Five Questions with…
Q&A with comic greats regarding Wonder Woman

Kurt Busiek

Gail Simone: “Kurt will likely need no introduction to the comic readers on this board. Kurt’s worked for nearly every major company on every major character, as well as plenty of his own great concepts like SHOCKROCKETS and ASTRO CITY.

He’s also one of the guys I most look up to and depend on in comics. If Kurt says it, it’s so.

Kurt has had a couple notable brushes with Wonder Woman, and I asked him about them below.

Check his newish website, for more on his latest misadventures!”

1) Okay, let’s start with one of my favorites. The Legend of Wonder Woman. I’m a fan of this series, which seemed so optimistic, with the very Golden-Age art by Trina Robbins, and fun to look at when the other DC stuff was so dark at the time. Can I ask you to tell us a little about this book and what your intentions were?

The book came about because, back at that time, DC’s legal deal regarding Wonder Woman was that they needed to publish at least four issues a year of something headlining Wonder Woman, with her as the main character and with the logo prominent and all, or the rights to the character would revert to the Marston Estate. It could be issues of WONDER WOMAN, of SENSATION COMICS featuring Wonder Woman as the lead, whatever, but there had to be at least four issues a year. I’m told that since then things have changed, but I don’t know the details.

Anyway, the plans had been for the regular WONDER WOMAN series to end due to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, and the new relaunch to happen with Greg Potter and George Pérez. But there was a lot of development and delays involved in the relaunch, and they realized it wasn’t going to come out when originally planned, so they had to do something else in order to satisfy that part of the contract.

But they were stuck, because Wonder Woman didn’t exist at the moment, and they didn’t want to do anything that would detract from the relaunch. So they specifically wanted to do something that would be fun and nostalgic, but something that wouldn’t make a big splash, wouldn’t steal any thunder away from the relaunch when it was ready. Alan Gold, the editor, had worked with me a little — I’d done some JUSTICE LEAGUE fill-ins for him, and a couple of WONDER WOMAN fill-ins, one of which had been published and the other languished in a drawer until a couple of years ago when the artist and I revamped it into a Superman fill-in guest-starring WW. So he offered the project to me in part because I was a nobody who’d do a good job but no one was going to get excited about me writing the character in a way that’d steal attention away from the relaunch. He’d also tapped Trina Robbins to do the art, Lois Buhalis to letter and Nansi Hoolihan to color the book, and I suspect (having now read Mindy Newell’s 5 Wonder Questions), that he’d have had Mindy write it and had an all-female creative team, if Mindy hadn’t recently quit the main book.

Anyway, he wanted something nostalgic, something that celebrated the past rather than built anything for the future, and all we had was Wonder Woman as a clay statue (we started our project before CRISIS was finished, and I’d been told Diana would be turned back into a clay statue, which is why she appears as a statue in our first issue; the scene where she got turned into a pile of clay in CRISIS hadn’t been drawn yet, and we’d been misinformed as to what it would contain.), so I came up with an opening about Amazons looking at the statue and thinking back, and then talked to Trina about what she’d most like to draw.

Trina was particularly a fan of Wonder Woman from the late 1940s and early 1950s, and as long as we were going to revisit the past, she’d rather take a look back at that era, rather than the 1940s. She suggested using Atomia and Solala, and sent me Xeroxes of the stories they debuted in. I wanted to do a bit where Wonder Woman inspired a young girl to be heroic, because that had been Wonder Woman’s Golde Age message — “every woman can be a wonder woman” — so I put Suzie in to let her have a character arc while Wonder Woman mixed it up with Atomia and Solala’s evil sister Leila.

And the book was fun to do and it came out and pretty much vanished without a trace, like it was supposed to. Though some Wonder Woman fans remember it fondly, and AMAZING HEROES did pick it as one of the ten best projects of the year. Sorry, Alan!

I had wanted to call the series either SENSATION COMICS or THE SENSATIONAL WONDER WOMAN, but for whatever reason DC wouldn’t let us. Calling it THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN was a nod to THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN. I never liked the title, since it implies it’s “the” legend, which to my mind would be a recounting of her origin and the high points of her career, which this wasn’t — it was just an untold adventure. So I suggested THE LEGENDARY WONDER WOMAN, and they wouldn’t do that, either.

Ah well.

2) I think “some fans remember it fondly” is a huge understatement. You and I have had several conversations about Wonder Woman stories you’d like to tell, and I’m always fascinated by the new twists you bring to the actual mythology, both in the DC and real world legends, when many writers seem to skip over that stuff to get to the superhero aspect. Can you tell us what it is that interests you about Wonder Woman, and if you had a particular story that made you like the character?

Well, I like to root my stories in whatever’s foundational about a character, and Wonder Woman’s built on mythology. That’s what makes her different, makes her distinctive. Doing Wonder Woman without the mythology strikes me as something that’d be as silly as doing Thor without the mythology. What’s cool about Wonder Woman isn’t simply that she’s strong and powerful and fights the good fight, it’s why she does it and where the powers came from and why she is who she is — and all that’s full of stuff about the Amazons and the gods, so if you’re not going to deal with that stuff, why are you telling Wonder Woman stories in the first place, instead of some other superheroine?

I like the majesty of it all, the gods and the mythology, using that as the basis of a superhero series in the modern day. I was always a mythology buff when I was a kid, and the idea of the Greek gods still being around and being involved in present-day fantasy adventure, I just find that a great set-up, as are the Amazons. It’s a solid, mostly well-constructed superhero set-up that’s got a whole lot of distinctive elements, that make Wonder Woman very much her own character, and not some generic heroine.

