Friday, November 4, 2011

10 WONDER WOMAN Stories Worth Checking Out

Newsarama had another one of their little countdown features, this time involving Wonder Woman, and good 'ol Luke sent me a link. "10 WONDER WOMAN Stories Worth Checking Out" is really more like "10 Wonder Woman trades available for order at Amazon." Since there aren't that many trades available in total, it strikes me as a bit fussy to trim a selection of twenty or so down to ten. I also don't entirely agree with the choices, and could in fact see them as being off-putting to the new Wonder Woman reader. I've decided to offer a bit of commentary on the matter.

I was getting over Alex Ross before Kingdom Come wrapped, but I understand that a lot of people love his painted art dearly. However, Ross did five(!) of these self-important Treasury-sized one shots with Paul Dini in which super-heroes tackle real world problems and fail to address them. The Justice League of America one is easily the best, since it comes closest to a legit super-hero story with action and adventure. The other four have melded together in my brain as one massive, mealy PSA. This one had something to do with Wonder Woman being unable to represent all the women of the world because she wears a thong instead of a burka, or something. It's preachy and somber and your basic drag, so go in for the art or pass it by.

The zany, cheeky Golden Age stories of creators William Moulton-Marston and Harry G. Peter are what separated Wonder Woman from all the other heroines of the day that nobody remembers today. She wasn't the first, just the best-- the most fun and weird and exciting of the lot. When Marston died, the life went out of the book, and decades of half-hearted Robert Kanigher Silver Age scripts are the reason Wonder Woman comics are looked upon with jaundiced eyes today. I don't know how many Chronicles collections are available, but the same material is available in volumes of Archive Editions. Be forewarned though, these stories are illogical and kinky, and a bit of an acid trip. If that doesn't sound appealing, keep your distance.

The second volume collecting George Perez's Post-Crisis relaunch of the book. I assume this collects #7-12, which would include the great "Time Passages" the recaps the earlier issues in a way that's more involving than the actual issues, as well as the debut of a savage new Cheetah. "Challenge" itself is also a pretty good read, playing with the character's new history and showing what a dick Zeus is. I believe there are two more volumes collecting "the entire" Perez run, meaning only the issues he drew, since he wrote the title for five years. Honestly though, the writing petered out before the art did, so this is probably where your collecting should end.

It's easy to forget this story on a Wonder Woman countdown because of the JLA branding, and that would be a shame. It's the best Wonder Woman original graphic novel ever made, which is almost a meaningless statement, but still. It's also an excellent introduction to the character and beautifully painted by Christopher Moeller. Plus, she kicks a bunch of super-heroes square in the ass. Easily the best recommendation on the list.

These were the stories that broke me. I'd been reading the title continuously for 8-9 years at this point, and the previous two runs were pretty lousy, but I found Jimenez's writing so mind-numbingly dull that I couldn't go on. I still bought the book, and read the occasional issue, but I struggled each time. Most of this volume is preoccupied with a risible, forced team-up of the Wonder Woman and Batman families, followed by a war amongst the Amazons. Of what I've read, my only recommendation would be a guest written issue by Joe Kelly that tries to put the whole incestuous Superman/Wonder Woman "romance" to rest.

Another volume by Phil Jimenez, but I actually managed to read this one. The "Our Worlds At War" tie-ins are tolerable, even though I never saw the wisdom in the big death that caps the story, especially since it was all in service to glorifying Superman. The latter half is a Wonder Woman-centric event involving most every female metahuman in the DCU universe, which is sort of like a estrogen-fueled Crisis on Infinite Earths in the scale of its cameos, if not its stakes.

I've always found Greg Rucka's writing the be milquetoast and derivative to the point of being borderline plagiaristic. His being the best Wonder Woman writer of the past fifteen years or so says more about how wretched his company is than the merits of his work. This is an unremarkable graphic novel outside the art by J.G. Jones, specifically that provocative cover.

The best remembered Rucka story arc, borrowing heavily from Clash of the Titans, Saint Seiya and other sources. Rags Morales provided some sweet art on the chapters he bothered to finish.

I was looking forward to Gail Simone taking over the book, as she's usually one of the best writers in the field. I feel that she was a poor fit for the character, however. It seems like every damned writer feels the need to go back to Diana's origin story and add jacked-up new wrinkles that the next writer forgets ever happened. It makes it seem like the character only ever treads water, because her story is always going backwards. This time, added distaste came from the changes being so unnecessarily grim. I've read two other Simone volumes, and it's just not her best stuff.

I think it says something that the reviewer was so desperate for material that they went outside comics for a "good" story. I'm in the minority in that I hated this cartoon, and I need to do a lengthy write-up someday to explain why. Your mileage may vary.

As I said, very little Wonder Woman material is in print, so there aren't a lot of suggestions I can add to these. I've already mocked Robert Kanigher's work, but there are four volumes of Showcase Presents Wonder Woman, and each has at least a few stories worth reading. The wacky Wonder Tot and Wonder Girl stories have a following, and the art is great throughout. Unsurprisingly, I have a deep love for Diana Prince as the New Wonder Woman, collected in four volumes of mod/retro action. She may not have powers or wear a costume, but the Diana Prince tales present an intelligent, independent, and intriguing character that is more than just a merchandising icon. I think fans of the TV show will find this series parallels Lynda Carter's adventures more closely than the crazier super-hero comics, and I may the value for your entertainment dollars highest there.


Luke said...

A number of years ago I bought my now-wife (then just my girlfriend) JLA: A LEAGUE OF ONE on the recommendation of the DC Comics Wonder Woman board posters. She read it and enjoyed it quite a bit, enough to let me get her other Wonder Woman stuff to read. So far she has liked the Simone stuff because, I think, of the similarities to other others she likes (namely Lackey) and a lack of familiarity with the material in the first place.

But League of One, that's a solid one definitely worthy of being on a recommendation list.

Diabolu Frank said...

Lackey who?

Luke said...

Sorry, Mercedes Lackey, creator of the Valdemar saga. She wrote the foreword on the collection of The Circle which is what inspired me to buy it for my wife, as Lackey is her favorite author.

Diabolu Frank said...

Who the who? Voldemort has his own novels now? Well, I've got context, anyway. There've been a few Wonder Woman novels over the years, if prose helps, but I've never read a one.

Luke said...

Mercedes Lackey is a fairly prolific fantasy author whose primary works are part of her Valdemar saga. She also writes "low" fantasy set in the modern world, among other settings.

For what it's worth, Valdemar predates Voldemort. (And amazingly, Voldemort does not come up as a misspelled word in Chrome.)

Diabolu Frank said...

Aw Luke, I was just reveling in my own ignorance. No need to school me. I was less surprised that Firefox had Voldemort in its dictionary than that I spelled it right. Blame my girlfriend for that.

Luke said...

Honestly, I've never read anything by Lackey or Rowling, so "schooling" may be an inaccurate term!

Also, on an unrelated note, trying to type with a 6.5 month old in your lap is difficult. Buttons are hard to resist evidently!