Sunday, June 4, 2017

Tie-ins, Part XXV and Title Bout, Part I: Wonder Woman #101 and FCBD Wonder Woman #1

Some random Wonder Woman books, Part 11
We let Byrne and Rucka fight it out

May the best (Wonder) Woman win!

Here's a new concept: take two books with the same or very similar titles, review both, and then declare a winner. Books from any publisher or even the same publisher but with subtle differences (like they are from different years or volume numbers) are eligible. Heck, the books themselves can be completely different in genre, characters and content. Doesn't matter.

Here we have two issues that essentially reboot the Wonder Woman franchise from two top-tier writers and artists. John Byrne took over after the Artemis wonder woman storyline concluded hoping his usual style of story would revitalize the book. Greg Rucka has been given the reigns of the current DC Universe Rebirth character meaning he can remake her as he sees fit. Let's see which book tops the other with it comes to dealing with the Amazon warrior princess.

"Second Genesis"
Writer Artist – John Byrne
Colors – Patricia Mulvihill
Assistant Editor – Jason Hernandez-Rosenblatt
Editor – Paul Kupperberg
September 1995

As an avowed John Byrne fanboy, you know it takes a lot for me to dislike a Byrne book. Let's get that out of the way right from the start. And look at this: John Byrne doing Wonder Woman. So it should be a shoe in for my favorite of the two, right? We'll see.

Byrne took over the book in September of 1995 and held on to the title until sometime in 1998, clocking in for around 35 issue and two annuals. While I generally like Byrne's work on any comic he works on there is something…amiss in his Wonder Woman debut.

And that thing is Wonder Woman herself.

Oh, certainly the image of the character is depicted in the comic. However I find that person to be even less Wonder Woman than the Artemis imposter who populated the duds just a few issue ago. Byrne was brought on to take the title in a new direction after Messner-Loeb's departure, but it appears that someone's idea was not to go back to the Perez feel at all.

Instead we get…well, let's take a look?

First off this is page one. And I can't think of a more unexciting way to introduce a new run than a picture of static buildings near the waterfront with an overload of text boxes yammering on and on. There isn't even a character or a shadow or a hint of any action. How…boring.

It isn't until page two and three that we get what we are looking for, a glimpse of Wonder Woman, in new two-star threads (and by that I mean that her cute star-patterned blue shorts are replaced with blue panties with two huge stars on each hip) and a MASSIVE amount of hair. So much that it looks like Marvel's Medusa dressed up as the princess of Themyscira. The new rendering turns me off initially and I don't ever warm to it.

There are worse things than not liking how a character is portrayed visually, however. Wonder Woman finds herself landing between the police forces of fictional Gateway City and a group of heavily armed bank robbers wielding tanks and energy weapons. 

The robbers open fire and Wonder Woman wordlessly blocks bullets…

…and without warning, yanks a tank up…

…before smashing it into another…

…finally speaking after shattering a grunt's energy rifle to give a tiny taunt.

And it is then that it hits me. This is Byrne writing Superman. It has that feeling of his man of steel stuff. Without giving Wonder Woman a speaking part she's just a generic strongman character. More importantly, because he doesn't allow her to talk, there is no "loving compassion" in Byrne's version of Diana. One of her most compelling powers has always been that shooting at her is like firing down upon your own mother in some way. That her speech soothes criminal's hearts and can find peaceful solutions to conflicts.

Where is the Wonder Woman who offered wise counsel to Osira or understanding to Khyrana or sought a peaceful forgiveness from Pele?

All those other writers "got" Wonder Woman. But in this issue, Byrne is showing that all he gets is a power set. Diana calls the criminals "punks" before plucking one up and flying off with him.

This is Byrne's Wonder Woman. She is "Superman" with arm bands that block bullets and…

…a magic lasso of truth that you can use to force someone to answer questions. At no time does she reach out with any degree of empathy on a human level with these admittedly felonious criminals, which might seem silly, but not for the character she has been. The Diana we've seen would get info from them without resorting to threats or magic.

Those first five pages without anything but a scattering of third person text-boxes show that Byrne is trying to wow us with visuals and raw power, neither of which has been what excited us about Diana.

And since Byrne can't get a grip on her, he moves on to the cop we met briefly above, now working undercover at the docks trying to find the source of these super-weapons the criminals have. Even here though, we barely get introduced to the character and Byrne starts a bar brawl.

Which abruptly ends as Diana wades into the fray, looking a bit like an overdressed Laura Croft. 

Her strength causes everyone to scatter, but the bartender gets the drop on her…

…because otherwise we have no reason for the cop to be here. She mentions that she wouldn't be able to block all the shot from shotgun and part of wonders why she needs to. Isn't she invulnerable on the level of Superman?

Either way, they find a hidden super-science vault door behind a wall.

Wonder Woman strips out of her clothes (which is kind of weird, why is she wearing clothes?) and rips it open. 

What they find behind is a high-tech labyrinth of corridors straight out of an Aliens movie. 

Diana puts on her grumpy face.

Then a giant robot attacks in an entire sequence that feels like filler and adds nothing to the storyline in my opinion.

Wonder Woman gets distracted when the cop gets nabbed by two bad guys, which allows the robot to coldcock her across the back of the noggin.

Likewise for the popo, who is then thrown at the feet of…


Yeah, this is a Superman story Byrne recycled. There isn't a hint in this issue of anything Wonder Woman. For the beginning of a "bold, new era" we end up with a tired script that offers very little dialogue and an assumption that we, the audience, won't notice that this isn't Wonder Woman.

