Comic Rants: Old Wonder Woman versus New Wonder Woman

Wonder WomanReboots are tricky things. Oftentimes, they rehash stories that have already been told, aiming for a new audience. Of course, capturing a new audience often means disenfranchising the old one. For fans who are effectively being fired from their favorite franchises, that can be a tough pill to swallow.

Maybe that’s why DC went in halvsies when they did the New 52, with some stories remaining in continuity so as not to upset existing fans while others got tossed out to make way for something new. The success of this is debatable – I personally think it’s a tangled mess, but at least it gave me some good Wonder Woman stories.

Wonder Woman has gone through two of these universal reboots now, and both have been great. But I wouldn’t be a nitpicky comics fan if I just revelled in the good times. No, there must be comparisons. Which Wonder Woman reboot is better? We must know.

No Justice League Allowed

When I refer to the New 52 Wonder Woman, I’m referring to her in her own book, written by Brian Azzarello. She’s also in Justice League, and…well, I’m not a fan. But the two books are different enough that it’s almost like there are two different Wonder Women running around – one who is awesome and one whose distinguishing characteristic is that she’s Superman’s girlfriend.

Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals

One of the best reboots of all time.

Post Crisis Wonder Woman

First up, there’s the 1980s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot. This was handled by talent like Len Wein and George Perez, and it recast Wonder Woman as a character who was a child of destiny, prophesied to defeat Ares, the god of war. It kept parts of her old origins while tossing aside others.

At the risk of being a bad Wonder Woman fan, I don’t like many of her Golden or Silver Age stories. They had some cool concepts, but they got bogged down with a lot of stupid stuff, like somebody welding chains onto Wonder Woman’s bracelets every issue or two. William Moulton Marston had some great ideas, but he lacked execution in his stories. So I was very happy when the reboot kept the good stuff about the character while jettisonning a lot of the junk.

Some of the things the reboot brought to the table included:

  • No more Diana fawning over Steve Trevor – Steve became a father figure instead of a useless boyfriend.
  • No more secret identity – Diana was now Diana full-time, which helped to differentiate her from other superheroes.
  • More of a focus on Diana’s compassion as her strength – this had been present in the Golden Age stories but had largely vanished over the years.
  • More epic storytelling – Wonder Woman really felt like a Greek epic played out in the modern world.
Wonder Woman: Blood

The more things change, the more Wonder Woman kicks your ass.

New 52 Wonder Woman

In taking over Wonder Woman as part of the New 52 reboot, I almost feel like Azarello was deliberately trolling old fans. There were so many points where a reader could just conclude that Azarello didn’t get the character – she wasn’t made of clay, Ares was her mentor, the Amazons werr murderesses, and so on. Despite these radical changes, though, the stories worked. The key to the success of the series was that Diana was still Diana. Her core remained the same, and the other stuff was revealed to be largely peripheral.

Some of the highlights of the New 52 run include:

  • Less deus ex machina – Wonder Woman doesn’t get the keys to victory handed to her by the gods unless she earns it.
  • More intersting gods – they’re not all old white guys in togas anymore.
  • A new supporting cast – instead of Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, et al, we’re given a new group of allies who are just as interesting.
  • Wonder Woman going super saiyan when she takes off her bracers. Yes, I’m easy to please sometimes.

The Amazons

So how do these two excellent series stack up with each other? I’ll start the comparisons with Wonder Woman’s people, the Amazons.

The Post-Crisis Amazons were the souls of women who had died over the ages reincarnated by the gods. Hippolyte was able to give life to Diana after shaping her from clay because she had originally died while pregnant. These Amazons were immortal warriors originally meant to serve as ambassadors between gods and mortals but later kept hidden on their own island. They serve as mentors and friends to Diana, but run the risk of being a bit bland at times, because it’s hard to connect with immortal super-beings.

The New 52 Amazons are markedly different. These ladies seem to be mortal and are born just like any other human being. No longer reincarnated souls, they instead seduce mortal men every 30 years, kill them after sex, and give birth to new Amazons. The females are kept, while the males are sold to Hephaestus. This is a huge departure from what came before, but ties the Amazons more closely to the feel of Greek mythology. Very few beings in ancient myth had no blood on their hands.

I think both versions of the Amazons are interesting, but I think I would give the edge to the Post-Crisis version. I think it adds something to Wonder Woman as a character if she has willingly left a paradise, and it’s hard to consider Themiscyra to be a paradise when its inhanitants kill innocents and sell children.

The Gods

When you get down to it, Wonder Woman is a Greek myth told in the modern era. Everything she is and does is tied back to Greek mythology. This makes her different from most other superheroes. It also gives her a built-in supporting cast: the Greek gods.

One of the few weaknesses I see with the Post-Crisis reboot is that the gods, early on at least, make things a bit too easy on Diana. They hand her a ton of super powers, show up to guide her to man’s world, and even rescue her from near-death after her victory over Ares. Yet for all their aid, they also leave Diana out in the cold when she needs them the most.

The New 52 gods are totally different. They frequently look less human, and they tend to be enemies more than allies. They’re a big, bickering family and, with the exception of Aphrodite and Hephaestus, tend to be obstacles rather than aids.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of unreliability in the Greek myths in general. If you look through early volumes of the New 52 Wonder Woman, you can see connections to the Pre-Crisis version, but it’s through myth. People believe Wonder Woman to be made of clay, but this is a rumor spread by Hippolyta to spare Diana from Hera’s wrath. Wonder Woman thanks Hephaestus for making her lasso, but was only told about its origins by her mother (as opposed to the Pre-Crisis version, where the gods literally put it in front of her). Even the gods seem to be unsure about a lot of things – Hades mentions the lasso’s ability to force those bound by it to speak the truth, but prefaces it by stating, “according to legend.” The unreliability of the gods makes them more interesting as characters and allows us to connect with Diana more as she explores this strange world.

