By Alexandra Lampp Berglund
An image of Wonder Woman evokes, just as her title alludes, wonder. She stands at six feet tall and wields a sword, shield, and golden lasso of truth. She wears the armor of a warrior, but she still remains conventionally beautiful with flowing black tresses and piercing blue eyes. Moreover, Wonder Woman is simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. She is kind to all she meets and protects mankind with a passionate fury. With these characteristics in tow, there is no wonder why Wonder Woman has become an object of such fascination and the topic of much discussion.
Wonder Woman and the sense of awe she inspires are in stark contrast to typical depictions of disability. Carolyn Cocca echoes this sentiment by asserting that “the words ‘superhero’ and ‘disability,’ at first glance, may not seem to go together” (“Re-booting”). It is difficult to associate Wonder Woman and her renowned visual representation with stereotypical characteristics of disability, as these embodiments closely align with the medical model of disability. This model assumes disability is the result of the impairment of bodily functions and structures that can be caused by disease, injury, or health conditions (Haegele and Hodge). Wonder Woman’s form does not outwardly show any of these “symptoms” of impairment, and she is resistant to injury. However, one comic sought to change this. With the latest reboot of DC Comics—Rebirth—the creators of Wonder Woman designed a storyline that features a disabled Wonder Woman. The seven-issue arc explores the events that cause Wonder Woman to remember her past, originally hidden from her, and grapple with her disordinate present and uncertain future. This process causes Wonder Woman to become temporarily disabled, unable to speak or seemingly process information. The story line in question brings forth a new entangled representation of disability and gender that promotes poststructural notions of existence.
While Cocca has extensively explored the near-erasure of Barbara Gordon’s disability in Batgirl and the problematic nature of this occurrence, this analysis will forego a discussion of the erasure of Wonder Woman’s disability in later issues (“Re-booting”). Additionally, this particular examination will not explore previous, renowned issues of Wonder Woman comics. The focus on a single issue of DC’s Rebirth is intentional, as The Truth, Part 1was released shortly after this reboot was unveiled and can serve as a representation of the creative and editorial choice to introduce a new and intentionally different comic universe. DC’s decision to completely relaunch each of its story lines signals an attempt to return to what DC publisher Jim Lee calls “the most Platonic, idealistic version of each of [the] characters” and what writer Benjamin Percy describes as “the greatest… story line[s they] could tell” (qtd. in Riesman). When considering the rebirth of Wonder Woman, the following questions arise: Why must Wonder Woman become disabled to reach this ideal? In what ways do disability and femininity factor into this quest to create a new, grandiose story line?
Specifically, this analysis seeks to unpack the ways in which disability and feminist theories intersect within The Truth, Part 1and how different elements of the comic enforce varying complex representations of disability and gender that work against traditional understandings of both societal concepts and push toward poststructural ideas. Through the use of line style, panel transitions, and word-picture relations, the writer, artist, and colorist collectively have issued a graphic text that visually depicts these new and defiant conceptions of gender and disability. Additionally, throughout the single issue, repetitive themes and reappearances of certain images create a sense of related narrative elements or general arthrology (Groensteen) that further result in a layered depiction of disability and gender. Throughout this piece, these elements of the comic will be analyzed and critiqued using the feminist theory of disability to explore the myriad ways the creators have sought to portray the lived experiences of both disability and femininity. Rather than providing a page-by-page critique, this examination of The Truth, Part 1will break down various aspects of the comic that are integral to this new portrayal of Wonder Woman, her gender, and her disability.
Images of Wonder: An Oscillating Icon
More recently, with the release of two major motion pictures of the same name as the heroine, Wonder Woman’s sphere of influence has spread and reaffirmed her presence as a staple in popular culture. Grossing over $412.5 million dollars domestically (Box Office Mojo), Wonder Woman (2017) inspired the creation of countless popular culture artifacts including clothing items, action figures, and household wares around the world. In addition to this merchandise, the first Wonder Wilm film sparked a worldwide phenomenon. Women wept in their theater seats, overcome with emotion. The film’s portrayal of a female character who possesses a strength that was both “inevitable and natural” had never before been seen by so many (Valenti).
