Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wonder Woman #14 (January, 2008)

It's been a longstanding truism in Hollywood that female-starring action films are box office poison. Warner Brothers president Jeff Robinov was infamously rumored to have declared in 2007 that his company, the one that owns Wonder Woman, would never again make another such film after the twin failures of The Brave One and The Invasion. Never mind that those were both deeply flawed movies. Never mind the $675M earned by the Resident Evil franchise. Never mind Underworld's $460M. Tomb Raider's $404M? Kill Bill's $333M? How about the $557M in unadjusted dollars earned by Ellen Ripley across a quarter century, versus the $301M made in "current" money by combining Aliens and Predators? No wonder the grapevine says Robinov's got Wonder Woman back in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, DC's had two Wonder Woman related "event" series in the past twenty years. One was 1991's justifiably forgotten War of the Gods, which was merely Catwoman in comparison to 2007's Amazons Attack!, the Cutthroat Island of comics. Wonder Woman #11-13 were direct tie-ins. Let us never speak of them. There's nothing wrong with a female-driven extravaganza (The Hunger Games alone made more than any one of the previously mentioned franchises combined,) but when you do it bad, it quickly becomes an epic scale boondoggle.

Speaking of which, Gail Simone, the first long term female writer of Wonder Woman, had a lot of expectations over her head as she picked up the threads from-- ahem-- you know. Hippolyta was back to normal, but plagued with guilt and living almost alone on Themyscira. While the other Amazons were in magical exile, four prisoners at as many points on the island were checked on once a year by their former queen. One crafted the dethroned monarch a crude new crown with her teeth, and promised that for the good of all Amazons, she would slay "the dragon" Diana.

Wonder Woman was in Africa, battling a troop of armored gorilla soldiers brainwashed by Grodd. The Amazing Amazon took down the troops' leader, Tolifhar, by force. Then, she won the lot of them over with her kindness and grace. In fact, she ended up putting them up in Diana Prince's apartment for a while.

Tom Tresser set up a surprise birthday party for his partner. It was interrupted by Sarge Steel, who wanted them to follow up on a tip Agent Prince had gained from her new simian allies about a cell of the super-villainous Society set up in Toronto. Steel didn't trust Prince's inexplicable "tips," and suspecting her of having a connection to the Amazons that tried to overthrow the U.S. government, brought in outside help. Lt. Colonel Etta Candy was to spy on Prince, and to prove her worth, had already uncovered Steel's abuse of antacids, anti-anxiety meds, and alcohol.

Diana had gotten Bruce Wayne to donate billion dollar "invisible" stealth technology to the Department of Metahuman Affairs. Their suped-up helicopter and tank rolled on the Society compound, but found it mostly abandoned. That was, except for Captain Nazi, who proceeds to try to end Agents Prince and Tresser. Meanwhile, his new Nazi army was invading Themyscira, intent on killing anyone there and claiming it for the Society.

"The Circle Part One of Four: What You Do Not Know Yet" was by Gail Simone, Terry & Rachael Dodson. For my money, Simone is one of the finest writers in modern mainstream comics. She is about the only legitimate female "star" comic book writer in pretty much ever, which is why getting her on Wonder Woman seemed so obvious. It's a shame that her strengths as a writer make her a poor choice for the character. I'll be making criticisms as I go through the issues, but for now, the first page of her first issue sets up an "everything you knew about the heroine's origin is wrong" riff. Rookie mistake. New writers always want to screw with a character's origin, which immediately alienates long time fans, and never sticks with the iconic characters. Has there been a single run since 1987 that didn't try this at least once? Write stories that move the character forward, rather than having her chase her tail.

Unlike a lot of people, I liked the gorillas, but making Etta Candy slender and radically altering her m.o. was not cool. Then there was the bit where Batman, who already got Diana her a job in the totally superfluous D.M.A. (DC already had the established the nigh-identical Department of Extranormal Operations,) invents the invisible jet and doesn't use the tech himself. Bad enough that it doesn't make a lick of sense, but it also makes a big chunk of Wonder Woman lore dependent on friggin' Batman. Diana is a magical princess and a third of the DC Trinity. She should gift lesser DC heroes, not be a Wayne charity case. By the way, was the raid on Canadian soil sanctioned, or did WayneTech facilitated an illegal operation? Finally, for the second time this issue, Wonder Woman fights a villain from another hero's rogues gallery, Captain Nazi, instead of one of her own. I get that she needs to prove herself amidst the greater DCU to establish her abilities, but I don't think a guy who fights Captain Marvel Junior really helps in that department. By the way, how dumb was it for a powerless Diana Prince to enter a building known to have housed super-villains? At least the Dodsons keep it all pretty.

Brave New World


karl said...

