Superman. Batman. Iron Man. Captain America. Spider-Man. All of these characters and many more are often thought of as the biggest icons in the superhero genre. With lasting and unforgettable legacies going back to the early days of the 20th century, nobody can dispute these characters' position in popular culture, nor can anyone even feasibly argue that they're not, in some form, a part of the literary canon.
One character in particular, though, has only ever had a limited appearance at the table alongside the biggest superheroic icons, but is just as deserving as any of them for the unique and powerful niche that she maintains. Maybe it'll take an appearance in a big-budget comic book blockbuster to solidify her position, and it just so happens that we'll be getting two from her over the next year-and-a-half: who else could we be talking about but the Amazonian Warrior herself, Wonder Woman.
Her First Cinematic Appearance
As we've known for a while now, Wonder Woman will be appearing in March's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, embodied for the first time in a major theatrical motion picture by Israeli actress Gal Gadot. When the actress -- most famous for appearances in the Fast and Furious series -- was first revealed as the new Wonder Woman, the reaction by both entrenched embers of the fanbase and the internet in general was disappointingly and boringly predictable: it was very, very negative. That reaction prompted a July 2014 edition of this very column to encourage people to get over it.
Since we've now arrived in the film's release year, director Zack Snyder seems a little more willing to go on the record about some things, and one of the elements touched on was why Gadot was cast as Diana of Themyscira in the first place. Speaking with FilmInk, Snyder said that the ability to hold her own in a screen test with the Dark Knight himself, Ben Affleck, was one factor. Another -- and potentially the deciding one -- was Gadot's ability to balance ferocity with kindness. He said,
"...the thing with Gal is that she’s strong, she’s beautiful, and she’s a kind person, which is interesting, but fierce at the same time. It’s that combination of being fierce but kind at the same time that we were looking for. She can get serious, but she’s amazingly fun to be around. And by the way, she really held her own with Ben in the screen test. Ben was like, ‘Whoa, that girl is something else!’ That was a good sign, because Ben is very tough in the scene, and he’s big and commanding. Anytime that you’re doing a test like that and you’re looking at the other person, you’re thinking, ‘Okay, that’s good stuff.’ That was part of the process, and over time as we got to know Gal, we found out how amazing she is."
Any comic book fan worth their weight in longboxes should be encouraged by this, because a longstanding tenet of Wonder Woman's character has always revolved around her unmatched skill on the battlefield being balanced out by compassionate kindness for the world around her. There's a difference between being light and loving all the time, and only saving that for people who deserve protection. If you're an enemy of hers -- or of the innocent people she protects -- then God help you.
So, in the spirit of Snyder's words about Wonder Woman's character, we thought it might be a good idea to give you five great Wonder Woman stories that show off just how great and iconic a character she is.
Gods and Mortals, by George Pérez (1987)
Although they did it most recently in 2011, DC Comics is no stranger to the universe-wide relaunch. In fact, the one they oversaw in the 1980s was, in many ways, even more sweeping than the one we experienced with the New 52. After the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC Comics Universe was consolidated heavily, creating a brand new timeline of events that solidified a clean break between the "pre-Crisis" DCU and the "post-Crisis" DCU.
Virtually every major character -- save for Batman -- received a new number one issue, and the first issue of the new ongoing Wonder Woman series began with her new updated origin story: Gods and Mortals.
Perez and writer Greg Potter put a significant amount of thought into reworking Wonder Woman's history to more closely match an element of mythology she's always had a significant tie to: the gods of ancient Greece. Beyond that, Gods and Mortals tells a compelling story of a gifted and caring individual who seeks not only to escape from the relative seclusion she'd known her entire life, but also to illustrate what could happen when innocence is confronted by the realities of the modern world.
Instead of hiding from them as other Amazonians had done, Diana ends up embracing them, while becoming one of the world's greatest champions in the process.
The Hiketeia, by Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones (2002)
Probably about as good a preview as you can get if you want to know what the dynamic is between Diana and the Batman, The Hiketeia is a highly lauded original graphic novel that explored the case of a murder in Gotham supposedly committed by a young woman.
With Batman hot on her trail, she turns up at the doorstep of Diana, who, at this time, was serving as the UN ambassador to Themyscira. Upon seeing Wonder Woman before her, the woman falls to her knees and recites a ritual, mysterious to the reader but well-known by Diana. The Amazonian then becomes honor bound to eternally protect this young woman, even as Batman arrives at her door and demands his Justice League partner release the young woman into his custody so he can take her back to Gotham to answer for her crime.
