Shea Fontana Writes The Quintessential Diana In Wonder Woman #26
by Noah Sharma
On the tails of Wonder Woman’s first feature film and an epic run from the writer most trusted to pen her stories, DC Comics had a choice of where to steer the title next. Much ink has been spilt discussing their choice to turn the book over to James Robertson in order to sell it on the hype surrounding the “Darkseid War” story from Justice League. How it once again entrusted the world’s biggest female superhero to a male voice, how it subjugated a champion of women’s empowerment to an essentially hypothetical male counterpart, how it demonstrated a greater faith in Geoff Johns’ writing than Patty Jenkins’ film. Regardless of the optics, however, there would have to be a writer in the interim. And that honor falls to Shea Fontana.
Best known for stories based in the DC Superhero Girls line, Fontana comes to the book at an awkward time. Despite being in the zeitgeist within comics and without, Greg Rucka’s continuity light approach to his run and the impending arrival of Robertson leave her little in the way of time or context. So what is a writer offered the chance to write one of the greatest icons in comics to do? Write Wonder Woman.
From start to finish, Fontana writes the quintessential Wonder Woman. From a never-ending struggle against the ravages of human evil to respected meetings with everyone she meets, to moments of dignified personal connection, this issue represents so much of what the modern Wonder Woman is while still finding room to put its own spin on her.
Fontana’s Princess Diana is a being apart from humanity but never separated from her own. She is at once supremely confident in her, not inaccurate, knowledge of what she can do and self-deprecating in the impossibly high standards that she holds that power to. At once military and humanitarian civilian, Diana’s role takes on subtle tones of tragic Hellenistic heroism, a shield against the invader at the gates, buying time for humanity to save itself.
Luckily, through it all, Fontana retains the character’s empathy. Wonder Woman is a person who wants to save everyone. You see how desperately she fights and why. And though she is distant, some might even go so far as to say awkward, her interactions reveal a reserve of warmth and love that keep her from seeming as haughty as Superman can seem or as compulsive as Batman. The resulting mixture plays up Diana’s regal elegance in text, but offers her plenty of vulnerability in its subtext, calling to mind countless women nearly everyone has known, if not recognized, through time who work and fight and remain strong long after the men around them would have invoked the right to throw up their hands.
Unfortunately, while the closeness to a Platonic ideal of Wonder Woman is impressive, it is a double-edged sword. For many of the present day sections, any time a new idea is not being introduced, the story feels a bit generic. The result, possibly intentionally, is very ‘Wonder Woman 101’. Nevertheless, there’s just enough of a spin on the familiar ideas to keep the issue from ever getting truly boring and, by the end of the issue, you’ll be plenty invested.
The duality of Wonder Woman is highlighted further by a flashback to her childhood years. Here most clearly, Fontana demonstrates her ability to find the relatable within the fantastic. Hippolyta’s struggles as a mother make a shocking amount of sense in the context of Themyscira, but will likely be familiar to any parent. After all, I imagine every first time parent feels like they’re stalking uncharted ground.
It’s really a very obvious and integral part of Wonder Woman’s story, but I actually can’t remember ever seeing it explicitly before and Fontana integrates it in such a way as to back up its novelty with meaning and purpose.
Fontana, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also really good at writing children. The present day scenes may actually lean into the ‘perfect’, ‘boring’ interpretation of Diana, but readers will be hard pressed not to identify with her as a child and that connection colors everything. It’s a nice way to have your cake and eat it too, especially in a fairly short story like this one.
Wonder Woman #26 is also unique in that it is an actual ‘all-ages’ comic. Contrary to the traditional usage of the term, older readers and long time fans will find nothing that removes them from the issue’s intended readership, but neither will they find any reason that a child of an appropriate reading level couldn’t enjoy it as much as them.
It’s amazing to have an issue of the ‘real’, official Wonder Woman again that one could hand to a young girl. And that does seem to be very much intentional. Though its unclear how much is homage and how much is great minds thinking alike, Wonder Woman #26 is highly reminiscent of the recently released feature film.
Though Fontana’s take on the fully formed Diana is very different from the wide-eyed Wonder Woman seen in the film, they share the same ethos. The scenes on Paradise Island also share a great deal, with a similarly tenacious young Diana and a nearly identical sense of the Amazon culture. To be honest, the issue replicates much of what was right and wrong with the movie, with the Amazons getting a less than favorable depiction but offering a truly wonderful look at Diana’s childhood self.
For any strengths or weaknesses, this is how you follow-up a smash-hit movie. “Heart of the Amazon” will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s seen Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and it builds upon that framework to naturally introduce readers of all ages to the Amazon Princess’ comics status quo.
Mirka Andolfo’s will be a familiar name for readers of DC Comics Bombshells and Ms. Marvel, both titles that make perfect sense for a Wonder Woman artist. Unfortunately, what works on those titles isn’t quite a perfect fit for this one, leaving this issue with a somewhat fractured aesthetic.
Put simply, chunks of this issue don’t seem polished enough to headline one of DC’s Trinity. Andolfo’s Wonder Woman can be uncomfortably elastic and, while it sure beats having the same problem with women, pretty much all of the men in this issue look off. Especially without his beard, our lone appearance of Steve Trevor is nearly unrecognizable save for Fontana’s narration, looking more like an unrelated character or an odd take on John Constantine. The same earnest, youthful style that works so well for the Bombshells’ Batgirls falls flat here, especially as colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr., another talented artist who seems to struggle in similar places as Andolfo.
These problems appear early and doggedly show up throughout the issue, emphasizing them for the reader, even after stronger art begins to appear to counterbalance them. The presence and placement of these artistic issues within the story hurt the overall sense of quality and could easily convince prospective readers that this was viewed as filler at DC. And that’s a shame as, not only are all of the creators proven talents on other titles, but this is a fantastic opportunity for DC to expand the readership of their titles.
For any faults, pretty much everything on Themyscira looks fantastic. Andolfo and Fajardo draw a particularly strong Hippolyta, loving and honest, and the scenery quietly sells both the age and the beauty of Paradise Island. Andolfo also draws children very well, a talent that meshes with Fontana’s writing and comes into play again towards the end of the story, where the rising tension and charm allows her art to carry you away.
“Heart of the Amazon” could easily slip your mind, hidden in the shadow of Rucka’s return or Robinson’s controversy, but that would be a shame. Though the art is hit and miss, I’d argue that this is exactly the Wonder Woman comic that DC should be publishing right now. This first issue is effectively the archetypal Wonder Woman comic and, while that comes with a degree of familiarity, Shea Fontana cleverly sows the seeds of a bigger, yet more personal story into its pages while providing a long overdue look at the young Princess of the Amazons.