By Ritesh Babu
Endings reveal a whole lot about us. Beginnings tell us who we want to be but endings tell us who we were, and there’s few endings finer than this one, wherein Greg Rucka bids farewell to Wonder Woman.
It was his first run with the character. He wasn’t blessed with artistic collaborators who were there from the start to the end, so there’s plenty of people coming in and leaving, and artistic inconsistency is baked in. And it’s also the run to finally cap off and end the long WW volume that began way back in the ‘80s under the stewardship of the legendary George Perez. It’s not a perfect run.
When I first read it as a new reader, though, I certainly believed it was. I was terribly enamored with it. But now, looking back on it, and revisiting it, what fascinates me endlessly about it isn’t the supposed ‘perfections’, not the great big successes. It’s the failures. It’s the numerous flaws and obvious failings and it’s all the things wrong, messy, and incomplete within the work. #225 isn’t, obviously, the final issue of the volume, #226 is – and that, too, is written by Greg Rucka. But while the latter operates as a stand-alone one-shot spanning Diana’s history and relationship with Superman, this is the actual ending. The issue after needn’t even be a WW issue, but a separate one-shot, as it’s merely a lead into the event Infinite Crisis (which we’ll touch on a bit more). So for all intents and purposes, this one’s the big ending. And it’s… a very special kind of ending.
Greg Rucka had been fired off Wonder Woman at this point. He had years worth of plans, plot points to address, messes to fix, and character arcs to complete, but none of that mattered, as he had been told he was done. So the ending here is deeply revealing, as it’s a heart laid bare. This ending is entirely about failure, letting go, and acceptance even in the face of the harshest circumstances. Even its very title is telling: Nothing Finished, Only Abandoned.
Rucka’s run was a sprawling urban fantasy epic, full of Athenas with Laptops and other divine beings living in mundane modernity, arriving to a world enamored with American Gods, and lining up with the timing of a generation of young readers just picking up paperbacks of Percy Jackson novels. It was also the most overtly political the book had gotten, opening on the premise of Diana writing a book of essays which triggered a whole right-wing backlash as conservatives lost their minds at the thought of Amazonian philosophy.
Throughout it all, Diana ran her embassy and dealt with everything thrown at her – from libel and slander to all kinds of misogynistic rhetoric. And then, all of a sudden, the threads of Infinite Crisis worked their way into the run. Diana would kill Maxwell Lord, which would be publicized, helping set part of the stage for that event. And this, this is perhaps the greatest expression of failure.
The story, as intended by Rucka, was going to be that Diana did what she did NOT because of ‘I do what needs to be done’, but because she couldn’t bear to see her best friend in the world, Superman, tortured by the terrible, perverse and painful mind-control of Lord. So in a moment of terrible weakness, after being brought to her lowest point over the course of the run, she makes this error. Rucka intended a journey where this was the focus, wherein Lois would tell Clark ‘You idiot. Can’t you see why she would do that? She did it because she loved you.’. And love not in the romantic sense, but the way you love a true friend. Alas, that wasn’t how that played out and it wasn’t how the moment was read. It was read as Diana being a brutal killer and monster and – much like the many characters in the DCU who believed that notion – so did a great many readers. So the road to failure began there.
Diana, this icon of love, mercy, compassion, had been misread and the narrative of her as ‘cold, badass, warrior’ was hotter than ever. Rucka, on his end, felt like he was an arse to the character. He felt awful. He felt the work was deeply damaging and there’s mountains of regrets there, in terms of how things played out. A quote that perhaps sums up the ethos of heartbreak that is at the crux of this issue and finale is this:
The ending was written long before the first chapter was known. Yes, the ending was written long ago. But this is not the ending… only an ending… one of many.
The whole thing is framed as such: the Amazons are now gone, after being attacked by armies hell-bent on destroying them and their ideals. Themyscira has retreated beyond Man’s World and is hidden once more and The Old Gods will soon follow. Their time is at an end. As war rages, as hatred grows, Diana is alone, and must remain alone. She’s lost everything and what she already hasn’t lost, she will lose in a moment. So the entire story here takes place in-between moments. Before that final beat of total loss and after the despair of what has already been taken sets in. It’s like a breath, the calm before the storm. The cool conservation and reflection on an entire era, on a run, on a whole period, its mission and its ultimate failure. That’s what the team of Rucka, Richards, Snyder, Horie, and Klein opt for.
And so, as Diana stands, broken more than ever, having faced loss and pain beyond measure. Artemis The Goddess Of Wisdom, asks Diana the question that’s on the mind of every reader, having seen how much Diana has had to bear:
And the answer is at once obvious and devastating. Hope, obviously. Duh.
