Comics journey #8: Wonder Woman Rebirth – “The Truth” and “Godwatch”

Back to our regularly-scheduled Wonder Woman this week with the final two volumes of Greg Rucka’s DC Rebirth run. It’s deep, it’s complicated, everybody has a lot of feelings…hold onto your butts.

Like The Lies and Year One, these two storylines ran concurrently in alternating issues, and this time I read them issue by issue since they’re new enough for the trades not to be out yet. The Truth covers ongoing events in the present day leading on from The Lies, while Godwatch flashes back to various points in the past; it all wraps up in bumper issue Perfect, which came out at the end of June this year.

I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as I can, but in summary: as the curtain rises on The Truth, Veronica Cale and Doctor Poison take out Steve Trevor and Etta Candy’s military agency, and they and a de-Cheetahed Barbara Minerva go on the lam. Wonder Woman is temporarily out of action, driven out of her mind by the shock of learning ~the truth about her past~ at the end of The Lies. She still doesn’t know who lied to her or why, but it turns out she and Veronica have a common goal: finding Themyscira. In between, Godwatch features Cale and Diana going on a date, a fun cameo by Circe, Cheetah’s updated origin, and the Amazons preparing for a Themyscirapocalypse (when are they not?)

I had some issues with Veronica Cale’s characterisation in Rucka’s last run, but I love the complex makeovers he’s given to her and Cheetah. Veronica has ditched that dated early-2000s look where she was fueled by her envy of Wonder Woman’s status as a media darling. This time, she merely rolls her eyes at “only love can truly save the world” – but then Wonder Woman’s enemies target Veronica’s daughter. As a motivation it’s much richer, and it leaves room to go into how much they have in common and explore the other side of Wonder Woman’s emphasis on mercy: that it’s a privilege not everyone can afford.

Cheetah, too, blames Wonder Woman for the mess she’s in. It’s a double blow because as Barbara Ann Minerva, she was Diana’s first friend when she arrived, as well as becoming Etta Candy’s lover (YES. CALLED IT). All that history and bitterness and guilt gives their final showdown a deep emotional resonance. It’s far more satisfying than Cheetah’s other various characterisations of “split personality” or “brainwashed environmentalist” or just kind of grabby and evil.

Liam Sharp continues as artist for The Truth, but Nicola Scott is gone (and lo, great is my sadness.) Bilquis Evely draws for Godwatch, except for issue #22 which features Mirka Andolfo’s romantic style on inks – a great choice for the issue where Veronica and Diana end up on a date.

date

Evely and Sharp have very contrasting styles and I have to say, reading them in an alternating pattern like this doesn’t highlight their strongest points. Evely is big on realistic figures, which I appreciated, and her Cheetah is terrifyingly just-off-human.

cheetah

clunky

But side by side, her muted style sometimes seems drab while Sharp’s bold exaggeration can look overdone. Sharp’s backgrounds are beautiful and I was into the muscled look he gives Wonder Woman – but he draws pretty women like Diana and Veronica with the faces of botoxed Barbie dolls, forever frozen in the same improbable pout. It’s like he’s afraid to make them unfuckable by giving them, I don’t know, feelings? I always look for expressive faces, they have a lot to do with how much I engage with a comic, and these just didn’t get across the subtle emotions I was searching for.

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Veronica Cale, whose emotions have been replaced by lip fillers.
faces 2
I don’t even KNOW what’s going on with Diana’s face here.

Bitching aside, shout-out to Jenny Frison for her gorgeous variant covers! This one was my favourite:

jenny frison

The conclusion of the whole thing features Rucka doing what he does best: understated action, heavy impact. The end of Veronica’s arc is closely entwined with Diana’s story and completely heartbreaking. Wonder Woman gets all her emotional buttons pushed. Perfect ties everything together with a couple of threads left trailing for other writers to weave with if they choose –  though I did feel like the scene in which Diana confronts her gods was wrapped up a little too easily.

