Friday, November 21, 2014

We need to talk about the new issue of Wonder Woman


"I Read Wonder Woman #36 So You Don't Have To"

As a comics critic, I never quite know what to do with terrible comic books when I come across them. I never go out of my way to read a comic book that I suspect will be terrible without any mitigating circumstances, and, when I do read one, I then wonder if it's better to just not mention it anywhere at all, under the ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away school of thought, or if I should go out of my way to discuss the book and its negative qualities, so as to not let the only reviews of the book to get written be positive ones.

In the case of Wonder Woman #36, I obviously decided to review it rather than ignore it, not simply because it was terrible, but because the character is so damn...well, important. I think it's well worth noting that this was one of three comics with the name "Wonder Woman" in the title. In addition to this issue, the first by the new creative team of Meredith Finch, David Finch and Richard Friend, Wednesday also saw the release of the excellent Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #4 (discussed here) and the first issue of Superman/Wonder Woman by it's new creative team of Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza (more on that book in another day or two).

I quite literally set down one prose book about the character and picked up another one, that latter getting what seems to me like an unprecedented amount of mainstream media attention for a book about a comics creator and his creation (Do correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any books on other creators and characters ending up on, say, The Colbert Report, for example).

With a long-awaited movie finally—finally!—in the works, we're only going to be hearing more and more about Wonder Woman in the next few years, so it seems well worth while to see how publisher DC Comics is handling their stewardship of the character.

Relaunched with a new #1 and a new direction in September of 2011, Wonder Woman has thus far had only one creative team, a rather rare feat for a DC comic from that period. Writer Brian Azzarello, artist Cliff Chiang and several different fill-in artists recreated Wonder Woman in several dramatic and controversial ways during that time, pulling focus away from the character and her past to something that, for better or worse, was at least new, a sort of urban fantasy that re-cast Wonder Woman as an adult female Percy Jackson.

Azzarello also pulled off the pretty neat trick of rebooting the character without really rebooting her—most of the changes involved were merely Diana learning things about her origins and the Amazons she didn't know before—so that it wasn't impossible, or even too terribly difficult, to line the run up with the ones that preceded it (continuity-wise, if not tonally). And, remarkably, he managed to keep Wonder Woman completely divorced from the rest of the DC Universe, to the extent that DC had to create a new team-up title—Superman/Wonder Woman—in which to address her relationship with the rest of the DC Universe, particularly her new boyfriend Superman.

Who did DC tap to follow the long three-year, 740-page run of Azzarello, Chiang and company...?

Writer Meredith Finch and artist David Finch. You'll be forgiven for not recognizing the first name; she has little to no prior comics writing experience (Scripting one of the three stories in 2014's Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Tales From Oz from another writer's story is the only credit I could find), and her main qualification for the title seems to be that she is married to artist David Finch, who remains inexplicably popular with DC editors, despite being wholly unreliable at hitting deadlines or producing semi-legible artwork.

Neither seems a particularly good fit for a top-tier DC comic book featuring one of their biggest stars, but DC seems to be counting on whatever fanbase Mr. Finch still retains after his poor showing during Forever Evil, the first few issues of Justice League of America and his abandoned vanity Batman book The Dark Knight will off-set whatever readers were following Azzarello and Chiang as they left the book (If I had to guess, I would assume the Finch team is only going to be around for an arc or so anyway; that seems to be about as long as David Finch can devote to a book, so this may just be a temporary "stunt" creative team while DC firms up the next, "real" creative team who might be able to commit to a run at least as long as Azzarello and Chiang's).

So, how did Finch, Finch and Friend do...?

Like you had to ask.


Personally, I don't mind Wonder Woman being portrayed as particularly youthful, small or even dainty. I think the large, powerful, statuesque warrior woman portrayal is valid, and it's certainly been the default version since at least Crisis On Infinite Earths, but I don't think she has to be portrayed with that particular body type or presence.

Her strength doesn't come from her body, after all, but the gods, and I generally think of William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter's Wonder Woman as the "real" Wonder Woman. Peter's Wonder Woman was fit, but she was 1940s fit; she wasn't musclebound or even particularly imposing.

Her girlishness was part of her charm, as was her male opponents constantly being surprised when she performed some incredible feat of speed or strength before their astonished eyes.

