Originally Published January 20, 2012
DC Comics recently relaunched their entire series, giving curious but uninitiated nerds a convenient entry point. Fellow blogger Drew Baumgartner and I are two such nerds, and we’ve decided to jump in with a handful of monthly titles. We really wanted to pull out all the nerd stops, so we’re also going to be writing about them here and on Drew’s blog (which you should all be reading anyway) every Friday. This week, I’m hosting the discussion of Wonder Woman while Drew is hosting the discussion of Batman.
Patrick: I gotta say, I’m more than a little bummed out about the artist change for this month’s issue of Wonder Woman. Tony Atkins by no means does a bad job with penciling this issue, but I was already so attached to Cliff Chiang’s versions of the characters that the switch is unsettling. Aktin’s style embraces some of the cartoony qualities of the first four issues, but lacks the brutal charm Chiang milks out of his simple, more angular designs. The issue gets by well enough, but the visuals in the earlier issues could have carried whatever material Brian Azzerello wrote, instead of dragging it down, as it does here.
But this is an interesting lesson: monthly comic books are not created in a vacuum. They are churned out on a very strict production schedule that is the result of coordinating the creative out-put of hundreds of writers and graphic artists, to say nothing of the publishing and publicity machine that has to support such an endeavor. I don’t have the details of why Chiang didn’t draw this one, but it could literally be anything. Did you know, for example, that Jim Lee just had a baby? What kind of effect do you think that that has on his willingness to put in the extra time to draw one of the more detail-intensive, high profile series in the New 52? Justice League, however, has the advantage of being produced by the two biggest wheels at DC (I mean, really, who’s going to deny Johns and Lee an extra week to finalize their issue), while lesser legends like Azzerello and Chiang just have to find a way to make their deadlines.
What makes the art change so disappointing is that all of the toughness has melted off of the female characters. There was a real heft to the Amazonians (and Wonder Woman specifically) that went a long way toward selling them as formidable warriors. This issue softens Wonder Woman quite a bit, taking awkward pains to pretty her up when out to breakfast at a London cafe, and to slim her down when readying for battle. The worst though offense against female character badassery has to be this final panel with Hera. Earlier issues depicted the queen of the gods as cold and powerful, but this just makes her look like a soccer mom throwing a hissy fit.
God, preparing that image just depressed the hell out of me. I’m going to move off the art now, not because I’m done complaining about it, but because I want to do right by a series I like and not dwell on something that might have been beyond the control of the creative staff. So, right, we’ll do a plot summary:
Diana, Zola and Hermes meet a man named Lennox who claims to be another son of Zeus. Lennox takes Hermes some sewer access and promises to deliver… something to him. Meanwhile, Diana and Zola roam London until their foggy afternoon is interrupted by a confrontation with a gigantic monstrous Poseidon. That’s really it. Poseidon reveals that he wants to take his brother’s kingdom away while he’s gone and we get a little World War II backstory about Lennox discovering his immortality, but in Wonder Woman fashion, there’s not a lot of meat on these plot-bones. Usually, this plot-void is stuffed chock-full of character insight and mythological intrigue. The only compelling insight we got this month was on the subject of our newest cast-member: Lennox. But there are other characters I’d like to know more about. Namely, Zeus’ brothers Hades and Poseidon, both of whom show up in the final moments. I guess the trio could use another hero, but I’m in love with the idea of Wonder Woman as the lone warrior protecting Zola and Hermes. Another able-bodied (and cooperative) off-spring of Zeus mucks up that dynamic a bit. I find myself missing Strife. Maybe I’ll be eating my words a few issues in, heralding Lennox’s entry as the moment the series became awesome… but I doubt it.
I will tell you something I do really like: the design of Poseidon and Hades. At least, I’m assuming the flame-headed man holding Cerebus’ leash is Hades. After seeing that most of the Gods have decidedly human features, it was a fun surprise to see Poseidon looking like Lord Jabu Jabu from Ocarina of Time. It suggests that there is no limit to how crazy this world could be. I mentioned before that I’m eager to see just how much mythology Wonder Woman is prepared to embrace. We’ve got centaurs, what else can we look forward to? Minotaurs? Sphinxes? Harpies (their existence is implied by WW’s comments in JL#3)? I’d like to see the series focus more on those classical creatures and characters, and less on invented sons of Zeus.
