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 #6: Harley Quinn, “Hot in the City”

I’m taking a quick break from Wonder Woman this week to investigate Harley Quinn!

Hot in the City is the first New 52 volume of Harley Quinn, collecting issues #00-#8 which came out in 2014-2015. Picking up after the events of Suicide Squad: Running with the Devil, it was written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with art (mostly) by Chad Hardin. I say “mostly” because the first issue is a fourth-wall breaking dream sequence in which Harley and the writers cycle through like seventeen big-name artists as they try to decide who should draw this run.

art meta

As with Wonder Woman, my experience of Harley until recently was limited to her big-screen outing in Suicide Squad, but I knew the broader details of her backstory: a psychologist and trained gymnast whose real name is Dr Harleen Quinzel, she was originally introduced 25 years ago in Batman: The Animated Series. She has (had) a toxic relationship with the Joker and she’s also romantically linked in a much healthier way with fellow Batman villain Poison Ivy. She’s no hero, but she’s often drawn sympathetically.

What originally drew me to the character in Bombshells and her Sensation Comics appearances was her sense of fun, but as I read this volume I noticed something that echoed what I liked about Wonder Woman: Harley is totally free of the weight of societal expectations. Her “crazy” gives her license to operate outside all of that, and she likes it that way. Alongside Wonder Woman, her puns and loose-cannon style provided a great counterpoint, but it also translates well to her own comic. She’s an instantly lovable combination of playful, violent, loyal, vulnerable and dangerous.

the dog

I’ve seen Harley get a bad rap amid her massive popularity with young women – because people think she represents a romanticising of abuse and mental illness, her outfit is too skanky, girls aren’t allowed to just like stuff, whatever. This collection is fairly significant in that Harley has just dumped the Joker for what I’m pretty sure is the first time ever. (Long story short: he tried to kill her because she thought he was dead and hooked up with Deadshot. She tried to kill him back before deciding he was no longer the Joker she fell in love with.)

Oddly enough, the Joker hasn’t really featured in any of Harley’s comics appearances I’ve encountered so far (admittedly, not that many). He rates a mention, but he’s mostly AWOL. In his place is Poison Ivy in spades. Although the writers have confirmed that she and Harley are in a non-monogamous romantic relationship, this storyline never defines it in so many words – maybe for plausible “gal pal” deniability. Either way, losing the victim angle makes Harley more palatable to a mid-2010s audience and allows her to be re-invented to some extent as an anti-hero with her own agenda. I really enjoy the fact that Harley has been allowed to grow beyond her original raison d’etre, especially as a female character created as a villain’s sidekick.

Her adventures in Hot in the City are fairly light and self-contained. Single and at a loose end, she’s suddenly bequeathed a house in Coney Island, and in the process of settling into her new home and meeting her colourful neighbours she discovers an unknown somebody has put a bounty on her head. This gives her the opportunity to beat up the odd assassin in between getting a job as a therapist, joining a roller derby team and teaming up with Ivy to rescue a shelter full of doomed pets, before partnering with cranky retired government agent Sy Borgman (no relation to Cyborg from the Justice League, apparently) to take down his equally geriatric former enemies. Shout-out here to the artist: Hardin’s faces are incredibly flexible and full of character, and he really shines with Syborg’s jowly features.

syborg

For me, this trade was a great starting point. It assumes some basic prior knowledge, but the only things I Googled were Syborg and where the Joker was supposed to be – and even then only out of idle curiosity.  It’s fun and fast-paced like a carnival ride with an expertly-drawn supporting cast, and blackly funny in a Boondock Saints kind of way.

ketchup

There are so many great comedy moments and I don’t want to spoil them, but I will say I took great pride in being able to recognise this Easter egg.

easter egg

And in between butt-kicking, it is super adorable.

pam a lamb

Overall, Harley’s characterisation seems to be remarkably consistent, so it’s not quite so important to pick the right first impression as it is with Wonder Woman. If you liked her in the Suicide Squad movie, chances are you’ll like her in this too. The plot doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere especially dramatic, but personally I love all things light and fluffy – and since the character is just out of the aforementioned fairly tense situation it makes sense to give her a breather. If you’d rather start at the very beginning, you could go with Harley’s original appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, the award-winning graphic novel of her origin story The Batman Adventures: Mad Love or maybe her first appearance in mainstream comics in the 1999 Batman: Harley Quinn. 

In other news, I got paid this week, which means I can get myself up to date with current Wonder Woman! So Diana returns next post with The Truth and Godwatch. I’m psyched – not only to see how Rucka’s run plays out, but also because the next writer/artist team is Shea Fontana of DC Superhero Girls and Mirka Andolfo, whose work I enjoyed in Bombshells. It features tiny Diana and I can already tell I’m going to love it.

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 #4: DC Bombshells, Year One

My god I am dying of jealousy this week at everything coming out of SDCC. I haven’t wanted to go so badly in years! How psyched are you all for Justice League and the (inevitable, but still) Wonder Woman sequel?!

