Waiting for the Trade – Wonder Woman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

Wonder Woman:
Contagion

by Gail Simone, Nicola
Scott & Fernando Dagnino

collects Wonder Woman
40-44

 

Why I Bought This: A
couple years ago I was having a really bad day and went to my favorite comic
book store. This was in the discount bin and had a neat cover. Sometimes it is
just that simple.

 

The Plot: Two
separate stories here. First demon children are creating mischief in Washington DC.
Then an alien invasion is led by Wonder Woman’s long lost aunt. It falls to Wonder
Woman to deal with both threats.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Quetzalcoatl’s son eats a train but Wonder Woman
gets him to cough it up. As he departs he revels he’d been lured to DC by an
unseen force that drove him to insatiable hunger. In the aftermath a flock of
male children in suits and construction hats strike up a conversation with the
passengers in the train and get them to doubt Wonder Woman’s motives. Diana
visits her friend Etta (who apparently married Diana’s old love interest Steve
Trevor, and is herself a government agent) in the hospital as Etta was injured
by a super-villain last issue. Meanwhile the demon children talk some dude into
setting fire to a synagogue and then killing himself, after which they plant
evidence of the crime on a black church. Power Girl arrives to put out the fire
and the children hit her up for a chat as well. Diana’s hospital visit is
interrupted by news reports of a full on race riot that is burning the city.
When she goes to investigate she is attacked by Power Girl.

Chapter 2 – Achilles enters the real world, apparently at
Diana’s earlier invitation in a prior trade. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Power
Girl fight a lot while Simone gives both women a very well written internal
monologue. Wonder Woman becomes aware of the demon children during the fight.
She eventually takes Power Girl down using technique rather than strength and
then helps free her mind. Meanwhile, one of the demon children tries to get
Steve to shoot his wife but some white gorilla from Grood’s city saves Steve
and Etta. Diana sends Power Girl to deal with the mob violence while she sees
to the kids. Diana wraps herself in her magic lasso thus making her immune to
mind control. She identifies them as the children of Ares and gives them a good
spanking to end the threat.

Chapter 3 – A trio of Green Lanterns go to what is usually a
primitive utopia planet only to find it turned into a wasteland. They find a
child who tells of little worms that fell through the skies and devoured
everyone as they grew into snakes. The snake swarm finds the Lanterns and eats
through their force fields, though one Lantern escapes with the child. Later
the snakes are gathered up by a space ship and the energy they have eaten is
put into storage with GL Lantern energy particularly treasured. WW is cleaning
up debris from a prior fight when the space ships arrive over DC. They begin
indiscriminate bombing as WW takes up an air defense. We learn they have
erected a GL force field over DC so the rest of the JLA cannot get in to help.
This same energy protects their ship from WW’s attack. The head alien chick
breeches the White House. She explains their fleet consumes the entire
resources of a world when it encounters it. Any technology is assimilated into
the fleet. In addition if the invading world surrenders it may send 20 citizens
to the alien ship to become members of the collective (the rest of the
population is food). Diana is making some headway until the aliens fire their
primary laser cannon at her. As Diana crawls from the crater she is met by the
head alien chick who reveals she is her maternal aunt.

Chapter 4 – A flashback shows how Queen Hippolyta (WW’s mom)
designed her costume, before we rejoin the present wherein WW’s newly revealed
Aunt remarks on Diana’s resemblance to her mother. She reiterates her Borg-like
plans for the Earth and offers Diana a chance to be one of the 20 chosen. WW
refuses the offer and goes to war using her headband as a boomerang. WW has the
rank and file troops on the defensive so the invaders drop a giant metal snake
on DC. WW realizes she can’t penetrate the troops GL-derived defenses so she
wrests one of their weapons from them to turn against them. The white gorilla
from chapter 2 and some government agents arrive to help save civilians;
followed by Achilles on his flying elephant, who promptly destroys the robot
snake monster. WW manages to lasso the lead alien and learns the truth: she
really is her aunt, and her name is Astarte. Long ago the Citizenry (the name
of this alien armada) used to only restock the supplies it needed along with
100 tributes (members of the host culture to be assimilated) instead of razing
entire worlds. They were going to take baby Hippolyta but older sister Astarte
had a Hunger Games moment and took her place. That was 3,000 years ago—most of
the time since then was spent in barbaric slavery until Astarte rose to the top
of the Citizenry through rite of combat. Auntie is furious to have relived this
flashback and attacks Diana with all she has. It’s not enough to beat Diana’s
defenses but she returns to her ship vowing vengeance on the planet for what
Diana made her relive. She departs letting Diana know she is the one who set
the new world-razing protocols for the Citizenry and she will not be returning to
Paradise Island peacefully as Diana offers her. WW paid attention during the
whole Lasso reveal and challenges Astarte to trial by combat for the fate of
Earth. She agrees but WW must fight the Citizenry’s greatest warrior: Astarte’s
daughter: Princess Theana.

