[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for “Wonder Woman” #4.]
It may not be the most comforting, complimentary, or even wise mindset, but there’s no denying that, for many, a comic book superhero earning accolades on the page is no longer the height of their potential – that honor comes when the character has claimed a starring role on film, too. And while it may not have been their intention, the developing DC Extended Universe – highly divisive – coinciding with the launch of the DC Comics Rebirth – highly praised – has turned the idea somewhat on its head. Because for heroes like Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, and Wonder Woman, their comic book adventures haven’t elicited this much excitement in years.
Of course, the pressure is mounting for one DC hero in particular: Wonder Woman. Had DC’s film slate been universally praised, the stakes would still be high for director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot – not only rounding out DC’s big screen Trinity, but doing justice to the first, and most iconic female superhero in history (at a time when discussion surrounding female-led films has never been more heated).
Thankfully, the creative team led by writer Greg Rucka and artists Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp have boosted the conversation all on their own, using the “Rebirth” attention to turn in one of DC’s best-looking and most powerful relaunches so far. But now that Diana’s origin story has been re-imagined and released, fans interested in finally following Wonder Woman don’t need to wait for any film. Not since Rucka and Scott have succeeded in re-framing nearly every classic facet of Diana’s origin, not only for a modern audience, but steeped in the skill, meaning, emotion, and and power that any future version – film or otherwise – would do well to follow.
Diana & Steve
It’s almost unavoidable that the first comic book to put a woman in the spotlight was also mired in some now-painfully-dated attitudes towards men and women. In this case, the immediate bond between Steve Trevor and Diana (formed by her falling love with him since he was, you know, the first man she laid eyes on). In past issues Rucka and Scott updated that idea by hinting that Diana has loved not one, but potentially many of her fellow Amazons – in the process making her not only an empowered lover, but adding meaning to the feelings we as the reader know she will one day feel for Trevor.
And in Issue #4, the story returns to Diana’s “Year One” arc. And with the action leaving off last time as Steve Trevor lay close to death, begging the princess of Themyscira for help, it picks back up by doubling down on that simple fact: it’s Steve Trevor who’s getting saved in this story. It may seem a subtle change to have Diana keeping watch over Trevor not out of devotion or young love, but with a face mired in pity and concern. Yet the shift in perspective and agency in the situation – paired with the fact that Steve is unable to speak the language of the Amazons – is a powerful one, ensuring that every reader, regardless of gender, is in Diana‘s position.
And despite the implied power and authority, it’s a position based on compassion and duty – the two qualities that truly define Wonder Woman.
But in true Rucka fashion, the image of Steve Trevor, the brave soldier bent over in tears being comforted by the fair Amazonian princess carries more than one message. On the surface, it’s a statement on strength, and the fact that Trevor’s pain for his lost friends doesn’t lessen his own – at the same time, it’s a perfect embodiment of the kind of strength only characters like Wonder Woman are able to show. Diana is stronger, older, wiser, and more composed than this male stranger, but in this case, it’s the comfort she offers without a word needed or offered, not her fighting skills that define her as powerful.
In case readers assumed that the image speaking to both of their strengths was the only takeaway, the surrounding story lends a somewhat contradictory narrative. The previous issue made a point of chronicling Diana and Steve’s training and maturation in parallel. But now, the differences begin to show – opposing the above image. Both have loved and trained for a life as a warrior, but Steve has seen his friends father a child, fought in combat, and seen his comrades killed beside him – all human experiences that Diana has yet to witness.
The bottom line? This is a new bond between the two: the mortal, lonely, scarred soldier of ‘man’s world’ being comforted by the larger, older, royal arms of an exotic princess beloved by her people… who knows much, much less of what the world truly is.
Choosing a Champion
While the interactions between Steve and Diana reflect the very best of them both (specifically Diana’s compassion and stoic strength, which the Wonder Woman film seems to be highlighting early on), the actual origin story plot beats that follow don’t, at first glance, offer much room for deeper meanings, or the exploration of larger themes. Steve Trevor must be returned to his world, and one of the Amazons is chosen to represent them as their existence is revealed upon arrival.