Meanwhile, having sailed through most of the Wonder Woman books we had in the house, I was reaching the point of having to go buy my own stuff. This was anxiety-inducing because how do you pick? What’s a New 52? What if I buy something and it’s terrible? I even watched Batman vs Superman against my better judgement to get my fix.

Thankfully a friend of mine came to the rescue and suggested Bombshells. “It’s everything you would love! It’s her saving the world in WW2 but with more awesome female characters!”

It was also its own self-contained story with no need to understand the wider continuity. And my friends could lend me the first two volumes. Sold!

I sort of peripherally knew about this series because we have a giant Bombshells poster on our wall. Bombshells began as pin-up style art that people liked so much it got turned into a line of collectible figures and then its own series in 2015, written by Marguerite Bennett. It imagines Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Supergirl, Catwoman and a whole bunch of other characters I’d never met (Batwoman, Stargirl, Huntress, Mera/Aquawoman, Big Barda, Zatanna, Dr Light, about a million Bat-kids) into a stylised WW2 setting, because who doesn’t like seeing sexy ladies in pin-up outfits?

Well…I don’t. Overly objectified female characters were one of the reasons I never got into comics before now, so I went into this with mixed feelings. It helped that this series is immediately queer as all hell, kicking off with Batwoman Kate Kane and her girlfriend and never dropping that ball. I found myself very glad that Bennett, who’s openly bisexual, was the one to do this: written from a male or perhaps even a straight female perspective, it would have been so easy to end up with something insulting. Instead we have a comic that may be set in 1940 but whose politics are unmistakably current.

To balance out the idealised aesthetic, Bennett isn’t shy about the ugly realities of war and prejudice. The comic consciously avoids using the period setting as an excuse to whitewash the cast. Romani and LGBT, as well as Jewish, characters express the fear they live in, while the Batgirls storyline deals with racism and xenophobia amongst the “good guys” back home.

batgirls

If there was a Bechdel test for plots, this would pass with flying colours. The character arcs of most of the Bombshells are drawn around searching for self-determination in the face of a world war, not just a gender one.  The characters stand on their own merits (no Batman, Superman or Aquaman in this ‘verse) and the conflict is much bigger than a fight against male entitlement. Our heroines’ biggest recurring struggle in this vein is with the pressure to be nothing more than pretty images of hope and/or propaganda.

symbol

treasures

With so much to cover, these first two volumes do feel a little thinly spread in terms of plot and character development. But it’s a credit to the artists that the Batgirls storyline was the only time I encountered the face-blindness I usually struggle with when confronted with Loads And Loads Of Characters (e.g. I thought Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were the same person for most of The Prestige. This did not help me understand The Prestige).

batkids
One of you is probably also Christian Bale, I don’t even know anymore

Okay, so, Wonder Woman. This Diana is wide-eyed and young, fresh off the boat (or I guess, dolphin chariot) from Themyscira. She gets off to a promising start, rebelling against Hippolyta with plenty of bravado, but then proceeds to spend most of her time cooing at a hunky but traumatised Steve Trevor. I have to thank Captain Awkward here for introducing me to this quote from poet Marilyn Hacker, which sums it up: “Women love a sick child or a healthy animal; a man who is both itches them like an incubus“.

steve diana
I call this compilation “GET A ROOM”

It may be that I just find Diana/Steve inherently boring, but that wasn’t the only issue I had. I mean, Wonder Woman sure does fight some Nazis, but she seems to sail unruffled through every challenge and compared to her counterparts, the character lacks depth. Hopefully she gets some more development in the subsequent two volumes, but so far the movie honestly does a better job of what this comic is going for.

Happily, I found myself some new favourites instead. I looked forward most to Mera and Harley’s stories, whose underlying darkness is accented with humour. Mera is a rebellious Atlantean princess on the run; she likes to show off, which is endearing next to Wonder Woman and Supergirl’s noble selflessness, and she loves her friends wholeheartedly.

mera

Harley’s unfettered enthusiasm is just so much fun and I like her more every time she appears. She is a bouncy little psycho bean and she must be protected.

harley

Selina Kyle/Catwoman was also a standout. She’s so well-written I can hear her dialogue in an languid drawl in my head.

catwoman

Marguerite Sauvage did a lot of the art for this series but I also liked Mirka Andolfo’s slightly Disneyfied look, which gelled really well with the setting. Also, Supergirl and Stargirl’s Soviet Russian backstory features some gorgeous folk art by Sandy Jarrell.

folk art

In terms of friendliness to new Wonder Woman fans, I’d recommend getting a sense of the character from other writers first and reading Bombshells to expand your reading list with some lesser-known DC heroines. A few characters get an origin do-over, but some of them are pretty far from their canon versions and that could get confusing. On the other hand, it’s not part of the normal continuity, so you won’t miss anything. And you’ll be right on time to pick up the new series, Bombshells United, which is out this August!

