Saturday, July 31, 2010

Impossible Princess: Wonder Woman #601

This is it. This is the first full issue of The All-New Wonder Woman. It says so right there on the cover. It's "all-new". It's issue #601. That's six-hundred-and-one. A lot. I'm repetitively saying the same thing over and over in a slightly different variation. I want you to know it's important. Special. Meaningful.

This is how new Wonder Woman scribe J. Michael Straczynski (JMS, to his friends and neighbors) seems to have approached his new assignment, with a pedestal under one arm and a thesaurus under the other. The pedestal is not for his main character, mind you, it's for his story. The thesaurus? Well, we will get to that.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, a little back story. Wonder Woman is no longer Wonder Woman. She is just plain ol' Princess Diana. Everything that was Wonder Woman is no longer, destroyed by the whim of the Gods who lift their veil of protection over Paradise Island, leaving it vulnerable to attack by an army of, well, it's never really stated who this army is, suffice it to say, they are flush with body armor and bullets, jets and helicopters. They are Blackwater, apparently, because they wear no recognizable flag from any known country on their uniforms. They are just "military", generic soldiers here for the purpose of destroying an island and setting the story in motion. Diana's mother is killed, whilst Diana is secreted away off the doomed island before the final blow can be felled. Somewhere, Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster are spinning in their copyright attorney's grave.

So, that's it. No Steve Trevor. No Bullets and Bracelets. No star-spangled uniform. No invisible jet. No Wonder Woman. It's "all-new", remember?

Therein lay the real problem with this new direction: there is no there, there. Once you open the book, get past the cover that states this is a Wonder Woman comic, you are faced with the emptiness left by the absence of Wonder Woman. This woman in the role of Princess Diana is recognizable, sure, but she feels like an impostor, like an actor taking over the role from a more famous celebrity on Broadway. There is that little slip of paper in your Playbill informing you the understudy is in tonight's performance, and so you watch with a little sense of disappointment. It's a decent enough show, but nothing without the Star.

JMS wants you to not notice this, however. He wants you to understand the gravity of this new direction, this new story, this new path, this new journey, that requires sentences be repeated like hammer blows to the head. From the first page to the very last page, JMS gives his characters dialogue that feels overwrought and weighed down with bloated language. On the first two pages alone, the character of Oracle preaches to Diana of the last days of Paradise Island. It goes a little something like this:

"This is the home that was... the scorched and blackened earth, the weeping sky, the stones that stood for thousands of years... thrown down. Burned. Destroyed. ...This was our home before the darkness fell ... Before the fires came. Before we were abandoned... Before the Gods themselves turned away from us."

Did you get all that? How could you miss it? It screams "THIS IS IMPORTANT!" It screams it four times in a row. Later, as Queen Hippolyta leads her troops into final battle, she implores them with this little speech:

"BRING FIRE! BRING STEEL! BRING PAIN! BRING DEATH! This is our home and we will not submit! BRING RAGE! BRING HORROR! BRING BLOOD! Our lives are our own and we will not surrender! Bring all you have against us! But we SHALL. NOT. YIELD!"

To recap, they will not submit, surrender, or yield to all the pain and blood and death. They also will not yield. And they will not submit. Oh, and they will definitely not surrender. Clear on that? There's more. When explaining why she is unable to leave the area around a bridge, the Oracle explains:

"I'm kind of bound to the bridge. It's a mandatory metaphor ... for being between two worlds, two places, two realities..."

Not only does JMS use a cliched metaphor, he tells us it's a metaphor, and then tells us what the metaphor is, explicitly, THREE TIMES! Still, there's more. Later, a clown selling ice-cream shoos away a kid trying to buy ice cream with this gem:

"Now scram, beat it, take a hike, do a fast fade and cut to black, okay?"

Later, when a few of the remaining Amazon sisters who have been charged with taking care of Diana whilst in hiding explain to her why she is unable to fly yet, they give her this speech:

"We did not say you can fly, only that in time you could fly, and in another time you did fly, and one day ... you will fly, but that day is not this day."

And the true piéce de résistance, the issue ends with the best repetitive speech of all, as these same sisters give the young Princess her mission statement, to locate and protect the other Amazonian survivors:

"They have scattered to the four winds, they are in hiding alone, waiting, waiting for vengeance. Waiting for the right moment. Waiting for their Princess to return to them. Waiting for you. Waiting...to be saved."

These girls are doing a lot of waiting. JMS is doing a lot of heavy lifting, pushing many leaden words around to form that pedestal for his Most Important Story. The editors of this book, Sean Ryan and Brian Cunningham, are doing a lot of sleeping on the job. This type of trite, unimaginative dialogue should have been snipped down, trimmed, cut back, EDITED.

The only ones to come out of this mess unscathed is the art team of penciller Don Kramer, inker Michael Babinski, and colorist Alex Sinclair. Their combined talents have produced a stunningly beautiful 22 pages of comic art. Mr. Sinclair deserves special accolades as he once again showcases his deftness for the art of coloring, providing enough rendering to add dimension and depth to the drawings, without over-modelling the characters which tends to bring an odd artificiality to comics. Mr. Sinclair is considered one of the best working in comics today, and his work here demonstrates why.

Comics are more than art, though, or at least, they are supposed to be. Wonder Woman #601 is only beautiful art, in service of a clichéd story of revenge. I wanted to like this issue. I wanted to like this new direction, that seemed so ridiculous and ill-concieved that it could just work. Alas, the curtain raises on a stage full of understudies, with an orchestra of third-chairs blaring out a second-class score, and I am reminded that what I am seeing is not the real thing, after all. There is no Wonder Woman here.
...........................

Wonder Woman #601 written by J. Michael Straczynski, with art by Don Kramer, Michael Babinski, and Alex Sinclair, was released on 28 July, 2010 by DC Comics.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading Planetary/JLA: Terra Oculta, and the version that famed superhero-hater Warren Ellis provides for us is incalcuably more recognizable and _true_ than what you have described here. Having also read (and been unable to finish, at least in terms of the words) the Cliff Chiang collaboration on BatB, I have to ask if JMS just fell off right around the time he switched to DC, or if is he so unenthusiastic about their characters that he is incapable of turning in good work to them (or perhaps he's turning in crap on purpose?!). Hell, I don't know.

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