Gail Simone: “Wow, where to even START with this one?
Quite possibly, no one has stood at the gate to protect Wonder Woman like Phil Jimenez has in the past several years. Anyone who wants to mess with the character has to get through Phil first, and believe me, that’s not easy to do.
I’m a huge fan of his. I’m a fan of his beautiful art. I’m a fan of his heartfelt and honest writing. I’m a fan and constant user of his excellent encyclopedia efforts. But more than anything else, I’m a fan of the man himself. He’s passionate beyond possibility, gifted beyond reason, and a more caring and supportive guy does not exist.
I’ve said this before, but when I took over the Wonder Woman book, I wanted to integrate the many versions of the character into one cohesive whole. And the remarkable thing is the way every single Wonder Woman creator from the past that I’ve contacted has been willing to help when I had a dumb question.
Seventy years of Wonder history, and as you know, not all of it is available in reprints. So thank goodness for people like John Byrne, Trina Robbins, Kurt Busiek, George Perez, and all the other folks who have helped me out with clarifications of their work and helpful suggestions. But two have been there over and over for me, every time I had a question. Greg Rucka and Phil Jimenez, and Phil has gone beyond even that. He has made sure my contributions to the myth are represented in the upcoming WW Encyclopedia. He has written long letters and done actual research to help with story questions.
In short, he’s been a bit of a godsend. I was already a fan, now I am a lifelong fan who will punch you in the tiara if you badmouth Phil in my presence.
Phil’s run on Wonder Woman was full of thrilling moments, and he (with co-writer Joe Kelly) wrote what might be my favorite single issue ever, the issue where Lois Lane interviews Wonder Woman. It might be the best expression of what WW is about ever committed to the page. I think he was, as both a writer and artist, the guy who most closely got the scope and intelligence of George Perez’ game-changing run.
Phil is quite simply the MAN.
Here’s what he had to say to my questions–I think it’s very eye-opening stuff. Hope you enjoy it!”
1) Okay, first, in the interest of full disclosure, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this, but you wrote what is possibly my favorite WW issue ever, her interview with Lois Lane. Do you have a favorite issue of your run, and why is it your favorite?
I’m always so happy to hear that issue pleased so many—including many with wildly diverse opinions about the character (including numerous creators). But it needs to be said that I co-wrote that story with Joe Kelly. Its success in fans’ hearts and minds is as much his as it is mine. I’m credited with that issue in most circles, but Joe’s co-writing contributions—and his insights on both characters—were invaluable to me while we were creating it.
I don’t always look back fondly on my run, but I do think the two most successful issues are WONDER WOMAN #170 and #172: the “Day in the Life” issue, and the death of Hippolyta during the OUR WORLDS AT WAR event, respectively.
I like #170 for a number of reasons, but primarily because it showcases Diana in a way that makes sense to me: as someone who lives comfortably in a dozen different worlds; has friends and allies across all of them; is intellectually insatiable and is always exploring (particularly via the sciences); is occasionally haughty (she is, despite everything, still a princess); is diplomatic, but not infallible; fails occasionally; is confounded by romance and attraction (aren’t we all?); and most importantly, is someone who seeks non-violent means to resolve conflict. I know I’m in the minority amongst fans, but god, I love it when she persuades people to see the alternatives through her words and personality, rather than her fists. I’ve been told that if my run had started with this issue, it might have been received very differently by fans and new readers alike.
As to #172, considering we were knee deep in cross-over land, I think it ended up being a powerful, poignant issue, and one of the best deaths in comics, IMHO!
As a final note, one of the things I’m most proud of—and, tragically, it was done away with fairly quickly—was the revamp of Paradise Island and the Amazons after OUR WORLDS AT WAR. I loved the new incarnation of Themyscira as a sort of cosmic university, a place where weapons didn’t work (except on the Isle of combat training); a place dedicated to the democratic exchange of information between beings across the universe. And I loved that it gave the Amazons a specific function and purpose in the DCU.
