‘Wonder Woman’ writer Allen Heinberg owes comic book success to Marvel
Wonder Woman, by all accounts, is really, exceedingly great — wonderful, even! It delivers DC Entertainment its first likable superhero since Christian Bale’s Batman growled something about hockey pads in The Dark Knight.
But even if it’s a win for DC, the flick is indebted to Marvel — a delicious twist that’s sort of like saying Coke owes big ups to Pepsi.
Allan Heinberg, the screenwriter behind Wonder Woman, is known for many things — The O.C., Sex and the City, Grey’s Anatomy — but his comic book bona fides come 100 percent from Young Avengers, a 2005 series featuring a group of teenagers who model themselves after big-time heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk.
That book was written by Heinberg with art by Jim Cheung, and it was published by Marvel, arch nemesis to DC Comics. It was all the things critics celebrate about Wonder Woman: fresh, inspiring, fun. These were heroes who got things wrong, ignored their elders, saved the day, fell in love, and had a blast doing it.
Heinberg’s Young Avengers was gosh darn exuberant, if we had to put a modifier on it, and it came at just the right time. The core Avengers comic had just wrapped a miserable storyline called “Disassembled,” in which the reanimated carcass of Z-lister Jack of Hearts explodes in front of Avengers mansion, seemingly killing Ant Man and igniting a chain of events that would dissolve the iconic team of heroes and eventually spawn the so-called “New Avengers.”
After 500 issues, the Avengers were railroaded into a soapy plot about betrayal and vengeance, and then they were reborn in a new book with a black-hearted opening arc about an assault on a supermax prison for the very worst villains.
Fun stuff, right?
Anyway, not to nerdsplain, but it’s really no surprise that Wonder Woman is being celebrated for breathing new life into DC’s same-y, dark movie lineup: This is exactly what Heinberg’s Young Avengers did in an era when Marvel struggled to innovate against the towering legacies of its best-known heroes. Young Avengers celebrated Marvel’s history but revitalized its superhero mythology for an audience that craved something different.
We should note, quickly, that Wonder Woman has story credits beyond Heinberg — Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder conceptualized the plot with him — but the screenplay, the literal document propelling what you see on screen, is all his. (It’s also worth nothing that writers and artists crossing between the rival brands is practically tradition — Jack Kirby himself bounced back and forth before essentially casting the Marvel mold as we know it.)
Around the time of Young Avengers, Heinberg also co-wrote a Justice League comic (“Crisis of Conscience!”) with Geoff Johns and shortly thereafter tried a five-issue Wonder Woman story (“Who is Wonder Woman?”), but neither had the verve or confidence of Young Avengers. They simply weren’t all that well received. If Wonder Woman has any meaningful links to Heinberg’s past work — it sure seems to! — they’re best seen in Young Avengers.
It’s a reminder that even as we grow more accustomed to getting our superhero fix on the big screen, the floppy comics that spawned them are much more than colorful storyboards. They’re the engine propelling a multi-billion dollar film genre forward — a source of inspiration, excellence, and cosmos-leaping Hulklings.