Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rise Of The Olympian Is A Good Wonder Woman Graphic Novel Which Could Have Been Better!

The Good: Great villain, Good artwork, Moments of concept
The Bad: Blackest Night interlude, Plot becomes fractured and confused
The Basics: More engaging than most recent Wonder Woman stories, Rise Of The Olympian is a story that starts tight and engaging and becomes more fractious and confused as it progresses.

Sometimes, I encounter something that I am very excited about, but as I continue through the work, my interest level drops. When I first picked up Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Olympian, I was so engaged by it that I sandwiched my reading of it in at all times. My wife had just picked up Star Wars LEGO - The Complete Saga for our Playstation 3 and she wanted me in the room as she played, so I would sneak pages in between watching her. But around the middle of the book, I found I wasn't sneaking in reading any longer and when I finally got back to the book, it was more of a chore than a pleasure. I attribute most of that to the ambition of Gail Simone's story. And Simone and Rise Of The Olympian ought not to be punished for being ambitious.

Even so, the story does suffer because elements of it are purposely confused or confusing and for all of my love of Blackest Night (click here for the review of the primary graphic novel!), in the middle of Rise Of The Olympian is not a great place for a Wonder Woman interlude for Blackest Night. More than many of the current (Volume 3, post-Final Crisis) storylines, Rise Of The Olympian puts Wonder Woman in the context of the whole DC Universe. And, in the process, Wonder Woman's adversaries are multiplied starting with one of the coolest villains ever to grace the pages of the comic. Unfortunately, the elements surrounding the title adversary (The Olympian), make for a much more jumbled story than a satisfying one.

When the Greek gods return to Earth, Zeus decides to give the Amazons rest as reward for their eons of peace and patience. Recalling the Amazons to a netherworld, Zeus and Apollo prepare to replace them with a new race of men, the Olympians, who will bring peace to Earth, from their island, Thalarion. As Themyscira is overrun by beasts, Wonder Woman and her team from the Department Of Metahuman Affairs arrive at a mall where a new creature has begun killing civilians. The rescue attempt soon turns dangerous beyond anyone's expectations when the beast, Genocide, manages to incapacitate Wonder Woman because it has the power of her lasso embedded into it!

Rescued by Donna Troy and Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman becomes determined to save Etta Candy, who is at the mercy of Genocide. As Nemesis exposes Sergeant Steel's imbalance within the Department Of Metahuman Affairs, Wonder Woman goes in search of the villains who created Genocide and learns the horrifying secret of how the creature is able to utilize her lasso. As Wonder Woman tries to save the world from the rampage of Genocide, Zeus creates her male foil and the Olympians make their first moves to bring peace and order to the world.

Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Olympian has a lot going on in it and at moments, Gail Simone is clever and smart enough to weave elements such that the attentive reader does not need them dumbed down or explained with extraneous exposition. So, for example, Simone arranges a cunning escape for Doctor Psycho, the uber-powerful telepath who has crossed paths with Wonder Woman many times. And it is cool to see Cheetah returned to the story, even if she ends up mostly as a punching bag for Wonder Woman. On the character front, it is refreshing to see Wonder Woman do what Superman and Batman (though Bruce Wayne is no longer in the picture in the storyline of Batman) could do, which is single-handedly dismantle the secret society of villains that has popped up in Gotham City.

One of the first problems with the story in Rise Of The Olympian, though, comes in the form of the new race created by the Greek gods. The narrative is unclear as to whether the Thalarions are actually the Amazons reincarnated or reforged or if they have, in fact, been extinguished altogether. If they are put to rest, it is made confusing because Hippolyta and her guard remain alive on Themyscira, even if the island is under siege by sea beasts. Understanding the anger of Hippolyta's guards hinges on reading The Circle and Simone does a great job of making that story relevant. But Diana's acceptance of the new force for peace is somewhat troubling.

What makes the story so engaging and rate so highly in my pantheon of graphic novels is the Genocide storyline. Genocide is a powerful, monolithic villain and when one learns of its origins, the creature becomes so much more understandable and intriguing. Genocide erupts onto the page by beating down Wonder Woman with such a force that Donna Troy, Wonder Girl and members of the Justice League have to rescue her. This does not weaken Wonder Woman's character, but rather enhance the idea that Genocide truly is such a powerful adversary. And through the end of Rise Of The Olympian, Genocide retains the brutish power that makes it such a compelling villain.

Part of Genocide's villainy is expressed through some of the books darkest pages, which involve Genocide torturing Etta Candy. Cutting Wonder Woman off from Nemesis (who finally illustrates just how smart he actually is) and Etta Candy makes for a good story and raises the danger level. The sense of alienation Diana experiences through the book reads as very real and Genocide becomes a worthy adversary for the Amazon princess.

Unfortunately, the Olympian is nowhere near as interesting. As the Thalarions attack the U.N. to bring peace to the world, the story becomes far less interesting and it is hard to care about what comes next. In other words, if the volume had been "Genocide" instead of Rise Of The Olympian, the reader might care more. Even so, there are some decent elements to the Olympian storyline. Most notable of those is the fight between Zeus and Kane Milohai, the god who has become Diana's patron after Themyscira is cut off from the world. Zeus uses his power and influence to slay Kane Milohai for a purpose and that purpose is also surprisingly cool.

Sadly for readers of the Wonder Woman storyline, the battle for Themyscira that comes at the end of Rise Of The Olympian is a disappointing anticlimax. Readers who have followed the fights between Diana and Ares, God Of War, are given a surprising resolution to that conflict. But it comes over the course of, literally, two abrupt pages and readers who have looked for some real deep resolution to this lifelong battle will be utterly disappointed (more than those who watched the fourth season of Babylon 5!).

The artwork in Rise Of The Olympian is mostly-spectacular, which pushes this fractured story into the upper ranges of the "average" territory in my book. Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan and Bernard Chang do a generally wonderful job with making the artwork in Rise Of The Olympian not only consistent but good. Their pencils are tight and the coloring is vivid. The art team has a wonderful sense of movement and the battles between Wonder Woman and Genocide are extraordinary (putting to shame, for example, the all-important battle between Superman and Doomsday). The team still can't seem to decide how they want to express Etta Candy's physicality, though, so on page 27 she is rendered as a catsuit-wearing commando, while on page 37 she has multiple chins again. Regardless, it is hard to argue with how great the artwork is when the three Amazons suit up in battle armor and are presented on pages 66/67. Donna Troy's battle armor is pretty cool and I had to make a note of that.

Ultimately, Rise Of The Olympian is a story which is continuing to push Wonder Woman out on her own storylines and that is delightful. Anyone looking for a good superhero story will enjoy Rise Of The Olympian, even if it is mixed with a self-referential plotline that is not entirely resolved (or even developed) in this volume.

For other Wonder Woman stories in this incarnation of the heroine, please check out my reviews of:
Who Is Wonder Woman?
Wonder Woman: Love And Murder
Amazons Attack!
Wonder Woman: The Circle
Ends Of The Earth


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to check out my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

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

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