"Year One, Part One"
Writer – Greg Rucka
Artist – Nicola Scott
Colors – Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Associate Editor – Rebecca Taylor
Editor – Mark Doyle
May 2017

Rebirth may have done many things right in the DC universe, but one thing they kind of made a bungle of was deciding HOW to tell their Wonder Woman stories. You've got Rucka back, which is a big plus, even though word is that he'll be leaving soon (more on that tomorrow). However the big minus is timing.

I am saying that because I have the first two of the Wonder Woman books from right after Rebirth. Issue 1 is part one of a Wonder Woman/Cheetah story. Issue 2 is part one of Wonder Woman origin story. And issue 3 is part two of the Cheetah story…and so on and so forth. These don't interweave at all as far as I know, there being two separate artist teams working with Rucka on the stories. 

Why so complicated, DC? Why not just let the first few issues be an origin tale?

Maybe because there is so much backstory there to develop? I mean Perez took us back to Paradise Island via flashback and through the annuals quite a bit to establish who Diana was based upon where she had come from. Perhaps Rucka is doing the right thing by giving readers both a modern tale of Wonder Woman and an origin story worth several issues' running time blended together over intervening weeks? Too soon for me to tell, as I only have those two issues.

And I have them twice because Free Comic Book Day reprinted issue 2 as Wonder Woman FCBD special edition issue 1 and June 3's Wonder Woman Day issue 1 was actually a reprint of Wonder Woman issue 1. Nothing says death to excitement like opening the cover of a new book to find it is the same as a book you've already read.

Still, there are worse issues that could be reprinted. Both issues make me wish the DC Rebirth Anthology I picked up at Costco had Wonder Woman issues in it. Unfortunately the convoluted nature of the stories must have scared them into using Superman, Flash, and Batman (ugh).

So let's amble on into Rucka's retelling of Diana's origin, a natural jumping on point. 

We begin unconventionally. Not with Diana, as expected, but with Steve Trevor. It appears that this itineration of Wonder Woman will eschew Perez's formula of making Diana and Steven friends. Instead we see almost immediately a link between them in a much deeper fashion that Rucka appears might allow to become something akin to romance.
The symbolism becomes apparent only when you view the two stories side-by-side and see that as Steve is doing one thing, such as looking to the stars for guidance, Diana is doing the same. Looking out to where she wants to be.

Even while that story is developing, we glimpse Diana's interpersonal relationships to some of her fellow Amazons and…

…her mother, the Queen. Rucka gives us a Diana that is beloved and cherished, something that has been a foundation of the character since Perez held the reins.

Flipping back to Steve we find a like bond between him and his fellow solider-buddy. Again this is all showing us the parallels between these two characters and how this will create a connection when they finally meet.

And to further this similarity in visual metaphor, we end up back with Diana who is practicing archery.

Which leads to a montage of single panel scenes showing that even though the two are well-loved by their peers, they are still very much alone in their worlds. It ends with Steve staring off into the far distance thinking…

…and Diana doing the same. The visuals speaking volumes of each of them looking for something more. 

For Diana that searching means a horse ride where she encounters a mysterious tree. The tree is either barren or dead, although which can't be determined. When she goes to touch it, Diana finds it is home to a venomous snake that bites her on the wrist. I love this. Again we have visual metaphor that I am certain Rucka is using to symbolize man's world being much less the paradise she is seeking, yet still she longs to touch it, even as it proves dangerous and perhaps even deadly.

She is found by her fellow Amazons and rescued before the poison goes too far.

Meanwhile we turn to Steve in the hospital with Nick (yay! Give that man a name, Rucka. I'm afraid he's going to get offed if you don't hang a handle on him.), his wife Maya and their new baby daughter. Steve is asked to be her Godfather.

And then we are back with Diana, who is recently recovered from her snakebite. She visits the temple of the gods and thanks them in prayer. The Amazon priestess Castalia finds her there and distributes this bit of wisdom:

Followed by this, Castilia unveils the gift given to the Amazons by Harmonia and Ares(so, not the bad guy here), which turns out to be the lasso of truth.

That bit of foreshadowing sits for a minute as we follow Steve and Nick in flight for mission. Nick puts his ring away so it doesn't get lost or snagged and we have a feel that is an ominous action.

Next we see the Amazons stargazing again, however this time there is a very deadly distraction.

As they race to the shore we see the results of the crash. This of course is the airplane carrying Steve's troop...

…and the now deceased Nick. That hand of course…

..belongs to an injured Steve, who begs at Diana's feet with what might be his final breath for the Amazons to help "us." And that "us" is clearly a call for them to re-enter the human struggle. This is where we fade out of part one, with that will-they/won't-they question still lingering.

So, who takes top billing here?

Winner: Wonder Woman FCBD Rebirth #1
It barely gets us started, but Rucka hits all the right notes in his retelling of Diana's and Steve's original meeting. It teases where it needs to and makes proper foreshadowing of events to come. Wonder Woman feels like herself, a powerful feminine archetype who doesn't need shows of strength as much as she requires the sisterhood of her fellow Amazons to display her character. Byrne instead deals only with her as a set of powers, having no clear direction for her as a personality. Why does she come to the bar in disguise? Why use Darkseid as his first villain? Why retread ground he used with his Superman arcs? It feels like Byrne wasn't at his best with these or just didn't really want to write THIS character. Rucka gets Diana though. Sad that he will leave her so soon after coming onboard, but at least the princess is off to a great start in the current Rebirth universe.

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