Monday, December 29, 2014

Wonder Woman #37: The issue that guarantees DC will need to reboot again soon

When Wonder Woman #36 was released last month, I struggled a bit with whether to bother reviewing it or not, and ultimately decided that the character was important enough that the debut of the new creative team on her main comic book series during a pretty critical time in the fictional character's history was a big enough deal to go ahead and do so, even though the book turned out to be every bit as awful as anyone familiar with that creative team assumed it would be.

So, what's my excuse this month? The last page, which features a big reveal as a cliffhanger ending, a reveal so big that I may have released a strangled "Oh no!" from my throat when I read it in disbelief. It was, quite literally, the last thing that should be included in a Wonder Woman comic set in the New 52, which was, you'll recall, created to streamline and simplify the DC Universe into a more welcoming place for new readers.

This post will obviously contain spoilers, well a spoiler, which is why I'm writing about it now, a few weeks after release. Anyone who is reading Wonder Woman monthly should have gotten to that terrible, terrible page by now; anyone trade-waiting, you've been warned here, so don't try and make me feel bad if I spoil the ending for you in the course of this post.

In the previous issue, Wonder Woman took a shower to wash all the blood from her latest adventure off, while thinking about water. Cyborg called her and the rest of the Justice League up to their satellite headquarters, where he explained villages full of people have been suddenly disappearing, as if being swallowed up by the Earth instantly. They split up into groups to investigate the scenes of the disasters or crimes or whatever, and Wonder Woman happened to see Swamp Thing standing nearby one. So she did the most Wonder Woman-ly think she could think of, and ambushed him, almost flying kicking his head off. She then proceeded to scream accusations at him while punching whole chunks out of his body.

When Swamp Thing and teammate Aquaman finally got her to calm down, and Aquaman asked what that was all about, Wondy explained that she's just been under a lot of stress lately: She's the current Greek God of War, she's acting Queen of the Amazons, she's Superman's girlfriend and she's on the Justice League. It's a little overwhelming for any woman, even a Wonder Woman.

Then she went back to Paradise Island, to find the Amazons bickering over her divided loyalties and the fact that she let some male Amazons (don't ask) on to the island to live with them, and then she gets more bad news: Her mom, who was turned into what I assumed stone during the early issues of the New 52 relaunch, was "dead;" her stone form melted away in the rain. Writer Meredith Finch didn't get into it last issue, as that was the shocking cliffhanger ending of the last issue, and doesn't mention it here, but the art seems to suggest that Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons wasn't petrified, but turned into clay, and then washed away in the rain, because neither Wonder Woman nor any other Amazon thought to, like move or cover her in case it rained. It was as if their mother and/or queen was a bike, left out in the rain by a careless child, and now she's all rusted. Only instead of rusted, she's dead.

And that's where the first issue of Finch, pencil artist David Finch and inker Richard Friend left off. Ready for the second chapter of their story?


Wonder Woman is once again posed awkwardly, apparently bound from the ankles to the knees and hopping around a battlefield, while gesturing with a gnarled, three-fingered hand at a metallic-looking bird (presumably a Stymphalian bird of the sort Hercules dealt with during his sixth labor) as it crashes into her logo.

Two other Amazons in scanty armor stand around, looking up at the birds, one of them smiling rather happily—perhaps she's pleased that Wonder Woman's logo seems to be preventing the birds from getting to them. A third Amazon with her back to the reader draws back a bow, preparing to fire an arrow a bird trying to squeeze through the narrow opening between the issue number and credits on one side and the Wonder Woman logo on the other.

Credit where credit's due, the general conception of these metallic monster birds is pretty cool. On the three-panel first page, we see some Amazons dressed as they have been for a decade or two (or maybe even three now), in bits and bobs of Bronze Age armor, as if they're all dressing up as Naughty Spartans for Halloween.

