Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review: The "A Star in the Heavens" arc from Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth

Oof, I didn’t care for the second, shorter story arc collected in Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth either.

As previously mentioned, this is a two-issue arc, with guest artist Bernard Chang stepping in to fill in for Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan. Both issues are entitled “A Star in the Heavens,” but the structure is a little wobbly, and reads like two, possibly three separate stories, only two of which flow naturally into one another, compressed into two issues.

That is, to a certain extent, all fine and good when encountering the issues as part of a collection like this or, better yet, a series of collections, but in isolation neither the story nor the individual issues stand up as terribly distinct, complete units.

The first issue opens with Wonder Woman and Tom “Nemesis” Tresser flying on a giant seashell to Paradise Island, so that Tom can meet Wondy’s mom, who is, at this point, the only Amazon left on the island, if I recall correctly (this story occurring around one of the periodic cleansing of Wonder Woman’s people from the DCU).

They are doing this because Nemesis and Wonder Woman are dating, or at least going through some kind of pre-dating courting ritual. That is happening because, during his five-issue “run” on the title, writer Allan Heinberg decided to make Nemesis the new Steve Trevor because…Well, I’m not sure. He liked Nemesis a lot, and wanted to use him? Nemesis was on a list of old characters do for a revival? Someone on DC heard Mark Millar boasting about this new Nemesis character he was creating, and wanted to remind people that they used that name for a super-character decades before Millar?

From there, Wonder Woman flies her shell to Hollywood, now in the company of two of her talking gorilla roommates, each carrying a briefcase and acting as one of her lawyers.

This is actually the only part of these two issues I really liked:(Despite the fact that Chang, like Lopresti, doesn’t draw the talking gorillas to look like gorillas so much as something from the Yeti or Bigfoot family, which I always confused me. The face says gorilla, they are always referred to as gorillas, but their bodies don’t look gorilla-like at all.)

Wonder Woman is meeting with some Hollywood types about an upcoming Wonder Woman movie: She’s not involved in the process, but they want her to give them some approval anyway.

But it turns out the producer or director or someone turns out to be The Queen of Fables, a rather clever one-off villain created by Mark Waid during his too-short, somewhat troubled JLA run, a character that Gail Simone is obviously quite taken with, as this is the second time she’s revived her (Simone previously used the Queen in her short Action Comics run).

Here’s a pretty good example of how annoying Wonder Woman’s narration is.She can’t just say “Oh snap, The Queen of Fables is back!” but has to do it like this:Giving her four nicknames in the process of naming her. Since Wonder Woman’s narration is mostly used to recap the previous issue of Wonder Woman and, to a lesser extent, a couple of ten-year-old issues of JLA (They’re collected in JLA Vol. 8: Divided We Fall, if you missed the first Queen of Fable story), it’s particularly unnecessary narration. If you killed ever word in a yellow box that appears in this story (or the one that preceded it), you wouldn’t lose anything but glimpses of Wonder Woman’s pretentious, remarkably formal-sounding inner life (Thinking longer than three seconds about narration in superhero comics almost always leads one down a whirlpool of frustrating thought that now I find myself getting pulled into: What is the fictional conceit of Wonder Woman’s narration in this book, anyway? Who is she addressing? Are these just meant to be her inner thoughts, as if she were telling us this story in first-person? Why does she keep telling herself things she already knows, then? Aaaaa--!)

Simone rehashes the Queen’s motivation from the Waid story—she thinks Wonder Woman is Snow White, or the avatar of Snow White, and thus her enemy as the avatar and/or inspiration for the Snow’s wicked stepmother—but gives her slightly different powers. Instead of being able to bring storybook creatures to life to marshal as an army, the Queen brings different versions of Wonder Woman to life to fight Wonder Woman…either from the script, or from Wondy’s mind. It’s not really clear, and doesn’t matter, as she makes such short work of them.

The Queen disposed of somehow (off-panel), Wonder Woman goes off to visit a woman who worked on the movie, talk about how hard it is being a single mother, and hang out with the woman’s kids, who are adoring Wonder Woman fans.

The conflict with the Queen falls between the two issues, occupying the second half of the first and the majority of the second issue, and if anything holds it together, it seems to be the fact that the conflict is bookended by references to the possibility of Wonder Woman having kids.

“I want only one more thing from you….” Hippolyta tells Tresser in the first of the two issues, “Babies…as many as you can provide for, as quickly as you may produce them. Babies, babies, babies.”

And as Wonder Woman flies away from visiting a troubled woman's young daughters, she narrates:
Children. Their joy is so infectious, they laugh completely without reserve. My life is changing so much lately. I can imagine things duty would not allow, previously. Children. I wonder.
What has the movie and Queen business to do with that? I suppose if you squint you can see the Queen as a bad mother to Wonder Woman, given the delusion the villain works under, but I didn't really see a connection, so much as suspect the possibility of it.

As I mentioned in my previous post on the volume, Chang's art has a little more personality than Lopresti's, but despite being smooth, open and expressive, it still isn't so great it transcends the relative weaknesses of the script. It's good art to be sure, but it's not great art, and a weak script really needs great art to help carry it.

Counting these two issues, that makes a full 13 issues of Gail Simone's run on Wonder Woman I've read, or the first third of it, and I'm afraid I didn't much care for any of them...certainly not as much as I liked a handful of previous runs (the original Marston/Peter one, the Jimenez run, even the occasionally dull Rucka run), nor enough to want to read any more of it.

It's really too bad. Simone can be a fine writer of superhero comics, she seemed like she'd be a pretty great fit for Wonder Woman and, sexist of me or not, I kind of liked the idea of a woman writer writing Wonder Woman, especially given how long DC's been publishing Wonder Woman comics with men writing the character.

Something just doesn't seem to be clicking here—certainly not clicking for me, nor clicking with the direct market, given the sales charts and DC's decision to put JMS on the title and reboot the status quo once again.

I've only read a few pages of JMS' run, the ones that appeared in Wonder Woman #600, but they seemed even less compelling than anything I've read during Simone's run.

Man, writing Wonder Woman must be hard.


Hdefined said...

I don't know why Simone gets as much hype as she does.

Well, actually, I'm pretty sure I know why.

She's a woman and has a sense of humor and humility about her personality.

But I don't think either of these things translate into good comics. Everything I've read by her has been underwhelming and gives the impression she wasn't cut out to be a comic book writer, she's just giving it a try and no one is really hardpressed to let her go yet. Well, her indie books are probably good, but she just doesn't have the right approach for mainstream superheroes.

Patrick C said...

I haven't read a lot of Simone's work, I think just a few issues of "All New Atom" and "Secret Six" (and Villains United but I think that's kind of included with Secret Six), and a 2 issue stint on Teen Titans. I really, really, really liked Atom and like Secret Six. I wasn't impressed with Teen Titans, but Secret Six is enough to make me a big Simone fan.

gummi48 said...

I believe Simone is actually credited as having some involvement in the creation of The Queen of Fables. So that probably explains some of her fondness.