Category Archives: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman: So nice, she reboots twice! (#SFWApro)

In my last Wonder Woman post I predicted it would be a while before my next rereading post. But the issues launching the next soft reboot parallel the Greg Rucka/Liam Sharp Rebirth TPB The Truth so I figured I’d combine them in one post.

After exposing Morgan Tracy as the Master Planner, Gerry Conway’s follow-up issue (cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, all rights remain with current holder) has Diana trying to get back to normal. However the unceasing violence of Man’s World is getting to her, as is the police inability to lock up bad people (because Miranda rights! Fourth amendments! Obviously guilty criminals getting off!). And learning Tracy arranged Steve’s death just rubs that wound raw. So Diana returns to Paradise Island, thinking maybe she’ll stay for good. Hippolyta decides the best way to make her daughter happy is to erase her memories of Steve (not the first time she’s mucked with Diana’s memories).

Everything is fine, but after a couple of issues dealing with extradimensional intelligences mistakenly thinking the Amazons are a threat, a plane crashes on Paradise Island. The pilot? Steve Trevor.

Diana doesn’t remember him, though she’s conscious she feels astonishingly attracted to him almost at once. A bewildered Hippolyta goes to ask Aphrodite who explains that this Steve Trevor is a parallel world version whose plane crashed through the dimensional barriers into our world (and there’s no way to figure out where his home Earth is). Aphrodite concludes that destiny is clearly a Diana/Steve ‘shipper, so there’s no point in fighting it. Instead, she magically erases the world’s memory of Steve Trevor’s death so that this Steve can take up his counterpart’s life unawares. Once again the Amazons hold a tournament to decide who will accompany Steve back to Man’s World; while reluctant to leave, Diana is obligated to compete and finally accepts she can’t let her fears hold her back. She and Steve head off to the US together.

This, of course, is close to Robert Kanigher’s late-Silver Age reboot, but that suffered from lack of clarity — was it a complete reboot? Set back in the 1940s? Or what? Here readers know exactly why the book is redoing the origin. In the same retro spirit, Diana would go on to become a military intelligence officer alongside Steve in subsequent issues—I haven’t read ’em yet but I remember them. Apparently it was a successful move as this reboot lasted close to sixty issues — nothing since they dropped that set-up has done that well.

I only wish The Truth had been as good a reboot. Capping off Rucka’s first two volumes, this finishes retconning the New 52 Wonder Woman away.

 

SPOILERS BELOW!!!

 

It turns out that Ares is imprisoned on Themiscyra to prevent him destroying the world with war madness; the Amazons are there to guard him. If Diana ever returned home, that would give a road map to Ares’ sons Deimos and Phobos, who could then free him and drown the world in blood. To prevent that, all her trips back to the island have been imaginary (presumably so have all her New 52 Olympian adventures). Now that she knows she’s exiled from Themiscyra forever, she starts over with Steve, and the story ends with them exhausted in bed after making love.

As I said after reading Rucka’s first two TPBs, I really like his handling of Diana, I just don’t like the story he’s telling. This could have been wrapped up in two or three issues instead of seven — did we really need the two issues were Diana was locked up in an asylum believing her mind has snapped? And wouldn’t it just have been easier for the Amazons to tell Di she could never return home than play these games? I know, that’s par for the course in retcons and reboots, but much as I disliked the New 52 WW, this didn’t work for me. And unlike Conway’s, it doesn’t look like this is leading anywhere good: the current arc is focused on the Twin Brother We Never Knew Diana Had and Grail, Darkseid’s Amazon daughter. As they were both introduced by Geoff Johns in his Darkseid War arc in Justice League, I wonder if the current writer picked them or Johns’ standing at DC means they must be treated as the next big thing. I imagine I’ll find out when the library gets the TPBs.

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Wonder Woman: Cartels, assassins and Animal Man (#SFWApro)

So having seen Paul Levitz take over from Jack C. Harris (as described in a previous post), I said I was tentatively looking forward to Levitz’ run as he was a better writer. His “run” lasted all of four issues after which Gerry Conway took over with #259 (cover by Jose Delbo, all rights to current holder). Conway would stick around for a while, but he’d erase Paul Levitz’ changes — bringing her back to NYC and the UN — within a dozen issues. And two of those were stories held over from when Diana was an astronaut in training.

