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Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in 'Wonder Woman: Evolution'

Comic Books

Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in ‘Wonder Woman: Evolution’

It’s a new day for everyone’s favorite Amazon.

Sometimes a book just feels special even before anyone reads page one. That certainly seemed like the case with Wonder Woman: Evolution, which is in stores starting today (November 16).

Not only is any new Wonder Woman story/series cause for celebration, but a lot of that has to do with the actual creative team. Writer Stephanie Phillips is coming in hot from her mostly excellent ongoing Harley Quinn series. Meanwhile, artist Mike Hawthorne left Marvel, having worked on titles like Deadpool and Daredevil, and landed at DC with a book about one of the Big Three.

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But all of that is inevitably just well-placed hype, and once you delve into the book’s first issue (there’ll be eight total), you get the real sense this is, indeed, a special book. As the story slowly unfolds — Diana is abducted by unseen forces to “navigate a series of perilous challenges” — you begin to understand not only the moral and ethical issues being explored here, but what could be a brave new chapter for Wonder Woman at-large. It’s a modern-day superhero story with some truly interesting stakes.

To better understand the story, I spoke to both Phillips and Hawthorne via phone early last week. Even in a 25-minute conversation, we talked about their work together, how they each approached the Wonder Woman character and mythos, what we can expect from the rest of the story, and much, much more.

Wonder Woman: Evolution

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: What’s the origin of this story? And did you develop it individually and bring it together or hash it out as a unit?

Stephanie Phillips: I love this idea of humanity being on trial. Initially, I was really interested in looking at heroes in 2021. The last few years have been really difficult, and you get these new reports on climate change, and the world is changing around us. And I think we’ve seen this at other periods, and how superhero comics have responded to them throughout history is really interesting to me. I really think we’re at one of those moments, and Diana being really just one of my favorite characters of all time, it’s so interesting to me to explore how this hero would respond to these moments.

It clearly took a different shape from there, especially once Mike and I started kind of working on this together. Mike and I molded it into what it is like what we wanted to explore about those concepts together, especially in the design elements. Mike has been really conscientious about how that fits into the larger story we’re telling in just really amazingly cool ways.

Mike Hawthorne: If we’re a team, I think Stephanie’s the quarterback. She came into this thing with a very clear idea and a very clearly built world. So it was relatively easy for me to just jump in and do some scribbles and say, ‘Hey, does this work?’ So I didn’t feel a lot of pressure, and it felt like it was already there. I just had to sort of jot it down for everyone. Then we would discuss what to do next. But it’s a real, real concrete, world building style to her and her writing. So that makes my job very, very easy. It makes me look like I know what I’m doing.

AIPT: And speaking of the design, let’s talk about that. Mike, how deliberate were you in terms of how you wanted things to look and feel, and maybe some inspirations or influences you were culling from?

MH: I sort of knew I came into this knowing specifically I wanted to do a Wonder Woman book, which was it’s weird that that was the first thing DC offered me after Marvel. The look of it is something that came out of some sketchbooks I had worked on. My wife’s from Greece, so we spent a summer there years ago. We had all the kids there and went and did all the traditional touristy things, although I’m sure they got on her nerves. I wanted to see it all, and so visiting the Acropolis and seeing the sculptures and then hopping on a train, where you’d see people who look just like the sculptures. It felt a little surreal to me.

So I always promised myself if I did a Wonder Woman book. It would be this version, and to be perfectly frank, I did not think I’d ever get a chance. I thought for sure someone at DC or Stephanie would would would see these sketches and be like, ‘No, she doesn’t look like that. She’s not quite like Wonder Woman enough.’

I knew specifically I wanted to sort of reach all the way back to ancient Greece and the canons of proportions they would have for how to create a heroic character. In anatomy, we talk about canon of proportion, rules for how to draw the figure and body parts. And the rule of thumb is like seven heads, 7.5 heads for a regular person and go as much as 10 for a heroic figure. Wonder Wo man didn’t look like a normal person walking around. She was unusually tall, and ready to fight like all the time.

Stephanie has that beautiful scene that she’s written between Diane and Clark. I sort of downplayed how muscular and big he was, because I wanted him to still look like he maybe didn’t belong in the same room as her. He’s just this farm boy, right? So everything had to work against her.

Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in 'Wonder Woman: Evolution'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Let’s talk about that Wonder Woman-Superman moment. Why is that so important and so dynamic, and what does it say for the larger story or the narrative in general?

