Wonder Man: Phil Jimenez talks 'Wonder Woman'

Wed, January 23rd, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[Woner Woman]For over a year, writer/penciller Phil Jimenez has been living out his dream by chronicling the adventures of his favorite superhero, Wonder Woman, and turning heads while doing it. Not only has Jimenez increased sales on the series, but his work met with a lot of acclaim and there could be no more fitting result with which to celebrate Wonder Woman's 60th anniversary. But as 2001 came to a close, an interesting tidbit of information appeared in the comic book trade magazine Wizard: Diana, the heroine we call Wonder Woman, was going to lose her virginity.

"I'm not sure how Wizard got the information, though I may well have been chatting with them and its very possible that I mentioned it, although later in an interview I did say that it was only a plan," explains Jimenez. "I told them as I was discussing the next year's plans although I didn't think it wasn't going be such a big deal. I don't know why, but I just didn't think it would be such a big deal."

However, Jimenez was wrong and immediately the Internet message boards lit up with conversation about if this was really happening and whether or not it should be happening. Some chose to question the timing while others expressed trepidation over the presentation, but Jimenez himself is confident in the plan he has for the title character of "Wonder Woman." "I believe that it was a long time before I started writing the book," says Jimenez of when he decided that Diana should experience sexual relations. "The character is almost 30 years old and if she is supposed to exemplify a certain type of woman or idea, I certainly think that empowering her when it comes to sexual choices is important. If it's still allowed to happen and all goes well, it will happen in the summer and I think that it'll be less of an event than people think it'll be." But even with such a strong belief in his ideas, Jimenez is well aware that he risks polarizes Wonder Woman fans who, like many comic fans, are somewhat resistant to what they may perceive as a dramatic change and he simply says, "If it polarizes people, I hope it polarizes them in regards to the quality of the story rather than 'event' itself."

Though Jimenez will confirm that Diana's partner will be Trevor Barnes (citing the fact that "Even though I never implicitly said it, I'm pretty sure everyone assumed that it'd be him"), the love interest introduced in "Wonder Woman#170," the acclaimed creator isn't going to reveal any more specifics. "While I can't say a lot without giving away too much, the act itself will be done in a respectful and peaceful manner I guarantee," assures Jimenez. "I get the feeling that people expect something far more outrageous than what I'm intending."

[Wonder Woman #175]
The cover to Wonder Woman #175. Art by Jim Lee.
But while there is a lot to look forward to with Jimenez's future work, some fans are wondering why there hasn't been as much Diana in the present. Starting with "Wonder Woman #175," DC has been shipping the series a month late and it causes some to speculate on whether or not Jimenez was able to handle both artistic and writing duties, especially with the aforementioned comic feeling very rushed. "The biggest problem with #175 was that it was supposed to continue into #176 but because of the 'Last Laugh' crossover, characters I was using needed to be made available for the crossover," explains Jimenez, while also assuring fans that he is well ahead of schedule again. "The story in #175 had to be wrapped up very quickly and in ended up being done in a manner that wasn't particularly satisfactory to anyone. Some characters were supposed to get entire scenes to themselves but were instead only given a single panel, which was frustrating for both the reader and myself. I had been planning this story for over the year so perhaps I was my ego that kept me from postponing the story till 'Last Laugh' ended, but at that time I wasn't sure how long I'd still be on the book so I figured I should just try to execute my plans. In addition to having to incorporate the 'Last Laugh' stuff, I had to redraw art and alter story parts because of September 11th, with the end result being that a lot of the issue essentially got mangled. For what its worth and this may not be much, the issue did read a lot better in black & white because I think when you have so many characters and so much happening, the color just adds one more confusing element. Reading it in black & white is not quite as harsh."

