As the first hardcover collection of G. Willow Wilson’s Wonder Woman is released this week, the writer is able to to look back now on a Wonder Woman run she calls “one of the most rewarding challenges [she’s] taken on so far.”
Wilson’s run finished up just last week with Wonder Woman #81, allowing her to head over to DC’s revitalized Sandman universe. During her tenure on the title, she explored the status of the Olympus gods, Diana’s conflicting elements of love and war, and the strained relationship between Wonder Woman and her boyfriend, Steve Trevor.
Newsarama talked with Wilson to find out more about her run on Wonder Woman, what made the character so challenging for her, and how she hopes her introduction and exploration of human-turned-hero Maggie broke down some of the aristocratic aspects of Wonder Woman’s world.
Newsarama: Willow, this hardcover collection of the earliest part of your run includes issues #58 through #65. One of the earliest elements of Wonder Woman’s mythology you explored was the status of Olympus, focused mostly on the goddess of love and god of war. Why did you want this part of Wonder Woman’s mythology to not only kick off your time on Wonder Woman, but play a central role in your whole run on the book?
G. Willow Wilson: You know, I’ve always thought that what’s interesting about Wonder Woman is that she exists across several different genres. You’ve got the Greco-Roman mythology angle, in which she is - depending on the origin story - either made from clay, or born only of her mother and sort of fatherless, or the child of Zeus. So she’s got this very complicated mythological history.
Then she’s also got classic, Golden Age superhero backstory. She’s got this kind of rogues gallery of villains. She’s got Cheetah. She’s got all her earthly villains. She’s got Veronica Cale.
And then she’s also got this strange, kind of tenuous but historically important connection to the U.S. Military.
She really is not easy to pigeonhole.
I was like, you know what? Let’s try to do a kind of kitchen sink type of story, where we interweave her mythological elements, the military elements and the superhero elements - which I have to tell you was a lot to juggle! [Laughs]
So seeing the characters at play, and the power dynamics from the Olympian side of her story would affect all the other parts of her story. That was a big, interesting kind of entry point for me.
Nrama: You also highlighted that Wonder Woman is this kind of strange combination of loving and compassionate woman with an accomplished warrior. Did you decide to explore the Greek gods of the love and war in particular in order to kind of reflect Diana’s own contrasting traits? After all, love and war get together in the Greek mythology too, don’t they?
Wilson: Yeah, yeah! It depends on what school of thought you adhere to, but yes, absolutely, that is, I think, the central conflict of that character. She has this - much like Superman - tremendous and potentially destructive strength, but it’s tempered by her compassion, her sense of justice.
There’s almost, like, a whimsical element to her character in that she loves the quiet things about humanity. She loves animals. She has these great moments throughout her history where she connects with ordinary people and children. And that cannot be an easy thing to manage.
That’s something that, in my story arc, I tried to have her villains bringing up very frequently - you know, you could just fix all this if you were willing to use the full scope of your powers. You could just lay waste to your enemies. But you’re afraid of that. You’re afraid to go so far into your powers that that destructive element, that warlike element, takes over and sort of overcomes those other parts of her personality. That’s a really interesting tension, to look at from a story perspective.
Nrama: Another struggle that Wonder Woman faces - particularly apparent after reading last week’s conclusion to your run - is the difficulty of maintaining a relationship with Steve Trevor. What were your thoughts behind bringing him into the book and where you took the challenges of having a healthy relationship when you’re a superhero?
Wilson: Yeah, that is sort of key across superhero comics as a genre, that it is difficult for people who have these incredibly unique powers that really alter their lives to maintain what we would call healthy, stable, long-term relationships with ordinary people who don’t.
It’s a cornerstone, really, of nearly every major superhero story. Can they keep it together with a spouse or a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a partner, who does not have that same experience?
One of my earliest memories of reading superhero comics back in, my gosh, this would have been the late ‘80s or very early ‘90s, was the death of Lois Lane. In that particular timeline that was around back then, Superman and Lois got married, but then Lois died giving birth to this super-baby. And it was this huge event. So it was the first sort of event I remember from my childhood, you know, talking about kind of company-wide or line-wide events.
So it is a huge theme, and I think what’s interesting about Wonder Woman and Steve is that the dynamic is reversed. I think the classic superhero paired with an ordinary person romances that we tend to think of, it’s often the male character who’s the superpowered one. You’ve got, of course, Clark/Superman and Lois as one of the major ones that people think of.