I wanted it to be this grand, mythic place (thus the floating archipelago) where the Amazons commingled with mortals, aliens, and demigods; where the Amazons were afforded the opportunity to learn from these diverse cultures as they simultaneously promoted their own ideals. I wanted it to be a location as unique and magical as Krypton or Oa. I wanted to restore the Amazons to the tribe of scientifically, intellectually and emotionally advanced beings they had been many decades before; and I wanted to continue to use pre-established Amazons, maintaining a universe of supporting characters as unique as the individual members of the Green Lantern Corps (an organization with characters who were similar because of their costume color and weaponry, but were unique in physical appearance and POV).
The highlight of my career was the phone call from George Perez, who felt that this Paradise Island and my treatment of the Amazons was the logical conclusion of the characters and the Themyscira he had created 15 years before. That call kept me beaming for months.
My one sadness was the lack of color technology available to us. The architecture of the island was supposed to make it look like it was made of mother of pearl: gleaming, sparkling, reflective; like heavenly spires reaching for the sky. However, as one angry fan noted back then, it ended up looking like “My Little Pony Palace.” I’d love to revisit that Themyscira with the color technology available to us now and see what it would like. Alas, that version of Themyscira was demolished soon after the end of my run (and quite hilariously, I might add). As one of my editors said, “What goes up, must always come down” in comics! And the Amazons went back to being mostly nameless, interchangeable women with helmets and swords (although you and Greg each contributed some VERY cool Amazons in your runs; Alkyone and her royal guard are fantastic additions to the Amazon pantheon!).
2) It IS sad to me that some of my favorite stuff from previous runs really isn’t available anymore, and I did love what you did with Themyscira. It’s funny, because while we agree on so much, I think of the Amazons as much more tribal. I love the tech stuff and they still have it, but I like them to never forget their tribal roots.
Now, in a larger sense, your love of WW is no secret. No one defends and protects her like you do. Can I ask why specifically she appeals to you, what is it about her that speaks to you so directly?
This is a complex, complicated question. I’ll try to be brief but as you can tell, I’m just not very good at that, especially talking about Wonder Woman! Ten things off the top of my head:
1. Lynda Carter. It goes without saying that without Lynda Carter—and her perfect embodiment of that character on the Wonder Woman TV series of the 1970’s—at a time when I was young and incredibly impressionable, has everything to do with what I love about Wonder Woman and what appeals to me about her (at least as I interpret her). Especially in the first season of the TV show, Lynda Carter created a Wonder Woman that was beautiful, graceful, refined, kind, naive (without being stupid), earnest, powerful, and exotic. She was, literally and figuratively, divine. I would later come to realize these were all things that I wished I could be, but never felt I ever truly would be. She embodied qualities that I long to have and longed to see spread throughout my world.
Also, she wore an outfit that shouldn’t have worked but did—and without shame. She made the “bullets and bracelets” and “magic lasso” iconography instantly recognizable to millions, and she played it seriously, making us take Wonder Woman seriously (if not some of her lame 70’s villains and situations). Lynda Carter WAS Wonder Woman, and with this version of her, I’m not sure the character would have meant as much to me. Although, I did love her on the Super Friends as well and even her guest shot on Brady Kids cartoon, so I guess I’ve always loved her in some capacity!
2. Honestly, I’m a sucker for the Greek mythology angle of Wonder Woman’s origins. When I was a kid, I used to devour books about Greek mythology, and the idea that a character I cherished was so intimately linked with the world of Greco-Roman myth made me love her even more.
However, I’m also the first one to point out that the myths were dramatically altered in WW: the Amazons were peace-loving scientists, not war mongering vixens; the gods lived on different planets, not on Mount Olympus ; Hippolyta didn’t die at Hercules’ hands, but founded Paradise Island instead and even had a daughter there. Hell, in the Perez reboot, Pan was a Manhunter android! Anyway, I desperately love the mythological roots of the character, but also realize they’re not literal adaptations, and think many of them work better that way!
