Monday, April 29, 2024

Wonder Woman Annual #8 (September, 1999)

Paul Kupperberg took over as editor on Wonder Woman with the same issue Mike Deodato, Junior had his first fill-in (there were another four before his run started.) I'm not sure if that was happenstance or design, but it marked the beginning of Wonder Woman finally being taken seriously as the third leg of the "DC Trinity." You'd think I would then have a positive view of his stewardship, but this also marked the point where the William Messner-Loebs run started to be taken out of his hands. With Deodato off to greener pastures, creative chores were passed on to John Byrne, for a Kanigher-indebted regressive trio of years. Not the most desirable of assignments, the book was claimed by Dark Horse writer Eric Luke. That lasted a couple of not fondly remembered years, despite showcasing early work by Yanick Paquette. Its main legacy was the start of Adam Hughes' long run as cover artist. Kupperberg's departure marked the passing of a poorly regarded period for the faithful, as other editors delivered unto them the much-flowered Phil Jimenez and Greg Rucka.

Maureen McTigue mostly inherited Kupperberg's decisions, though she did bring us Matthew Clark and a blip by Brian K. Vaughan. On the other hand, she gave Doselle Young three of the more painful Wonder Woman comics of the modern era. Through some bizarre magic, he then manage to score an Authority spin-off when it was still the most talked about book on the stands. Arguably, The Monarchy contributed to putting a stop to that (along with a tepid, timid relaunch of the main title, and similarly dire companion book in The Establishment. The end of the title was also the end of the career, which made more sense than the career itself, because Doselle Young just failed on comic book writing fundamentals, never mind personal taste.

Exhibit A, for "Ape," as in "JLApe: Gorilla Warfare," the very tongue-in-cheek final crossover featuring the "Magnificent Seven" JLA's world's greatest super-heroes in solo annuals, and the team book's as a collective. The one where they marked each chapter on the covers by dangling additional bananas off a bunch off the logo. Most of these books knew what they were, getting by on the novelty of seeing iconic characters in ape form, full of puns and lighthearted storytelling. This book is a very serious story, about very serious gorillas, tackling a very serious concern, with a very serious lack of craft.

I'm not going to beat myself up going beat for beat with this thing, in part because the story jumps around in chronology incompetently, and I'm not going going to work out the sequencing. The overview is that magic-wielding religious zealots from Gorilla City trespass deep into Tartarus via Themyscira in search of... the Rakshasas? As in Hinduism? But we're going to Greco-Roman Hades? And we're doing this by having the gorillas somehow detect and compromise the island of the Amazons beyond its mystical other-dimensional concealing barrier and holding the ferryman Charon hostage at conventional gunpoint? But most importantly, we're playing this 100% straight, even as a group of investigating Amazons follow their trail of banana peels? Lord, give me strength.

A poor choice of words, because the writer is apparently a noted public representative of atheism with a point to make. Despite all odds, even those calculated by key Gorilla City scientist Luk-Nutt who is part of the expedition, the apes transgress Doom's Doorway, activate a giant King Kong/Godzilla hybrid, and through the apparent simian sacrifice of one of their own unleash the malevolent Rakshasas. Along the way, Wonder Woman was joined by Artemis, simple enough, and Akila, the new incarnation of Shim'Tar, the great warrior mantle of the Amazons of Bana-Mighdall, who was apparently sent to Man's World for being to weak but was educated as an engineer at Oxford who merged her science with the Shim'Tar armor and apparently assumed that role under protest from herself and the Banas at the insistence of Hippolyta, and also she's the only Amazon that wears eyeglasses. I think? That's what I gathered from the sprinkled references throughout the story about this new character. Oh, and also, they bring Nubia back after twenty years since her last published appearance and another six as part of a continuity wiped out during Crisis on Infinite Earths. In a JLApe annual?!?

