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Wonder Woman Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews ~ Page 1
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Wonder Woman published by DC Comics

For some other significant Wonder Woman appearances see
JLA: A League of One, Kingdom Come, Superman: Distant Fires, Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy, and others -- as well as JLA appearances in general.



Wonder Woman: The Circle  2008 (HC & SC TPB) 138 pages

coverWritten by Gail Simone. Pencils Terry Dodson, Bernard Chang, with Ron Randall. Inks by Rachel Dodson, others.
Colours: Lee Loughridge, Alex Sinclair, I.L.L. Letters: various. Editors: Matt Idelson, Nachie Castro.

Reprinting: Wonder Woman (3rd series) #14-19 (2008)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

Reviewed augmented: June, 2015

The Circle collects the first two storylines from Gail Simone's run on the comic. This after Wonder Woman was relaunched with a new #1 a year or so earlier.

Being a famous, but commercially problematic, character, Wonder Woman is always undergoing creative changes and "new directions". So the current version of our fearless Amazon (at least at the time of these issues) has adopted the civilian alter ego of Diana Prince, agent for the U.S. government Dept. of Metahuman Affairs (ie: super beings). This irked some fans, as Wonder Woman had spent the last couple of decades with no civilian disguise. But since the character spent some four plus decades prior to that with a secret identity, one could argue they aren't so much turning their backs on the last twenty years, as simply returning to the character's roots.

In fact, given that there was a period in the late 1960s/early 1970s when Wonder Woman lost her powers and she basically acted as a non-costumed spy/private eye, the idea of her civilian identity being a government agent could be seen as a homage to that period (even the fact that she dresses, in her civilian ID, in a white jump suit seems to hearken back to that period).

In other words, it could be argued the current Wonder Woman is less a rejection of any one era of Wondy's adventures, and more an attempt to bring them together in one incarnation.

Anyway, the main story arc -- "The Circle" -- has Wondy discovering some neo-Nazis are planning to occupy the Amazon home, Themyscira -- or Paradise Island for us traditionalists. The Amazons themselves having left/been banished due to some previous company crossover/story arc (yawn). So the only inhabitant of the island is Queen Hippolyta...and four mysterious prisoners of whom even Wonder Woman is ignorant. And these prisoners are what give the story its real spark as we learn something of their back story...and their pathological antipathy toward Wonder Woman. Oh...and there are also some talking gorillas!

And perhaps the word that best describes this is: fun.

Simone writes an entertaining adventure story that moves along briskly, has enough disparate plot elements to sustain four issues, juggling a lightness and humourous quips, while still maintaining a dramatic core and serious, emotional moments. Her Wonder Woman is ingratiating, cunning, tough, but humorous and self-effacing, and Simone does a better-than-decent job of convincingly juggling the inherent philosophical contradictions of the warrior woman who advocates peace. Essentially, Wondy takes a kind of Tomboyish thrill in the roughhousing...but is always keenly searching for any hint the conflict can be resolved passively.

I'll admit, I kind of preferred Wonder Woman as a more overtly pacifistic character (as pacifistic as one can be as a super hero in the adventure genre). But DC long ago moved away from that (as comics have become more violent, more gung ho, more celebratory of the hero who hits the hardest) -- and I particularly blame Mark Waid who in Kingdom Come played up the idea of Wonder Woman as a "warrior" (even as he pretended to criticize that aspect). So, in that context, I think Simone deserves kudos for making you believe in Wondy as a heroine who is genuinely willing to resolve things with an open hand, not just a fist (even as she revels in the fighting).

Like with a lot of modern comics, there can be a certain emotional superficiality at times. A scene where Wondy -- in her powerless Diana Prince alter ego -- is confroted by the super powered Captain Nazi lacks suspense because Wondy herself never seems particularly perturbed. I question the idea of Diana working for the "Department of Metahuman Affairs" simply because a civilian alter ego should contrast with the fantasy of the super hero-ing -- having her alter ego be part of an equally fantasty concept seems pointless (like having Iron Man be the director of SHIELD!). And Simone does the usual cheat of having the story end...but with a question that's meant to hint at future revelations to come...sometime...maybe...assuming Simone stays around long enough to deliver on 'em.