Through this powerful representation on the screen and in comics, Wonder Woman has become a feminist icon. Throughout the seven decades since her creation, Wonder Woman has come to represent hope, power, and beauty. She has become a symbol of these ideals and “the reclamation of signs of femininity as empowering” for consumers of popular culture (Cocca, “Negotiating” 98). Carolyn Cocca contends, “while she conforms to traditional articulations of gender… she also unsettles gendered boundaries through performing a determined, astute, formidable warrior” (98). Through this questioning of gendered boundaries, Wonder Woman resides on the fringes of gender normativity. The ability to traverse back and forth between both conventional and unconventional gender roles elevates Wonder Woman’s powers beyond superhuman strength and the ability to fly. Wonder Woman is given the opportunity to occupy two spaces—spaces traditionally occupied by only one gender. Similarly, within the comic in question, Wonder Woman is seen to exist in between two other opposing realms: ability and disability.
Wonder Woman’s oscillation between the two sides of the disability binary veers away from the medical model of disability, explained above. Instead, this position is situated within poststructural perspectives of disability. The poststructuralist view of disability “destabilizes identity” and “risks denying the particularity” of the disability experience (Garland-Thomson, “Extraordinary Bodies” 22-23). Specifically, poststructuralism focuses on “how significant binary opposites are constituted through social, cultural and economic practices in relation to one another” (Goodley 58). Within Critical Disability Studies, both sides of the binary hold tension and can be dismantled. Operating under a poststructuralist lens, one can locate the power inherent in the first word placed in the binary: ability. In contrast, the second term in the binary, disability, is seen as having less agency. Despite this discrepancy, the binary is often “more flexible than one might think and operate[s] in subtle ways” (St. Pierre 481).
In this way, an analysis of disability “has the potential to fundamentally destabilise” traditional notions of both disability and ability (Goodley and Cole 4). This particular perspective of disability aligns with both Wonder Women’s transmutable gender identity and her capacity to show both her ability and disability in The Truth, Part. As José Alaniz, the author of Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond, writes, “Identity is not fixed but malleable” (129), and the creators of the comic in question accentuate this transformative, poststructural quality of the heroine.
Power, Beauty, and Mental Health: Feminist Theory of Disability
The visibility of Wonder Woman’s identity presents an intricate web of identity categories, showcasing the multiplicity of her character. This plurality alludes to the notion of intersectionality, which refers to the “various interacting factors that affect human lives and tries to identify how these different systemic conditions varying in place, time, and circumstance cooperate to reproduce conditions of inequality” (Goethals et al. 77). Within the realm of Critical Disability Studies, intersectional views attempt to acknowledge “multiple axes of difference” and avoid “binary data that only compares people ‘with’ and ‘without’ disabilities” (Goethals et al. 75). The presence of intersectional representation in The Truth, Part 1is a demonstration of the ways that disability and gender are intertwined and collectively shape Wonder Woman’s depiction within the text. Her outward appearance is impacted by comic creators’ perceptions and subsequent depictions of both disability and gender.
To examine these conceptions within the comic in question, I implement the feminist theory of disability. This theory seeks to explicitly expose “how experiences of disability and the social oppression of the disabled interact with sexism, racism, and class oppression” (Wendell 244). Pushing past traditional implications of feminist theory to focus on the broader implications of intersectionality, the feminist theory of disability exposes the ways that the gendered experience interacts with disability and additional human experiences related to the body. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson clarifies that the objective of the feminist theory of disability is “to augment the terms and confront the limits of the ways we understand human diversity, the materiality of the body, multiculturalism, and the social formations that interpret bodily differences” (“Integrating” 3).
In addition to aligning my analysis with the feminist theory of disability, I use disability, rather than the categorization of mental illness, as an attempt to incorporate conversations surrounding mental illness within disability studies (Aubrecht) and comics studies more broadly. The goal of this inclusion is, as Katie Aubrecht details, to “make mental disability something that can be viewed as ‘just-as-visible’ as physical disability” (31). Expanding understandings of disability is imperative, particularly in comics, because, as Scott T. Smith and José Alaniz explain, “Historically, superhero comics have typically represented disability in limited or stereotypical ways, much like other contemporary entertainments” (2). Pushing past these dated conventions of disability in both disability and comics studies presents an opportunity for scholarship to grow beyond “inherited [and] established traditions of our community and culture [that stem] from ableist assumptions about how people are supposed to look, think and feel” (Aubrecht 38).