After a couple of unremarkable Levitz issues, Conway launched his first plotline, involving a scheme that felt like another hold over, from when he’d been a writer on Thor: Mars usurps Zeus’ control of Olympus, then manipulates Wonder Woman to make her look like a public menace, sets up Hercules as Earth’s new hero and schemes to thereby rule Earth as well as Olympus. It’s not dreadful but it’s not terribly good.

There’s also a subplot followed up from the astronaut period in which Diana’s been redflagged by security: someone’s discovered Diana Prince doesn’t exist, and is therefore a security flag. This doesn’t make much sense — it was established in both Silver and Golden Ages that Diana borrowed another woman’s identity — and it’s promptly dropped.

The big plot is Wonder Woman’s fight against the Cartel, a sinister crime syndicate run by the Master Planner who gives directives to his agents from the submarine he uses as a base. The Bushmaster (see the previous post above) was one assassin, who gets an upgrade (amped up versions of African weapons such as the knobkerry club) but they also have four other top killers each representing a different continent. The Gaucho is reasonably decent, but Red Fang (deadly martial artist), Lumberjack (axe-wielding Canadian killer) and the European disguise master the Chameleon (which is hardly a distinctively European skill) are far more forgettable.

More memorable is that she wound up teaming up with Animal Man in part of the adventures (cover by Ross Andru, all rights remain with current holder). While Grnat Morrison established A-Man as a good B-lister, this was his first appearance in a decade, so it was really notable (I was a fan of his early stories). Conway establishes a lot more about Buddy than we knew originally, like his last name and his profession (stunt man), though he also plays down Buddy’s previous stories to make him even more of a minor character.

The final confrontation with the Cartel is jaw-dropping, but not in a good way. It turns out the Master Planner is really UN troubleshooter Morgan Tracy (introduced first as a possible love interest, then as Diana’s boss) which makes no sense—it’s not just completely out of the blue but we never get any sort of explanation. And then we have Tracy declaring that as UN security chief (which isn’t his job) he’s the one responsible for Steve Trevor’s most recent death, which doesn’t make any sense at all (including motive). It feels like an awkward, rushed wrap-up to justify Diana moving on to a new setting/job. Knowing what’s ahead, I’m guessing it was another attempt to juice sales when the return to NYC didn’t do it, but I don’t know that for sure.

The next phase actually lasted until the mid-1980s George Perez reboot erased all previous WWs. So I’ll probably do my next post after I finish Conway’s run (about a dozen more issues).

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The excruciatingly slow rebirth of Wonder Woman(#SFWApro)

As my three previous posts this week have been woman-centered, I figured I’d throw in one more. And conveniently, I just finished the first two TPBs of Wonder Woman Rebirth  The Lies and Year One — by Greg Rucka and artists Liam Sharp (The Lies) and Nicola Scott (Year One). Cover by Sharp, all rights remain with current holder.

Rebirth is DC’s latest reboot, meant to restore everything they screwed up when they rebooted their post-Crisis universe into the New 52. It’s been a mixed bag include books that don’t reboot at all and those that soft-reboot the character back to some earlier incarnation. In WW’s case, Rebirth means retconning away the New 52 origin and apparently most of her New 52 adventures.

In The Lies Wonder Woman finds herself torn between the post-Crisis origin from the 1980s and the New 52 daughter-of-Zeus version. Trying to figure this out requires saving Steve and her old foe the Cheetah from a demon-god with plans for them both. At the end, it becomes obvious the New 52 origin is just an illusion, but who imposed it on her? And why? In Year One we get the Perez origin retold with minor changes: Wonder Woman had lovers on Themyscira (this is actually a big change in the character, but it hardly affects the story any) she didn’t get super powers until after arriving in the US, Etta Candy is a black military officer (good, but I’d still pick the fun-loving sorority girl from Earth One as the best Candy reboot).

