Upcoming: “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore (Knopf)

LeporeJ-SecretHistoryOfWonderWomanI am a huge fan of Jill Lepore’s writing – both long-form and also her journalism and shorter pieces. A professor of American History at Harvard University (and a staff writer at The New Yorker), Lepore has written extensively about history and how we interpret, teach, and read the history of the United States. Last year, I read the paperback edition of The Story of America, which was easily one of the best books I read in 2013. Perhaps of more interest to the readers of Civilian Reader, though, her upcoming work is about the fan-favourite Amazon warrior from the Justice League: Wonder Woman. Due to be published on October 28th, 2014 by Knopf. Here’s the rather long synopsis:

Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. In the more than seven decades since she first appeared, her comic books have never been out of print. In years of interviews and archival research, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Lepore has discovered that, from Marston’s days as a Harvard undergraduate, he was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife brought into their home, as Marston’s mistress, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century. The Marston family story – a house of one man, three women, and four children-is a story of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Sanger’s niece together wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they pursued a life of extraordinary nonconformity. No less fascinating is Marston’s role as the inventor of the lie detector. Internationally known as an expert on truth, he lived a life of secrets-only to spill them on the pages of the Wonder Woman comics he began writing in 1941.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour-de-force of intellectual and cultural history, explaining not only the mysterious origins of the world’s most famous female superhero, but solving some of the most vexing puzzles in the American past. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights – a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.

Given how prominent the character has been in not only the comics and SFF communities (specifically the absence of plans for a Wonder Woman big-budget movie), but in pop-culture and gender studies communities, this is a very timely book. I’m really looking forward to this.

Two Great New BATMAN Pieces by Lee Bermejo…

Long time readers of the blog will know I’m a big fan of Lee Bermejo’s artwork. You can find loads of great examples over on his website. Today, I spotted two more in particular that caught my eye, and thought I’d share them on here.

The first is the brooding artwork for Secret Origins #2, a new series published by DC Comics:

SecretOrigins-02-Bermejo

Secondly, we have a black-and-white piece of DC’s “Trinity” – Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman:

Bermejo-Trinity

Graphic Novels Catch-Up: Hulk, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Superman

GraphicNovelsRead-201310-1

Four mini-reviews of graphic novels I have read over the last couple of weeks: Captain America: Road to Reborn and Reborn, Indestructible Hulk, Superman: Secret Identity, Wonder Woman (New 52).

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK, Vol.1 – “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Marvel NOW)

IndestructibleHulk-Vol.01Writer: Mark Waid | Artist: Leinel Yu

Hulk: Indestructible force more weapon than man. Banner: Smartest man alive. Combined, they are the strongest, smartest weapon on the planet! And NOW!, the Indestructible Hulk is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Hulk’s first official missions include taking down the all-new Quintronic Man and battling Attuma on the ocean floor! But not everything is as it seems: What is Banner’s secret hold over S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill? What and where is Bannertown, USA? And which one of Banner’s lab assistants holds a deadly secret? Plus: Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are friends but Hulk and Iron Man are anything but!

Collects: Indestructible Hulk #1-5

I read the first issue of this collection when it was first released, and rather liked the approach Waid took to the character. Bruce Banner is hired on by S.H.I.E.L.D., who continue to be wary of… the Other Guy. He’s given his own research team and lab – located at “Bannertown”. The story is pretty good, to start with, as we get reacquainted with Banner and his constant struggle with the Hulk inside him. He goes on a mission with Tony Stark (Hulk doesn’t like Iron Man very much). Then things get rather weird… The story moves into Exaggerated Comic Story, which was a little annoying, after the rather good, nuanced beginning. I would have preferred a little more investigation of Banner’s state of mind, etc. It’s strange that Waid didn’t offer this, actually, given his stellar work on series such as Irredeemable (still one of my favourite stories of all time – comic or otherwise).

There’s an underwater adventure that seemed to come out of nowhere, a big battle, and then we get sent back to Bannertown, where S.H.I.E.L.D. have hired a young, varied and eccentric staff to help Bruce with his research.