So give me a chance to write WONDER WOMAN, and I’ll want to do something with the mythology and fantasy of it, just like if I’m writing SUPERMAN I’ll be using his science fiction roots, or if I’m writing the Fantastic Four it’d be family issues and scientific exploration, and so on.

As for particular stories that made me like the character — I more or less got pulled over to DC Comics asa reader when Steve Englehart left Marvel and went to DC for a year to write JLA and DETECTIVE COMICS, and while I knew who the DC heroes were, a lot of my first impressions of their personalities came from his run on JLA. He did a nice bit with the Flash feeling like a Midwest bumpkin next to someone as regal and self-assured as Wonder Woman, and that really got me to click in to the character and understand her as a character rather than as just a collection of powers and attributes. So I think that’s where I really started to like her.

3) Let’s talk about Trinity for a moment. I think you showed Diana as truly a powerful character in her own right, not merely in comparison to Superman and Batman. Please tell us a little bit about what you had in mind with that book, and if you feel you achieved what you set out to do.

It’s funny — it may be because of that JUSTICE LEAGUE run of Steve’s, but I never had the idea that Wonder Woman _wasn’t_ an equal to Superman and Batman, so it always baffled me that people thought of her as someone who didn’t belong shoulder to shoulder with them, or someone who was being “forced down their throat” as a phony equal. She was simply one of the JLA Big Three, to me, and clearly on a par with Superman power-wise. Maybe it was because, during that Englehart run, she and Superman have a knock-down drag-out fight, and she’s not at any kind of disadvantage.

Anyway, in writing TRINITY, I didn’t feel hat I needed to change Wonder Woman any to make her a full-fledged member of the Trinity, I just had to write her honestly and directly, and she just naturally fit that role. As for what we were trying to do — TRINITY had a long developmental period. It was originally intended as an open-ended ongoing series, just telling stories of the three of them, and I had a lot of fun stuff planned, but it turned into a year-log weekly, and it needed to have a big overarching story, so we developed the one we used, about Morgaine and the others trying to usurp the Trinity’s conceptual place in the universe as a way of reshaping the universe around themselves — it was a way to make it a big, sprawling story that centered on the Trinity but had lots of resonance and effect across the DCU as a whole, so we could explore not just the Trinity themselves, but how they fit into their world and how the world was built around them and what they represent.

I think we accomplished that pretty well, but I’m unable to review the book — I’m way to close to it. But it was a blast to get to write Wonder Woman in it, to treat her as a powerful warrior and as a character in balance with the other two.

4) I’ve heard you speak of a very interesting point, that you believe (correct me if I misunderstand) that making Wonder Woman an ‘ambassador of peace,’ was conceptually a mistake. Can you explain what you mean by that?

I don’t think it was the “ambassador of peace” part I sad I didn’t like — it was the part where, for a while there, Wonder Woman was presented as a pacifist, and specifically as someone who was trying to be non-violent, to shy away from violence as a way of addressing problems. I thought it made her seem whiny and preachy and wimpy — she’s an Amazon, for Pete’s sake. She’s not a pacifist, she’s a warrior, a champion, one of a culture of women who train in combat all the time and shoot guns at each other as a freakin’ game! She believes in peace through strength, in offering the hand of friendship to any who’ll take it, because she’s tough enough to back up that open hand with the strength, skill and grit to make sure that she won’t get trampled. Non-violence is the goal, in that she wants a world that’s peaceful, but until the world is like that, she’s willing to knock heads together as much as they need knocking. She’s an Amazon, not Ghandi.

It was in reaction to seeing her up on a roof ledge, shrinking back in fear at he idea of someone being violent (and I may be misremembering the moment, but it was something like that) that made me conceive one of the ideas we got into TRINITY, that Amazons don’t compete against others, they compete against themselves, trying always to outdo their own personal best in whatever they do. They’re fiercely competitive, but the competition isn’t about “I’m better than you,” but “I’m better than I was yesterday, and I’ll be better still tomorrow.” That feels like what an Amazon should be, at least to me.

It’s also in keeping with the Golden Age approach to Wonder Woman, where she was sent to Man’s World to show — by example — a better way than war and destruction, and one of the ways she did that was by telling (and showing) others that they didn’t need to live in subjugation, that any woman can be a Wonder Woman, and can take care of herself. That’s what Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls were about — the message that girls could kick ass, and didn’t need to be fainting flowers. That’s how the Amazons establish peace, by making sure the weak can protect themselves, so no one is reduced to prey.

So that’s what I think Wonder Woman’s an ambassador for — the idea that everyone can develop their inner strengths and become someone capable of excelling, of being their best, strong and capable. So there’s peace because everyone’s strong enough to defend themselves, like the Amazons are. Peace through strength, not peace through shying away from violence, not when it’s needed.

Superman’s a protector, Batman’s an avenger, but Wonder Woman’s an example of how anyone can stand up for themselves. Her underlying message is, “You can be like me, you can do it yourself.”

5) And finally, can you tell us what you’re working on right now, and maybe a bit about what’s coming up?

I’m still working on ASTRO CITY –next up is a two-part ASTRA special, then Book Four of the epic DARK AGE arc. I’m also working on AMERICAN GOTHIC, a new creator-owned series for Wildstorm that’ll be launching sometime next year — it’s a series all about contemporary fantasy, about magic all around us in real-world settings. Plus, I’m writing an ARROWSMITH novel and a follow-up-of-sorts to SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY called BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT that I expect we’ll be talking about more once there’s art to show.

There’s other stuff in the works, in one stage or another, but that’s the main stuff…

That’s great, Kurt, thank you. I learned a lot here. It’s odd, I thought these interviews were going to be mostly fairly lightweight and simple, but I was unaware of a lot of this history and I think even some of the most hardcore Wonder fans were unaware of some of this, too. Great stuff, and good reading, as always!

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