But re-reading this collection recently (after reading it twice, but a few years ago) I think I actually liked it even more than I did. Certainly though my above critiques remain valid -- they seem less pronounced. Instead I liked the way the story comfortably fills out its page count, with the overlapping/interweaving threads of the neo-Nazis and the mysterious imprisoned Amazons (including flashbacks slowly filling in their backstory) making a reasonably complex plot. There is plenty of action -- including some chest-thumping "bad assery" (I think I just coined a phrase) of Hippolyta and Wondy going all Bruce-Willis-in-Die-Hard on the neo-Nazis. There's also plenty of wit and humour and silliness (did I mention the talking gorillas?). But there are also some good emotional bits. And the mysterious Amazons provide a good dramatic focus, not being one-note black hats but something more complex -- and, in a way, more disturbing (after all, the news is full of the dangers of fanatics convinced of their righteousness).

The general impression that I'm left with is of a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, and -- literally -- maybe some of the best Wondy I've read.

Simone is one of the few women tagged to write Wonder Woman's regular comic (in 60 years!) and maybe it's because she's a woman that she came up with the idea she did. The plot re-considers Wondy's birth, and its impact on some of the Amazons (and a society without children) that is obvious and plausible...yet I'm not sure any previous (male) writer had ever thought of it.

The second story in this TPB, "Ex-Patriate", a shorter two-parter, has Wonder Woman reluctantly coming to the aid of the alien Khund -- a recurring, warrior race, usually the villains in DC Comics -- when their world is threatened with extinction by a mysterious invader. Again, I can recognize minor flaws/weaknesses in the telling (the Khunds say they came to Wondy because of a legend among their people she might be part-Khund, but other than as a plot point, it's not explained why they believe this). But, again, my overall impressions remain positive. It's briskly paced, nicely mixing the humourous (even silly) and the serious (even moving); Simone's take on Wondy's character is as a fairly likeable, unpretentious character. The idea that a true hero will defend the defenseless -- even if they are bad guys themselves -- has cropped up in comics before (Thor: Alone Against the Celestials) and since.

(And there's a minor, joke scene that may well be the first time DC has ever alluded to an idea that most people have basically already pondered -- that is, if the Amazons are a race without men, doesn't that imply a potential for lesbianism?)

Although both story lines are complete herein, there are plenty of continuity references -- from Flash-foe Gorilla Grodd who, though unseen, is clearly being set up as a recurring adversary, to the Khunds themselves and references to a previous attempted invasion of earth. But I think most is explained well enough as the stories unfold...at least, enough to follow the plots. So though you don't need to know specifics (as I didn't) it probably reads best if you have a general familiarity with the DCU (as I do).

"The Circle" arc is drawn, mainly by Terry and Rachel Dodson (though Ron Randall pinch hits a few scenes) and I sort of had mixed feelings about it. As on one hand the art is good and attractive, on the other hand with its open line work, there's a certain cartooniness to it that I don't always like. But Dodson manages to draw a beautiful Wonder Woman...without sliding into gratuitous cheesecake. And the visuals maybe add to my earlier reference to"fun", the art open and lively. And clearly I was enjoying Dodson's art, because even though Randall is a perfectly okay artist, with a style that doesn't clash, I found his scenes less effective.

The Khund story is drawn by Bernard Chang, again, with a style that's in the same vein as Dodson's (realist but leaning toward cartoony, Spartan line work) but not quite as effective, his figures and faces a bit more angular. Yet overall, the art remains decent throughout.

It's the colouring that is the weakest part. With the colourist choosing odd hues that just further de-emphasize realism, the flesh tones often pallid, occasionally even yellowish.

Ultimately, like many modern TPB collections, this is just a collection of a few issues, rather than a carefully constructed "graphic novel" building to some grand climax. But at four issues, and with its different threads, "The Circle" does feel like it warrants a collection, with "Ex-Patriate" simply a nice bonus tale. Both stories are, more or less, complete in these pages, but there are on going sub-plots -- Wonder Woman abruptly announcing she wishes to "court" a guy that, in these pages, we didn't realize had met her in her Wonder Woman guise!, or the hints that the unseen Gorilla Grodd is up to some big scheme. Actually, the weird thing about that guy -- Nemesis, her co-worker as Diana Prince -- is that Simone seems to be fast tracking their relationship. I've just recently read (or re-read) the previous two TPBs (Who is Wonder Woman and Love and Murder, both reviewed elsewhere in this section) and didn't think enough of a relationship had really been established yet.

Anyhoo...

