Last fall, I wrote a series of in-depth reviews of the George Perez run on Wonder Woman that launched the second volume of that title. One of the reasons why I wrote those reviews was that I had been re-reading those issues. Well, I kept on re-reading the rest of the series though I no longer posted regular reviews on my process. I’m all done now and I’m ready to rank the runs I read. For the purpose of this list, I’m intentionally ignoring temporary or fill-in runs such as those by Christopher Priest, Brian K. Vaughan or Walt Simonson. That leaves only six runs of any significance: George Perez, William Messner-Loebs, John Byrne, Eric Luke, Phil Jimenez and Greg Rucka. Without further ado, it’s on to the rankings.
What’s Good: If you read my reviews from last fall, then you
already know what I think is good. First and foremost, there is the incredible
George Perez art. There’s such attention
to detail, such beauty, such variety of panel and page construction. But the George Perez run is not just about
the beautiful art. Perez also does an
excellent job of world-building. He
crafts four separate environments for Wonder Woman, each of which has their own
complexities, relationships and distinctiveness. There is Olympus and the pantheon of the
Greek gods; there is Themyscira, Paradise Island
What’s Not Good: I have two complaints, one of which is minor; the other more significant. The minor complaint is that, like a lot of ‘80s comics and television shows, George Perez’s Wonder Woman had a certain earnestness when dealing with social issues that sacrificed story for message. The more significant complaint is that the run went on a little too long. The last year, from issues 51 to 62, were confusing, especially when Perez tried to use Wonder Woman as an anchor for the “War of the Gods” crossover.
What’s Good: The Greg Rucka run on Wonder Woman is so good that I honestly went back and forth on whether or not I should rank it ahead of the George Perez run that started the series. Rucka did a great job of updating Wonder Woman’s setting. He gave modern looks to the Greek gods, including businesswoman pantsuits for Athena. He developed the new Amazon power structure, with Philippus and Artemis in charge and the blacksmith Io as our window on that world. And most importantly, he gave Wonder Woman an embassy staff, as any ambassador would have. That resulted in both human and political perspectives to her activities. The interactions in the embassy became a highlight of the title. Rucka also did a great job of introducing a new nemesis for Wonder Woman in self-made businesswoman Veronica Cale, as well as other new threats such as Medusa, Maxwell Lord and the OMAC Project.
What’s Not Good: So what held me back from declaring the Greg Rucka run number one? Well, first of all, he was building on the foundations that George Perez established. It’s hard to ignore that. For another, whereas Perez’s run went on too long, Rucka’s was cut off too short. That’s not entirely his fault. DC re-launched the book after Infinite Crisis. But it does give the run a certain unfinished feeling as Rucka wasn’t able to deal with the repercussions of the stories he had written.
What’s Good: When taking over a title after a popular run, it’s often a good idea to take the book in the opposite direction. William Messner-Loebs did that. Perez’s run, especially towards the end, was a little light on action and a lot light on fun. Messner-Loebs emphasized both. For action, there was a great outer space adventure in which Wonder Woman led a slave revolt. For fun, there was a Joker story and a sub-plot about Wonder Woman working in a fast food joint. The Messner-Loebs era was also noted for some great art: Brian Bolland provided covers throughout and Mike Deodato joined as the regular penciller for the latter half of the run. Indeed, those later issues with Deodato aboard are considered the highlight of the Messner-Loebs run with the introduction of Artemis, Hippolyta’s betrayal of her daughter Diana and Artemis’ stint as Wonder Woman.
What’s Not Good: The run could be a little inconsistent. Messner-Loebs took a couple of issues to find his feet as a writer. Later, he created lame villains like Mayfly. Plus, during the Artemis as Wonder Woman story, he tried to parody the then-current chauvinist heroes with massive muscles. Unfortunately, that’s a subject that’s hard to parody without falling prey to doing the same things. It’s a very good run, but it’s not near the level of either Rucka or Perez.
What’s Good: This is easily the most-underrated run on the title. Eric Luke’s run is so underrated that it’s practically forgotten. That’s partly because it’s so short. Luke only wrote 18 issues over 2 years. It’s also partly because Luke isn’t a well-known comics presence outside of this title. He’s not a “name” writer. Plus, like Messner-Loebs, Luke was paired with an excellent cover artist: Adam Hughes, who’s beautiful “good girl” covers brought more attention to the title than Luke’s stories. But for all that, Luke turned in a very good run on Wonder Woman. The best thing that Luke did for the title was to introduce a new set of villains. He started with Devastation, whose origins and powers mirrored Wonder Woman’s even as she was her opposite in other regards. Devastation looked like a little child but had the ruthlessness of a veteran villain. Luke expanded from there showing that Devastation was but one child of Cronus, the elder god who was overthrown by Zeus. Luke gave Cronus an entire family of accomplices, matching the earlier family of Ares. Besides the new villains, Luke also introduced a new set of allies. Rebuffed by her own gods, Wonder Woman looked for help from the other pantheons. She found an ally, and a love interest, in Rama, an avatar in the Hindu pantheon. This is what I loved about Luke’s run. He expanded Wonder Woman’s world with new villains and new allies and new gods. Personally, I think that Rama was the best love interest in the entire series, even if his appearance was brief.
