The Real God Of Conflict: Greg Rucka on 'Wonder Woman' & the industry

Tue, January 13th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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"Wonder Woman" #200, art by JG Jones
You might not want to tell anyone, but Greg Rucka has a big secret:

He's in love with Diana, better known as Wonder Woman.

Or at least that's what you might think if you spoke to the acclaimed novelist and comic book writer whose passion for "Wonder Woman" and its titular character is rivaled only by his desire to write stories that honor the character. With "Wonder Woman" #200 on its way this month, and huge ramifications as a result, CBR News spoke to Rucka about Wonder Woman and brought readers up to speed on current events.

"What's been going on for the last five issues? Well, Diana's got some enemies," Rucka explained to CBR News. "And she did something that exposed herself to one of them that she knows nothing about. There's a woman named Veronica Cale, who wants to destroy her for reasons that will eventually be explained in the series. Over the course of the first five issues, we've been basically putting all the pieces into play, so that Cale's plan is moving into position, piece by piece. At the same time on Mt. Olympus, Ares is stirring the pot, because he's pretty much forbidden to interfere with human events. The God of War can only go so far , otherwise everyone is dead and no one's left to worship you. So he's kinda changed his job description because, y'know, what's the point? War in and of itself doesn't get him everything, but everything that leads to war, IE: conflict, there's so much of THAT around. He's been mucking about and sets up a couple of things so come issue #200, everything comes crashing down. Literally and figuratively, everything comes crashing down.

"One of the things we've been looking at and making clear to the reader is that unlike Superman, unlike Batman, unlike the Flash, Diana's public persona is also her job. She's the ambassador to the United Nations for her country and on top of that, she has a divinely guided mission, which is to bring the message of peace to the World of the Patriarchy, which is essentially everyone else who isn't an Amazon. At the same time, she is occasionally required to stop the giant killing robot who is attacking Manhattan. Come #200, everything goes crazy."

With Rucka's initial work on "Wonder Woman," specifically #195-196, it's become clear that while Rucka isn't abandoning the old supporting cast of characters, he is moving a new set to the forefront and he explained who they are, along with their creative inspirations. "It's not that the old supporting cast didn't have 'it,' it's just that the old cast was so scattered and got so diluted. We've reintroduced Vanessa Kapitellis--Perez brought her and her mother Julia in-and both will be reappearing. Vanessa was turned into the Silver Swan during Phil's [Jimenez] tenure. You can't count her as one of Diana's friends right now. Donna [her sister] died. Hippolyta [her mother] died. Trevor [her boyfriend] died. The other Amazons are on Themyscira so the cast of characters she interacted with the exception of Cassie Sandsmark [Wonder Girl] were characters she wasn't going to see on a regular basis at all. So there was sort of a twofold purpose - we established the Embassy cast, the people she works with everyday, for two reasons. The first is to make sure there's a support group of characters there for her to interact with and a cast of characters through whose eyes we can see Diana. The second purpose is that they enforce the differences between Diana and all these different heroes. Superman doesn't have a staff, he doesn't need one, he's Superman! I did some research into what it means to be an ambassador to the United Nations and it's a 20hr a day job if you're lucky and if you're not, it's a 26hr a day job. The hours are crazy, the things you're required to do are crazy and the politics involved are fascinating but not super appropriate to the series. U.N procedure would be a pretty boring book."