3. I love that Wonder Woman’s a woman. What that means to different people (especially to actual women) might be vastly different. But being raised by a single mother; being particularly attuned, for various reasons, to feminine energy (although, admittedly, not always female); and being fascinated by the sex and gender politics that permeate the character and her world, all make Wonder Woman’s “womanness” particularly interesting to me. It’s also what I think makes this character less-interesting or troublesome to many comic readers. I actually think many creators who try to “fix” her do so by trying to make her more masculine and more male — one of the guys, as it were — instead of embracing her female-ness and celebrating it.
It’s a shame, as Mark Waid has pointed out, that tackling some of the those complicated sex/gender issues entwined in Wonder Woman’s backstory would make Time Warner execs’ heads explode; talk about a fascinating, and generally untapped, current of possibility (and controversy) in those stories!
4. I love that she’s not a spin-off of another character. I love that she’s not Superwoman, or Batwoman, or Aquawoman. I love that she’s a unique creation with a unique origin, unique devices, and a unique point of view and character function that’s completely different from Superman or Batman. I never wanted to be Superboy or Robin, but I sure did want to be Wonder Woman’s little brother (yes, brother!)—the only boy ever raised on Paradise Island .
5. Wonder Woman’s POV inspires me. I love that she’s an aspirational teacher figure, who promotes love, peace, hope, and joy. I love that her mission is to promote a set of values many cynics find silly or unobtainable, but I value to my very soul. I love that in her finest incarnations, it’s a mission she’d never give up on because she believes in it so passionately. I teach now, and it’s something I connect to so deeply—touching the lives and work of young people, guiding them with lessons, watching them grow and change and succeed—that I can’t think of a character in comics I relate to more profoundly.
Her POV is, of course, always a point of debate. I root my belief about Wonder Woman’s point of view and her mission in several sources:
The early texts, which described her as a character blessed with love and wisdom, whose mission it was to TEACH young people how to fight the forces of tyranny and oppression, to stave off the wars and hatreds of man, and to promote joy, happiness, and peace in a war-torn world gone mad (and to bring some of her wacky sexual politics along with her!). The first season of the Wonder Woman TV show certainly colors my feelings about her POV and sensibilities; as does the 80’s reboot, and her incarnation as an ambassador of peace, who refused violence unless absolutely necessary. Indeed, when someone told her to kill one of Circe’s beastiamorphs, she passionately proclaimed, “Never! There’s always another way!” It was even as if her time in Man’s World had taught her that lesson (as opposed to the other way around)!
I’ve long been of the belief—and this is from reading, as well as creating—that the “contradiction” of Wonder Woman as a warrior/pacifist doesn’t really hold up if you examine her actual history. Except for a few bumps in the road here and there, Diana was raised in a pretty idyllic paradise, sheltered from all manner of horror, and raised by an island of women who upheld love, peace, and strength through training as their greatest virtues (it was called Paradise Island for a reason). I think Hippolyta raised the Amazons’ perfect ambassador by rearing her in a world of unrestrained beauty, love, wisdom and (certainly pre-Crisis) intellectual curiosity. She doesn’t see the world as the other Amazons do—her upbringing, power and experience mark her as unique among them—and I think of her as feeling very differently about Man’s World than her sisters (the “300” version of Wonder Woman and the Amazons may be the most commercially viable version of them, but it’s mired more in modern tastes and trends than in an actual reading of the original texts, IMHO).
In the stories that speak to me the most, Wonder Woman is a visionary beauty who’s equally at home on the planet Venus as she was on Paradise Island ; in the far flung future or the very distant past. She’s not mean or cruel, and by no means is she the hard bitten warrior some make her out to be, but she’s no pushover and she’s nobody’s fool. She’s intensely physical — and adventurer — and someone who is constantly challenging herself, physically and mentally, to be better than she was the day before. It’s when this character has manifested such a POV that I love her and connect to her the most. She inspires me, often when no other heroes do. In a world where people are murdered regularly, beaten to a near pulp etc., I find that I require at least ONE character that doesn’t stand for revenge, or violence, or “ass kicking” in the way I think most people mean it (which generally involves intimidation and threat of bodily harm) to invest in and root for. Someone who represents the way I see the world, and fights its ugliness as opposed to giving into it. Someone to inspire me to be better, when I’m not try my best but certainly know I should be — for no other reason than aspiring to that is the right thing to do.