The good stuff. Rucka really does write a good Wonder Woman and I really enjoyed Year One. There’s a sequence where Diana uses her bracelets to protect a mother and child during a terrorist incident and its really powerful. And this is the first time in years the post-crisis version of the Cheetah has been interesting.

And I’m delighted to get rid of the New 52’s origin and the Olympian adventures. As I’ve said before, they’d have made a great story for a new character, not so much for Diana. It’s also nice to see Steve Trevor (Rucka writes him well) and Diana as a couple.

The not-so-good. This is the fifth version of Diana’s origin in the past few years, following Bombshells, Legends of Wonder Woman, Earth One and Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. Not to mention the movie. It’s a good story, yes, but it’s not that good. And unlike some of those other retellings, Rucka’s not throwing much that hasn’t been seen before. And while I realize there aren’t many other “iconic” WW tales to retell, there’s always the possibility of, you know, telling new ones.

And the villain in The Lies turns out to be Veronica Cale, a villain in a business suit who’s never interested me much.

The bad stuff. Like I said, I’m happy to get rid of the New 52 origin (though using it in the movie probably means it’ll stick around in the public mind) but at this point we’re ten issues into Rucka’s run and we’re still working on the reboot. The end of The Lies where Diana realizes the New 52 Paradise Island is just an illusion packs a punch — but we’d seen her make the same discovery about Olympus a few issues earlier. I’d have preferred to see this resolved in three issues tops. Likewise the origin could be done in one. True, Perez took a half-dozen issues, but his version was a major overhaul of the 1940s original. Rucka’s just retelling Perez.

I’m very glad I read library copies instead of buying them myself.

 

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Wolfhounds, syphilis, Wonder Woman and more: books (#SFWApro)

WOLFHOUND CENTURY by Peter Higgins (cover design by Lauren Panepinto, all rights to current holder) is an excellent fantasy (which I learned about through some posts by Michal Wojcik) in a very different setting, an alt.Russian city of the twentieth century, but with magic. The protagonist, Lom, is a provincial cop transplanted to one of the big cities (the blog posts suggest Leningrad as the prototype) to crack a conspiracy that may have infiltrated the secret police itself. It turns out Lom is caught in a struggle between a fallen angel and the soul of the Russian forests for the future of the nation. I really liked this one.

POX: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis, by Deborah Hayden disappointed me. After spending a few chapters on the probably history of syphilis (there are large gaps in what we know — even the belief it came from the New World is still debated) focuses on various famous figures (Beethoven, Schubert, Van Gogh, Hitler) who had syphilis or may have had syphilis and reviewing their symptoms for evidence. I didn’t find anything terribly insightful in the results, nor even convincing in the speculative cases, though that may reflect I didn’t care that much.

WONDER WOMAN: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson is yet another retelling of Diana’s origins (in the past few years we’ve had Wonder Woman: Earth One, The Legend of Wonder Woman and now another version in DC: Rebirth. This one amounts to giving Diana a Peter Parker backstory: as the only child on Themiscyra, she grows up spoiled and selfish, leading to a tragedy in which her selfishness gets one of the other Amazons killed. And so she sets out into the world to redeem herself … I honestly never felt WW needed a redemption arc and this doesn’t change my opinion at all.

SIXTH GUN: Hell and High Water by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt is the penultimate volume as Becky and Sinclair engage in a last-ditch attack on the Grey Witch before she can use the Six Guns to remake the world. They lose, but it turns out the guns only open a gateway to the place where the remaking actually happens. Things were so grim I felt disappointed we didn’t get a finish, but I’m hoping for a spectacular wrap-up.

STITCHES by David Small is a good graphic-novel memoir in which the author recounts his uneasy life with his dysfunctional (what else?) family, the discovery of a strange growth on his neck, and his slow realization it might be something serious. Well done.

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Wonder Woman in Love (or Out of It) (#SFWApro)

Writing about Wonder Woman’s romance with Mike Bailey this week had me thinking about her romantic life post-Silver Age. Or more precisely, her lack of one.

