Wonder Woman #4 is pretty much perfect. Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott retell a key moment of Diana’s history, the tournament that leads to her becoming Wonder Woman, and it’s iconic while making a few key changes to the classic narrative that add a lot to the story. The issue is well written and gorgeous and captures the heart of who the Amazons are in ways we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just delightful from start to finish. We’ll dig into it all momentarily, but first:
If you haven’t read the issue yet, do yourself a personal favour and go buy it!
Then read the review AFTER you’ve read the comic!
Almost every version of the contest component of Wonder Woman’s origin has included a degree of conflict. In the classic 1940s origin, Queen Hippolyte forbids her daughter from participating in the contest, and this has been a common occurrence in most of the versions of it that we’ve seen since. There’s also been a lot of jealousy and rivalry, Amazons who are envious of Diana’s strengths, irked about past conflicts, or mad at her for leaving them. For a supposedly utopian society, the selection of Wonder Woman often comes with some strife.
Rucka and Scott retell the story without conflict, but not without intrigue. Hippolyta and her council of advisors debate what the arrival of Steve Trevor means, and while there are differing opinions in the room, they are respectful and all ultimately yield to the queen’s wisdom. Philippus, ever the general, fears that he is the forerunner of a military strike. Castalia, more in tune with the gods, notes that Steve can only be on the island through the will of the gods and that there must be a bigger plan. The discussions are well-written and fascinating; it’s cool to see the Amazons debate what Steve’s uniform insignias and weaponry mean from the perspective of total outsiders. It’s also great to see a multi-racial group, with every woman a different hue, representing a variety of different ethnicities.
Ultimately, Hippolyta decides that Steve must be here for a reason and should be returned by an Amazon, and decides that this champion will be chosen through a tournament. In other versions, goddesses appear to Hippolyta to tell her what to do, but here she carefully examines the evidence and decides her own course. It’s a smart change that illustrates the self-sufficiency of the Amazons. They don’t need deities to tell them what to do. They can figure out what signs mean for themselves, especially when they work together.
Instead of forbidding Diana to enter the contest, Hippolyta suggests to her daughter that if she’s still not fully recovered from the snake bite she got in the last issue, no one would fault her for sitting out the tournament. It’s a caring plea, delivered with futile hope, that illustrates Hippolyta’s love for her daughter in hoping she’ll stay but her respect for her daughter in knowing that she likely won’t. Nicola Scott’s depiction of this scene, and all of the Hippolyta/Diana scenes thus far, captures the love between them so well. You don’t even need the text to understand the warmth and depth of their relationship.
They hold the tournament and of course Diana wins, and Rucka goes the classic bullets and bracelets route with a fun twist. Usually writers have to come up with some convoluted reason why the Amazons have a gun in the first place; the Perez relaunch was particularly over the top with this and had a lengthy backstory that unfolded several issues later. Here, Hippolyta simply decides that if an Amazon is to go out in the world of men, she should be able to defend against the weapons men carry, and brings out Steve’s gun. It’s an elegant solution that works flawlessly within the story. A couple of other Amazons get shot before Diana deflects the bullets to win the day.
Diana’s debut as Wonder Woman is spectacularly done. It’s a full page spread beautifully rendered by Nicola Scott, with Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colours really making it sing; I mean, his stonework alone is amazing. Scott draws a powerful, purposeful Diana, with maybe just the hint of something else in her eyes; sorrow, perhaps, or maybe a hint of trepidation before she leaves her home for good. She’s striding forward, embracing her destiny, but that note of something slightly melancholic on her face tells an interesting story that adds a lot of depth to the scene Scott has set. She draws the Amazons in celebration mode, raising their swords and throwing flowers, cheering on their champion. And the text is so good it made me tear up: Hippolyta declares, “Behold, our gift to the world!”
Alongside all of the fantastic Amazon stuff, Steve is well presented in this issue as well. His sorrow for his dead fallen soldiers says a lot about him, as does his appreciation to the Amazons at the end of the issue when they bring him their bodies so that he can take them home. It also makes an impression on Diana, who sees the same love in Steve’s sadness for his brothers that she feels for her Amazon sisters. Diana’s explanation of this to her mother is both touching and funny, because she can’t remember the word “brother” on account of the Amazons never having to use it. She calls it, “Like sisters but of men,” which cracked me up. Steve provides some comic relief through the issue as well. He has no clue what’s going on around him, but the tall women seem nice so he just rolls with it. The regular looks of bewilderment that Scott gives him are spot on.
I’ll say it again: this issue is pretty much perfect. It gets the Amazons so right, has Diana become Wonder Woman in a beautifully written and rendered manner, and showcases great character work for everyone involved. Rucka and Scott are doing an amazing job with “Year One,” and although I’m sad to leave the Amazons behind because they’ve been so well done, I’m excited to see what adventures Diana and Steve are about to get into in the world of men. My fingers are crossed for Etta Candy! For me, this storyline is the best of DC’s entire “Rebirth” line so far, and one of the best comic stories of the year, anywhere.