Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Review: Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #17

From the astounding cover to the deeply felt battle contained therein, the finale of "The Circle" was a resounding success in my book. Writer Gail Simone brings home her point of origin for Wonder Woman with the big reveal and lots of butt kicking. Terry and Rachel Dodson's gorgeous art (along with Ron Randall) was the icing on the cake to this tale.

Because I have been so unhappy with this current volume of Wonder Woman, it made me very cynical that things would turn around. Thank goodness Simone took the reins and brought some sanity to the proceedings. Like any well orchestrated book, the end of the story was worth waiting for and shed new light on Wonder Woman and her cast of characters.

Simone has given the readers some great characters in the "old school" Amazon guard. Alkyone, Philomena, Myrto, and Charis redefined the savagery and loyalty of the nation with their ill fated decision, and the lack of salvation taken was fitting given their personas. These women are characters that I would like to see again, if for no other reason then to learn more of their back story.

I also appreciated seeing some resolution to Hippolyta's dangling storyline, which was left over from "Amazons Attack" and most recently seen in "Countdown". Where this storyline fit into continuity is a bit unsure at this point, but I am assuming it is before "Athena" and her "furies in training" came back to the island. Thoughts?

Simone gave the book a sense of emotion about the Amazon's inability to reproduce. As a woman who has experienced problems with her female organs, it really hit home to me. For some of the women in that tribe it had been centuries since they had been afforded an opportunity to be around children. Imagining their longings and their hesitancy to unlock that particular Pandora's box really resonated with me.

Wonder Woman is a series that is back on track. Simone has made the book a great read again. I am so pleased to have her on the book and hope she stays for the duration. I enjoyed the Dodson's work here, and hope they have great success as they move to their next book. The next few issues have fill in art and then Aaron Lopresti moves in with Simone to give the creative team a bit of cohesiveness. In my mind that will make the book even more successful.

Cynics and critics out there: it is time to give Wonder Woman another shot. The book is back on schedule and it is a fantastic read. My hopes are that a year from now, I can come back and have the same feelings of completeness and happiness that I do right now.

Just like Wonder Woman, the eternal optimist, so do I feel good about the future here. Now if we could just get Simone back on Birds of Prey....

4 comments:

The Watch Dog said...

Crime & Punishment On Paradise Island

Let me first say that I quite like Gail Simone's writing here, especially her characterization. This is the best, most solid version of Diana I’ve seen anywhere, in years. She’s not insecure; she’s not obsessed with “finding herself.” She knows exactly who she is. To hear Diana say (and I will have to paraphrase in this comment, because I don’t have the issue in front of me) “I have a soul, and I will not apologize for being born,” is, quite simply, a thrill.

And the other Amazons were well characterized also, which is exceedingly rare. (In Amazons Attack, most of them might as well have been mindless clones.) I’m not just talking about the motivations that drove the Four to decide to kill the infant. They were differentiated well beyond that. The description of one of them as the leader of the fishers, whose catch other Amazons appreciated even while making comments about her odor, said to me – almost for the first time – that the inhabitants of Themyscira (not just a select few) were actually people, with emotions, opinions, and flaws.

But I did have some problems with the story. Some come under the technical heading of “continuity,” which I know that some readers will dismiss as trivia or handwave away under the “soft reboot of Infinite Crisis.”

In George Perez’s origin of Diana, we are shown that the Amazons took in infant girls who were lost at sea. They’d raise them for about a year, then send them back to Man’s World, carrying with them a subconscious memory of the Amazon way. Julia Kapatellis was the last of these, and this was used to strengthen her initial connection to Diana.

I always like this conceit, as it showed a different side of the Amazons – not only more nurturing, but less passive. They weren’t just waiting until they could go influence Man’s World. And I was disappointed that Perez didn’t make use of this detail as part of the origin of Donna Troy. (I sketched out the story once, just for practice.)

But on Gail Simone’s Themyscira, even so much as a doll representing an infant can drive some Amazons to a manic, delusional obsession with motherhood and children. The Four do mention “envy” as a reason to oppose Diana’s creation (Hippolyta will be the mother, no one else can have a child), and some concerns about the supernatural nature of the creation. But it’s clear from the writing (particularly, the scene with the doll) that their chief worry is simply with the unprecedented presence of an infant on the island. Certainly they don’t compare this infant to the others who have been fostered there. That part of Perez’s origin really has to go.