In the case of Steve and Diana, they have this wonderful, comfortable relationship that they’ve been in for awhile, but ultimately, she’s only half there because her duties - her feeling of responsibility toward us, the people of Earth - always kind of takes precedence over making time for her personal relationships, not just to Steve, but Steve kind of takes it in the teeth a little bit.
It was interesting to me to kind of bring that up, because I think Steve is a really, fundamentally, good guy. He knows what it is to be partnered with somebody like this. He realizes that this is not an ordinary relationship. And he’s very there for her in some pretty critical ways.
But at the end of the day, I’m sure that like any human being, he has emotional needs as well and would love to spend more time with her than he ultimately gets. And he knows that when that is a choice she has to make, she’s almost always going to choose her duty over her personal relationships. And that’s got to be tough.
And so, teasing out that part of their relationship was very, very interesting to me. I think it sort of takes a more high drama turn than it might have otherwise because all this is happening in the “Year of the Villain,” so the stakes are raised a little bit, in a way they wouldn’t be ordinarily.
Nrama: Now that your run has ended, are you able to look back on the ideas you had about Wonder Woman when you first started, and maybe the goals you had for your story, and see now how those evolved or changed? Were you able to do the things you wanted to do with her? Did you end up going in a different direction?
Wilson: I don’t know. I have to say this has been the most challenging superhero book I’ve ever worked on, because Wonder Woman is so beloved by so many. She’s got 75 years of history. Much of that history is quite entangled. Certain characters that you’d love to play with don’t quite exist in this timeline, or they’re embargoed because they’re part of some other story.
So there’s a lot to juggle. There’s a lot to juggle, and the weight of expectation is quite high.
I have a new appreciation for how difficult it is to, number one, tell a new story about a character who’s been around that long, because we’ve kind of heard it all on some level, and number two, sort of keep all those balls in the air - all of those different story elements, all of the different genre elements, these very complex backstories and continuity, which is not always clear and obvious, even to the people who made it.
So it’s a real challenge, I think, to take on one of these legacy heroes and try to push that story forward.
I think Wonder Woman is a character that I will forever be thinking about and mulling over and saying, “what if we did this?” And “if I could go back, I would do this,” because there’s so much on the table, and there’s so much story to work with that I think it’s easy to want to take out all the toys and play with them all at once.
And refining those ideas and getting them really tight and focused is quite tough in a way that it isn’t for secondary superheroes, newer superheroes, superheroes without quite such complex continuity.
So yeah, it’s definitely been the biggest challenge. But also, I have to say, one of the most rewarding challenges that I’ve taken on so far.
Nrama: I know that there was a return to Themyscira during your run and you introduced some new characters like Maggie. In the last few issues of your run, did you set up the story for what’s coming next? Or did you try to tie up all your loose ends?
Wilson: I think there’s a lot there for Steve Orlando to jump in and take and play with or not. One of the things that I thought would be interesting is this idea of breaking down that barrier between Themyscira and Earth such that the Amazons could, if they wanted to, start training humans - which is sort of what Maggie is. She goes over and she’s a human woman, but she gets Antiope’s sword, and she ends up in Themyscira. And that’s kind of coming full circle. So she starts to train an Amazon.
I think that opens a really intriguing possibilities about the connections between heroism in our world and sort of the heroism of the Amazons.
Is it possible to be a good Amazon and live by the code of the Amazons here on Earth. That’s something that I was really interested in, because I like breaking down aristocracies - shaking them up a little bit, with elements that call into question whether you need to be born into this sort of aristocratic dynasty in order to do the things that they do, or is it something that you can choose?
So that was really interesting for me.
I think, especially with a character like this, it’s always kind of impossible to pick up every single thread from every single run and incorporate it. I think that’s why it’s so tempting for people to just reboot from the very beginning the story of a character like this when they take it on.
I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Anytime you’re taking over, temporarily, a title that you know is going to continue long after you leave it, you solve some problems, you create other problems and the next person does the same things. That’s the unique beauty of working in such a collaborative art form.
So who knows? Who knows where her story’s going to go from here, or whether anything that I’ve put in is going to have a long-term impact on her story. That’s kind of how superhero comics go.