After Steve Trevor’s death, Diana had a couple of romances in her non-super period, but in the time honored TV/comics adventure tradition of meeting a beautiful/handsome person in one adventure, forgeting about them the next. Then we had a brief hint of romance with Diana’s UN boss, Morgan Tracy, then the return of Steve from the dead. But then we jumped to the retcon WW II adventures, where Steve was largely a coworker, not a boyfriend. After the series returned to the present, we had Steve die again, and I don’t think Diana had a love interest until he returned (I’ll get to that story eventually).

When George Perez rebooted Wonder Woman, Steve was emphatically not a romantic possibility, but Perez didn’t offer an alternative. She didn’t get a guy IIRC until she had a brief flirtation with Nemesis (which didn’t end well), then in the New 52 she and Superman were an item briefly.

That’s unusual for a super-hero. Green Lantern lost Carol Ferris in the mid-sixties (she married someone else) but he found other girlfriends (he’s bounced back and forth between Carol and whoever the current GL writer picks as an alternative ever since). Cap’s great love since the Silver Age has been Sharon Carter, but when she’s been dead or disappeared, he’s had other women (attorney Bernie Rosenthal, not-so-bad villain Diamondback). When Iris West died, Barry found a new girlfriend eventually.

I’m guessing writers feel awkward working with such a prominent female character/feminist symbol. Should they show her having sex? What sort of man is appropriate?  I know some fans love Steve Trevor precisely because he’s willing to date a woman who’s his superior in every way; other people favor Superman as someone who’s even more super than Wonder Woman.

Is it a good thing that WW’s not defined by her boyfriends or her romances? Certainly it’s preferable to the romance comics phase of her Silver Age adventures (from which the Ross Andru cover comes — all rights remain with current holder, of course). Or does avoiding the subject limit her as a character and a hero? Does it say something about how comics write female super-heroes? Now that I think about it, there are a lot fewer female heroes who date ordinary people than male heroes do. What does that signify — that it’s harder to imagine a guy in the conventional support role of the hero’s lover?

I have no firm conclusions, but I thought the topic was worth a post.

[UPDATE: Reading a later letter column I learned that during the space shuttle period they were thinking of hooking Diana up with Green Lantern but for various reasons it never came to pass. Which shows the risks of assuming comics are purely shaped by their creative teams and not by outside forces]

 

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Wonder Woman, space cadet (#SFWApro)

One of the things that make Wonder Woman’s Bronze Age run so messy is that not only did she suffer multiple soft reboots, but they came so damn fast.

Following the end of her powerless period, we got the start of the UN run with the non-white characters we never saw again. After just three issues, we got a year of Kanigher’s recycled stories, then the Twelve Trials, then WW II. Then new writer Jack Harris took two or three issues to wrap up Wonder Woman’s situation, killing off Steve Trevor again and having Diana quit her UN job. Instead, we got a whole new life for Diana Prince — as an astronaut in training to fly the space shuttle!

And that lasted all of seven issues, #250-6 (cover by Jose Delbo, all rights to current holder). I suspect this may be due to staff musical chairs. Ross Andru takes over from Larry Hama as editor and what looked like a long-running plotline suddenly wraps up. Paul Levitz replaces Harris and WW immediately starts dreaming of going back to the Big Apple.

The new setting, like the use of the shuttle in Moonraker reflects that the shuttle was insanely cool back when it was announced. Imagine, a rocket that can go back and forth into space, just like in movies, instead of launching a one-time-only missile with a capsule on it!  Diana is on a training crew along with Stacy Macklin (The Female Friend), Mike Bailey (The Somewhat Macho Love Interest) and their gruff CO (The Gruff CO). And that’s about all there was to it, or to them, though that may reflect that Harris had little time to develop them. Mike puts moves on Diana, who despite just losing Steve, soon melts (after Stacy complains that Diana turned Mike down too fast). He’s written as much more forward than Steve so presumably Harris thought that would make a better romance for Di. But it felt awfully canned, in the tradition that the lead and the attractive member of the opposite sex must automatically get together.

In the opening arc, the grumpy male Olympians demand that Diana prove herself by competing again to prove she’s worthy of the Wonder Woman role. Diana wins, but gets denied on a technicality; another Amazon takes her place, Orana. Despite which, Diana flies back to Man’s World, not to be a superhero but to live her own private life.