Deep breath. Nu'bia is an Amazon who like Wonder Woman earned through a contest the right to defend Doom's Doorway so long ago that she mistakes Diana for Antiope, but wasn't present any of the other times over millennia when threats to Doom's Doorway were shown in the comics, just since the Post-Crisis reboot. But now, the threat posed by the sorceress-priestess Abu-Gita and her gorilla charges is great enough to rouse her to duty. But also, she maybe lives underwater in the Styx and maybe can turn people to stone like Medusa (unclear) and this is all a side-mission to her because "she's on her way to rescue her ex-boyfriend Ahura-Mazda from his immortal enemy, Ahriman." Like, dude, that's a lot to scribble in the margins of your monkey people narrative. And as with Hinduism, there are (admittedly few) living adherents to the Zoroastrianism you're playing fast and loose with in a story about the lost loves of comic book Amazons. But again, an atheist with a message. Apparently, the belief of Abu-Gita and her charges in a Gorilla City religious faith that is revealed by Luk-Nutt's research to be a mishmash of ideas cribbed from human society was so strong as to warp reality itself to their shared delusion. At Luk-Nutt's insistence, Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth on both Luk-Nutt and Abu-Gita to dispell the falsehood of gorilla religion for the objective reality of... immortal Amazons that worship the Greek Pantheon? So Young is as bad at atheist rhetoric as he is at all the other writing? And then Luk-Nutt chooses to take up with Charon's ferry service for unknown reasons and tenure? Also, somewhere in this, the JLA Annual happened that left Diana in gorilla form, but Luk-Nutt knew that her divine origins would inevitably reject the change, which happens after something happened to the Wonder Sphere that necessitated Wonder Girl fly Artemis to a skyscraper in New York City to fire an arrow at Wonder Ape that somehow prompts her reversion to human form? That was a whole tangent that had nothing to do with anything besides only having Diana be an unsexy ape for two pages, mostly in shadow. I told you that I wasn't going to untangle this thing, titled "The Thin Gold Line," because of the lasso part, I guess?

On paper, the art team of Brian Denham and Jon Sibal must have also seemed like a coup. Both had been at Image Comics' Exteme Studios since 1993-94, working with Alan Moore on 1995's Violator vs. Badrock. Denham was tapped to relaunch Antarctic Press' Warrior Nun Areala in 1997, and offered the his own contribution to the bad girl fad with 1998's American Woman. Jon Sibal was Rob Liefeld's inker on Captain America and Michael Turner's on Fathom. I don't know if it was deadline doom or a light paycheck, but their work his is maybe a career low. Most pages look unfinished, with many panels of rough layouts treated as finished, and a scandalous amount of silhouettes. The rushed nature of the work does an already poorly constructed story no favors. This is an ugly and embarrassing book in comparison to the other JLApe annuals, much less in their career and comics overall. Many of the artists working on these books are young, green, and didn't last in the field, but they clearly put in their best effort and many were quite good at drawing gorillas. Denham and Sibal are still in the industry to varying degrees a quarter century later, and their best work was yet to come, but here they failed to meet that minimum threshold. These are some sadly rendered simians.

JLApe: Gorilla Warfare
  • JLA Annual #3 @ The Idol-Head of Diabolu
  • Batman Annual #23 & Aquaman Annual #5 @ Justice League Detroit
  • Wednesday, April 3, 2024

    DCOCD Podcast Episode 60- Trial of the Amazons

    It's been about 1½ years since I've done anything with Wonder Woman blogging, and a smidge longer since I last podcast about her, so this month should mark a substantial uptick in Amazing Amazon output. First up, I was recently a guest on Flanger's DCOCD Podcat, alongside Tom Panarese of Pop Culture Affidavit. On DCOCD, "your favourite Australian podcast hosts will discuss a DC Comics Event, as they occur in chronological order..." This is actually my second Themysciran discussion on the show, as Dr. Anj of Supergirl Comic Box Commentary once pulled together an emergency episode when Flanger was briefly stranded in the United States. It just speaks to my neglect that I never got out a post about DCOCD Podcast Episode 11- WONDER WOMAN: THE CONTEST. So hey, if you missed it in 2018, that's two new shows for you! I'm unusually kind toward "The Contest,"* and exceptionally cruel toward "Trial of the Amazons," so consider this your due warning... You can listen to DCOCD 60 HERE!

    * It's still the 11th ranked DC event on their ladder. "Trial of the Amazons" is... not.