I have to be honest, I’m a huge fan of Wonder Woman, but my interest in her derives from two very distinct sources.
Firstly, I have two young daughters, and as a lifelong comic book lover, I very much want them to have a super hero for whom they can both admire and aspire. With her rich history, roots in Greek mythology, and general decency, Wonder Woman fits the bill. Best of all? She is not derivative of a male counterpart. My girls love Batgirl and Supergirl as well, but I don’t want them subconsciously believing they have to copy a boy to be cool. Wonder Woman shows them they can walk their own path and achieve heroism just fine.
Secondly, Brian Azzarello rocketed Wonder Woman up the ranks to become one of my favorite characters, and this happened well within the last six years with the advent of The New 52. By reinventing the Greek Gods and plopping them right down into the world of both man and Wonder Woman, Azzarello brought a complexity to Wonder Woman that, for me, didn’t exist in any other title. He somehow merged the world of super heroes, ancient Greek mythology, and modern day concerns into a monthly title that never failed to captivate my imagination. As you can probably guess, I was disappointed when he moved on.
Grant Morrison recently released his version of Wonder Woman’s origin set within the Earth One imprint. I’ve reviewed that title already, but in a nutshell, it seemed to rehash events and themes already well covered within the character’s multigenerational existence, albeit with wonderful Morrison flair.
When I discovered Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, I felt both intrigued and fatigued. On the one hand, Jill Thompson is an amazing talent and the fact that she both wrote and illustrated this book makes it a must-buy. On the other hand, I’ve experienced quite a bit of Wonder Woman’s origin within the last few years, so much so that I really didn’t want to go down that road yet again.
In the end, I’m glad I made the trip down said road, but I’d be lying if I said a few bumps did not jostle me from time to time.
Let’s first discuss the art. I could pretty much summarize it with one word and be done: magnificent. However, I’m not a one word kind of guy, so allow me to offer a bit more.
Thompson’s drawings and colors have an ethereal picture book quality, which is meant as a compliment. As I read this book, I felt as though I’d entered a fairy tale, not in content, but rather in terms of atmosphere. The material is fairly serious, as I’ll discuss later, and there are some imposing monsters and gruesome circumstances, yet Thompson manages to maintain an almost otherworldly quality that struck me as … well … magical.
Her Amazons are also incredibly interesting. Thompson depicts them as strong, sometimes brutal women, but they never appear brutish or even physically menacing. Their strength resonates though a certain grace Thompson bestows upon them. They are athletic, but not hulking. They are beautiful, but not sexualized. They are lithe and light except when weighed down by armor. Thompson conveys a race capable of winning wars but very much more interested in art and culture.
As for the story, I congratulate Thompson on taking a different approach, but I wish she had avoided the “origin” element of the tale. In this version, Princess Diana is a gift to Hippolyta from the Gods, and the Amazons treat her as such. As a result, Diana is spoiled, humored, and given chance after chance even when behaving badly. That’s not to say she does not have the heart of Wonder Woman within. She is still capable of great feats, and is, for the most part, a decent woman, and the book takes care to remind the reader as such, but the book also spends a lot of time displaying Diana’s flaws.
By this point, Thompson had me hooked. I liked this new approach in that Wonder Woman did not always have a heart of gold. Though born physically perfect, the Amazons’ influence ironically tainted her persona. She exercised selfishness, lied, took advantage, and even treated others poorly. Again, though, Thompson made a point to showcase her heroic tendencies as well.
I won’t spoil the ending of the book, but Wonder Woman’s impetus for travelling to the world of Man is given a major overhaul. She now has an express reason for wearing her armor, bracelets, lasso, and golden girdle. I especially love the tiara’s new concept and its implications upon her character.
Part of me, though, and again, I’ll try not to spoil too much, did not enjoy the significant change in motivation behind Wonder Woman’s mission to Man. Thompson executed it well, but it does bring a certain level of darkness to the character that I’m not sure I wanted. Does it make more sense than her original origin? Yes, absolutely. But, at the same time, we’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times before with other characters, especially those within the comic book medium. In a way, it lessens Wonder Woman’s originality even as the event itself is unique and new to the character. I’m honestly conflicted about the issue. Perhaps this is a good sign, though. Thompson evoked a lot of thought from me concerning her iteration, which means that I didn’t close the book, set it aside, and move on. It’s been days since I finished it, in fact, and yet here I am, still thinking about it and trying to revolve my feelings regarding it.
Speaking of lingering issues, Grant Morrison made his Amazons overtly homosexual in Earth One. It makes perfect sense when you really think about it – an island paradise solely comprised of eternal women. Thompson handles the matter far more deftly, with a far lighter touch, but proves even more provocative in doing so. She hints at much, reveals nothing, and accomplishes the perfect tone as a result. My pre-teen daughter could read this book and think nothing of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, whereas, as an adult, a few scenes led me to certain conclusions.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman fans need to read this book. It is beautiful to behold and delivers a distinctive exploration of the character’s incentives. Thompson takes a super hero trope and manages to make it feel fresh, especially in regards to Wonder Woman’s garb and tools. I like that Thompson scuffed Wonder Woman’s personality up a little, making her not quite so pure hearted and good intentioned, but I’m not convinced of its necessity. The True Amazon will leave you with much to think about, and that’s ultimately the sign of a successful work.