Trouble with Comics

Christopher Allen Reviews Wonder Woman #603 & 604

Wonder Woman #s 603 & 604

Writer - J. Michael Straczynski

Pencilers - Don Kramer and Eduardo Pansicca

Inker - Jay Leisten

Publisher - DC Comics

Whatever new phrase has replaced “hot mess,” well, this series is it. Although, I guess something has to be more compelling to follow to be a true hot mess, right? These two issues continue JMS’ first WW arc, “Odyssey,” where Diana has been rebooted as a sassy, jegging-clad Amazonian chosen one, on a journey to find purpose. JMS mixes the expected Greek-based mythology here, including a quick trip through Hades, with a kind of non-Hebrew desert exodus for the Amazonians. They’re on the run from some army who conveniently can’t seem to use their vehicles to track down a bunch of women walking on foot through a desert. It may have been explained who these guys are in a previous issue, but a month or two later and I’ve forgotten.

Diana is injured by harpies called Keres, who steal her soul, and this plunges her in Hades, where the ferryman Charon explains that with his master Hades gone, he just doesn’t have the heart to ferry all the lost souls over the River Styx to get their punishment. It’s an odd scene that doesn’t seem to have much of a point, and has the effect of making this version of Hell really silly. Adding to that is that Diana has to cross over and pass Cerberus to get back to her world (I guess she grabbed her soul back at some point?), and this potentially dramatic moment is utterly ruined by confusing storytelling. The three-headed dog creature looks fierce, then sniffs at her, and goes to sleep, or dies, or just gets reallly relaxed. I’m not sure what JMS wanted to convey here—Diana smells really good? She’s so pure of heart that it knocks Cerberus out, as he’s used to smelling only corrupt souls? Dunno.

#604 is maybe a little worse, as it spends a lot of time on a burned up, supernaturally powered adversary who apparently killed Diana’s mother and took her lasso of truth. Diana patiently waits several pages for his origin story, then yells at him that she couldn’t care less about his origin, and they fight. She’s about to kill him but the spirit of her mother steps in to do the job, cautioning Diana that she cannot kill because she must be the spirit of hope to her people. 

Straczynski seems uneasy with the stiffness of speech normally associated with mythological beings and noble foreigners, so whenever he can he defaults to the stammering and sarcasm more typical of middle class Americans 45 and under. It’s not a bad idea for Diana, who can use any trick in the book to try to make her more accessible to readers, but the smugness is tiresome on the villains as it’s been so overdone. He also laces each issue with some doozies that apparently no editor can question, like the Keres sneering at Diana for not knowing “the language of trees” (there were no trees nearby and the Keres seemed to have no visible association with trees, nor were trees ever mentioned again), and the double negative of, “…for this did not begin, nor will it not end, with his death.” So it will end with his death? No?

The silliness would go over a lot easier with artists who were more than teeth-grindingly mediocre. Neither Kramer nor Pansicca can keep a consistent face on Diana, nor are they able to draw action scenes with any verve or imagination. The best that can be said of them is that it’s a rare case where two pencilers on one book isn’t that jarring, but that’s only because they’re both similarly poor. 

About the only thing JMS has gotten right is presenting a Diana who is strong-willed and capable but still finding herself. The idea of her going on his journey and picking up her necessary tools (shield, lasso, discovering she can fly) is fine, and really, unavoidable, but so far there amid all the tough talk and posing there has been no attempt to give her any interesting supporting characters, nor much exploration of how she feels to be going through these changes, to suddenly be the savior for a race of people she hardly knows. Instead we’re getting tepid rewrites of Greek myths and unmemorable enemies. It’s not working.

—Christopher Allen