Saturday, April 21, 2007

Comics! 52, Wonder Woman, and screwing up!

Well, it was only a matter of time before we here at Stevereads were disappointed by more than one DC comic at a time. The company has lately been on an unprecedented roll, and such things always come to an end, or at least falter and fumble. Such is the case with the latest batch of comics purloined by Elmo from Pepito while he was sleeping.

It's not all bad news, of course. The Judd Winick/Scott McDaniel run on Green Arrow is still unflaggingly fantastic, for instance. Winick is so good at dialogue that the requisite action sequences - though wonderfully rendered, of course - feel positively redundant. Oh, make no mistake, there's a plot going on here - but even so, the prospect of Winick writing the chemistry between Green Arrow and Black Canary, who guest-stars next month, is mouth-watering in and of itself.

Same thing with the latest Green Lantern Corps, written by Dave Gibbons and drawn by Patrick Gleason - this title is as epic as it gets, convincingly so, driven by gigantic cosmic plotlines and delightfully rendered personalities. Gibbons has crafted an enormous plotline that fits the cosmic nature of his title perfectly.

But it's slim pickings elsewhere. The ongoing 'Trials of Shazam' title continues to be incomprehensible; Captain Marvel is the wizard Shazam? Captain Marvel Junior is a newer, skinnier Captain Marvel? No, no, no .... these old Fawcett characters aren't meant for any kind of radical change. And even if you DO subject them to radical change, you have to plan it better than our present writer - none other than the very same Judd Winick - has bothered to do. It CAN be done (just look at the huge improvements made to other Fawcett characters! The renovation of the Question over in '52' has been nothing but sure-footed, and what better improvement to the character of Blue Beetle could be conceived than a bullet through the head?), but it's not being done here.

Likewise the affairs over in Geoff Johns' Teen Titans, where Al Barrionuevo's pencils are so violently incoherent that Johns' writing can't do much more than offer a guided tour through a Kandinsky print.

So too the concluding chapter of Brad Meltzer's first arc on 'Justice League of America,' a decided epilogue of a thing in which we see our team first fully assembled, amidst much conversation, virtually none of stands in character (same goes for the artwork, in which every single person is of the exact same build and height, despite any sensible person's awareness that, of course, Wonder Woman is taller than, say, Green Lantern ... or that Superman is taller than, say, Speedy - now called Red Arrow).

Still, these things are comparatively minor compared to the grave missteps happening elsewhere in the DC lineup.

For instance, the latest '52.' The ball it dropped a couple of issues ago is here spiked, deflated, and ripped to leathery shreds.

The problem is Black Adam, of course. A couple of issue's ago he was captured by the mad scientists on Oolong Island, including the Marvel family arch-villain Dr. Sivana, who's been busy torturing Black Adam ever since. In this issue we see him clamped to a table being electro-shocked while Sivana gathers up his various devices, saying he's 'bored' with torturing Black Adam.

Sivana is exercising the better part of valor, because Oolong Island is being taken by the Justice Society. Just as he's leaving, he's snatched into the air by Atom-Smasher (or whatever he's called this week), who forces him to divulge Black Adam's location.

Which might not seem like a problem, but oh! It is! Not only is it completely illogical that Atom-Smasher wouldn't, you know, HOLD ON to Sivana one he caught him. No, the real problem runs much deeper: nothing should have happened to Black Adam in the first place.

DC has a limited roster of class-A powerhouses, after all. There are all sorts of characters in the upper echelon - Power Girl, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior, Grace over in Outsiders, Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, etc. But the class-A's have always been fairly limited; these are the characters whose sheer amount of physical power obliges the writer to re-work the normal storylines. Normal storylines like 'character gets captured by bad guys and has to be rescued by his friend.'

The list isn't long. Superman sits at the top of it, of course. Wonder Woman (when she's portrayed well, which we'll get to - hoo-hoooooooo, will we get to it). Captain Marvel. Darkseid. Alan Scott (for those of you holding out for one of the leotardy Green Lanterns, we here at Stevereads have only one word: oh please). Bizarro. Solomon Grundy (PRIOR to his idiotically wasted recent turn in Justice League). And, for better or worse, Black Adam.

Black Adam, who's therefore immeasurably strong, fast, and invulnerable. Meaning, you're going to have to do better than ordinary-looking metal shackles to hold him while you TORTURE him for DAYS. Meaning, it isn't possible for such a plotline to happen in the first place. Power Girl, yes. Martian Manhunter, yes. But not Black Adam, who's not only invulnerable (and therefore, you know, invulnerable) but also strong enough to make any kind of simple metal shackle a little silly.

