JMS Recreates "Wonder Woman"

In his just-launched run with DC Comics' original superhero, writer J. Michael Straczynski is planning on reconnecting the character with the American public by letting Superman crossover with real U.S. towns. Wednesday, the writer is launching a similar attention-grabbing, general public-outreaching plan for his run with the publisher's most famous female icon starting with "Wonder Woman" #600.

As announced in The New York Times, JMS and Don Kramer's kick-off story in the jam-packed anniversary issue will present a brand new costume (designed by DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee) and a brand new status quo for Wonder Woman set off by some time-traveling machinations by the Greek gods which will include the previously reported destruction of Paradise Island. Still, with all the changes set for the writer's full time tenure on the title now public fact, a number of new questions arise including what exactly the changes for the character's timeline hold in store for Amazon Princess' mission, whether her new uniform will remain a permanent change and what secret villains stand behind the entire story. JMS answered those questions and more for CBR News.

CBR News: Well, here we are with another big change in the life of yet another DC icon. Before we get into the specifics of the costume change, I wanted to ask a bit about how this series has developed. We know that you didn't come in to the "Wonder Woman" assignment with quite the experience with the character you've had with, say, Superman. What have you learned about her as a character in developing the story?

J. Michael Straczynski: There's a difference between experience with a character and identification with a character. I've been reading "Wonder Woman" on and off over the years almost as long and to much the same degree as I've read "Superman" on and off over the years. That Superman is the guy I've always identified with or aspired toward doesn't detract from her or Thor or any other character I've ever written. I know some fans were concerned that in previous interviews I spoke more about Superman than Wonder Woman, but that's the result of two factors: 1) There were more questions about the former than the latter, which skewed the results and 2) we were keeping a lot of what we were doing with Diana under the radar until we were ready to launch.

In terms of character, I decided to circle in to try and figure out what needed to be addressed and what didn't. Diana is one of the DC Trinity, and should be selling as many copies a month as those other guys. But the book hovers in the low 70s/high 80s, and for the last year or two has been hemorrhaging 500-1000 readers per month. That means that those who are reading are dialing out, and nobody new is checking it out. What this suggests is that the stories are becoming too insular, they're not accessible, and there's nothing going on that will get somebody who hasn't picked up an issue to do so.

This coincided with my sense that, as happens from time to time with characters, Diana had gotten buried beneath years of mythos, backstory, supporting characters and an environment that required a lot of familiarity from the reader that made it a bit inaccessible to casual readers. There's nothing inherently right or wrong with any of that, in sum or in pieces...Gail in particular was and is a terrific writer and did some great stories during her tenure...it's just a matter of one kind of storytelling that is designed to bring in new readers, vs one that is aimed at retaining the current readers. You need both of those at various points.

What I finally came away with was a sense of a character who had kind of ossified within the pages of her own book not through any fault of her own, but because the world she occupied had constricted around her. As I've noted elsewhere, she became this Ferrari that everybody kept in the garage rather than taking it out on the open road. A Ferrari in the garage is safe...but that's not what a Ferrari is for.

So in the end, it became clear that half-measures weren't going to work. If we really wanted to do this right, we'd have to go all the way to the wall. If Wonder Woman hadn't appeared in 1941, if she appeared for the first time today, how would you design a Wonder Woman for the 21st century and beyond? What would she look like? How would she act? It took off from there.

You're starting this story with our heroine in a place of massive upheaval. While doing something like destroying Paradise Island is a natural dramatic hook, what was the attraction to shaking things up in terms of where it places the character's relationship with society in general? What kind of socio-cultural ground does Diana find herself on after the opening events?

When the Destruction of Paradise Island aspect was announced, everybody assumed it would go the way we've seen before...old hat, and it doesn't really change the character because with or without Paradise Island, she's still the same Wonder Woman. Unless you move the destruction back far enough into the past that Diana was around three, because then it affects how she grows up, who she is, and what she fights for.

So that's what I went for. The timeline has changed in the blink of an eye. The gods - (for reasons of their own, which we will gradually discover, and which may involve both their survival and the survival of Earth itself - altered the past. So we literally have Wonder Woman turning a corner in the story right before mine in 600...and when she finishes turning the corner, the timeline has shifted, and she's now in her new iteration.

We learn that Paradise Island fell when Diana was just a child, when the gods withdrew their protection. Hippolyta and many of the other Amazons died in a last-ditch defense against an army with weapons that could kill even them, while some of her guards and handmaids smuggled a young Diana off the island. She was thus raised in an urban setting, but with a foot in both worlds, courtesy of her guardians and teachers from Paradise Island. They expect her to retake Paradise Island, defeat the army that's still hunting for the escaped Amazons (and Diana in particular), and restore all her people to their previous glory. This is a lot to ask of someone who has no recollection of that world, and obviously has no idea about the timeline shift. (Some of the other Amazons do know about the shift, as we see in #600, and there are others in the DCU who also can sense what happened.)

