The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia

Review by KC Carlson

Jeez, I thought the Essential Batman Encyclopedia was huge.

Del Rey/DC Comics’ new Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia tops out at almost 500 pages. This makes it 100 pages longer than 2008’s Essential Batman Encyclopedia, and more than 250 pages longer than the original 1976 Michael Fleisher book (upon which this new volume is based). Granted, they’ve subtly opened up the format a bit to allow for more illustrations (hundreds, plus two 16-page full-color sections), and this book is slightly less claustrophobic graphically than the former. But it is still packed with all the information a Wonder Woman fan or scholar could ever need.

The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia cover
The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia
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Covering all things Wonder Woman since her comic book origins in 1941, the Encyclopedia includes — in great detail — everything about her origins, her family, the gods, her loves, her enemies, her supporting characters, her powers, her tools (magic lasso, bracelets, invisible plane), her relationships with other DC characters, and every facet of her long and winding career. Over 20 pages alone are devoted to detailing all the various incarnations of the Amazing Amazon, from the Golden Age to present day, as well as all her alternative and Elseworld versions.

The book is the product of years of research and writing by Phil Jimenez and John Wells. Both authors are I what I like to consider “secret weapons”. I got to know Phil Jimenez when I was editing DC’s Secret Files series, and Phil volunteered to do multi-character pin-ups for me. For groups of characters. For groups of hundreds of characters. Pin-ups that included every Legion of Super-Heroes member or every Justice League member. And then a separate pin-up of all the Justice League villains. “Do you need a list of characters?” I would ask. “Nope, I’m good,” Phil smiled. And a week later, he was back with a two-page pin-up of several million (give or take) Justice League villains. And damn, if he didn’t get them all! We have a name for people like that in the comics industry — Insane!

When he isn’t busy researching, Phil is an in-demand comic artist and writer himself, with stints on The Invisibles, New X-Men, Infinite Crisis, Amazing Spider-Man, and Astonishing X-Men, as well as his lengthy and acclaimed run on Wonder Woman from 2000-2003. John Wells is even more of a mystery, as very few DC staffers have ever met him. Yet he had everything about the DC Universe on his personal computer. A massive database of information that he has assembled over many years of collecting and research. Over the years he has assisted Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Bob Greenberger, and (indirectly) myself. In his spare time (!), he generally writes the best hero histories for Back Issue magazine.

The artwork selected for this volume is incredible as well, stretching back to the Golden Age and the earliest work of Wonder Woman’s first artist Harry G. Peter, to work by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Mike Sekowsky, José Luis Garcia-López, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo, Don Heck, Gene Colan, George Pérez, Mike Deodato, Brian Bolland, John Byrne, Terry and Rachel Dodson, Jim Lee, Alex Ross, and Adam Hughes, as well as many, many others. (Over 150 artists are acknowledged in the book.) Hughes provides two all-new covers (one is for the limited edition Diamond Previews Exclusive Hardcover, as shown here).

Wonder Woman Previews version cover
Previews Exclusive Hardcover

Current Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone provides an entertaining and informative Introduction, explaining precisely how wide-ranging (and daunting) a character Wonder Woman is. She may be the character with the most complex history in all of comics. Besides being rebooted and retconned numerous times, Wonder Woman also has long periods of her history where she is not portrayed by her usual alter ego — Diana Prince — and a couple of these weren’t revealed to the readers until years after the fact. (The actual origins of the Diana Prince personna are unique and bizarre as well.)

It’s a major tribute to the authors to present all the differences between Earth-1 and Earth-2, between Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis, as well as pre- and post- Infinite Crisis, in a really clear and precise manner. It is however, quite frustrating to read all of the qualifiers, especially time and time again. In a way, and this is no fault of the author/researchers, the book is also a testament to just how difficult the continuity of the current DC Universe is to comprehend when you have to look at the bigger picture. Even these wise and intelligent authors are smart enough to occasionally (thankfully infrequently) say the politically correct “remains to be seen” (aka “we don’t know yet”) in the text. It’s a shame that they have to — largely because the current decision-makers at DC haven’t actually figured out all of the ramifications of the most recent life-shattering, continuity-defying events they’ve thrown at their characters. For example: Wonder Woman’s specific history as a Justice League member. First she was a founding member, then she wasn’t, now she is again. Simple enough, but somebody replaced her in the League (Black Canary) in the previous ret-con. So what happens to her history?

If you’re upset that your particular history/continuity question isn’t answered here, don’t necessarily blame the researchers. They can only report on what is actually on the printed page of their research texts. Which is why you get entries that read: this is the history of this character, until this event happens and this, this, this, and this changed. And then this event happened, and this and this changes and this changed back to the way it was originally. And then, this event happened, which changed this and this, but not this, and this may be different as well, but we’re not really sure yet.

Needless to say, please read “How to Use This Book” on page v before diving into the book. It’s essential reading.

When I say the book includes everything (except certain continuity matters), I mean it. I was initially disappointed that there wasn’t an entry for Robert Kanigher, the longtime Golden and Silver Age writer/editor of Wonder Woman, who actually became a character in the book in a particularly silly Silver Age story where he memorably fires virtually all of the equally silly characters who had populated the book for years (including all the Bird-Boy, Mer-Boy, and Wonder Family characters — who do have entries in the book!). But, lo and behold, he is referred to (although not by name) in the entry for The Glop. A fitting tribute to a very silly (but very memorable!) period of Wonder Woman’s history.

The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia is a good book. A fun book. A heavy book. And an occasionally frustrating book. Eveything a comic fan should want!

(The publisher provided a review copy.)

Similar Posts: The Essential Batman Encyclopedia § Good News for Wonder Woman Fans § DC Puts Wonder Woman on Sale Online § Justice League: Doom Pictures and Casting News § Proof That Superheroes Are Mainstream


One Response to “The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia”

  1. Wonder Women by Phil Jimenez « stormantic Says:

    [...] piece by a consummate artist.  For all the information you could need (and more!) check out the The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia written by Phil Jimenez and John [...]

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