Yu’s artwork is, of course, as excellent and distinctive as always. I love his style, and have done ever since I read Superman: Birthright (which was also written by Waid).

It’ll be interesting to see how this series develops. I’ll be back for at least volume 2.

*

WONDER WOMAN, Vol.4 – “War” (DC New 52)

WonderWoman-Vol.4Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman’s world is shocked to its core when her eldest brother, the First Born, is freed from his slumber. Now, with her family in ruins and her friends scattered, she must turn to Orion and the New Gods of New Genesis to save herself and Zola’s newborn from the First Born’s wrath!

Collects: Wonder Woman #19-23

I think I may be losing interest in this series. It seems to be spinning its wheels, while also occasionally veering into excessive (but abrupt) action. I still think Brubaker and Chiang have developed a fascinating and unique take on Greek Mythology and its leading deities, creatures, and so forth. There are moments of sheer brilliance, but then also moments that just didn’t appeal. Orion, for example. What a pointless addition to the series. (Although, his presence did give rise to one of the best couple of pages, when Diana puts him in his place, tired of his provocative lechery and chauvinism – below.)

WonderWoman-19-Interior6

Chiang’s artwork is great, as I’ve mentioned in reviews of previous volumes – there’s actually nothing I would fault on the visual side of things. I just didn’t love the story as much as I have in the past. Going forward, I may not follow this series as closely or quickly as I have been up to this point.

*

CAPTAIN AMERICA: ROAD TO REBORN and REBORN (Marvel)

CaptainAmerica-RoadToRebornWriter: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Dale Eaglesham, Jackson Guice, Luke Ross, Gene Colan, Dave Gutierrez, Rick Magyar, Bryan Hitch

Road to Reborn: Sharon Carter’s dreams are forcing her to relive the death of Steve Rogers – and her time under the control of Dr. Faustus. But will these dreams also reveal hidden secrets about what she saw and did on the day Steve died.

Reborn: Captain America – Steve Rogers – is reborn, but is he the hero we know and love? Or is the new Captain merely a pawn of the Red Skull, or perhaps something worse? And what is Norman Osborn doing lurking on the fringes?

Collects: Captain America #49-50; #600-601
Captain America: Reborn #1-6

Yup, I’m still working my way through the fifth series of Captain America (Marvel refers to it as “Vol.5”, but given that each collection is a “Volume” as well, it gets confusing – hence the use of “series”). I’m still really enjoying it, and I think Brubaker’s characterisation of Steve Rogers, Bucky, and their myriad companions is brilliant. The antagonists remain delightfully cartoon-y – perhaps the only thing that hasn’t aged quite as well as the concept as a whole. Both of these books were very heavy on the nostalgia – even featuring a story about Captain America memorabilia collectors.

CaptainAmerica-RebornReborn ends with a massive battle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, as Steve Rogers must wrest control of his body from the Red Skull, whose consciousness has been implanted into the original Captain America’s body. Confused? Yeah, well, it turns out that the “assassination” was not, in fact, an assassination. Apparently, the Red Skull and Arnim Zola had planned to take Cap out of time (or something)… Why? Why didn’t the decades-old nemeses want to actually kill their enemy? Because the Red Skull apparently wanted to become him. Paging Doktor Freud…

Overall, though, not bad. Not the best in the series, but still enjoyable. It’ll be nice to see how the story goes forward, with Bucky still operating as Captain America. I actually rather like Bucky in the role, too – he adds some extra dimensions and insecurities, not to mention methodology. Next in the series is Captain America: Two Americas, which I’ll be reading pretty soon. [I will catch up!]

*

SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY (DC)

Superman-SecretIdentityWriter: Kurt Busiek | Artist: Stuart Immonen

What’s in a name? Everything, if you share it with the Man of Steel!

Set in the real world, SECRET IDENTITY examines the life of a young Kansas man with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. All Clark wants is to be a writer, but his daily life is filled with the taunts and jibes of his peers, comparing him to that other Clark Kent — the one with super-powers. Until one day when Clark awakens to discover that he can fly… that he does in fact have super-strength! But where did these powers come from? And what’s he going to do about it?

