Sufferin’ Sappho!1 of 12Great Hera! Wonder Woman might have one of the most convoluted and complicated histories of any of DC’s Trinity but that hasn’t stopped her from being one of the most beloved superheroes on the planet.
A feminist icon. A queer icon. An icon. She has taught people across the globe that love and compassion can overcome any threat. Of course, it helps if you’ve got the gods on your side (usually), bulletproof bracelets, super strength and the power of flight.
With Wonder Woman’s first solo film hitting theaters this week, we’re digging into the stories that made this amazing Amazon the hero she is today.
For a Thousand Years - Action Comics #7612 of 12I know, I know. This isn’t a Wonder Woman story per se but if having her and Superman team up with Thor to defend Asgard from a demon invasion doesn’t get your blood pumping, I’m worried for you.
While the action and setting of the story is great, the story is really about friendship and how Superman and Wonder Woman coexist as friends despite his relationship with Lois Lane. While Lois does fall prey to a little bit of jealousy, Diana never does. Despite living with Clark in Asgard for a thousand years that doesn’t waver because of Diana’s strong sense of self.
And it helps that German Garcia does his take on Mike Mignola during the scenes in Asgard. The shadow work is really great and gives the story an epic sense of scale despite the focus of the story really being something much smaller.
JLA: A League of One (2002)3 of 12Superhero teams can be really fun when writers know how to balance them. But all too often, one or two characters get the short end of the stick because certain creators don’t fully understand them or simply aren’t very big fans of them. That’s certainly been true of Wonder Woman during her Justice League tenure but Christopher Moeller’s A League of One one-shot seeks to remedy that a little bit.
A prophecy proclaims that the Justice League will fall at the claws of an ancient dragon. In order to save the League, Diana decides that only one member of the team should be around to face the threat: Wonder Woman herself.
Moeller plays with themes about sacrifice and duty while rendering the action with the kind of fantasy-styled art that made him so popular with the Magic: The Gathering set. Diana’s selflessness is a key to her character and Moeller pushes it to the forefront in this story.
Wonder Woman: Hiketeia (2003)4 of 12Due to her powerset, Wonder Woman has always been seen as more of an equal to Superman than other DC characters. But Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones’s explorations of her relationship to Batman prove to be just as, if not more, compelling.
The Hiketeia refers to a sacred ritual of supplication and protection. A young girl named Danielle becomes Wonder Woman’s ward after escaping the sex traffickers who had enslaved her. But the only way she could escape was by killing them. Of course, that runs counter to Batman’s philosophy about justice and set him and Diana on a crash course.
This story is a great rumination on the intersection of morality and justice, a must-read for fans of any of Rucka’s work.
“Challenge of the Gods” Wonder Woman (1987) #8-145 of 12Not content to simply redefine Wonder Woman’s origins, George Perez (along with co-writer Len Wein) used the second arc of their run to really expand Diana’s world. She was still dealing with the patriarchy but she had to contend with her newfound celebrity and the modern introduction (and most lasting iteration) of one of her greatest foes, Cheetah.
Cheetah’s lust for power ran very counter to Diana’s beliefs, providing the foundation for a great foil and a formidable foe for Wonder Woman. A key to Perez’ run was divorcing Diana’s history from the Justice League and letting her stand on her own. She didn’t begin her history as a character defined by the men around her and Perez, along with editors Janice Race and Karen Berger, was determined to make that the case again.
Plus the creators dove into the origins of Wonder Woman’s costume, her rivalry with her fellow Amazons and just what happens when you turn down the advances of the king of the Greek gods, Zeus himself!
“The Twelve Labors,” Wonder Woman (1942) #212-2226 of 12At the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, Wonder Woman became a stylish spy thriller in the vein of James Bond or the Avengers (not the ones you’re thinking, the other Avengers). But at the behest of another feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, DC decided to return Wonder Woman to her heroic roots and traditional costume.
The conceit was that after losing her powers in the previous decade, Diana had to complete twelve tasks to prove herself and be readmitted into the Justice League. DC rolled out a murderer's row of Bronze Age talent including Curt Swan, Martin Pasko, and Len Weine for the story. A state of constant flux would come to define Diana for much of the 70s as rotating creative teams and editorial edicts that wanted to move the book closer in sync to the TV show were the norm. But “The Twelve Labors” stands as one of the most consistent stories during that period, reestablishing Wonder Woman’s place amongst her fellow superheroes.