Within The Truth, Part 1, Wonder Woman is portrayed differently than her traditional appearance that is informed by our ableist and gendered assumptions. Her appearance is dramatically altered, and a shocking portrayal is showcased as the cover image, an obviously influential feature of the comic. This picture is meant to grab readers’ attention and again cause a sense of wonder—but of a different sort. Wonder Woman’s usually perfectly coifed hair is strewn in disarray, and she is wearing a straitjacket with her arms bound. The look upon her face is not a look of confidence but a distant and confused gaze. The color of the cover is muted, featuring only beige and white, a juxtaposition to Wonder Woman’s black hair and the bright blue of her eyes and the title of the comic. A bright light shines from above, illuminating Wonder Woman’s disheveled appearance.
Alongside the work by the team commissioned for The Truth arc, consisting of Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, and Laura Martin, the variant cover designed by Jenny Frison also shows an image of Wonder Woman that differs from her typical appearance. While Wonder Woman is wearing her traditional costume of gold, navy, and red with the classic tiara emblazoned with a lone star, she doesn’t look like the heroine known to the masses. Her eyes look distant, and her face is tearstained. Again, the colors are faded, and the bright and bold color and line style of the classic Wonder Woman comics is evidently missing. Most noticeably, Wonder Woman is reaching out to touch a shattered mirror.
Breaking Down Diana: An Examination of the Line
This theme of breaking—a physical manifestation of Wonder Woman’s disability—is displayed on both the regular and variant covers and carried throughout The Truth, Part 1. Throughout the following sections, Wonder Woman will be referred to as Diana Prince, her alias. Within this arc, her persona is essentially split in two, consisting partly of Wonder Woman, the hero, and partly of Diana Prince, the patient in the mental health facility. Diana is the name given to her by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, at birth, and Prince is added when she enters the world of humans as a homage to her past, as princess living on a hidden island of Amazonians known as Themyscira. The use of Diana also accentuates her fall from power or the disabling effects that have been placed upon her, as Wonder Woman’s alias is often used to disguise her true identity as a well-known hero. Additionally, as a means to align with the comic text, characters within this comic use the alias to refer to Wonder Woman.
The continuation of the shattered motif presents a general arthrology or an “elaborated level of integration between the narrative flux… and the spatio-topical operation” (Groensteen 22). Throughout the comic, both the words and pictures accentuate the fragmentation of Diana’s mind and wellbeing. One such way the pictures highlight the breakdown of the character is through line style, as the use of the line is a way that artists “can evoke an emotional or sensual response in the viewer” (McCloud 121). The artist, Liam Sharp, has chosen to use a bold line, characteristic of contemporary Wonder Woman comics, particularly within the Rebirth storylines. However, within The Truth arc, lines merge and evolve into a unique shading technique. This style, when implemented, adds a darker layer not traditionally seen within previous volumes and those featured in Rebirth.
Seen first on the regular cover, this shading process promotes fragmentation and presents a sense of imbalance. The choice to heavily shade one half of Diana’s face, without doing so on the other side, indicates a duality or a multiplicity of persona. Throughout the text, Diana faces an internal battle as she learns of her own birth, a different origin than the one she had previously conceived. She does not triumph over this conflict in the The Truth, Part 1. Instead, Diana is forced to face the reality of her own creation and must choose which truth she believes. This internal struggle can be seen externally in the heavy lines featured in this shading technique. The lines added on the right side of her face take away from her beauty, an attribute of her femininity. This line style attempts to question traditional gender representations of attractiveness. Additionally, shading such as this acts as a visual signaling of her scars, the elements of her past that she must now confront. Scars are known as actual and metaphorical representations of emotional and physical trauma, both of which Diana experiences as The Truth plot evolves.
Substantial shading is used further along in the story, particularly when Diana is allowed outside her cell for a short respite in the garden. She is pushed in a wheelchair by a visitor to a large tree on the premises of the facility. The tree itself is another object that features Sharp’s heavy shading technique. Divided in two, the tree is heavily shaded on the left to the point where one side of the tree is shrouded in total darkness. From this darkness, different panels are formed. Spiraling out towards the edges of the page, the branches of the tree seem to move on their own, as the black coloring is outlined in a vivid red pattern. Within these divided panels, Diana experiences hallucinations.