Finch's Wonder Woman definitely looks young, particularly here on this cover, which he seems to have spent much more time on than any panel of the comic within, as it's maybe his best drawing of the character, and she's not particularly tall or muscular.

Of course, she's posed in a sort of zig-zagging pattern, so her stature's a little hard to judge, isn't it? Finch give her a young face and slim body, with disproportionately large breasts, and poses her awkwardly crouched, butt thrust back, back arched to thrust her breasts forward. Maybe he was trying to crouch behind that big-ass shield to protect herself from all those arrows being shot at her?

The posing reminded me of this...
...although I think Emmy Rossum looks like she might have a better fighting stance on that Cosmo cover.

Anyway, it's a pretty basic, even generic image of the character, of the sort that DC might slap on any random issue of Sensation. It works well enough for a first issue of a new run in that it's divorced from any particular story elements, but it's also yet one more image of Wonder Woman as violent warrior goddess.

Apparently engaged in battle with humans—or humanoids—with a level of technology that involves arrows, Wonder Woman just got done fighting them off with a sword, which is still stained and dripping with their blood.

I'm afraid I never really understood why Wonder Woman needs to carry axes, swords or spears. She is super-strong, right? Almost as strong as Superman? Superman doesn't need to carry a knife to fight crime or defend himself; why does Wonder Woman need weapons on all the time?


The first few pages of the story feature the title character meditating—via dark red narration boxes with a "WW" symbol in the first one, to assure us it is indeed Wonder Woman narrating—on the nature of water. "It nourishes and sustains life," reads the first one, "But it can also bring devastation and death."

The art in the first panel depicts a close up image of grass, while rain falls upon it. The following panels correspond to the narration pretty closely. "It is the answer to a prayer," appears in a panel of two vaguely Asian-looking farmers holding out their hands to feel the rain falling into them, while the words "Or our worst nightmare" appears on a panel depicting five little children running through a slum while the muddy wave of a flood bears down on them.

Some relevant visual information is communicated during this sequence. For example, there are three panels in a row of what appears to be be a statue of Wonder Woman in the rain (this is actually her mother Hippolyta, who was turned to stone earlier in this volume of Wonder Woman, but you would only know that if you've been reading Wonder Woman a while. Finch draws her identicallyt o WOnder Woman herself, and she even wears a tiara with a star in the middle).

On the third page, there are a series of images of a damn-breaking, a well-dressed man standing atop it as it does. On a cliff overlooking the broken damn, there's a mysterious figure, of whom nothing can really be determined; in two of the panels he's in silhouette, and in the other he's mostly in silhouette. Unlike the image of Hippolyta, this is likely intentional, and meant to be a mystery that will be explored in future issues.


Here's the first appearance of Wonder Woman in the new run by the new creative team: A shower scene!
With a bar of soap, Wonder Woman is washing away the copious amounts of blood that apparently coat her entire body—it's safe to assume that it's other people's blood. Perhaps it belongs to whoever she was cutting and stabbing just before the cover shoot...?

While a reader might think, "A shower scene? Featuring Wonder Woman? In Wonder Woman? Ugh," said reader need not ugh. There is absolutely nothing the least bit sexy, exploitive or even mildly titillating about the scene. Because, remember, this is drawn by David Finch. I had to stare at the second panel for quite a while to determine exaclty what I was looking at; I eventually realized that it's supposed to be Wonder Woman washing her right elbow with her left hand, while cupping her right breast with her right hand.

Yeah, Finch is the kind of artist where it's difficult to tell what body parts are supposed to be what body parts.


Wonder Woman steps out of the shower in her London apartment. I know it's London, because there's a caption that says "London" in the first panel. The first three pages, with the poor people and the Asian farmers and the dam or dams breaking? No idea where that was; they didn't get captions.

Wonder Woman walks up to a framed 2D image of two little girls in Wonder Woman tiaras. I think it's meant to be a child's drawing, but I can't rule out that it's a photograph. Finch isn't exactly the best of artists, you know? Maybe that's how he draws little kids.
Cyborg skypes Wonder Woman and tells her "We have a situation," to which she responds, "On my way." Great dialogue.


"Paradise Island," a caption informs us. There are a bunch of Amazons posing in a room, arguing about developments at the climax of the previous run, which I am not privy to, as I have been reading it in trade. But This much is clear: The Amazons have been freed from their curse (all save Hippolyta, who is still stone), and apparently Wonder Woman has invited the Amazon men back to the island...?

