DC Rebirth: How Wonder Woman went back to her roots
Last spring, DC Comics started over again. Under the Rebirth banner, the company relaunched its main books and reinvented its famous characters. This kind of event has become rather common among the two main superhero comics publishers in recent years: Marvel shook up its storied continuity with the Secret Wars event in 2015, and DC itself just did a huge relaunch in 2011 called The New 52. But where The New 52 had experimented with radical new directions for its characters (Superman dating Wonder Woman! No sidekicks for The Flash!) to mixed results, Rebirth aimed to bring its characters back to their core elements while simultaneously looking to the future. It’s been a huge success so far, both commercially and critically.
Now that the first collections of the Rebirth line are rolling out, casual fans have a chance to see what all the fuss is about. To figure out how Rebirth came to be such a success, EW spoke to the creative teams behind five of DC’s biggest books (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and The Flash) about how they freshened up their famous characters while still paying homage to past classics.
2016 was Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary, and she celebrated in kind. The year featured Wonder Woman’s first film appearance, thanks to Gal Gadot in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and a slew of new comics reimagining her origin, from Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s Wonder Woman: Earth One to Renae De Liz’s all-ages Legend of Wonder Woman. At the same time that Wonder Woman was looking back at her past, DC Comics was trying to forge a new future for its iconic characters with the Rebirth initiative. These two strands came together in the new Wonder Woman series, which alternated every issue between a present-day story about Diana struggling with her identity (illustrated by Liam Sharp) and a canonical retelling of her origin (illustrated by Nicola Scott), both written by Greg Rucka. The first volume, Wonder Woman vol. 1: The Lies, collects the present-day Sharp story.
There are few writers as capable of balancing Diana’s past, present, and future as Rucka, whose run on Wonder Woman in the early 2000s remains one of the most acclaimed takes on the character in her entire 75-year history. So even though Rucka has mostly left corporate-owned superhero comics behind in favor of more creator-owned work in recent years, he couldn’t resist returning to his favorite DC character.
“It’s Diana, you know? There’s no character in the DC pantheon that I hold in higher regard,” Rucka tells EW. “She is absolutely unique in the canon of all superhero stories in any company. There’s never been a character like her. She’s just spectacular. I have spent so much time frustrated with people who don’t get it, and trying to find how to illustrate it and explain it and show it. Superman and Batman are characters, but Diana is, ‘here’s an idea in a form.’ And the idea is, roughly: Love, respect, and equality. That’s what she manifests.”
Wonder Woman also marks a return to mainstream comics for Sharp, who spent the past few years working on Madefire, the digital storytelling company he co-founded. Itching to draw again, Sharp’s imagination was kickstarted when he learned the Wonder Woman gig was available.
“I didn’t instantly think, ‘oh that would be perfect for me,’ but as I was turning in that night, on my desktop I had this Red Sonja piece I’d done years earlier that was very mythic and full of detail, sort of Barry Windsor Smith inspired,” Sharp says. “It had a lot of symbolism and I guess world building in it. I like to add things to stories and suggest there’s more to any world that I draw behind the scenes by populating it with things that give you clues to the wider world there. This piece was a lot like that, and I kind of looked at it like ooh, you could do Wonder Woman like that.”
Sharp’s talent at detailed world-building became immediately apparent when he sent Rucka a drawing of longtime Wonder Woman foe The Cheetah. Unlike previous renditions of the character, Sharp gave Cheetah black tear-like marks on her eyes, which both hewed closer to real-life cheetahs and added an important dash of pathos to the character. Rucka was so taken he decided to use Cheetah for their first story, albeit in a totally new way.
“Those tears are a stroke of f—ing genius,” Rucka says. “People don’t really get it, because you look at the image, and you don’t take it in consciously. She immediately becomes tragic in a way she really had never been. There’s so much pathos just in the drawing. I’m a fan of pathos. You don’t have a good antagonist without pathos. This is why Batman’s antagonists are almost uniformly fantastic, because each of them makes your heart break in some way. I saw that and was like well, I have an idea for the story and we’re now using Cheetah!”
Rucka and Sharp also updated Wonder Woman’s own costume, giving it an armored look similar to the outfit Gadot now sports in DC’s big blockbusters. It also provided an interesting bridge between the two parallel stories.
“In Nicola’s version, this is brand new and has been made for a very specific reason. But the version I have has been in a lot of battles, she’s been 10 years in the world at this point, and it shows in the costume,” Sharp says. “So my version’s very battered and beat up, it’s a utilitarian piece of kit that allows her to move and be free.”
The proximity of the origin story also allowed Rucka to use characters closely tied to Diana’s backstory, like Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, in the modern setting in ways he wasn’t able to the last time he wrote Wonder Woman.
“They are so core to the mythology,” Rucka says. “One of the first things Liam and I said was we’re going to make Steve Trevor cool again. You have to understand why he matters. You need to understand why these two people were drawn to each other, and what it is she sees in him. Diana comes with politics. When you try to take the politics out of the character, it sucks. The politics don’t need to be overt or over-the-top, but they’re always there. For that to work, there has to be a ‘good man.’ In the same way, you need to see Etta, you need to see why Etta is as important as she is. The friendship she provides, and the balance.”
Wonder Woman vol. 1: The Lies is on sale now.