Saturday, August 29, 2009

Focusing in on Wonder Woman!

I usually do my crits on the DC Message Boards but this time I wanted to use a few scans, so here we are. Welcome to my blog, visitors!

First of all, we WW fans (mostly) are counting our blessings by having not only Aaron Lopresti but Gail Simone on the book. That's right: we have not only great art but great writing talent on board! Which is why we can start considering more than just the fundamentals of the characters, which usually get screwed up by creative teams.

At the "conclusion" (not really a conclusion, imho, but rather a transition issue labeled as a conclusion) of the last arc, I commented that things had fallen apart. Focus had been lost.

I think that's what went wrong for me with this arc, which consisted of a mere two issues, #34 & 35. The focus is not where it should be. It shifts around. It doesn't center on Diana and her immediate needs/problems.

When we left her in ROTO (which sounds like a civic organization), she was banged up, mangled by her new Gail-induced "kryptonite," gods-weaponry.

Gail has been making a point in all her stories (that immediately come to mind), to make sure Diana is good and beated up. Here she's even had to have had Phillie tape her hands to her lasso and axe because her body is so broken. (Yet still Diana--not a god--manages to "kill" a god, Ares.)

We begin our new arc one DAY later. Here's Diana.

Nary a scratch on her. Heck, her armor's all repaired! And even though she RENOUNCED her Amazon heritage, all status, etc. last ish, here she is. Everything she's wearing, everything she's toting along, proclaims her Amazon heritage. She wears the costume of Amazon champion, the tiara of Amazon princess/ambassador, bracelets of an Amazon, lasso of the Amazon champion, etc.

Previously when Diana had to give up being Wondie (but not an Amazon), she went into Biker Chick mode. She still managed some spangles, but she had to give up her outfit and the lasso to Artemis.

We get a cutesy polar bear scene and I was too busy fretting about Diana making the bears feel as if they could approach humans (so dangerous for both parties!) and for her not making sure that these guys were safe from famine and global warming which is so much in the news related to polar bears, etc., that I was brought out of the story. Plus, in the past ish many had pointed out that Diana had left her pursuit of Genocide, who was actively and massively massacring folks, to visit her friend Etta in the hospital. Now that Diana had a few moments I wondered why she was palling around with bearsies instead of checking up on Etta or her sister, both of whom had been in dire straits the last she saw of them.

Diana is a Bad Friend.

Diana returns to her apartment and the Gorilla Knights (whom I really like but yes, I wish their sense of smell would amp down. "You smell tribeless," Tolifhar tells Diana. Next he'll tell her that she smells like she has mother issues. This bit has been used too many times for increasingly less plausible conditions.) When Diana is in her shower (why can't she spare three minutes for it if she's already wet?) she says something that stunned me. Tolifhar reports that Tom has been by, and that he smelled different (ugh).

Diana: Well, he lost a lot of friends at the D.M.A. massacre.

He lost HIS friends. They were Diana's friends as well. They were her co-workers, her acquaintances, the people she had assigned to be under her command on her own squad. And she has the temerity not to mention this?

Diana comes across as inhuman.

But Diana speeds to Tom and finds T.O. Morrow there. Our mission for the arc is spelled out:

Makes perfect sense. Go to Japan because GENOCIDE is there. Genny may be hurt badly, but Dr. Psycho is there as well and will "repair" her. Genocide, recall, is capable of massacres and twisting people's souls inside-out. She has a VERY unlikely (and imho quite regrettable) origin that involves being a future corpse of Diana at her base, so that alone should make her the very focused TARGET of Diana's plans.

But this is the last we'll hear of Genny in this arc. Forget it/her. Everyone else does.

I should be going through this in order and balancing the good with the not-so-good, but let's stay with this. We've got the basis of our plot: go to Japan, get Psycho and through him, grab & dispose of Genny. Diana gets the aid of Black (Dinah) Canary and they Invisible Jet off to Japan, where they don disguises and join a crime arena of death that they think is run by Psycho. Good enough.

But once they're there they don't do anything (besides beat up some bad guys that have nothing to do with the plot). In fact, taking a break from it all...

No, Diana. You shouldn't be preparing for the fight. You should be investigating where the heck Psycho is, and where he's got Genny. That's the REASON YOU'RE HERE!!!

But leave it to Black Canary to tell us the real plot of the arc:

WHOA! The story has suddenly changed! Pardon me while I pick myself up. Now, if we'd just have had this presented at the BEGINNING of the story: that AFTER Diana had checked on her friends and colleagues and sister, she set out to rescue Sarge Steel and tracked him (through Morrow) to Japan... THAT I could have lived with. That would have set Diana up as a Good Friend who cares about folks. That would have kept us on target, pretty much. But it's after the fact now, halfway into the story that someone somewhere slapped their forehead and realized they were leading the story along the wrong path.

SO: the mission NOW is to save Sarge from Psycho's taking over his brain. K. Diana comes across Steel in Psycho's body and uses her lasso (even though it's dangerously out of kilter from its encounter with Genny) (even though her doing so might completely compromise their mission of catching Psycho) to make Steel remember his true self.

Finally after a battle supreme in the arena, Diana, BC and Steel confront Psycho in Steel's body:

This is what the entire story's been leading up to, at least the A plotline. And...? And that's where it ends. We don't see anything more. We don't see the battle that should have happened. We don't see the outcome. We don't get the catharsis from seeing Steel back in his own body, thanking his rescuers.

It falls flat. Not only has the story changed its target along the way, but once it's hit it--or about to--it stops and switches directions to Plots B-Z.

Another target that it missed was that Diana is supposed to be the star of her own book. I realize that Black Canary is a favorite of Gail's and she wrote her for years and BC is currently being badly misused in the rest of the DCU, but this is Diana's book. Diana shouldn't come across as a newbie who has to rely on BC to do and know everything.

It was odd to have BC talking like Lady Blackhawk (another Bird of Prey) in the first issue, then settle down in the second. Gail was trying to use this to humorous effect, but we weren't shown Diana's reaction to the dialogue pattern. Why couldn't Diana have cracked a smile? Would we have gotten close enough to see? Even in the panels where Diana is supposed to have a moment to mourn the absence of her Amazon sisters, the camera stays what seems 20 feet away from her instead of settling in for some good body language time. Is this the script not allowing the artist to come to the forefront? The artist not being able to portray body language? A combo of both?

We're missing Diana acting as a HUMAN. She should have human feelings. She shouldn't always be in her own head analyzing things as if she were a computer. Diana is the most human hero of them all!

And she's even more human when she's not in her Wonder duds. That is, if you all recall Circe putting a spell on Diana so that when she's not Wonder Woman she doesn't have WW powers. It was a stupid spell, but GS has utilized it (to unlikely degree with Capt. Nazi). Why then, when Diana is dressed up as one of the "Orphan Sisters" and not as WW, is she still in full possession of her powers?

And how does Black Canary manage to take down an entire squad of fairly powerful super-villains by herself? Implausible. Oh, I MIGHT see her being able to do such in her own book. Maybe. Perhaps. Okay, not likely. But in Diana's book? NEVER!

And why is Black Canary channeling Etta Candy? The WW book already has an Etta. It doesn't need another. Black Canary is also most distressingly channeling Diana. She is "someone who has a glimmer of understanding. Who wants nothing. Who demands nothing. Who is happy just to help... Maybe hers is the wisest counsel of all." and "That's Dinah. Always finding the kindest possible interpretation for people's actions. It's hard not to love her."

No, that's not Dinah. That's DIANA.

Because Dinah's the star of this show we get to see her all bubbly and efficient. Why does Diana always have to be the gloomy gus? Why can't she be the joyful creature she was created as?

Why, Diana even TAKES THE RAP for Zeus being a murdering jerk. WHY? WHY??? Zeus and Kane were both grown ups. They were GODS. Powerful gods. Gods who'd operated for millennia.

But Diana feels she has to be responsible for their actions?

It all reminds me of "The Philadelphia Story," which would be hands-down the greatest movie ever made except for one thing: In it, Katharine Hepburn's character's father is an alcoholic philanderer who blames his state/actions on her for being an unloving daughter. (It never occurs to him that she might have distanced herself from him BECAUSE he was an alcoholic philanderer.) AND SHE FINALLY ADMITS IT. It's all her fault. He bears none of the blame. Sickening!

And here is Diana. Of course, if all this bothers her, why isn't she bothered by the host, the veritable MOUNTAIN of sins she's piled up over the years, of bad people and acts that somehow can be traced back to her being in the world?

Ridiculous. Diana is an idiot.

This is why I didn't particularly like this arc. Diana is portrayed as inhuman (lacking in feelings), a bad friend, and an idiot. Oh, but she's a good fighter. And she can switch her allegiances at the drop of a spangled hat.

On the other hand, Black Canary is a person of humor, who helps her friends diligently, and who has style, cunning and panache. Yet this is Diana's book.

Yet for all this the story did give us a lot of good stuff. The art was quite good (ho hum, as usual), though I'd like to see Aaron work on his body language (and grab some time in the script to display any skills in such). T.O. Morrow got a little depth to him. Gail has been working on the guy so he seems a good addition to the Wonder cast if she should choose to make him such. Canary as Diana's friend is long overdue. They've been in the JLA together for how long? We should see them together often--but the Canary should not be a clone of Etta Candy or vice versa. And keep a place by Diana's side for Donna!

Canary's closet was a hoot. (The Betsy Ross mention unfortunate, unless it was meant as humor from Diana, which should have been played up as such.) The comforts of the Invisible Plane and state of Amazon opera were nice bits. Alky as Achilles' wife--what a great situation! BC's handling of Muck was interesting.