As many of my reviews on this site indicate, I often find myself finishing Wonder Woman stories with a vague dissatisfaction, a feeling that even the writers themselves were struggling to get a grip on the material. Here...I have no such qualm. Simone's may not be the definitive Amazon Princess (after six decades, no one version can be), but she seems to have settled on a personality she can get a grip on, and the stories are well-paced and energetic. And she marks the first "permanent" writer assigned to the new series -- the previous arcs were written by fill-in writers).

A good read.

This is a review of the stories as they were serialized in the monthly comics.

Cover price: $ ___


Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth  2009 (HC & SC TPB) 138 pages

coverWritten by Gail Simone. Pencils by Aaron Lopresti, Bernard Chang. Inks by Matt Ryan, Bernard Chang.
Colours: Brad Anderson. Letters: Travis Lanham, Steve Wands. Editor: Matt Idelson

Reprinting: Wonder Woman (3rd series) #20-25 (2008)

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

Reviewed Feb. 1, 2010 (re-reviewed June 2015)

DC's recent restart of the Wonder Woman comic seemed to be a rare situation where a lot of things were clicking into place. I've always had a certain vague affection for Wonder Woman, and have read the occasional comic over the years, from different creative eras, but it often seemed that only occasionally would the property live up to its potential. Yet from Alan Heinberg's opening arc, to regular writer Gail Simone's first issues (collected as The Circle - reviewed above), things seemed to be clicking, with a Wonder Woman that was true to her mythological origins...yet down-to-earth and approachable and witty, and stories that managed to be fun, gee whiz super hero romps...while also having a little bit of brains and thoughtfulness.

But, hey, it can't all be roses.

Which brings us to the second TPB of Gail Simone's tenure. And it's not that it's bad, just kind of underwhelming. See, that's the trick to trying to review TPBs...a lot depends on what you're expecting/looking for. If you are devotedly reading Wonder Woman, then, sure, it makes sense to put this on your shelf. Not only does it continue to tease along a few on going sub-plots (albeit, most not really in a way that you'd miss much if you skipped these issues...save perhaps an indication that Sarge Steel -- Wondy's boss in her alter ego of Diana Prince -- may be becoming unhinged), but there's nothing egregiously dreadful here.

At the same time, if you're moseying into your comic shop, looking for a Wondy TPB to pick up at random and enjoy -- which is often how I try to review these things -- there are better offerings out there.

This TPB collects two story arcs, including the four part "Ends of the Earth". In it, Wonder Woman is recruited -- rather unwillingly -- by an other dimensional being named Stalker to join him on a quest to defeat a demon creature to whom Stalker, long ago, sold his soul. The catch is that once in this fantasy realm, Wondy finds her own soul dissipating, rendering her colder, darker -- and even though she is aware of the change, she can't do anything about it. Along the way, Wondy and Stalker recruit some other fantasy warriors, Claw, and the legendary Beowulf. And yes, this is "Old Home Week" for DC's fantasy characters, with Claw and Stalker both having appeared in 1970s comics...as did Beowulf. Stalker is a morally ambiguous figure...though how (or if) his appearance here relates/reconciles with his previous revival in The Justice Society Returns (in which he was the out-and-out villain) is unclear.

The fantasy/sword & sorcery milieu might seem a bit odd, but presumably Simone is trying to show that anything goes in a Wonder Woman comic (the previous TPB mixed fantasy, espionage, super hero and science fiction).

And the problem, like with a lot of modern comics, is that it's a multi-issue arc...that doesn't warrant multi-issues. Simone might have been better to save it for a double-sized annual or something, rather than this four parter. For a quest in a fantasy realm...not a lot happens and what does isn't that interesting. She recruits her fellow warriors, and gets into a bar fight or two, but that's about it. There's little sense of structured "acts", distinguishing one issue from the others. And, as can often happen in magic-themed stories, there can be a bit of loose logic at work, as to how or why things occur. Heck, when Wonder Woman is first shanghaied by Stalker, it seems as though it's her astral self (or something) that is flung into the fantasy realm, with her real body left sprawled on her couch in her office. Yet later, there's no indication that's the case (wouldn't someone poke their head into her office and see her lying there?) and in the climax, Wondy reappears in the real world (for a climactic battle) apparently with a body.

What Simone seems most interested in, is the idea of Wonder Woman feeling herself becoming corrupted and callous thanks to the loss of her soul. But, again, it's not really well enough developed to justify four issues.

While all this is occurring, we cut back to the real world, where Diana Prince's partner, Nemesis, is assigned to investigate her by a suspicious Sarge Steel.

