As usual, we can rely on DC Comics to time its releases of comics with impeccable precision. So, after weeks of a couple of guest appearances here and there by Diana in various comics, finally, we have all the usual main Wonder Woman titles out in the same week.
When last we left both Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman, we were waving goodbye to two A-teams: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang were departing Wonder Woman, having concluded their three-year reboot of the character; meanwhile, Charles Soule and (predominantly) Tony Daniel were bidding both Superman and Wonder Woman adieu over on Superman/Wonder Woman.
Joining the fold last week, we had Meredith Finch and Brian Finch on Wonder Woman #36 and Peter J Tomasi and Doug Mahnke over on Superman/Wonder Woman #13. After the jump, I’ll be looking at both issues and wondering if we’ve got two new A-teams, two new B-teams or some other alphabetical combinations.
But we’re not done. Because on top of those two, we have the conclusion of Gilbert Hernandez’s two-parter in Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #15 and in Justice League #36, we have the arrival of Wonder Woman’s movie costume in the comic book world.
Wonder Woman #36
Back on Paradise Island, the Amazons are off grousing about their new queen, having blokes on Paradise Island, having to look after a baby, and pretty much everything it’s possible for a stoic warrior society to grouse about.
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman’s off with the Justice League.
Then it turns out there’s been something bad happening in Thailand that’s killed lots of people, leaving only vegetation behind. Wonder Woman heads off and when she finds Swamp Thing, decides to give him a twatting.
After discovering it’s hard to beat up the avatar of the living incarnation of the spirit of vegetation, Wondy gets rescued by Aquaman and then returns to Paradise Island, where it turns out her mother is melting in the rain.
Is it any good?
We have here a similar situation to when George Perez left Wonder Woman at the start of volume two, to be replaced by William Messner-Loebs. Loebs decided (and in fact was pretty much ordered) to do pretty much everything that Perez hadn’t done.
And with Meredith Finch, we have someone who’s doing pretty much everything that Brian Azzarello didn’t do. For starters, we have plenty of action, as well as guest visits from other superheroes. Which is nice. But we also don’t have any other gods apart from Diana, and Zeke and Zola are only briefly in the comic through flashback. We also get lots of named Amazons chatting about Amazon stuff, as well as an overt feminist subtext, with an elderly Amazon calling out Zeus as a misogynist.
Which is fine, if that’s what you like, although one might quibble about the sub-Greek Myth 101 name-calling from the gods’ most devoted/only worshippers. And certainly, ending the artificial demarcation between Wonder Woman and the rest of the DC Universe is something to be appreciated.
The trouble is that while the overall framework isn’t necessarily anything to be sniffed at, what we have here is a clear illustration of the difference between an accomplished, experienced writer like Brian Azzarello and someone with relatively little experience such as Meredith Finch, who’s practically a newcomer to comics.
The golden rule of storytelling is ‘show don’t tell’ and here we have ‘tell don’t show’ in spades, with Wonder Woman brain dumping her entire series of woes in Aquaman’s lap, without any filters.
True, it would have taken Azzarello three issues of ‘show don’t tell’ to give us all of that, but I’d rather have read those three issues than have this forced dialogue (which is saying something).
Finch’s aim is apparently to show the woman in Wonder Woman. Laudable, one might think, but it requires a certain universality for that to work. Here, Finch equates being a woman with juggling commitments, having self-doubt, being torn by family commitments, trying to determine self-identity, and so on. The trouble is, whether that’s true of an American woman or not, is that going to be true of an Amazon/Greek(ish) warrior princess, trained from birth to deal with the pressures of rule, who’s superpowered and the daughter of the king of the gods, raised in a male-free matriarchy, and who’s been juggling with all these issues for more than five years?
Arguably not: the Finch concept of womanhood is more of a cliché than something that can necessarily be applied to a goddess or Wonder Woman.
More so, while the strip does acknowledge the Azzarello legacy in some ways, tipping a wink on multiple occasions to the events that transpired before it, it doesn’t pick up on the strip’s overall theme: that it was, in essence, how Diana gets her mojo, how she becomes self-assured, a goddess and a queen of the Amazons.
Wonder Woman #35 essentially jettisons all of that in favour of a self-doubting, inexperienced warrior, attacking willy nilly and then getting easily defeated, before being rescued by a man (which was always the worst problem of Azzarello’s writing, so no clean, feminist break here). Unfortunately, the encounter with Swamp Thing follows very soon after Charles Soule left us with Diana and Swamp Thing’s first encounter, and it shows clearly the difference between an experienced writer and one who’s still finding her way, one who knows the character and one who doesn’t – yet.
