She’s the most famous superheroine in the world, and at long last, this year she’ll finally get her own movie up on theater screens. But despite her fame, there are common misconceptions about Wonder Woman, notably that unlike her fellow DC Comics‘ icons Superman and Batman, she lacks in having any “definitive” comic story arcs. Well, I’m here to tell you that she has several in fact. And almost all are readily available in collected form.
For the purposes of this list, I’m sticking to stories originally contained within the pages of the Wonder Woman monthly title. So no OGN’s like A League of One, or Spirit of Truth, although both are great and you should check them out. I’m also sticking to modern era Wonder Woman stories, as comic book “story arcs” as we know them didn’t get serialized until the mid-’80s. Most comics before that were self-contained issues, with the occasional two-parter. This list is in chronological order, starting with the storyline that reshaped the Amazing Amazon from the ground up.
Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #1-24
Back in 1986, DC Comics restructured and rebooted their entire universe with the event comic Crisis on Infinite Earths. The characters that got the biggest overhauls were the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But while the first two got a more “back to basics” approach, it was Wonder Woman who get the most radical overhaul. Creators Greg Potter, Len Wein, and artist George Perez (who quickly became co-plotter and then writer of the book) got rid of elements of Wonder Woman’s mythos that had been around for 45 years, like her secret identity of Diana Prince, her invisible jet, and having Steve Trevor be her love interest (he became an elder brother figure instead). Meanwhile, the Greek mythology aspect of the character’s history was cranked up several notches.
The first 24 issues of Wonder Woman’s second volume are almost exclusively drawn by Perez, and he reimagines a Princess Diana who is not a crime fighter but an ambassador, a teacher, and someone whose primary job it is to spread the Amazonian ideals of peace and harmony, as opposed to engaging in fisticuffs. Of course, this is still a superhero comic, and fisticuffs are to be had, but now old Wonder Woman villains like the Cheetah and Circe were given interesting motivations and radical redesigns under Perez. But most importantly, with the villain Ares, Perez gave Wonder Woman her Luthor, her Joker — as God of War, Ares represented the opposite of everything Diana was sent to Man’s World to change.
George Perez stayed with Wonder Woman for five years as writer, but only two years as writer and artist. Although his entire run would be the foundation the character was built on for 25 years–until the New 52 reboot–those first two years where he both wrote and illustrated the comic were its highest point. So while I would usually hesitate to call 24 issues of a comic a singular “story arc”, issues #1-24 really do feel like a complete story in hindsight, and encapsulate everything that is great about the modern era Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman (Vol.2) Issues #1-24 are available collected as The Wonder Woman by George Perez Omnibus, as well as broken up into trade paperback form as Wonder Woman by George Perez.
Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #85, 0, 90-100
George Perez left such an indelible mark on Wonder Woman, it would have been difficult for any writer taking over the character at that point. As it turned out, the task fell on William Messner-Loebs, who at the time was best known for writing The Flash. This was an experimental time for the character, and they were throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what stuck. She was a rebel leader in outer space for a bit, and she even worked at a Mexican fast food joint (yes, really). But none of these thing excited the fans even a fraction of what the Perez stories did.
But then, around issue #85, which came out in 1994, a new artist was brought onto the book, a newbie from Brazil named Mike Deodato Jr. His art was more than a bit on the cheesecakey side, and over his twelve issue run, Diana’s star-spangled shorts became “the Wonder Thong.” But, this was the early ’90s, a time of “Bad Girl” comics like Lady Death and Vampirella. DC thought making Diana more like those characters would sell more comics…and it did.
Having said that, the story produced by Messner-Loebs and Deodato was one that was entertaining and also had a long lasting effect on the character. In their twelve issue run (issues #0, 85, 90-100) Queen Hippolyta decides that Diana has spent too much time “superheroing” in Man’s World and not enough time being the ambassador of peace she was supposed to be. She calls for another contest to choose a new Wonder Woman from among the Amazons, and Diana loses said contest to a member of a more savage tribe of Amazons named Artemis. The brash, red-haired Artemis becomes the new Wonder Woman, and Diana is just…Diana. But now wearing an awful black leather biker outfit.
Horrible outfit aside, this storyline showed why Diana is truly meant to be Wonder Woman, and that Wonder Woman is more than just a name, a tiara, and a costume. The real reasons why her mother acted so out of character come in a shocking revelation that would eventually add character depth to Hippolyta as well. And the DCU had a new kick-ass Amazon hero named Artemis, who is still around today. Yes, this is a very “of its time” Wonder Woman story, particularly in regards to the art, but it holds up shockingly more than you’d expect.
Wonder Woman (Vol.2) Issues #0, 85, 90-100 are available collected as Wonder Woman by Mike Deodato.
Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #164-170
Following Messner-Loebs’ run on Wonder Woman came comics legend John Byrne, then still a hot name in the industry. Although his run had some high points (it introduced Cassie Sandsmark, who would become the second Wonder Girl), Byrne was more interested in playing in the DCU mythos rather than focusing on Diana as a character. Following a three-year run from Byrne, writer Erik Luke took over, in what was a brief and mostly forgettable run.
Then came Wonder Woman super fan Phil Jimenez as artist and plotter. He embraced everything that had come before, and found a way to reconcile the Perez-era Wonder Woman with the characterizations that followed. In issues 164-167, he begins a four-part Batman crossover that evokes many of the early Perez years. In this storyline, the God Phobos possesses Batman villain Scarecrow (since Phobos is the God of Fear), and the Gods Deimos and Eris are attached to the bodies of the Joker and Poison Ivy. Wonder Woman, Batman, Donna Troy, Nightwing, Wonder Girl, and Robin (Tim Drake) bring together the Wonder and Bat familes to defeat them. Even Artemis and Oracle (Barbara Gordon) join in the fray, in what is still the ultimate Wonder Woman/Batman story.