Chapter 5 – Diana’s aunt tells a terrible tale of how she
raised her daughter to kill other children if she wanted to be fed that day
from the time she was two. Furthermore that was just the beginning to make
Theana the Citizenry’s finest warrior. Diana chooses her Aunt’s lieutenant to
be her second under the rules of trial by combat. She offers her cousin peace
before the battle begins and receives a punch that sends her across the arena
in response. Diana is taking a beating in there. During a brief respite Diana
uses her lasso on her LT-second to get her to send a message to Achilles, whom
is wrecking havoc on the aliens. He is soon joined by Steve Trevor piloting the
Invisible Jet. Enter round 2 of the trail by combat and Wonder Woman uses her strength
to plow through the floor of the arena into the bowels of the ship. The entire
time she is talking to her cousin, trying to show her there is a better way to
live than how she has been raised. Theana hesitates for a second, causing her
mother to declare she must be killed. Meanwhile as Theana says she rejects
compassion, Diana has used the moment to deadlock one of the Citizenry laser
weapons into a sure kill shot. Diana asks Theana to surrender but before Theana
can respond she is gunned down by her mother’s guards. Theana dies in Diana’s
arms. Diana flies to in a rage and takes down Astarte’s guards. Meanwhile
Achilles comes to the conclusion the battle is hopeless until he gets the LT’s
message. He heads off on Diana’s mission. Unfortunately this leaves Steve
alone, and he narrowly ejects in time to clear the destruction of the Invisible
Jet. Astarte is running for her life but Diana is just tearing through all
obstacles to get to her. Meanwhile the battle for DC is going poorly when
suddenly the entire Amazon army materializes to help fight. Diana captures her
Aunt and based on the Citizenry law is now the new Captain of the race. She
then takes her aunt into custody, places the LT in charge and orders the Citizenry
to never kill again and depart the Earth. 
In the aftermath of the battle Diana celebrates with her sisters and the
white Gorilla character is allowed to go home from his exile.

 
Critical Thoughts:
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. Reading it at the time two years ago I
remember really enjoying it but that could have been the result of no expectations.
Rereading it for this review, this book absolutely holds up.

While I don’t have an extensive selection of Wonder Woman comics I can unequivocally
say Gail Simone writes the best Wonder Woman I’ve ever read. The opening
chapters with Wonder Woman fighting Power Girl show a real nuance for the
character and what she represents. Simone has become known as the foremost
writer of female superheroes and based just on this book you can see where that
reputation came from. (Her later work on Batgirl
in the New 52 also adds to her worthy reputation too).

While that first story is quite good, this trade really
shines with that second story. Alien invasions in comic books are a
dime-a-dozen but this alien invasion is one of the most compelling I’ve ever
read. Even before Wonder Woman shows up and we get the big family connection
reveal, this story really clicks. The opening episode on the utopia with the GL
Corps is very suspenseful in its execution. Theana’s dire back-story is also
effectively delivered to really pull at the imagination.

 

Grade A. While
this trade does not have much historical significance (I’m assuming Astarte and
Theana more or less ceased to exist after the back-to-back JMS and New 52
reboots that immediately followed Simone’s run) it does everything a comic book
needs to do in terms of being an entertaining read with vivid characterization
and intense action sequences.

Waiting for the Trade – JLA New 52

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

Justice League vol.
1: Origin

by Geoff Johns, Jim
Lee and Scott Williams

collects Justice
League 1-6.

 

Why I Bought This: Even
though I’m primarily a Marvel reader, like most of the comic-buying public I
was pretty intrigued when DC launched its New 52. This being the flagship title
is the obvious one to sample. Plus Jim Lee’s art in the preview pages looked
fantastic. On Cyber Monday, Midtown Comics put all the volume 1 New 52 trades
on sale at 40-percent off so I finally picked this up (along with Aquaman and JLI).



The Plot: The
Justice League comes together for the first time to deal with the threat of
Darkseid. Your heroes are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green
Lantern, Flash and Cyborg.