There's a red-outlined black "SCRREEECH" sound-effect (thanks to letterer Dezi Sienty) as the birds rocket out of the sky toward Paradise Island like bottle rockets, and then they hover above the Amazons.

That's followed by a double-page splash—the 20-page issue's first of two—in which the birds engage the Amazons. Here we get a sense of how big they are, standing about as high as an Amazon, so, you know, fucking huge for a bird, and we see one of the Amazons has a cool undercut hairstyle. Yes, they may only use weapons from the time of Christ, but they do keep abreast of current trends in hairstyle.

One of them's like, "Hey, where's Wonder Woman?" and the other's like, "I don't know; I wish she was here as often as these giant monster birds are here."

I paraphrase.

Meanwhile, on the set of Macbeth, a Dark Lord of the Sith and the witch from Snow White stand on either side of a boiling cauldron, while a lady dressed like an Amazon kneels before them, reluctantly handing her/a baby over to them. The Sith lady raises a knife and kills the baby—off-panel, of course. DC may have gotten a lot more graphic and gory over the last decade or so, but they haven't gone so far as to show babies getting stabbed to death yet.


There's a full splash page—actually, about a page and a half; it would have been another double-page splash, but for four small-ish panels running down the right-hand side of the spread of an athletic, dark haired man fighting an athletic, dark-haired woman, both of them armed with staffs and wearing work-out clothes. The woman is Wonder Woman, which is made clear by the fact that the man calls her "Diana." The man turns out to be Superman, which is only made clear on page eight, when Diana calls him "Clark." They are in a vaguely eastern-looking place on pages 6 and 7, and then there's no backgroun on page 8, and it's not until page 9 when they walk into a generic metal room that it becomes clear they were probably in the Justice League's version of the X-Men's Danger Room (which Brad Meltzer called "The Kitchen," but which I thought—perhaps hoped—was New 52-ed away with the rest of Meltzer's run).

Superman tries to talk to Wonder Woman about her feelings, particularly regarding her clay mother having been melted away by the rain, and she tries shutting the conversation down.
He keeps pushing until she snaps and yells at him, and then walks away saying, "Grief isn't a luxury I have time for."


The Sith lady is walking away from the witch from Snow White and the boiling cauldron. She's holding the baby—Alive? Dead?—in her hands, while the Amazon lies prone on the ground, a stream of red blood pouring from her. I guess she killed the mother, not the baby. Or maybe she killed both? It's unclear.

The witch looks into the pot, in which Wonder Woman's mom's clay face appears to be boiling, and the witch sheds a single tear (those are the panels atop the post; Wonder Woman's dead clay mom being an "ingredient" in the pot will become weirder on page 20, so keep in mind that she's in there, okay?).

PAGES 11-13

Wonder Woman, now wearing her Wonder Woman costume, appears before "the council," the group of Amazons who were complaining at her last issue. Their leader appears to be the wicked witch. They demand that Wonder Woman choose to either stay with them permanently to serve as their queen, or abdicate to someone else. While the argument continues, a lady runs in and says they're under attack.

"Quickly," Wonder Woman shouts, "Sound the alarm!"

PAGES 14-15

The book's second two-page splash (yes, 20% of this book is devoted to just two panels), as Wonder Woman, now wearing an entirely different costume including a battle skirt, cape and shoulder armor, disembowels one of those bird things with a sword.

What happened to "quickly," Wonder Woman? You still had time to change, did you?

Also, here it becomes clear that the birds are machines, as when Wonder Woman chops the bird open, gears and wires and metal pieces fall out of it. They are basically like scary, giant versions of Bubo from the good Clash of The Titans movie, then.


Wonder Woman gives battle orders while she and the Amazons fight the birds. One of them swoops for the old witch lady, and Wonder Woman says "Derinoe, NO!," so I guess I should start calling that lady Derinoe now, and then Wonder Woman says "HRRAGH!" and cuts off its talons.

