On Robinson’s Wonder Woman

James Robinson is the new Wonder Woman writer and he’s nearly 2 1/2 months in to his run with last week’s issue #34 and #35 out the day before Thanksgiving. Greg Rucka, along with Liam Sharp, Nicola Scott, Bilquis Evely, and others, would be a hard act to follow unless you belong to the group of fans who think Rucka’s run wasn’t stellar. After all, this is Wonder Woman and Diana’s fans often have very exact ideas of how they think she should be portrayed. And yes I include myself in that observation. Four issues may not be much to go on but it gives me an idea and I’ll do a follow up if my thoughts substantially change. Warning! There may also be nit picking! And spoilers too so turn around if you haven’t read these issues!

In this handful of issues I think a tonal shift from a sense of awe and grace created by the previous team to one of ordinariness and a little shock has occurred. Robinson puts Diana in the back seat in issue #31 where she appears for all of six pages so he can introduce readers to Paul, a man who’d make you forget about Henry Cavill if only he were real, and the unassuming life Paul has made for himself in the backwater town of Elexinor, Oregon where he’s well liked by the townspeople even if they rarely see him. Now it turns out that Paul keeps to himself because of his past and that means he has a secret. A big one in fact and the trouble is that someone knows the secret and her name is Grail. Yes, that Grail — the daughter of Myrina, an Amazon, and Darkseid who was inserted into continuity during DC Nu52 and used by Meredith Finch during her poorly received Wonder Woman run. A singularly motivated and forgettable character who in my opinon and ought to be forgotten but Robinson and DC have plans for her as I suspect she’s appeared in DC’s Metal event that I’m avoiding. Grail confronts Paul whom she knows is really Hercules in disguise. The Easter egg with Hercules wearing the same armor worn in the short lived Hercules Unbound comic of the mid 1970s was nice though it had no Wonder Woman connections at the time. The series logo appearing in his dialog balloon is a flourish that wouldn’t have been considered during Rucka’s run though. Rucka would’ve assumed readers to be astute enough with perhaps just the phrase emboldened. A small detail, yes, but still one that indicates the tonal shift with creative teams. Her plan is simple. She intends to kill as many of Zeus’ children as necessary in order to capture their god essence with a Mother Box and feed it to her recently reborn father Darkseid (see Dark Knights Metal #2) as a way to rapidly age him and return him to his former status. After a six page tussle she accomplishes her goal and that’s that for the demi god. Robinson’s only real reason for including Diana in this issue is to have her meet Blake Hooper, Hercules’ attorney – who makes me think of old WW for Angle Man, who informs Diana of her inheritance. Granted, it moves the story forward but it doesn’t lower my sense that Diana is being treated like a guest star in her own series.

Of course killing characters is one of the tools in a writer’s kit but, say it with me, a writer needs to use it in such a way that readers care. Let’s backtrack for a moment. Robinson killed a character to great effect in the second issue of Starman by upending reader expectations with the very unexpected death of David Knight as he took on the legacy of his father Ted, the Golden Age Starman. I remember how shocked I was by this and then intrigued and drawn over the next few months because Robinson was telling a story fresh to comics. You may remember Robinson’s Justice League Cry For Justice mini series from about a decade ago. That’s the comic in which Robinson killed not one (Tony, the boyfriend of Mikaal Tomas, AKA the blue Starman), not two (Blue Jay), but three (Tasmanian Devil)! The latter whose off panel death was so gruesome that Robinson devised a way to undo it after a very vocal outcry by fans. Reimagined versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman tragically died fighting against Darkseid’s hordes in the first several issues of the Earth-2 series. While Robinson thoughtfully made his version of Alan Scott gay as a way to make up for Scott’s gay adult son (Todd Rice, aka Obsidian) being wiped out of continuity with the line wide Nu52 relaunch, he also killed Scott’s boyfriend Sam in a train wreck. I was somewhat shocked by the deaths of the E2 Trinity, but that feeling was eclipsed by anger and disappointment at Alan’s boyfriend’s abrupt death because it recalled the deaths of the gay characters in Cry For Justice. Of course once can make the argument that LGBT characters shouldn’t be off limits when it comes to tragedy (though I don’t think we’re quite there yet with a level playing field), but those particular deaths seemed senseless in terms of plot. Robinson’s soon left Earth 2 to write for Marvel because of editorial interference and it occurs to me the deaths may have been mandated by his editor. I don’t know if Robinson killed characters in his Marvel stories because none of those series, or his work at other companies, interested me though I’ve read only good comments of his Scarlet Witch and mostly unfavorable ones regarding his Airboy.

Edit – Lifelong Marvel reader and Gay League contributor Mike McDermott brought me up to date with Robinson’s work at Marvel. Robinson killed off Namor by decapitation in the Squadron Supreme series and had Namor’s head kicked like a football by another character. He also destroyed Atlantis. Robinson had plans all along to return Namor to the living and was surprised by fan feedback. Robinson also revived from the dead Dr Druid in Squadron Supreme and Agatha Harkness in Scarlet Witch. During Robinson’s time on Fantastic Four he brought back into the picture former supporting characters Wyatt Wingfoot and Sharon Ventura and bringing back Darla Deering and the kids from theFuture Foundation. Additionally he revamped the Golden Age Human Torch (Jim Hammond) and sidekick Toro for contemporary audiences while also creating several descendants of Golden Age heroes. (Thanks, Mike!)