Speaking of the horrible events of September 11th, Jimenez has definitely felt their impact not only because he is an American, but also because he lives in New York. "Like most people, it makes me want to deal with stuff like [terrorism] and it frustrates me that we are not in a position to deal with it," admits Jimenez. "Particularly in the case of someone like Wonder Woman, she would be an excellent character to use to deal with the events of 9/11 including things like diplomacy, foreign policy, fundamentalism and the notion of how human beings treat other human beings. Ultimately, September 11th made me want to deal with what I perceive as the forces that brought about 9/11 and just as with everyone who lives here in New York, you can't live here without being impacted in a major way."

As mentioned before, September 11th was only one of the events that conspired to interrupt Jimenez's plans for "Wonder Woman," with both the editorially driven crossovers of "Our Worlds At War" and "Joker: Last Laugh" rearing their heads into his work. "Honestly, 'Last Laugh' was a huge disaster for me and really ruined a story I was thrilled about, but part of that was in the way it was presented to me," admits Jimenez, while further explaining that, "I think that editorially driven crossovers can totally work if the writers and artists are given enough lead time to incorporate it into their plans and if they are encouraged to use the stories for the betterment of their own series as opposed to turning it into chapters of a larger story. The reason I think that 'Wonder Woman' worked in 'Our Worlds At War' is because we knew so far in advance, before I was even on the book, what her role would be and about her mother's death, so I was able to use her world to support and supplement an even finer chapter of this story. So that's when I think that crossovers can work in theory as opposed to the "we're going to do it this way and it has to be played out this way" approach, especially that 'Joker' story that came in the middle of a story and used characters I was using. We all know this, everyone hates crossovers, but they will continue to happen because they sell well and as long as comic book completists keep buying, comic book companies will keep making them: this really needs to be understood. So all you folks who really hate them, stop buying them."

But to all the fans who took that philosophy a step further and didn't even read "Our Worlds At War," then you missed the emotional death of Diana's mother, Hippolyta. But as well received as this death has been, the decision to kill Hippolyta is still shrouded in some mystery, an area in which Jimenez is more than happy to assist. "'As I understand it, since I was not there for the original decision [to kill Hippolyta], essentially DC made a hit list for 'Our Worlds At War' and she was on the list. There was no great conspiracy, just a bunch of characters that were slated to die. The problem is that the list got smaller and smaller as time went on, so much so that it just ended up being Hippolyta and a few small others. Originally it was planned for the death to take place in 'Action Comics,' but I made the analogy that it'd be like killing Jimmy Olsen in 'Green Lantern' and if it was that important a death, it had to happen in Diana's book. So I fought [the death] at first but once I realized it was a done deal, I figured that it could play into my pre-existing story idea about Diana's irritation regarding the fact that her mother was still wearing the Wonder Woman costume."

Even though Jimenez has been a Wonder Woman fan all his life and really loves the mythology behind the character, he wasn't shedding tears over the death of Hippolyta. "I wasn't really like, 'oh boo hoo, Hippolyta is going to die' but I knew that it was important to many Wonder Woman fan and it meant that her death had to have meaning," explains Jimenez. "It had to be touching because if it wasn't valiant and heroic, it would outrage everyone. I mean I did like Hippolyta, but I wasn't like, 'Oh my God, my world will not be the same without the character,' which I think will outrage some people."

[Wonder Woman #172]
The cover to Wonder Woman #172. Art by Adam Hughes.
"Fans reacted really well to the death scene itself, but I think many fans to this day are still upset about her even being slated to die. One of my biggest detractors on the Wonder Woman Message Board said it was the best death scene she'd ever read in comics so I'm like 'wow' because she was never particularly complimentary. I'm quite proud of the work I did because I think it worked well as part of the crossover, part of the 'Wonder Woman' series and worked quite well dramatically. As a bonus, there was some excellent coloring and it made me happy, since coloring has been a problem throughout my work on this series." Jimenez chuckles, adding that, "When I give people issues to read from my work on 'Wonder Woman,' I always give them #170 and #172: first the happy one and then the sad one."

