The co-creator of Kamala Khan tells EW about the challenge of taking on one of the original female superheroes
What does an ambassador of peace mean in an era of never-ending war?
That’s the question posed by the new Wonder Woman comic story that begins this week, written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Cary Nord. Best known as the writer and co-creator of Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Wilson is the latest Marvel writer to take on a big-name DC superhero this year, in the wake of Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman reboot and alongside Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Led Zeppelin-inspired take on Aquaman (Kamala partisans shouldn’t fear, however; Wilson will also continue to write the adventures of Jersey City’s favorite superhero for the foreseeable future).
Wonder Woman #58, out this week, kicks off the “Just War” storyline and finds Diana get embroiled in a messy armed conflict in the Third World at the exact same time that her old archenemy Ares reappears to make an unexpected offer. EW caught up with Wilson to discuss her plans for the Amazing Amazon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You co-created Kamala Khan, so how does it feel to now be taking on one of the original female superheroes?
G. WILLOW WILSON: It’s a very different experience. In the case of Kamala, myself and the artist and Sana Amanat had to build her world from the ground up. Nothing was there before, it was a completely blank canvas. Everything from her family to her powerset to her background, her friends, her school, her neighborhood had to be created from scratch. Whereas with a character like Wonder Woman you’re stepping into a story that’s been going on for the better part of a century, and to which many writers and artists have been adding their own spin. In some ways it’s easier, in some ways it’s harder. it’s easier because the character is already established, nobody’s going to cancel Wonder Woman, so that takes a little bit of pressure off. But by that same token, you really have to exercise your creative muscles to tell a story that will resonate with existing readers and jive with their understanding of the character and at the same time put a new twist on those old characters and storylines. Finding that balance is not easy.
Wonder Woman has this role as a bringer of peace. Our modern world is stuck in the opposite of that, where we’re embroiled in all these endless wars and conflicts where it’s hard to tell who deserves to win or who’s on the right side. How are you exploring how Wonder Woman can speak to modern conflict?
I think warfare has changed so much over the course of the past century and a half. A battle no longer means two armies of equal size facing off on a field, with the civilians off in a town or village, and you can easily tell the combatants from non-combatants. Those days are over. The things we fight wars over now are so much more abstract than territory or national sovereignty. So to be writing this character who really puts herself in between innocent people and bad guys, yet living in a century where it’s not immediately clear in a lot of conflicts whose hands are clean (and sometimes nobody’s hands are clean), figuring out what justice means in this era of perpetual warfare is very different from when Wonder Woman first came around. When we went to war in World War II there were clear evils we were fighting, and it’s a little bit tougher to make those judgment calls today.
One way this is going to manifest in the story is the return of Ares, the Greek God of War and longtime enemy of Wonder Woman. How will your version differ from the classic heavily-armored bad guy, or the more manipulative version played by David Thewlis in the movie?
We wanted to put this classic character out in front of readers again, but with a twist. What Cary Nord and I have done is ask, what if your oldest enemy showed up and wanted to be your best friend? They wanted to be on your side, but they’d spent so long in opposition that it didn’t quite work out the way you thought? Can the God of War really change? How would she react if he just showed up one day and said “I decided you were right, I want to fight the just war and be the hero this time around”? How much leeway can she give him? We’re really reopening old wounds. We’re playing with what is on the face of it a classic Wonder Woman story (Steve Trevor goes MIA, Diana’s gotta find him, Ares shows up), but nobody’s quite in the position we’re expecting, and nobody really takes the side we expect. The outcome will have massive reverberations for all those characters.
Wonder Woman was created by men and has often (though not always) been written by men. How does it feel to be writing her as a woman?
It’s difficult for me to say, being so close to the work. This is one of those questions I might only be able to answer when I can step back and look at what I’ve done and hold it up against other runs I’ve enjoyed. But I’m so deep into it now that It’s really hard for me to tell. I will say doing background research before jumping into this series, reading some of the classic Wonder Woman runs by Gail Simone and Greg Rucka and a lot of really great people who have taken this character on, I think there is a tendency to give her quite a bit more gravitas than I would necessarily give her. I do wonder if that maybe stems from nervousness on the part of creators who don’t want to get female perspectives “wrong.” So they don’t quite know should she react to this in a more human way, or should she be more remote and goddess-like? That’s one thing that jumped out to me. Unlike Batman and Spider-Man or (to talk about the other shop) Spider-Man and Iron Man, her default is to be quite serious and take everything around her quite seriously. There’s not a whole lot of satire or humorous self-reflection that you can get in other superhero stories, and I do wonder if that’s because she’s THE archetypal female hero, and nobody wants to mess her up. But who knows? It’s up for interpretation.
Speaking of which, there’s a moment in this issue where she’s in bed with Steve Trevor and comes off very playful in a way we don’t always see.
That’s something I tried to stay cognizant of: Their relationship wouldn’t work in the long-term way that it has unless there has been a softening of perspective at some point. They had to have reached a point where they’re that comfortable with each other. Even if she is an immortal indestructible goddess-like symbol of justice, she’s gotta have those moments, otherwise what does it mean to be in love?
The same month that you’re beginning your Wonder Woman story, Kelly Sue DeConnick will begin her Aquaman run. I’m curious, what drew you to DC?
The thing I’ve always admired about DC (and I started out at Vertigo, so this is not my first time at company though it is my first time with one of their big heroes) is that there’s a very mythological approach to these superheroes. The major ones draw on very elemental stories that have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years: the king in exile, the orphan finding his place in the world, the self-made man. I remember one of the first conversations I had with an editor at DC was about Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God. Very metaphysical stuff, which is a very specific artistic choice I think, and presents its own unique challenges and opportunities versus the more street-level superheroes. You can tell different stories with those characters. What I love about the DC pantheon is the chance to take a crack at these fundamental human stories, and see how I measure up. It’s a chance to really put myself to the test and search my own limits and see if I can tell these ancient stories in a way that’s interesting in 2018.
Wonder Woman #58 is on sale now. Buy it here, and check out the first few pages below.