I’m going to leave you with a question and another disappointing image. First the question: how’s the written English dialect tickle you? It seems goofy to me – like a high school drama club doing Dickens. And the image… all the positive groundwork laid by the first 4 issues is rendered null by the following set of ridiculous tits.
Drew: I grew up on Brian Jacques’ Redwall books, so I suppose my tolerance for spelled-out British dialects is rather high. Moreover, my exposure to Jason Statham has kind of endeared the idea of smarter-then-thay-look cockney tough guys to me, so I didn’t mind Lennox so much. In fact, I don’t think I mind the idea of Lennox as another modern-day child of Zeus the way you do. Zeus’s philandering is legendary, and it makes sense that he would have had a few affairs since ancient times. To me, the fact that there are more demi-gods running around actually makes the universe more believable.
I also think Lennox is interesting in his own right. Here is a person who discovered he was more than a man only because he was left unscathed when his house was bombed during WWII. Given that his existence is a surprise to Hermes, I gather that Lennox had no hints from godly half-siblings that his father was Zeus, so the fact that he sussed this out is a testament to one of his other abilities: being able to overhear conversations on the wind. Brian Azzarello doesn’t draw much attention to this ability, but it’s apparently powerful enough to allow Lennox to know not only that Poseidon and Hades intend to split Zeus’s kingdom, but also when and where they can be found.
I think our reactions to Lennox are indicative of our overall feelings with this issue. While I definitely feel Cliff Chiang’s absence when Tony Atkins starts getting a little looser with the character models, I thought it was remarkable how consistent the art felt between issues #4 and #5. In fact, I didn’t realize there was a new artist on this title until I had finished the prologue. It’s a testament to how much effect Matthew Wilson’s colors and Jared Fletcher’s lettering have on the finished product that the transition feels as smooth as it does.
I certainly think you raised some valid points, but compared to last month’s shake-up with Nightwing (the only other artist switch-up you and I have covered in the New 52), Atkins is downright slavishly loyal to the tone and designes set by Chiang. Yes, the neckerchief is a little soft for Wonder Woman, yes, his faces get a little wonky, and yes, those are some ridiculous tits, but I’m also seeing a lot to praise in this month’s art. Atkin’s faces (noted wonkiness aside) are quite expressive, and his beast designs are breathtaking. As you noted, Poseidon in particular is neat, combining the lower lip of a whale with the upper lip of a walrus, the eyes (and swirling tentacles) of an octopus, and topped off with a starfish crown. He’s also crawling with deep sea critters, reminding me of some of the character designs from latter day Pirates of the Caribbean films.
That said, I agree with you that this is a bit of a lesser entry in this series. I would actually place most of the blame on the paucity of plot. You’re right to note that Wonder Woman hasn’t been particularly plotty, and that its strengths lie more in character moments, but this issue felt particularly thin. I’m blaming this on the prologue, which doesn’t really tell us much of anything. In previous issues, these prologues have given is valuable glimpses into the machinations of the gods, all major players in the plot. Here, a couple of dudes see a sea monster (which may or may not be dead…I can’t really tell), which is about as insightful as it sounds. The whole issue builds up to the entrance of Poseidon and Hades, but more or less cuts off there. All we get is a single word reaction from Hera (WHAT?!), which could express surprise at hearing a lie, frustration that the truth has been revealed, or even that she needs to turn up the volume on her magic pool.
Still, while this month’s outing fails to live up to the high standard set by the first few issues, it is still a respectable entry into this title. It also sets us up for a much stronger issue next month, which promises a bit more godly action and a bit less chatting outside a London cafe. I’m actually just looking forward to more godly politicking, but I think we’re definitely going to get some action, what with the centaurs closing in on Zola. That Poseidon will be there to intercept them probably doesn’t bode well for Hera, either for her plans to off Zola, or her case that she isn’t trying to take over her husband’s throne. It’s gonna be good.
Here’s a list of what we’re reading. The list is Batman heavy, and we’re not going to write about everything. That being said, feedback and suggestions on what to read and discuss are welcome. Overlapping books in bold:
Animal Man, Batgirl, Batman, Batwoman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Nightwing, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin