Comics journey #2: Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman!

I’ve been told that Gail Simone’s take on Diana is one of the best, and I loved the brief glimpse I saw of it, so where better to start than her 2008 run on Wonder Woman? There are five books total, starting with The Circle, which is getting lots of new press lately as a good jumping-off point for new fans. Then there’s Ends of the Earth, Rise of the Olympian, Warkiller and Contagion.

There’s a lot here to make a new fan happy – plenty of dramatic action, humour and beautifully done character moments, calibrated to challenge Diana and show her at her shining best. Revisiting the origin story is helpful for the movie crowd, too. And in the first few pages of The Circle I can already tell that this is a writer who is having a fabulous time. Diana is fighting a troop of genetically-enhanced super-intelligent gorilla soldiers, because why not?

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The more I read, the more this Diana’s gentle dry wit grew on me. It just adds that essential something to the character, like spices in a recipe. And you know what, it makes sense. The one thing at the heart of all good comedy is truth. 

And then she’s innocently happy about cake and I might cry.

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I’ve had very little experience with Etta Candy, but I think this version might have spoiled me for all others. LOVE IT. Smart, tough, fascinating. I would read a whole series about this lady. This was also my first introduction to Black Canary, who I know is one of Simone’s favourite characters to write. She’s fun and warm and scrappy and believes in the power of ramen to fix a broken heart and she is going the hell on my reading list.

On the other hand, I now understand why everybody keeps talking about Gail Simone’s twisted mind. The embodiment of genocide, then slowly losing one’s soul – and literally everything about the Citizenry/Space Amazons is pure nightmare fuel. It is horribly, wonderfully creative. God help us all.

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Art-wise, Terry and Rachel Dodson’s style feels definitive, and I dug Nicola Scott, too. Everybody finds babies almost impossible to draw and this Bernard Chang panel gets funnier every time I look at it.

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(Also: no heels. 😊)

Jumping into the middle of a longer continuity like this had some unavoidable downsides. For one thing, this comic has no chill whatsoever. Shit just keeps on going down at an incredible pace. At one point I found myself pleading “Just let her take a shower!” Naturally as a new reader, a few things went over my head. Why is Diana a spy? When did she start dating Tom Tresser? What terrible thing were the Amazons supposed to have done? What happened to all her gods? Who’s this Donna she keeps talking about? (“Donna Troy.”) Who’s this person who looks just like Diana but in a spangly bodysuit? (“Donna Troy.”) Where did Donna Troy come from? (“God only knows.”)

It helps to have a grounding in basic Greek mythology to get the most out of this series. Me? I read an abridged picture-book version of The Odyssey when I was a kid. On the other hand, that means these books stand up to lots of re-reading! Linkara’s review of Amazons Attack helped to fill in some of the continuity gaps later, and it sounds like a mess, but I really feel like I missed out on seeing the build-up of Diana’s relationship with Tom. They have some great moments, but I just never cared as much about the romance as I did about Wonder Woman herself.

The breakup was beautifully written, however. Diana has been trying to stay grounded, but this essential human thing of intimacy on equal terms is alien to her. She still spends so much time in the world of gods and myths that it honestly hasn’t occurred to her that Tom might not be super into the idea of raising her Amazon spawn. This is the same shit Zeus pulls all the time and she came so close! And that revelation is what really brings her back to Earth. That is some goddamn fantastic writing and it shows such a deep understanding of the character. I applaud.

Speaking of which, Simone has talked about the way male writers and readers tend to interpret the Amazons as outright hostile to men in general, but the way Themyscira is presented here is totally free of any of that. It just has that magical quality you find in peaceful places where no male gaze exists (like my favourite place on earth, the ladies-only swimming pond at Hampstead Heath, London.)

By the way, why is nobody talking about the hilarious Wonder Woman movie arc at the end of Ends of the Earth (issues #24 and #25)?! It filled me with glee – not least because of what could so easily have been if we didn’t have Patty Jenkins at the helm.