SP: It was really interesting to listen to how Mike created this visual kind of juxtaposition between the two characters. I think having them in conversation in that moment, offers more of that juxtaposition. Like, this is how Clark sees humanity. And Diana has this ruthlessness, like like Mike said, this kind of like made to be a warrior. Whereas Clark has this really embedded sense of humanity. Even though he isn’t one of us. He’s the best of us. And that’s really fascinating to me. And just one of the things that I love so much about Superman. But it makes Diana so much more interesting in contrast, because the journey that she’s about to take, well, there might be some more Superman along the way, it’s not going to be in the way that we just saw.

So I want there to be that contrast set up for what their dynamic is currently, and how Wonder Woman is in relation to other heroes on Earth. We get this sense that her journey, which is going to be a very personal journey, would be very different than if Superman went through this or Green Lantern or anyone else. This is going to be very specific to Diana and how she potentially fails at different things and then reacts to that failure. You know, how her and Clark are viewing something as simple as their roles on Earth, I think will matter a lot for what Diana is about to experience.

AIPT: Speaking of that, reading this first issue, I was also thinking about her role in events like Metals and Death Metal. Wonder Woman was a stand-in for a lot of ideas about humanity and our worth. Why is she such a great stand-in this way?

SP: I think, on a very personal level for Diana, that question becomes what is her place in this? I think Clark has defined his place a little bit more, and he’s more comfortable with that role. Whereas Diana exists in so many different realms. Like, she’s in the Justice League with human and hangs with gods at times. Look at her amazing New 52 run, where she’s literally with all of these mythical gods. And I think that’s something about her character that is really fascinating. But it’s often at war with all those different factions. So trying to have her at the center of this and say, ‘Where do I fit into those pieces?’ While this giant cosmic entity is also asking this not just of her but of humanity at large. Where does humanity fit into the larger scheme of what’s happening in the universe? And then where is Diana centered within all of that? So it’s kind of asking that question twofold, and forcing Diana to think about that in a very personal way.

Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in 'Wonder Woman: Evolution'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

So I think she enters this with a very warrior mindset of always [being] ready for a challenge. I’ve got a weapon, I’m good, like, let’s go save the day. Let’s save the world. But then question and the trials, I think really put put the onus on her personally, and that makes her more uncomfortable. Because if you can’t just fight the big bad monster, smash your way out of it, then what? The more reflexive thinking is uncomfortable, because it’s something that Diana has never been particularly steady about in her own life. So we’re really pushing her in that sense. I think it’s almost like two concurrent storylines, where you do have that larger idea of where do our heroes fit in 2021? How do they respond to our current world situation? And then how does Diana respond to this? Because it’s different, like I said, and it’s very different than Clark or some of these other heroes. That’s what makes Diana really interesting — to see her responses.

AIPT: Obviously, Wonder Woman has had some added attention in recent years with the two movies. Even if you’re not referencing them specifically, do this impact your work at all? Do you feel like you’re writing to be more or less accessible to fans coming in from the movies?

MH: I don’t know that it’s come up other than in a particular scene, which I can’t address at the moment, that has a little bit of a of a flavor of the movie. But outside of that, I don’t think think we’re really going in that direction of do we want to make it accessible to people who just watched a movie and want to read a Wonder Woman book? I think, honestly, there’s going to be some parts of the book that might confuse a filmgoer, because that’s the way Stephanie is writing this thing. There’s so many layers of complexity that go way past what you get in the movie, where she’s a heroine and she’s super strong. It’s kind of a very simple way to go about that character.

This is a character that, unlike Clark — not to bash that story on the head too much — Clark desperately wants to be accepted by humanity or represent humanity in a way. I think Diana is OK being better than us because of course she is. That’s something that I tried to bring across in her body language. That’s from being in a Greek family, where the Greeks are not shy about telling you, ‘We’re amazing. If you can’t figure that out. I guess you’re stupid.’ if you read this thing when you come to it from the movie, then I think you’ll love it. But it’ll reward you for investing more time in it and reading it and looking into the nuance and seeing what Stephanie’s trying to do with a character that has so much more to her than ‘I just hit things and I have a shield.’

Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in 'Wonder Woman: Evolution'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: I love this Superman depicted here, and I think there’s a kind of balance to him here. Like, I get the whole Boy Scout act a little better now.