To Finch’s credit, were it not for the nu52 outfit and continuity references, you could drop the issue pretty much anywhere in Volume 2 and it would fit right at home – and many long-term fans will be all the happier for this. But for all Azzarello and Chiang’s faults, one of the things they did do right was create a different kind of comic, unique in all the nu52, concerned with different ideas, different ways of storytelling, different issues, and iconic takes on the gods and goddesses. It wasn’t simply YA superhero comic, which unfortunately is exactly what this is, with its forced symbolism, portentous narration, unsubtle dialogue and prosaic themes and plotting.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that bad, particularly for someone so new to comics writing. But it’s certainly not great. It doesn’t offend and outrage in the way that Azzarello and Chiang’s run could, either, but equally, it doesn’t excel or inspire. It’s just… average.
I should, incidentally, mention Brian Finch’s art, which is largely lovely and approaches Tony Daniel-level quality at times. Finch, notorious for cheesecake art, is also mercifully restrained here, even when given a shower scene to illustrate.
But while Finch’s version of Diana is consistent with Jim Lee’s version of her, this Wonder Woman is more like a Wonder Girl, looking like little more than a teenager, and an undernourished one at that. It’s good a strip to look at, though, and for those who disliked Chiang’s less photo-realistic approach, Finch’s style may be preferable.
Superman/Wonder Woman #13
Diana and Clark are going out on a date. But Clark’s too busy typing.
Meanwhile, at a nearby nuclear power plant, Atomic Skull is up to something glowy.
A now water-logged Diana and Clark are trying to hail a cab. Superman’s too ready to give up cabs to more needy people, so it’s Diana who manages to get hold of one. Except wouldn’t you know it, it’s time to go and save a nuclear power plant.
At the plant, Superman and Wonder Woman get their arses handed to them on a plate.
Except someone else is on hand to stop the baddies: Wonderstar! Ed: Who he?
Is it any good?
In contrast to Meredith Finch, Peter J Tomasi is anything but a newcomer to comics, having revolutionised with Geoff Johns the Green Lantern universe. He is very much a member of the A-team at DC.
However, like Finch, he’s following a far more subtle, more innovative writer – Charles Soule this time – and again, the comparison isn’t good.
While Soule was at pains to depict a respectful relationship of equals, and gave Diana and Clark enemies to face who illustrated something about each of them, like Finch, Tomasi descends into more traditional cliché, both regular and superhero. We have generic, run-of-the-mill adversaries who nevertheless defeat Superman and Wonder Woman with ease, only to be defeated with even greater ease by some new adversary – a standard superhero storytelling method that always makes its heroes look poor, even if they inevitably defeat said enemy several issues later on, as the readers are left with ‘but why didn’t they do x?’ syndrome (where x is the superhero power or technique that virtually all the readers know about).
More so, we have Diana stressed about Clark being late, hailing a cab herself in an ‘hilarious’ inversion of the stereotypical relationship norms. It’s clumsy and disrespectful to both characters – would Diana, whose Christmas present to her boyfriend was the gift of time, really begrudge him making them late for a play, when the two of them could just as easily fly to another time zone in seconds to do something else, if they needed to? Would Clark really be so preoccupied, given how naturally good he must be with time management by now? While it’s not utterly lazy writing, it’s a notch down from Soule, for sure, and it turns Diana into the Nagging Girlfriend. Oh dear.
But it is just one notch down from Soule, since Tomasi still gives us some affectionate, character moments between Diana and Clark (Clark: “Credit my mother”; Diana: “Oh I most certainly do”). Although the Atomic Skull’s dialogue should be dipped in acid and destroyed, the dialogue – yes, dialogue, not monologue – with Diana and Clark discussing the fall-out from previous events is pretty good and illustrates more about their relationship. And actually, although I might quibble about the details, holistically, while it is a bit more stereotypical, it does feel more like an actual relationship between people who might even be having sex with one another than Soule’s slightly more platonic couple.
In terms of art, we’re again a step down from Tony Daniel but not a huge step. While we’ve gone from Diana having a Greek or Roman nose in Daniel’s art to having virtually no nose at all in Mahnke’s…
…and Clark often looks like a Draco Malfoy version of himself…
…and while it’s not quite as pretty as Brian Finch’s work, it’s still pretty decent and it does look like Diana is both of age and remembering to eat some food. It’s a little cheesecakey, though – I’m not absolutely convinced that Diana would wear something that latexy to a Broadway play or indeed anywhere else for that matter:
And that’s one terrible shirt Clark is wearing.