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Three last things:

  • I cannot believe there is legit a villain called Captain Nazi. Just, wow.
  • I think my favourite moment of the whole run is this, from Warkiller. Poor dumb Achilles. Nobody cares about your machismo.achilles (2)
  • I want this shirt.
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Next: Greg Rucka’s early-2000s run!

 

Wonder Woman is my comics gateway drug

I’ve hung out with enough comic book fans and absorbed enough lore that I thought I knew what superheroes were about. They were overly-muscled, schlocky characters who went “kapow” and gave you a couple of entertaining hours at the movies a few times a year. I went to see Wonder Woman expecting more of the same – which meant I was in no way prepared for the effect it had on me.

I left that cinema electrified. This time, I got it. I felt uplifted, encouraged, inspired, defiant. I had more than a slight crush on Gal Gadot. Basically, this tweet:

The reactions since opening weekend make it clear that I wasn’t the only one. So many girls and women came out thinking, “So this is what it feels like!” We were all hit with the raw power of seeing someone like us conquer all before her and ignore every single person who told her to stand down, stay back or sit quiet. It wasn’t just seeing her triumph over early 20th century sexism – the wonderful thing was that she was totally free of its weight. And when she saved the world, it was pure heroics, full of hope and powered not by personal angst but simply by a superhumanly big heart and the drive to do what’s right. I’m married to a devoted DC comics fan who had been far more excited than I was for this movie, but even he admitted he couldn’t match the fire I was feeling.

I fed my newfound obsession by reading every single review I could find, and this was something else I’d never felt after a superhero blockbuster: I needed more.

The movie, because it was made by human beings and a profit-driven studio, isn’t perfect. The climactic showdown didn’t quite land, the final line felt tacked on, Wonder Woman wore impractical heels – one of my personal pet peeves – and better-qualified people than myself have pointed out that there is always room for improvement when it comes to POC representation. Imperfect, yes – but it’s also human to love imperfect things. Wonder Woman’s flaws only made me want to seek out the source material to fill a few of those holes.

I wanted, first of all, to see how closely movie Diana related to comics Diana. I wanted to see her growing beyond the origin story. Mostly, I wanted to see more of that magnetic, inspiring presence.

My few ventures into the world of comics to date have been mostly at the urging of friends and partners. As a result, it’s a weird list comprised of Y: The Last Man, Noelle Stevenson’s highly original Nimona, and a couple of issues of Lumberjanes. Superheroes there have been none. All the Wonder Woman backstory I know is gleaned from the film and its reviews; otherwise, I’m going in blind.

Diana looks to be the catalyst I needed to finally dive into comics. But I have miles of backstory to go before I sleep – not to mention the arcane system of trades and collections and pull lists I’m going to have to learn to navigate. I’m going to chronicle my descent into this slightly intense world here on this blog for anyone who’s in the same boat as me.

February is the worst

The end of February in England is a lot like a mouldy bathmat that has been dripped on and then left, damp, on the chilly floor overnight, ready for you to step on first thing in the morning. You reach for the tap to start a hot shower running as you feel the clamminess soaking slowly into your socks. Cold water sprays on your sleeve. You wait, shivering, in soggy pyjamas, but lukewarm is the best you’re going to get. You will have to wait another three months for it to be hot enough to restore life back into your miserable skin.

Where I come from, February is the hottest time of year and the summer air scorches and bakes; our feet are pricked by burrs or burnt on the bitumen. In February the easterly wind blows straight from the desert and, just like the English, we pray all month long for it to end. We are dried out and tired, like a capsicum you meant to roast which fell out of the baking tray to be left on the bottom of the oven, overcooked and forgotten. You don’t discover it for another two weeks, subjecting it to long blasts of brutal heat until, sliding in a tray of sausages, you finally hear a crunch. You extract a pitiful black shell of fragile carbon, shut the oven door and give thanks for your air-conditioner.

From this I have concluded that there is a reason it’s the shortest month. No good can ever come of February.