MH: Yup. Because let me tell you, years ago, before I signed my first exclusive at Marvel, I got offered a Superman book and ended up turning it down to stay on Deadpool. I did an issue or two of Action Comics and an event thing with Cyborg Superman. This isn’t anything against the writers, but I just thought I don’t get this guy. It genuinely took this version that Stephanie’s been able to flesh out. I get him now and actually might have a Superman story in me.

AIPT: Stephanie, a lot of people know you from your Harley Quinn series. Harley and Diana are diametrically opposed, but do they maybe share some things in common? Do you feel like you’ve taken something from one to the other?

SP: It’s really fun to get to write two of the most distinct female characters in the DCU. Both Harley and Wonder Woman in the two stories that I’m working on are really being pushed and challenged. Harley’s on this redemption journey, and we’re giving her every obstacle we can possibly think of to make this really difficult for her; this is not going to be an easy path. She probably doesn’t deserve an easy path after everything that she has done. I fully believe that there is lots of trauma, and there’s lots of things that Hurley needs help with. But she has also very knowingly done bad things. So this is not going to be an easy path. She is going to fail, and she has failed already in this run. So what what I’m interested in is how Hurley reacts to that. Kind of similarly, when Diana fails, what does that look like? How does she respond to that? They respond in very, very different ways. But I think that’s what makes them unique — what does that failure look like? In what ways can we push them to kind of define themselves, their morality, and what they stand for?

But at every point, Wonder Woman is like, ‘I am Wonder Woman’ — it’s that confidence Mike was talking about. She knows this, and she knows she’s going to kick somebody’s butt. But what happens when that’s not the narrative, and that’s very deliberately what we are trying to give Diana: this narrative can change. Not every story has this rise of action and the climax and the hero’s journey and the success where great evil is defeated. What happens when evil is not doomsday or Lex Luthor, or something that’s so easy to pin down and punch in the face? What happens when evil is this more pervasive thing in society? I think right now we kind of have another moment of how do you have heroes address the things that are going on around us? Other [creators] are doing a great job of this as well, like John Timms and Tom Taylor on Superman: Son of Kal-El. I think we’re going to start to see more about how are these heroes being pushed into what we are responding to as a society? And I’m really interested in that.

Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in 'Wonder Woman: Evolution'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: We’re coming close to our time. As a kind of final tidbit, what we can expect for the rest of this story (without spoiling too much, of course)?

SP: While this is a story with plenty of butt kicking — I was just telling Mike the other day about how his action sequences are just mind-blowingly cool — I hope that we have created something where these action sequences are also really meaning something to the character of Diana growing in our minds as as readers and fans. So we will also have a lot of cameos guest appearances, because we are really exploring her character.

Once you get to the end of this series, and you kind of see where we are taking it because I think there’s a bit of a mystery. (Again, if we’ve done our jobs, right, there’s a bit of a mystery about kind of what we’re building towards.) I don’t think the movies can give readers this kind of engagement where, because Mike knows where we’re headed in this story, he can go into like issue one and hide things or seed things.

Wonder Woman is all about the truth, and so the truth is there. The readers might not see it, though, until they get to the very end and realize what the truth has been that we’re building toward the entire time. But then once you go back and read it, you can find these cool things that that Mike has hidden that I just think are so brilliant. I’m really excited about that, because it just really feeds into this theme of truth, which is so Diana. We are definitely giving you the truth from issue one. You just might not see it until it’s literally in front of your face.

MH: We’re definitely trying to make the thing reward you on rereading the story when you go back into it. I also want to touch on the action scenes, and it’s very kind of Stephanie to mention my goofy approach to action scenes. What I enjoy about this book is Stephanie is not writing a boring comic, even though there’s going to be more quiet moments in it. I’m not a big fan of talking head comics, and there’s a lot of important, heavy discussion going on in there. But she always writes it in a way where there’s something visually interesting going on. I appreciate that immensely. You can look forward to that and have subsequent issues where she’s always giving me interesting stuff to visually play with.

It feels like three issues worth of stuff per issue, and it can be challenging to draw. But I think the payoff is going to be if I do my job, which I don’t always do it so well, I think it’s a special book. I think Stephanie’s doing a unique thing. I’m super excited to be just a tiny part of it.

Stephanie Phillips, Mike Hawthorne talk growth and heroism in 'Wonder Woman: Evolution'

Variant Cover by Riley Rossmo. Courtesy of DC Comics.

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