Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two "Wonder Woman" Stories, Neither Quite Worth The Price, Ends Of The Earth Flops.

The Good: The artwork is decent, The second story explains some things for fans.
The Bad: Primary story is thoroughly uninteresting, No real character development, Some of the art seems to just be showing off.
The Basics: Ends Of The Earth seeks to continue the Wonder Woman storyline by having her go off with mythical heroes to thwart an incarnation of the devil.

Before I begin panning completely Ends Of The Earth, the latest volume of the Wonder Woman graphic novels I have managed to get my hands on, I want to preface that I respect Gail Simone, the writer of the anthology's stories. Simone is given an increasingly unenviable task which is writing new hero stories for a heroine who has had hundreds of adventures and whose fanbase has to be pretty clued in to how she defeats her enemies. My point here is that some series' persist long, long after they reasonably ought to. Most comic book super heroes fall in that category in my estimation, though to be honest, I like Wonder Woman. I do, however, mention this at the outset of my review of the Wonder Woman trade paperback anthology Ends Of The Earth because the primary story seems particularly droll and it took me an inordinately long time to muster up the energy and enthusiasm to actually finish reading this fairly short "graphic novel."

Like many of the Wonder Woman anthologies, Ends Of The Earth is not simply one story and this volume anthologizes both the "Ends Of The Earth" four-part story and the two-part "A Star In The Heavens." Arguably what is most disturbing about this volume for the fans is that the Wonder Woman story is pretty serialized, but this volume feels like two "bottle episodes" that only pay lip service to the story that has come before (see below for the current saga's order!). And for those who know how harshly I critique things, it is a bad sign when I sit down to write about a graphic novel and the best I keep coming up with wanting to write about is the artwork. Given how effect and style is minimized in my rating system, this did not bode well for Ends Of The Earth.

The four chapter "Ends Of The Earth" finds Wonder Woman traipsing through the frozen wilderness of an ancient mythical land. After an encounter with wolves, she meets up with Beowulf. Enlisted by a demon with no name - Stalker - Wonder Woman rounds up Beowulf and the mythical hero Claw and the four are charged by an Oracle to journey to the Black Horizon to together defeat the devil D'Grth. Unfortunately, en route, Wonder Woman is possessed by a cursed gauntlet which robs her of many of her powers and her very soul. If she and her team do not complete Stalker's mission with alacrity, her soul and compassion will be lost forever. As Diana goes on that mission, her boss at the Department Of Metahuman Affairs charges Nemesis to suss out the Amazons who might be working for the department. That leads Nemesis to Diana's apartment and the company of the gorillas she has befriended.

The second story, "A Star In The Heavens" has Tom (Nemesis) and Diana returning to Themyscira to discuss their courtship plans with Hippolyta. While Tom works to impress Diana's mother, Diana departs for the movie set of the Wonder Woman film. There she discovers her story is being completely botched and the head of the studio has been replaced by the Queen Of Fables.

Obviously, not every adventure a superhero has can be the end of the world. It is impossible to sustain a franchise when every conflict is the end of all existence. So, if anything, I am bias toward a more intimate story that involves a serious risk to Wonder Woman's very soul. The problem in Ends Of The Earth is the execution. I am biased in favor of just such a story and yet this particular story did not grab me. It felt too contrived.

First, the true menace to Wonder Woman is the loss of her soul and her goodness, which would be seriously terrible. Unfortunately, that menace is set up through Stalker and his red-eyed companion. The unnamed immortal never seems strong enough, interesting enough or even powerful enough to be the one to truly thwart Wonder Woman, which the reader must absolutely believe in order to make Ends Of The Earth pop. Instead, Stalker - whom Diana names Elpis - is a pretty flat character and as he is given a voice through the possession element of the story, the book actually turns away from Wonder Woman and her character and strength and more toward him and because the perspective is so unreadable the reader pretty much figures out quickly that this will be another story that comes down to a big fight which resolves everything.

In fact, the only remotely interesting element of "Ends Of The Earth" that actually worked for me was that the possession of Wonder Woman causes her lasso of truth to turn away from her. The idea that Diana's most powerful tool has a will of its own and refuses to work for a soulless incarnation of its master is intriguing and different from anything else I have read in the Wonder Woman saga. Unfortunately, it becomes a pretty cheap excuse for a sword-bearing Wonder Woman to kick some ignorant men's butts.

That leaves the "A Star In The Heavens" story and strangely this weak story is the saving grace of the book. The short story refocuses the reader on the main narrative with Wonder Woman which includes the destruction of Themyscira and her courtship by Agent Tresser. While Simone falls into the same trap that readers previously saw with Max Lord (i.e. Diana is now working for a corrupted leader), the second story has a charming quality to it that plays out well.

Even so, one need not look very hard at the story to realize that mostly what "A Star In The Heavens" is doing is explaining to readers exactly why there is no budding Wonder Woman movie on the horizon. Amid the story of the Queen Of Fables wrecking the set, Diana finds herself terribly embarrassed by the direction the Wonder Woman film is taking in order to stay relevant (including a threesome the director alludes to between Diana, Hercules and Diana's mother, Hippolyta, which Diana is appropriately repulsed by). Amid attempts to straighten out the cinematic story and fight the Queen Of Fables, Diana recognizes a woman in need at the studio and fans are rewarded for their patience through the battles with some good, classic Wonder Woman moralizing.

Ends Of The Earth, in that way, barely recovers focus for the readers. What it has most consistently is decent artwork. Ends Of The Earth" features Wonder Woman in about five different costumes and the artists Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan and Bernard Chang all do well to fill the panels with artwork that does not look like sketches and contains a sense of movement that is appropriate in the panels that require it. The colorists have a good sense of shading and depth which fleshes the book out nicely and leaves the reader at least satisfied that they have not read something which is comic-strip sophisticated.

Unfortunately, the trade paperback anthology includes no bonus features - no art galleries or interviews, nothing that makes this much more special than the original comic book releases. And sadly, this is not the best Wonder Woman story I've ever read, making it easy to recommend readers pass it by.

For other Wonder Woman volumes which precede this one, please check out my reviews of:
Who Is Wonder Woman by Allan Heinberg
Wonder Woman: Love And Murder by Jodi Pocault
Amazons Attack! by Will Pfeifer
The Circle by Gail Simone


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my index page!

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

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