PAGE 17-18

Derinoe is mad at Wonder Woman for saving her, and Wonder Woman changes the subject, asking what those things are. They are "man-eating Stymphalian birds--Ares' idea of pets," one of the Amazons says, noting they started attacking about a week ago. They are apparently flocking to the island, as that's where Wonder Woman lives, and as the God of War, they apparently belong to her now.
Wonder Woman makes a face of grim determination and is right in the middle of swearing to take care of the problem, when Cyborg calls to say another village vanished, and Wonder Woman flies away to deal with that, saying she'll be back to deal with the whole giant man-eating* metal bird problem soon.


A vaguely insect-like humanoid in a loin cloth stands before the glowing throne of a dark-skinned, red-eyed lady who may or may not be of the same species as him, in a room that looks like a mixture of sci-fi stuff and an anicent temple.

"It is begun, my lady," the bug guy says, his words encapsulated in a scratchily-drawn dialogue balloon.

"And the traitor?" the red-eyed lady says, speaking in her own font.


Here, see for yourself:
So meanwhile, there's a cauldron, with a naked dark haired lady floating out of it. This is probably meant to be the same cauldron from earlier in the book, but there's no background, so it could be anywhere, really. It's probably not in the temple of the bug guy though, as his answer appears in a narration box, as if the scene has changed.

The important bit, is of course, the dialogue coming from off-panel, which is probably coming from Derinoe, as her dialogue bubbles are shaped like that, but it's unclear. This page probably could have used another panel or three, like an establishing shot for location, an establishing shot for who the fuck is talking, and then the reveal.

That, or David Finch coulda drew a background and had the speaker appear on the page.

But it's the words that are the really troubling part: "DONNA TROY."

I'm assuming everyone who managed to read this far knows exactly who Donna Troy is; the fact that Meredith Finch could use the mention of her name alone as a cliffhanger indicates that she at least expects readers to know who Donna Troy is, and for that knowledge in and of itself to prove extremely dramatic (This is odd, as Meredith Finch has said in interviews she's not very familiar with Wonder Woman, and has really only read the previous New 52 run, during which Donna Troy never appeared).

If you are, skip these next four paragraphs. If not, read them.

Donna Troy, along with the Legion of Super-Heroes and Hawkman, is one of the biggest continuity "problems" in DC history, a scab that creators can't seem to stop picking at. That's because her original appearance—along with the sidekicks that formed the first iteration of the Teen Titans—was a mistake. "Wonder Girl" wasn't Wonder Woman's sidekick, but Wonder Woman herself as a teenager (similar to Superman and the original Superboy), and she regularly teamed up with grown-up Wonder Woman via time-travel (along with Wonder Tot, Wonder Woman as a toddler) because, you know, comics.

Once introduced to the Titans, however, she needed a new identity and origin, so Marve Wolfman and Gil Kane came up with an origin in a 1969 issue of Teen Titans, in which Wonder Girl was a human girl Wonder Woman saved from a fire and, unable to find her parents, brought her back to Paradise Island and gave her Amazon powers. The origin is expanded by Wolfman and George Perez in 1984 storyline "Who Is Donna Troy?". And then Crisis On Infinite Earths strikes, Wonder Woman's continuity is radically rebooted, so that she was making her debut in the late 1980s, retroactively erasing all of her adventures in Man's World prior to that, and thus severing her from Wonder Girl/Donna Troy, which, of course, is a bit of a problem.

So then we get "Who Is Wonder Girl?", divorcing Donna Troy from Wonder Woman and marrying her origins instead to "The Titans of Myth" (She also gets a haircut, new costume and new codename of "Troia"). In the '90s, John Byrne revised her origin again, now making her a magical duplicate pesudo-sister of Wonder Woman's, adding in some parallel dimension jazz. Then, leading into Infinite Crisis, Phil Jimenez brings her back from the dead and re-clarifies her origin again, in a storyline entitled "The Return of Donna Troy?" The new status quo hardly mattered, as the multiverse would go through a series of cosmic reboots to history/continuity—Infinite Crisis, 52, Final Crisis—in the next few years, one effect of which was reverting Wonder Woman to her pre-Crisis timeline, in terms of how long she has been in Man's World anyway (around the same amount of time as Batman and Superman, rather than years and years later).

