An Icon is Reborn in ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman #1’

The mythical story of Wonder Woman is retold as a young Diana seeks her destiny.

With the anticipation of Wonder Woman’s first ever big-screen appearance in DC’s upcoming film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and with the recent reveal of the first footage from the Wonder Woman movie, now is a better time than ever for DC to reintroduce both excited longtime fans as well as newcomers to Wonder Woman’s unique origins and background. Collecting in print the first three chapters of the original digital-release series, The Legend of Wonder Woman #1 provides us not only with the full tale of Diana’s birth, but also a glimpse of her earliest days on Themyscira as an ambitious and headstrong, as well as conflicted, young girl. In telling the story of a young Diana both in opposition with and determinedly protective of her homeland and people, this first issue presents a rewarding coming-of-age tale for the classic hero, and a look at the earliest emergence of her heroic instincts.

The issue begins literally from the beginning, with a creation myth. The story tells of the birth of the universe and the Earth, and the Earth’s early days of gods. It was during this age that the mother of Wonder Woman, Hippolyta, founded a nation of women as ancient mankind formed its own world and ravaged it with war. Hippolyta’s women strove for a land of peace, igniting combat only in pursuit of harmony.

Incapable of having a child of her own because of her immortality, however, Hippolyta, finds herself in a state of perpetual sorrow. When the Gods won’t grant her a child, she runs and collapses on the shores of Themyscira. Here, her grief speaks to a mysterious ancient force, which forms a mortal child from the beach’s damp clay. Hippolyta names the child Diana.

Despite not exactly deviating from the baby-crazy lady story cliché, the full creation myth of Hippolyta and the Amazons (or at least the DC comics version) as written here is imbued with a rewardingly epic tone, and thus manages to be engaging and resonant despite its long-windedness. It also outlines one of the most interesting themes of the Wonder Woman mythos: matriarchy. In her efforts to create a nation of women, Hippolyta’s goals run opposite to those she observes in the male-dominated world, those of “greed and hatred”.

While in the comics’ history the Amazons have never been faultless or immune to violence or evil, the world of Wonder Woman has always posed the interesting question of what might a world be like where women were the ruling gender. What would be the laws, or the priorities, or conflicts? Would they necessarily be different? What would be similar?

The story then cuts to years later, when this same creation myth is being told to the young girls of Themyscira, including Diana. The girls’ teacher reminds them that they all have a destiny, which will be given to them by the Gods. Whether they be soldiers, priests, teachers, or mothers, the girls all seem to have a destiny. Diana, who all the girls agree seems destined to be Queen, cannot be because she is not immortal. Diana, however, has other things on her mind.

“There is something wrong with the island,” she says, “it feels ill. Like it is being blackened from the inside.”

Later, she discusses this feeling with Hippolyta, and asks when she can be taught how to fight.

“There is no need for a princess to learn such skills,” Hippolyta assures her, “You are to be a Queen learned in subjects that can help continue the rule of our peaceful way of life.”

Diana persists, claiming she wants to know how to protect her people, but Hippolyta dismisses her. Watching an Amazon Warrior, Alcippe, practicing combat, Diana is inspired to leave the city walls and explore the island for herself, seeing its wondrous sites and creatures for the first time. When she is attacked by a sinister creature emerging from the dark mist that she sensed was engulfing the island, she is rescued by Alcippe, who slays the creature. Diana begs Alcippe to train her in combat, which Alcippe refuses.

“Alcippe, I cannot just stand by and let this happen. I know I am but a mortal, but I would use this life to protect our home. Please, teach me to fight.”

Seemingly moved, Alcippe gives Diana a blade, and tells her she will teach her to use it the next day.

In penning this particular tale for Wonder Woman, writer and illustrator Renae De Liz effectively embodies the paradox at the core of the character: that of a warrior of peace. As explored in past series, particularly under the helm of pioneering comic writer Gail Simone, despite her warrior garb and demeanor, Wonder Woman’s supreme duty is as an emissary. Her primary mission is preventing wars, not fighting them. That said, Diana also understands the necessity of being able to fight should a threat arise.

De Liz’s Diana is one who is equally protective and pragmatic: she wishes for peace, but understands the necessity of strength when a threat arises. Whereas those threats may be ignored by the rulers, she refuses to deny them. What’s more is this is a Diana who’s selflessness is apparent: she is a mortal among immortals and yet would dedicate her (relatively) brief mortal life to protecting others, risking that precious, short lifespan in the process. She will make sacrifices, of others or herself, for peace.

It’s this very complexity of character that continues to make Wonder Woman such a powerful feminist icon. In a patriarchal society where complacency and level-headedness are more often than not the expectation of women, strength and confrontation are downplayed, not valued. But in a world where horrific violence and shameless abuses happen to women every day in staggering numbers, how is combativeness, whether physically or in demeanor, a fault?

The Wonder Woman portrayed in De Liz’s story represents the ideal balance of the character: striving above all for peace, but refusing to back down from the very real threats to it. Diana’s demonstrated empathy with the Amazonian world, in possessing the empathy of seeing its “sickness”, even when others won’t, further illustrates her vital, clearheaded view.

The grand symbolism of this mentality is seen in Diana’s exploration of the island, beautifully illustrated by De Liz and colored by Ray Dillon. Escaping from the city walls, and into the outer woods, Diana sees the very real creatures beyond her sheltered world: giants, and griffins and other mystical creatures. But especially, the dark cloud polluting the island and hiding sinister threats: a darkness she is determined to combat, even if most others won’t acknowledge it.

In retelling Wonder Woman’s origin, De Liz has created a potent reminder of why the character continues to be such a powerful symbol. While the pacing of the story may be a little too fast for this first issue (i.e., it would have been nice to see how Diana came to espouse her outlook and what formed it), the character and story are skillfully crafted. Hopefully, as interest in Wonder Woman continues to grow with the impending release of the film, stories like these can help remind viewers and readers what makes her so wonderful.

RATING 8 / 10