A few weeks ago, we talked on the phone with comics writer extraordinaire Greg Rucka about Wonder Woman. Rucka, the winner of multiple Eisner Awards for his work, has written Wonder Woman comics twice—first in 2003 and now with DC’s new Rebirth series.
Rucka told us about the differences between writing Wonder Woman in 2003 and now, the enduring core of Diana’s character, and how she has remained both relevant and unique over her 75-year history.
Amazon Book Review: At the beginning of Wonder Woman, Volume 1: The Lies, you tackle the subject of rebooting Wonder Woman right away, with Diana questioning the truth of her various origin stories. What sparked the idea of not just accepting but using the various origin stories to propel her forward?
Greg Rucka: It’s not a reboot; it’s an attempt to bring things in line. When you have a character with 75 years of history, you have a lot of history. And when you don’t have a single creative team governing that or a single editorial team governing that, things get confused. And then you add to that the vagaries and necessities of publishing, and that superhero comics are constantly reinventing themselves and trying to find new ways of selling the old wheel. What was relevant and easy for an audience to connect to in 1950 certainly is not all the same things that will connect in 2017. So one of the things you’re always faced with is how you stay true to the core of a character while making certain that the character continues to grow and continues to evolve and continues to be relatable. And so Volume 1: The Lies and Volume 2: Year One were very much an attempt to follow a publisher mandate, which was to bring her back to her core. And at the end of the day, this is about trying to distill Diana to those wonderful core elements of the character that make her so magical and so relevant.
You’ve written Wonder Woman before. How has she changed, aside from her core, between when you wrote her before and this time around?
She hasn’t changed. I would say that I’ve changed. The character is constant. The goal is to find new ways to illuminate those core truths of a character and to articulate them in ways that remain relevant. I [wrote] her in 2003. That was a very different era. We had different concerns, socially, than we do now. The first time out, I was more interested in talking about her as a politician, because she’s a political figure. She’s always going to be a character that’s going to have a social agenda. She’s always going to be commenting on the world around her in a way that Batman is not necessarily required to do so in a Batman story. She doesn’t show up to lecture or to scold, but she comes from a different way of life. She comes from a better place that is working in a better way. First bite of the apple was far more about trying to negotiate the conflict that arises from that collision of politics and the resistance she meets and how she certainly attempts to overcome it. This time it is a far more straightforward adventure. I suppose if I had to define the difference between the two runs as divided by 15 years, the first run was about what she was doing, and the second run is about who she is.
Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman weave in and out of each other’s lives. How challenging is it to write your story and either keep out of other writers’ way or know what they’re doing while you’re working on Diana’s story?
One of the things that I asked for when they handed me the reins this time around was that we keep her clear of everything else for the time being. Give me a year where I don’t have to worry about what’s going on over in Batman or over in Superman or over in the Justice League, so Diana can have a story where she is surrounded only by her own cast. And that’s part of the agenda: Let’s build up what’s around her. Make sure her house is in order before she starts traveling around the neighborhood again. That said, part of the joy of DC Comics is the interconnectedness of the universe. These are characters who know each other and who interact with each other. So it’s kind of ironic that you ask this, because the capstone of where I am in the run is bringing her back into the environment and having her interact with these characters again. I think when we talk about the DC universe as a grand thing, we talk about the DC universe as trinity of characters. It’s Batman; it’s Superman; it’s Wonder Woman. From those three all other things spring forth. That’s not to place any other character in higher or lower regard. It is the genome. We used to say the universe is built on these three characters. These are the three pillars that DC stands on.