But Jimenez isn't the only one affected by the decision to kill Hippolyta: the creators on "JSA" also had to relinquish control of the character, which led to some criticism of their work. When asked how he felt about Hippolyta's representation in "JSA," Jimenez says, "This is an interesting question. I think that they wanted to use the part of Hippolyta that is a kickass woman with a sword and fans liked it, so it was a good choice on their part. But after that came a lot of stupid confusion and I pulled her from the 'JSA' book so that I could use her for my stories, with the intent to offer her back to those guys for a few months before her death but the thing is that we plot at different rates. They were so far ahead of the game that it was impossible to put her in their stories because they were just too far ahead with the planning. So it would have been ideal to have able to tell them a few things to do with the character in their series but she was going to die and we never had much of a chance to explore her that way. They just plot so far ahead that it was hard to integrate the changes and they probably saw it as another character being pulled away from them- as was done with Black Canary- since it was still a secret at the time that Hippolyta was going to die. This ultimately lead to her not being used to her full potential in JSA simply because they didn't have time to use her a lot."

Throughout his tenure on "Wonder Woman," Jimenez has kept himself updated on the reactions of the fans and summarizes how he thinks that they have felt thus far. "Initially, I think that people were very excited about me coming onboard the series because I'm such a huge George Perez fan [the legendary writer/artist who revamped Wonder Woman] and so they believed that my Diana would be exactly like his, but the disappointment of 'Gods of Gotham' [Jimenez's first story arc] left people a bit dubious about my future work. Then with the civil war in 'Paradise Lost,' when I started making big changes, people got scared and suddenly people's enthusiasm started to wane. But as the run itself has been up and down, so have the fan responses. For the most part though, Wonder Woman fans seem to think that the book is better than it has been in a long time but has had its problem and been uneven, which is very true." It also surprising to note that Jimenez found that fans were still discontent when Perez came back to collaborate with Jimenez on "Paradise Lost," with Jimenez saying that, "Even with him onboard, man fans were outraged simply because I changed things."

But how does Jimenez himself feel about his work this far? He has been quite candid about the fact that there have been disappointments and while he is pleased with some of his work, the majority of it hasn't been as he envisioned. "Most of it is a disappointment," admits Jimenez, citing two factors as the reason why, "The first reason is that whenever you get a project that you look forward to and it doesn't play out the way that you imagined, you start to see the flaws and glitches more predominately, leaving you feeling a little disappointed in the end. The second reason I've been disappointed with my work is simply because of the flaws and glitches, some of which were under my control and some that were not, but ultimately all of which ended up in print and that makes me sad." Before anyone thinks that Jimenez sees no redeeming qualities in his work on "Wonder Woman" or hasn't had fun on the series, he is quick to add, "There have been some positive points as well. The goal I had in mind was fairly ambitious, namely being given only a year to turn around the book, realign Diana's universe, kill a major character [Hippolyta] and while parts were a lot bumpier and it all could have been a smoother ride, whenever I leave the book I know that it will be in a better place. All the various runs on the series no longer contradict themselves, Diana now has a consistent vision and mission statement and I've also really upped the ante with her rogues gallery, so I think some very positive things have come of my work. It was an ambitious project and I'd rather have ambitiously failed than to have an un-ambitious success."

[Wonder Woman #170]
The cover to Wonder Woman #170. Art by Adam Hughes.
"I also got a lot of press, doing interviews with a lot of media, which was fun and matched by the equally fun opportunity to work with Wonder Woman during her 60th anniversary! Despite some problems, it wasn't a bad 60th anniversary and it could have been a lot worse. There are some issues I really like, with me developing an especially strong fondness for issues #170-#173 and while the civil war wasn't terrible, even though the coloring was responsible for blurring some of the visuals, it is hard for me to count it as one of my favorites because I see the art with the color and it kills me. But I did want to be part of a crossover that was very successful and I think that my parts of 'Our Worlds At War' were very successful."