Possibly the most popular of the new characters is Ferdinand, the Minotaur chef who cooks delicious vegetarian meals for Diana and seems to have developed his own cult following among readers. "Ferdinand has legs, yeah, everyone seems to have gravitated to him quickly," smiles Rucka, who adds that Ferdinand wasn't the result of his interpretation of Diana as a vegetarian. "No, the two came together. The Embassy is a home and Diana is a vegetarian, which is something I was pretty sure of early on and I'm surprised some people have been so irate about it- do they get that irate when their friends tell them they're vegetarians? She is a vegetarian, but she's not telling you to be one. There was going to be a chef at the Embassy and one of the really cool things about Diana is that she straddles these two worlds, one very realistic - as much as a DCU superhero book can have a realistic world - and this world that is established out of mythology. The reference for all these myths is there, the 'facts' are there, you can go pick up old stories and read them. When I was a kid, I was reading these stories all the time and they were required reading for me in high school. It's just to me so cool that she can be on the street, after talking to Superman, after addressing U.N General Assembly and on the next page, be on Olympus arguing with Zeus, for example. That's really a neat facet to the character and creates a whole bunch of different conflicts. One of the ways to make it clear she's in both of these worlds is to take a mythological creature and put him in a realistic environment, IE: the kitchen in the Themysciran Embassy on Embassy Row in New York City, and that's how Ferdinand came about. I wanted a Minotaur, but if you do your Minotaur research and read up on the myth surround Minos, Ferdinand is a far cry from that creature and pretty early on differentiates himself. He says, 'I grew up outside Kithira, so I suppose that makes me a Kith-o-Taur.'"

It's been mentioned by Rucka and has been a question asked by fans- with a character "straddling" two different worlds such as Wonder Woman does, how do you find a balance? Some fans have wondered aloud if the series should play heavier to one side or the other, but Rucka believes there is a risk of going too far either way. "I don't think we have, but the people who are complaining we're not moving fast enough or 'nothing's happening,' meaning Diana's not fighting anybody… there's plenty happening, she's just not punching anybody yet. It's a balancing act - these characters exist within DC Universe - you want to use that, you have to use that. We try to bring a realistic throughline to DCU, which isn't a problem, but delving too far into minutia would be a problem, which is why we're not going to show her on the floor of the General Assembly unless it's critical to the story. We're not going to show her saying, 'oh yes I'm doing my paperwork' for the sake of doing the paperwork - everything is there to establish the whole, a 'gestalt' for lack of a better word."

"Wonder Woman" #200, Page 1
Rucka's take on Diana is very clear to him and many readers, but the root of those beliefs and the material that solidified his perspective aren't always obvious, so the writer decided to share some insight into what defines his Diana. "God only knows. It comes from watching Lynda Carter on television, from the Perez reboot, it comes from looking at the character in relation to the world around her. I can't help but do that and when I do that I can't help bring, for lack of a better word, some 'realism' to her world, for better or for worse. Diana's always been an amazing character to me, for so many reasons: she is an exile from her own world in a way, she can't really go back to Themyscira and live there happily ever after. She's the only Amazon to have left and have spent a substantial amount of time in the Patriarch's World, even if you look at Hippolyta being in the JSA. The other element is that she's the only Amazon to have been born on Themyscira - Donna was this sort of magical creation, but Diana is the last soul the patron goddesses were harboring and Hippolyta said 'I want a child,' so Diana is absolutely unique. The mandate is just - all these paradoxes in the character. She's an Amazon. Amazons are a warriors, they're a martial culture. They can promote belief in peace in part because they've been living in absolute seclusion and isolation for so long, and also because if you mess with them, they'll kill you. It's easy to dictate peace when you're the baddest motherfucker on the block. Diana comes from this culture where she's bred for war, but is able to reap the rewards of 3000 years of peace - the art, the science, the philosophy. Add to thatthese divine elements, like the wisdom of Athena and so on, and you've got this person who has all these ingredients and they are in many ways pulling her in different directions, but she somehow manages to unify them all for a single direction. She's not going crazy, she's not neurotic - you look at every other superhero ever and they are all malfunctioning in some way [laughs]. In some way, they are internally malfunctioning - Diana really isn't, even with all the paradoxes and conflicts, she may be the most well-adjusted superhero out there. At least when I look at her, that's what I see. She's somebody who knows what she's about and has absolute conviction in what she believes and is willing to fight for those things she believes, be it with words or swords. I love the character and the more I work with her, the more I love her."