Diana certainly occupies more of the story here in issue #32 than the previous one. However, her importance seems diminished. Granted, in the single and bried action scene Robinson has Diana battling parademons attacking Paris but she’s hardly alone. Steve and a quartet of special ops soldiers, including an updated version of Charlie the sniper from the movie, are there to help her. The use of parademons is only tangential to the plot and seems to be more evidence in my opinion that Darkseid and Apokolips are being shoehorned into Wonder Woman. For much of this issue Diana is simply passive and defers to men from ARGUS’ Dr Peril to Blake Hooper.

In another scene Diana and Hooper arrive at Hercules’ Oregon cabin where she is given a letter written by Hercules to read. The letter serves as confession for not ever contacting her despite following her adventures. It was shame over and penance for his past deeds that led him to a life of solitude. The allusion to past misdeeds leads me to think it’s a reference to Hercules’ rape of Hippolyta that was an integral part of the Amazonian history. Now the few answers I got from asking whether or not this deplorable act is intact in current continuity proved inconclusive. Some said yes or maybe but with qualifiers and others said no. I would hope not since the idea of Hercules raping the woman who would bear Diana, his future sibling, doubly problematic. This leads to another point. Bryan Hitch’s cover art is full of references to several of Hercules’ Twelve Labors from the Apples of Hesperides and the capture of Cerberus to, of all things, Diana wearing the Nemean Lionskin. Her body is frozen and her face expressionless, like a mannequin, as if her conscious mind has been subsumed by Hercules in some manner. Where is the joy, the compassion, the determination or sadness? At the least she is excited that Hercules’ information has led Diana to finding her twin brother Jason because, dear god, that plot thread couldn’t be left forgotten. Now I’m aware that some gay fans of Wonder Woman really love the idea of a (young) male having a connection to Diana but don’t count me in that camp. I’m of the firm belief that it shouldn’t be. Jason dilutes Diana.

Oh, yes! Diana, accompanied by Blake Hooper, Esq. is off to find her brother Jason! But first Robinson has to fill us in about Grail with the entirety of issue #33. Wonder Woman appears in one — pardon me — two panels and even then it’s on television. For some reason the killing spree of Grail and Young Darkseid were more important than writing about the title character. This usage of Diana reminds me of the story arc in which Diana was made to test herself under the watchful eyes of the Justice League after her powers were restored as a means of resetting the character from the Mod Diana phase. I liked the stories at the time they were published but my opinion changed years later. At least now readers know there is another layer however thin to Grail with the revelation that she harbors some measure of discontent for her father’s demands though in far less amounts than her awe and obeisance.

Also, does anyone else think the New Gods work best when featured within a self contained framework without interaction with other DC properties?

Which brings me to the last of these four issues to date. Here Diana meets Jason who’d been smuggled from Themyscira late in the night by Philippus and Althea and given to Glaucus, one of the Argonauts from legend and an immortal turned non descript fishermen to raise. Jason has a strapping physique and has powers also, thanks to Zeus as he shows Diana as they try to get to know one another. Initially Jason seems a likeable character until Robinson reveals that Grail has appealed to Jason’s base emotions of resentment and anger toward Hippolyta and the Amazons and won him over to her plan. Yes, dear reader, it’s the over used evil twin trope! And the cliffhanger has them looming over a nearly defeated Diana. She’ll come through of course, but before then part or all of the next issue is devoted to Jason’s story – a story I’m willing to bet won’t resonate on any level with me.

Reading these issues to date another matter caught my attention. Robinson writes Diana with a different voice. Rucka’s dialog for Diana has a distinct pattern that comes across as more sophisticated or stately without snobbishness. Diana under Robinson speaks much like a typical American. We can assume some amount of time has passed between the Godwatch story and this Children of the Gods so Diana’s speech change coule be attributed to how people’s way of talking can adapt over time when living in an area where a different language is spoken. However, this phenonmenon doesn’t happen to everyone. In any case, the voice Rucka gave Diana was one of the components that established her character and dignity and I miss it.

Till now I’ve focused on Robsinson and I want to talk about the art side. Three artists have worked on these four issues: Carlo Pagulayan, Sergio Davila, and Emmanuela Lupacchino. Like Rucka, Liam Sharp, Nicola Scott, and Bilquis Evely are hard to follow. Pagulayan seems quite happy over on Deathstroke where he’s done top notch work. Lupacchino first came to my attention with some work for Marvel – X-Factor I believe it was. Her work has only gotten better and I’m quite happy she’s a part of the rotating art team here. Davila’s name is familiar to me but for the life of me I can’t remember seeing his art in a comic before. Looking on the Internet shows examples of Davila’s previous assignments mainly from Conan, Red Sonja, Swords of Sorrow, Legenderry, and DC’s Injustice. His style seems quite suitable in the random sampling but in Wonder Woman it feels rather average and Wonder Woman’s face often looks rather plainly drawn. Additionally, his Diana to me seems often shorter and squatter — at least in panels with other figures — than when drawn by other artists. Not that this body type doesn’t or shouldn’t exist for real life and fictional women. Perhaps he was rushed and under pressure from finishing another commitment and I’m judging too harshly. In any case, Davila also likes to draw Wonder Woman’s breasts spilling out of her upper armor as much as he can get away with. I’d hoped this male gaze treatment was behind us after other artists doing this and worse to Wonder Woman off and on for years. A friendly suggestion would be for Davila to study Scott and Evely’s take.

Wonder Woman #35 telling Jason’s story is out this Wednesday and I’m not really excited by the idea of reading it unlike before with Rucka and crew. However, I look forward to Lupacchino’s art. I’ve bought and read Wonder Woman since the early 1970s, admittedly often out of a completist mindset, until Meredith Finch being given the character made me drop the series. It may soon be time for me to do so again.

November 21, 2017
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