Completely new readers might not feel the full weight of the big retcon of Wonder Woman’s earlier life, but other than that, because this is immediately post-reboot, this arc is a decent place continuity-wise to start your exploration of Wonder Woman comics – beginning with The Lies and/or Year One. My only caution would be that if you’re here to see some righteous ass-kicking, you may be disappointed. There’s definitely plenty going on and Diana does get to kick a few behinds, but there’s quite a lot of talking and personal drama.

As an aside, the 2016 Wonder Woman Annual also came out during this run, featuring a Rucka/Nicola Scott collaboration tying into Year One. You might have seen these panels floating around the internet:

trinity

trinity 2

Guys, if this Superman is what he’s actually like, I think I’m into it. He’s so cheeky and boyish and I adore their whole dynamic. Still don’t ship it though, ick. He and Diana are much better as a brother-sister type of thing.

Two of the other stories in this issue (“In Defence of Truth and Justice” by Vita Ayala, and “The Last Kaiju” by Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing) caught my attention by following almost exactly the same plotline. Everyone is attacking a scary creature until Wonder Woman talks to it and learns that it doesn’t want to hurt anyone, so she gives it a new home somewhere safe and everybody’s happy. It’s cute and there’s nothing wrong with it, but I can’t help wondering if this is a symptom of writers not knowing quite what to do with the character.

I’m up to date with “Heart of the Amazon,” the current arc by Shea Fontana, but as it’s only six issues I’m planning to review it as a whole once they’re all out – until then I’ll try to confine my excitement to Twitter. I’m also making my way through Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years, which is hella long but I definitely have some Thoughts. So next up will be either that, or some gleeful yelling about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!

Comics journey #7: How to set up a pull list, and a note on impostor syndrome

Today I’m excited to say I’ve graduated a level in geek – I set up a pull list at Orbital Comics, my local comic shop!

For my fellow newbies, setting up a pull list is what you do when you are following a current series as it’s coming out, and you want to make sure you get a copy of every issue from your local comic shop (LCS). They don’t always advertise that you can do this, so you’ll probably have to go in and ask. When you subscribe to a series, they set a copy of each new issue aside for you, and then you pay when you go in and collect your comics. (Just to disambiguate, because sometimes the terminology is confusing: “issues” are the short comics that come out every couple of weeks or every month. “Trades” or “trade paperbacks” [TPBs] are the longer volumes which collect a series of issues. You can also get these in a pull list, but they come out a long time afterwards.)

This is something you should only do if you know for sure that you want to stay up to date on a series and you have both the money to buy comics regularly and the time to visit the shop every couple of weeks. If not, go in when you can and catch up on any issues you miss online via something like Comixology, or wait for the TPBs to come out. I say this because setting up a list and then not collecting your comics means the shop loses money. You might think they won’t miss it if it’s just you, but it happens quite a lot and comic shops are often small and independent, so it matters.

I was pretty nervous about finally doing this. Obviously it’s a financial commitment, but to be honest, mostly I was worried about looking dumb. Like what if I said the name of the series wrong and they laughed? Or maybe it would be really obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing (and they’d laugh). Or, or maybe the dude behind the counter would see my list of female-led titles and the Wonder Woman badges on my jacket and jump to a bunch of conclusions (and laugh). Rationally this is all very silly, but it’s hard to overcome the feeling that I don’t quite belong.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with feeling like an outsider, so here is a rundown of my experience – though things might work differently at your LCS.

  1. Arrive at Orbital with moral support/comic-buying buddy (my husband, who is the reason I know what a pull list is.)
  2. Dither around the new issues section for twenty minutes and consider buying stuff I already have because maybe if I buy the latest issues of the things I want on my list, I can just point to them and avoid fucking it up???
  3. Decide on Volume 2 of Greg Rucka’s early-2000s run and the latest issue of DC Rebirth Harley Quinn, which is starting a new arc so why not.
  4. Approach the counter with trepidation. It’s at the back, in the classic comics section where only the hardcore collectors venture, flicking through boxes with practiced fingers. I feel about seventeen years old and conspicuously female and basic.
  5. Lay comics on the counter, crack jokes with the guy on the register and finally ask, in an oddly high-pitched voice, “how would I go about setting up a pull list?”
  6. Thank all the gods that might exist when the guy behind the desk hands me a pen and a form to fill out. I don’t have to mispronounce anything!
  7. Fill out my name, contact details and the titles I want: Wonder Woman Rebirth, Harley Quinn Rebirth and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (y’all I just started this and I adore it. Post on its way.)
  8. Slide form back across the counter, mumbling “is this, um.”
  9. Counter dude looks it over and nods. He informs me they will let me know when I have comics to collect, which should be on Wednesdays (when the new orders come in) roughly every couple of weeks, starting next week.
  10. Pay for the books I’m buying today (important)
  11. Peace out of there, aglow with success!

I’m not going to pretend I’m not still slightly looking over my shoulder, waiting for someone to tell me I don’t belong – but it was definitely not the ordeal I had imagined it to be. If you nodded along with this post, remember that a comic shop is not just for vintage comic collectors and know-it-all fanboys. You can be buying the floofiest girliest trendiest books in the place and you still have as much right to be there as anyone, because you are buying comics.

This is not a very accessible hobby, it’s true. Comics need a lot of upfront investment to get up to date, they’re full of intricate plots and obscure characters and badly-designed distribution systems and yes, sometimes the fans can get a little bit gatekeeper-y. It does help if you have a knowledgeable buddy to steer you round the vocab – and your local library is a great way to get started without hurting your wallet! But I have to say that since I started this project, not a single fan has said anything unkind to me either online or in the meatspace, even though I’m a lady having opinions about geek stuff on the internet. I’ve even had positive reactions from people who I never expected to be encouraging. It feels like the community in general is in a very welcoming place for newcomers right now, and I hope it stays that way.

Comics journey #3: Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Vol. 1

My next reading assignment is from the distant past of 2002-2004: Volume 1 of Greg Rucka’s first run on Wonder Woman, another writer who I’d heard great things about. Volume 2 of this is only now about to come out…why, I don’t know. Rucka is also writing Wonder Woman right now and the current stuff will be appearing here soon!

Volume 1 starts off with Hiketeia, which has Diana bound by sacred tradition to protect someone Batman is hunting. It throws up all kinds of moral questions but, Greek tragedy-like, you know there can eventually only be one resolution. You might recognise it by its very excellent cover.

Hiketeia
Yesss.

I have to confess here that I harbour a little petty bitterness towards Batman. The dark and edgy thing has never done it for me and yet they keep making movies about this grumpy dude and his city full of terrible people. His appearances in this volume have a saving sense of humour, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take great joy in seeing Wonder Woman lay the smackdown on him.

hiketeia don't get up

Whack-a-Bat aside, the main thing I enjoyed about this volume was the domestic moments in Diana’s life. We see a lot of her day-to-day as the Themysciran ambassador, living with the embassy staff who see her in all her roles; they know her better than just about anybody. She’s a little homesick, having lost a few loved ones, and you can tell they’ve come to feel oddly protective of her. It makes her feel so real.

staffers

This Diana will ring true if you’ve ever worked for a really stellar boss. She works damn hard to balance bureaucracy with the straightforward superhero life, which is tough even for a born diplomat. There’s also a lot here about the demands and risks of being a public figure, perhaps because she has no secret civilian identity to hide behind. The main plotline involves the media flurry around Diana’s first book, which turns out to be secretly manipulated by genius billionaire Dr Veronica Cale, who believes Wonder Woman is stealing the spotlight she deserves.

veronica cale crazy

Oy. It took me a while to figure out what it was about Cale that bugged me, exactly. Part of it is the fact that she’s motivated by attention rather than power seems like a gendered choice with some unfortunate implications. But mostly it’s because, although she’s not exactly lovable, I couldn’t hate her. Veronica is smart, rich and powerful, she works hard and does a lot of good, and she feels like that deserves to be acknowledged. And that means she’s “crazy”?

