This post is part of A Year Of Wonder, How to Love Comics’ big celebration of Wonder Woman’s 80th anniversary. Find out more and read other posts in this series.
This year Wonder Woman will be turning 80 years old. To celebrate How to Love Comics will be exploring her comic book history from different angles. Here, we pick up with Legend Of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon, a 2015 re-telling of the character’s origins.
Diana’s origins have been re-told a great number of times. Whether it be by Robert Kanigher in the Silver Age, retconning the original Golden Age roots by William Moulton Marston, the George Perez revival in the 80’s, the Gail Simone tweaks of the 2000s, or The New 52 reboots by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. It’s a common tradition. People love to tweak with that origin.
So it should surprise no one that in the mid-2010s, there were up to 5 individual takes on Wonder Woman’s origins, that all stood apart. You had Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Wonder Woman: Year One, Grant Morrison and Yanick Pacquette’s Wonder Woman: Earth One, and Jill Thompson’s Wonder Woman: True Amazon, all in the same year of 2016. The following year would see the release of the Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman film, which would re-work that story as well. But amidst it all, before any of them hit, you had Legend Of Wonder Woman, which seemed to kick off this wave of standalone origin retellings for the character.
Which begs the question – What is it, and what does it do? How does it fit in with the rest of this lot? How doesn’t it? What’s distinctive about this work? That’s what we’re here to answer today.
Fundamentally, this is a mirror to a work like Wonder Woman: Earth One, in that they’re mining from the same thing, which is the classical Golden Age Wonder Woman stories albeit vastly differently.
Earth One is the work aimed at a more relatively young adult and adult crowd, dealing with the bondage and sexuality that are integral to classic Golden Age Wonder Woman. That original 40’s work isn’t so much ‘mythology’ as many understand Wonder Woman to be, but a pulpy science-fiction fantasy strip closer to, say, Buck Rogers or even Flash Gordon. It’s a comic that uses the iconography and tenets of superhero stories, to do vastly different things, acting as counter-programming to the likes of Batman, Superman, and Captain America. And so Earth One becomes a text entirely obsessed with wrestling with that facet of those classic comics.
Legend Of Wonder Woman, meanwhile, doesn’t have such obsessions or interest in wrestling with such baggage. Its fundamental concern is building an all-ages Wonder Woman work that anyone can enjoy and engage with. There’s nothing ‘niche’ about it. It’s the opposite of niche. It’s going for a big, sprawling mainstream blockbuster comic. The big hook it takes on from those original comics is one that most, including Earth One, ignore: The very specific period setting.
It’s Diana in the 40’s, during World War II, which is a context and set-up you’d assume was more common in Wonder Woman stories, but it’s surprisingly not. The Lynda Carter TV series uses it, but apart from that, in the name of modernization, and Diana being a young, rookie character in a modern, freshly-minted Justice League, it’s been largely ignored. Diana isn’t allowed to be the seasoned, wise mentor figure who could outshine Superman. And to many Superman must always remain, in some capacity, the true ‘first’ hero, the one who leads them all and is the most important.
That’s only slowly changing now, with the films making her the immortal figure through history, and the comics themselves now re-establishing her alongside the JSA. But in the modern era, the work that really started it all, that was at the forefront of that wave by saying ‘Hey, let’s take Diana back to her roots again’? That was Legend Of Wonder Woman.
And the way it takes Diana back to those roots is thrilling. It frames Diana’s world and mythos as something properly epic, full of sprawling, larger-than-life figures. You have heroines with rich histories and grand backstories, wars and betrayals, loves and losses, and ultimately failures and forgiveness. It attempts to recreate the sense of scope and scale that a creator like George Perez brought to the character in the 80’s, but in a way that’s far more accessible to a new audience.