The result is a Diana who has her more urban aspects, but still carries on the traditions of her people. She's fighting for their survival, as well as her own. She has to be tough, smart, and resourceful, especially since (for various reasons) she hasn't come into her full powers, something that will happen as we go.

Speaking of which, while she doesn't always have the top-level comic sales we associate with some of the other top tier DC properties, Wonder Woman is continually popular in ancillary products marketed to girls and women. How does that broader iconic status affect at all what your take on the book is, and does that popularity outside comics play into your and DC's plans for a change in costume?

If we're going to re-boot the character, I think we can't let the fact that her face in her previous iteration is on ten gazillion lunchboxes. We need to take a long-term approach. This, again, is why half-measures won't work.

There are plenty of reasons for a superhero to change their costume, and in the past you've overseen some that are stylistic facelifts (like with Thor) and ones tied to the character's emotional state (as with Spider-Man's return to black). What is it that precipitates Wonder Woman's change within the story, and how permanent can we expect this change to be?

Form follows function. She has to exist a great deal in an urban setting. So I wanted her to have an outfit that she can close up and pass more or less without notice, or open when she's in a fight to reveal her full appearance. I wanted the outfit to express her own situation, in that she lives in two worlds, which is also in a way the trap in which she's found herself.

I also wanted it functional. As so many female fans have said over the years, "How does she fight in that without all her parts popping out? Where does she keep stuff?" She can keep or shed the jacket, there are pockets, it's tough and serious looking while still attractive. It's a Wonder Woman designed for the 21st century. Not to get all "Project Runway" on this, but what woman wears the same outfit for 60 years without at least accessorizing?

You look at someone like Trinity from the "Matrix" movies, and you see a woman who can be strong, sexy, dangerous and modern. Why can't Wonder Woman be those things?

In terms of the new costume itself, you're getting a hand from DC Co-publisher Jim Lee. The look is very modern, but I was wondering if there were specific ideas about Wonder Woman's look that you wanted to put in place or whether Jim took off totally on his own?

It's all the stuff above. It was a long process, because the initial instinct is to go only in baby steps, so I had to kind of keep shaking the birdcage. I wanted the leggings/pants, I wanted her looking tough, and I had specific ideas about the bracelets: I wanted the outside solid, tied on the inside, looped over a finger possibly, with a script W on the outside so that when she crosses them in front of her you get the WW combo. And when she hits someone with that outer edge, it leaves a W mark. This is a woman who signs her work, to tell those who destroyed her people that she's now one more person closer to the guy in charge.

Gradually, she will become aware of the alternate timeline, and the question becomes, can she change it back to what it was? Should she? And if she does, what are the consequences?

And while today we're seeing Jim's take on the new look, Don Kramer will be tackling Diana's new duds come press time. What's been your impression of how Don handles the character and her world in general, and how has he made the new costume work on the page?

I think it looks terrific. Don has really gone to the wall with this book, the level of detail, the mythic feel of it, it's freaking amazing. It's one thing, as you say, to do a pinup that doesn't move. But in the book, she has to run, fight, and have dramatic/character moments, and the outfit as realized by Don works in all of those situations.

Within the story itself, behind the scenes are our mysterious villains. We've heard teases of something called the Keres, and after reading up on their Greek myth origins, they seem to be a creepy addition to her rogue's gallery. What is the nature of the threat behind all this, and how do the Keres play in to that?

We have four concentric circles that will eventually reveal the face of the enemy. The first and most obvious one is the army that's after her, and the guy who runs that operation. Fairly non-supernatural seeming. The Keres are on the next level up, indicating that there's more going on than meets the eye. She has to get past them to find who's pulling their strings...and gradually work her way to the hand behind it all, and the reason for all this. I spent a lot of time researching the Greek myths that haven't been used in the book to date - how many times can Hercules be the bad guy? - to give her a fresh rogue's gallery, one that can stand alongside the rogue's gallery of any other hero in the DCU.

Just as we wrapped our last talk on Superman, I was curious of what your larger ambitions were for where you plan to take Wonder Woman by the end of this story. When all is said and done, how would you like people to view Wonder Woman differently than they do now?

My goal is to get more people reading the book, and to reinvigorate the character by making her modern while remaining a role model. I'd like her to be accessible to a wider range of people, because she's a great character and deserves it.

"Wonder Woman" #600 by a bevy of creators including the new team of Straczynski and Don Kramer is in stores Wednesday from DC Comics. And for more Wonder Woman goodness, be sure to check out CBR's Wonder Woman hub!

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