In addition, over the years (and in stories that still seem to be in continuity, although, these days, no one can tell) we have seen the island destroyed, reduced to boulders, a number of times, with many Amazons killed or injured in the process. Now this, unlike the Children of Themysicra, is something I never liked; the impulse, on the part of some writers, to destroy places like Themyscira or Asgard (over and over again), rather than explore them and use them as “story engines,” is to me as unimaginative and regrettable as the decision to kill characters off for shock value (only to bring them back later, of course, causing incremental numbness in the readers). But still, it’s part of the history, and it doesn’t seem likely that the Four could have survived such events in their little underground cells.

But these continuity details didn’t bother me as much as the change in tone concerning the island that is necessary to make this story work. In all its incarnations, Paradise Island has always been a place of rehabilitation and redemption for female villains. The Amazons have a long history of trying to show Nazi baronesses, evil witches, and costumed villains the error of their ways – through reason, patience, and love. They did not always succeed. But they always tried.

So here we have four actual Amazon criminals, moved to horrid actions by a strong belief that their community is in danger. They are defeated. And what do Hippolyta and her people do? Throw them into cells that are little more than barred pits in the ground. Cut them off from all contact with others (except for an annual two-sentence discussion with the queen.) There is no attempt to rehabilitate them, or show them that they were mistaken. Quite the contrary, if you wanted to make absolutely sure that prisoners will become even more bitter and hateful, this is the way to do it. They’ve treated Circe better than this.

Towards the end of the story, Hippolyta – weak, perhaps dying – makes a speech. “You were wrong. All of us became her mothers. She brought us together; she made us whole” (or words to that effect). Quite right – but is this the first time she’s bothered to mention it? I would think that the Amazons would take the prisoners out of their cells – one at a time, once a year, making sure they can’t get their hands on their fancy weapons – and actually show them how Amazon society is faring with young Diana in it. They were motivated by an erroneous belief – show them the evidence that it’s wrong!

Maybe that would never work, but surely they should try.

(I should also mention that Hippolyta has picked an odd time to declare the salubrious effect Diana has had on the Amazons – now that they’ve engaged in a war of aggression and been scattered and exiled from the island. She would have been better off trying this tack before Amazons Attack. But then, we were all better off before Amazons Attack.)

So here I am, with writing I really enjoyed, a story whose overall concept I liked, but some concerns that made it difficult for me to buy into it completely. Many people would say, “If Gail listened to you, we wouldn’t have the story at all (so bug off).” A fair complaint; is there a middle ground?

Here’s my suggestion (and I’m winging it here, details can be changed): what if the Four, upon their original defeat, had – accidentally or deliberately, using some Amazon device – escaped to some alternate realm (“pocket dimension” is one version), where they found themselves trapped? And they were unable to return until, say, Granny Goodness, in a fit of pique, unwittingly destroyed the device. After some effort, the Four make their way to Paradise Island, and the story starts from there.

Would that have been a worse story? Much worse? It would have answered the concerns I’ve raised, but we would have lost some powerful scenes. Maybe we would have gained some as well. Hard to know.

Lisa said...

I can't wait to read it!

Heidi Meeley said...

Watch Dog: I read your comment here with genuine awe. I really appreciate the way you thought through the fact that these four women were imprisoned for so long while others were shown the redemption and rehabilitation way. It doesn't fit the "core value" that the Amazons showed in past storylines. That is an excellent point. Your thought of a plot point where Granny Goodness takes these women from a pocket dimension and brings them forward is well thought out.

Another thought may be that what these guards did was so heinous that they were exempted from Hippolyta's "loving submission". Trying to murder a newborn is a horrible crime and for all we know, the gods themselves would not let the Amazons bring these women to redemption. After giving infant Diana so many special gifts, they had a vested interest in her survival.

One of the best things I saw here was that Diana is now sure of herself. She isn't defined by the perceptions of others or her mission in life. She simply is. That is a beautiful thing that has been missing for way too long.

That all being said, I really enjoyed Simone's first arc on the book. It gives me a sense of hope that I haven't felt since Rucka's portrayal.

Thank you for your insightful, well reasoned post. It really made me think, and I was impressed by your knowledge of the past Wonder Woman tales. It is something that I find to be a rare commodity.

Heidi Meeley said...

Lisa, you will enjoy it! It is a return to excellence after a really scary period in WW's book.