Vitally, however, unlike a lot of these kinds of revivals, it’s done by a female creator. It’s the first proper Wonder Woman origin book of this type that a woman got to really do, until the aforementioned Jill Thompson book in 2016. Renae De Liz is both the writer and artist, with her partner and collaborator Ray Dillon doing the inks, colors, and lettering work on the book. What you end up with is a gorgeous work entirely about women, written for women, without the male gaze or male-centrality in the narrative.
This is not a comic where Steve Trevor is the focus or our POV character, it’s not one where Diana is just a purely reactionary figure. It’s a story firmly about her, and her people. It’s a comic with an active fascination with Amazon history and culture, wherein you’re introduced to various rules and codes of this society, wherein there are various ‘Houses’ that each Amazon joins upon coming of age, wherein Themyscira is closer to, say, Hogwarts, than it is Sparta. It feels like a living breathing world, and one where Marston’s Kangas from the classical comics are ubiquitous.
But most vitally, awesome Kanga-rides aside, what it takes from those original comics is another vital thing that most miss: Etta Candy and The Holliday Girls.
Now, Etta is in the 2017 film, and most know of her. She’s in a whole lot of comics, and folks know her from those, too. But here’s the thing: None of those Ettas are even close to what classical Etta was, and is meant to be. The poor name gag aside, she was, simply put, one of the greatest side-kick characters in the history of comics. She wasn’t some military gal, she wasn’t some generic secretary. Dear lord no!
Etta was a feisty woman leading a sorority in Holliday College, and she, as well as her gang of friends, The Holliday Girls, became Diana’s best mates. And they followed her just about everywhere, helping her out on her adventures. And Etta, this ordinary woman, standing alongside Wonder Woman, did impossible things. She could take down armies, outwit any scenario, and come out on top. Etta Candy was the proof and demonstration of what any woman could do, and the kind of women Diana spent her time with.
However, that iteration is now mostly gone, with all the passion and spirit replaced with a dull military soldier shtick. She is now, mostly, a tamer version of Amanda Waller or a secretary figure, always with the military, because the idea of Etta is, seemingly, absurd to a lot of men writing Wonder Woman. And a lot of that also comes down to the obsession with realism. Even in the Patty Jenkins film, due to the work’s interest in said ‘realism’, Etta cannot be her classic self. She’s instead a more typical supporting secretary, in second-place to Steve.
However, Renae De Liz embraces what most reject or sideline. She embraces Etta, being the first to do so in this fashion since the original Marston comics. Her Etta and The Holliday Girls are confident, fierce, funny, and a delight. Etta becomes, once more, what she was always designed to be: Diana’s best friend. She’s the one that helps put Diana’s costume together in this world, she’s the one who always has Diana’s back, she’s the one whose influence is always felt. She grounds Wonder Woman and contextualizes her ties to ordinary, everyday women.
To date, only De Liz here and Morrison (who is non-binary) in Earth One have done Etta in the following manner, embracing Etta as a positive, lovely figure outside the militarism of Wonder Woman’s world. And that’s partly why I pointed to them as mirror works. They remain the most concerned with the history of Wonder Woman, what worked, and why, and attempt to synthesize the answers into new iterations for different purposes.
Beyond that, the work also revamps and revitalizes Wonder Woman’s classic rogues gallery, from your Cheetahs and Paula Von Gunthers to the more obscure ones like The Duke Of Deception (a favorite of mine). Steve Trevor is there, and is affable and charming, but he never dominates the narrative. Diana’s perspective is what is central, and the team gives us a distinctive all-ages retelling of her journey in WWII times, wherein she does everything from become a nurse to help and heal (like in the originals!) to take on wild, magical and cosmic threats that menace the universe.
It’s wild, it’s epic, and most importantly, it’s heartfelt and sincere. Perhaps its spirit is best encompassed by the trailer (whoa, a trailer, for a comic!) that DC themselves put together. It’s warm, it’s magical, and it’s for everyone. It’s Pixar Wonder Woman, full of awe and wonder, which the whole family can have fun with.
If you’ve never read Wonder Woman comics, or want to get someone started on them, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to begin.