What happened was the writers of '52' lost their nerve. They created a perfectly compelling scenario: what would happen if a class-A character were driven over the edge (note: NOT driven insane)? What would happen, in other words, if somebody killed Lois Lane?

If such a thing DID happen, it's a lock-solid certainty that Superman WOULDN'T a) be captured, b) be tortured for DAYS OFF CAMERA, and c) need to be helplessly rescued by other people. Not because he's Superman, but because he's class A - he represents simply too much power for such plotlines to make any sense. The writers of '52' had a chance to explore what would happen to the DC continuity if a class-A character went off the rails - they came close, but then they drew back.

Black Adam's sworn mission is to kill the 'people responsible' for the death of his wife and family. OK, fine - but the people responsible are the mad scientists who created the creatures who did those dastardly deeds. That is, the scientists on Oolong Island. Nobody else. And yet, at the end of this current issue of '52,' there Black Adam is, portentiously intoning 'They wanted a war - I'm going to give it to them.'

Given the events of this particular issue, the only allowable 'them' here would be the Chinese government, which covertly sponsored one of those evil scientists. That's tenuous - the scientists worked together, after all - but even if we accept it, why would Black Adam? He was being helplessly tortured while the JSA was discovering the link between China and Oolong Island - his only legitimate target would still be the scientists themselves, presumably starting with the one Atom-Smasher let go.

So: the next issue of '52' had better feature Black Adam squaring off against the Justice Society as they try to stop him from killing all the evil scientists they've captured.

Eddy Barrows' artwork, however, remains superb.

But hoo-boy, if this issue stumbled on the problem of handling an A-list character, the latest issue of Wonder Woman doesn't just stumble - it falls flat on its face and slides all the way down the hillside on its boobs.

You'll have seen the little news blurbs - Wonder Woman is currently being written by bestselling author Jodi Picoult. We here at Stevereads don't wish to generalize, but nevertheless: every single time a bestselling author takes over the writing chores on a comic book, they suck at it with an ironclad, forge-bellows level of suckery.

The reason is probably easy to figure: they think they're slumming, so they bring the middlingest of their game to the task, confident that it won't show. As any long-time comics fan could tell them if they bothered to ask, it shows. Oh, how it shows.

Not that Wonder Woman has ever been an easy job. Only comparatively recently has DC editorial policy seemed to give her the credit that's been due her for so long; only comparatively recently has she been consistently portrayed as entirely A-list, Superman's equal in sheer power (we here at Stevereads have a pet theory on the subject: we think the process was sped up by the overwhelmingly favorable response garnered by the 'Justice League' animated series, which gave its viewers a gloriously badass version of Wonder Woman - culminating in eight shiningly magnificent minutes in the second season of 'Justice League Unlimited' - eight minutes every fan of the character should waste no time in Youtubing).

Alas, what DC editorial policy giveth, Jodi Picoult taketh away. Her Wonder Woman simpers with chickchat, brims with bromides, and worst of all, is a weak-ass little girlscout who allows herself to be taken captive by the US government and callously tortured whenever she opens her uppity mouth to her male captors. Again, the easiest way to reveal the utter poverty of the storyline is to picture any writer writing anything even remotely similar about Superman.

Superman who, as a character, has been around the longest (with all due respect to the Shadow and Doc Savage), the one who started it all. For seventy years, Superman writers have had to test their inventiveness AGAINST the granite cliffside of his level of power. Ditto, come to think of it, for Captain Marvel writers down through the decades.

Not so Wonder Woman's writers, who, when faced with a thorny plot-challenge, have overwhelmingly chosen to simply dial down her power-level (or worse, dumb her down intellectually). A present-day comics reader would like to think such days were long gone, but it turns out that in Jodi Picoult, the '40s live on.

Fortunately, slumming, showboating bestselling authors never hang around for long. We can only hope that in the two or three issues remaining to her, Picoult doesn't a) contrive to permanently remove Wonder Woman's powers (so that she can for the eight hundredth time learn 'proportion,' 'balance,' or 'humanity') b) contrive an entirely new origin story for the character (aliens? mole people? clandestine MEN?) or c) KILL the character, probably at the hands of a gun-wielding lowlife.