6. I’m a sucker for her visual iconography: the stars-spangled costume, the magic lasso, the bracelets, the invisible jet; even Paradise Island. I have to say, on a purely aesthetic level, it speaks to me. I love her world: I love the bizarre mix of magic and science; of gods and aliens; of Amazons and the U.S. military. I LOVE Hippolyta and think she’s one of the strongest parent figures in comics and a powerful character in her own right. I love Paradise Island . I love the fact that she interacts with the gods on a regular basis. Of all the iconic JLAers, Wonder Woman’s is the world I want to visit most, partly because—in its original state, certainly—it covered SO much territory. Mystic worlds, scientific worlds, time travel, gods, psychotic human villains, purple healing rays; it really had everything. Its limits were determined only by its creators (almost all of whom were men). I LOVE this and would love to bring it all back some day.
Plus, I just love looking at Wonder Woman, and I have more fun drawing her than any other comic character (and I think I’m good at it).
7. I love that her greatest enemy is Ares, the god of war. Not some bald businessman or a lunatic clown (snap!). Literally, Wonder Woman’s most powerful, most personal rogue is the embodiment of massive, bloody, violent conflict, housed in the shell of one of the most powerful gods in Greek mythology. No other hero JLAer can claim such an impressive counterpart, in terms of physical power and global reach. And for that, she leaves me in awe. If only the rest of her rogues’ gallery were so consistently grand and threatening!
8. Wonder Woman’s sister, Donna Troy. She’s my second favorite character in comics (although talk about a girl that’s been bitch slapped one too many times! Poor thing…).
9. Wonder Woman just makes me feel good. The incarnations of her that I love make me genuinely giddy. I know that sounds really, well, gay — but Marston’s WW was invested in promoting not just peace, but in making people live lives full of happiness and joy; she even created “Fun Clinics” during World War II to help promote more fun in the lives of American families during the war. You don’t get that much in super-heroes now; it’s all seems so SERIOUS. I love the idea that there’s a character out there who isn’t consumed by the evils of the villains they fight, fought back against the darkness of the world instead of being overtaken by it, and still found the time to show people how to be HAPPY and how to have fun. And who has a good time doing it!
Just thinking about the versions of Wonder Woman written without cynicism exhilarates me. And back to the Lynda Carter show—lord knows, when that woman spins and that light explodes, and she transforms from Diana to Wonder Woman, it makes me beam with joy EVERY SINGLE TIME.
10. Potential. Tragically, for any number of reasons, Wonder Woman’s character has worked better in theory than in practice (at least historically). So it’s generally difficult to argue with most about defining stories—although I will always argue that George Perez’s first two years on Wonder Woman are defining and classic; most Wonder Woman fans certainly agree that the first six issues of that run put that character on the map for the next 20 years. But there are so many who see untapped potential in Wonder Woman and her world and wish to exploit it. She’s not exhausted as a character—indeed, I can’t wait to see her fleshed out in all possible corners, with all her contradictions and her agenda and her various worlds touching and connected.
I’m not sure she’s a character most comic readers can easily relate to. She can’t easily be boiled down to one-line sentence (and in reality, what human beings can?); she’s too mired in complicated continuity and bad storytelling; and she’s political in ways most writers can’t tackle without fear of reprisal. But it’s those very things I find the most exciting thing about her: I can still “see” her movie, her next cartoon, her comic book world—all of it, bigger, better, beautiful, provocative, affecting, profound. I see in it, and her, potential. And for that experience alone—to be reminded of the exponential possibilities of anything when nurtured and loved—I’ll always grateful to Wonder Woman.