Also due out next month is Gotham City Garageanother re-imagining based on a collectibles line featuring Big Barda, Steel, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Silver Banshee, Hawkgirl and Supergirl in “a world of bikes, outlaws and elaborate tattoos.” Its creative team is male-led, which could be a worry, and they seem to be using Wonder Woman as the lead promo image without actually mentioning whether she’s in it? But I think I liked Bombshells enough to be intrigued at where they’ll take it.

Next up: Greg Rucka again, this time with Volume 1: The Lies and Volume 2: Year One from his 2016 DC Universe Rebirth run!

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?

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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!

 

Comics journey #1: Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman!

Having been knocked off my feet by the movie, I’m kicking off my quest for more Wonder Woman with Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman: a 2014-2015 run of continuity-free short stories by a variety of writer/artist teams. The idea was to get a general idea of things without dropping me in the middle of an ongoing arc. All credit to the film: Diana is everything I thought she’d be and more.

One of the things that put me off comics in the past was the way women are depicted in graphic art – like that infamous Spiderman cover where porno-Barbie Mary Jane is striking a pose no woman has ever struck when nobody was looking. This is where I urge other newbies to do what I did and start off with a collection featuring a variety of artists. It showed me that comics can do better! I really got into some of the artists, like Cat Staggs’ photographic, distressed style. In the end, it was tiny details like facial expressions that were the most important in whether I was drawn into the action or suddenly taken out of it. That, and whether they put Wonder Woman in heels (STOP IT).

Overall it didn’t make much a difference whether I knew the creators involved or not – I devoured all of it. But I recognised a couple of names, and they delivered.

Noelle Stevenson (art) and James Tynion IV (writing) did a cute little story that has stuck in my head ever since. Teenaged Diana makes an unauthorised trip to Man’s World, befriends a gaggle of girls and discovers ice-cream and Dance Dance Revolution. Like everything Stevenson does, it is precious and pure and good.

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YES THIS EXACTLY.

I also had fun with “Gothamazon”, Gail Simone’s contribution (art Ethan van Sciver). My husband is a huge Simone fan and while I’d seen her infamous Twitter feed and even met her at a con, I’d never actually read her work. (I am now, obviously, kicking myself.) This Wonder Woman is a seasoned campaigner and her strength is palpable – she’s cool, capable and compassionate. Also…she’s funny? Honestly, at first, it shocked me – like, is she allowed to crack one-liners?

This collection turned out to be a useful primer to a few other characters too. Cheetah shows up a few times, but “Our Little Dance” (writer Adam Beechen) and “Island of Lost Souls” (writer Trina Robbins, art Chris Gugliottia) were heaviest on her origin and motivations. She’s…not the strongest villain ever? I mean, she’s fine, but for one of the main rogues of a major character she’s sort of one-note.

One villain who did grab me was Harley Quinn, who appears in “Gothamazon” as well as in “Echidna” (writer Caitlin Kittredge, art Scott Hampton – incidentally I thought his rough-around-the-edges style worked really well for Echidna). I can’t resist a character with a sense of humour who just enjoys doing what they do.

“Echidna” also included this excellent panel:

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“politely”

Plus, Batgirl, who I’ve been curious about. I’m kind of worried now about Joss Whedon handling her movie, I mean, we all saw that script draft, right? She and Wonder Woman are very territorial in this, which struck me as odd – is there some history there I’m missing?

“A Day In Our Lives” (art and writing Jason Badower) stood out for its art style, which I didn’t love for close-ups but works great for epic pages like this:

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I’m ready to fight those thousand dudes all over again, let’s GO.

The lesbian wedding in this story made it into June’s National Geographic for an article about diversity in comics! I was hella excited to discover it here by accident.

The other thing I LOVED about this was Diana and Superman just hanging out and blowing off steam. Like, there’s the occasional action panel like the one above that brings the shock and awe, but I’m noticing that I’m really here for the character moments. On that note, I quite liked Superman, who’s never piqued my interest before!

I’m starting to honestly love Wonder Woman for the same reasons I loved her onscreen: her empathy, her hopefulness, her integrity and the way she just…is herself. She never wonders if she’s good enough: she knows the right thing to do, and she just does it. Instead of angst, there is Wonder Woman kicking Nazis in the face and revelling in ice-cream and forgiving everyone because she’s strong enough to do it. She gets her enemies on her side by sheer force of personality, and she gets me cheering for her the same way. I didn’t know how much I needed this. There will always be a place for stories about overcoming self-doubt, but what is grabbing me here is the idea of never doubting yourself in the first place. You can just…be free of it. What a concept.

At the same time, I’m finding that all the excuses I had for never getting into comics have vanished. I love sinking my teeth into a good doorstopper of a novel, so I thought I’d fly through comics too fast to get much enjoyment out of them. To my fellow bookworms: don’t let this stop you. There’s enough going on in the artwork and the subtleties of the writing to keep me plenty busy. The silliness and occasional melodrama don’t get in the way, either. Ultimately, I found myself embracing them; they became part of the experience, there to be enjoyed.

Next up: Gail Simone’s 2008 Wonder Woman run!