It looked like this was going to be a running plot, like the Amazon Artemis replacing WW many years later, but we got that editorial change and zap, it was done (though that may have been the plan all along—I don’t actually know): Orana keeps screwing up, Diana intervenes to help out, Orana nonetheless dies and Diana reclaims the Wonder Woman mantle (Ares, declaring she’s acting purely from vanity, subsequently tries to punish her, working through her old foe Angle Man). There’s another two parter involving a long-lost sister of Hippolyta, then Paul Levitz takes over with #255. Diana visits the UN for a space conference, comes up against an assassin called Bushmaster, runs into Morgan Tracy again (she’s still PO’d at him for not looking out for Steve better) and triggers some sort of red flag which has the UN contacting NASA about her security clearance. She also spends a lot of time enjoying being back in New York.

The following issue, Diana runs into the second-banana crime team the Royal Flush Gang and discovers Mike is the current Ten of Spades. Frustrated, she quits the astronaut program (in a later story she wonders why a woman who’s traveled to the stars even thought space-shuttle pilot would be a fun gig) and in the very next issue is back at the UN. The security issues appear to have been dropped (we’ll see). It all had the feel of Levitz deciding “Well this reboot sucks, let’s go back to the UN!” (again, don’t know that for a fact).

On the plus side, Levitz is a better writer than Harris. I’ll be back to review his run as soon as we get to the next reboot. Sigh.

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Strong female characters (again) (#SFWApro)

In a June post on Deviant Dolls (hat tip to Magical Words), Steve Wetherell vents that he’s “bored of strong female characters.” As he sees it, “the Strong Female Character is a damned yawn fest and I’m sick of it” — just as much a stereotype as the Love Interest or the Mother. People talk about turning the cliche on its head by making the tough hero a woman, but that’s been done so often it’s now a cliche itself. There have been so many strong warrior women, they’re boring.

And a cliché that doesn’t make sense: if Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is so badass, why isn’t she the team leader? If Hermione is so much smarter and better at magic than Harry, why isn’t she the hero? More to the point, because these characters are so awesome, invincible and flawless, they’re boring, just like men would be.  What we need, Wetherell concludes, are more female protagonists like John McClane or Peter Quill, someone who sweats, gets beaten down, shows fear. Less awesome, more human. He ends wondering if Wonder Woman will prove the exception (cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, all rights to current holder).

First off, it’s certainly fair to argue Hermione could have been the hero. The Chosen One turning out to be the white male is an old complaint, and a valid one — as one critic put it, why is Neo better suited to be The One in The Matrix rather than Trinity or Morpheus? Hermione certainly qualifies to be the hero, but I’d disagree completely with Wetherell that she’s boring. As Sarah Gailey points out on Tor, Hermione has her own story. She’s not just competent, she’s an overachieving nerd obsessed with studying to the point of being comical — what school stories in my youth called “a swot.” While she fights alongside Harry she’s not just his support person/sidekick. And she’s hardly written as a flawless character: that she wants to liberate the house elves is presented as comical foolishness on her part (I don’t think it is, but that’s how it comes across).

And while I don’t doubt Wetherell would like more human male protagonists too, the fact is he’s written about female characters. This kind of argument always seems to be about female characters, and how they shouldn’t be too damn awesome.

I think having a variety of female characters is great. Tech nerds like Caitlin and Felicity on the CW shows. Cat Grant, Lena and Kara on Supergirl, none of whom I think are stereotypes. Bo on Lost Girl and Xena on Xena, both of whom have dark pasts that overshadow their present.The casts of Lumberjanes and Princeless. But I can’t see that Female Badass is such an overwhelmingly overused type it needs to be retired (and I doubt I will ever see as many calls for retiring Male Badass). And I don’t have a problem with Gamora being the straight man (so to speak) on the team.

If a Strong Female Character is boring, the problem’s the writing or acting, not that she’s strong. Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies is every bit as kick-ass, and not particularly vulnerable or flawed. Played by Michelle Yeoh, she’s awesome.

I agree it would be a shame if every female character were a tough, no-nonsense action hero. But I see no reason not to have them in the mix.

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