Just the sheer length of these answers suggest to me the character’s untapped potential, and the reach that she has into one’s creative mind, if one is open to her power!
3) Cripes, what a fantastic answer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it expressed better, Phil. So tell me, what was it you most wanted to accomplish with the character, and do you feel you got the chance to do that?
Probably not. I had several goals when I came on to the book: to buttress the character’s vision and point of view (this was the post-Crisis, Perez version, mind you—a big problem with this character was the constant confusion about continuity and personality between this version of the character and her previous incarnations); her function in the DCU (which seems to be a constant source of contention between, well, everyone); to cement a supporting cast (unlike Batman or Superman’s cast, WW’s changes like the wind); to “amp up” and really make powerful Wonder Woman’s most notable foes (Ares, Cheetah, Circe, Silver Swan), and to make them forces of evil and villainy in the rest of the DCU; and to return to Paradise Island, return to the Amazons that George and Bill Loeb had created (again, so they’re not nameless, faceless women). Further, I wanted to give the Amazons function and purpose, and I wanted to transform the island into an incredible and unique space in the DCU. I also wanted to give her a love life, since that aspect of her life had been absent from the run in general.
Finally, I wanted to explore what I believe is the most important love story in Wonder Woman: the love between a parent and her child. I loved the idea that Princess Diana, who is so often held up as a paragon of virtue, was jealous of her mother’s success and popularity as a Wonder Woman herself, especially since she became Wonder Woman under such dubious circumstances (including her daughter’s death!). I also loved the idea that Hippolyta, who had portrayed mostly as a stoic, but wise and all-knowing queen for 3,000 years, had made some terrible mistakes regarding her daughter (going way back to the “The Contest” story introducing Artemis), as well as her governance over the Amazons. Maybe it’s because I’m the only child of a single parent, or because I’ve seen my mother’s battles with her own mother affect each of them for decades, but I find the relationship between these two to be the most important, most intimate aspect of the Wonder Woman mythos, and I wanted desperately to mine it.
This was all carefully plotted in a 12-issue run that was supposed to be a stand alone mini-series. However, it was decided by the editorial higher ups to transform it into the regular run.
Unfortunately, Our Worlds at War, Joker’s Last Laugh, the tragedy of 9/11, behind the scenes creative sparring (multiple editors; cutting issues; extending arc lengths; the ridiculous beats I had to incorporate into the Gods of Gotham arc, including the conceit that no one in Gotham City could ever see WW or know she was in town; fights over colorists; battles over the length of my run; incorporating Hippolyta’s death into the WW book as well as ACTION COMICS, etc.), the negative and often racist reaction to the Trevor Barnes character, and my own drawbacks as an inexperienced writer/artist helped to undermine some of these goals. It also didn’t help that my run was only extended in fits and spurts. So, I finally left out of frustration (it’s difficult to plot a book when you’re never sure how many issues you’re going to be on it). I wasn’t telling the stories I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell them, and I thought it better to finally hand over the reigns to Walt Simonson, and then Greg Rucka and leave on a relatively high note. I did love the last few issues of my run, though; I thought they were the most fun and the most fun to write and draw.
I take pride in the fact that years later, people look back on my run with fondness and request my return. I think it means I did something right. I think you can tell when the people working on Wonder Woman are enjoying it, and when they’re not. It totally shows in your work. It showed in mine, in George’s. That passion helped transcend my missteps on the book, I think, and people remember it fondly because of it. That sort of creative passion is obvious and infectious.
4) I totally agree (and thank you). It’s pretty clear that if you don’t care about the character, she is very difficult to write. Can you tell us a little about your upcoming WW Encyclopedia?