With Diana being so "well-adjusted," one might think that there would be a loss of internal drama, as a character so confident in her beliefs wouldn't waver in the face of adversity. "Y'know, you would think so. We're in this era that believes you need to have good neuroses to have good drama, but no, you just need to put her in dramatic situations. Just because she is well adjusted doesn't mean she can't make a mistake, number one. Number two, there's plenty of drama to be found in trying to do the right thing in a world that is opposed to it. That in its own way is the core of heroism and what she struggles to do. Just because she's not standing there going, 'my parents were murdered in front of me when I was eight, you will PAAAAAAAAAAY!' doesn't mean she can't get passionate or get angry or make mistakes. But she does have the capacity to take a step back and say 'oops, I need to fix that.' She's genuinely nice. That may sound clichd, but there's a pleasure in writing someone who is genuinely nice, who is genuinely a good person. Being a good guy is fun to write - it's fun to write someone who is smart, confident, wise and unafraid. It's a treat."

Some have commented that they don't see the same depth Rucka does in Wonder Woman and feel like Diana has been more of a concept than character for years, but as always, the "Queen & Country" writer isn't about to provide a simple response. "I don't disagree with that per se, but it's hard to draw a bead on her. She doesn't define easily in one sentence - Superman does, Batman does, Spider-Man does. Those sort of iconic characters where, in the course of a half of a page, you can get them, explain what they're about. But Diana is far more complicated so that different writers focus on different aspects. That doesn't mean any one writer is right or wrong, just that they gravitate to different things about her character. Every writer looks for an 'in' with the character - some people have found the 'in' with this sort of nave virgin, some have found it in the uber warrior and some people have found this in the sex symbol. Those didn't work for me - doesn't mean that those who came before are wrong, but that was their take, this is mine."

In addition to looking for that "in," Rucka also approached the book with an ambitious goal in mind, typical of his drive to make every one of his comics the best he can be, and can sum it up simply: he wants to show people that Diana is the best. "She's one of the holy trinity at DC and I think for some time she's been in it just because is supposed to, as a corporate asset, not because there's been a clear reason for her to be there. At the end of my run, if there's one thing Drew, Ivan, Ray and I all want is to say 'our Diana made a mark.' I want people to read these stories and say, 'that's a cool character.'"

The current storyline in "Wonder Woman," entitled "Down To Earth," has altered the status quo of the series, primarily through one main event: Wonder Woman writing a book to share her beliefs with the world. Now before you start crowning her a Clinton, Rucka explains there's a big difference behind the intents of Diana and the glut of "political" books on the market. "I've been asked that recently by someone else and it wasn't as deliberate as that. Looking around we have all these books going right or left - you say Hillary Clinton, I'll give you Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly and Al Franken. Very rarely do you get a book that says 'these are my ideas and that's it.' Most of these books are, 'I will kill and crush the opposition. They are fools.' That's both on the right and the left. If Diana's book is about anything, it's about the ideas - it has to be because you don't bring peace any other way. Peace through putting guns to your head and taking away your weapons is an artificial piece [laughs]. That's not a lasting peace - the only way to get a lasting peace is to propose compromise and lasting ideas in people's hearts and minds. Realizing that anything Diana wrote would cause problems with someone - it's just logical, if she had written a book saying, 'I love puppies' and someone would have started an organization 'Amazons Against Puppies' because these people would say puppies are evil and vile and the Amazons martial nature causes them to be breeding attack dogs [laughs] - it was logical. There was a time when we were going to put in what was specifically in the book, knowing it was going to piss everyone off and then we decided it was better if we don't. We hinted at some of the things in there and some of them you wouldn't expect to cause people to be shrieking bloody murder. But you know, there are people who believe global warming is a myth.

