Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

29 May 2009

Wonder Woman: The Circle

Collects: Wonder Woman v. 3 #14-9 (2008)

Released: August 2008 (DC)

Format: 160 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9781401219321

What is this?: A reinvisioning of just what it means to be Wonder Woman, an Amazonian princess in Man’s World

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone and pencilers Terry Dodson and Bernard Chang (with some help)

Many comic fans much more prominent than I have wondered what is compelling about Wonder Woman. Does she have a claim to prominence other than being an editorially mandated peer of Batman and Superman? What is Wonder Woman, other than a female superhero — what’s her schtick?

Is she a warrior? A soldier? A diplomat? Martial artist Diana Prince? A superspy? The ambassador to Man’s World?28 A goddess? She’s been all this and more, really, although she’s never really staked a solid, long-term claim to anything other than a warrior, and warriors in superhero comics are a drachma a dozen.

Wonder Woman: The Circle coverIn Wonder Woman: The Circle, writer Gail Simone goes for the best of all of these things. As helpfully pointed out by writer Mercedes Lackey in her introduction to the volume, Simone has made Wonder Woman into the “Supreme Warrior,” who wants to end conflict — a diplomat, a warrior, a tactician, with compassion and strength. With a bit of the goddess thrown in.

That’s a heck of a standard to live up to, and to be honest, it doesn’t resemble the character I’d read about in Jodi Picoult’s Wonder Woman, v. 2: Love and War. But I have to admit, for the most part, Simone’s Wonder Woman does live up to the billing.

The Circle has two stories: one in which Wonder Woman deals with Nazi invaders and native fanatics in Themiscyra, and the other in which she is brought to a world of aliens, whose prior invasion of Earth she had thwarted, to end a war they are losing badly. The first, the eponymous “The Circle,” is the big one, in which Simone sets up her status quo and tells the reader who her Wonder Woman is going to be. And she pulls out all the stops to make us like her: there’s a couple of fights with intelligent gorillas from Gorilla City, a lot of punching of Nazis. Superpowered Nazis, even. And I’m impressed with how well the mostly-new, a-good-deal-different Wonder Woman works. She converts enemies into allies. She shows a decent handle on diplomacy, although some of it seems to be at the cost of long-term consequences. She tries to use tactics, although again I doubt some of her wisdom. And the reappearance of Lt. Col. Candy comes out of nowhere, but at least she’s a long-standing Wonder Woman character. The point is, Simone tries to pull off her Supreme Warrior Woman, and it mainly works.

I didn’t think the subplot worked, though. In it, Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta, appoints four Amazons as her personal guards before Wonder Woman was born; when they see their queen pregnant, they think the child’s birth will tear the island apart, so they try to murder poor infant Diana. And fail. And when the island is invaded, many years later, they get free and try to kill the adult Wonder Woman. But the four Amazons have the feel of characters ret-conned in for a specific story — even if they weren’t, they have that aura — a story I felt went nowhere. Also, I remained unconvinced as to why those four felt so sure their queen having a baby would be such a catastrophe. Perhaps I underestimate the emotional power of an island full of childless women (who will likely remain childless), but the betrayal felt arbitrary. Simone may be setting them up for a longer-term plot, but that doesn’t make me optimistic.

The second story, “Expatriate,” is much more to my liking. Wonder Woman begins her formal and funny courtship of Nemesis, and an alien race she had trounced before calls her for help. And then a Green Lantern gets involved, and the questions of justice and genocide are put into play, and it really does seem deeper, in two issues, than four issues of punching Nazis and rogue Amazons do in four. The situation Wonder Woman finds herself in makes diplomacy a better option than in “The Circle,” although Diana’s solution should come back and bite someone on the ass, even if it doesn’t.

The art on “The Circle” is furnished by Terry Dodson on pencils and Rachel Dodson on inks. If you’ve seen the Dodsons’ work before, “The Circle” looks exactly like that, down to the identical noseline on every female character. It’s very pretty, and I have no real complaints, other than Wonder Woman usually seeming more like a model than a Supreme Warrior. Ron Randall fills in for half of one issue and most of another and does a good job — the same sort of pretty, smooth line but without aping Dodson’s style. However, I prefer the work of Bernard Chang on “Expatriate.” His Wonder Woman looks stronger, more human, and slightly different — definitely not standard Western European supermodel that most artists provide. His aliens are a little too human in their trappings, I think, but at least his females look different.

The Circle is the best Wonder Woman story I’ve read — not a major competition, really, but still an accomplishment. I have some misgivings about the plot, but I enjoyed the audacity of the character, the depth given to someone who was previously “the female one.” But this doesn’t feel like the same character I’ve read about before, and I have a hard time expressing how uncomfortable that makes me feel. Is this the real Wonder Woman? I have a hard time saying anything but “Yes.” If that’s true, then who was that other woman I read about? For some reason — unlike, say, Batman — I have a hard time considering multiple takes on Wonder Woman. (I have the same problem with Superman.) Given the mediocre / forgettable Wonder Woman stories I’ve read in the past, I’d almost rather Simone have created a new character; but given that Wonder Woman has cachet and a need for a definitive characterization (other than bondage model), then this will do well.

Rating: Wonder Woman symbol Wonder Woman symbol Wonder Woman symbol Wonder Woman symbol (4 of 5)

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