Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wonder Woman #600 -- A Review

I’ve always loved the character of Wonder Woman, mostly stemming from the old TV show. So, it’s appropriate that this issue begins with a text piece from Lynda Carter. She really has a great understanding of Princess Diana, even though she only played her for three seasons. It’s a shame that we’re living in the post-secret identity era, because I really miss Carter’s Diana Prince portrayal. They tried to resurrect it with the latest relaunch a few years back, but it failed miserably. Despite the “goddess within us all” new age philosophy, the majority of the essay was very good.

There are nine pin-up pages throughout the issue. The first one is by Adam Hughes and shows Wonder Woman holding an Elephant at the circus with some boys and girls scattered around. The facial expressions on the little girls is particularly delightful, because seeing her makes them proud of their own “girl-power”. The boys on the other hand are simply dumbstruck. It’s a beautiful picture, especially with the soft colors. However, the placement of the elephant’s trunk and the way Diana is gazing at it is a little untoward, slightly marring this otherwise innocent picture.

For me the seven-page Gail Simone/George Perez story was the highlight of the issue. Wonder Woman is leading the charge with what looks to be every female super-hero in the current earthbound DCU. They’re fighting Ivo’s Cyber-Sirens (attractive blue women robots), who can turn men into obedient puppy dogs. Skyrocket from the Power Company (I always like to see her character), sums it up best, “Pretty girls making guys act dumb. It’s just like high school all over again.” The Sirens are besieging the White House. Batwoman makes a strange comment that she “can’t believe [she’s] saving the guys who protect the guy [she] voted against!” Who is the President of the U.S.A. in the DCU? I don’t know, but somehow I doubt this was a swipe against President Obama. Anyway, the women save the day in spectacular fashion. However, Wonder Woman doesn’t have time to have beers with Batwoman or be personally thanked by the President, so she quickly departs.

Another great thing about this short story is the balance between Wonder Woman the super-hero and Diana the person. So at the end of the fifth page, we see WW spin into her civilian dress as she’s landing. She’s arrived just in time to find a seat, before Vanessa Kapatelis gives her valedictorian address. Vanessa is from Perez’s post-crisis reboot and in her speech she mentions some of the ideals and values she learned from Diana. The two spend some time walking and talking after the ceremony and set to right some issues they’ve had in the past. It seems a fitting capstone to what Perez started nearly 25 years ago, but I’m not sure what it has to do with what Simone had been doing recently.

The next pin-up is by Nicola Scott and colored by Jason Wright. This is my favorite one of the nine. Wonder Woman stands atop a column on Paradise Island with her arm bracelets crossed. In the background you can see part of the island, the wide sea, and expansive sky. Her face is pretty, her arms strong, and her figure seems to be reasonably proportioned. The colors are spectacular. The lasso glows, the metal on her costume gleams in the sunlight, and her skin tone is appropriately Mediterranean in color. The next pin-up is by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, and Rod Reis. It’s nice too, but Wonder Woman’s smile doesn’t seem to fit the scene of her just beheading a Medusa.

The second story is an excellent five-page tale by Amanda Conner, which co-stars Power Girl. So, those of you lamenting the loss of Conner from PG’s series may want to pick up the issue for this tale alone. It takes place sometime “a while back”. After Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and the full-mask Batgirl defeat Egg Fu, Power Girl asks Diana for some relationship advice. I don’t want to give away too many details, but it’s VERY funny.

The figure position of the Guillem March pin-up seems to be something that Jim and Lee would comment about during one of their previews. Also, the left arm, deflecting bullets, is shown in three positions and it just doesn’t quite work. The Greg Horn pin-up is next and it’s about what you’d expect. The Francis Manapul pin-up, colored by Brian Buccellato, is stellar. The Flash artist (who is still knocking it out of the park every month in that book) has really captured Wonder Woman’s determination as she leads a band of Amazons through the jungles on Themyscira. Her headband is slightly larger, which fits the warrior scene. The seventh pin-up is by Phil Jimenez and colored by Hi-Fi. It’s an awesome two-page montage of various scenes and characters from the series.

The third story is a seven-pager by Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica (with Bob Wiacek as inker). Wonder Woman fights alongside Superman against Nikos Aegeus, “a terrorist organization of one”. He flies around on a black winged horse and shoots stolen Zeus lightning bolts at the heroes. The story and art were okay, but not very memorable. It seemed a little like filler to me.

The eighth pin-up is by Jock and it is downright disturbing. The face is very unflattering and the eyes and lips look particularly harsh. The stance is totally ridiculous. It’s just creepy. I don’t know why this was approved for the book (Why no Brian Bolland pin-up?). I’d rip it out, but the patriotic Shane Davis (with Jamie Mendoza and Nei Ruffino) pin-up on the back is pretty nice.

