Monday, October 04, 2010

Review: The "Ends of the Earth" arc from Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth

I made it a little further into Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth then I did with Superman: New Krypton Vol. 1 before landing on a panel so depressing it made me lose all interest in finishing the book, and leading to me setting the volume aside for a few days.

I made it to page six, panel four. It’s near the end of a scene where Wonder Woman battles a pack of wolves in the snow. Using her lasso she determines that the wolves are rabid and are dying, and their sincerest desire is not to have to turn on one another. "Forgive me," she says, drawing her sword to put down a pack of wolves.


Why am I reading a Wonder Woman comic book in which our heroine has to put a bunch of animals to sleep the Amazon way (that is, tying them up and stabbing them)? You know what’s sad? When someone has to put their pet to sleep. That happens a lot in real life. Why is it happening here? Why am I reading this? Why am I being made sad for non-existent wolves for no reason? (Also, why is Wonder Woman such a shitty superhero? If I were in her situation, I would have to stab the wolves to death, but I’m not a freaking superhero; can’t Wonder Woman use her fabulous powers, magic tools and friendships with gods and superheroes to cure wolves of rabies somehow? You suck, Wonder Woman!)

Well, it’s not apparent during the issue in which the scene appears (#20), but writer Gail Simone apparently does have a reason for including the scene; in the last issue of the “Ends of the Earth” story arc that makes up the majority of this collection, Wonder Woman refers back to the scene during a speech to the bad guy about how unfair it is that the wolves had to die while he got to live, and that she too can be like a wolf. Or something.

It’s one of the problems with serial comics as they currently exist.

As with that Superman trade I’d mentioned previously, I wasn’t reading that panel with the wolf mercy-killing for the first time. I had actually read the first three issue of this four-issue arc when they were originally published in serial form back in 2008.

I didn’t much care for it then.

Simone was saddled with the nonsensical status quo and supporting cast established during Allan Heinberg’s troubled “run” on Wonder Woman (which, at all of one story arc and only five issues, really amounted to little more than a pitch for a comic book series), and while Simone tried to make the best of it, no matter how clever her dialogue, there was just no way she could make a go of it(At least I couldn’t get past the fact that Wonder Woman’s new secret identity working for DC’s version of SHIELD was just really, really silly). Other story baggage, relating to the awful, awful Amazons Attack miniseries/event didn’t help either.

Simone’s plot was sort of interesting: A red-eyed, soul-less man from another dimension recruits her to help him gather a group of legendary warriors to destroy a demon his world knew as D’grth, and Diana knows as “The Devil” (He's called Stalker, and is apparently the lead from the short-lived mid-seventies series Stalker, whom also appeared in a different form in the James Robinson/David Goyer helmed "Justice Society Returns" event from 1999, although this story doesn't refer to either of those; in fact, the Stalker from the JSA story seems like a completely different version than this one). Wonder Woman and Stalker are shuttled through a few dimensions to pick up Beowulf and then Claw, and then kill the devil to death.

What ultimately lost me (I dropped the series, which I had just started buying again at #14, with #22, the third issue of this story arc), was that I just couldn’t stand listening to Wonder Woman’s narration. She’s…what’s the word?…insufferable.

Is that what Simone was going for? Insufferability? If so, then she did a good job; I developed a very quick dislike for the protagonist, but if that was what she was going for, the unfortunate side effect was that I didn’t want to spend much time around Wonder Woman (I haven’t given it much thought, but as I mention all the time, I also hate Hal Jordan as Geoff Johns writes him, and yet I still read and enjoy Green Lantern. I wonder what the difference between the two books with two protagonists I loathe is, exactly…?).Reading the story in this form, my distaste for Wonder Woman's formal-bordering-on-pretentious (and mostly superfluous anyway) narration hardly matters, as I have the whole story here in front of me, and if I need to take a few weeks between attempts to read it, I can do that.

But reading it in serial installments, once you hit something you don’t like, it’s easy to quit and never start back up again. (I also got this collection from a library, so certainly the fact that I’m reading it for free rather than making judgments about its quality versus its cost every 22-pages is a major factor determining whether I’m going to get to the end of the story or not).

As intriguing as the plot is, it suffers from an excess of Wondy’s pretentious narration, keeping one foot in the ongoing sub-plots involving various supporting characters (there’s no introduction, afterword or footnotes to let me know if I’m missing something important by having not read something else, or if Simone just didn’t include information I might have liked to have), typical problems with shared-universe stories (Wonder Woman fights the Devil to the death in Washington DC, and no one else bothers to show up) and some odd pacing choices (Beowulf is given a thorough, issues-long introduction, but Claw is barely met or explained, to the point I felt like I might have skipped a chapter).

As a story arc, read all at once, “Ends of the Earth” is flawed but not awful; as a serial, encountered issue by issue, I’m surprised I made it as far as I did (Maybe I was just that excited about Beowulf…?).

Better art might have helped.

Artists Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan handle the art on the “Ends of the Earth” story arc, and it’s solid work, and, if this were the only modern superhero comic book you read, it might even be quite impressive, but there’s nothing remarkable about it.Lopresti and Ryan don’t make any mistakes, and do everything right, they just do anything right enough to really transcend the genre or the shortcomings of the title and script.

The book includes two more issues comprising one more story arc, “A Star in the Heavens,” again written by Simone and now drawn by Bernard Chang, whose work has a little more personality, but I imagine the effect of reading the two artists back to back is to make the work of both artists blend together a bit. That’s the sense I got by flipping through the second arc, anyway.

The first one so exhausted me, I think I’m going to need a few more days break before plunging back into another of Simone’s Wonder Woman stories.

1 comment:

Eric Rupe said...

"She’s…what’s the word?…insufferable. "

I would have used something like "pretentious" but insuferable is probably better.

"I wonder what the difference between the two books with two protagonists I loathe is, exactly…?"

Probably because Jordan acts like an idiot a lot AND gets called on it even if there are never really any consequences for him. It seems something similar rarely happens with Wonder Woman, if at all. That would be my guess.

And, if you thought this was bad, then just avoid Rise of the Olympians. It pretty much like Ends of the Earth, but much, much, much worse.