Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Look, It's A Reimagining Of Wonder Woman!" Wonder Woman: Amazonia Is Surprisingly Average!

The Good: Decent reimagining of the classic Wonder Woman story
The Bad: I'm not wild about the artwork, Story is very formulaic
The Basics: An alternate-universe storyline of Wonder Woman, Amazonia explores what London would have been like with Wonder Woman living in the wake of Jack the Ripper!

I seem to be in the minority on a lot of creative issues as to what makes for an interesting story. If I recognize all of the plot, character and acting elements of a movie, for example, I don't much care that it's dressed up nicely on a blue-spectrum planet where everything is animated, but doesn't quite look it all of the time. Similarly, creative reboots or alternate histories may make for a fun journey, but without a compelling statement or real change in theme, they replay poorly or seem like a novelty as opposed to actually making a compelling or interesting story. So, for example, alternate universe stories are neat for the glimpses into how cause and effect work, but unless one actually makes a statement with Spock in a goatee, it's just a minor twist on the known and eventually rewatching it seems more passe than novel even.

I mention this at the outset of my review of Wonder Woman: Amazonia or Amazonia: A Tale Of The Wonder Woman because forty-eight page Elseworlds comic (or graphic novella) from DC Comics seemed intriguing for about the first five pages and then it pretty much became everything uninspired I suspected it to be from the start. The concept behind "Elseworlds" was to create alternate universe origin stories for most of the major DC characters and see how the stories played out. The thing is, none of them were as creative as something like Lex Luthor being the one to find the baby Ka-El and Superman growing up to be the most incredible villain of all time. Instead, they create minor twists on how it all could have began . . . but the story ends up looking much like what it became anyway. In the case of Wonder Woman, Amazonia explores a late-19th, early-20th Century concept of Wonder Woman with the essential "What if" question being asked being "What if Steven Trevor discovered the island of the Amazons and Britain had bombarded it, bringing Diana back to man's world as his property?"

In the ghettos of London, Steven Trevor runs a theatrical revue of human oddities, the most impressive of which is a woman whose strength and speed appear to be unparalleled. When an anarchist makes an attempt on the Prince's life during one of her shows, she leaps up into the theater box, deflecting bullets, and saves his life. This gets her the attention of the king and of the women who are in attendance, chained together as they are. As Trevor curries favor with the king, Diana works to raise their two children and save an old friend from the gutter.

As the king becomes increasingly unstable, the backstory of Diana is revealed, how Trevor found her island, England bombed its citizens out of existence and when a freak accident killed the royal family following Jack the Ripper's four murders in London, an American heir was found to take the throne. That king now has his eyes on Diana and his goal is a bloodsport where Diana is his prey.

Amazonia, unfortunately, sets the pieces too close together and the early references to Jack the Ripper tied with soon after mentioning King Jack, makes the rest of the story pretty much tell itself. Watching it unfold becomes a gruesome exploration of misogyny which is not at all entertaining and is probably fairly well-known to most of the readers of Wonder Woman. The over-the-top hunting of women in Amazonia is simply a natural extension of the mentality of the psychotic Jack the Ripper and, arguably, Amazonia is more preoccupied with creating a setting that explores what would have happened with that type of power being lorded over all England than revealing anything vital or interesting about Wonder Woman.

To wit, Wonder Woman in Amazonia develops much the same as she did in any of her normal-universe settings, receiving training and working to do good in her spare time. In the case of Amazonia, Diana's doing good means letting Trevor have sexual dominance over her and using that to convince Trevor to let her friend become the governess to their children. Beyond that, the story is pretty much what one expects of Wonder Woman: she fights oppression and champions the causes of equality for all women, in this case literally breaking the chains that hold women in this alternate society in place.

The thing is, readers of Wonder Woman don't need that. We don't need to see how Wonder Woman would have taken on a society where Jack The Ripper was glorified instead of despised. We get the same fantasy from seeing how Wonder Woman deals with the actual inequities in modern society. In other words, the themes and even methodologies are the same in both the "real" world and in the Elseworlds concept. And, frankly, the journey is not that exciting.

Instead, it is troubling for two big reasons. The first is that the entire work is narrated by the paralyzed cousin of the reigning king. The narrator rambles and because the text is so top-heavy with "voice-over" (the narrator dictating to the reader what is going on or what he is thinking), the comic underuses the potential of the comic book or graphic novel medium.

Second, the artwork is terrible. I understand exactly what Phil Winslade and Patricia Mulvihill were attempting to do in Amazonia: they were trying to visually show the period piece that writer William Messner-Loebs was telling with his words. As such, each page is a series of sketches that actually look like etchings in the artwork of the vaudeville era. The colors are muted and dark and the book actually looks like a series of Goya engravings. The color palate is shifted to the dark purples and everything has an oppressive tone from the colors to the scribble-type lines that make up the shading in most of the panels. Here the concept works far better than the execution and readers are likely to miss the vivid colors of the standard Wonder Woman stories.

Even so, the dialogue is good and Messner-Loebs does a decent job of making the book seem as if it actually is a period piece with cockney dialect and a premise that is interesting, even if it is a bit predictable. Ultimately, I give it a very soft "recommend" and even as I write that I am doing so, I know it is mostly for the novelty.

For other trade paperback anthologies which feature Wonder Woman, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Mortals
Challenge Of The Gods
Ends Of The Earth


For other book reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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