Then in issues Issues 168-169, the story continues as Diana returns to her home on Themyscira to find that the two tribes of Amazons, Queen Hippolyta’s originals and the more savage Bana-Mighdalls, are tricked into fighting each other. During this time, Queen Hippolyta is neglecting her duties as Queen to adventure with the Justice Society. The Amazon civil war is only two issues long, but it takes Diana’s complicated relationship with her mother to new heights, and shows that the two iconic women are anything but perfect. Jimenez brings a real humanity to their mother/daughter dynamic.
Finally, issue #170 deals with the fallout of all these events, in what is maybe the best single issue of Wonder Woman in the modern era. In this “A Day in the Life” issue, Lois Lane spends 24 hours with Diana, and finds out what it’s really like to carry the burden of being Wonder Woman. Not only is this the best issue of Wonder Woman maybe ever, but it’s the perfect denouement on the events of the previous few issues.
Wonder Woman (Vol.2) Issues #164-170 are available collected as Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost
Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #205-213
Following Jimenez, writer Greg Rucka took the reins of Wonder Woman for a three-year stint starting in 2003, together with Drew Johnson and various other artists. In my humble opinion, Rucka wrote the character of Diana better than any writer since Perez. He focused on Diana the ambassador, who is running a full-time staff at the Themysciran Embassy. Perez flirted with the idea of Wonder Woman as politician, but Rucka took that bull by the horns in a much bigger way. And speaking of bulls, Diana even had a Minotaur named Ferdinand as the Embassy chef.
In issues #205 of Wonder Woman, the mythological Gorgon Medusa (here spelled “Medousa”) is resurrected and plots to take revenge for her own death and beheading at the hands of Perseus, who was Athena’s chosen champion. Medousa hopes to do this by defeating Athena’s latest champion, Wonder Woman. Medousa first attacks the Themysciran embassy, and then she challenges Wonder Woman to a gladiator-battle in the modern equivalent of a Colosseum, which happens to be Yankee Stadium.
Wonder Woman is, of course, the winner, but her victory comes at great cost– she realizes that to defeat the Gorgon, who of course can turn anyone to stone with one look, she has to blind herself. The rest of the comic shows that even without her sight, Diana is unflappable, and still the greatest warrior in the DCU. When the JLA later asks a blind Wonder Woman to do a series of tests to prove she can still serve on the team, she promptly kicks all their asses in a war game scenario, proving she is the best fighter on the team, sight or not sight. All of this makes for some of the best Wonder Woman stories of the 21st Century. It’s no wonder fans jumped for joy when Rucka was announced as returning to the character for DC Rebirth last year.
Wonder Woman (Vol.2) Issues #205-213 are available collected as Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon
Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #14-17
Wonder Woman is the greatest female superhero of all time, and yet, very few women have ever been given the task of actually writing her series… a pretty grave injustice in my opinion. However, there is one female writer who not only got the chance to write the character for an extended period of time, but also left her mark on Wonder Woman in a huge way. I’m talking about Gail Simone, who held the reins on the character from 2008 – 2010.
Wonder Woman relaunched with a third volume in 2006 after the mini-series Infinite Crisis with writer Allan Heinberg and artist Terry Dodson. With this new book, DC decided that the character “wasn’t human enough,” so they decided she should have the bespectacled secret identity of Diana Prince again. And thanks to a spell from her nemesis Circe, the Diana Prince version would be ordinary, and in a nod to the Lynda Carter TV show, she only had powers when transformed into Wonder Woman with the famous “wonder spin.” This unpowered Diana Prince worked for the Department of Metahuman Affairs as a secret agent. In the meantime, Athena removed all the Amazons off of Themyscira with the exception of Hippolyta, and created a barrier to keep the Amazons from returning. This was the clusterf$%@ that Gail Simone walked into when she took over the reins of the title.
When DC gave the title to Gail Simone, they wouldn’t allow her just scrap all of this, but she managed to write one of the best Wonder Woman stories under these limitations regardless. Simone’s opening arc on Wonder Woman, which begain with Vol. 3, issue #14, was called “The Circle.” In this story, we get a new wrinkle to Diana’s origin, as we discover that not all the Amazons on Themyscira were thrilled when Diana was originally created out of clay by Hippolyta. Some Amazons, particularly four members of Hippolyta’s personal guard, saw a child born on an island of immortals to be blasphemy, and almost killed the child soon after birth. “The Circle” tells the story of what happens when those Amazons return to finish the job on a now-adult Wonder Woman.
Not only does this story see Diana fight a group of renegade Amazons, we also see her fight (and then befriend) a group of sentient white gorillas from Gorilla City, and eventually thwart the invasion of a group of enhanced neo-Nazis from invading her homeland. And who doesn’t love seeing Wonder Woman kick Nazi ass? And on top of all that, you get to see how Wonder Woman celebrates her birthday. And all in just four issues! Gail Simone wasn’t on the book nearly long enough, but she definitely left her mark with this storyline.
Wonder Woman (Vol.3) Issues #14-17 are available collected as Wonder Woman: The Circle
Which Wonder Woman storyline is your favorite? And is their a crucial story you think we missed? Let us know down below in the comments.
Images: DC Comics