I say, Why? I’ve heard all sorts of reasons. “It’s for girls.” Well, that’s garbage. I’m sorry you feel that way: That because it’s a female protagonist, it’s for girls. I have more sympathy for people who say, “Well, I never really got it.” I respond, OK, then you should look at these stories. A good Wonder Woman story should absolutely explain why she is Wonder Woman. And I mean that not in the story sense but in the cultural sense—why the character matters and still resonates after so long. The great thing about comics is that if you’ve found a story you don’t like, odds are that someone has written a story with that character that you will like. With the right help, you will be directed to places where you’re like, “Oh, I get it now!” And hopefully what happens is that when you read a Wonder Woman story, not only are you like, “Oh, I get it now,” but you really get it.
She is unique. I’ve said this over and over again. There’s no other character like her. There just isn’t. And when she is given that due, I universally see people say, “Oh, okay, now I see what I was missing. She’s kind of awesome.” There are Batman analogs out there; there’s Superman analogs out there. You can find them and experience them because those are character templates that get replicated. But Wonder Woman has never been duplicated. What happens, oddly with her, is the opposite. Sometimes she gets reduced to another template. To understand a character who really is motivated by love, understanding, and compassion and can yet punch people… It’s easier to understand an angry woman with a sword and armor. It’s far easier to dial her into that [literary trope] than to just stay true to who she is. She can be an angry woman with a sword, but that’s not what defines her. That’s a facet; that’s not the character.
I was going to ask you how you became the go-to writer for strong but flawed female characters, but now I’m not sure Diana can be described as flawed. She’s not necessarily as broken as some of your other characters.
Well, I think that’s a common misconception with the character. The same way as some people will say, “Nobody who has the powers of Superman would be as good and noble as Superman,” you get people who look at Wonder Woman and say, “She’s supposed to be this perfect woman.” It’s not about her being female. It’s about her being a character, a person. She has her flaws and her foibles; her strengths are extraordinary. These are stories about heroes and heroism, so she needs to be aspirational. She needs to represent the best we can be. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have bad days. That doesn’t mean she isn’t prone to all the things that human beings are prone to. And if you don’t plan the character like that, then I believe that you take away their heroism. If it’s effortless for them to always say the right things and do the right thing and to answer hatred with compassion—if it’s something they can do without thinking about it—then I think you diminish them. Our heroes have to struggle. They are only going to be as great as the adversity they have to confront and triumph over.
I saw on your Tumblr, Greg, that you’re going to stop writing Wonder Woman with issue #25.
Yes, that’s correct. Issue #25 is the last issue of this run for me. I’m being followed by a woman named Shea Fontana. More than anything else, it was a question of schedule. You want to give the best work you can. I found myself in a place where going beyond 25 issues, I wouldn’t be able to deliver my best work given my other commitments.
One of the things about putting out this many issues over the course of a year is that you’ll kill an artist if they have to draw them all. So working with Liam Sharp on The Lies and then with Nicola Scott on Year One, it allowed us to address that core mission—What are the essentials of Diana?—in a really interesting and positive way. We were able to tell one story [in The Lies] about how she is now as a fully realized adult. And with Nicola in the Year One story, [Diana] is a young woman who is experiencing our world for the first time. The artists [worked] together to make sure they were referencing each other, and their stories really complement each other. Both juxtapose and enhance each story. I think as a package, I couldn’t be happier. It’s a collaborative medium, and I’m only as good as the people I work with. And working with Bilquis Evely and Nicola and Liam…gosh, it’s hard to screw things up when you have that kind of partnership.
Have you had a chance to get a sneak peek at the film?
What I got to see of it, I saw a while ago. But I loved it! And I’m not an easy audience for that subject matter—I’ll admit that straight off. I went in [with an attitude of] “Prove it to me.” And after everything I saw, I came out, saying, “Okay! I really want to see this in a theatre with a bucket of popcorn.” I think it’s going to be tremendous. I think Patty Jenkins has done a wonderful job. I think Gal Godot is just luminescent. She is so compellingly true, and her chemistry with Chris Pine is fantastic. The Steve and Diana stuff is amazing. I’m really, really looking forward to seeing the final film.
And don't forget that Saturday, June 3, is Wonder Woman Day. See here for ways to celebrate.