[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for "Wonder Woman" #1-3.]
Ask any comic book diehard for their favorite comic artists and inkers, and they're likely to rattle off a few of the most well-known names (and a few indies to boot). Heck, ask a casual comic book reader about the kind of artwork they most enjoy, and they'll be able to at least describe whether 'cartoony,' 'realistic,' or 'watercolor' styles get their own imagination flowing. But with the launch of the DC Rebirth, the publisher chose to anchor their iconic superheroine/princess/demigoddess in not one, but TWO artists - with alternating storylines to match.
Before "Wonder Woman: Rebirth" even arrived, the structure being used to solve the challenge of two issues per month was going to be one to watch. While writer Greg Rucka would be covering all scripts, the book would follow two parallel stories: Rucka and artist Liam Sharp would tell "The Lies," following Diana as she sought the truth of her origins, while Rucka and artist Nicola Scott would tell "Year One," following Diana and Steve Trevor as they first met.
A simple solution to address such differing art styles, and two stories that had potential to inform the other. But with the release of "Wonder Woman" #3 this week, it feels like it's time to start up the applause. The "Rebirth" books have called on some of the industry's most established and promising artists, the team assembled on "Wonder Woman" from writer to letterer has quickly made this book the most visually stunning of the entire "Rebirth" lineup.
We're confident that simply scrolling over the artwork we've selected here will convince those not already reading, but if not, we just can't help but break down the "Wonder Woman" run that seemed destined to be talked about for years to come.
Issue 1 - "The Lies"
That's obviously a bold claim, and it's inherently a subjective one on our part (every reader will find the art style that most speaks to them). But after "Wonder Woman: Rebirth" #1 called upon multiple artists - reflecting Diana's uncertainty over the 'truth' of her origins - the final pages were handed to artist Liam Sharp to take Diana into the epic, mythological realm. The final "Rebirth" pages showed how Sharp's style was a fit for the surreal, embracing the smallest details and textures to lend weight to the scenes, using heroic forms to do the rest of the work. And with "Wonder Woman" #1, the trend continued.
Sharp and colorist Laura Martin followed that approach, turning each page into a flood of detail and texture, while telling the parallel stories of Diana, seeking an unknown former ally for assistance in returning home, and Steve, on an unknown mission with his strike team against a brutal warlord. The result was the message that both Diana and Steve were bruised, dirtied, and hardened by the world.
And while the sheer amount of exposition needed between Steve and his commander Etta Candy restricted the layouts, there were moments of serious promise - like the appearance of a photo of Diana as drawn by Scott, not Sharp... a literal image of the girl Diana used to be (from the origin readers had yet to begin).
In interviews Sharp had directly addressed the attention and pressure that comes with drawing duties for one of DC's Big Three, and voiced his relief that the debut issue (and his part on "Rebirth") had been received so well, since, in his own words, his results had only improved as the stakes were raised with each issue. And in the closing pages of Issue #1, readers got their glimpse of that ante-ing up, with Sharp and Martin relying on deep shadows, rough brushstrokes, and synecdoche (using parts to represent the whole) to shift from wild, looming jungle to savage, unseen violence.
The cherry on top? The sudden reveal that the brutal claws and primal jaws slicing Diana didn't belong to a wild animal, but Cheetah - formerly known as Barbara Ann Minerva. And while the attack frames seemed to almost completely defy Sharp's style, the following full-page faceoff between Diana and Cheetah promised that things were only going to get better from here.
Issue #2 - 'Year One'
Here's where "Year One" comes in. Because as much as Sharp's reliance on weathering and deep shadows contrasting with Nicola Scott's softer, warmer style makes sense on paper, few could have guessed how well the pairing would work thematically. While few will argue that Issue #2 is some of Scott's most striking work, much of that credit is also due to colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr., with the duo's artwork walking the line between illustrated fairy tale and an almost painterly, pop-art contrast. But the bottom line was warmth, depicting Themyscira as every bit as welcoming and safe as Sharp's world was threatening.
For readers, it was almost impossible to see the soft, kind, loving Diana of 'Year One' as the girl who would one day be cut and bloodied by an unseen enemy in a harsh jungle (which is kind of the point). With letterer Jodi Wynne calling on a double-lined border on the Amazonian speech bubbles - and using the same for Steve Trevor as the previous issue - no detail was too small to drive the point home: readers should be asking themselves how this girl could ever fall from such heights - while knowing that she, tragically, was destined to. But again, it was Scott's artwork that continued to make real what Rucka was writing.
