Review: Superman/Wonder Woman #1

The power couple – and my reviews – return

So after a dormant period of a few months – long enough to dodge the crappy and pointless Trinity War, anyway, if not to quite miss the end of Forever Evil – I think it’s time to revive the Wonder Woman reviews. Rather than save them up and do them all in one go, though, I think it’ll probably make more sense and give me a higher chance of succeeding if I review each comic as it comes out. 

Appropriately enough, for my first new review, it’s Superman/Wonder Woman #1, which horrifyingly enough is only the first new second title for Wonder Woman in 61 years. As you may have noticed, though, she has second billing in this to Superman, because to mirror the successful bromance of Superman/Batman, we have here what DC hopes will be the successful romance of Superman and Wonder Woman.

Indeed, one of the most controversial aspects of the DC’s nu52 has been the jettisoning of the Lois Lane-Clark Kent-Superman triangle of days gone by and the Steve Trevor-Diane Prince-Wonder Woman triangle of even farther off days gone by in favour of this new pairing, hinted at in pre-nu52 issues, fulfilled in alternative continuities but never official canon in DC’s main lines. Until now.

Now, following brief flirtations with the relationship by writers in Superman, Justice League and more bizarrely Young Romance (but notably, thanks to Brian Azzarello, not in Wonder Woman), we finally have a title that’s dedicated to it. Hooray!

One question is: will it be a success? An even better question is: will it make for a good comic. Let’s answer that question after the jump. Beware of epic spoilers ahead (sorry).

The gatefold cover for Superman/Wonder Woman #1

Plot
Superman and Wonder Woman are off on an exciting, storm-based mission near Norway together.

Superman and Wonder Woman flying in the clouds

In flashback, we first discover that Clark Kent is having work-related issues at his online news site with boss/partner Cat Grant… and that someone is keeping a close digital eye on the new power couple. 

Clark Kent and Cat Grant

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is having a fight with an Amazon and upset that she can’t do anything to save the Amazons and her mother, who were turned into snakes/stone way back in issue #4.

Wonder Woman and Hessia fighting

She also also wonders why Clark wants to hide his light under a bushel, that light including her.

Wonder Woman and Hessia discuss Clark

Clark joins Diana in her implausibly plush London flat and gives her an alien flower, while moderately insulting her.

Clark brings Diana a flower

Diana deals, and then argues that Clark needs to learn how to fight – and that she’s just the woman to teach him… all kinds of things (no double entendre there).

Wonder Woman is going to teach Superman a thing or two

Before things can get fun, though, they have to head off to Norway where there’s this storm… Except the storm turns out to be Doomsday and it’s clobbering time for first Clark…

Superman gets punched by Doomsday

…and then – after the Norwegian navy give it a go – Diana.

Wonder Woman fares poorly against Doomsday

Is it any good? 
I imagine if you’re a dedicated Clois or… Dive (or should that be Steana?) fan, you’re going to hate this. But for everyone else, even though there’s a few things you could nitpick, this is a really impressive first issue by Charles Soule and Tony Daniel.

Soule is one of the up-and-comers of the comics industry, writing acclaimed titles for both DC and Marvel, and here he has a lot to juggle. On the one hand, he has to create a proper superhero comic filled with fights and action and that features the most iconic and powerful superhero and superheroine of the DC pantheon; on the other, he has to service a romantic relationship between two characters whom many argue are too perfect, dull and perhaps even, in Wonder Woman’s case, characterless, all with no previous canon to draw upon.

Stick on top of that the considerable and justifiable feminist worry that Wonder Woman is merely going to be ‘Superman’s girlfriend’ and play second-fiddle to him – after all, it’s not Wonder Woman/Superman #1 and in both the standard and variant covers for this issue, we have Wonder Woman slightly behind Superman rather than in front of or on a par with him – and that’s a lot to deal with.

Given that he has remarkably little to space to work with, not just to lay down the foundation for the series but to tell this story, all while maintaining political correctness within a romantic story, Soule does a really fantastic job and treads this tightrope magnificently. Clark and Diana’s relationship is one of equals, but not identical people, and both Clark and Diana are anything but boring.

One could quibble that the time dedicated to Clark away from Diana sees him working and not dwelling on his relationship with Diana while in her time apart, Diana gets to ‘talk about boys’. However, the issue just about passes the Bechdel test and given the size and location of Diana’s flat in London (she gets a view of the Gherkin and everything), we can only assume she’s independently wealthy and doesn’t need a job, any more than any other Amazon princess or goddess. She’s certainly not on a London nurse’s salary these days, anyway:

Diance Prince, nurse

More importantly, Soule gives us an insight into Wonder Woman’s inner life and feelings that’s been sorely lacking in her own title of late. As well as reminding us of the demise of the Amazons, Soule gives Wonder Woman a female friend to talk to, simultaneously drawing on pre-nu52 continuity to fill in blanks about the new Amazons: yes, they live forever, provided they live on Paradise Island and yes, they can leave of their own volition, but not necessarily go back. Intriguingly, Hessia is black – thankfully, we have a somewhat Greek-ish name just a letter away from Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, rather than Nubia – which somewhat suggests that either Soule and Daniels are genuinely colour blind, the nu52 Amazons aren’t entirely Greek in origin or the Bana-Mighdall are now back in continuity. 

