Harley Quinn writer Stephanie Phillips has a PhD in rhetoric and composition, a master's in English, was a competitive Muy Thai fighter, and loves comics. But for a long time she felt like she didn't really 'get' Wonder Woman.
Phillips has always seen Wonder Woman as a "symbol of strength," but the human side of Diana Prince was a hard thing for her to grasp on a personal level. After a journey to understand Wonder Woman's humanity for herself which led to her using Wonder Woman in her Muy Thai fighting prep, Stephanie Phillips is now putting the character on her own path to understanding her own humanity in Wonder Woman: Evolution.
Debut November 16, Wonder Woman: Evolution teams Phillips with artist Mike Hawthorne, inker Adriano Di Benedetto, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Tom Napolitano as they take the Amazonian warrior to a cosmic court to act as Earth's representative when its crimes are put on trial.
Newsarama spoke with Phillips about the upcoming series, her acclimation to understanding Wonder Woman for herself, and following the character through a re-examination of her own identity.
Newsarama: Stephanie, the subtitle 'Evolution' leaves open a world of possibility. What does it mean in terms of you and Mike's story?
Stephanie Phillips: When I was initially tasked with a Wonder Woman story, I started to think about what interests me about this character. Since her inception, I think Wonder Woman has been this incredibly symbolic character, often steeped in mythology and lore. I love that about her, but I realized that I didn’t feel like I had a good handle on Diana personally, like taking her a step beyond her symbology I want to know who she is.
So, on the one hand, 'evolution' symbolizes my interest in seeing Diana evolve through her own history and emerge out the other side of this trial as a changed person – evolving into something different than we’ve seen from Diana in past stories.
Second, 'evolution' here also refers to a more specific story note that Diana is standing trial for humanity because we’ve evolved beyond evolutionary needs and now use these new technological capabilities to destroy the planet and each other.
While Diana is evolving throughout this story, we’re also thinking about the cost of evolution more broadly as well.
Newsarama: So this cosmic entity that whisks Diana off - who is it, or who are they?
Phillips: They’re a little bit mysterious. They have god-like abilities and serve as arbiters, presiding over a kind of neutral ground where they judge the many species in their universe. Their job is to keep all the various planets and species in check – when one gets a little too far out of line and poses a threat, they intervene. At the moment, they see humanity as posing a potential threat not just to Earth itself, but to the cosmos.
The story will explore how they serve to make their decision about humanity and why Diana is the chosen proxy.
Newsarama: Who its it that has selected Diana as Earth's proxy in a trial to judge all mankind's worthiness to exist?
Phillips: Our god-like aliens specifically select Diana for the trial. Part of this story will be about understanding why Diana is selected.
Newsarama: This has shades of classic Greek mythology, but also the various cosmic superhero trials. What are you aiming for here?
Phillips: Personally, I am aiming for an exploration of Wonder Woman via her relationships, specifically to the Justice League, the Amazons, and even to humanity as a whole. I really like this foil as a chance to ask questions about Diana’s priorities, her moral compass, and even her understanding of her own identity and sense of belonging.
I would also say there’s a bit of a Platonic dialogue happening in this book. As Diana is left to think about how she defines failure and success, as well as how she interacts with the many different worlds she’s a part of, she will have different 'guides' for these discussions. I think the people Diana converses with will, at points, be a little surprising to Diana (and readers!), and I’m really excited to see that unfold.
Newsarama: What does Diana think about all of this?
Phillips: Like the hero we know her to be, Diana initially rises to the challenge. Earth needs a hero, and that’s her job. But the trial is more than just swinging a sword at oncoming enemies, and it will quickly push Diana in ways she was not expecting.
Newsarama: What are this challenges that Diana is up against?
Phillips: This is tough to answer without giving too much away, but I will say that the trials are not what Diana expects. She is ready with a sword to face oncoming alien enemies, but there is a lot more to this challenge than Diana was anticipating, and the struggles will take a pretty drastic psychological toll on our hero.
Newsarama: How does this fit within the continuity of Wonder Woman we see in the current Wonder Woman comic? Is this same Wonder Woman, or one from a different universe in the DC Multiverse?
Phillips: The miniseries really does stand on its own and readers don’t have to read any other Wonder Woman stories to jump in. We do touch on her past quite a bit, showcasing the Amazons and even the Justice League, but we’ve intentionally created something self-contained that can be read as a standalone Wonder Woman adventure.
That being said, the current ongoing series by Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad, and Travis Moore is excellent and I would definitely encourage everyone to pick it up!
Newsarama: You began this year as part of the Sensational Wonder Woman book, and now you're heading into the final months writing a solo series, after really coming into your own with the Harley Quinn book. How does it feel to be here?
Phillips: I see writing these characters as a responsibility and a privilege. I have a responsibility to the characters that I love deeply and grew up reading to do right by them, and it’s such an honor to be trusted with their stories. I have the coolest job in the world (apart from… you know… actually being Wonder Woman, because that seems pretty cool!).
Newsarama: How do you view Diana, and the role/mantle of Wonder Woman personally?
Phillips: Back when I was fighting, I actually used to attend weigh-ins with Wonder Woman attire on. Before fights I would even watch or read Wonder Woman fight scenes and just feel inspired by this character who can be ruthless, empathetic, and strong while making all of those elements beautiful.
But the first time I was asked to write Diana I realized that, in my mind, she was this symbol of strength and not someone I was connecting with on a human level, so this story seeks to really question that humanity in a very large way – pushing and challenging Diana in ways she is really uncomfortable with. And, hopefully, we’ll see something cool emerge on the other side!
Newsarama: You're working with artist Mike Hawthorne, who is returning to DC after years at Marvel. I know its early on, but what's it like working with him?
Phillips: Just incredible. The word that immediately comes to mind about my collaboration with Mike is 'respect.' I love Mike’s work and I try to do my best to create a variety of scenes and then let Mike do his thing, because that 'thing' is being exceptionally talented!
Working with Mike, inker Adriano Di Benedetto, and colorist Jordie Bellaire… what a team! Tom Napolitano is lettering the series, which I’m also thrilled about. It’s just really the best group of people I could ask to collaborate with and I really think that shows in the end product.
Newsarama: Big picture, what do you hope people get out of Wonder Woman: Evolution?
Phillips: This story is incredibly personal and kind of raw for me. I’m asking a lot of questions that I might not have the answers to (nor does Diana), but I think that’s where some of the power comes from. Analyzing your life, decisions, identity, and belonging to hopefully allow us to see Diana in a way that we haven’t seen her before. The setting may feel very grand and sci-fi with aliens and distant planets, but this is actually a very human story and I’m interested in that juxtaposition. We have to go to another planet and face a committee of aliens in order to find Diana’s humanity.
Wonder Woman: Evolution is joining a diverse tapestry of Diana Prince adventures. Here are our recommended best Wonder Woman stories.