The fourth story is six-page tale by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins. I really enjoyed Kolins’ work when he did the Flash, but then his style changed and I didn’t like it as much. This seems like another evolution to his style and it reminded me of Bruce Timm’s Justice League Wonder Woman (the best portrayal of Wonder Woman since Lynda Carter). So, I thought it was very good. However, part of me feels that these pages were included just so they could put Johns’ name on the cover credits. Diana is fighting some thugs (well-dressed thugs), when she hears a cry for help. The men are chasing a young girl in a white dress. When she catches up to the girl, her hand passes right though her. It’s Diana when she was a child. The girl runs toward a dazzling light and Wonder Woman follows her. We don’t know who the narrators are (maybe the DC editorial staff), but essentially they feel that “Diana is far too undervalued by this world.” Diana starts to disappear into the light and the next page begins the prologue of JMS’s storyline.

Okay, perhaps this is the part you really wanted to read about. I’ll admit that hoping to get in on the ground floor of a new and improved WW storyline was a big draw about this issue. The execution of the ten-page story was good and I loved the art by Don Kramer and Michael Babinski, which was colored by Alex Sinclair. The action, pacing, and dialogue were fine. However, it’s the underlining concepts that are troublesome.

As the story opens we have Wonder Woman in her new costume (more on that later) racing down an alleyway. She comes up against seven guys with guns, wearing business suits. She jumps (not sure she can fly anymore) at them and starts taking them down, leaving a “W” mark on one guy’s forehead after back-handing (actually back-forearming) him with her new bracelet. As she starts to question one of them a command is given to blow the team up. She escapes the blast by jumping to a nearby fire escape and heads for the rooftops.

The next scene has her in a storm sewer lined with motionless robed and hooded figures, which question why she has gone “outside” before her training was complete. Diana ignores their advice to stay put and leaves again to see the Oracle. The blind Oracle (with a nose ring, leather jacket, fishnets, and Ankh neckband) is sitting beneath a through-truss bridge along a lined concrete channel – a very dirty, run down channel with old shopping carts, graffiti, and trash. Diana feels lost and the Oracle tries to explain why.

“What you have to understand is that the world you see isn’t always the world that is, or has been. In the world that I see you have always been exactly as you are right now. And you have never been anything like what you are right now. Just as I was not always what I am now.”

Apparently, Diana was taken to this underground “hole” 18 years ago as an infant after her mother was murdered. The men responsible are being manipulated by some sinister higher power. The Oracle decides that the best way to help Diana understand is to mentally show her the ruins of Paradise Island.

Now, back to the concepts. Thanks to the changes in the timestream, Wonder Woman can’t even enter a bar anymore, because she’s not even 21! She’s probably the same age as Wonder Girl and younger than Donna Troy (if these characters still exist)! She GREW UP in a SEWER! That’s horrible, even if the timeline gets repaired. Maybe that’s the worst part, we have this bold new direction and the reset button is already in place. This looks like JMS’s pitch for the Earth One graphic novels that they just folded into the regular series. How will this temporary odyssey really relate once Wonder Woman gets back to normal? Wasn’t the Wednesday Comics WW story from a year ago about her dreaming about rediscovering herself? I don’t see this as an improvement, but I’m still interested in how it might play out.

There is a two-page text piece by JMS and Jim Lee (who redesigned the costume) about the new outfit. THIS was the best they could come up with? It seems like a total retread of what Mike Deodato, Jr. came up with for the Contest storyline back in the mid-1990’s. You know the one with the jacket and the biker shorts. I don’t mind the new tiara and having shoulder straps to hold her in seems practical enough, but the colors are too dark. I don’t like the neckband and the bracelets are too ornate – remember how they used to represent the Amazon’s bondage, now they’re just fashionable. This wouldn’t be a terrible outfit for when she’s fighting street crime, but for this to be the regular costume all the time. No, it doesn’t work, especially since I’ve just seen throughout the issue how awesome the iconic one looks; although, my eight year-old daughter liked the new one a lot. If you want to see one fan's fix of the new costume go here (You better not be drinking anything or you'll spit it out with laughter, but it IS a vast improvement.)

Oh and there is a five-page preview of the new Lex Luthor storyline in Action Comics included in the issue (just before the costume text piece). I know every DC comic had that preview, but it was very disruptive here. It’s nearly as long as some of the short stories. Really, it would have been much better to reprint a classic WW story. I would have liked to see the Gene Colan pre-crisis issue where she got the “WW” costume change and lost the eagle.

Finally, let’s talk about the cover. I got the $5 George Perez cover, which is boring despite the way she uses here lasso to make the number 600. I don’t even like the smile on Diana’s face; it’s like when some takes your picture at just the wrong moment. The Nicola Scott pin-up would have been a better choice. The Adam Hughes cover, which is an update of the first WW cover is awesome, but it was a retailer incentive and $25! I really wish that comic companies would just give us the BEST cover on their book. They might actually sell more copies that way.

Grade B: A little uneven with some great moments, but with a troubling new direction, and one really awful pin-up.

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