The awful "Happy Magic Fun Sword Girl" thing was a hilarious send-up of that line. Did the book get any $$ for such prominent product placement? It should have. The initial "second-best boobs" line was a classic, but perhaps the followup was a beat too far. Didn't get BC's "salaryman" allusion. Wonder what Diana's promised Pele. Wonder why Diana keeps agreeing with everyone when they tell her that Zeus was her patron. He wasn't. Ever. And why would she have paid him any allegiance if she thought he was a "hosebag"?

Most of fannish attention, it seems, has been focused on Diana's final confrontation with Tom and her offer of showering with him (they've only had one kiss!). Well, I didn't find her statement in context that bad, clearly something to break the very thick ice, but I find the entire Tom relationship uncomfortable, and Gail's stint on the book has just seemed to exacerbate it all, and not in a good, focused, logical (relating to plot, not life) manner.

What most of this boils down to (and don't you wish I'd gotten to the point about fifty paragraphs ago!) is that I'd like to see Gail FOCUS more. I know she likes her subplots, her dangling plots, her hints and whiffs of things to come. That's fabulous.

But they should be kept under control. Every story arc should tie up more than just one thread. Every story arc should have a beginning and end to it. When a story's plotline is laid out at the beginning, it should be adhered to and not suddenly changed without explanation.

I understand how deep an author gets into their stories. That's why an author needs an editor. So: Yo, editor! Ms. Gehrlein! Please keep track of Gail's threads. Please keep her on target. She's the best writer DC has, and if she can just keep her focus we'll see AMAZING, knock-our-spangled-socks-off stories in the Wondie book!

(NOW maybe this blog will get some comments!) (Which reminds me: buy my book! I'm off the DC MBs so I can tout it. It'll be on Amazon in a few weeks. Buy now! Buy!)


Unknown said...

Thanks for this review, Carol. I agree with everything you've laid out here.

The myth that Diana is inhuman, which began in the 2nd series and was perpetuated by, I believe, Geoff Johns and the fans who never even read the title, has been present for too long. The Diana that's been present since the beginning of the 3rd series, who I find increasingly unlikeable, is the one that's been portrayed more "inhumanly" than ever before...with no end in sight! Her violent, warrior aspects have been stressed so much that her human aspects have been forgotten except for very brief glimpses. And I won't even get started on the Amazons.

You said it best: the Dinah of this story was having the thoughts and behaviors that Diana should have. I miss the positive, upbeat, hopeful Diana who's not mired in misery. I hope Gail brings her back soon.

I respect Gail's writing so much - Secret Six is my favorite book out there right now - but Wonder Woman has been falling flat to me since the conclusion of The Circle.

It's Diana, so no matter how much I hate what's going on, I'll stick around. But the more stories I read about this 3rd series incarnation, the less I like the character. She's nowhere near the Wonder Woman that had a tremendous impact on me.

I'm really grateful for the Wonder Woman in Wednesday Comics right now.

Martin Gray said...

Excellent post, Carol. I agree that there are so many other things that Diana should be doing rather than talking to polar bears, but darn it, thye’re cute, and I’m only human.

I do agree that this book needs stronger editing. I’m not calling for the head of the current editor, but next time the reins gets handed over I’d like to see the book go to an old hand. Joey Cavalieri, say, whose books are usually pretty tight. Or better still, longtime Wonder Woman writer Gerry Conway, currently working with DC on the superb Last Days of Animal Man mini. He’s edited books in the past, and has spent his years away from Wondy in TV and cinema (notably on the Law & Order franchise). He’s a chap who understands , narrative, beats, structure and the like. I’m sure he could work with Gail to make the comic a cracker.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Gail's got so many good ideas for expanding and strengthening the character within today's market, that I feel it's a real shame someone isn't there letting her hit the target every time.

Just got through reading "Save the Cat," and discovered a few more reasons why this story in particular missed for me.

It forgot about its villain. We should have been seeing the threat Psycho posed, especially concerning Steel (who became the reason why everyone went to Japan), and we never saw what Diana thought of/felt about Steel being controlled by Psycho. It was a very distant thing. If we'd been brought in closer, if we'd seen Diana's anger at someone--her colleague!--having their will and very body stolen from them, if we'd seen her absolute determination to stop Psycho from doing this, and from ever doing it again... I think it would have been so much stronger. (And would have reinforced our good feelings about and admiration for Diana.)

Martin Gray said...

Yup, and what happened to the search for Genocide?

I suspect Diana's not a listmaker.

1) Find Genocide
2) Check friends aren't dead.
3) Sort things out with Tom
4) Throw men men off PI
5) Blunt tiara at bottom

Hmm, I feel a thread coming on. Diaan's To Do List . . .