Yeah! DC was interested in updating the original Michael Fleischer Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman Encyclopedias, and I was incredibly lucky to be chosen to work on the Wonder Woman edition. It has something like 1,400 entries. I don’t think there’s ever been so comprehensive an overview of Wonder Woman, her allies, foes, locations, weapons, and other odds and ends. Of particular note is the amount of pre-Crisis, Silver Age/Earth-1 material catalogued here. I don’t think we’ve ever seen that period of time in Wonder Woman’s continuity organized and catalogued in an official tome from DC Comics. The entries are written just like “Who’s Who” entries: they’re chronological, linear histories of each character, place, or item. We tried to avoid a lot of the psychoanalysis in the original Encyclopedia and just kept these entries informative.
One of the most important parts of the encyclopedia is its general breakdown: Because the Earth-2, Earth-1, and post-Crisis Wonder Women and their worlds have such distinctly different histories, villains, and personalities, nearly every major entry is listed as a I, II, or III; and the Earth in which the story took place is introduced in the first line of text in almost every entry. For example, because the Earth-2 Priscilla Rich/Cheetah was so different from the post-Crisis Barbara Minerva/Cheetah, it became inordinately difficult to try to lump their histories together in a single entry. Splitting them up, and making each its own cross-reference, seemed to make the most sense, and gave each entry a much greater degree of clarity.
One thing that became clear—at least to me—while reading 70 years of Wonder Woman history, was the intense struggle writers, predominantly male, had handling a powerful, female, feminist icon. Because of what feminism is/was historically, because of what it proposes, because of what men imagine “the perfect woman” to be, because of corporate involvement, because of the trepidation with labeling anything overly “feminist” for fear of economic and social backlash; because of all these things and more, Wonder Woman (not unlike Lois Lane over in SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS who struggled with similar issues) has long been a contradictory figure and often a creative mess. She’s been either Rosie the Riveter or a marriage-minded milksop; a hipster or an astronaut; a man-hating bitch or a naive innocent; an aggressive warrior or a leather-strapped outcast, etc. If there was anything the Encyclopedia taught me, it’s that Wonder Woman’s great strength is also her greatest weakness: she’s a divinely malleable character, able to adapt to any number of stories and work; on the other hand, the lack of consistency of character and POV over the decades has really hurt her commercially, and among the mostly-male readership of comics.
Unfortunately, the thing became just so sprawling that I needed help finishing it. Nothing this comprehensive has been attempted since the 1970’s Fleischer encyclopedias. Fortunately, John Wells, an amazing DC archivist and historian, offered his much-needed assistance to ensure that this monster finally comes out. The enormous amount of work he did on the encyclopedia cannot be—here’s that word again—overstated. He really, really saved my ass, and the encyclopedia, at the end of the day.
5) I can see I’m going to have to refer back to this stuff often. And I can’t wait for the book, which I was delighted to write the intro for. Finally, what WW stories have had the biggest impact on you, as a reader, or as a creator?
Admittedly, the stories that have had the most impact on me are from George Perez’s run—specifically the part of the run he both wrote and drew (WONDER WOMAN #1-24) those are my favorite issues of WW ever. Also, the first issues I ever read, which introduced me to the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Wonder Women (WONDER WOMAN #226 and #227 of the original run, I believe). And the Lynda Carter TV show—particularly the first season and the episodes with the Amazons in them, continues to have a huge impact on me both as fan and creator.
It was in later years that the Marston stuff—the early years of it particularly—really took hold of me and began influencing me creatively. And I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t a few episodes of the Super Friends that did it for me, too (there’s one where a giant chunk of kryptonite is coming toward the Earth; Superman says, “normally, this would be a job for Superman….” Then, Diana steps in and says, “But now it’s a job for Wonder Woman!” and uses her strength, speed, and lasso to save the planet—and Supes—from the kryptonite meteor. And the one where the Amazons used their invisible chariots to defeat an invasion of Atlanteans. “For we of Paradise Island are all Wonder Women!” was that clip’s final line. And let’s not even talk about her saggy-eyed twin in the Universe of Evil. Oh, man, I LOVED that shit!
Thank you so much for letting me babble, and for taking such good care of Wonder Woman. She needs — and deserves — the best!