What’s Not Good: Like Rucka’s later run, Luke’s time on the title was too short. For Rucka, that meant that his run felt unfinished. For Luke, that means that his run lacks scope. He was really only able to develop the one major story with Devastation and Cronus. He didn’t have the chance to explore other situations or feature other villains. It’s hard to claim that such a short run with such a narrow scope should rank ahead of other runs that simply did more. Plus, two of the most memorable stories of this era were written by others: Mark Millar’s fill-in one-shot focusing on Wonder Girl and Superboy, and Brian K. Vaughan’s two-part follow-up featuring Clayface.
What’s Good: First and foremost, there is the Phil Jimenez art. Jimenez carries a heavy George Perez influence. The resemblance is so strong that Jimenez has occasionally completed Perez’s work and Perez completed some of Jimenez’s work on Infinite Crisis. For Perez fans, there was a real nostalgic appeal to Jimenez’s presence on the title. Jimenez also took a fanboy’s approach to the title which resulted in a lot of guest-stars, such as Batman and his allies in the opening arc “The Gods of Gotham,” Lois Lane in “A Day in the Life” and Superman in “Our Worlds at War.” Later in his run, Jimenez also brought a level of fun that even surpassed Messner-Loebs. It’s hard to beat the scene in which Trevor Barnes has to keep track of miniature villains, rampaging dinosaurs and Nazi spies. Finally, Jimenez was the only Wonder Woman writer to really incorporate Donna Troy into the cast as Wonder Woman’s sister. Perez used her as an occasional guest-star. John Byrne gave Donna her own mostly separate story. But Jimenez wrote that sisterly relationship better than anyone else.
What’s Not Good: Phil Jimenez’s fanboy approach had a bad side as well as a good. The title was occasionally self-important and Jimenez didn’t always move the action forward. This was especially apparent in the first arc, “The Gods of Gotham,” but it became an issue in the latter Skartaris story against Villains, Inc. as well. Plus, Jimenez tried to introduce a new love interest for Wonder Woman in Trevor Barnes and didn’t handle it well. Fans didn’t see why Wonder Woman would be interested in him. And just when Jimenez started to give him some personality, Barnes would quickly revert to whining and complaining again. Guest writer Walt Simonson would partially redeem Barnes after Jimenez left the title, but the relationship simply didn’t work the way Jimenez wanted to while he was writing it. The title was also damaged by forces outside of Jimenez’s control, as crossovers like “Our Worlds at War” and “Joker’s Last Laugh” interrupted his big Circe story. I could go on, but that’s enough to recognize that there’s a huge gap from the underrated Eric Luke run at #4 and the Jimenez run here at #5.
What’s Good: I once read a comment by Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse comics, in which he disparaged Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman. I took umbrage at that comment, because there are a lot of good things about Byrne’s run. Even so, Byrne’s run ranks at the bottom of the list. What was good? Byrne introduced a new supporting cast in Gateway City (a DC simulacrum for San Francisco) after the Boston cast had been mostly ignored by Messner-Loebs. This supporting cast eventually resulted in a new Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark) and a love interest for Wonder Woman (Mike Schorr). Byrne also intended to raise Wonder Woman’s profile in the DC Universe, and had her fight other heroes’ villains such as Darkseid, The Demon and Doomsday (though not the real version of the latter). Plus, I really liked the story in which Diana died, ascended to be a goddess and watched as her mother filled in as Wonder Woman.
What’s Not Good: A lot of things. Convoluted explanations for other characters including Hippolyta’s time travel to become the World War II Wonder Woman and Donna Troy’s multiple lives torture at the hands of Dark Angel. Art that often looked unfinished as Byrne refused to use an inker, resulting in many panels that had no backgrounds at all. A supporting cast that was often annoying and occasionally overwhelmed the lead- which was especially the case when Byrne tried to establish a love relationship between Helena Sandsmark and Jason Blood. Byrne’s run wasn’t all bad. He did give us a new Wonder Girl and a World War II Wonder Woman, after all. But it wasn’t all good either.