Chapter 1 – Gotham Police are chasing down Batman with a
helicopter as he runs across rooftops in pursuit of an unknown foe. Batman
catches it and finds a non-human cyborg. Batman is on the defensive when Green
Lantern arrives and he and Batman meet for the first time. Police open fire on
the heroes; and while GL’s force field keeps them safe it gives the cyborg time
to counterattack by breathing fire. This results in the heroes having to save
the cops while the cyborg escapes. GL informs Batman the foe is definitely extraterrestrial
as well as filling him in on the whole GL Corps shtick. GL is also agog when he
learns Batman has no powers. They trace their foe to the sewers where it seems
to be planting a bomb. When GL tries to intercede it blows itself up, shouting
“For Darkseid” as it does so. They discover the bomb is actually a Mother Box,
which Batman deduces is an alien computer. This causes GL to suspect Superman,
whom neither he nor Batman has met yet. While Batman advises caution given
Superman’s power levels, GL flies them both to Metropolis. Cut to an interlude
where African-American teen Vic Stone wins a high school football game while
college scouts are watching, but mopes because his dad doesn’t attend. GL and
Bats arrives in Metropolis where Superman has just finished a battle. GL
cockily confronts Supes only to be easily knocked across the city; leaving
Supes and Bats staring each other down.

Chapter 2 – In Central City, Flash is working at his day job
doing CSI stuff while other police officers talk about the need for an
anti-Flash taskforce. In Metropolis Batman is exhausting his utility belt on
Supes to no effect, as we learn Supes off-camera also battled one of the Mother
Box planting aliens. GL recovers and tries to contain Supes with his ring but
Superman is too strong. GL is desperately on the defensive so he uses his ring
to radio Flash for help, as apparently they’ve met, worked together before and
even shared secret identities. Flash arrives instantly and uses his speed to
confuse Superman for a bit, but ultimately Supes is able to move fast enough to
hit Flash with one finger and take the fight out of him. Batman then uses that
interlude to talk sense into everyone, and the heroes band together to
investigate the Mother Boxes. Cut to STAR Labs where they too have a Mother Box
and are trying to decipher what it does. Heading up the project is Vic Stone’s
father. Vic arrives and his dad blows him off, feeling human athletic prowess
is no longer relevant in a world of super-humans. Back with the heroes, who
even with Superman’s X-ray vision and Barry’s CSI background are finding it
difficult to get evidence from the Mother Box. Suddenly all the boxes activate,
opening Boom-tubes to let the Parademon (aka the fire-breathing cyborg alien)
army invade the Earth. At STAR Labs Vic Stone takes a bunch of shrapnel when
the portal opens.

Chapter 3 – in Washington
DC Col.
Steve Trevor is being debriefed about his first meeting with Wonder Woman and
the Amazons of Paradise Island, while Wonder Woman explores DC and has ice
cream for the first time. This new interpretation of Wonder Woman carries a
sword at all times (on her belt, opposite her magic lasso) and also seems to be
extra-eager for combat. When Parademons explode over DC she is happy to engage
them in battle. Back at STAR Labs Dr. Stone reveals he already lost Vic’s mom,
he won’t lose Victor too even though the shrapnel in the youth is emitting
weird energy. In Metropolis, Bats, GL and Flash are holding their own, while
Superman is taking entire squadrons of the Parademon army down with ease. Back
at STAR Labs Dr. Stone gets his son in their safe room where the other sci-fi
tech gizmos are stored and performs emergency surgery with them to save his
son. As more demons pour into Metropolis, Wonder Woman arrives to give Superman
a hand. The heroes drive the demons back as Vic Stone comes online as Cyborg
and is somehow patched into whatever background noise/orders the Mother Boxes
are giving the demons. The demons erect a tower in the ocean (but within sight of
the Metropolis docks/shoreline), which causes Aquaman to arrive on the scene as
well.

Chapter 4 – Cyborg is in a lot of pain, and is trying to
come to terms with what his father did to save his life when the demons break
down the wall to the safe room causing Cyborg’s arm to reform into a laser gun
which vaporizes the demons. (His powers in general seem to be like the villain
in Terminator 3 here). With the threat
at STAR Labs defeated Cyborg runs off into the night feeling his father made
him into a monster. In Metropolis Aquaman meets all the heroes for the first
time, and tries to take the leadership role claiming his experience as King of
Atlantis. GL mocks Aquaman and his powers just as the Parademons mount a new
attack from the ocean and Aquaman has an army of sharks jump out of the ocean
and eat the entire Parademon army, except for one whom Aquaman kills with his
tridents thus shutting GL up. The military arrives and fires on the heroes but
Wonder Woman uses her bracelets to protect everyone. Cut to Cyborg who is
getting flashes of Apokolips in his head. He takes out a few demons and manages
to activate one of their Boom Tubes to teleport to the other heroes in
Metropolis. He warns them of what is coming but it is too late as Darkseid
arrives via Boom Tube.