"I was surprised about the reaction to the vegetarianism. Most of the stuff that comes back to me is through DC or through people I know - I don't go looking for feedback or criticism on the book except from very specific sources, because otherwise it doesn't serve any purpose, there are just too many people with too many axes to grind. People are going to like it or they're not - those who don't, I'm sorry, I'm doing the best I can and I acknowledged a long time ago that I'm not going to write anything that everyone will like. Nobody can. There are people who think 'Kingdom Come' is brilliant and there are people who think 'Kingdom Come' is garbage. There are people who think 'Watchmen' is brilliant and there are people who think 'Watchmen' is garbage. I'm here to serve the character first and foremost, and through that, serve the the fans. I've been accused of not considering the fans enough but that's not true - I think the fans are just smarter than we give them credit for being. There are a lot of books out there - if they don't like 'Wonder Woman,' they can always read something else."

As most readers can already see, "Wonder Woman" has become a pretty politically charged book and with comparisons to the television series "The West Wing," some wonder how many of the beliefs espoused by Diana are shared by the former EMT Rucka. "It's dictated by the character - [the beliefs presented] have to be and there are things she believes in with which I disagree. She has views I do agree with, but I'm not her and my job is to write her, not me. I'm not going to elaborate as to what those points are, but we disagree strongly and we have fights. And she wins, because it's her book [laughs]."

The initial storyline of Rucka's tenure, "Down To Earth," has been an admittedly low-key story for a superhero book- the focus has been on Diana and her actions as opposed to super powered slug fests. While it might seem that a writer would want to open with a big bang starting his run on the biggest female icon in comics, Rucka's more intent of creating a solid foundation… so then he can have his big bangs. "I had the luxury of time and I wanted to make the foundation clear. Like I said, people are impatient… and they have the right to be. They can say they want more now, but I'm going carefully and everything is being done for a reason, for the best possible buildup. I hate, hate, HATE violence for the sake of violence. Nothing annoys me more than opening a copy of the 'Amazing Adventure of Fill-In-The-Blank' and he just happens to stop a mugging. The only reason the mugging is in there is so we can see the fight. It's a given that Batman is going to kick the ass of anyone he comes across who is mugging somebody and so do you really need to see it for the 800 millionth time? You know what he does at night, so violence for the sake of violence serves no purpose and I think it's a mistake, especially with Diana. There are some characters who are violent characters - if you're going to write a Punisher story, you have to acknowledge he's a sociopath - that's one of the things going on there, so he's going to shoot, kill and maim. We have to see that because it's part of who he is - but Diana knows better than anybody what it means to throw a punch. And she knows that even if you're trying to throw a punch to subdue somebody, you could kill them - violence is random and violence doesn't care. If you're just trying to kneecap someone, that could kill him - you can kill someone by shooting them through their hand. All those times Green Arrow puts an arrow through someone's hand to disarm - and it's great for Green Arrow, it works in 'Green Arrow' - if I look at that, you can kill someone that way, they can die. When a bullet enters the body, it doesn't go in a straight line - the second it hits the body, all hell breaks loose and the bullet bounces around and things that shouldn't burst do. It can come out the same side it came in. Violence is random.

"This is someone who when she draws a sword, she knows the consequences and full well how to use it. She doesn't go to it quickly ever. Ever. When she has to use it, she's decisive and she doesn't hesitate, but it doesn't make sense to have a book where she's wandering around stopping muggers. People want a fight - there's a huge fight coming and more fights after that because we now have a reason for them. But until there were reasons or until you understood what was going on in the story, it would have been action for the sake of action and I don't have any interest in that."

