Thanks to DC’s penchant for reboots, multiple timelines, Elseworlds, and other wacky timeline hijinks, Wonder Woman is a difficult character to really get to know. How she responds to any given situation varies from writer to writer, situation to situation, and even her look has varied quite dramatically over time. While that’s true of generally all comic book characters that have survived the test of time–75 years!!!–unfortunately for Diana, it seems to have scared potential fans off in a way that hasn’t been a problem for Superman and Batman. Possibly because of their terribly iconic and familiar origins. We’ve all seen Kal-El’s spaceship crashing to Earth or young Bruce’s parents meet their untimely end in a back alley. Even stories that seemingly have nothing to do with these characters origins somehow manage to work them in.
But for many pop culture fans who haven’t read the comics, the upcoming Wonder Woman film, starring Gal Gadot in the titular role, might be their first real introduction to the third member of DC’s Trinity.
After first appearing in All-Star Comics #8 back in 1941, Wonder Woman has been both a fighter and a diplomat. From day one, this ageless Amazonian has been a feminist icon, smashing the patriarchy and upsetting gender expectations. So in preparation for what I am unapologetically getting my hopes up to be DC’s greatest cinematic success to date, here is a list of essential Wonder Woman comics that you should be reading.
THE ORIGINAL WARRIOR PRINCESS
“As lovely as Aphrodite–as wise as Athena–with the speed of Mercury and strength of Hercules,” Wonder Woman was introduced as a response to the male-dominated superhero scene. Created by Charles Moulton (Dr. William Marston) and Harry G. Peter, Princess Diana of Paradise Island–the empire of the Amazons, a race of all women set apart from the rest of the world–saves the life of Captain Steven Trevor whose plane goes down just off the coast of their peaceful island. After proving herself the strongest and most capable of her people, she takes the name Wonder Woman and sets forth into the “World of Man” to return Captain Trevor home, spread a message of peace and understanding, and crack a few Nazi skulls along the way.
The upcoming film is set during the trench warfare days of the first World War, so although there won’t be any Nazis for her to punch, it seems like we’ll definitely be able to get a good sense of the character’s hope and idealism as she figures out her place in the world.
In the comics, Wonder Woman’s story continues in Sensation Comics and introduces both the invisible jet and her cover identity, Diana Prince. These first stories can be found in the first volume of The Wonder Woman Chronicles, which collects All-Star Comics #8 and Sensation Comics #1-9.
The best of the best of the Golden Age of comics, Marston’s stories took inspiration from ancient Greek mythology and brought it to life against the backdrop of World War II. At a time when it seemed radical for a woman to fight crime and go to war, Marston and Peter wanted to create a hero for girls to admire and aspire to. Although she values diplomacy and peaceful negotiations, Diana is a strong and skilled fighter, and she rarely finds herself in a situation that she can’t overcome. In fact, in a refreshing reversal, when her friend and valued guide to the modern world. Captain Trevor (Chris Pine in the upcoming film) finds himself in trouble (which is often), Wonder Woman is the one who saves him.
REBOOTING A LEGEND
After DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted their entire universe back in the late 80s, many characters, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, were updated to exist in a more modern context. Quite a bit of Diana’s original World War II backstory was scrapped and more of an emphasis was put on her mythological origins and enemies. Writer George Pérez managed to do honor to the legacy left by Diana’s original creators while updating her origins and fleshing out the world of Themyscira. The Wonder Woman by George Perez Omnibus collects his issues #1-24 for your reading pleasure.
Molded from clay and given life by the Greek Pantheon, Diana has no need of a secret identity and instead is openly her super-self. During Pérez’s run, Diana spends less time working with the other superheroes and more time being a hero in her own right, begetting a godly gallery of enemies in addition to the more traditional super-human and alien antagonists.
More of an emphasis was also placed on her Amazonian sisters and heritage, which would become a key element of the character. Despite this, very few stories show her life before donning the iconic bracelets and boots.
In Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon’s The Legend of Wonder Woman, before Diana was a hero, she was a princess who wanted to see beyond the boundaries of her homeland and discover her own strength. Her relationship with her queenly mother as both daughter and princess creates the strong foundation on which Wonder Woman’s morals are formed as she grows from a girl who must learn to balance duty and passion and into a woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders.
As the film will very likely focus quite a bit on Diana’s character growth, stories like this, as well as Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth by Paul Dini and Alex Ross are very likely going to be your best bet in getting to know the character. Aside from the beautiful artwork, Spirit of Truth is one of the best Wonder Woman stories because it does a fantastic job of humanizing Diana. More of a journey of self-discovery than your average superhero story, after facing negative public scrutiny, Diana has to consider her role in the world as ambassador, woman, and hero.
IT’S A WONDER-FUL LIFE
Over the years, writers have written any number of fantastic Wonder Woman stories. Many of them revolve around her mythical elements and enemies, such as Eyes of the Gorgon, Down to Earth (both by Greg Rucka), or Paradise Lost (by Phil Jimenez), not to mention Brian Azzarello’s New 52 run.
However, if you’re looking for something to really set you up and get you excited for the movie, you can find all that and more in DC’s Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special which shows Diana at her best. A collection of stories highlighting her strength, passion, and compassion, this comic paints a very thorough picture of who Wonder Woman by looking at her through the eyes of several different writers all at once. She goes from Nazi punching to communing with animals to monster catching to offering solace and a sympathetic ear and all the while she is defending the ideals of justice.
In this way, it’s obvious that she’s more than her symbol, even more than Superman or Batman could ever be. She’s had to be more and she’ll continue to be more. And that’s the Diana I’m hoping to see later this week.
Wonder Woman comes out June 1st. And check out Hero Index’s official, spoiler-free review here!