Chapter 5 – Darkseid takes out the military fighter jets
with one shot of his Omega Beams. Flash and Superman get his attention so he
shoots Omega Beams at them. The beams actually split as the heroes do and keep
pace with their speeds. Flash is able to avoid the beams by getting them to hit
some Parademons but Superman is overtaken, knocked unconscious and kidnapped by
the Parademons into their ocean tower. As the next most powerful hero (and
rashest) GL tries to fight Darkseid one-on-one next. Darkseid keeps breaking
his constructs and eventually grabs GL and breaks his ring hand. To his credit
GL attempts to keep fighting but Batman talks him down by unmasking and telling
him his origin. Batman tells GL to come up with a team-based attack using the
combined superpowers at hand to keep Darkseid busy long enough for Bats to
sneak into the tower and free Superman. Once Bats gets there he realizes it is
going to be tougher than he thought since the inside of the tower is a portal
to Apokolips.

Chapter 6 – Darkseid is incinerating civilians until the JLA
hits him with everything at once. Wonder Woman tries to use her lasso to get
info on why Darkseid is here on Earth, to which he just says “For her,” and
before WW can get him to clarify he decks her. Back on Apokolips Batman finds
Dessad torturing Superman, presumably as part of some brain-washing process. On
Earth Darkseid tries his Omega Beams but her bracelets deflect them and she
counters by stabbing him in the eye with her sword. As he reels from that
Aquaman stabs him in his other eye with his trident. The heroes are dismayed to
see Darkseid is still standing. Cyborg decides to try overriding the Mother
Boxes again to Boom Tube Darkseid back to Apokolips. The Boom Tubes powering up
gets Dessad’s attention on Apokolips thus giving Batman an opportunity to free
Superman. Superman returns to fight Darkseid, but Darkseid proves stronger than
him. The heroes combine to push Darkseid back into the Boom Tube as Cyborg uses
it to teleport Darkseid and his army away. In the aftermath the humans of
Metropolis/the world love the heroes. They then get invited to meet with the
President, who publically embraces them for saving the world, assuming they are
a team. The JLA go along with it for the greater good of human/super-human
relations. They receive their name from a reporter during a second mission,
which we see only in passing press coverage as they fight with Starro
recreating the famous cover of the original first JLA story. Finally we get two
epilogues: first in London
shadowy figures discuss the arrival of superheroes in the world and embrace the
super villain moniker; second Pandora of Greek myth fights with Phantom
Stranger before blackmailing him into leaving her alone while announcing plans
to use the JLA to end her curse.
Critical Thoughts: Let’s
start with the positives, which is the art is absolutely jump off the page
amazing. This is Jim Lee at his very best; reminiscent of the stuff he and
Liefeld were doing when they hit it big in the 90s on the X-books. Every hero
gets a stunning pin-up when they arrive in the story for the first time. I
really like Wonder Woman’s new costume. As an Aquaman fan I have to say he has
never looked cooler, or in the scene where shark army jumps out of the water more
badass, than he does in this book. Furthermore the art works beyond the pin-up
cool to enhance the story. For example, in the first meeting between Batman and
Green Lantern the art visually reinforces that these are two different types of
heroes. The Superman debut fight is rendered (and written) in such a way to
make Superman and his power levels feel fresh and new, which is no easy feet
considering how well we all know Superman. It’s really one of the best fight
scenes I’ve seen in some time, especially once Flash arrives. The sequence
where Superman and Flash try to outrace the Omega Beams is also drawn to really
give a sense momentum and wonder to the action.

In terms of plot and story elements there is both good and
bad here. The dynamic of the heroes’ first meetings and reactions to each other
is handled very well. It’s also interesting to see the heroes of the DC
Universe not being trusted by the public and law enforcement. While I don’t
read as much DC as Marvel, I’ve never seen that before in their
universe—usually each hero has their fictional city they watch over like a
guardian angel and everyone there loves them for it. Of course by the end of
the story the heroes have turned the corner to that more beloved status quo, so
I guess it’s not something they’re going to explore any further.