Overall, a more average comic than during Soule’s run that says less and is more generic superhero, but still a good read.
One last thing with this one, too. Comic book writers: you do not have to keep going back to iconic moments and redoing them. You will almost certainly end up ruining them.
The first meeting of Superman and Wonder Woman is one of the nu52 universe’s few iconic moments so far.
Simple. Short. Illustrative. Cool. So much so that when Justice League: War animated that moment, it was repeated pretty much as is:
What that moment definitely didn’t need was for someone to go back and add in a whole load of extra dialogue, in which Superman takes Wonder Woman to task for enjoying a fight, disagreeing with him, being immodest and pretty much anything else.
So all of this was unnecessary, even if you do want to show how now they’re in a relationship, Wonder Woman is the one who gets to do the telling off:
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #15
Who was it who showed up at the end of last issue? Why, it was Mary Marvel!
There’s a lot of insults and fighting between the three women:
Eventually, the three team up and defeat their alien enemies.
Mary returns to her own universe and the rest of the Marvel family.
And Supergirl and Wonder Woman return to Earth, where they become friends – and Wonder Woman has to defeat a new enemy. Quite easily. While coming to a sudden realisation.
Is it any good?
If you remember, last week, I wasn’t sure what was going on here: satire, mockery, simple fun or a tongue so firmly in cheek, the tongue’s been lost and the owner isn’t sure any more what he’s up to.
I’m still not that sure, but I’d say that Hernandez is trying to do all of the above. It’s clearly a satire on Silver Age DC Comics, but it’s also affectionate and fond – Hernandez actually enjoys the silliness and childishness of that era. As you might expect from someone behind Love and Rockets, he’s also giving us some 1950s-style strong female characters who aren’t defined by their sexual attractiveness, but again knowingly so, playing around with the clumsiness of the format, giving us a Wonder Woman who wants to have a girls night out with Supergirl and Wonder Woman – but who’s never realised she’s the strongest Earth-born hero or heroine and who’s never needed to.
It’s hard to do much with the strip beyond take it at face value and enjoy Hernandez enjoying himself in a prime bit of Silver Age dottiness. Even if it’s just all a bit daft and mocking, and open to question, it’ll still put a little bit of joy in your heart, just by reading it.
And there is one bit that you definitely wouldn’t fit in Silver Age Wonder Woman strip, for sure.
Justice League #36
Lex Luthor’s Amazo virus has escaped and mutated and is now giving infected people random superpowers. Unfortunately, it ends up killing them. Which is a bit of a problem for the members of the Justice League who are human – or partly human.
That means finding the source of the mutated virus – aka patient zero.
Is it any good?
It’s Luthor stuff again. Writer Geoff Johns appears far more interested these days in DC’s villains than he does its heroes, given that so soon after Forever Evil, we’ve got most of the Justice League indisposed again.
But there’s also one thing that both we and Johns have discovered interests him: Wonder Woman, who has been the most interesting character in Johns’ run on Justice League, and the focus of more stories than any of the other superheroes.
While Kryptonian Superman is safe from the virus, here we have the goddess Wonder Woman safe, too, and acting as sounding board and antagonist to Luthor, getting him to do the right thing and illustrating his issues with perspicacity.
The observant will notice two things:
- As with all the other comics I’ve mentioned except Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman seems very comfortable in her own skin, self assured, and not at all fazed by being a goddess.
- She’s wearing a new costume that bears a certain similarity to another new costume of hers we’ve seen recently.
Yes, while it clearly retains some of the characteristics of her normal nu52 armour, such as the silver trimmings and shorter boots, this is an obvious nod to the forthcoming movie Wonder Woman outfit. Yes, she has a shield, but then rumour has it she’ll have one in the movie, too.
Largely, an issue for people interested in Lex Luthor and who are just going to keep reading Justice League no matter what, and a title that’s probably even less subtle than Wonder Woman. But as I’ve noted above, some good things for Wonder Woman fans, too.
Disclaimer: Owing to the small fortune it would take to buy every single DC comic each week, this is not a guaranteed rundown of all the comics that feature Wonder Woman. If you know of any I’ve missed, email me or leave a comment below and I’ll cover them the following week