‘Hope’ is one of those very obvious buzzwords that gets used often in stories, especially superhero stories. They’re terms with a broad meaning and are thus an easy shorthand to use. But almost always, when used, they feel utterly meaningless. What the heck does ‘Hope’ even mean in the context you’re using it in? The team here actually makes the effort to contextualize what they mean when they use that word. And it is far more affecting than every generic Superman story determined to use that term to signal that it ‘gets’ it. Hope here isn’t defined as hollow ‘everything will be a-okay’, it’s that that will likely not be the case. The world is messy, people are messy and you will relentlessly have your heartbroken. You will be hated, you will be feared, you will face so, so much more cruelty, even more than you have before. The circumstances are awful, it’s as bad it’s going to get, or so it seems before it likely gets worse.
So what do you do then? How do you go on? And most vitally, how do you go on when you yourself have utterly failed? When you have failed to live up to the ideals you have been preaching; when you have screwed up badly; when people will always use that against you. ‘Hope’ as contextualized here is a belief that things can be better, even in the face of all this terribleness. It’s not naivete, it’s wisdom. It’s about how impossibly hard it is to love when things are at their lowest point. It’s faith in the face of failure.
And that’s what is so relentlessly beautiful to me here. Success is easy – heroes succeed all the time. It’s comforting to read stories of heroes succeeding, winning, changing hearts, winning, all of that. But it’s when they’re unable to do that, that you see their heart laid bare. It’s only in the face of failure that the real truth emerges. Success is easy to handle. Failure is difficult to deal with. What you do, who you are, in the face of failure reveals your soul, it shows your essence, not only all you’ve wanted to be, but who you have been and can be.
The story of Diana having utterly failed? Having lost everything, having broken the words by which she lived, breaking down in front of her maternal figures, the goddesses who gave her powers? It’s devastating, yes. But it’s also inspiring in the way few stories are. She has tried so hard and she has failed so badly. The mission’s gone awry (for both her and Rucka) yet somehow, despite all this, she still believes things can get better, and she will not give up on the belief that we can make a better world. That we can create change, where everyone is treated fairer, better, kinder. It’s the moment where the character is solidified in the greatest way for me. It’s easy to hold onto and preach your ideals when things are going well, it’s when they’re really not that it’s hard. Every hero needs a test and Diana’s test was brutal, harsh, and terrifying… but despite that, she made it.
Diana has always been astonishing, but nowhere is she more astonishing than in these moments, where she has nothing and has fallen. Even when all is lost, when everything has been stripped away, when there is no witness, no hope, no reward, she still goes on. She carries an inner hope for betterment, even as no hope seems to exist. It is beautiful to see, and it is impossible to read this issue without sobbing, as you watch Diana herself sob.
Even as she’s lost everything, she does everything within her power to ensure those she cares for lose nothing. It’s only fitting, then; that after she has given all there is to give and sacrificed all there is to sacrifice; the people she’s helped and inspired stand before her. They grant her faith that is far greater than any she ever had in or for herself, and they tell her this matters – they tell her she matters. Her mission may have ‘failed’, but amidst that failure there were achievements, too. There were hearts won; people inspired – and if it was only ever one person, that would be enough. That would be more than enough. But it was far more than one. It was legions.
It’s okay to fail, as failure is the greatest teacher. Failure gives us a chance to re-assess, re-focus, change, grow and reflect. Even from the depths of that failure, there may be something that arises to help pave the way for a new, better future. Failure is a lesson.
And that’s what this run and this final issue ends up being, both for Diana and Rucka. Whether it’s the legions Diana inspired (who hold copies of her book of essays, titled “Reflections”) or the legions Rucka inspired and touched, who show up to cons with books of Wonder Woman. The failures taught us something and we can use that to do better, and make better art. Certainly, in Rucka’s case, that proved more than true, as he returned a decade later to Diana for a run that fixed a number of his errors and refined his approach.
That’s why there’s a terrible thrill in reading this issue. It’s genuine, it’s honest. It’s a creator reacting and weirdly bridging the gap between him and his character and the things it espouses are deeply true for both of them. It’s okay to have failed and messed up – the vital thing is standing back up, putting yourself back together and being able to hold onto your ideals and values, so you can do better and be better. That’s what Wonder Woman’s all about. It’s about standing up when it’s hardest, it’s about loving when it seems most difficult and it’s about enduring, even when it feels pointless. That’s the price of a better world.
Wonder Woman #225: Nothing Finished, Only Abandoned
Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciller: Cliff Richards
Inker: Ray Snyder
Colourist: Tanya & Richard Horie
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Ivan Cohen
Ritesh Babu is a writer and critic whose work has been featured in publications including PanelXPanel, XavierFiles, and Adventures in Poor Taste. To find more from Ritesh, you can follow him on Twitter here!
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