G. Willow Wilson’s current Wonder Woman run has pitted the Amazons against one another and pushed Diana to her psychological limits in ways that have surfaced complicated, human emotions in her. She’s every bit the badass warrior we’ve always known Wonder Woman to be, but Wilson’s spent time trying to dig into the flesh and blood person she is beneath her magical armour.
I spoke with Wilson earlier this week about the series’ newest arc, “Loveless.” She explained how, in taking a step back to think about the big picture of what Diana’s meant to embody on the page, she felt as if there was a choice opportunity to better explore the human substance of the hero’s identity — the things she shares with mortals that make her both powerful and deeply fallible. Raw humanity’s always been a part of Diana’s interior self, Wilson said, but her goal with “Loveless” was to bring more of that reality up to the surface where we can’t look away from it.
Pulliam-Moore: Something I’ve really loved about your Wonder Woman run is the space you give Diana to sit with and reflect on the fullness of her emotions — particularly ones that others might see as negative from their perspective because they can only know but so much of what she’s feeling. Talk to me about how strike that balance on the page, between Diana’s interior monologue and having people react to her outward presence.
G. Willow Wilson: You know it was a really difficult balance to strike and I think it took me a while to get there. She’s not an easy character to write because the temptation is to make her too perfect because that’s kind of how she seems. She has a very different arc from the other two characters we think of as being part of the Holy Trinity — Batman and Superman.
Batman is kind of a classic anti-hero, and so he has characteristics that we can really empathise with. Superman’s this kind of Masks of God by Joseph Campbell figure. He grows up is this very ordinary kind of Kansas farm boy, but then discovers belatedly that he has this other destiny.
He’s like Harry Potter, and King Arthur, and characters like that who really kind of strike a chord that I think we understand because in our heart of hearts we all hope that “Hey, maybe one day somebody will call me up and say I’m the sole heir of this alien planet.” That would be really cool. But with Wonder Woman, she knows who she is from birth.
Pulliam-Moore: What were the core elements that defined Diana in your mind before you wanted to deconstruct her in this new arc? Who is this Diana?
Wilson: She’s sort of born into this aristocracy — very law-driven, august, and stringent rules about character and behaviour and purpose. She’s trained by the best warriors not on Earth, but another Earth. So there aren’t a lot of dips in that character arc, so to find that interior life where she gets upset, where she maybe doesn’t always make the best decision, where she gets irritated with people for not being able to keep up with her? It’s a challenge. It was difficult to get to because you want to have that. You want to show a whole person with a range of emotions and at the same time, you don’t want to damage her.
Pulliam-Moore: And that’s the needle you’re trying to thread.
Wilson: Right, right. Because you want to keep that glamor and that aspirational quality, but at the same time, let her feel things. Let her be disappointed. Let her be scared or unsure or not know what the right thing to do is in certain situations. That’s the way that we have to get inside that character, and I think that’s really powerful.
Pulliam-Moore: And, so to dovetail that with last question, talk about the new conceptual space you’re pushing Diana into with “Loveless.” It’s subtle at first, but you’re doing something really fascinating with the core ideas with Diana’s abilities.
Wilson: I wanted to poke around a bit with the definition of what her real powers are. She’s got the very obvious ones: Super strength. She can fly. She kind of has superspeed, but that varies from one run to another. But I was kind of interested in figuring out what her kryptonite is. What’s the Achilles heel she’s always had that she’s never known about?
And I ultimately decided on emphasising a superpower that she takes for granted and we don’t even register as being a superpower. That was the genesis of the “Loveless.” When Cheetah gets her hands on a weapon that can kill a god and she uses it to murder Aphrodite, love itself goes out of the world, and that’s what reveals love to be this thing that’s always made Diana such a powerful warrior.
Pulliam-Moore: As surprising as Aphrodite’s death was, by the time we get to the end and you see with the title the arc is, you get it, conceptually. But it made me think to myself like what does it mean for love to go out of the world? With Aphrodite’s death, is it just specifically that the love aspect of Diana’s power set is gone, or is it literally that without Aphrodite’s presence love as a concept is something that just kind of fade from existence?
Wilson: The more I thought about this, the more interested I became in the idea that when love’s what motivates someone’s actions, it can make them dangerous. Lethal, even. It’s different than having some sort of code to fall back on like obeying the laws of chivalry because there’s a raw, uncontrollable element to it.