A retcon from the Azzarello era was that rather than being immortals, the Amazons reproduced by capturing ships, mating with the sailors, killing the sailors spider-style, keeping any girl children born from the encounters and selling any male children to the god Hephaestus/Vulcan/Smith in exchange for arms.

Three ladies present having speaking parts, two are opposed to any men being welcomed into Amazon society. One of them, a withered crone who looks like she should be flying around outside a Scottish castle, foretelling an imminent death, is apparently Hippolyta's sister.


This is just a two-page spread of most of the current roster of The Justice League—Flash gets a line noting that Luthor is absent—standing behind Cyborg, who is sitting in a chair in front of a computer.

Everyone looks terrible.


Batman and Cyborg fill the team in on why they called the meeting: Apparently thriving villages have disappeared over night, leaving no signs of human or animal life behind. The team is going to split up to find "something...anything" that Cyborg's scanners couldn't find.

PAGES 11-16

On page 11, we see David Finch's fairly off-model Swamp Thing in the boughs of a tree in Thailand, talking to himself.

Wonder Woman says "Monster--" from off-panel right, and then she comes flying foot first at him from off-panel left (I knew Superman used to use super-ventriloquism, but I didn't realize Wonder Woman had wonder-ventriloquism!), screaming "What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!"
Wonder Woman continues screaming at Swamp Thing, accusing him of destroying the villages and punching him to pieces, while he retaliates by throwing her against a tree trunk and turning his arm into a swamp gunk hose.

The fight only ends when Swamp Thing summons a bunch of vines to entrap her, and protesting that he's innocent: "I felt a massive disturbance in the green and came to investigate."

Aquaman shows up and asks the obvious question.

PAGES 17-18

Aquaman and Wonder Woman are flying in a visible jet plane of some sort, and Aquaman tells her that maybe ambushing other super-people and tearing them to pieces might not be that great of an idea, Wonder Woman replies curtly, "Now we know he didn't do it. Let's move on."

That entire fight scene would have been a bit like Wonder Woman going to investigate a murder scene, and beating the fuck out of the policeman who might be there, just in case they were the killers.

And if Wonder Woman didn't think she could trust Swamp Thing to tell her the truth if she just, you know, asked him if he killed a couple villages full of people, she does happen to have a magical rope that can compel him to tell the truth if she just lassos his ass; why didn't she ambush with a lariat around the torso, rather than trying to kick his head off and then punching big chunks out of him?

Eventually, she opens up to Aquaman a little, in an info-dump that summarizes her status quo in as prosaic and uninteresting a manner as possible:
In addition to plain old bad comics storytelling, the panel reveals a conflict that's a bit of an uncomfortable one for Wonder Woman to be having—she's so busy with work and family and her relationships that she's feeling overwhelmed by it all.


Wonder Woman alights on Paradise Island and meets Dessa, the Amazon with a speaking part earlier in the book who wasn't all bent out of shape about the Amazon men returning to the island.

They chat briefly about the brewing conflict, and Wonder Woman asks for a few minutes to spend with her mother before they continue any discussion, at which point we get the cliffhanger splash page.


In the foreground there's a lumpy, viscous brown pile, atop which rests Hippolyta's face; her body apparently melted out from under neath it.

"She's dead," says Dessa in the background, while a shocked Wonder Woman looks down at what used to be her mother.

The end.


SallyP said...

IN spite of my grave misgivings about the new artist and writer on this book, I DID buy it, in order to give them a chance.

Man, this reeks.

The dialogue is cliched, the scenes jump around in no particular or orderly fashion, and Wonder Woman herself is presented as a twit.

Wonder Woman does not go up to people...even Swamp People, and start punching them out in a fit of rage. And perhaps it might have occured to someone to put Hippolyta under some cover? A tarp perhaps?


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

"What vegetative injustice..."

The other dialogue I'd accept as just being from someone who might be writing a self-published book with analogue characters. With that one line I thought that Meredith can't write worth a shit. Who in their right mind would say those words?

Johnny Bacardi said...

You know, if I was inclined to start another blog, "What Vegetative Injustice" would be a spiffy title for it.

David said...

Terrible, terrible comic, terrible writing, terrible art, but the vegetative injustice line is brilliantly stupid - like something straight out of Batman 66.f