The final two-parter in this collection, "A Star in the Heavens", is the more enjoyable. Wonder Woman goes to Hollywood to look into a movie being made about her (the producers want her endorsement). It's perhaps a little silly at times, in its satire of Hollywood, and gender cliches perpetrated by movies, but it's funny, particularly as Wonder Woman brings along a couple of her talking gorilla friends (carried over from The Circle). Villainy does rear its head, though with mixed results. This is the problem with comics and whether they are aimed at fans or casual readers. Because the villain turns out to be an old foe of Wondy's -- which is fine -- except that she's not all that clearly explained, or even what her goal is. Still, it's a perfectly enjoyable adventure and, again, throws in a slightly more serious sub-plot (though, as often happens with Wonder Woman, seems to hint at powers and perceptions I wasn't aware she had!)

The art on the first arc is by Aaron Lopresti, and by Bernard Chang on the two-parter. The art is agreeable throughout, maintaining a bit of a stylistic tone begat by Terry Dodson at the beginning of the new series. It's solid, better-than-average art, with a clean, realist flavour...but, I'll admit, neither fully excited me to the point where I would say the visuals make the story. But I can think of lots of guys I would less like to see tackle Wonder Woman, so the art is definitely in the plus side of the equation. Lopresti is maybe better at drawing pretty women, Chang is maybe a little too angular, but might have a slightly more dramatic sense of composition,

So I'm kind of on the fence about this. "A Star in the Heavens" is an enjoyable enough adventure, but at two issues, you could probably find the issues easily in a back issues bin. And it's not that there's anything terrible about the "Ends of the Earth" arc...save that it just seems kind of thin and, once you close the book, unmemorable. If you're assembling a Wonder Woman "library", there's no need to skip it. But if you're looking for a nice Wonder Woman collection to put on your shelf for its own sake...there's no need to hunt this down, either.

And now...

Re-reading this collection a few years after I last read it, and as part of reading the previous three consecutive TPBs (one I hadn't read before) I have some additional thoughts. My above comments are pretty much the same, but maybe with even less enthusiasm. The "Ends of the Earth" story struck me as a bit -- bland. Perhaps too caught up in its "gimmick" of reuniting the old fantasy characters. And though "A Star in the Heavens" remains enjoyable enough, it's true that the satire aspect is a bit, um, obvious, while the action stuff is basically just a lot of fighting.

I also find myself reflecting on the overall run -- given I was enjoying the series somewhat, but (at this point) have yet to find the enthusiasm to trackdown the next TPB (though I might).

I think the problems overall partly lie with the penchant for multi-issue storylines. After all, this now represents basically two years of the comic -- and it doesn't really feel like much has happened or been developed. Basically it only comprises about a half dozen stories. And it isn't that there aren't sub-plots -- it's just they haven't really progressed much. And there aren't a lot of sub-plots or supporting characters (Eta Candy was re-introduced a few issues ago -- but so far to little point).

EXCEPT...on the other hand, Simone has really fast tracked Wondy's romantic relationship with Nemesis -- but to an unsatisfying degree. Personally (and maybe being a guy I'm not the right audience) but I just don't see any chemistry between them...especially when they barely had much interaction prior (outside of Wondy's alter ego of Diana Prince). I half wonder if Simone was planning on killing him off for some heart tugging pathos but first needed to make him the love of Wondy's life.

I also wonder if the art is an issue for me. As much as the art has generally been quite strong and stylistically consistent throughout -- it strikes me throughout as kind of, well, cold. Hard lines. Lack of shadows. And though I like the fact that Simone has a genuine feel for her interpretation of Wondy, a real sense that she has a clear vision of a personality (in a way that a lot of writers haven't), making her both witty and approachable, yet also Amazonian, I'm kind of ambivalent toward the whole violence-thing. Not that this is unique to Simone. And, indeed, she does a better job than some in conveying a genuine sense of a heroine who is always amenable to a finding a peaceful solution -- to some extent. But she also tends to write Wondy as a wee bit too violent for my tastes, a bit too eager to revel in brutality. But -- hey, that's just me, I guess.

The overall result is as much as I've enjoyed some of this run of Wonder Woman (from Heinberg to Simone) I've found myself flipping rather disinterestedly through an almost equal number of issues.

This is a review of the stories as they were serialized in the monthly comics.

Cover price: $ ___


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