In every sense of the phrase, The Hiketeia is a Greek tragedy. It helps to emphasize writer Greg Rucka's strength in giving a real-world context to the larger-than-life icon of Wonder Woman, while also emphasizing her sense of honor and duty to the innocent. Batman is also well on display here, but he foolishly tries to take the young woman by force -- and, needless to say, that doesn't go very well for him.
The Hiketeia? is an absolute must-read, especially considering that in just a couple of months Wonder Woman and Batman will both be sharing the same movie screen. This book may prove insightful to their dynamic.
Superman/Wonder Woman: Sacrifice by Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and Mark Verheiden (2005)
As DC Comics was going through the growing pains of a less sweeping universal relaunch, it had to get through the darkness of an event called Infinite Crisis. Basically featuring antagonists that see the current DCU as a broken, morally bankrupt mess, universal stakes quickly come to the forefront of the story after a series of events set in motion the return of characters thought long dead. One of these events that pushed the DCU into Infinite Crisis was called The OMAC Project, and it featured a powerful telepath named Maxwell Lord taking control of Superman, the World's Greatest Hero.
At the climax of the story, Wonder Woman manages to get the upper hand on Lord while Superman is unleashed on his allies, including delivering a brutal beating to Batman. Thinking quickly, Diana throws her Lasso of Truth around Lord asking a simple question: how can she free Superman from Lord's mind control? Lord's answer is just as blunt: "Kill me."
She doesn't hesitate, and cleanly breaks his neck, turning his head completely around so that Lord's surprised reaction faces directly behind him.
This causes outrage and fear to spread out around the world, but it also illustrates a pretty clear difference between Wonder Woman and her other DC Comics allies. If the situation is dire enough, then her warrior instincts will kick in and she will be willing to kill, if that's what it takes.
The Circle, by Gail Simone, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson (2008)
Referred to as "the Dragon" by a group of mysterious Amazonian prisoners, Wonder Woman learns that someone attempted to kill her on the night she was first created. Directly dealing with the ways in which Diana changed Themysciran society, The Circle is a character-driven and enthralling story that helped set Gail Simone up for a very memorable Wonder Woman run that would go on to last for a little over two years.
Because of Simone's strengths as a writer and her ability to make heroes relatable, coupled with her extensive experience in the DC Universe, The Circle is a great first arc for Simone's work with the character, as well as for someone who wants to learn what the character is all about. When you add the dynamic artwork of the Dodsons -- Terry on pencils and Rachel on inks -- this quickly became one of the major arcs to read at DC Comics in the mid-2000s. Simone's writing generally has a timeless quality to it as well, meaning it would be a great read to pick up even now if you wanted to get to know Wonder Woman.
Blood, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang (2011)
There was a lot of trepidation upon the launch of DC Comics' New 52 initiative, which seemed to wipe the slate of continuity clean and either canceled or rebooted every DC Comics title -- including time-honored titles like Action Comics and Detective Comics -- with new #1 issues. Given her place as one of the most timeless icons of DC Comics, a lot of eyes were on the new Wonder Woman title, being taken over by writer Brian Azzarello (known for gritty, hard-hitting stories like 100 Bullets and Batman: Broken City) and artist Cliff Chiang (Beware the Creeper). While Wonder Woman wouldn't be without its own very controversial changes to the character, unlike many other New 52 titles, those changes didn't feel arbitrary: they had substance.
The biggest revelation seems to be one that's rumored to be a part of the DC Extended Universe: namely that Wonder Woman has a father: Zeus himself. Beyond this pretty fundamental change to the character's history, though, Azzarello and Chiang crafted an opening arc for the New 52's Wonder Woman that was a must-read every month.
Alongside Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman and Grant Morrison and Rags Morales' Action Comics, Azzarello's Wonder Woman was one of the best first arcs of the entire New 52 publishing initiative, and may prove to be influential in the upcoming cinematic version of the character played by Gal Gadot.
Wonder Woman will be arriving on the big screen on March 25 with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While we can't say for certain that the film will be well received, it does represent a major turning point for the Wonder Woman character as she makes the pivotal turn from comic book icon to cinematic heroine. With a legacy like hers, it's hard not to get excited.
Expectations should always be kept in check though, so much like Diana herself does all the time, we'll just hope for the best.