In the usual story (or perhaps just the best known ones), Diana seeks the adventure and company of her newfound love, but is forbidden from competing in the games by her mother, Queen Hippolyta. This necessitates Diana wearing a disguise, and winning the competition. In the character work of Themyscira and Hippolyta so far, Rucka could have relied on the Queen’s obvious and complete love for her daughter to justify the decision (in this version, it is outright stated that no woman who leaves the island is allowed to return). Instead, Hippolyta – referred to as ‘Lyta’ by her lieutenant and friend, Philippsus – instantly knows that her daughter is the best of the Amazons… and that is what breaks her heart.
Not the idea that she could lose her, but the fact that she must. It’s a pain felt by all of the Amazons, including Diana as the games and challenges unfold, culminating in the final challenge: deflecting the weapon of man’s world. All present know what will happen, and Nicola Scott takes the opportunity to completely re-contextualize Diana’s most iconic pose (really, it’s just showing off at this point).
As was the case with the traditional meeting and kindling of feelings between Steve and Diana, the team’s ability to take the classic origin and make it mean infinitely more, while keeping it true to the character is truly impressive – and, in one example, the kind of magic that DC’s “Rebirth” was intended to capture. Diana’s decision to face the challenge, and leave her home – and her immortality – is in service to her mother, and her people, not motivated by juvenile infatuation or even a desire to see the world.
The previous chapter did emphasize Diana’s curiosity at what lay beyond the horizon, but that’s not the focal point here. Here, it’s what she’s giving up that is most important. It may seem obvious that Diana would love her sisters and mother, and be loved in return, and the Wonder Woman trailer is clearly after the same idea, showing its Hippolyta referring to Diana as “her greatest love.”
The competition destined to tear Diana from her family and people has an undeniably somber tone, but if anyone can make the loss of love, immortality, and home seem like a courageous decision, it’s Wonder Woman – because she’s the one choosing it for herself… in the chapter, Steve Trevor truly is a footnote.
That Famous Armor
So, how do you make Wonder Woman’s gleaming armor, complete with a golden eagle spread across the chest, speak to the same larger themes and legacy at play? Simple: by making a point of what’s truly communicated in the badges worn by Steve Trevor and his men. The eagle on their insignia may be clutching a trident and a rifle, but it isn’t the firearm or the misread reference to Poseidon that catches Hippolyta’s eye. No, it’s the posture of the eagle, embodying the quick, fierce fighting prowess of those who wear it, but not the kind of forces who go out in search of monsters to slay.
It makes sense that Hippolyta should notice it, as it’s the same values bestowed upon her daughter – famously condensed into the Amazonian motto from writer Gail Simone that no warrior should ever raise their fist before extending their hand. It’s with this message in mind that clothing is fashioned for Diana, taking that same imagery and working it into her own armor. She’s a sight to behold, and the fact that her gleaming gold is a sign of peace before conflict is one of the core values of Diana to which every fan can attest.
Yes, Even The Invisible Jet
Looking for one last bit of evidence that “Wonder Woman: Rebirth” is determined to pull every beloved aspect of the mythology into the modern age, no matter how ridiculous? Two words: invisible plane. That’s right, even the silliest tool Wonder Woman is famous for has made the jump, with the Amazonian engineers making repairs and improvements to the airplane that crashed on the island carrying Trevor and his men. A single panel shows the women applying ‘scales’ of some kind, resulting in a completely invisible jet for Trevor and Diana to return in. We’re still not convinced that this plot beat would be wise for the upcoming Wonder Woman entry in the DCEU, but… it’s the only part of “Rebirth” that earns that distinction.
It’s impossible to know just how closely the films will stick to the source material, and balance nostalgia with updated themes and messages. But if “Wonder Woman: Rebirth” does anything, it shows that Diana’s story is as important today as it ever was. And just because changes are made in the interest of updating or modernizing a story, the result doesn’t have to stray from the spirit of the original. The best news? No matter how fans feel about the motion picture, the future has never been brighter for Diana on the page.
Wonder Woman #4 is available now.