The Comic Book Club: “Wonder Woman” and “Action Comics”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse, Mike Williams, Graeme McMillan and Lev Grossman discuss Wonder Woman #601 and Action Comics #891.

DOUGLAS: Wonder Woman #601 is J. Michael Straczynski’s first full issue, and at the end of it I still have no idea why or how WW’s transformation has happened, who the people who’ve invaded and trashed Paradise Island are, what their objective was there or is elsewhere, or what the stakes or objectives of this conflict are. Which would be fine if Straczynski made me care about any of those things, but he doesn’t.

Instead, we’re getting the grand parade of clichés, both in the narrative (“The dream again–what does it–“) and in the storytelling; note that in the three consecutive identical panels of Diana and the oracle next to the fire, the fire doesn’t change shape. JMS has an unfortunate habit of pointing out just how significant things that have some significance are, as when the oracle explains “I can’t go any farther… I’m kind of bound to the bridge. It’s like a mandatory metaphor, I guess… for being between two worlds, to places, two realities–” It’s like she’s Mojo Jojo.

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EVAN: You know, I’ll admit to having a problem with the advent of JMS’ Wonder Woman run. And that problem is that I thought Gail Simone did some of the best Wonder Woman stories in a long, long time. Her first story arc, “The Circle”, may be that one definitive Wonder Woman story. In particular, I loved the way she wrote dialogue and how she illuminated the Amazon way of life. It felt like there was a real culture, with lore and traditions. Simone’s Amazons kicked ass, held wisdom and felt like a giant, squabbling family. Simone’s interpretations felt modern and mythological at the same time. Basically, her take felt comfortable in its own skin.

So far Stracynski’s stuff hasn’t. It’s very self-conscious and transparently so. Like, I know it’s a function of the plotting that the Amazons need to be taken out here, but those scenes read like a necessity. Also, watching the Amazons get steamrolled and going into hiding felt very victim-y, especially since we don’t know anything about their opponents yet. The battle reads like some random dudes rolled up to Paradise Island and pwned it in five pages. So, as Douglas said, why should we care about that? Ironically, the only possible way to caring about any of it is through a knowledge of previous iterations of the character and a lot of the stuff that’s been done away with.

MIKE: The Simone run has been on my to-read list for some time. So my Wonder Woman mythos has been limited to her exposure in Batman titles and some big event books. I thought maybe I was supposed to know more about the history of her home island and the nature of her powers. I echoed this book out loud when I said to myself, “Why isn’t she just flying? She can fly, right?”

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Other than that I was struck by how video game this all is. I mean, all of it. This is exactly the kind of story a game would have. It’s even got built-in levels in the form of the scattered colonies of Amazons that are now all over the world. If this were a game (and it feels like a Bioware title), Diana would visit each colony and solve its problems and probably fight a mini boss. Hell, it even feels like flight is a power on a skill tree she can “unlock” Not to mention that when she gets her lasso back, it’s like a weapon upgrade.

LEV: My favorite JMS tic is the three-synonym burst: “Thrown down. Burned. Destroyed.” “Vulnerable…Exposed…At risk.” Enough. Al. Ready.

DOUGLAS: Maybe Straczynski is just really overbooked right now. He’s currently writing Superman as well as Superman: Earth One, Wonder Woman, The Brave and the Bold, developing Samaritan X, and still allegedly finishing up The Twelve over at Marvel. That’s a lot, especially for someone who’s had a number of deadline problems in the past few years.

GRAEME: My main problem with this issue is… nothing really happens. We’re given backstory, but it’s backstory that’s pretty uninvolving and most of it has already been covered in all the interviews and hoopla surrounding the book last month, and then promised some action next month, but… that’s it. I’m just left pretty uninterested in the whole thing.

I will say, though, that Don Kramer’s art has never looked better. Whether it’s the inks by Michael Babinski or (and I suspect this is the case) the colors by Alex Sinclair, it’s above average work from the man. I love the tonal quality showing here, making his characters more solid than usual. I wish he could tone down the down-shirt-cleavage shots and butt shots, but maybe that just comes with the book.

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