Simone's beginning on WW always stirred conflicting emotions in me; on the one hand I absolutely adored her run on Birds of Prey and I think fans were expecting lightning to strike twice here.
As rumour has it, it was Diana's fleeting cameo in a BoP issue that inspired DC to offer her the gig, but it was four years of indecision on her part before she accepted. I can see why; we WW fans are nortoriously pedantic over every detail so after her initial flush of good reviews the criticism was awaiting.
'The Circle' started so well, with a predomitably female slant about Amazons living on an island where children are forbidden because of the banning of men, so there was perfect pitch for Alkyone and her mob to alternately hate the idea of babies and want them at the same time. I cant say I was particularly impressed by Simone's re-telling of the origin as such; even setting it in the rain at night didnt agree with me. And so much of this opening ish only served to highlight that Diana is rarely the star of her own book, not just nowadays but back then too. Consider it; yes, she has her compassionate moment when she tames the gorillas, but everything else is set up around her - Sarge Steel hiring Etta to spy on her, the -natural in the story sense- over-reliance on the Circle and Hippolyta, and the use of BatTech and a third-rate villain Captain Nazi, unnecessary when we couldve had new villains and an actual invisible plane. The only remotely pleasing aspect of this ish was Tom Tresser [another import from another comic intruding on WWs territory] showing a growing affection for Diana, after a dozen issues of being a jerk. But I found the gorillas such an unwanted contrivance, possibly just comic relief to bounce off Diana, who fans have always found stuffy and humourless. But I wish they hadnt been introduced as they cluttered up the book. Simone also brought her bad habit of having the characters 'inner voice' set the tone for much of her characters' actions, rather than adopting the old-fashioned word balloons that she openly disliked. This was a perennial mistake imo as the plot often flowed at the expense of how people were affected, not how people should have reacted. The 'Circle' story wasnt affected so badly by this as it had a strong thru-line with a workable plot and satisfying enough ending that was complete in and of itself, but by her second story [the Green Lantern one] her affectations were well in affect.
There were some aspects I like here - Diana's cool, circumspectful action sequences, either as WW herself of DOMA operative Di Prince displayed how professional she can be when handled correctly, and theres a real purposeful concept with her fighting. Impressive. I also liked how DOMA took on a more militaristic feel as her run went on [Rise of the Olympian] and Steel reflected this, with his getting Etta to spy on her, a nice hold-over from how WW was percevied at the start of volume three [as a fugitive] and now as a potential terrorist threat or sympathizer [from the mini-series which shall not be named!!!!]. A pitch-perfect way to write him, unfortunately discarded when Etta decided not to spy. And she was good too; I couldnt understand why she wanted to spy on her dear friend at first and was dissapointed - but then pleasantly surprised when she was revealed to be secretly working for Diana's interests.
'The Circle' had to be Simone's best work on Wonder Woman, but compared to her BoP work it was average at best. After it ended, it was all downhill form there...

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm going to try to focus on the points related to this issue, or we'll be speaking in paragraphs for days...

I worked on a project that never came to fruition involving imaging if someone like Frank Miller had taken over Wonder Woman in 1986 instead of George Perez. He's an industry joke today, but Frank was the undisputed king of comics after Daredevil and DKR. Regardless, he would have been a terrible, wrongheaded choice for the book, because part of his gift is a very specific mindset unsuitable for Princess Diana.

I feel the same way about Gail Simone. She's excellent with sarcasm, nasty turns of events, and the sordid side of life. The weakest work of hers that I'd been exposed to prior to this run was on the Atom, where her plots were often third rate Grant Morrison held aloft by Ryan Choi's self-deprecating humorous dialogue. I'm not convince actual Grant Morrison is the right shade of weird for Wonder Woman, and the last thing I want coming out of her mouth is snark and tough threats. That was kept in check this issue, but not so much later on. She's a natural for Artemis, or even Cassie, but certainly not Diana.

Jeepers, I never realized Diana worked for "DOMA." How utterly inappropriate for an Amazon, not to mention an organization created by a gay writer. Maybe she was supposed to bring the group down, which would explain their existence in a D.E.O. landscape.

I only made it through "The Circle" and "Rise of the Olympian," before giving up, thanks to DC's screwy release schedule on the Simone HCs vs. TPBs. My misgivings here were multiplied in that second volume.

I've been told the arc with all the DC Bronze Age sword & sorcery characters (Stalker, Claw, etc.) was good. Thoughts?

karl said...

Sorry, I meant D.E.A not DOMA[!] my bad! Only realised my obvious mistake after I posted it last night.
I agree Simone does 'snarky' really well; her BoP run had a splendidly sinful streak running right thru it with regards to morality. I do think her handling of Diana was misstepped tho, the abscence of thought balloons and any discernable strategy on WWs part thru her actions made her difficult to 'read'. You knew where you stood with the Birds; Diana, not so much.
I also got those Atom issues with WW in. I must confess it was also for the prospect of seeing Giganta again. I also felt Diana was bland in those issues, but put it down to a] Simone having just begun writing her [iirc her WW run began at the same time] and b] it was the Atom's book so any guest hero would naturally take a back seat.
I couldnt stand Ryan Choi! Youd think even Doris Zeul would have better taste.
Yes, the sword and sorcery saga coming up was well-handled, but was cluttered by more guest appearances by Claw, Stalker et all. They couldve been unknown characters so we couldve focused on Diana. And apart from the wolves sequence even she was markedly different here - but thats for another time.

Diabolu Frank said...

I had fun with "D.oM.A.," so no worries.

I know Simone favored good girl Black Canary, but Huntress was her truest vessel in BoP. I haven't read Batgirl partly because Babs is too good to properly channel Simone's best bad instincts. Diana has to be played straighter than any of them, and that extends to her world, resulting in Simone simply being placed erroneously.

Ryan Choi gets so much love, especially as a martyr, so it's nice to be in company that unreservedly condemns him. Dead or not, he was a himbo in comparison to Ray Palmer. I'm glad that he doesn't appear to be coming back, replaced by a female model.

I'll have to track down the sword & sorcery arc, but as you said, it'll come along in its own time...