It's no exaggeration to say that the images of Diana's expression alone, if enlarged and printed on a comic book cover or canvas wouldn't be guaranteed to turn every head at a comic convention or local shop. And in a story launched by Diana's realization that she has been deceived, the fact that Scott and Fajardo's artwork seemed almost too perfect translated the themes of the book into ink on the page.
It wasn't just Diana, either, as Rucka and Scott chose to - for the first time that we can recall, at least - juxtapose the origin stories of Diana and Steve as children trained by their respective societies. Shifting from the bright-eyed Diana practicing archery with her mother to the baby-faced, grinning Steve with friends at the shooting range, both stars of the book were painfully unaware of how the world would wear each of them down. And it would all begin with the chance encounter readers tend to think of as the moment the two soldiers simply 'fell in love.'
Issue #3 - The New Standard Has Been Set
It's the third issue of the relaunched series - and Sharp's second full issue - that finally forced us to open our eyes to just how much his game had been raised. Together with Laura Martin's colors, the spreads included here should offer just a handful of reasons why this issue is one of the most visually satisfying to come out of the DC Rebirth thus far. It isn't often that a comic artist can elevate their skills from 'good' to 'jaw-dropping' in a single issue - but to do it with about as much pressure as can be placed on a DC artist (beginning a new chapter in a Justice League hero's history) is almost unheard of.
These stories are obviously a collaboration in the truest sense, with Rucka providing the framework of the narrative, Sharp putting pencil to paper, Martin bringing color to the world, and Jodi Wynne breathing everything from animosity, rage, compassion, and suffering into the letters on the page. There's no way to actually list every breathtaking two-page spread, energetic layout, or fractured panel literally spinning around the issue's leads to reflect the disorientation and helplessness of the woman turned man-eating monster. But we're confident an image or two will be all that's needed to get the point across.
We could spend paragraphs breaking down the ambitious moves made in the above image alone, from the softening features of Cheetah from animal to woman, the subtle-but-flawless musculature showing the years of combat on Diana's frame (in a costume lifted right out of Batman V Superman), down to the vertical borders splitting a single scene into three separate points of focus. These may seem like standard conventions, but to see them adapted so elegantly here - and the attention paid to each component part - result in not one or two, but several stunning pages throughout the issue.
And the same goes for Steve Trevor's parallel mission, with Sharp and Martin relying on vast locations and negative space to communicate two different ideas. While Diana came from as expansive and larger-than-life origins as possible, the jungle (like the lie she's seeking out) is downright suffocating. Where Steve Trevor came from a small, if human beginning, he is downright lost in a world and forces far beyond his imagining. But just like Diana, he's pressing on without a sign of that former hope in his eyes. The only difference? Diana's alone, and Steve isn't.
Within the span of just a few pages, Sharp and Martin stray between pages perfectly encapsulating the reliance on every crosshatch, every wrinkle, and every crease to communicate emotion and wear; silhouettes of desolation juxtaposed with cramped, shared experience that conjure images of Apocalypse Now; and finally a gorgeous, cover-worthy rendering of Trevor faced with an unknown, supernatural jungle. Comic fans may be used to getting one of the statement pages above per issue, but three of them, in succession, as part of what's technically the 'B Plot' of the issue speaks volumes for Sharp's and Martin's efforts.
We're holding back on spotlighting the more plot-heavy or 'spoiler-y' moments of the issue, because anyone even remotely interested in "Wonder Woman: Rebirth," or who has been following other issues in DC's company-wide event should clearly be adding this book to their collection. We've yet to even touch upon the dual storylines being crafted by Greg Rucka (since their conclusion or true meaning has yet to be revealed), but as the images included here hopefully show, groundbreaking artwork isn't reserved only for comic book "events" from the major publishers - nor is an artist's personal best work.
The praise being offered to Rucka, Sharp, Scott, Martin, Fajardo, Wynne, and the entire team behind this new "Wonder Woman" isn't meant to lower the achievements of other artists or editorial teams at DC or anywhere else (and as said above, each reader will have their own visual feast to enjoy). But with just a handful of issues down, it's clear that the experiment in combined storytelling is paying off - and not in the way we had expected.
We had hoped to see a veteran writer and two artists tell a narrative that was greater than the sum of the parts; we never expected each of them to be this good.
Wonder Woman #3 is available now.
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