These visions appear in the form of a snake that slithers out of her arm. The snake asks Diana, “How you doing kiddo?… Not at your best, from the looks of it?” (Truth 14). From the depths of her hallucinations, the snake questions her mental ability and reinforces the theme of fragmentation created on the page by the massive tree and its snarling branches that extend from a central location. The shading presents an avenue for the darkness to emerge, and the snake takes this opportunity to further disorient Diana. Forgoing an extensive religious metaphorical analysis, the use of a snake also represents the supposed weakness of women and femininity, as this biblical image pays homage to the original sin of Eve. Here, both the shading and images included on the pages work together to create complex representations of disability and gender.
Alongside substantial shading techniques, intersecting lines are drawn throughout the issue. Seen on the first page simply with the white, padded walls of Diana’s cell, these grids promote division and fragmentation. The gridding pattern is seen again immediately on the second page of the comic, as Diana is shown sitting in the corner of her cell. The grid of the walls surrounds her on three sides, and, in the middle of the room, light shines within from a window above. The window, too, is divided. Four panes separate the window into distinct sections. The light signals hope. Yet, Diana does not move towards it. She separates herself into another portion of the room, choosing to remain in the shadows. Again, Diana is asked, “How are you feeling today, Miss Prince?” by a doctor (Truth 2). This continued questioning of her well-being with a title alluding to her status as an unmarried woman presents an unlikely coupling of gender and disability in a single statement. Surrounded on all sides by padded walls, the extended speech bubble containing this query from the doctor pushes readers on to the next page to learn of Diana’s reply.
On the following page, the grids created by Sharp’s precise linework are used again as the reader’s view of Diana becomes closer and closer. As the reader gets closer, Diana’s body is split into separate panels. With this separation, the distinction between panel and linework becomes blurred as the grid of the padded walls bleeds into the black edges of the gutter. Moreover, within several panels, a rectangular shape has been drawn to represent a small door to Diana’s cell that can be slid open when the asylum staff wishes the speak to her. Mimicking the shape of the panel, these lines force the readers’ gaze to become a medicalized gaze—that of the doctor. The reader sees Diana as he does, as deficient, following the medical model of disability (Haegele and Hodge 195). This view of Diana continues through small chunks of space and time, all that the small rectangles will allow. Diana appears to move slowly and unsurely toward the light emitted from the window.
This gradual movement is set apart, as only Diana’s hand is then shown within the panels. Diana’s search for clarity and truth is the focus, as she reaches toward the light. However, in the final six panels of the page, this light is quickly extinguished by the closing of the door. The doctor says, “I’ll be back again, later,” (Truth 3) and slides the door shut. The panels containing this movement don’t promote a swift transition and instead include miniscule motions in each. With each transition, the light from the opening becomes smaller and smaller. The binary presented by the contrast of light and dark is key to the readers’ understanding of Diana’s disability, as she lingers again on the fringes of ability and disability. She is able to occupy both spaces, residing in the poststructural sphere of continual constitution (Butler). These panels are a visual depiction of the poststructural perspective of disability that “allow[s] both poles of the binary to be held in tension precisely because this is what happens everyday in the mundane and ordinary lives of those who find themselves working with the dis/ability complex” (Goodley and Cole 3).
This same gridding technique is again used on the title page to promote a poststrucutral understanding of the disability experience. On this two-page spread, elements of each page cross over to the other in an angular fashion, demarcated by rectangular shapes. The tiles of Diana’s cell begin on the far right of the spread and continue across the page until they begin to break and ultimately shatter on the previous page. Then, the shattered glass spreads onto the next page. The tiles on the far right edges of the second page begin as the white padding of the cell and slowly transform into small vignettes of Diana’s past experiences. This metamorphosis occurs at the back of Diana’s head, alluding to her disability. The interaction of these old and new experiences presents an interesting use of color, as some memories are presented in bold, vibrant color while others are faded. Readers and followers of the Wonder Woman comics can recognize the significance of many of the panels, as they contain events from previous issues or iconic events in Diana’s history, including her relationship with Steve Trevor, Hippolyta crying as Diana leaves Themyscira forever, and Diana facing one of her friends who was once one of her most renowned foes, the Cheetah, also known as Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva.