In the end, Jimenez sees his tenure as successful with some unexpected problems and really feels like he is hitting his stride in his second year on the series. "The first year was about spending my time to fix the problems as opposed to this second year that is going smoother because Diana's world is now in place," explains Jimenez. "My mission statement, a place in which I think I succeeded even though it was bumpier than I wanted it to be, was to create a more consistent world for the character and wrap up all the different versions into one and then clean up the universe, which I did and at least got the universe to a place where I could work with it. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved with integrating two major crossovers, losing a major character, dealing with production problems and crabby fans, as well as my own expectations, which unfortunately could not be met all the time since they were pretty high. Also, having 3 editors in the first 3 months of my run did not help either. My hope for the first year was to fix her in terms of all obstacles and with the second year, it is more smooth and fun, which I believe is truly reflected in the stories. It's not about fixing continuity as much as saying, 'Let's take her here and see what this does.'"

"If I were to look at things that I wish I could change in hindsight, they would probably be the things I couldn't control since those made me the most angry. In the Bat-Story, so much of it had to do with outside editorial control and not my own lack of control over the story. In issue #175, I didn't have control and the way it played out wasn't really up to me. The things that make me most angry about my run were things that I did not have control over, with pacing even being an issue because Hippolyta was slated to die in a certain issue so all the stories I wanted to tell with her had to be wrapped up in a certain issue and then she was to die. Remember, my run was only meant to be 12 issues initially, so I had cram so much into that finite amount of issues, leaving me without the opportunity to really plan long term subplots because I had to have everything wrapped up."

As you all know by reading this interview, Jimenez's tenure on the title was extended past the twelve months but when his exclusive contract with DC expires, he isn't quite sure what he'll do after that. "My contract expires in the spring and we'll see if I resign from the series, I'm not sure," concedes Jimenez. "It'd be fun to do some other stuff and wrap up 'Wonder Woman' after the summer. Someone mentioned this to me, and I'm finding its true: I definitely like playing with Diana's world and like writing her character too, but as is the case with Batman or Superman, they are fairly stagnant characters. However, their worlds present me with a lot of opportunities and I'm excited about still working with her world, not so much her, because you can do so much more. So if I could hand her over to someone like Greg Rucka and then explore her world, I'd be quite happy. For example, the new Paradise Island has so much potential that I want to explore and I can't put her on it, simply because people expect her to be fighting crime in the real world. My goal is to have a run of comics that for the most part people have a good time reading and feel were worth their time and money, something they could really invest in and really look back at the past couple of years positively as a good time. More than anything, a reason I want to get off while its good and nor wear out my welcome is because I'd love to leave on a high note so that the bumps in the road look less bumpier in retrospect. A good example would be the recently released trade paperback 'Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost,' the Batman story reads a lot better than when it first came out and fans look at it as not perfect, but as fun and now some fans are happier with it. Really, I just want to have setup a good foundation for whomever comes on the series after me."

[Wonder Woman]
Wonder Woman by Jimenez.
Before Jimenez goes, there is one thing he does intend to do: introduce four page backup stories in "Wonder Woman" every month with the focus being on Diana's sister Donna Troy (aka Troia). "They start with my first fill-in issue, 'Wonder Woman #178,' and they are going to be a lot of fun. Since there is no page increase, I'm just making sure that the lead story is all about Diana and keep the big focus on her. I actually just reread a John Byrne issue of 'Wonder Woman' where Diana is only in the comic for one page, which is what I intend to avoid by keeping Diana as the star for at least 14 pages or so. The backups will be fun and adventure filled, not too heavy with politics, so I hope that people have fun too. You'll here this a lot from me but the artist, Roy Martinez, is doing a great job."

"DC wanted me to do fill-ins to keep my artistic presence on the book and so I decided to use those fill-ins as a backup story. I think that DC was surprised at how well my 'Wonder Woman' sold and they were trying to find a way to keep me at the forefront of the book artistically. Troia is a popular character, a popular member of the Titans and probably my favorite character in comic books, so it just made sense to use her. The idea was to originally start with Donna and start using other Wonder Woman related characters for the backups if need be, but I don't think that is going to happen."

