Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian

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The general rule of thumb with a Wonder Woman comic is I read it, I rant about it, and nothing ever changes.  Color me surprised when I read this trade and actually liked it. More than that, it may be one of my favorite Wonder Woman trades thus far.  One of my biggest issues with Wonder Woman is that she always seemed to exist in a vacuum. The Gods-centric storylines always felt so removed from anything else happening in the DC universe. Furthermore, Diana herself always seemed like this otherworldly being, existing separate from the rest of humanity, and never really providing any relatable moments to help make her more accessible for the reader.

Gail Simone’s take on the character changes all that, with Wonder Woman finally being allowed to show her human side.One of the most surprising moments is when Diana, distraught over her dear friend Etta Candy’s life-threatening injuries, shows a moment of weakness. A sympathetic nurse offers her a shoulder to cry on, if needed:

 

Diana is a pillar of strength and resilience, so to see her break down, even for a moment, is surprising. In an odd way it’s reassuring to see Diana in this light; if Wonder Woman has moments of emotional weakness, while still being able to be a strong and fierce woman, surely we can all accept our own sensitive emotions?  It’s so rare that Diana is shown in this manner, and I found it to make her far more endearing than when she’s constantly shown to be calm and in control. Sure, those are key tenants of a hero, but they hardly make her relatable as a person.

Simone seems to have a really firm grasp on how to portray Wonder Woman. She’s a beacon of peace, and yet she’s also a warrior; she’s lived for thousands of years, yet she’s currently alive in a world of cutting edge technology.  Many writers fail in their attempts to unite these opposing characteristics, yet Gail Simone balances them exceedingly well.  Diana shows in this comic that not only is she aware of the goings-on in the world, but that she also acknowledges the importance of staying up to date on these matters.

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This is a minor detail, yet it speaks volumes to Diana’s character. She is a warrior, and as such she ought to make it her mission to study and learn all weaponry that may play a part in any given battle.  This emphasizes her intelligence and tactical-minded thinking, an element of her character that is sometimes overlooked.  These subtle variations in her persona help to create a more fully developed hero, rather than relegating her to the typical “beacon of peace and love” or “fierce warrior” that can often come across as one-dimensional.

What impressed me most of all about this comic was that although the Gods play a role, there is little interaction between them and Wonder Woman. When they do finally meet, Diana kills Ares, only to top that by completely renouncing all of the Gods.

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In doing so, she’s also forced to renounce her Amazonian status, and leave her home island to return to the world of men.  Diana and the Gods have squared off against one another before, with the Gods even leaving this plane of existence at once point. This is the first time (to my knowledge) that Diana openly renounces her faith in them, turning her back on those she has worshipped for centuries.  I’ve always found issue with the Gods-worshipping Diana, feeling that the stories feel too far removed from the rest of the world to be fully believable.  Diana’s renunciation fits a new model for the character, in which she fully embraces the world outside of Themyscira and finally breaks free from the controlling hand of Zeus and the other Olympians.  This makes Diana seem so much stronger than if she just continued to blindly follow these petty and obviously flawed Gods.  By separating herself from them, hopefully she will finally be able to come into her own as a hero, without the obnoxious interference from on high.

If I had one critique about this comic, it would be the artwork. To be fair, it’s not even really a criticism per se, but merely an observation on the way in which Diana is drawn.  I’m sure it’s an issue for many artists when they’re tasked with drawing this character, yet one image in particular stood out to me:

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As an Amazon, Diana is supposed to be an incredibly strong, powerful woman. To his credit, artist Aaron Lopresti does a fair job of representing that in his artwork.  Strong legs, arms, and abs grace the Amazonian princess, so that she more closely resembles a body builder than a supermodel. This I have no problem with; I’ve always thought Wonder Woman should be slightly bigger in stature due to her sheer strength. For the most part, this picture does the character justice. The one part that stands out though is her mid-section, specifically the bottom half of her outfit.  Her lower abdomen is so flat and one-dimensional here, which proves to be a stark contract from the rest of her body. To be fair, I understand the desire to NOT over-emphasize this part of the body, for fear of being attacked for making her overly sexualized or even borderline pornographic. Unfortunately, the image seems to err too far on the side of caution, creating a rather bland area of the panel.  In all fairness, this is likely not due to any failings on Lopresti’s part as an artist, but rather a statement to the larger issue at hand: people just don’t know how to draw the female body without it appearing overly-sexualized.  To combat any negative comments, they simply gloss over this area, even though given the rest of her physique, this portion of her body would no doubt be just as muscular.  Perhaps it’s a minor issue to be nit-picking, but it stood out to me enough that I stared at this picture for a solid minute, trying to figure out why it was drawn in such a way.

Although I’ve written a lot, I haven’t addressed the actual story at hand. Quite frankly, I’d recommend just going and reading it for yourself. It’s a really interesting story (and one I’m hoping continues in the right direction, instead of veering back into familiar, “safe” territory).  Wonder Woman’s humanization is what really stood out to me in this trade though. Gail Simone has helped renew my faith in the character; I can only hope future writers bring a similar insight to the character so as to allow Wonder Woman to finally realize her full potential, to exist simultaneously as a pillar of justice and peace while still being allowed to show a more humanistic side.

-Jess

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