Sunday, July 04, 2010

Weighing In On Wonder Woman#600

I just picked up Wonder Woman#600 Friday due to a busy work week. I didn't want to write about it until I had actually read the issue and gathered my thoughts.

Better strap on the seatbelt and bring some snacks, kids. This is going to be a long one.

I started with departing writer Gail Simone's opening story....

....and was completely blown away! Wonder Woman leading a team of first, second, and third tier superheroines including Manhunter, Batwoman, Skyrocket(!), Bulleteer, the Question, Black Alice and the new Terra against an invading armada of Professor Ivo's fembots, with art by George Perez? It's like Gail's reading my diary!

Next was Amanda Connor's team up story with Power Girl and the Cassandra Cain Batgirl. The only flaw was that not only was Cassandra making uncharacteristically smartass remarks but also unmasking in public. But the rest of the story was so good I just didn't care. Saranga once remarked that Amanda Connor needs to draw Supergirl more often. Hell, she needs to draw everyone more often. And write everyone more often, too. Even Cassandra.

I took time out to look at some of the pin-ups, which included the expected strong work from Adam Hughes, Nicola Scott, Phia Jiminez, and Ivan Reis but also some nice surprises by Francis Manapul and Shane Davis.

Next was an average Weezie Simonson Supes-WW team-up. Bob Wiacek's inks and Pete Pantazis' coloring gave the story a nice Mike McKone feel but would have been better served with pencils by the actual McKone instead of Eduardo Panseca's third-rate imitation of him.

By the way, that was a nice Luthor preview, but why does Lex keep calling Zooey Deschanel "Lois"?

From here it gets a little strange. There was a confusing tale by Geoff Johns with an interesting artistic departure by Scott Kolins that apparently sets up the new story arc.

Then we get to the new arc itself by J. Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer. I wanted to first judge the story on its own merit before getting to the text pieces by JMS and others. On the surface it seems to be one of those "history/reality has been turned on its ass" storylines. I've read several of these over the years: X-Men:Age of Apocalypse, Emperor Joker, World Without Young Justice, JSA: Stealing Thunder, Superman/Batman: Absolute Power, DC/Marvel's Amalgam line, the Image/Valiant crossover Deathmate, Peter Milligan's Animal Man "Coma Kid" run, and my personal favorite, Kurt Busiek & Perez' "The Call" storyline in Avengers.

The first chapter of the JMS WW story does not rank with the storylines described above. Granted, the story length was only 10 pages, less than half the length of a regular comic. After the initial fight scene there was nothing that really hooked me in other than Kramer and inker Michael Babinski's art.

I'm guessing my disconnect was caused in large part by Straczynski's refusal to utilize any members of Diana's supporting cast. Hippolyta is dead and Paradise Island has been destroyed (I'm betting they will be back to normal by the storyline's end), and there is no sign of such WW stalwarts as Donna Troy or Etta Candy. In stories like these seeing the revised versions of the supporting cast is most of the fun. The story didn't suck, but it didn't suck me in, either.

As for the costume by Jim Lee... didn't look too bad in its own right. It was a great look for an Amazon warrior, provided that Amazon warrior's name was "Donna Troy". It just didn't seem to fit Diana.

Designing a perfect Diana uniform should be pretty simple:

1. Take Lucy Lawless' Xena outfit.

2. Recolor it red, blue, white and gold.

3. Replace that circle-thing with a magic lasso.

4. Slap an eagle or a double "W" chestplate on the front and put on some bracelets and a gold tiara.

And you're done.

The last parts I read were the texts. Here are some excerpts from the first text piece:

"Wonder Woman's intellect is her real power. She's honest and disarming and she kick's butt."

"She is the "Secret Self" inside every woman--- the beautiful, unafraid, tenacious and powerful woman we know resides within ... She is the antithesis of the word "victim". She is the single mother working multiple jobs, the unsung heroine, the supportive sister, the devoted daughter, the loving wife. She is the archetype of the Liberated Feminine, and that not confined by any societal role."

Beautiful. Those words show a profound understanding of and respect for the character of Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, they were written by Lynda Carter, who, as far as I can tell, will have nothing to do with the creative direction of this book.

JMS's text piece, on the other hand, made me cringe. This read like a textbook example of a guy who just doesn't get it. Doesn't get Diana, DC Comics history, women, or, well, anything.