The implication of the placement of these imposed panels at the back of Diana’s head is that Diana is incapable of containing this newfound knowledge. Her mind cannot hold these memories, and it shatters from being forced to do so. She is then disabled. Coupled with the outline of a clearly feminine physiognomy, these pages represent the belief that a woman is unable to understand new, vast amounts of knowledge. This image furthers the notion that “women and the disabled are portrayed as helpless, dependent, weak, vulnerable, and incapable bodies” (Garland-Thomson, “Integrating” 8). Diana is made to be mentally inferior and weak because she is a woman. Thus, her gender also becomes a disabling factor and the instigation of her temporary disability.
Within these small vignettes, other representations of gender are also included. Opposing visions of both feminine strength and vulnerability are featured. In one image, Wonder Woman is standing in her iconic battle position with arms crossed in front of her body, highlighting her indestructible silver cuffs. In another, in a style reminiscent of the variant cover, Diana is seen with her hair strewn in her face and screaming in agony. The line style and color of these images are noticeably different, with scenes of strength drawn with a bold line and colorful details while moments of anguish are distinctly faded and feature a thin line style. Additionally, close relationships are featured within these pictures, including memories with both Steve and Minerva, once close companions to Wonder Woman. The juxtaposition of images of love and war present a contradiction of typical understandings of femininity, as a woman is not typically seen as both a lover and warrior in battle. These various pictures seen in both the stacked and shattered grids promotes a view of gender as “more fluid and hybridized” (Cocca “Negotiating” 101).
Wonder Woman’s shifting portrayal of gendered normativity is seen in the multiple dynamic portrayals featured in the vignettes. Additionally, a clear binary is placed on the page, with an image of the male form placed on the left of the two-page spread. Diana is placed on the right, in clear opposition to this male figure. The face of the male figure is not revealed, but the muscles are clearly defined by bold lines, accentuating his masculine physique. His body shape seems to mirror that of the tree, the object that splits the page in two, a layout reminiscent to that used on the two-page spread found on pages 14 and 15. Further, the man holds multiple chains, symbols of imprisonment. The reader does not yet know the man’s identity but can see that the chains appear to be intertwined with the roots of the tree. Twisting and turning, the darkly drawn links of the chains have become one with the stark outline of the tree. This infusion creates a relationship between entrapment and the tree itself, a connection that will become more apparent as the plot progresses.
Throughout the narrative, the tree creates a bridge between pages as it spreads its limbs and roots across multiple pages. Heavy shading and bold linework is used to enhance its large and bulking form. This same shading is used for Diana and other figures in the story, too, and the similar technique introduces the tree as a character itself within the text. The tree interacts with the characters and influences their actions. As the story progresses, the tree’s continued presence will become integral to Diana’s disability and gendered identity. This image is yet another example of Groensteen’s concept of general arthrology found in The Truth, Part 1.
Permanence and Place: The Interaction of Lines and Panel Transitions
The Truth, Part 1 presents interesting line styles, and, as detailed above, these choices in line style often impact the presentation of panels. Specifically, the ever-present image of the tree creates relationships between events using inset panels to showcase moments from both the past and the future. The narrative movement between these panels is a collection of moment-to-moment and aspect-to-aspect transitions (McCloud 73). The unique combination of these transitions in Wonder Woman creates a tumultuous sense of disarray. On pages that feature Diana, the choice of transition affects the progression of time. In these instances, readers are asked to consider a narrative containing a superhero who is different than anticipated.
No longer is Diana a warrior on the battlefield. She is a disabled patient trying to process her surroundings. She is struggling to conceptualize her new identity. Returning to page three, the final two panels at the bottom of the page show this process of attempted understanding. In the first panel, she looks at her open hand and studies her outstretched fingers. Her face is shrouded in darkness, and her hand basks in the light that is emitted from above. In the next panel, she closes her eyes and brings her hand toward her face. Diana’s facial expression is unchanging. With this moment-to-moment transition that “requires very little closure,” readers see the moment and the movement that directly follow the action in first panel (McCloud 70).