This was a wonderful surprise. Also, a bargain at only $4 (during one of ComiXology’s Superman-related sales, each of the four extra-length issues was only $1). It’s a wonderfully-told story, too. It’s picaresque, following a “real-life” Clark Kent without powers, who has long been plagued by amused relatives and friends gifting him any number of Superman-related memorabilia, toys, and so forth. Then, one day during his teens, he actually develops Superman’s powers. What happens next? Well, that’s the story of this collection, which takes us from Clark’s youth through to old age. We see his life unfold, as he takes a job at a New York journal, gets a book deal, marries someone called Lois (though not “- Lane”, and of Indian descent), and has two daughters. Along the way, he must constantly protect his family and himself from the attentions of the government. He forms a working-relationship with one agent, though, and they strike a deal for moving forward and not getting in each other’s way or on each other’s nerves.

The artwork is pretty good. It’s slightly different from what I’ve seen of Immonen’s other artwork (if I recall correctly), but it does suit the nostalgic and emotional nuance of the story. It’s brilliant, really. Very highly recommended for any lover of Superman stories, looking for something a little different.

*

Some upcoming comic reviews: Sixth Gun, Vol.5; Avengers, Vol.1 (Marvel NOW), American Vampire, Vol.2; Walking Dead, Vol.1 (just in time for Halloween, hopefully); Locke & Key, Vol.2; Atomic Robo, Vol.1; Saga, Vol.2; Thief of Thieves, Vol.1… And no doubt a few others, as I’ve been reading a fair few.

Two Years (ish) of DC Comics’ New 52

DCHeader

Someone asked me on Twitter if I was still reading comics (they pointed out I hadn’t posted many reviews of them lately). I have been, but because I’ve been reading them in big chunks, interspersed with work reading, as well as both fiction and (future-work-related) non-fiction books, I’ve been letting the comics reviews slide a fair bit. There is another reason, of course: not all of the comics have been single storylines, or complete storylines, which makes reviewing them really tricky. Once you get to around issue #10, anything you write about the story is likely to throw out spoilers. This, I think, is maybe a weakness of reading and reviewing comics on a weekly basis – and is really why I stopped doing that almost a year ago (that and financial considerations). Regardless, my insatiable need to read All The Things With Words means I have been reading a good number of comics via ComiXology’s app on my iPad. With the exception of the frankly phenomenal Hawkeye, I do not buy any issues full-price. I just can’t afford to. So, as and when things go on sale or are discounted (either one or two months after release), I’ve been collecting issues to read in bursts.

That being said, the number of series I’ve been reading has also been steadily culled. I usually give each series a single “volume” – that is, what would appear in a collected, printed trade hardcover or paperback. It’s been a useful way of separating storylines, as well as providing a “book’s worth” to review. (Ahem, if I bothered to review them, that is…)

So which of DC’s New 52 have I kept reading? Which ones will stay? And which will have to go, and why? Below is a brief run-down (by no means exhaustive) of the titles I’ve been reading, collected by theme/larger series…

[I may add to this, over time, as I remember other titles I’ve tried, or just think of something else I’d like to add.]

GREEN LANTERN SERIES

I’m starting with this one, because I recently completed the vast “Rise of the Third Army” and “Wrath of the First Lantern” cross-title events. It was an epic undertaking, and sadly it sometimes felt like it. Not to mention being rather more expensive than I would have wished (or should have given in to). The two events, really one mega-event, had its interesting and gripping moments, but ultimately outstayed its welcome. By the time it ended, expectations were so high, that it fell a bit flat. This, I’m noticing, is a common feeling at the end of comics Events…

Overall, though, the extended family of Green Lantern titles remain interesting. Not all of them are as consistent or gripping as I would like. Green Lantern is still very good. Red Lanterns is possibly the weakest, now, after what had been a promisingly dark beginning. New Guardians is starting to fizzle a bit, too, despite my continuing interest in the wider spectrum of Lantern corps. Green Lantern Corps has some very good moments, too.