For Diana to lose the superpower that she doesn’t even know she had really throws a wrench in the works of her entire identity. She doesn’t realise how much her emotions power her. She loses that edge over her enemies in battle, but it also affects the way she interacts with us because love is really what empowers everyone to become heroic when they need to be.
Pulliam-Moore: In a practical sense, how are we going to see the fallout from Aphrodite’s death aside from Diana’s powers and sense of self being on unstable ground? What impact does the loss of love have the rest of the world?
Wilson: What you’ll start to see in issue #77 and going forward is that the feeling has kind of vanished from the world. And this causes a very particular kind of fallout that I had to think about because I think it’s tempting whenever you shake things up in a superhero book to frame it as “Ooh, the world has come to an end!” And that’s not what this is. It’s a very quiet kind of apocalypse.
What happens when parents no longer love their kids? What happens when that reason that we make sacrifices — small sacrifices that keep the world going — disappears and everybody retreats into selfishness? What does that look like? How does that affect Wonder Woman’s ability to function in the world?
It was a really interesting high concept to try and show on the page, and at the beginning the story was much larger and I wanted to go big with it. But as time went on, I realised the story became stronger the more I shrunk things down and made the consequences feel more intimate and immediate.
Pulliam-Moore: Right, and the subtext that you get from seeing a handful of small, interpersonal apocalypses like, you get the sense that it’s a widespread phenomenon. Everyone’s relationships are falling apart in those little, devastating ways.
Wilson: Exactly, and that’s what so frightening about Aphrodite’s death. It affects everyone in some way.
Pulliam-Moore: You’ve obviously been having a lot of fun with Cheetah — what, to your mind, makes her such a compelling villain to write?
Wilson: It’s her ambition. Cheetah’s really, really driven. She thinks she’s been shut out of this destiny that she really wanted — she wanted to be among the Amazons on Themyscira. Her willingness to sacrifice anyone and anything to get that is what makes her a supervillain, I think.
Emotionally, she’s really interesting and I think that in her we can see the dark, but understandable parts of ourselves that we don’t always like to admit are there. Every time you think about undercutting someone to get a promotion or any of the things we do to rationalize to ourselves as being OK in the end, because they’re serving our immediate desires. That’s Cheetah, hyped up to the nth degree.
Pulliam-Moore: I know you’re not working directly with the new Ms. Marvel project, but your baby Kamala’s all grown up and heading to the world of live-action superheroics. As someone who’s been with this character from her inception, what do you really want to see for her in this new incarnation?
Wilson: I’m really really interested to see how this character is portrayed on screen, because when Sana Amanat and Adrian Alphona and I were developing Kamala, we intentionally made her a comic book fan’s comic book character. She has a power set that I really am glad it’s not my job to bring to a screen because it won’t be easy.
Her back story makes use of, and reference to, many, many different sort of pop culture nuggets that worked very well as kind of visual jokes on a comic book page, and I don’t know how those are going to translate to the big screen, or if they’ll even try. So it’s really been fascinating for me to see this character for whom our ambition was very much about the books and metatextually making a comic book hero who is also a comic book fan.
How is that going to translate out of this medium into one that is much more universal, much more global — one where those references and riffs might not translate? Conceptually, she’s not an easy character to bring to the screen big or small, so I’m really interested to see how this Kamala will be similar and different from the Kamala of the comics.
More than anything else though, this has all been a pinch-me moment because when we were developing the [comic] series, the goal was to get to 10 issues and to see this all play out six and a half years later is so far beyond my wildest dreams.
Pulliam-Moore: Last thing. I’m curious: What’s lighting you up these days? What has you energised creatively?
Wilson: [Laughing] I suppose that we are kind of in a golden age of indie comics right now. There is really incredible stuff coming out, and I love it so much of it is stuff that I can read with my kids — I have a six-year-old and an eight-year-old.
I didn’t really become a comic book fan until I was older than they were because when I was a kid we were in the middle of kind of the grim, gritty phase and most superhero comics were very explicitly not for kids at that time. And so the fact I can read Amulet or the Prince and the Dress Maker with them has just been so much fun because they’re getting into the medium as fans for life.
They understand what I do in a really concrete way, and we’ve been able to connect in a way that’s really, really valuable to me.