Scott: I just finished watching the first season of Broad City on Comedy Central, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s about two girls navigating life in their twenties in New York. Not a groundbreaking premise by any means, but executed better than most. For a series with two main characters, it strikes a rare balance where both stars carry the same amount of comedic and emotional responsibilities. The co-leads, Abby and Ilana, are equally compelling and equally frustrating as they deal with issues like finding a new apartment or fitting in at a restaurant that is decidedly fancier than they are. Yes, they talk about men, too, but relationship struggles do not define these characters or fuel the season’s story arc. It’s a refreshing look at two independent characters, who are women, leading equally important lives. When reading Superman/Wonder Woman, another series with co-leads, I can’t help but feel it lacks that distribution of importance. This issue further illustrates that Superman is the dominant figure in the series, while hinting that writer Charles Soule maybe wishes that weren’t the case.
After defeating Doomsday, Clark has gone into hiding. Diana is growing worried and looks for help from Clark’s friends, Cat Grant and Lois Lane, who agree that Clark has been acting strangely aggressive but don’t know where he’s gone. Diana finds Batman, who tells her that Clark’s blood sample shows that he was infected during the fight and is turning into another Doomsday. Diana finally goes to Clark’s apartment (last place you would ever look, right?) and finds out Batman is very right.
Despite Clark’s extreme physical transformation, this issue is far more concerned with how the Doomsday infection has affected his mind, or rather how his mind has affected the disease. Clark is saying things he wouldn’t normally say — he’s being a douche, frankly — but the fact that the disease responds to his will suggests he might actually believe the things he’s saying. Lois equates her phone call from Clark to a drunk dial, and he does come off seeming like an angry drunk when talking to Diana. What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals, the saying goes. The Doomsday infection could have a similar effect. I don’t believe Clark really thinks of Batman as a jealous wannabe, but there is something behind the accusation he levels at Diana.
This is representative of the characters, as Diana is the more independent/stubborn of the two, but it also feels like Soule speaking directly to Wonder Woman writer Brian Azzarello. Wonder Woman is a rarity within the DC Universe, a completely self-contained book that doesn’t participate in crossover events and hasn’t even addressed the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship. It’s easy to see how Soule and other Superman writers might feel like Azzarello doesn’t want their help. Like Superman, Soule must be wondering if he’s “not good enough” to enter Azzarello’s Wonder Woman world.
I’m inclined to agree with Azzarello’s decisions. Nothing against Soule — he’s one of the few writers I would trust to explore the Olympus side of Diana’s life — but Wonder Woman succeeds because of the blinders Azzarello wears. This issue is the third of in the Superman: Doomed event, all three of which were released on the same day, meaning that to understand the events of this issue you needed to buy and read both Doomed 1 and Action Comics 31 beforehand. That’s a lot to ask of readers — in terms of money and time — especially those who just want to read a new issue of Superman/Wonder Woman. Readers of Wonder Woman don’t have to worry about picking up other titles to understand what’s going on in the series.
I don’t want to shower Azzarello with too much praise, because I think his standoffishness is contributing to this title’s biggest problem: in line with the series as a whole, this issue is almost entirely about Superman. It reads like an exercise in how to fail the Bechdel Test. Diana talks to Cat about Clark, she talks to Lois about Clark, she talks to Bruce about Clark, and she talks to Clark about Clark. When Clarks wonders why Diana never asks for help, she doesn’t respond. She briefly displays her God of War powers on a soldier, but only because the soldier was hampering her ability to talk about Clark. Soule is somewhat hamstrung — he can’t delve any deeper into Diana’s personal life if Azzarello won’t play ball. Even so, he really needs to give Diana something to think about other than “her man”.
As part of the Doomed event, this issue holds up fine. The revelation that the disease responds to Clark’s will is significant, as it doesn’t completely remove the blame from him for saying nasty things to his friends. I also like how Tony Daniel teases Clark’s altered look without fully showing him until late in the book. But this issue, like the series as a whole, doesn’t do justice to Diana. Perhaps Soule is waiting for an invitation from Azzarello to make Wonder Woman interesting. What do you make of this issue, Taylor?
Taylor: Scott, it’s interesting you bring up the Bechdel Test. While I think it makes for a good gauge of our pop culture as a whole, when discussing a singular event, such as a movie or a comic, it’s much less effective. There are plenty of ways a piece of media can fail the Bechdel Test and still triumph in a number of other female friendly ways. That’s not to say it’s not accurate, but merely a statement of its use. It’s tempting to think that Superman/Wonder Woman would pass this test given how flyingly Wonder Woman has passed the test on multiple occasions, but sadly that’s not this case. In fact, one could argue that this series and, more specifically, this issue do much to take away any good will Diana’s solo run might have engendered in us.
While part of the reason for this certainly is due to Diana’s one track fascination with Clark, as you point out Scott, it also is due to the way Soule writes her in this issue. The issue is framed as being a detective story of sorts with Diana searching for Doomsday-Clark. Disregarding the suspense killing move of showing us this achievement right off the bat, this mission plays out poorly for Diana. She goes on a wild goose chase looking for her lover, the entire time asking all of his closest friends where he could be. Through it all, she never thinks to check his (Clark’s) own apartment. Eventually, she does figure this out, but only when a man (of the bat variety) gives her an assist.
Despite her awesome powers, Wonder Woman overlooks one of the most obvious locations when searching for Clark. She explains away her lapse of judgment do to her one-track mind, which skirts on making Diana sound simple minded. The fact that a male character was the one to point out her shortcoming only makes the episode seem that much more odd and disturbing. Instead of making Wonder Woman a strong and independent woman, she’s reduced to having to rely on help to find her boyfriend. It’s not the most forward-thinking plot point to say the least.
While that event soured me on the this issue, it’s not the only thing I found dragging this issue down. While the mystery-un-mystery of where Superman is is being solved, the reader is subjected to a large amount of unneeded dialogue. Just look at how many speech balloons are on this single page:
There’s 22, not counting the ellipses. It’s not an insane amount but taken in context of the page the dominating feature becomes the dialogue as opposed to the art. While I appreciate that exposition sometimes is inevitable, I just wish it had been deployed more gracefully in than this issue. When you consider that there are a number of large and spacious panels later in the issue, one can’t help but wish that the 20 pages of this issue were all used more thoughtfully.
All of this is to say maybe I don’t blame Azzarello for wanting to keep his Wonder Woman away from other DC events. When this series first began I was delighted and surprised by how thoughtful the first issues were. However, the last couple of months have given us some things which aren’t terribly impressive. If I were Azzarello, and had spent untold hours crafting a character like Wonder Woman, I too would be worried about letting her fall into the wrong hands.
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