Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Superman/Wonder Woman #1

The first stumbling block that I personally as a consumer of comic books and fan of DC superhero characters would encounter is on the cover of this issue, right below the big, over-sized "#1": It costs $3.99.

DC's gradual creep toward the $3.99 price point continues, and here the extra buck gets you four extra story pages and a wrap-around, fold-out cover the size of three covers all lined up, with half of it depicting various Superman allies and enemies (only one of which, Cat Grant, appears within the book) and the other half various Wonder Woman allies and enemies (none of whom appear within).

The next, is, of course, the premise: This is a book about Superman and Wonder Woman, who are currently dating, a romance that so far seems to have played out almost entirely in the pages of Geoff Johns' Justice League comics (When I was reading Wonder Woman, it wasn't clear that Superman even existed in the setting of that book, and while I believe Wondy's appeared in the Super-comics a few times). So apparently the space to explore their relationship is being carved out here in this new book.

The relationship itself  feels rather weird and wrong, and I suppose part of that is unavoidable, in large part because Lois Lane is so foundational to all Superman stories in all media—and there are a lot of 'em—up until this point. Superman doesn't have to be married to Lois, especially if he's a younger, rebooted, "Ultimate" Superman, but having him single or dating a mermaid or Lana Lang and at least rebuffing, being rebuffed by or verbally jousting screwball comedy-style with Lois would work far better than having him date another hero from another franchise (In much the same way it would feel...off if Batman were dating Mera or Green Lantern were dating Catwoman).

But mostly the relationship doesn't feel right because there was no real thought or effort put into developing one between the characters, a problem that is somewhat endemic to The New 52, which is a very young "universe"—about two years old in our time, five years old in their time—in which we've only been shown a few glimpses of the past in flashback, and then the present, with a long stretch of "lost" time in between.

So Superman and Wonder Woman meet one another while battling Darkseid's invasion in Justice League #1-#6 and, after five years of being teammates in many adventures we as readers aren't privy to, suddenly they start making out and decide to be a couple.

It wasn't a love at first sight thing, nor was it a drunken accidental hook-up that leads to something more, nor, as far as we can tell, was it some sort of mutual crush that circumstance kept from reaching fruition for half a decade, nor was it a gradual, budding romance between friends. The way it was presented in the Johns-written Justice League #12 was that they were going to kiss and then start dating, because that's what the script said to do.

With a book now devoted to their relationship, one might expect DC to be able to at least retroactively convince readers that there's anything at all between the characters aside from complimentary color schemes on their costumes, but writer Charles Soule either isn't up to the challenge, or couldn't work out how to meet it while also meeting the demands of a superhero fight comic.

I don't mean this to sound like the gay joke it probably will, but I got a better sense of Batman and Superman's relationship in the recently launched Batman/Superman (and in plenty of other "first" meetings between the World's Finest characters) than I got a sense of Wonder Woman and Superman's relationship here.

I suppose it doesn't help much that these new versions of the characters are still pretty ill-defined, and Soule seems to be writing a "Year One" version of Superman from the first arc of Justice League and Action Comics, but a "Year Five" Wonder Woman from the later arcs of Justice League (although the world seems to react to the superheroes as if it were still Year One too, so...I don't know, I guess it's just a mess all around).
Soule opens in medias res, as Wonder Woman is about to watch Superman dismantle a massive storm, and, when he sees a plane headed into the danger zone, they split up.

The rest of the book is divided between scenes of derring do, with Superman fighting the storm and Wonder Woman first saving a plane and then being attacked by a military ship which she immediately counterattacks (In keeping with most modern depictions of Wonder Woman, this one is all warrior, no princess), and conversation scenes.

We see Clark Kent talking with Cat Grant about blogging and online business models, we see Diana training and talking with an unnamed Amazon who for some reason wasn't on Paradise Island when its entire population was turned to stone (Not sure why she's here at all, as the role of Someone For Wonder Woman To Talk To could easily have gone to someone in her own massive supporting cast...unless there's some rule where Soule's not allowed to touch anyone else from the Wonder Woman cast...?).

And then we see the two of them talking about their relationship, which Superman wants to keep secret for...reasons I'm not clear about (Obviously, Clark Kent can't be seen dating Wonder Woman, but why can't Superman...? If his enemies go after her to get to him well, she's just as capable of tearing apart Lex Luthor's giant robots and battle suits as Superman is).
There's a rather weird exchange where Wonder Woman disses Superman's fighting ability, saying "You have things to learn, and I'm just the woman to teach you," and, in the big fight scene at the climax of the book, we see panels of Wonder Woman fighting a Superman foe with inset panels of our heroes kissing and touching one another, implying that Wondy was talking about more than combat when she said she had things to teach Superman (Which is, again, kinda weird; she grew to adulthood in an all-female culture, and her only relationship was with the first man she had ever met, Steve Trevor. Superman, on the other hand, grew up in a world of male and female relationships, and whether he has much more sexual experience than she does or not, he is at least much more familiar with the concept than this Wonder Woman would or should be).

As for the Superman foe that shows up, it's Doomsday, which is a bit of surprise. He just recently appeared in the Greg Pak-written Batman/Superman #3.1, suggesting the most likely place for Doomsday to show up next would be Batman/Superman and/or Action Comics, which Pak is also writing.

Meanwhile, someone somewhere has sent a flash drive with a picture of Superman and Wonder Woman kissing on it to Cat Grant, but she hasn't opened her mail yet. If Doomsday doesn't kill Superman and Wonder Woman (and I'm not clear if Doomsday has killed Superman in The New 52's five "lost" years, or if he's even ever appeared on Earth before), then they may have to deal with their secret relationship getting out in the open sooner than Superman would like.

The artwork, which I've so far neglected to mention, is penciled by Tony S. Daniel and inked by Matt Banning. Daniel's presences is usually enough to drive me from a book, but I must admit that this is the best work I've seen from him to date. I feel like I've said that a couple of times previously too, which, if it's true and it's not just me thinking that, then it's a good sign: He continues to improve.
I think some of that may be down to the coloring by Tomeu Morey, who usually works with Guillem March, whose work almost always looks good. Daniel does a lot of big, Jim Lee-like lay-outs, splash pages and splashy panels that bleed from one page into the next, but he also handles the talky scenes fairly well, and the aforementioned romantic scene was actually handled with quite a bit of subtlety.

That said, Daniel still isn't a good enough artist with a unique enough style to make up for the flaws in the script, premise and characterization, and, I think, even the most forgiving and generous of readers will find this is little more than a pretty generic New 52 book, reading like a Justice League fill-in issue during which the other 2/3 of the team were too busy.

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It's rated T for Teen, so here's some of that "mild violence":

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Oh wait, I forgot to complain about the splash pages! There are 24 pages in the book altogether, but a lot of wasted space.  There are three full-page splashes, showing rather innocuous action panels like Wonder Woman caught in an explosion, Superman being punched out of the water and into a plane, and Doomsday's hand on a bloodied Wonder Woman's throat.

There's a single two-page splash, seen above (it doesn't really look that bad; that's all I could fit on my scanner). So there's five of the 24 pages right there.

But there are a few other pages that are so close to being splashes that they might as well be splashes. Take the first page of the book, the first image from the interior in this post (essentially a splash with two tiny inset panels). Pages 2 and 3 contain just six panels, the first of those occupying all of page 2 and bleeding over into page 3.

And there are two instances of Wonder Woman in action filling up two pages, with smaller inset panels. So pages 8 and 9 are almost a double-page splash of Wondy trying to right a falling airplane, with three smaller, inset panels bordering it. Similarly, pages 18 and 19 show Wondy tearing the guns off a Norweigian destroyer that fired on her, with five smaller panels around it.