But comic books are not the only place to find Wonder Woman these days, as she is starring in the wildly popular "Justice League" animated show that airs on the Cartoon Network. "My original thought when I saw the show, specifically seeing them in action made me realize how powerful they are and as a result, how impractical they are as a team," says Jimenez of his reaction to seeing the show. "As a team there is nothing on the planet that can stop them! I think that everyone involved is producing fine stories but I'm not sure that all characters translate well into that style. I'd like a more representational style: Batman works excellently but I'm not sure if Wonder Woman or Green Lantern do, but that's just a pet peeve. It's a fun show to watch and people seem to like it, so that's all that matters to me. I love the fact that Diana stole the tiara and costume from Paradise Island in the first arc, it makes me laugh hysterically, but I'll be curious to see what the upcoming 'Paradise Lost' story does for Diana, but I hear that there isn't much to differentiate her from Hawkgirl since they are both 'tough broads.' I love that Diana gets explored, mind you all I know about her is what I've read so it's a bit shaky at best but I just keep reading about how she will be this snobby, pampered princess and I think it is a bad idea because that stuff always translates into 'bitch.' The last thing we need is a 'bitchy' Wonder Woman."

When he isn't busy creating the comics he loves, Phil Jimenez manages to find ways to fill up his free time. "I have been very keen lately on museum hopping and taking a look at real art [laughter]! I'm having a great time doing that and I'm also going to the theater tomorrow. I'm also a movie fanatic, with my favorite movies always including either cheerleaders or some animatronic monster. Seriously, I'm looking my DVD collection and it is hilarious: 'Aliens,' 'Deep Blue Sea,' 'Robocop,' 'Terminator,' 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer,' 'Bring it On' and etc. I also love movies like 'Moulin Rogue' or 'Fight Club,' but I really loved 'Gosford Park' and I also really liked 'Lord of The Rings' a lot. I know most people didn't love this movie, but I thought 'Final Fantasy' was unbelievable and to the people who walked out saying, 'Ugh, it didn't look real enough,' I wanted to strangle them and say, 'You get on a computer and do that!' I was just awed by the technical exercise related to that movie. Also, I fondly recall 'Memento.' I also go to the gym but I just hate it. On the other hand, I love to travel, though I haven't been able to for recent months but I hope to soon, and I guess I don't have small hobbies though I do collect books ravenously: give me a book sale and I'll go crazy. I'd love to have the most ultimate reference library! Dinosaurs also make me happy and with recent events, politics are on everyone's minds and I've found something I really enjoy. I really love reading the New York Times on Sunday mornings, though I know it sounds cheesy and I've been doing a lot of political reading."

Jimenez is also loath to really hype his work, explaining why he isn't comfortable with gratuitous self-promotion. "As much as I love talking about my work, I'm about as self-involved as possible, I'm always aware that my work is flawed. I'd tell a new reader to read a few issues and then get back to me on it. It's easier now because I love the fill-in artist and it's easier to recommend the book based on his work because it is fun, rollicking issue as opposed to having to promote my own work. As much as I can talk about my work, I have a very hard time hyping my work."

As the interview comes to a close, Jimenez has parting words for all the readers and one specific person in general. "I really want to thank Andy Lanning, my inker and co-writer/inker of 'The Legion,' because he always does such a great job and makes my work so great. I'm always amazed at how much he can enhance my work and how much he contributes to the overall production. To everyone else readings, I always say to anyone who chooses to spend money or time investing in my work, thank you. I'm basically living out a fantasy, living in a lovely apartment in a lovely city and people choose to spend their hard earned money and time to let me entertain them. All entertainers have a responsibility to do their best, though it isn't always possible, but even with the bad part of our work on 'Wonder Woman,' we worked as hard as we could to make it as good as possible despite outside circumstances. I've been lazy on other projects I admit, but not on 'Wonder Woman' and I'm not cranking out a project just to see someone spend $2.25 of their hard earned money on it. I've put as much as I could into the project and will continue to do so."

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