Step into Superheroes is a banner for my occasional blog posts that set RPGs aside and focus instead on another of my great passions: superheroes.
It’s International Women’s Day (for another 5 minutes in the UK), and I’ve been re-reading The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae de Liz.
I love this book so much. It’s gorgeous, it’s moving, it’s funny, it’s uplifting. It’s human and feminist and diverse. It’s the greatest origin story of Wonder Woman that I’ve ever read.
Drawing on inspiration from Wonder Woman’s earliest stories and from throughout the character’s 75+ years of history, as well as adding enough new elements and perspectives to keep it fresh and new, de Liz has created something incredible: a new definitive backstory for one of the most iconic characters in comics history, unburdened from the messy self-contradictory continuity that can weigh down more mainstream versions.
It makes me sad that this beautiful book will not be getting a second volume, but even as a standalone graphic novel it’s a must for any comics fan that has even a passing care for the amazing Amazon. It’s currently discounted on (the other) Amazon, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The New Paradise
One of the things about this book that meant so much to me was the way it felt, as I was reading, as if Renae de Liz had looked into my head and seen every qualm I ever had about Wonder Woman’s backstory, and addressed every one in ways that are brilliant, elegant, and make perfect sense in the setting.
Sometimes these qualms of mine are significant and concrete things, things recognised by most (but not all) of the character’s previous writers: Does Wonder Woman really need a father? Can the Amazons be something that is neither violent straw feminists nor hypocritical enforcers of patriarchy? This story sure is white, isn’t it? Can Wonder Woman please do something heroic in this story?
Sometimes they’re harder to pin down: What’s the deal with Themyscira and the Amazons? Why (in-universe) is Steve Trevor the first person to come to the island? Why are the Amazons so focused on war if they live in perpetual peace? Why haven’t the Amazons gone out into the world sooner?
Sometimes they’re concerns about things at the very heart of the story: Does the inciting incident of a feminist superhero really have to revolve around a man?
In the way that comics fans sometimes do, I even tried to work out my own solutions to these concerns. For instance, why hasn’t anyone ever tried flipping Steve Trevor’s gender before? That would be an interesting take, I think.
Renae de Liz’s story satisfies all of the concerns I ever had, and several others, but none in a way that I could have come up with. Some of these are obvious, and some brilliantly subtle. I don’t want to ruin it, but from the very start she sets out the history and rules for the world and for Themyscira, laying groundwork for what is to come. It’s de rigueur for new adaptations of Wonder Woman to redefine Themyscira, the paradise island home of the Amazons, but the way that de Liz does it pulls the threads of the story and the characters together perfectly. Like a lasso, one might say.
The real treasure of the tale is in the characters, and the relationships between Diana and all the people in her life: her mother Hippolyta, her mentor Alcippe, her best friend and guide to the outside world Etta Candy, her blue-eyed boy Steve Trevor, her enemy Thomas Byde, the flying horse Pegasus, not to mention the many other great characters that populate her world, and the fickle Olympian gods themselves.
Diana’s first true superpower is her connection to others, to her island and to the world beyond. She feels a darkness that few other Amazons are willing to acknowledge, and she feels driven to stop it, even as it sometimes conflicts with her sense of duty to her mother and her people. It’s Diana’s acknowledgement of this drive, and her realisation that she must act, that is the inciting incident of her tale, not the arrival of Steve Trevor many years later. Everything she does comes from this, from her empathy.
The book is a love letter to Wonder Woman, to her strengths and humanity, to her history, to her meaning. It’s separate from the mainstream DC universe, and yet closely bound to DC lore with occasional cameos from the young versions of famous DC characters like Perry White.
It’s a travesty that we won’t get a volume 2 (perhaps there’s hope?), but Renae de Liz has shared some of her pitch art for that unmade volume on twitter (here and here), and she is now working on an original, creator-owned superhero called Lady Powerpunch through her Patreon. If it’s as good as this, it’ll be something to look forward to.