“Paradise Lost” TPB, Wonder Woman (1987) #164-#1707 of 12After George Perez, Phil Jimenez might be the most definitive artist in Wonder Woman’s history. (Though recently, Nicola Scott and Bilquis Evely are certainly giving him a run for his money.) But his plotting was excellent, as well!
Co-written with J.M. Dematteis, Joe Kelly and George Perez himself, Jimenez’ “Paradise Lost” collection is a great balance of big and small moments for Wonder Woman. The “Gods of Gotham” storyline see her take on Batman’s regular rogues who have been powered up by the pantheon of gods. And if that’s not enough she has an Amazon civil war to contend with when she gets back to Themyscira in the following two issues.
But the conclusion of this collection is the real draw. #170 features a one-off story called “She’s a Wonder” that takes a look at the relationship between Diana and Lois Lane. Lois learns what it means to be Wonder Woman in an issue that is both heartfelt and vulnerable.
“The Circle,” Wonder Woman (2005) #14-178 of 12In the wake of Infinite Crisis, DC had lost their way with Diana once again and it would take a year for Gail Simone to find her. “The Circle” would go down as Simone’s first arc on the book and it would feature yet another refocusing of Diana’s origins to fit current state of the DCU.
Thankfully, Simone does a good job! Diana has a new job as an agent for the Department of Metahuman Affairs, a new love interest in fellow agent Tom Tresser and a slightly redefined relationship with her mother and birthplace. It helps that wit and compassion are two hallmarks of Simone’s writing because they are essential to Wonder Woman and work well to balance the more Golden Age elements of the plotting like talking gorillas and Nazi punching.
“Eyes of the Gorgon” Wonder Woman (1987) #206-2139 of 12Greg Rucka is one of Wonder Woman’s most heralded writers because he kept values and concepts that defined Diana at the core of his stories. Problem solving and critical thinking has always been one of her hallmarks and with Wonder Woman acting as Themyscira’s political ambassador to the United States those would come in handy.
Of course, that also sounds like a prime time for her rogues gallery to make their move and as you can guess from the title, they loose the mighty Medusa to go toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman. Rucka’s modernized take on the pantheon of gods is fun but it’s the sacrifice that Diana is forced to makes this story one for the ages.
“Gods & Mortals” Wonder Woman (1987) #1-710 of 12Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC had a lot of room to reinvent their characters and drill them down to most basic concepts. But with Wonder Woman’s constant reinventions over the years, that task was daunting.
Enter George Perez. While the writer/artist only meant to stay on the book just to get things started for Wonder Woman before leaving her to other creators, he instead became enraptured with her and kicked off his 60-issue run with “Gods and Mortals.” The arc refocused the origins of Diana, the Amazons, Themyscira and their connection to the gods. It featured a faceoff with Ares and Diana’s first foray into the world of men. This story laid the foundation for basically everything that has come since.
And did we mention the excellent George Perez art? Sufferin’ Sappho! In 1987, the man was a force to be reckoned with and these pages prove why his legacy with this warrior princess is a lasting one.
“Battle for Womanhood,” Wonder Woman (1942) #511 of 12In a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, William Moulton Marston wrote, "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.... The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman."
Wonder Woman is impossible to separate from the life and ideas of her creators Marston and his two partners, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne. William was a psychologist and the inventor of the systolic blood pressure test that would lead to the polygraph. He was an unapologetic feminist who believed in female superiority and subtly coded the hero as queer, one of the first in comic book history. He also famously used bondage as a metaphor in Wonder Woman for men’s oppression of women. He wanted to create a character who won each day with love rather than pure strength and in Diana Prince he was able to do that.
“Battle for Womanhood” is just one example of William sticking to that formula through and through. With Doctor Psycho menacing American women and threatening to return them to the days of “clanking chains and abject captivity,” Wonder Woman doesn’t use only her might to foil his plot and rescue Steve Trevor. She relies on her wit and the strength of her friends... and maybe a kangaroo that could jump into space. (Hey, the Golden Age can be a little wacky especially when HG Peters is handling the art.)
But Marston was keen to never lose the plot as Wonder Woman declares in the final panel “Earth girls can stop men’s power for evil when they refuse to be dominated by evil men!”
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