I thought Green Lantern’s reaction to Batman’s lack of
powers was just great. GL’s portrayal in general is interesting, as he’s
arrogant and rash but we still get to see the determination that powers his
ring and makes him a hero when he fights Darkseid. There’s a funny moment where
he brushes up against Wonder Woman’s lasso and reveals he’s going to be the one
save day because he likes to impress people. All that said I didn’t really buy
the scene where Batman supposedly turns it around for GL to be more of a team
player by unmasking. I think it’s something done more to be dramatic for the
reader than the characters. By which I means as readers we know Batman’s secret
identity is important so seeing him unmask is a big deal. But within the logic
of the story it feels out of characters for Batman to unmask to someone he just
met. More importantly why should GL care, who Batman is? It’s not like they’ve
been fighting alongside each for years and suddenly Batman trusts him with this
big thing. It’s more like, “So uh yea my parents were killed by a mugger when I
was a kid so we better stop this alien invasion, kay?” I think there are easier
ways within the story’s own logic to get to “We need to work as a team for this
one” than jumping to Batman unmasking.

Among the other heroes, I can’t say I like the new Wonder
Woman interpretation. I seem to recall her classical interpretation being that
she’s the emissary of peace into Man’s World. Now she’s the exact opposite of
that as this blood thirsty battle seeking sword wielding demigod. Hell, even
though I didn’t read it, I know I read online that there was a DC event story a
few years ago where the big three’s relationship fractured because Wonder Woman
used a sword to kill Maxwell Lord when he possessed Superman. It sounds like
the whole point of that story was Wonder Woman went too far, and that even she
knew stabbing someone is a big deal with consequences; and yet now we’re going
to make it that she casually stabs people all the time.

Which leads to my next point, I found the scene with Wonder
Woman and Aquaman stabbing Darkseid in eyes far more viscous than I prefer a
mainstream superhero comic to be. Admittedly it is good strategy giving
Darkseid’s eyes are his power source, but I think A-list heroes who appeal to
kids should be presented as morally above such tactics. Actually the eye
stabbing scene is another way this book reminds me of a 90s comic, as I
remember when X-Force launched they had Shatterstar stabbing people in the eyes
to show how grim and gritty they were. Objectively I can see that both Wonder
Woman and Aquaman have roots in Greek myth where viscous things, including
blindings, befall people all the time. So yes, an artistic argument can be made
to portray those two characters in this way; however, I’m not sure personally
it’s what I want to see. I had decided if I liked these first three New 52
trades I probably sample Wonder Woman
and Batgirl next and this
interpretation makes me less likely to buy Wonder Woman’s solo title.

This brings up the next question I can see both sides too,
which is what is Cyborg doing in this book? You have DC’s six most important
well known A-list heroes and then this random C-lister better associated with
the Teen Titans hanging out with them. It doesn’t help that his origin scenes
are probably the least interesting parts of this trade. That said if you are
rebooting your entire universe for the 21st century I can absolutely
see and respect the need include an African-American hero in your A-list
flagship title that younger readers are most likely to read. When you throw in
that this relaunch is also meant to reach out to lapsed comic fans, Cyborg is
probably a better choice than most other African-American heroes to fill thus
role since he was part of the final season of Super Friends that also heavily featured Darkseid. (And this story
even manages to work the “Super Friends” name into the final chapter when the
President introduces the heroes to the public). Then again if the goal is to
make Cyborg an equal of these other heroes, why is he a teenager just getting
his power when everyone else on the team are fully power adults? As I
understand it the next trade jumps ahead five years so by then Cyborg should be
about 23 years-old and on more equal footing with his teammates, so hopefully
that criticism works itself out.

My final criticism, and it’s a big one, is the ending of the
Darkseid fight both makes very little sense and falls flat on a dramatic level.
On the doesn’t make sense front, Cyborg uses the Boom Tubes to teleport
Darkseid back home. So why can’t Darkseid return again, if not immediately then
certainly in a couple of days at most if he wanted to? Didn’t he build these
things to begin with? He can’t fix and repair them on Apokolips, which is
galaxies away from whatever signal Cyborg is generating. It seems the heroes
were not terribly effective against him physically so there’s does not seem to
be a logical reason he wouldn’t return fairly soon once he got tech support on
the phone to fix his Mother Box problem. Fanboy logic nitpicks aside, on
narrative level it’s not a satisfying solution to the fight either, which is a
much bigger problem when your climax doesn’t work. The heroes entire plan is
keep Darkseid busy so Batman can free Superman so that Superman can then kick
some ass, but when Superman is free we don’t get to see any ass-kicking and
after two chapters of working towards that goal, it’s a letdown that Supes
doesn’t get the big cut loose moment at the end.

Grade: The art is an A+; the story is a B-. Story means more
to me than art so let’s call it a B+.