GreenLantern-20

With Geoff Johns’s run on the flagship title now over (an epic, redefining era for the character and mythos, filled with many exceptional moments), and with each title now having hit their 20th issues, I think I’m going to retire the series from my ‘pull-list’. Mostly, this is a financial decision, but it is also because the story has hit a point when I feel like I’m overdosing, and just simply want a break. The expanded 20th issue of Green Lantern was a nice wander down memory lane, and offered some intriguing hints for what is to come, but I’m just not prepared to dive back in for a little while longer. When I do return, I think only Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps will be priorities.

*

BAT-FAMILY TITLES

The Batman family of titles remain my favourites, and (in my opinion) also the best-written. The flagship title, Batman, still written by the excellent Scott Snyder, continues strongly. In the wake of “Death of the Family”, we got some shorter, stand-alone issues and stories, which offered a nice breather. The latest Bat-event has now begun, though (“Year Zero”), so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. I’ll be keeping this title on the list, and will actually be writing a review of the first three parts of “Year Zero” in the near future (#21-22 and Annual #2).

I’ve been following Detective Comics, too, but it hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for a little while. I’ll probably stick with it a little while longer, but it may have to go at some point. [As a somewhat related aside, I’m considering delving into the pre-New 52 Detective Comics stories, as some of them sound pretty great.]

BatmanDarkKnight-11-ArtGregg Hurwitz’s Scarecrow story for Batman: The Dark Knight was one of the best Batman storylines I’ve ever read. No joke. Yesterday I picked up the final part of his Mad Hatter story-arc (it’s been discounted on ComiXology), and will be reading it all in one go. I will certainly write a review for it, too. Hurwitz has done a truly fantastic job with this title. Very highly recommended indeed. It’s staying on my to-read list.

Batgirl is still going strong, with some potential closure on the question of Barbara’s serial-killer brother. Gail Simone’s keeping the quality high, and the story engaging and fresh. The artwork, too, remains strong throughout. A keeper, and I’m looking forward to picking up some of the creepier-looking recent issues in the near future.

I’m still enjoying Nightwing, as the story and character remain interesting. Post-“Death of the Family”, Dick Grayson moves to Chicago, which I think will be really great for the character – not only is it a change of pace from Gotham, but it will hopefully open up the possibility for plenty of original stories and enemies. I have every intention of continuing with the series, but I may wait longer chunks of time and binge on a complete story-arc each time I do.

Batwoman-09-ArtI haven’t been keeping up-to-date with Batwoman, despite every intention to do so. I had been waiting for printed collections before I left NYC, but chose to de-prioritize it after “Death of the Family” started, because it wasn’t connected. I enjoyed the more horror-leaning aesthetic and storylines, though, so I do hope to get caught up again. (I’ve read up to issue #9, so there is a fair bit of reading to do before I’m up-to-speed… Won’t be too soon, sadly.) It is probably the most eye-catching, artistically of all the New 52 titles. Really superb, original compositions.

Batwing is in the same position as Batwoman. It’s a series I certainly want to read more of, I just can’t afford to right now. Writing duties have changed hands (#19), and it looks like the new team (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) have taken the series in an interesting direction. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get back to it.

One of my favourite series remains Red Hood & The Outlaws. If I had to say why it remains such a good read for me, I think I’d struggle to say. I like the characters – especially Jason “Red Hood” Todd – and they dynamic between them is really good. It’s a bit different, with a more sci-fi feel to it than other Batman-related titles, but perhaps it’s this difference that gives it a fresher feel? It also tied in really nicely with “Death of the Family”. I imagine this will be a keeper for some time.