Let's start with his explanation for the costume change:

"While other characters, from Batman and Superman and others throughout the DC Universe, have undergone substantial changes over the years, Wonder Woman has pretty much remained the same in appearance."


Try the following experiment, Joe. Go online and look up the covers of Superman#1 and Batman#1. Then read Batman #700 and Superman#700. These substantial costume changes are what, exactly? They both still wear their underwear on the outside, for heaven's sake!

Then there's this gem:

"What woman wears the same outfit over 70 years? What woman doesn't accessorize?"

What woman wouldn't be fighting her gag reflex after reading that drivel?

In JMS' eyes, Diana "had become, for want of a better word, stuffy."

"She became the mom of the girl next door you wanted to date. This was really underscored to me whan I used Wonder Woman in Brave and the Bold#33, and many were appalled that Wonder Woman told a joke... that she flirted... that she was relaxed and having fun. One podcaster said that Wonder Woman had become like his grandmother, and he didn't like to see his grandmother being flirty."

He describes the costume changes and adds "but none of this would work without a strong character behind it." As if she wasn't one already. In other words, he felt the character and her history, as is, were broken and needed to be fixed. The problem with that is that many recent Wonder Woman stories, including two in this very issue, prove that claim to be false.

Writers like Simone, Greg Rucka, Perez, Mark Waid, Darwyn Cooke and others have proven perfectly capable of working within Diana's pre-existing mythos and producing some impressive stories. But JMS apparently couldn't without revamping it. The expression "a poor craftsman blames his tools" comes to mind.

I understand the jury's still out on how much of JMS's alteration is temporary and how much is permanent. However, if there are permanent changes to be made, I'm not sure JMS is the guy I trust making them.

Since I first read his work in Midnight Nation, I've had a love and hate relationship with JMS' writing over the years. He can gain your goodwill with one move and then piss it away with the next, sometimes even within the same story.

He's produced greats like Midnight Nation and Supreme Power, but his fingerprints have also been on some of the worst stories in comics. Remember "One More Day"? Or how about "Sins Past", which revealed that Gwen Stacy had knocked go-go boots with Norman Osborn?

He's the guy who handled Marvel's Superman avatar Hyperion perfectly, but, when given a shot to write the genuine article, starts by giving him a storyline where he doesn't fly. (Maybe he and Jon Peters can get together and form a club.)

He's the guy who introduced a cool female character like Inertia in Squadron Supreme but then saddled her with a rapey backstory.

He's the guy who began writing great series like Squadron Supreme and The Twelve, and then apparently said "Bored now!" and stopped writing each after Issue#8.

And while Joe Quesada rightfully gets derided for the dissolution of the Spider-Marriage in "One More Day", JMS is the one who, presented with a Marvel Universe filled with cosmic entities and artifacts up the wazoo, couldn't come up with a better idea to accomplish Quesada's goal than having Spidey make a deal with the devil.

JMS compared Wonder Woman to a car in his text piece. If we use the car analogy, then Wonder Woman is a vehicle that Gail Simone had kept well-oiled and running like a dream, only to have JMS decide it needed a complete overhaul. Sometimes the worst damage can be done when people try to fix something that wasn't broken in the first place.


At 7:15 PM , Blogger snell said...

Maybe JMS didn't really "leave" Marvel...he came to DC as a secret double agent with the mission of sabotaging their franchises...that seems to be the only way to make sense of his DC output so far, which seems to be focused on turning DC's heroes in Bronze-Age marvel characters.

At 1:41 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

Amen to that, brother! There was nothing WRONG with Wonder Woman! I don't understand the constant need to tinker, since I think that Gail Simone did a lovely job of putting her mythology back into the story, not to mention having a nice group of supporting characters.

The person that JMS wants to write about may be of some small interest...but she's NOT Wonder Woman.


At 8:46 PM , Blogger notintheface said...

Maybe it will be like "Wonder Woman: House of M". Except hopefully it won't end with someone shouting "No More Amazons!"

"Or maybe she's imagining it and she's in a coma...

At 4:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps his idea of what the Amazons should be is better than mine: have them all as the daughters of Ares and Harmonia, punished by the gods to remain in a small island filled with oreodonts because they were evil (all women are); further punished by Aphrodite to not have men in their island, and be eternally discusted by homosexual relations (cos the gods are dicks), therefore, forever condemned to not have any relationships ever. And have them dressed as Scythians, which was how the Greeks portrayed them.

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