Pin-up art by Walt Simonson.
Looking at the first Rucka arc of "Wonder Woman," it's not hard to notice the themes of personal responsibility and independent thought coming to the forefront. "It's the fundamental gift of freedom, isn't it? There's no excuse for lazy thought and no excuse for not taking the time to consider. There's no excuse for not making up your own mind. We are better people when we think, rather than when we follow blindly - you can agree with what's going on around you or disagree, but for God's sake think about it because it affects you and everyone around you. Diana is incredibly mature in this way and she's got this line in #197, when she's in the bookstore doing the signing and she's being asked all these questions that have nothing to do with the book. She's being pleasant about all the answers but she's got a bit of this frustration, and then she steps out of the bookstore with Jonah and sees the protestors. We wanted her to be delighted because this is what she wanted - she doesn't care if the people hate her, but at least they read the book. At least they thought about it enough to disagree and say she's wrong, because the minute you have disagreement, you have opportunity for dialogue. But if you're going to say nothing that means apathy and I get to walk all over you."

Speaking of dialogue and disagreement, as mentioned, Rucka has provided Ares with a new position as God of Conflict and it brings an interesting question to light: is Ares a villain in the classic sense or simply an antagonist? "He's an antagonist, an 'agent provocateur," answers Rucka. "Ares is pretty much well taken care of, George [Perez] pretty much wrapped him up way back when, pretty much saying he can't do what he was doing. I think he's more interesting as someone who's maybe there to help Diana or maybe there just to mess with her. His stance in #199, when they have it out, is pretty much that conflict is good and point in fact, that's basically what Diana is doing with the book so that out of conflict we'll have that much more understanding and reach peace. As far as Ares is concerned that's a good thing, a nice goal, but that your peace and my peace are two different things. Look around the world and it's ridiculous to say Brazil wants peace and Columbia doesn't. Of course they do, everyone wants to live in peace! How you get there, that's what makes them so radically different. The Kurds right now believe their way to secure peace is to control a large amount of oil in Northern Iraq and the Turks look at that and as far as they're concerned, that doesn't lead to peace, it leads to the Kurds leaving their country and it all leading to war. Everyone has different qualifications for piece. It goes back to one of the problems with Diana, in that it's simplistic to say she's the ambassador of peace - alright, well peace for you and peace for me are very different things."

While finding the right writer for "Wonder Woman" may seem difficult, finding the right artist is on the same level of difficulty, if not more challenging for DC Comics. Fortunately, artist Drew Johnson has been getting rave reviews and Rucka couldn't be happier with his partner on the series. "We searched high and low!" laughs Rucka about finding Johnson. "Seriously, Ivan [Cohen, editor] and I looked everywhere, and we approached a couple of people before approaching Drew and were turned down, for a variety of reasons, and all of it worked out happily because he's the perfect man. We work very well together. I think he brings the right life to the book. I write scripts not to say 'this has to happen in each panel,' but that 'this is the story of the issue and this is the reason is occurs, this is the emotional context.' You're going to get a panel description that places one person here, one person there and I write what they're saying - Drew gets it every time. He knows what we're after and he knows what I want the reader to feel on page 22. That's precious. That to me is the best kind of collaboration - one where it's more than the sum of its parts. Along with Ray [Snyder, inker] and the Hories now coloring, with Todd's letters, we have a book still coming together, it's not quite perfect yet, but it's clicking, it's there."

There's been a big jump in sales on "Wonder Woman" since Rucka and Co. took over, so if you've been unable to find the issues and have been "waiting for the trade," (a term used for those who wait for the square bound trade paperback collection), then you may be in luck. "I expect they're going to collect the first six issues - but that's a suspicion, no one's come out and said that yet," admits Rucka. "I would like them to and I think that in this market, trades help monthly sales. If people who have been waiting, saying they want to read it in one sitting - fair enough. Hopefully they'll read it and say, 'I don't need to wait for the next trade, I want the issues now!' I'm not a fan of people getting issues graded and locked away in the vaults. Read the story please! Look at the beautiful pictures, enjoy the coloring, read the words and then bag and board it [laughs]. It seems to me that buying stuff for the collectability aspect alone is a mistake and you're going to be disappointed. Trades do another thing, and I'm not sure it's the Holy Grail that some make it out to seem to be, they put comics out into bookstores. They present them in a stronger position to the mass market and if we can get 'Wonder Woman' as a trade in Borders, great!"