The transition gives the impression that time has passed, as the movement has occurred over a period of time. With such a small movement, one would assume that relatively little time has passed. However, the inclusion of heavy shading on Diana’s face and on the wall behind her silhouette seems to slow time. It is as though all of Diana’s strength is being put forth to move her hand only very slightly as it sifts through the light and shadows. The closing of Diana’s eyes in the second panel additionally presents a different composition than that featured in the first row of panels. This composition is further enhanced by the precise placement of Diana’s hand, as it resides in both the light and darkness. Diana seems to be uncertain of herself and her ability—her past and her disability.
The aspect-to-aspect transitions, contrastingly, do not promote the sense of passing time, but do provide additional information to the story. The most prevalent example of aspect-to-aspect transitions can be found on pages 14 and 15, a two-page spread that shows the massive tree extending outward from the crease of the comic. As previously mentioned, the panels are created by intricate line work that forms the limbs of the tree. The tree is produced using a mixture of dark shading and bold, brightly colored patterns, and the panels that emerge contain transitions that displace the viewer’s eye to another view of the scene in which Diana is visiting the garden.
Within this scene, each panel on the first page presents a different composition, giving the reader a wide scope of the entire scene. Delineated by the red patterned lines that are bursting with life, the first panel begins with a side view of Diana being rolled into the garden by a member of Steve Trevor’s covert military unit. In the very next panel, the view of Diana and the man from the front is featured, and the third panel shows a side profile of the two individuals. The fourth panel contains a view from behind, with light shining in front that creates a dark silhouette of Diana in her wheelchair being assisted by the man. This bold choice in line style and color signals a change in tone that is continued in the following panel. The fourth and fifth panels are introduced by a transition that includes both a change in action and perspective. Diana is suddenly seen up close with her arm raised, where it was formerly to her side. A snake slithers out of her arm, and, in the final panel on the page, the fifth panel, the view of the snake changes so that readers can see the hole in Diana’s arm from which it emerges.
The second page of the spread features a strange combination of action-to-action transitions. The structure of the page changes significantly, as the makeup of the tree and, thus, the panels changes. The separation of the panels is not as clear, as the lines of the tree become imprecise. Spanish moss, drawn in a flowing style, hangs from the branches of the tree, creating an elongating effect, and the action is stretched and spread throughout these panels. The characters featured on the page, the snake and Diana, occupy multiple panels at once and cause a confusing and disorienting distribution of transitions. This style is in stark contrast to the precise line style of the preceding page. One explanation is that the action presented on the second page is not occurring within reality. Instead, Diana is speaking to the snake through hallucinatory visions. Both the transition and line style speak to aspects of Diana’s disability. With these choices, the creators create a separation of time and place, a binary of reality and hallucinations, that mirror the strict binary of ability and disability found within Diana’s mind and, more broadly, society.
The Disappearance of Diana’s Dialogue: The Role of Word Picture Relations
In addition to transition and line style, representations of gender and disability are also impacted by pairings of images and text. McCloud reaffirms this belief by stating, “Words and pictures have great powers to tell stories when creators fully exploit them both” (152). In The Truth, Part 1 the interaction of words and pictures and the roles that the words and pictures separately play is integral to the comic. In many instances, text will dominate a page or panel, while in others, only images will be present.
At the start of the comic, the combinations of words and pictures are primarily word specific (McCloud 153). On the very first page, readers learn immediately of a location, Nightsong Hospital in London, through the inclusion of text. The reason the comic begins at this location is not yet known. However, through the dialogue between a doctor and an attendant of the hospital, more information is provided. The text, included in speech bubbles, alerts the reader to a recently admitted patient. The pictures do not reveal the identity of the individual. In panel 13, the name “DIANA PRINCE” has been drawn on a large metal door (Truth 1). The reader has not yet seen the physical form of Diana but can infer that she is inside the room.
As the dialogue between the doctor and attendant continues, they discuss Diana’s disability. The doctor and attendant have the following conversation:
“Ah! Now this one’s very interesting… Brought in three days ago. Nonviolent, but we’ve some concerns about self-harm. Poor thing’s delusional.”
“Oh, no! Well, not precisely… She believes she’s Wonder Woman.” (Truth 1)
Their dialogue, shown in speech bubbles, informs the reader of Diana’s disability. Through their conversation, they speak for Diana and share information about her delusions with readers. Following the prominent discourse “around the labelling of rather than by disabled people” (Cameron and Swain 68), other characters speak of and for Diana, and she is unable to speak for herself. Specifically, when considering the entirety of the comic, she only speaks a single word: “Probably” (Truth 15).
