This last arc of Wonder Woman was just five issues long, but it inspired a whole bunch o’ feelings! Among them delight, confusion and whatever you call the emotion that makes you want to write long Twitter rants.
“Heart of the Amazon” (Wonder Woman #26-#30), by Shea Fontana, comes straight after Greg Rucka’s latest run, which concluded earlier this year with “Godwatch” and “The Truth”. That run had a lot to set up and Rucka is a fairly talky writer, and the upshot was that I was primed to enjoy Diana just whacking the snot out of some bad guys. I got that and more besides!
Shea Fontana is best known for writing literally all of the adorable and very successful kids series DC Superhero Girls, from comics to web shorts to movies. Her only other “grown-up” comics work has been issue #22 of Justice League, but if you take a look at DC Superhero Girls it’s easy to see how she got the gig writing Wonder Woman. I’ve read the first volume, “Finals Crisis”, and what shines through is her sensitivity to the unique burdens of each character and the dynamics of female friendships, while never missing a chance for a fantastic action sequence.
Her run on Wonder Woman deals with the uncomfortable truth that no superhero can save everyone, and the pressure and guilt that come with having superpowers. After working in a refugee camp, Wonder Woman is just a little on edge. While she’s trying to work that out, she learns that a shadowy agency (like disasters on Themyscira, they are conveniently inexhaustible) is offering a bounty to bring her in. They may have figured out a way to make a drug out of her blood that could heal incurable diseases – which would seem to solve all her problems, except they’re not what they seem and that’s not all it does. Cue introspection and ass-kicking. Lots of ass-kicking!
The fight scenes were brilliant, particularly Inaki Miranda’s in issue #29 (above). But between them is where I have mixed feelings.
One of the things I find so inspiring about Wonder Woman is that she never doubts herself, and yet this is a comic about having her trust in herself shaken. For all its fab action sequences, it isn’t a story that motivated me to go out and kick butt. That doesn’t mean it isn’t well thought-out. After all, this whole Rebirth thing has been about finding her truth. And you’re only really brave if you started with fear and doubt and then conquered them, right? So for me, that’s where the strength of this arc lies: it made me think.
There’s also a lot of exploration of Wonder Woman’s friendship with Etta, and it makes for some really beautiful moments. Fontana nails Etta’s character: she jumps right into a fight, appreciates baked goods and feels her feelings out loud.
The fly in that ointment is that these two were definitely not on good terms at the end of Rucka’s run, with Etta blaming Diana for not trying hard enough to help her girlfriend Barbara Minerva out of her Cheetahed state. That tension would have been new and interesting territory to explore and Fontana is a writer I would trust to do it well. But she has her own agenda, so it’s only addressed, very briefly, in the fourth issue, with Etta saying she’s “picked her side.”
Steve Trevor, however, is brilliant all the way through. Keeps house, bakes cookies, zooms in all handsome on his motorbike for congratulatory makeouts after Diana and Etta have wiped the floor with their opponents. I honestly love this thing where they play up his feminine side. Reminds me a little of Sergeant Terry Jeffords from Brooklyn 99.
And of course the other thing Fontana is excellent at is writing children. There are some heartbreaking flashbacks to young Diana trying to make her mother proud, but there’s also Destiny, a small relative of Etta’s who is probably the most realistically written kid I’ve encountered in a long time.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen levelled at this run is that it tries to cram too many ideas into five issues. There’s a great internal monologue at the beginning of issue #29 about objectification and entitlement which I would have loved to see Diana say out loud, and would have been even better if it hadn’t taken things down a totally new thematic track. It’s also a little undermined by Miranda’s tendency towards tiny waists…his Etta looks disturbingly slim.
I did also see one review complaining that we don’t meet the villain of the piece until the fourth issue, but that I have to disagree with. The villain was not the point! This was Hero vs Self!
But these are minor gripes. I’d welcome Fontana back to write Diana anytime. There are so many little things that show she absolutely gets Wonder Woman as a character – like this moment after she signs an injured Etta out of the hospital.
The sense of disjointedness isn’t all down to the writer – there are three artists over these five issues. I quite liked them all, but the change does throw you a bit. My gal Mirka Andolfo handles #26 and #27, Inaki Miranda #29, and David Messina #28 and #30. I love Andolfo’s style on Wonder Woman – it looks so dainty and cute that you don’t expect it to work when things get gritty, and then it so does.
David Messina I was not familiar with until now, but he’s responsible for this gorgeous double page and I dig his hair curls.
If you’re totally new to Wonder Woman, this arc will broadly make sense – you don’t really need any prior knowledge of outside/secondary characters and the plot is self-contained. I’d still recommend reading the Greg Rucka stuff that came before it to understand the nuances, but it’s not essential. Pick it up if you’re into a good, fun balance of fluff and face-punching!
Sadly, after two great runs, the universe must be rebalanced: the next arc is all about Wonder Woman’s long-lost twin brother Jason. He was introduced pre-Rebirth and for reasons I’m sure made sense at the time, DC has chosen to bring him back again. Because what Wonder Woman needs is more dudes in her origin. I’m trying to give the story the benefit of the doubt until I see it, but yeesh, I am not looking forward to it.
Next up: gosh, good question. I have read a lot of things this month! I’ve been devouring Gail Simone’s incredible run on Birds of Prey and I’ve also been enjoying The Unbelievable Gwenpool, volume 2 of Greg Rucka’s earlier Wonder Woman run, and DC Rebirth Harley Quinn. And I picked up like five trades for less than £10 in the massive Marvel sale on the Amazon Kindle store this week, including The Mighty Thor (the start of lady Thor! Catch me reading about a dude superhero, psshh) and volumes 4 and 5 of Squirrel Girl.
So who knows! Anything could happen! What about you, what are you reading right now?