I’ve also managed to read the first volume’s-worth of new title Talon. James Tynion III is doing something really interesting with this character, and I hope he becomes a permanent member of the DC stable. The first storyline was a slow-burn narrative, but with plenty of action sequences, as we follow Calvin Rose make a sort-of life for himself, with a couple of allies. And also a rogues’ gallery of his very own. It’s quite different to Batman, and I liked a lot about the series. It took me longer than it perhaps should have to adjust my expectations of story-type (I’d not been sleeping and was exhausted when I read it). Nevertheless, it is a pretty great story. The first book also has one hell of a cliff-hanger ending…

Batman&Robin-18-Interior8

My favourite series in the Batman family, though, has got to be Batman & Robin. Each issue is superb, but the silent issue #18 (image above), is one of the most powerful comics I’ve read. Absolutely superb, and I’ll be writing reviews of Volumes 2 and 3 in the near future. A must-read series (along with Hurwitz’s Dark Knight).

Teen Titans, led by Tim “Red Robin” Drake, has had a lot of ups and downs. Scott Lobdell’s humour can work pretty well, but overall I just don’t think I care enough about the characters to stick around any longer than I already have. The future storylines, which seem to feature six-eyed demons, also don’t appeal much.

*

SUPERMAN FAMILY

Personally, I think there has been too much crossover and needed catch-up to fully follow all the storylines, which is also too much to justify financially.

Superman-11-ArtI actually like the Superman series. I seem to be one of the only people who liked the first story arc, which offered some interesting modern-era-media concerns into the story (I studied the role of the media in politics as part of my PhD, so maybe that’s why I liked it more than some others). I did get bored when the DC Powers That Be tied this series in with the daemonites storyline (which was just dull – sorry, there’s really no other way to describe it other than “just dull”, in the end). I bought the issues for Volume 3 (#13-19), not realising that they were all “H’el on Earth” issues. I have no idea if I have to read the other two Super-titles to ‘get’ the story, but it has made me hesitate (perhaps stupidly, seeing as I do own them)…

What of Superboy? Meh. I lost interest, despite enjoying Volume 1. I just never got around to reading any more of the series. Will I in the future? Perhaps. But probably not in the near future.

I finally read the first volume of Supergirl, and while there was some good stuff therein, it was mainly all-action-all-the-time, which left minimal time and space for actual story. Distracting readers with endless set-piece-battles does not a good story make. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series, sadly.

Which brings us to Action Comics. I remain on the fence: Grant Morrison has finally left the series, but I’m not sure if it’s ok to just dive in with the new writers’ work. And my OCD shudders at the incompletion prospect…

*

JUSTICE LEAGUE TITLES

I just finished Justice League #17-19 the other day, aiming to catch up for the latest cross-over event, “Trinity War”. (See? Told you there were a lot of them…) I must say, though, that I was thoroughly underwhelmed with these issues. The story was just weak. The artwork wasn’t great (not to mention schizophrenic, as multiple art-teams were involved). The series has not been without its strong moments, though – for example, when Batman discusses his contingency plans with Superman, and the “Throne of Atlantis” cross-over story.

JusticeLeague-19

Aquaman has been a good title throughout, but due to financial constraints, I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much as I would have liked. It remains a keeper, but not an urgent one. I’ll pick up issues in chunks.

Brain Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman has been interesting. I have a weakness for anything linked with Mythology (especially Roman, Egyptian, Norse, and as in this case Greek – all of them formed a large part of my youthful and formative reading). The story sometimes veers into the WTF-territory, which I’m not a fan of. But, at the same time, I think the interpretations of the Gods and mythical creatures and characters is really interesting. The first two volumes (“Blood” and “Guts”) were strong, despite a bit of a dip in quality in Volume 2. I’ll keep reading this for at least one more story-arc. And I really do like Cliff Chiang’s artwork.

WonderWoman-12-Art

For some reason, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with The Flash. I enjoyed the first volume a good deal. Perhaps it’s my innate caution when a storyline suddenly features Gorillas…? It is becoming clearer to me that I really like my comics a little less ‘out there’, unless they’re obviously meant to be totally out there – Hellboy and Justice League Dark (below), for example. I’d like to catch up with this at some point, though, as I do find the Flash to be an interesting character. Speaking of, though, I picked up a few more of the Flashpoint comics recently (again, a ComiXology sale), so I hope to get those read and reviewed at some point soon.