The exclusion of Diana’s dialogue in this issue speaks to an absence of voice and the prevalence of particular combinations of words and pictures over others. While the issue begins with word specific combinations, the remainder of the issue contains primarily additive combinations (McCloud 154). In this context, words consistently add detail to the pictures that are presented. Seen clearly on pages 14 and 15, dialogue reveals much of the plot. Although previously analyzed for line style and panel transitions, the spread also contains an informative interplay of word-picture relations.
The pictures included on the two-page spread serve as additional evidence of Diana’s disability, as she is seeing a snake that no one else sees or acknowledges. The snake, whose dialogue is included in an overwhelming eleven speech bubbles, seems to speak for Diana, as did the doctor and attendant. It poses questions and then appears to answer the questions, with no evident answers from Diana:
“How you doing kiddo?”
“Not at your best, from the looks of it.”
“I can understand. But the thing is, Di—I can call you Di, right?—The thing is, Di…”
“People mistake facts for the truth all the time. And they’re different things.”
“Something you might want to consider. That is what this is about isn’t it?”
“You not knowing what to believe. Some very fundamental truths have been called into question.”
“And by extension, your very identity.” (Truth 15)
From the pictures, one would infer that Diana and the snake are having a conversation. However, the words provide a very different explanation. The text adds meaning to the picture, and readers are alerted to the cause of Diana’s stay at Nightsong Hospital.
The way other characters speak about and for Diana signals her oppression and subjugated body. This intersectional discrimination is found within the comic and is also a reflection of the world outside its pages. Garland-Thomson explains how media, including comics, are “legitimated by systems of representation, by collective cultural stories that shape the material world, underwrite exclusionary attitudes, inform human relations, and mold our senses of who we are” (“Integrating” 9). The relationship between words and pictures in this issue is a product of these legitimized practices and also acts as a legitimizing practice itself, influencing readers.
Wonder No More
On the first page of The Truth, Part 1, readers are uncertain of the truth. With every turn of the page and the progression of each panel, the search for truth continues, and answers are provided through the varying elements of the comic. Collectively, these components make up a work that takes a traditional Wonder Woman comic, inverts expectations, and seeks new ways of presenting images. The line style, including bold shading techniques and the use of gridding, assists in creating a sense of fragmentation. While Diana—an unbreakable heroine—breaks, so do the images. Different panel transitions further this motif of splintering or shattering, as the boundary between line and actual panel is often blurred and characters reside in between panels and, thus, in ongoing action. Additionally, panels take on new shapes, foregoing the traditional squares or rectangles, as characters, too, occupy new spaces of disability and gender representation.
The feminist theory of disability lends itself to a critical reading of Wonder Woman, as it problematizes previously accepted, normative beliefs surrounding gender and disability in comics. This theory, when used to analyze The Truth, Part 1 and Wonder Woman as a female hero with a disability, affirms that comics and the images within comics—“despite (or indeed because of) their seeming simplicity—serve as tantalizing palimpsests for thinking through many aspects of past and contemporary American life” (Alaniz 7-8). In this way, the iconic image of Wonder Woman can serve both as a cause of wonder and the impetus for reflection on poststructural perceptions of gender and disability.
Collectively, Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, Laura Martin, and Jenny Frison create a comic that encourages change, a concept often associated with these poststructural perceptions. As Goodley et al. posit, “Disability politics, arts, scholarship and culture offer new ways of conceiving and living life… Disability is both a signifier of inequity and the promise of something new and affirmative” (973). The Truth, Part 1 is disability art, in comic form. The line style used, the interaction between words and pictures, and the narrative choices cause readers to deconstruct their own preconceived notions and rebuild “something new.” Readers are encouraged to create new understandings of not only Wonder Woman, but also what it means to be disabled and female in comics and the world outside the pages. Although the images and storyline are initially jarring, the disabling of Diana and her gender fluidity both work to highlight the ways that concepts continually change and evolve in a poststructural society that resists metanarratives. While Wonder Woman will likely remain a wonderous character, the ways that the sense of wonder is evoked will never remain the same.
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