You know what, Veronica Cale? As much as I love Wonder Woman, I’d be pissed off too. You’re right, it’s not fair. They should care, and you’re allowed to care that they don’t care.

The issue of rivalry between powerful women cropped up in Gail Simone’s run too, when Power Girl’s underlying resentment made it all too easy to trick her into attacking Wonder Woman. Both Power Girl and Veronica Cale project their own pride onto Wonder Woman and try to use it against her. The difference is that Power Girl learns what Diana is really about and the two eventually develop a mutual admiration. Resentment isn’t shown as the essential underpinning of how powerful women relate to each other; it’s something individual born out of misunderstanding, and it can change. It doesn’t have to be this way. Bam! Inspiring!

power girl

On a related note: it may be just a product of its time, but this comic also has a tendency to default to sexually abusing women to evoke the reader’s sympathy. The supplicant in The Hiketeia is out for revenge on the men who tricked her sister into drugs and prostitution; Veronica Cale’s mother was a stripper seduced by a client who abuses and abandons her after getting her pregnant. Doctor Psycho goes straight to sexual harassment with every woman he encounters. Read in 2017, it feels boring and cheap. There are plenty of ways to get us to pity a character. It doesn’t have to be sex just because she’s a girl.

Oh, and Themyscira is under threat. Again. For an island of well-trained, pacifist warriors Themyscira sure does end up in jeopardy a lot. This time it’s because Ares has decided war is passé and he is now the God of Trolling Conflict. He tells Diana under the lasso that he won’t mess with Themyscira but his shit-stirring ends in Hera throwing a natural disaster at her own Amazons to spite Zeus. I anticipate a delicious incoming stomping.

Meanwhile, Circe strikes a bargain with Poseidon and the Gorgons of Greek myth to bring Medusa back to life. Stheno the ditziest Gorgon might be a new favourite.

stheno
Lookit her sticking out her tongue. I wanna adopt her.

Something that was totally new to me: Vanessa Kapatelis, the Silver Swan. I had to Google her and I have clearly missed some shit. Wonder Girl Cassie, Diana’s protégée, showed up briefly in the Gail Simone run and has a cameo here too. Man, do I want to see more of her and Diana’s dynamic. That’s a side of Wonder Woman I haven’t seen yet and I am super curious.

cassie

Of the artists and art teams, the standout was Stephen Sadowski (pencils) with Andrew Curry (inks). They do some of the best facial work I’ve seen combined with striking, unusual angles. They’re a great choice for the chilling scene where Veronica Cale reveals her motivations.

kimberly dunn

Finally: Superman’s cameo. Now, I have no beef with Superman and this was a cute, funny scene. But come on. The dude is like, eight feet tall. You seriously expect me to believe this man-mountain can maintain a mild-mannered secret identity?

superman
I apologise for the scan quality…it was a thick book.

Despite my gripes and the datedness of this volume, I generally approve of Rucka’s take on Wonder Woman. Her strength, compassion and truth all come through clearly; she’s still somebody you want to follow. It’s not a bad jumping-in point for a new fan – The Circle etc are more self-contained, but unfortunately they’re out of print and pretty hard to get hold of right now. You’ll miss a few things in the Silver Swan plotline but you’re in at the beginning of the other subplots, and with Vol. 2 coming out you know exactly what to buy next.

I seem to be going further back in publishing time with each volume so far, but don’t worry, the future is almost here…in one sense, anyway. Next up is World War II with Marguerite Bennett’s 2015 Bombshells!

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?

most fearsome (3)

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.
    swamp thing say relax (2)

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.