Then she'll be gone, and some professional comic-writer will step in and take over, and with any luck, we'll all get back to a Wonder Woman who's as powerful as Superman or Captain Marvel, a character who's grappling with her role in Man's World, her diplomatic duties, her status as an ambassador of peace versus her status as a costumed crime-fighter.

Until then, it's this stupid, ineffectual little debutante in a tiara. In the meantime, at least Brad Meltzer's (gasp - another bestselling author) Wonder Woman over in Justice League isn't (yet) embarrassing herself all over every issue. Yeesh, but a sister deserves better.


Jeff E. said...

" . . . they suck at it with an ironclad, forge-bellows level of suckery."

That's just delightful.

While we're on the topic of comics, I have recently been lent the first 7 books in the Fables series. I've pretty much devoured them since getting my hands on them last weekend. I think they're pretty outstanding, but I haven't read any comics at all since Kevin lent me Kingdom Come in 1998, and I haven't read any non-superhero comics ever.

So I was wondering what the 30% of the Stevereads community who reads comic books had to say about them, if anything. Anyone else read these things?

beepy said...

Yeeks, I was wondering where Jodi Picoult fit in on a list including Wonder Woman and boobs.

If I were to express an interest in Womder Woman as a character, to what comics would you send me?

beepy said...

And don't make fun of me for the typo.

Kevin Caron said...

Jeff - I own and enjoyed the first 7 issues of Fables - especially the first arc, the murder mystery. After that, though, I sort of fell off the title... Not 100% sure why. A lot of comics fans swear by Fables like no other book - though I guess I've always found it to be, while pretty good, sort of a poor man's Sandman.

To be fair, I haven't read much since the bit you've read. It could be brilliant at this point! Keep reading, and let me know if I should revisit it!

elmo said...

Yes, a BREAD-LINE Sandman! Bill Willingham is chatty as hell and something of a gun-nut. No problem can't be solved by tossing a sniper-rifle or fire axe into the hands of a children's lit character- yawn. Brilliant covers though.

Kevin Caron said...

Heh heh.

Hate to digress, but - I don't suppose any of us loyal SteveReaders live in the Detroit area? Katie got into Cranbrook Academy (a hoity-toity ceramics/sculpture graduate school), so we're moving there September 1st, and it sure would be great to have some instant pals out there (though I assume the odds are against it).

Gotta go draw s'more Badger... You know, the comic that comes out in August (shameless plug)...

locke said...

"Jeff - I own and enjoyed the first 7 issues of Fables - especially the first arc, the murder mystery. After that, though, I sort of fell off the title... Not 100% sure why. A lot of comics fans swear by Fables like no other book - though I guess I've always found it to be, while pretty good, sort of a poor man's Sandman."

Kevin Caron, damn your eyes -- you've stolen my comic book reading habits! My experience with Fables is pretty much EXACTLY the same -- read the first couple arcs, liked it okay, but not dazzled (Sandman Lite fer shure) and just let it trickle away. Then over the next several years have heard nothing but praise for it here there and everywhere and keep thinking "one of these days I'll catch up on the rest of the TPBs".

all of which is a long-winded way of saying "ditto" to Kevin...

steve said...

'Fables' stinks. Crappy artwork, and the stories? Never has so much been so badly misunderstood by so few. Anybody who likes it DESERVES to live in Detroit.

steve said...

Beepy: I'm sure Kevin would agree with me (!!!) that the place to start with Wonder Woman is the George Perez reboot from, what, twenty years ago? It's got beautiful artwork and a very graceful unfolding storyline. Anybody know if those issues have been collected into a graphic novel suitable for a manatee?

Kevin Caron said...

Technically, I'll be moving to the Bloomfield Hills area, which is apparently much nicer than Detroit.

Yes, the George Perez run on Wonder Woman is the place to start, Beepy - perhaps it's the place to end as well? I don't know, I'm not a huge Wonder Woman fan. It is collected in a trade - several, actually - the first is called "Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Gods and Mortals".

elmo said...

I's can bring in some WW for youse- by Greg Rucka!

Anonymous said...

"which gave its viewers a gloriously badass version of Wonder Woman - culminating in eight shiningly magnificent minutes in the second season of 'Justice League Unlimited' - eight minutes every fan of the character should waste no time in Youtubing"

could you vague that up a bit more? i could almost actually attempt to find it on youtube from that description... lol seriously though, what is it and how do I find it to watch it?