Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies, is a challenging book, and I sense it's the start of more challenges to come.
Rucka's first Wonder Woman run is among my top favorite comics runs, and coming as it did during DC Comics's pre-/post-Infinite Crisis heyday that included Rucka's semi-connected runs on Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, and Checkmate, not to mention his Gotham Central. For this reason I received the news of Rucka writing the Rebirth Wonder Woman with much excitement and I've been anticipating this collection for a while, even as I'm aware you can't go home again; Rucka's short Blackest Night return to Wonder Woman, for instance, didn't quite capture for me the original run's magic.
I was going to note that the first "regular" chapter of Rucka's The Lies (after the Rebirth special) offers scant dialogue from Diana and focuses more on Diana's supporting cast than the hero herself, and that continues for a bit before Diana comes to the forefront of the story. That's difficult, even off-putting pacing, requiring more of the reader than perhaps a jumping-on point necessarily should. At the same time, I'm reminded that Rucka's original first Wonder Woman issue didn't have Diana on screen until the last two pages, though that one issue on its own felt in many respects more full than the entirety of Lies.
This is to say that Lies has a slow build, and while we have indication from Rucka's past work that a slow build can pay off, the build here is pretty slow -- six issues and the Rebirth special mainly just to save Steve Trevor from danger. Rucka's choice to tell parallel stories in Wonder Woman's twice monthly issues is an interesting one, but whereas with Batman for instance the double shipping finds us speeding through the storylines, there's an extent to which Rucka's story is told even slower than normal because we have to wait until the third volume to resolve anything set up here. And I'm also unsure if this format might read better in single issues than trades; I sense occasionally here I'm missing information that might be being related in flashback in the even-numbered "Year One" issues.
And all of that refers more or less to the surface challenges facing the reader in Rucka's Lies, without even beginning to unpack the relationships between the characters, what Rucka necessarily casts as the "lies" here, the sheer depth of the continuity sinkhole this story opens up, the gender politics, the references to Rucka's past runs, and what swipes Lies does or does not take at other teams' Wonder Woman work. All of that and we're only at the beginning.
[Review contains spoilers]
At the outset I'll say that the moment in Wonder Woman: The Lies that felt most to me like coming home was when Rucka had Diana, Etta Candy, and former Cheetah Barbara Ann Minerva out shopping for clothes for the newly-human Barbara Ann, and as the store is slowly mobbed by the curious, Diana ventures out to greet a mall-full of her fans. This is Rucka's "classic" Wonder Woman to a T, a woman who despite growing up as a princess mostly sees herself as a normal person, slightly discomfited by the fame her life has brought her, but who embraces it not, as Etta explains, "because she thinks she has to," but "because she knows what it means to [the public]" that she offers her time and attention. Comparisons between Rucka's Wonder Woman and Brian Azzarello's are inevitable but to some extent unfair (I'm an avowed Rucka fan and I also liked Azzarello's run very much), but one thing we can say is that Azzarello's scope was somewhat focused, borne mainly of what Diana meant to one person, Zola, and Rucka's previous run had an exceptionally large scope, often how Diana and her actions were perceived by the entire world. Though in Rucka's new run we also see a focused scope -- the core cast of Diana, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, and Barbara Ann Minerva -- it's in this scene that we get the first sense of where Rucka's Diana past intersects with Rucka's Diana present.
Again, setting aside both the Cheetah storyline and Diana's quest to uncover her own true history, the connective thread of Lies is the re-establishment of Diana's relationship with Steve Trevor. To an extent I'm surprised Rucka sailed this ship (no pun intended) that quickly; Lies establishes right away that Diana and Steve share an almost psychic connection, suggesting they're meant to be. That ties up the Wonder Woman character in a romantic relationship pretty early, and one that makes any other future romantic interest hard to believe. Rucka himself has pointed out DC's previous hesitation to portray Diana in romantic (and especially sexual) relationships, but I'm not sure the New 52 Diana going straight from Superman to Steve Trevor is the solution either (I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of this is mandated by the forthcoming movie storyline).
Rucka does believably portray Steve as Diana's equal both physically and psychologically; he loses no ground in being saved by Diana but can also hold his own, and as Diana frees the young girls kidnapped by Cheetah's demigod warlord, Steve quips about the man's "toxic ideas of masculinity." Though there is some aspect of flirtatious irony here, Rucka's dialogue when Diana and Steve kiss seems pulled from a modern day consent guide (not that there's anything wrong with that): "I am going to kiss you now, Steve." "I am entirely okay with you doing that, Diana." One senses from various interviews and controversies that Rucka has in mind to present a fully twenty-first century Wonder Woman with as few exploitative elements as possible, up to and including entirely revamping her origin, and so I read aspects like this as intentional, a Diana and Steve who typify everything the modern social movement teaches us about equality.
