The Good: Themes, Liberal messages
The Bad: Wandering story which is too politically real, Artwork
The Basics: Despite being perceptive about the way the real world (most notably politics of fear) works, Wonder Woman: Down To Earth is an anthology that drags dreadfully.
As my Wonder Woman Year continues, I have been getting in all sorts of Wonder Woman graphic novels or trade paperback anthologies (actually, so far, I believe they have all been the latter) to read and if nothing else, I am just happy to be reading on a nightly basis again. I know that might seem stupid, but frankly most novelists don't have a ton of time to read; we're too busy writing our own material. So, taking on a reading project for the year actually has been remarkably good for me for getting into just returning to a simple love of reading the written word. That said, Wonder Woman: Down To Earth was the anthology it took the most effort to get through, for a number of reasons.
Wonder Woman goes through several incarnations and this anthology follows the events of Paradise Lost (click here for that review!), which puts Diana (Wonder Woman's alter ego) in a role as the Themyscirian Ambassador to the U.N. At this phase of the story, Diana is an activist and more of a political persona than she is a butt-kicking super hero. There are characters who have a place in Diana's life and how they got there is a bit of a mystery to me as a reader getting the story in irregular pieces. Down To Earth does not feature a handy guide to the characters in Wonder Woman or the story so far, so readers are thrown into Down To Earth without a real sense of context.
Jonah McCarthy arrives for his first day working on Ambassador Diana's staff to an interview with Alana Dominguez, Diana's secretary and (it appears) Chief of Staff. Jonah gets the dime tour of what is expected of him as Diana's handler at public affairs, meeting Peter, Superman and Ferdinand (the chef and kith-o-taur). He has a chance to meet Diana herself shortly before her book of essays, Reflections is published. While Ares reflects on the book and begins a new agenda, more earthly forces like those of Doctor Cale and her team begin preparations to kill Wonder Woman.
As Diana and her staff work to combat the conservative fall-out from the release of Reflections, Cale works to ambush Wonder Woman. The conservative activist, Keyes, organizes an effort, Protect Our Children, to discredit Diana and brand her as a threat to children and America, while Cale works to condition the demented Doctor Psycho to be used as weapon. Diana is alarmed when Io appears to announce that Ares has appeared in Thermyscira, which forces her to leave shortly after Keyes is given all sorts of ammunition through footage of Wonder Woman advising the Flash to let a forest fire burn. But far more horrific than Ares's new designation as God of Conflict are the earthly machinations awaiting Diana and Wonder Woman when she returns from Thermyscira.
Down To Earth is hardly as interesting as I might have made it sound there. Unfortunately. If my problem with some super hero stories is that they are so fantastic as to seem ridiculous, the problem with this volume is that it is so grounded in reality as to be utterly mundane. Jonah's process of joining Diana's staff is like reading a job interview and is more a civics lesson on civil service positions than it is anything remotely entertaining. As well, the reactions to Reflections are exactly what one might expect from a liberal publication. Writer Greg Rucka, who has wowed me with some of his prior writings, captures in incredible realism the playbook of the conservative think tanks for attacking liberal publications. Of course, had I read this when it was originally released, I probably would have been thrilled that someone managed to write something where a liberal's voice was heard (this was published in 2004 in George Bush's America).
In short, there is little entertaining in Down To Earth and that makes it a chore to get through. What there is in lieu of entertainment is a very stark sense of realism and a sense of character development . . . from peripheral recurring characters. In fact, all that rescues this trade paperback anthology from the "avoid it" pile utterly is the way Ares develops in the course of the book. Ares, God of War, finds himself outdated and realizes that conflict is far more appealing to him now than war. The evolution is well-argued, as is the deity's argument that the gods and goddesses need to evolve or be lost to the universe. His part in the six-comic book anthology is the most interesting, even if it is brief. Rucka clearly knows Greek mythology, which works to the benefit of the book.
What doesn't work nearly as well is the artwork. Penciller Drew Johnson creates a straight-haired Diana and Wonder Woman for this book and the images hardly look like any recognizable Wonder Woman when Diana is not in the traditional costume. In fact, it is only the inker and colorists who remember to make Diana darker skinned that makes her look even remotely Greek. Sadly, their interpretations of characters like Aphrodite are entirely droll, making her a straight-haired blonde who essentially appears like a bimbo for a brief time in the book.
The artwork suffers throughout because the sense of movement is low as well. Characters are kept in shadow, they seldom move and they talk ad nauseam, making this a poor use of the comic medium. Panels like the ones when Io leaves Diana after visiting her the first time (the book does not have page numbers, but this is very early in the book) are so poorly rendered that they look more like thumbnail sketches and Diana looks indistinctly like a twentysomething in tight bluejeans. Even more problematic is that Jonah looks virtually identical to Cale's henchman, Fallon.
While the philosophies in Down To Earth are laudable, the story takes forever to get going and it was literally in the last five pages that I cared about any of the stories. Between generally poor artwork, a plot that drags and is alternately overly realistic for those looking to be entertained, and characters that do not develop over the course of the book is a dud.
For other Wonder Woman volumes in this incarnation of the Amazon Princess, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Mortals by George Perez
Wonder Woman: Challenge Of The Gods by George Perez
Wonder Woman: Lifelines By John Byrne
For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.