*

THE DARK & EDGE

I really like a lot of Justice League Dark – the artwork is often pretty great, and the story has some great moments. It feels like it’s weakening a bit, but this might be because the creative team had to tread water until the “Trinity War” event could start. I hope it picks up again. I thought Lemire was going to revive it nicely, and on the strength of his first handful of issues, I bought a fair bit of his other work (including Sweet Tooth, which enjoyed an excellent 99c sale on ComiXology not so long ago). We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. I’m sticking around for “Trinity War”, but I will re-assess afterwards.

JLDark-18-Interior2

The only other series I’ve maintained from these ‘sections’ of the New 52 is Demon Knights. I have the issues for Volume 2, but because I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy fiction, I haven’t felt an urgent need to read these. I will, though, as I like the option of reading some fantasy in my comics. Watch this space, I guess.

*

Constantine-01Overall, it looks like I’m losing steam with DC’s wider New 52 line. Some series remain strong, true, but I’m not sure if reading them on an issue-by-issue basis is enough for me. Too often, the story feels incomplete, insufficient, rushed, or what have you. Maybe I just need a bit of a break from them? Who knows. I have picked up some issues from two of the newer series – Constantine and Justice League America – primarily because they are connected to the “Trinity War” event. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to get The Phantom Stranger or Pandora

Instead of spending my few funds on more super-hero comics, I’ve been picking up some other comics. The aforementioned Sweet Tooth, as well as American Vampire, Locke & Key, and a handful of others. I’m also going to try to get back into the G.I.Joe titles, and maybe dip in to some more Dark Horse (Star Wars and The Massive), Image (Chew, Thief of Thieves) and Zenescope titles. I will also, actually, be delving into the back-catalogues of both DC and Marvel, too – I have a number of older Superman stories, for example, as well as a wealth of X-Men stuff to catch up on.

Does anyone else have any suggestions? Or opinions on the New 52 this far in? Feel free to share in the comments, below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

TrinityWar

“Trinity War” Artwork

Wonder Woman, Vol.2 – “Guts” (DC)

WonderWoman-Vol-02Writer: Brian Azzarello | Artist: Cliff Chiang (#7-8, 11), Tony Atkins (#9-10), Kano (#10) | Inks: Dan Green (#9-) | Colors: Matthew Wilson

Wonder Woman goes to hell! After playing Poseidon, Hades, and Hera against each other, Hades strikes back by kidnapping Zola and trapping her in the Underworld. It’s up to Wonder Woman — with a little help from the God of Love and the God of Smiths — to break Zola out. But what is Hades’ real game, and once you get into the land of the dead, how exactly do you get out?

Collects: Wonder Woman #7-12

I rather enjoyed the first collection of Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman. Chiang’s artwork is great, and Azzarello’s story has some surprises and is a pretty interesting interpretation of Greek Mythology. Where the first collection, “Blood” was strong, “Guts” didn’t live up to my expectations as much as I had hoped – mainly because there’s a bit of a weak middle-section. Otherwise, though, this is still pretty interesting and it does end on a strong note.

One of the first things that jumped out at me in this book is the sinister, predatory, almost evil character Azzarello imbues the Amazons with (it involves the methods they employ to reproduce…). Wonder Woman and her allies have travelled to Mt. Aetna, seeking the help from Hephaestus (the gods’ weapon-maker). Over the course of the first chapter of “Guts”, we learn of the fate of male offspring of the Amazons, which shocks Diana’s impression of the Amazons’ culture to the core.

While in the company of Hephaestus, we also get the Wonder Woman-equivalent of the “Guns, lots of guns” scene in The Matrix. Only, they don’t just pick up guns (Wonder Woman has, initially, a more conventional, traditional approach to weaponry).