Tony Daniel’s superb artwork does raise a continuity issue or two or its own, mind – as well as Wonder Woman’s now-trademark fingernail polish disappearing, even when she’s on a date, neither she nor Hessia wear Amazon bracelets/bracers, despite Wonder Woman’s (and Amazons’ in Volume 1 continuity) tendency to go doolally beserker-Tron when she takes them off in her own title.

This new friendship, which reinforces that Diana is still top dog physically with even Amazons and reminds us of her new goddess status and potential immortality, also highlights the differences between Clark and Diana, rather than just the similarities of their powers and general desire to do good. Soule has wisely decided that Man is from Venus, Woman is from Mars, and has highlighted what should have been blindingly obvious to many people for years: just as you could have been as strong as a powerlifter, but Bruce Lee still would have kicked your arse, Superman may be super-strong, but Wonder Woman is super-strong and knows Kung Fu. And she has a magic sword that can cut atoms in half (another welcome carry over from pre-nu52 continuity). So as well as the obvious cultural differences between a goddess raised on an island cut off from the world and entirely populated by Greek Bronze Age women and their descendants, Soule shows us that Wonder Woman can also teach Superman all about this Earth thing called “My Fist, Your Face”, while Clark can teach Diana all about the ways of mortal men and women, particularly those from the Mid-West.

True, all of this is slightly undermined by the fact that Doomsday kicks Wonder Woman around with alacrity and has her on her knees within about three panels, but given he (famously) can kill Superman, let’s see how this pans out next issue. Will Clark come to save his girlfriend, will she pick herself up and slice Doomsday in half before you can say ‘kata of seven cuts’ or are they both doomed? Is Supes even dead or (surely not) Doomsday, given that our villain turned up with those pilots Clark was supposed to be saving, but bisected? Let’s wait and see until next time.

Indeed, for those wary of a Superman-Wonder Woman relationship because of its potential to diminish Wonder Woman, Soule does a good job of maintaining an equality, even if it is a yin-yang equality. Given Clark has no one to share his thoughts or relationship with, it’s no surprise that Diana is essentially the driving force and more artful partner here and she plays around with that power. She’s been raised to be able to do ‘anything… everything’ and while she appears willing to concede Superman’s strengths, naming him the most powerful being on the planet and admiring the fact he’s ‘so strong’ and ‘better at flying than me’, everything comes with a footnote: while the flying issue is certainly something that can be conceded, seeing as it’s relatively new to her, she highlights there are other equally powerful beings (by implication herself?), demonstrates strength means nothing without training, and scores points by first not taking offence at Clark’s less than artful ‘It’s strange and beautiful… It reminds me of you’ then pointing out she’d be dating Green Lantern if she wanted a smooth ladies’ man in her life.

There’s also an ongoing play-fight about who’s ‘good with storms’, Diana pointing out (and reminding the reader) that the storm god Zeus is her father. Soule reminds us not just with Clark’s inepitude with his gift that neither of the characters is perfect, Diana being raised to be far more willing to demonstrate her abilities than the cloistered Clark, even ripping apart a Norwegian gun battery in anger after they fire at her, Clark being so reserved and undemonstrative that it causes Diana frustration. Of course, our digital stalker is about to change that to some extent so there’s bound to be future intrigue there. 

Tony Daniel does a great job illustrating the story, giving us some of his finest work, with all the characters, minor and major, being drawn beautifully. He did a good job with Wonder Woman and Superman post-Lee on Justice League, but here he exceeds his previous efforts. Superman is perhaps a little more feminine in some characteristics than he’s usually drawn but Wonder Woman is strong and not sexualised, even when she could be. There are even tiny choices that most people will only pick up subconsciously, such as the use of red and black in some panels to highlight Wonder Woman’s heritage

Red and black figure work in Superman/Wonder Woman #1

In balance, the strip has just about the right amount of romance v fights and Wonder Woman v Superman, give or take, that it should appeal to anyone who isn’t dead set against this particular mix from the outset. And for anyone who gave up on Wonder Woman because it was too slow, this could well be the new title for you, because it’s fast and fun. Long may it continue.

Rating: 4.9/5

PS I’m a little miffed that as a digital buyer, I didn’t get the variant cover by Cliff Chiang, but here it is anyway. Pretty, isn’t it?

PPS Isn’t it notable that in the gatefold for the issue, the only non-Azzarello character featured on Wonder Woman’s side is Cheetah?

Cliff Chiang variant cover to Superman/Wonder Woman #1