One thing I will say I miss about the Post-Crisis gods is the coalition of goddesses (and Hermes) that helped to create Wonder Woman in the first place. It was nice to have Diana capable of asking for some outside aid or wisdom once in a while. In the New 52, the Amazons are taken out of the picture early and even goddesses like Artemis and Demeter are enemies rather than allies. While it was cool to see Wonder Woman throw down against Artemis, it was also kind of sad. Still, point goes to the New 52 on this one.

Ares

Superman has Lex Luthor, Batman has the Joker, and Wonder Woman has Ares, god of war – at least in the modern era. Ares was the big bad of Post-Crisis continuity, and he plays a major role early on in the New 52.

Post-Crisis Ares starts out as a generic megalomaniac fantasy villain, complete with badass armor. He became much more devious and interesting after the initial reboot, under the pen of folks like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone. New 52 Ares is more interesting in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the fact that he served as mentor to Diana in her early years.

In terms of character, I think New 52 Ares is much more compelling. However, that’s only half of the deal. Just about every version of Wonder Woman that incorporates Ares also has him defeated by her hand. In the New 52, it’s an interesting scenario where Wonder Woman kills him and becomes the new god of war. Diana also kills him in Post-Crisis continuity, but not for decades. Her first battle with him is, in my opinion, one of the many battles that sets Wonder Woman aside from most heroes.

Your typical superhero/big bad battle involves the hero getting beat down, then coming back and winning the fight due to a clever plan/inspiration that allows the hero to outmuscle the villain. Wonder Woman’s fight against Ares didn’t have her win by force, because how are you going to outfight the god of war? Instead, she won when she ensnared Ares in her lasso of truth. This created a powerful scene in which Ares witnesses the natural end of the war he’s trying to incite.

Ares Defeated

Ares, god of war, is defeated by truth.

The scene is powerfully rendered by George Perez and really drives home the key theme about Wonder Woman: she can fight, but her true strength lies in her devotion to truth and compassion. Those feminine qualities, often seen as weaknesses, are her greatest strengths. This is very in keeping with Marston’s original vision for the character.

New 52 has the better Ares, but he’s dead now. Post-Crisis had a less compelling villain but used him in a more powerful way.

Pacing

The big area where I think the Post-Crisis Wonder Woman has it all over the New 52 version is the same area where I think older comics in general are better than modern ones: pacing. Thanks to the fact that comics are now written not for monthly consumption but for trade paperbacks, stories that once only took an issue or two now take six to twelve issues. (And yet for some reason Marvel and DC still judge sales success on monthly figures rather than on trade paperback sales, but that’s another issue entirely.)

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a lot of cases. Slowing down the story and giving the art time to breathe is a huge advantage, and one I wish got mined more back when Jack Kirby was drawing. And theres no point in the New 52 Wonder Woman stories where I find myself bored. But let’s put it this way: three trade paperbacks in, Diana is still pursuing the same overall plot that showed up in issue #1 of the new series. By comparison, the first seven issues of the 1987 reboot featured the entire origin of the Amazons, Diana’s birth, her travel to man’s world, her meeting Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, the introduction of two brand-new recurring characters, the defeat of a supervillain named Decay, Diana decapitating a god (which was shockingly badass in an era where superheroes by and large still didn’t kill), a near-nuclear war, and the defeat of Ares.

This isn’t a flaw in Azzarello’s work – it’s just the way comics have gone. Scripts tend to be lighter, panels tend to get bigger, and readers are paying more for less story than ever before. The great books out there (like the New 52 Wonder Woman) make use of this new format, but I still find it limiting. So, unfortunately, the deciding vote in this little game is not so much an indictment of Azzarello’s Wonder Woman but rather a problem I have with modern comics as a whole.

Wonder Woman and Orion

Wonder Woman tells Orion where he stands.

She’s Still a Wonder Woman

While I like the Post-Crisis version of the series slightly better than the newer one, I still love where Wonder Woman has gone under Brian Azzarello’s pen. In fact, the four-issue arc where Hades tries to force Wonder Woman to marry him is not only one of my favorite Wonder Woman stories ever, but one of the most awesome comics I own. Had I done my Crowning Moments of Awesome for Wonder Woman more recently, the image of Diana riding through Hell with her lasso tied as a noose around her neck with every intention of fighting Hades for the rest of eternity would have made at least #3 on the list.

The one thing that both the Post-Crisis and New 52 versions of the character possess is that they put the focus on the thing that separates Wonder Woman from the many other superheroes out there: her femininity. Yes, she is a powerful warrior. But she wins fights not through might but through compassion and truth. She can convince the god of war to give up his quest for world domination by showing him the logical conclusion of eternal battle. She will fight multiple gods to protect a pregnant woman she doesn’t know simply because nobody else is on the poor girl’s side. The continuity has changed, but the character has remained the same.

While I have generally been very critical of DC’s recent output, the Wonder Woman reboot is what I want out of a reboot. It’s not a retelling of the same old origin stuff or a radical departure from what came before. It is something truly new, with a lot of interesting new additions. Some of those additions may not be quite to my preference, but they are all worthwhile. And I can only hope that this trend will continue as the series undergoes its first creative team change since the 2011 reboot.

In short, I miss the Post-Crisis version of Diana, but I’m not sad the new reboot has come about. It turns out that Wonder Woman is still awesome.

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