WonderWoman-08-InternalArt1

Issue #9 onwards dropped a little in quality, I must say. The story becomes a little more odd, and gets just a tad silly. I still really enjoy the depiction of Greek mythology and so forth, but the story just didn’t feel as strong as past issues. The ending to issue #10 was… A bit meh, too. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a morality tale, or a clunky attempt at a future-redemption tale. Or if it was just a long lead up so they could have that final page, when Wonder Woman employs Eros’s guns in a particular way. I’m just not sure what to make of it. I didn’t hate it by any means, but it was an oddly-written issue.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman has become a tale of squabbling families, deals and bloody betrayals. Which is rather appropriate, I think, given the Greek Mythology that infuses Azzarello’s version of the Wonder Woman story (I have no experience reading any previous Wonder Woman series or storylines, so I can’t comment beyond this). The final chapter ends with a nice twist, before offering quite the tease for the next story arc.

I really love Cliff Chiang’s artwork. Atkins & Kano’s issues/chapters do a very good job of matching Chiang’s style, but we start to see some odd touches coming through (for example, exaggerated facial expressions – particularly Strife’s). Thankfully, Chiang returns for issues #11 and #12. The depiction of Hell is pretty interesting, too.

WonderWoman-08-InternalArt5

Although, I’m not sure why a Greek god would re-create a hellish version of London… (Despite some earlier issues taking part there, Diana and everyone else in this series is either a Greek God/myth or American, so London is an odd choice, no?)

WonderWoman-08-InternalArt4

To be honest, I didn’t like this collection as much as Volume 1. Despite the very strong artwork and aesthetic, Azzarello’s story (particularly the botched wedding/romance with Hel in the middle) just failed to grab my attention. Nevertheless, apart from that mid-point wobble, it is still not a bad read – I just think there have been better issues in the series, and Azzarello has definitely produced some better comics. If you’re a fan of more “modern” approaches to classic comic heroes, then I think you’ll find something in here to enjoy and meet your needs.

WonderWoman-Vol.2-Content

Original Issue Cover Art

***

Further Reading: The Atlantic ran a story on their website about Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, “Wonder Woman’s Violent, Man-Pandering Second Act” by Noah Berlatsky (who also runs Hooded Utilitarian), which I thought others might find interesting. I also had more to say about the article than I did about the book, so if you’ll indulge me…

WonderWoman-MarstonArticleImageBerlantsky believes Azzarello has betrayed the original intent of Wonder Woman’s creator. William Marston, who seems to have been quite the polymath in his day, created the character of Wonder Woman sometime in the mid-1940s, in reaction to the comics available at the time. Me being me, I tracked down the original article, and it’s pretty interesting, so I’ve included a couple of quotations from it, below.

In The American Scholar, Marston wrote that, “from a psychological angle” the comics of that era’s “worst offense was their blood-curdling masculinity.” (In “Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics”, Winter 1943/4 issue, pp.35-44, in case you’re interested in tracking it down). Berlantsky offers a nostalgic run-down of the classic ideals Marston brought to his series (space kangaroos!), and then moves on to how Azzarello has broken with it. I should mention from the outset that all I’ve read of the character has been the first two volumes of the New 52 series, and a few Justice League-related books (including Geoff Johns’ New 52 iteration of that series as well).

I won’t deal with everything from The Atlantic article, but there is one thing I’d like to pick up on. Specifically, the guns.

He takes particular objection to Chiang’s cover pieces that depict Wonder Woman wielding Eros’s guns:

“Chiang’s interior cover for issue #8 shows Wonder Woman leaping from the side, shooting two golden pistols while discarded golden shell cases rain down around her — the insufficiently swaggering golden lasso nowhere in sight. Elsewhere in the series, we get to see Wonder Woman shot in the chest; a woman displaying her gashed open and bleeding arms, a giant devouring monster zombie creature, and another interior cover showing Wonder Woman with a death’s head toting those cool golden guns again.”

Berlantsky has a point, in some respects. But, given the ending of issue #10 (which I mentioned above), there is a little bit more to it than the chance to just give Diana big, gold-plated (shiny!) guns. I do agree with him that the ending is “banal”, but perhaps I wouldn’t have used quite as strong a word. When maybe I should have. He goes on:

“The fact that the guns belong to the god Eros, and shoot bullets of violent infatuation just emphasizes that, for Azzarello, even love is a blood-curdling business best expressed through phallic firepower.”