I suppose in a trade all these big, bold images might be welcome—certainly they'd be common in a manga collection—but when you're already feeling a bit ripped-off by paying $4 for a comic book, it sure doesn't make one feel better about the purchase to see so much of the comic devoted to pages devoted to single panels.

Yeah, it's 24 pages of comics, but it reads more like 12.

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Oh hey, here's a positive thing! I like the logo. I don't really like the stamp-like quality of the current Wonder Woman title's logo, which they ditch here, and I really like how unusual and, I don't know, fresh, I guess, the "Superman" in the title looks rendered in more simple white text on a blue field, rather than in the traditional Superman font with the big, yellow letters forming a sort of monument of a logo. 

I'm especially pleased they didn't try to somehow entwine the Superman S-Shield and a "WW" together like they did with the S-Shield and Bat-symbol in the pre-New 52 Superman/Batman title.

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Now that you've read my poorly organized thoughts on the book, might I suggest you check out Tom Bondurant's better-organized and better-written review at Robot 6...? During the course of it, he offers an intriguing thought: What if a Superman/Wonder Woman book came out in the old DCU, where the two were close friends and long-time allies, with a platonic relationship more akin to the one that powered Superman/Batman...? That would have been an interesting book to read, to say the least, and I think it would have been kind of fascinating to see Wonder Woman and her allies and enemies essentially "promoted" to World's Finest status. I think it would have went a way towards helping legitimize the character as part of DC's so-called Trinity, and might have generated more interest in the monthly title.

5 comments:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I've been confused about the whole Doomsday thing since Morrison's run on Action, when that fight Superman has with that Superman-by-committee that fought the Superman of Earth 23. There are several references that there had been a similar fight that everyone had simple called Doomsday. I thought that clever, to make n event in the old DC something new. But then they brought Doomsday back. I haven't even bothered to look to see if he is still wearing green bicycle shorts.

Caleb said...

I haven't read past the first volume of Morrison's ACTION, but the recent Villain's Month special posited Doomsday as a Kryptonian monster from Superman's parents' time. There's a sorta clever scene where Supergirl's dad reads her the legend of Doomsday, and it seems like a Kryptonian version of the DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN omnibus.

Doomsday's still wearing green bike shorts, and I think the only real changes to his appearance are that he's got more bone protrusions, including tusks and horns.

Rev'd '76 said...

Walking the conversation of their mutual skillsets back from the relationship / intimacy angle, Caleb, I actually like the angle of Diana's training trumping Clark's accidental ability. It's a fair point and one I didn't see addressed all that often in the old DCU, either.

Then again, this is comics: characters' abilities wax & wane according to the creative staff depicting them, not any actual rules. Wonder Woman's been knocked on her can by many an amateur; same goes for Supes. Still, it would be nice to see a serious attempt to depict the differences in their skills both as combatants & strategists. There's always so much talk about power but really very little to back up whether those strengths are sensibly deployed.

In the case of the nu52, obviously, none of this matters since DC is now little more than an intellectual property mine for Warner's film & games division, with that mine perpetually creaking on the point of collapse, but this would seem to be food for thought for fanfic, at least.

SallyP said...

I know that DC seems to think that forcing Superman to be with Wonder Woman (or the other way around) is just the Bee's Knees...but it doesn't seem as though they even LIKE each other all that much...much less love each other.

Rev'd '76 said...

@SallyP:

Editorial mandate does rather undercut Diana's status as an independent woman, dunnit?

I'm with Caleb-- pretty sure it was Caleb, way back --on Frank Miller being one of the only writers I've seen who made The Big Kiss between the two work. (Even if Miller's art made her do the brokeback pose throughout.)

Most folks hated that particular DK tale, seems like, but to me it seemed like a culmination of aeons of character development, them having that moment. They'd both been through enough, gained & lost enough on both sides for it to be a Big Thing... as opposed to taking two nu52 action figures and mashing them together clumsily.