Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Shockingly Droll "Graphic Novel," Wonder Woman: Lifelines Is A Glorified (And Bad) Comic Book.

The Good: Moments of concept.
The Bad: Light on character, Fairly lame artwork/paperstock, Lame plot
The Basics: A fairly banal trade paperback anthology, in every way, Wonder Woman: Lifelines does not do justice to fans of the heroine or comic books.

As my “Wonder Woman” year progresses, I've actually been astonished by how fast I am finding various trade paperback anthologies and learning about the super hero. I am also surprised at how, after only a few books, I am learning to recognize peripheral characters (even when they are just being introduced) and generally recognize the timeframe of the stories. Wonder Woman, like many super heroes, goes through several incarnations and in 1996 when the trade paperback anthology Wonder Woman: Lifelines was produced, she was in a character arc where Diana was lodged in Central City where she was working at as an appraiser and restoration artist on ancient relics. Surrounded by fairly uninspired and uninteresting peripheral characters, I fail to believe this is considered by any of Wonder Woman’s fans as the golden age of the character.

Wonder Woman: Lifelines is a collection of seven Wonder Woman comic books and there are, essentially, two stories being told in the anthology. Unfortunately for mature readers, these are very much comic books and the anthology does not represent an adult story. As one who read some comic books in my youth, this seems particularly uninspired even for a comic book that a young adult might read. Instead, these are two predictable, plot-heavy stories which underuse and underdevelop the Wonder Woman character. Unfortunately, these two stories rely heavily on boring peripheral characters and seem as concerned with establishing the new hero of Gateway City, Champion, and teasing Cassie Sandsmark as Wonder Girl. Either way, the two main stories in “Lifelines” are predictable, light on character development and feature only fair artwork.

The three-part “Lifelines” story finds Diana starting her new job at the Gateway City Museum Of Cultural Antiquities and encountering a tapestry that comes to life and attempts to kill her. Thwarting it with the effort of the Phantom Stranger, Wonder Woman begins to investigate the mysterious Dr. Warly, who is tied to the tapestry's presence at the museum. As Wonder Woman, Cassandra and Diana’s cop buddy, Mike, further their investigation, they are set upon by a demon, Etrigan, whom the Phantom Stranger and Wonder Woman realize is under the power of Morgaine Le Fay. This sets-up Wonder Woman and several immortals for a conflict with the ancient sorceress.

Peppered throughout “Lifelines” are stories about Dr. Lazarus and his son, Kris. While working on a matter-replication experiment where living beings are recreated using video tape images, there is an accident and Kris is killed. In his grief, Dr. Lazarus places Kris’s memories in the computer. Soon thereafter, Gateway City is visited by a speechless rampaging version of the Flash whose speed destroys buildings before he dissolves entirely. When the supervillain Sinestro makes an appearance almost immediately thereafter and while he wreaks havoc on Gateway City, Wonder Woman, Cassie and the new local hero, Champion, work to figure out what is going on with the mute, recently-killed villain. Unfortunately, before they can figure it out, Doomsday is similarly resurrected and begins to destroy Gateway City.

Unfortunately, in both stories, the villains are quickly revealed and the novelty of the “Level 1 – 3” story (which features the appearances of “clones”) wears thin almost instantly. In fact, while it is a huge surprise to all of the heroes of the book, the reader will know what is going on relatively early and the comic degenerates into a very obvious serious of physical conflicts. The story is nothing more than a bunch of increasingly violent fights which seem as unexceptional as the battle that results between Wonder Woman and Morgaine Le Fay.

The stories in Wonder Woman: Lifelines are written by John Byrne and this is well below his usual abilities with social commentary. In his book Assignment: Earth (click here for my review!) Byrne illustrated a general imagination for exploring secret historical events and rewriting established Star Trek works. Unfortunately, in “Lifelines,” he does no such thing. The book is preoccupied with ridiculous moments wherein Wonder Woman’s life is utterly mundane and her interactions with Cassandra seem to be obviously setting up the girl for an expanded role. It is, therefore, utterly unsurprising when she attempts to join in the fight against Doomsday as Wonder Girl. The perky girl is utterly unprepared for battle and Wonder Woman, who is portrayed in everything else I've read with her as caring deeply about consequences, allowing her to go anywhere near the villains is utterly irresponsible.

The only thing less interesting than the preoccupation with setting Cassie up as the new Wonder Girl is the way Champion is introduced and seems to be Diana’s friend Mike, despite her not noticing the similarities at all. In fact, if Champion is not Mike Schorr, this is a huge black mark against “Lifelines” because the artwork is so similar that it is just sloppy. Mike is a completely uninteresting sidekick and Champion seems entirely unnecessary in a city that has Wonder Woman. Add to that, the Phantom Stranger in the first storyline is introduced as if he is both important and instantly recognizable. If he is an established DC hero, this is the first I've seen of him and the character's powers are unclear.

But what the real problem with all of this is the fact that all of the sidekicks lessen the emphasis on Wonder Woman and the two stories in “Lifelines” are jumbled collaboration stories as a result. This is roughly equivalent to having a Batman comic where someone other than Batman does the detective work. “Lifelines” is simple, somewhat boring and does not develop the principle character at all. In fact, more than transforming Wonder Woman, “Lifelines” is about laying waste to Gateway City and Superman coming to suspect that Wonder Woman might be stronger than he is.

Either way, in the trade paperback anthology, Lifelines, the story is presented with glossy pages with (mostly) vivid coloring. Unfortunately, the artwork is often mediocre to terrible. Pages like 39 feature vague sketches of the characters and given that they are peripheral characters in the Dr. Lazarus storyline, this sloppiness drags down the sense of movement in the book and is compounded by how Kris and Cassie look remarkably similar. Throughout, only Wonder Woman looks like she is supposed to of the primary characters. Doomsday is hard to mess up, but in the last few stories, there are panels where the villain is simplified and it continues the feel that much of the book is merely comprised of thumbnail sketches.

In other words, Wonder Woman: Lifelines is sloppy in the artwork, underwhelming in the storyline and juvenile in the dialogue. It is all the worst that one might imagine when they consider comic books and certainly not suited for any audience I can imagine.

For other Wonder Woman volumes, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Mortals
Challenge Of The Gods


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

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

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