When the next and latest cosmic re-set button was hit during the climax of Flashpoint, it wiped out Donna Troy's entire generation of superheroes—or, at least the less popular ones. Fellow Titans Nightwing, Cyborg, Starfire and Roy Harper remained in the new continuity, as did Donna's one-time boyfriend Kyle Rayner, but they all had new origins, and none of them were ever Titans. That's one way of dealing with the Donna Troy problem, then: Simply removing her from existence.

And now? She's back! I'm sure there were plenty of people bummed out about her being erased from existence, just as there were plenty of people bummed out about The Flash Wally West being wiped out of existence thanks to Flashpoint, but one thing Wally West's New 52 debut has demonstrated, it's to be careful what you wish for.

Over the decades, there have literally been hundreds of pages devoted to explaining who the hell Wonder Girl/Donna Troy is and how to make her fit in the current DC Universe, but the problem remains that the DC Universe is itself being altered so frequently, that every new explanation of the character needs constant revision. If she's going to work, she needs to do so in a way that's not too closely tied to a time period, or to Wonder Woman or to the Titans. This might work, although given the poor quality of the first 40-issues of the Finch's Wonder Woman I don't exactly have any faith it will, but, like Wally West, Donna Troy is probably a casualty of the New 52 reboot better left dead.

She belongs to the a now lost generation of characters, who don't fit into the DCU in any logical way anymore (Dick Grayson's still here because he's a popular character, but he doesn't make sense in a six-year timeline, and makes less sense the more a reader thinks about him). And like her generation of sidekicks-who-grew up, Donna Troy has been replaced by other sidekicks. She can't be Wonder Girl, because there's already a Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark, who survived the continuity purge of Flashpoint; I'm not sure what her deal is, or why she exists, as The New 52 Teen Titans hurt my eyes too much to read).

And unlike Grayson, Harper and even former-Aqualad Garth, Donna never developed a decent identity and codename to grow into her own, independent superhero. She's a great character, but she's a great character for the pre-Flashpoint DCU, not the New 52, where she's more likely than not just going to irritate the (relatively) few people who want to see Donna Troy in the modern DCU again, and create another seeping continuity wound that will need healed by a future creative team.

I suppose we can begin a countdown to the next "Who Is..." storyline making sense of the character. Might I recommend the title "Who The @#$% Is Donna Troy Supposed to be Now...?"


Say, so we've had a book with this title...
...and one with this title... is it that there's never been a comic book called Wonder Girl and The Legion of Super-Heroes or Donna Troy and The Legion of Super-Heroes...?

*Say, do you think an all-female society would use the word "man-eating," or would they instead use "woman-eating," or, at the very least, "person-eating"...? "Man-eating" seems a strange term to develop in a society that has been pretty much devoid of all men for pretty much ever..


Evan said...

I think it's easy enough to No-Prize the Amazons' use of the word "man-eating." I think we can assume that the Amazons are not speaking English, but are actually speaking their own native Amazonian tongue, or maybe some dialect of Ancient Greek. They probably used a word closer to "person-eating" that was converted into "man-eating" when their dialogue was "translated" into English.

If only the rest of the stuff in the comic could be explained away that easily.....

SallyP said...

Well, I read the first issue, and was properly horrified. I'm SO glad that I didn't read the second issue, and I'm sorry that you had to suffer through all that.

Seriously,that is just awful.

Anonymous said...

I think I would actually pay for your monthly issues of this title if it meant you doing these recaps/reviews on the reg.

Anonymous said...

The real reason they're trying to bring back Donna Troy, seems to me, is that there's no WW "family" to support a series of titles.

(See also: the alleged trouble with Hawkman.)