At the same time Rucka's Steve Trevor is one of Lies's many puzzling aspects. Late in the story Steve and Diana discuss her relationship with the post-Flashpoint Superman, now deceased, with Steve noting "I'm not really up on everything that's been going on there." It's an odd statement given Steve's rather central role the past half-decade as ARGUS's liaison to the Justice League, who knows everything that's been going on including forming a League of his own, and it's weird that Rucka suddenly presents Steve as now a military solider working under Etta Candy, who used to be his assistant. I grant of course that some of these changes might be coming from above Rucka, and/or that Rucka has a right to change what he pleases at the start of his run, and/or also that the fact of the DC Universe: Rebirth special gives writers a little license to alter continuity around the edges (Tom King's Batman is another example of this, even though the Rebirth special really granted no such thing in-story).
Setting all of that aside, however, for Rucka to give Steve that line is so out of Steve's character that it's hard not to read it as Rucka's own sentiments, an instance (one of relatively few) of Rucka decrying what came before, essentially the New 52 as a whole. But this is not so simple when it comes to Steve. The Wonder Woman: Rebirth special and other scenes seem to present as our options either the Azzarello New 52 Wonder Woman origin or the George Perez post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin, with Rucka favoring Perez. But that would exclude Steve; the Diana/Steve relationship, such as it is, is wholly a construct of the New 52 unless one wants to go back thirty years or more to their pre-Crisis affairs. Though meant authentically (unless we're in for a really big twist), Diana's relationship with Steve is incongruously one of the very "lies" that Rucka's new run seems intent on setting aside.
The "lie" the title actually seems to refer to, revealed at the end, is that Diana has never actually returned to her home of Themyscira all the times she believes she's gone there. A key point of Rucka's story already is to underscore an oft-overlooked aspect of Diana's origin, that when she left Themyscira with the marooned Steve at the outset, she did not know if she could return; as such, built in to Diana's origin is her selfless devotion to others over herself. But the "why" of Diana leaving Themyscira remains unclear, something Rucka will hopefully answer in Year One, as I'm not sure we ever learned this in five years of the New 52; at present, we know Diana sacrificed, but not why she sacrificed. And again, the possibilities for how much Rucka does or doesn't want to roll things back are great. Depending on whether the New 52 Diana is also the post-Crisis Diana (as various "shards" of memory seem to suggest), "never" having been back to Themyscira could refer just to the New 52 Diana's interactions with her blonde-haired mother Hippolyta (and, as I hope, the dark-haired Hippolyta is waiting for her somewhere, having not seen her since Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol. 2*) or it could refer to all of Diana's visits to Themyscira post-Crisis and post-Flashpoint, making the "real" Themyscira entirely Rucka's construct-to-come. No doubt Rucka has a plan, but the readers stand on the precipice of a continuity rabbit hole right now that we can't yet see the bottom of.
Rucka muddles it all further with his use of Veronica Cale and Sasha Bordeaux, two of his most notable character creations from the Detective/Wonder Woman/Checkmate runs. Even as I might say it's OK that Rucka's Rebirth Wonder Woman includes less walk-and-talk than his original run, being less West Wing-inspired and so on, Rucka positioning Cale as the bad guy again begs these comparisons. Cale's presence is further evidence that Rucka intends to reel back Diana's history to its pre-Flashpoint status -- essentially, to pick up his Wonder Woman run where he left off before with Cale as the antagonist. That doesn't bother me necessarily if done right; if Rucka's going to use the same villain as before, I'd as soon this story be connected to what came before than for Rucka to tell two stories that independently use the same villain. And I can't help but wonder if Rucka is simply messing with the audience by bringing back fan-favorite Sasha Bordeaux only to swiftly reveal her as Cale's lackey and then seemingly kill her off (this being a cruel but clever tease); another, more optimistic, possibility is that said rabbit hole goes so far down as to resurrect Sasha and Rucka's Checkmate by the time we reach the end.
Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies emerges then as a book that, all else aside, requires more than the usual effort for the reading alone, unfolding slowly and with attractive but somewhat staid art by Liam Sharp that furthers that sense of slowness. Layer on top of that again the social undertones of the Cheetah story, the wobbly continuity, and Greg Rucka's red herrings, and it's not the least surprising that Lies might give the neophyte reader pause -- except that, for someone coming in to Wonder Woman fresh, I expect this Rebirth version better resembles the forthcoming movie than a version with greater New 52 trappings would. I'm on board with what underlies Rucka's Wonder Woman this time, I'm pretty sure, and eager to see what Rucka has planned. There's a lot of this we're probably not going to be able to assess until this about the third or fourth volume out.
* For reasons deserved and not, J. Michael Straczynski and Phil Hester's Wonder Woman: Odyssey has a bad reputation, but I continue to think highly of it, and after over five years the ending -- the end of the last issue of Wonder Woman before Flashpoint -- still gets me. And I quote: "Let my mother's words stay with me through whatever follows. She will always be my mother. I will always be her daughter, Diana of Themyscira. Live or die, we remain Amazons. And I will always be Wonder Woman."