Wait a minute… there's a comic creator who isn't singing the praises of the bookstores as some kind of comic book Messiah? "American comics just aren't what people are buying at bookstores, they're just not. They buy some trades, but mostly they're buying manga [Japanese comics] trades and not superhero trades - I could be wrong, but I just don't see it happening. There's a Borders near where my son has daycare and it's one of those nice big ones, which has a Peet's Coffee in it and as you walk buy one of the signs, I always see teens, I mean early teens from 12-16, boys and girls, they're drinking their mocha lattes and they're reading manga rather than the trade to 'Alias' or 'Fill In The Blank.' It's not that they won't, it's just that they're not looking for it, see what I mean? Right now if you want to sell superhero trades, you have to take the onus off superheroes and say, 'it's ok, they're cool. These are good, it's alright to read them' instead of believing we're a little cult and we like our superhero books and no one else can come in. Superheroes in the mainstream aren't cool - even if the movies are doing well, reading a comic about a superhero is not cool. That's a problem. That's why I don't think it matters if you trade superhero comics and put them in the bookstore - people aren't going to read them because they don't want to be seen reading them. You go to Europe, they'll be reading them. Over here we're too jaded and too cool for school, man.

"I imagine people will be screaming 'Rucka's an idiot… and he's wrong' over the things I've said, but I don't know how to make superheroes 'cool.' The stories are out there - it's not like everyone's writing bad stories. There are still writers out there who are insulting the intelligence of their audience consistently, but there are far more writers who are writing intelligent, fun, good superhero comics, good work that in any other medium would be considered good writing. But people aren't picking it up - why? Most comic books require you to find a direct market store, most direct market stores are places the are really 'members only' clubs, so if you have shops that feel like that, people won't come. There's that joke about the comic book owners running their own stores so they can write off their own collections - there's a reason that's a joke instead of demonstrative fact, because it's not a cost effective method [laughs]. You won't last very long if you do. But there is that feeling and in popular culture right, superhero is ok, comic book is not. Manga is ok, comic book is not. Graphic Novel is ok, comic book is not."

It's been noted before that come February, with his backup tale appearing in "Adventures of Superman," Greg Rucka will be one of the first writers in a decades to be writing all three of the big DC icons at a single time (with "Batman: Death & Maidens" being his Dark Knight project de jour). With all the comparisons he makes to each character during interviews, it's not hard to imagine working on each of these distinct characters influences how he writes the other. "Each character sheds more light on each other actually. What Wonder Woman would do, Batman would not do and what Superman would do, Batman would not do. So kind of in working with these characters, not only do you see the character you're working on in greater clarity, but it puts the other characters in relief. I could put Batman, Superman, Diana in the same conflict and each would have different resolutions to the conflict, not to say the solution would be based on their relative powers, but it would be based on how they approach these things."

You'll be seeing a lot of conflict resolution by Diana in the future and Rucka hints at what is in the Amazonian Princess' futures. "Issue #200 ends 'Down To Earth,' brings everything crashing down and #201 is immediate after effects, as Diana deals with them. 202 is a break way and stand alone that focuses on Cale, dealing tangentially with 200 and 201, but explains who she is and why she is doing what she is doing. 203 opens up the first segment of the next story and takes all of the villains rolling and roaring, Diana still reeling and rolls it into what will be a huge conflagtaionaround 210 and another big change. I wouldn't take the issue numbers as written, but around 210 there's going to be another event that is huge. But for all those people who have been waiting patiently, 200 is the big payoff and for those who haven't tried the book, it's a great place to jump in."

And you thought CBR News was not going to ask Rucka about the invisible jet? "The invisible jet is pretty cool, but why is she visible inside the invisible jet? If the jet is invisible, then you don't see it, so if you're inside it, aren't you inside whatever it is that makes you not be seen?"

 
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