Trouble with Comics

Daily Breakdowns 094 - They Got Mixed Up

Wonder Woman #600

Writers - Gail Simone, J. Michael Straczynski, Amanda Conner, Louise Simonson, Geoff Johns

Artists - George Perez, Don Kramer, Amanda Conner, Eduardo Pansica

Publisher - DC Comics

I’ve sampled Wonder Woman precious few times in my 30+ years of comics reading, and often not “representative” runs. I mean, I’ve never read George Perez’ or Greg Rucka’s runs, but I’ve read John Byrne’s and the Denny O’Neil/Mike Sekowsky “mod” period. I’m no Wonder Woman expert, nor am I beholden to a specific characterization or focus for the character. Emphasize her mythological roots and Paradise Island conflicts, or go single woman alone in the city, whatever. Just give me a good story.

Gail Simone gets to conclude her run with a short story that finds Wonder Woman leading a huge group of female superheroes into battle. They talk about her, as a way for Simone to establish Diana’s status as the most esteemed herone in the DCU. Then, Diana cuts things short in order to attend the graduation of Cassandra, a young woman I seem to recall from Byrne’s run, who was turned into a winged creature as well as feeling abandoned by Diana (probably because successive writers didn’t want to deal with Diana as surrogate mother). George Perez pencils it, and it’s nice, though inker Scott Koblish mutes some of the more recognizable aspects of Perez’ style. I guess I should give the story a pass as it seems to be a sincere attempt to wrap up some old continuity with emotion. Still, there’s not much going on in the story. I was also a bit confused to see some unfamiliar characters like “Miss Martian.” Is there a female version of every DC male?

Amanda Conner’s team-up with Diana and Power Girl is cute, and closer to what a Wonder Woman book targeted for girl readers should be, although Conner leans hard on a joke about Egg Fu (now called Chang Tsu) looking like a “manga monster.” I suppose even if she wanted to, DC wouldn’t let her use the word, “hentai,” but that’s really the origin of the joke. 

Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica follow with an inoffensive team-up with Superman, and then Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins offer what appears to be an attempt to provide a bridge between the past run and Straczynski’s new take on the character: more urban, confused, on the run, and wearing a controversial new costume. I’m curious why Straczynski didn’t write the bridging story himself, but then, it actually serves to undercut the shock of his changes by giving the impression Diana just ended up down a continuity rabbit hole and things might get back to normal really soon.

Straczynski’s story itself is intriguing enough, but it would be hard not to be when you take a handful of pages to show that a 70 year old character’s whole history has now changed. The proof of the pudding will be whether readers like what Straczynski choose to replace that history. Although Don Kramer’s art is resolutely DC house style—bland faces, thin lines, overrendered—there’s nothing really wrong with it. I’m more concerned with Straczynski and his need to make a splash—was “Couture Shock” the best title anyone could come up with? It puts too much emphasis on the costume change than the events of the story, and believe me, you don’t want readers thinking about that garish, busy, uniconic costume any more than necessary. 

The rest of the issue is padded out with a background feature on the costume design, a pleasant Introduction by Lynda Carter, from the late ’70s Wonder Woman TV show, and lots of pinups of Diana in her classic costume. Some nice work there, though in between Adam Hughes, Perez and the like it would have been nice to see some less typical artists chosen.

Captain America: The 1940s Newspaper Strips #1 (of 3)

Writer/Artist - Karl Kesel

Publisher - Marvel Comics

This doesn’t work for me at all. The premise for a faux, old-time Cap strip with simple, patriotic wartime tales is fine, but simple shouldn’t be so boring. Rather than Cap and Bucky in intriguing, globe-spanning adventures a la Terry and the Pirates, Kesel seems to think readers want to see more of Private Steve Rogers peeling potatoes at Camp Lehigh instead of taking out Nazis. It doesn’t even look like ’40s strip work in any way, from the un-newspaperlike “two on two” panel layouts for the “dailies” (the “Sunday” strip is a full comics page, to the sophisticated coloring, to the contemporary, if lighthearted, drawing style. Thankfully, unlike real newspaper adventure strips, Kesel doesn’t waste one of those four precious panels on a recap of what happened the day earlier, but even with covering more storytelling ground than the average ’40s serial would in the same length of time, it really misses the mark.

Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark

Writer/Artists - Jason Howard & Ryan Ottley

Publisher - Image Comics

When creative people get together, especially during conventions, fun ideas often happen. It’s just that once everyone gets back to their normal, paying work, sometimes those fun ideas never come to fruition, or sometimes they do and the results just don’t live up to that can’t-miss premise.

It’s amusing that Robert Kirkman, Howard’s and Ottley’s writer on The Astounding Wolfman and Invincible, respectively, offers to write the explanation behind the switcheroos for these two animals, Kirkman does best finding fresh takes on well-worn genres like superheroes and zombies, rather than coming up with killer premises himself, and in fact the origin in his Introduction is labored and unnecessary.

Howard’s “Sea Bear” is the better of the two efforts here. Though rough, his artwork is sturdier, and the mix of revenge story with secret society story works pretty well, although he tends to try to overcome any problems with the story by turning the volume up with lots of gratuitous gore. He draws it very well, but I would have preferred if he trusted in his weird ideas and fleshed them out a bit more.

Ottley’s “Grizzly Shark” is played even more for laughs, and while that makes the more cartoonish style he uses here more appropriate than what he uses in Invincible, I didn’t care for how it looked. I didn’t find it funny, either. It would have been better at about half the size, and maybe in comic strip form. In fact, while the book is harmless enough, at $4.99 it’s a bit expensive for 48 pages of black-and-white self-indulgence. 

Bart Simpson #54

Writers/Artists - Peter Kuper, Carol Lay, Evan Dorkin, Sergio Aragones

Publisher - Bongo Comics

This issue features a talented group of professional cartoonists being, well…professional. The creators here mold their typical concerns into stories suitable for the world of The Simpsons and hopefully get a couple laughs out of them. Kuper (cofounder and coeditor of World War 3 Illustrated) explores his fears of our noisy, selfish, consumerist culture in a tale where a firecracker mishap leaves Bart looking like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, with a visual nod to Modern Times. Credit Kuper for bringing a point of view, though it’s out of character for Bart to recoil from this world. I also found Kuper’s cameo gratuitous, but I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if I had the chance.

Evan Dorkin is more on point with his Bart story, probably because Dorkin’s work has always shown he still connects to his nerdy, pop culture obsessed youth. Here, Bart and Milhouse purchase a long-awaited video game only to end up destroying it when they can’t open the packaging. Not top drawer Dorkin, but I wished there was more than just the couple pages.

Aragones manages to just do his thing, a silent one-pager about Maggie’s daydream in a sandbox, and it’s cute, off-model and totally Sergio. And Lay’s story, a prank Bart plays on Lisa at a carnival, is about as gentle and whimsical as Aragones’ but with more pages feels flabbier.

—Christopher Allen