, read what Diana herself has said, I think you’ll see a very interesting picture of what is not on the page. That’s all I can say right now, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the book.

There’s a truism about Wonder Woman, that many of her most devoted readers have a gut-level dislike of any man she takes an interest in. No one is ‘good enough,’ for Diana, ever. But that’s not taking Diana seriously, in my opinion. It’s not really thinking about what kind of person she really is. Diana doesn’t want to marry a god. She doesn’t look at a normal, decent human male from some lofty throne. She looks at their merits, and anyone familiar with Nemesis knows the guy has a soul.

I’ve said it before, but in some ways, it’s a very dynamic, almost fateful, relationship, because everything about Nemesis is about deception in the service of good, while Diana is a living avatar for larger truths. That’s great, mythic stuff to me.

NRAMA: In a way, we feel as awkward as Tom did when Hippolyta asked him about it – but you’ve put the question about Wonder Woman and sex on the table. Assuming that you will eventually be handling it – why? Why chose to put Wonder Woman in what appears to be heading towards a fully realized relationship now? Fan-wise and icon-wise, it seems to be a dicey area that you’re entering – while she’s no Gwen Stacy, it could be argued that Wonder Woman is one of the last “virgin queens” of comics …

GS: I have to say I don’t worry about that stuff. Wonder Woman should be treated with respect like any other great hero, not because she’s female, but because she’s an icon, and a fantastic creation. I don’t spend any time whatsoever comparing her to other characters, that’s just not interesting to me, and it sort of derails the point: that Wonder Woman is a great and original character on her own, not in contrast to Superman or Batman.

I like to write Diana as a woman, not in the sense that she needs to preach and make speeches, but that she responds as a woman, that she isn’t simply a man with a woman’s body, which is unfortunately an approach we’ve seen often in comics. Being strong doesn’t mean simply acting like Conan.

Wonder Woman #29

For a start, I don’t like the idea of Wonder Woman as untouchable and unapproachable. I think that goes against what the great George Perez so clearly established - that Diana is tactile, that she’s open, that she’s loving and forgiving. I don’t like the idea of her in a tower looking down on humanity, particularly normal human males. I find that idea kind of repugnant.

I’ve said it right in the book…Amazon blood runs hot. Wonder Woman is no exception.

NRAMA: Of course there are those readers who are seeing Tom and Diana’s relationship as a clear signal that Tom’s time on Earth is quite limited, and the bullet will be dodged…care to offer comment on that?

GS: It’s hard to have a superhero girlfriend, I’ll say that much, as we see again very soon. But yeah, it’s easy to be cynical with all the shock value stories out there. But I don’t find that very interesting, really. For me, the interesting question is, what does happen when these two people decide to go further?

NRAMA: Touching upon the gods one more time…it seems that you’re heading towards the vicious circle that the gods of old have always had…they give up on humanity, their “human” (Amazon) champion gives up on them, and then they get mad at humanity for giving up on them…that’s the foundation of the Olympian’s rise, right?

GS: Not precisely. This is a story about good intentions, actually. The major events put in place here, they’re not committed in service of evil — Zeus thinks he’s doing the world and the Amazons a favor. He thinks they’ll love him for it, and he’s honoring the request of someone he didn’t even realize he loved.

It makes it all the more tragic, in my mind.

NRAMA: Before we get too far removed from it, can you talk a little bit about the art team for this book?

GS: Mark Waid teases me about this all the time, how I never seem to get saddled with a bad art team, but yeah, in this case, it's just ridiculous. Working with Aaron Lopresti on Wonder Woman, and Nicola Scott on Secret Six, that's about as fortunate as a comic writer gets.

What I love about Aaron is how he always manages to jazz up a page. He's incredibly thoughtful and committed to doing great work, and I love how he's redefining the look of the cast in subtle ways. I love how I can give him a monster to draw, or a city, or a new team of characters, and it'll always be better than I'd imagined.

And Matt Ryan and Brad Anderson make it all perfect. Great inking and some of the best coloring in mainstream comics, in my opinion.

It's gorgeous to look at. I keep wanting to throw monsters in the story because they always look so amazing.

NRAMA: Wonder Woman’s defeat at the hands of Genocide…it took her lasso – which is a problem. Tell us how you view the lasso – what is it, exactly? Is it, as Grant suggested back in his JLA days, the manifestation of universal truth?

GS: I do see it as a weapon, even moreso than, say, a power ring. Diana can tame it, but making a person submit to it is a tricky, risky thing. When Diana uses it on a person, there is a bond there, however brief, between Diana and the subject. But what we’re only now starting to see is that Diana can take that much, much farther…that the lasso is a dimension of its own, and in that place, Diana knows the soul of her captive, and more dangerously still, the captive sees into Diana.

I think it’s a terrifying artifact. Take what Grant said, for example. Would you want your own universal truths exposed to anyone, including those you love? It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing —I t puts you in a place where you can feel pity and sympathy for a Nazi, and yet, you might feel coldness and distance when you see directly into the soul of your best friend or ally.

Quite simply, having that lasso at her side every day, that’s a huge responsibility for Diana, and having it in the hands of Genocide is almost too much for Diana to bear. If there’s one thing I’m hoping last past my run on this book, it’s an understanding of the power of the lasso.

NRAMA: What happens when it’s taken from Diana, and worse yet, when someone like Genocide holds it?

GS: You’ll have to wait and see, but a great many people suffer the consequences, including some long-time cast members.

NRAMA: So what can we expect to see in issue #27? How badly hurt is Diana? Is it a case of Band-Aids and back to the fight? And what does her beating at the hands of Genocide mean in regards to how Athena and the gods see her?

GS: Well, one problem is that the Purple Ray doesn’t work on god-inflicted wounds, for a start. And she’s badly beaten, she needs time to heal. But she may not get it. And we have a cool JLA appearance, which worries Diana all the more, because she knows the JLA haven’t got a clue what damage the lasso can do.

There’s a ton of action in this story, but I think it shows how precarious it is to run around with gifts made by capricious gods. It’s like firing up a blowtorch on a dirigible. Sooner or later, there’s going to be an explosion.

I hope people jump on board, as there are some defining moments for both Wonder Woman and her cast, and some really huge events, not the least of which is a war between two gods for Diana’s loyalty.

Can’t help it, I just love Wonder Woman.

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