Wonder Woman Vol 5 Rebirth #1

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Release: August 2016
Writer: Greg Rucka
Pencils: Matthew Clark & Liam Sharp
Inks: Sean Parsons & Liam Sharp

DC’s Rebirth initiative is both incredibly easy to explain and endlessly complicated in how it’s played out. Ostensibly a launch into a new status quo after five years of the New 52 (WW Vol 4, which we’ll get to eventually), it means rolling back a lot of the choices that had been made to heroes in the 2010s, some more than others, to try to introduce a broader continuity. Put simply: the heroes were gonna be more like how you remembered liking them and less like editorial mandate had made them. How individual heroes got there, however, was up to the individual writers.

For Greg Rucka, and for Wonder Woman, that’s a specifically difficult challenge. Of all the big heroes of the New 52, Wonder Woman received arguably the biggest change of character. Her origin was changed to being the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. She had become the actual God of War. She was dating Superman (Superman is also in the running for the most changed major character, they solved that by literally killing him and bringing back pre-New 52 Superman, which is about as traumatic an eraser as it sounds). Diana went through a lot the past five years.

Meanwhile, Rucka’s a writer that had a famous run with her (somewhere in Vol 3 I think? We’ll get to it someday) but had a very acrimonious split with DC editorial. Him coming back, and coming back to a character that he defined in a prior version, leads to the big question: what the hell do you do to re-simplify Wonder Woman into a coherent character?

You don’t. Instead you acknowledge all of it, in the text, and literally let the character grapple with the impossibility of her reality.

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We begin with Diana at a point of crisis. She remembers, thanks I guess to Convergence, all of her origins as co-existing at once. But how can that even be possible? And more importantly, if she doesn’t remember anything about who she was reliably, how can she even be sure of who she is in the present? Wonder Woman has a moniker attached to her of being the Spirit of Truth, but that implies a level of self-awareness the character simply can’t have because of how dicked around she’s been by her various writers. It’s at the point that she questions existentially how she can exist at all. To quote from the issue:

Wonder. Woman. I remember believing that “Wonder” meant “Awe.” That the name they game me spoke of admiration. Perhaps it did, once. But the story keeps changing. That’s not what they mean when they call me “Wonder.” Not anymore. Perhaps not ever. That’s their word, not mine. They wonder. What is that? How can such a woman exist? Who is she?

Diana seems most appalled at realizing that she’s supposed to be the God of War, but also suddenly remembering that for a large part of her history she stood diametrically opposed to many of the stated goals of Ares, the God of War she knew for most of her life as a fictional character. How can those two things reconcile? And if they can’t, then what happened to cause this? Struggling with this impossibly split identity, Diana wraps her own arm in her lasso and interrogates herself, hoping that the answer can arise from her unconscious self, compelled by her own powers.

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With the knowledge that someone has deliberately fucked with her sense of self, Diana crushes the helmet of Ares and rejects her New 52 costume for her modern one that hews closer to her original outfit designs. Silver is out, gold is in. She has a battle skirt, and often is styled with a sword and cape like her current film incarnation. I’m adverse to Jim Lee costume designs as a matter of course, but I think this is a fine design, much easier to make look good than her New 52 outfit (which Cliff Chiang and only Cliff Chiang managed to make look great).

She then she heads off to what she believes to be Olympus, only to find that it’s some sort of illusion that she doesn’t recognize with her new, broader memory. Whatever her truth might be, she can’t seem to access it in the present, and so she’ll have to go hunting for it.

The Rebirth specials are interesting in that they’re kind of out of continuity but establish very important bridging bits of character between the New 52 incarnations and the modern version that’s going to be running around in the ongoing titles. For Diana, that involves grappling textually with how messy her history is as the also-ran of the DC trinity, how casually she’s been rewritten by the parade of writers who have tried to make Wonder Woman work as an ongoing title in a world that mostly seems interested in buying new Batfolk.

Making that her literal motivation is a bold choice, even if it rarely presents in the ongoing comic as boldly as it does in this particular issue. It’s one of the strangest parts of Rebirth as a line-wide thing in general: it’s based on the idea that the characters themselves begin to sense that they’re being poorly managed from the outside, but they’re still literally managed as comic books that come out and you can read. It’s a rickety house of cards, to be sure, and nobody is quite sure how it’ll all shake out at this point. But this is where we start from, questions that need answered, and a new book that’ll endeavor to answer them.

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