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.

faces
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 #5: Wonder Woman Rebirth – “The Lies” and “Year One”

I’ve reached a milestone: I bought my first comic that wasn’t picked out for me by somebody else! (It was Year One.) I may be getting the hang of this.

“Rebirth” is a 2016 relaunch of the DC universe, which as far as I’ve gathered is what happens when a comics publisher decides everything has gotten too confusing and it’s time to wipe everyone’s storylines and start fresh as a jumping-on point for new fans. This is fine provided you, a newbie, can figure out which comics to pick up – until you start trying to read the older stuff. The problem is they have to make it make sense in-universe, so the reboot becomes just another part of the continuity for fans to get to grips with – except now you have yet another version of everyone’s origins, maybe a big apocalypse with ongoing repercussions, the issues are numbered differently, and you’re never sure whether whatever just happened is going to stay happened. Just to complicate things, it boosts sales, so they have done this more than once! Rebirth is supposed to combine the continuities from before and after the previous reboot in 2011, which was called Flashpoint and resulted in a relaunch called The New 52.

It’s okay if you’re new and none of this makes sense. It’s dumb and over-complicated. The big events do sell well, but for me it just made the whole thing more impenetrable and I think it’s a great way to scare people away from comics.

Anyway. Greg Rucka is back as Wonder Woman’s writer, with art by Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp. Volume 1 The Lies has Diana teaming up with her traditional enemy Cheetah as she tries to figure out why she can’t find her way back to Themyscira, while Volume 2 Year One is a re-do of the origin story. I was pretty happy with Greg Rucka’s treatment of Wonder Woman last time, so you guys, I was Psyched.

Year One is a fish-out-of-water story with plenty of humour and complexity, full of sweet, surprising moments, while The Lies brings the badass and the pain. It opens by addressing one of the things that makes Wonder Woman difficult for writers to define and for new readers to understand: her unusually fluid backstory. It gets re-imagined so often that she has no definitive origin. Was she moulded from clay by Hippolyta and given life by the gods? Brought to life by some kind of blood magic? The offspring of her mother and Zeus? Did she rebel to leave her island or was she chosen?

Rucka embraces the confusion as Diana, beset by conflicting memories of her various pasts, lassos herself and learns that a mysterious someone has deceived her. Meanwhile, Year One establishes the origin we’re going with in this particular run: after Navy SEAL Steve crash-lands on the island, the Amazons decide the gods are sending them a message to which they must respond and Diana beats out the other Amazons to be chosen as Themyscira’s champion and ambassador to the world (though it hasn’t confirmed whether Zeus was involved in Diana’s birth and I have all my fingers crossed that we don’t do that.)

So, I have a confession to make. I keep saying I just find Diana/Steve boring and predictable and I was all ready to be a curmudgeon about it for the rest of eternity but this time…I’m into it.

Rucka is careful to make Steve someone worthy of Diana: he’s a sweetheart, respectful of women, great with kids and unafraid to show love for his friends. He’s quick and brave in a fight and he finds the joy in life. He loses his shirt a lot.

redpill steve
Steve Trevor: not easily redpilled.

But more importantly, he’s a fresh-faced 21 year old in Year One and he matches Diana’s youthful energy. As she learns about our world and her new powers, he’s right there with her, sharing in her excitement.

adorable
The bit with the lizard is so goddamn cute I may have died. Nicola Scott is a gift and a blessing.

The cherry on top is that their relationship is extremely slow-burn. They don’t flirt right off the bat – in fact they can’t, because Rucka has introduced a language barrier just to shake things up. Twelve-ish years later, in The Lies, they’ve been distant for a while on account of Diana dating Superman (ugh. ugghhhh) but they share an unbreakable bond that carries them through. It even echoes something I noticed from Gail Simone’s run: Diana is good at love in a general sense, but not so great at romance. It’s believable, it keeps you guessing, it’s super adorable. Nailed. It.

handholding

Other notable things: Etta Candy is a black, possibly gay military commander! I may have squealed a little.

etta

etta sappho
You know what, I ship it.

She’s not as quippy as I’ve seen her before, but she has an added air of authority (and a fondness for girly cocktails). Veronica Cale is back, woop! And Barbara Ann Minerva is basically Indiana Jones…

barbara

…before eventually becoming Cheetah.

cheetah

I gotta say, Cheetah’s tortured ferocity becomes kind of hilarious when you remember that actual cheetahs are so skittish that they need emotional support greyhounds in captivity. They chirp. At their scariest they sound like an angry house-cat. We couldn’t have gone with, I don’t know, a tiger? Even a leopard would have made more sense. Sorry, Barbara Ann, you’re a nervous fuzzy kittycat and no amount of growly voice will convince me otherwise.

I also have a Petty Art Peeve with Year One, and it’s not high heels! …it’s colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr’s choice for Diana’s lip colour.

lip colour

I have a bit of a makeup obsession and I can’t get over that unflattering light pink shade. C’mon, dude, you can make it look natural without washing her out like that. Somebody let me at her with a lip tint.

Pedantry aside: like the previous Rucka run, these are fairly light on action scenes, which suits me just fine especially because those it does have are some of the fist-pumpingest I’ve seen so far. Check out Diana literally blasting through jungle god Urzkartaga!

blast
BADASS.

I’d recommend reading these trades in the opposite order to how they were published, with volume 2 first. Volume 1 collects issues 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 while volume 2 is all the even-numbered ones, but I found I got a lot more out of The Lies on a second read-through after I’d read Year One. 

So yeah, overall I’m pretty happy with this. It does what it sets out to do in terms of providing an entry point for new readers and beginning the process of combining continuities. It doesn’t unseat Gail Simone’s run as my first pick for a Wonder Woman starting point, but that’s pretty hard to top.

Rucka’s Diana is still lovely, especially when she’s young – her reaction when the gods appear and gift her with her powers can only be described as “starstruck” – and for the most part she still has that touch of humanity I loved so much in Rucka’s previous run. The supporting cast is genuinely likeable and after an emotional nuke at the end of The Lies I’m keen to see what comes next.

Speaking of what comes next, the blog has caught up to my reading now and I don’t have anything immediately lined up. This newbie needs recs – what should I read next?

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!