Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: A Sensational Wonder Woman?

When I heard DC was doing a digital first series for Wonder Woman, I thought that finally DC was going to give us a Wonder Woman title that I could actually share with my daughter. Since the launch of the New 52, Wonder Woman has been under the guidance of Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang and a fine job they've been doing, too. Their Wonder Woman series as been among the most consistently good series to come out of the New 52. But it was not been an easy sell to those who might have a brighter view of the Amazon Princess. A lot of the themes of this series were dark and played out in graphic violence. My daughter at 13 years old has some fairly sophisticated sensibilities when it comes to books and comics she likes to read; she could probably handle Brian and Cliff's take on Wonder Woman. But I wouldn't be comfortable sharing it with her. 

So I greeted the announcement of Sensation Comics starring Wonder Woman with some degree of enthusiasm and hope. The deal was this would be a digital first series like Superman's with different writers and artists doing different interpretations of Diana with no particular obligation to any particular continuity.  

So I'm still old school. No, I have no problems with digital comics, I just like mine in print. So I got the print edition of the first 3 digital stories in Sensation Comics#1

And I didn't like it very much. 

I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. Really. Very sorry. Did I mention I was sorry? 

I really wanted to like this book but...

Where to start?

First of all, let me get this out there: I love Gail Simone's work. She is one my favorite writers in comics today. But the opening story in issue #1 is (please don't hurt me!) a bit of a mess.

Now maybe this is all on me. I'm not the sharpest thumb tack in the particle board. But it seemed to me there was too much going on in this story. It's a very interesting premise: Wonder Woman comes to Gotham to fight Batman's whacked out psycho rogues gallery. Maybe not all of them but too many by my estimate. This is Wonder Woman's opening story but it's hard to really get her as a character because she gas to play Whack-A-Mole with the Gotham Goon Squad. I think I would have preferred to see Diana in conflict with maybe 2 or 3 villains.  

I like the idea that Diana keeps getting told over and over that she can only win if she adapts to Gotham and, more importantly, fights like Batman. "No", Diana proclaims resolutely, "Gotham is going to have to adapt to me!" Kick ass moment! Loved it! Except...

Except Wonder Woman undermines the whole Batman concept. His way never really worked but her way does...and will. The whole Batman/Gotham dynamic is custom built for Batman to work in. Wonder Woman's refusal to compromise her values is admirable but her taking out so many villains at one time just underscore that Wonder Woman as being defined as "Not Batman". And "Batman sucks!" 

With a smaller cast of villains, perhaps we could see Wonder Woman dealing with these bad guys in different ways. For one of the crazies Wonder Woman does have to go into Batman mode to beat; nothing else was working. But another crazy gets turned by Diana's unique perspective, compassion and strength. In short, Batman's way works but not always. We get to see Wonder Woman have a genuine victory on her terms but without stepping all over Batman's cape.  

It was good to see pre-52 Barbara Gordon as Oracle again but there was a lot of character clutter in this story.As noted before there are a LOT of Bat-villains, some of whom actually gets some face time with the reader. There are cameos by Flash, Green Lantern and Superman,  Diana's fellow Amazons show up. And Catwoman and Harley Quinn (who Diana enlists as honorary Amazons; I liked that touch.)  I know the temptation was hard to resist: let's link this first Wonder Woman story to the uber popular Batman franchise.  But ultimately our Amazon Princess doesn't get the spotlight as much as she should in her own story. 

Ethan Van Sciver's art usually does not disappoint but the art for this story was murky and hard to follow. I don't know, maybe Ethan was constrained by the digital format. Or maybe Ethan should not ink himself; I've preferred his work being inked by Mick Gray or Prentis Rollins. 

And one more gripe: maybe I would've been a bit less harsh with this story if I could've read it without squinting. Black lettering in dark blue caption boxes? Really? Somebody thought that was a good idea?  

Again, normally I love Gail's writing and Ethan's art. But sorry, guys, this story didn't work for me. 

Let's look at the last third of the book, written by Amanda Deibert and illustrated by Cat Staggs. Let's talk art: I think Stagg's art is perfect for Wonder Woman, sort of like Cliff Chiang's art but with a nice Adam Hughes vibe. The story? Eh, not so much. 8 pages of dust up between Diana and Circe with Circle apparently cribbing from Marvel's Loki, stirring up trouble just for the purpose of...stirring up trouble. It's not a bad story; it is an effective display of Wonder Woman's powers, talents and temperament. 

I said the story was 8 pages but its actually a 10 page installment and its the last 2 pages where Deibert and Staggs do something very special. A young boy named Aidan is watching Wonder Woman's exploits on an tablet declares, "Wonder Woman is the best super hero." Natch, his buddies start picking on him about liking "girl stuff". Then Wonder Woman appears to ask, "What's wrong with girl stuff?" Then Wonder Woman tells Aidan that "being true to yourself is never wrong", she gives him a kiss on the forehead and she leaves a young boy who is suddenly really cool for liking Wonder Woman. 

During the run of Adventures of Superman, some of the best stories were centered around Superman's relationships to people, to his friends, his enemies, strangers. When dealing with a character as powerful as Superman, how he deals with different people is as important (if not more so) than the super feats. Wonder Woman is likewise in a similar position: she can do wondrous things but who is she really? How does she relate to other people? How do people relate to her? Why do her friends love her? Why do her enemies hate her? 

I want to see a kick ass Amazon Warrior, true, but I think if Sensation Comics is going to reach new readers, to expose Wonder Woman to a larger audience, that audience must have a reason to care about Diana. That means exploring more of what she means to people and what people mean to her. 

And when that happens, then I believe Wonder Woman will truly be a sensation. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You


Blog stuff: While I'm hiding from Gail Simone (I still love you, Gail! Red Sonja is amazing! Can't wait for Secret Six!), there will be no blog post for Thursday...again. (I just can't seem to handle Thursdays lately.) 

I'll be back with a NEW Broken News on Friday (4 words: George. Zimmerman. The. Musical.). Then Saturday and Sunday is another double punch of Doctor Who Weekend.

Until next time, be good to one another! (And especially be extra good to Gail Simone!) 

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