Also possible, but part of me thinks Azzarello’s use of pistols may be more of a nod to Baz Lurman’s Romeo & Juliet (“Take up your .45-Magnum-semi-automatic swords!”) and the inspiration for updating classical weaponry for more modern firepower. I have absolutely no proof of this, though, so it’s entirely possible I’m wrong. It’s just an optional theory.

I think Berlantsky’s right, though, about Azzarello & Co.’s “eagerness to demonstrate the adultness of the adult content” of the New 52 series. But, I think he sadly does not appreciate Azzarello’s take on Greek Mythology:

“each [god/character] is rolled out to demonstrate their cool-as-shit, bad-ass powers and complicated dynastic motivations. Everybody – Hades, Wonder Woman, everyone – bargains and schemes and betrays and manipulates everyone else. It’s a god-eat-god world out there – and one built, in every way, on blood”

This is, actually, a pretty faithful interpretation of Greek mythology. In some ways, then, despite the obvious added masculinity, Azzarello has returned Diana’s story and that of her supporting cast to a point closer to the source material? True, this defeats the intended “purpose” (for want of a better word) of the original series, but it is nevertheless an interesting story. Comics writers are frequently criticized for trying new things with characters (often, it is met with Screaming Denunciation from long-time-fans, and bemused incredulity from newer readers).

Berlantsky’s article has an interesting omission, though, which I think supports his point even better than Diana taking up twinned fire-arms. One could argue that there is even more “blood-curdling masculinity” in the way Azzarello changes Diana’s classic weapon. Berlantsky says the guns are more attractive to the “(much smaller) audience of (mostly) men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s” than Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. (I always thought it was a whip, but that could just say something about me…) In this book, Hephaestus gives Diana a different whip (definitely a whip this time), which can cause some pretty nasty, fiery damage/pain/destruction. Surely it is the bastardisation of her traditional weapon (“tool”? “Accessory”?), the one that set her apart as the hero who settles conflict non-violently, that is more indicative of the shift Berlantsky wants to highlight?

Ultimately, the article finishes on a note I agree with: the justification of (using Berlantsky’s terminology) “blood-curdling masculinity” as a short-hand for “maturity and realism”. Or, in fantasy community terminology, short-hand for “grimdark”!

“But making Wonder Woman more violent doesn’t make her more mature or more real. It just makes her more conventional.”

Not mentioned in Berlatsky’s article is a Marston quotation, also from The American Scholar, his reaction after an attempt to submit Wonder Woman to a comics publisher:

“A male hero, at best, lacks the qualities of maternal love and tenderness which are as essential to a normal child as the breath of life. Suppose your child’s ideal becomes a superman who uses his extraordinary power to help the weak. The most important ingredient in the human happiness recipe still is missing – love. It’s smart to be strong. It’s big to be generous. But it’s sissified, according to exclusively masculine rules, to be tender, loving, affectionate, and alluring.”

WonderWoman-MarstonArticleImage2

A lot of the article is rather dated, but there’s something nice about reading an article by a writer back in the 1940s who was so clearly irritated by male-domination of comic literature. I also rather liked this passage from Marston’s article, with regards to why people read comics:

“Nine humans out of ten react first with their feelings rather than with their minds; the more primitive the emotion stimulated, the stronger the reaction. Comics play a trite but lusty tune on the C natural keys of human nature. They rouse the most primitive, but also the most powerful, reverberations in the noisy cranial sound-box of consciousness, drowning out more subtle symphonies. Comics scorn finesse, thereby incurring the wrath of linguistic adepts. They defy the limits of accepted fact and convention, thus amortizing to apoplexy the ossified arteries of routine thought. But by these very tokens the picture-story fantasy cuts loose the hampering debris of art and artifice and touches the tender spots of universal human desires and aspirations, hidden customarily beneath long accumulated protective coverings of indirection and disguise. Comics speak, without qualm or sophistication, to the innermost ears of the wishful self. The response is like that of a thirsty traveler who suddenly finds water in the desert – he drinks to satiation.”