Friday, November 12, 2010

Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost An Inconsistent Anthology.

The Good: Amazing first story, Consistently good artwork
The Bad: Unfortunately average second story
The Basics: Clever, well illustrated and surprisingly smart - not at all juvenile fiction - Paradise Lost is a compelling Wonder Woman story!

As I make my way through works pertaining to Wonder Woman as part of my "Wonder Woman Year," there are a few things I am beginning to understand already. First, Wonder Woman has a very different story depending upon when she was written. Second, there are multiple "Wonder Women," who have taken up the mantle at different times (much like Robin in the Batman section of the DC universe). And third, there are a number of recurring characters in the "Wonder Woman" mythos who are vital to know (already, I find myself liking Artemis!). While my first experience with a Wonder Woman trade paperback anthology, Love And Murder (click here for that review) left me mystified, my second foray into the printed Wonder Woman was much less baffling. And, for a change, I was real glad I had read Batman: Knightfall (volume one review is available by clicking here!) because Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost is actually a crossover with Batman and knowing the villains from Gotham City in advance made the volume very easy to read and enjoy.

In my continuing exploration of graphic novels as a genre - though most of them are just trade paperback anthologies, collecting previously published comic books in nicer volumes - I've yet to come across any that have so impressed me that I think it is a vital work of actual literature. Even Watchmen was irksome for the way it flowed in parts where the main narrative was interspersed with the "Tales Of The Black Freighter" comic book. So, you might imagine my surprise when I started reading Paradise Lost and soon found it to be engaging, clever and smart enough with a genuine sense of dialogue and character conflicts to actually be literature. Unfortunately for this volume, the first narrative, "Gods Of Gotham" is only four issues (ninety-four pages) long. Paradise Lost, the anthology, includes the four-part "Gods Of Gotham" story, alongside a mini-comic "Who Is Troia?" and the two-part "Paradise Island - Lost?" story. It is then concluded with a standalone which is an interview with Lois Lane.

Rather nicely, the volume opens with an explanation of each of the main characters from the two main sections, complete with drawings. This makes Paradise Lost very easy for those who are not into Wonder Woman or DC Comics (which traditionally, on the latter, I have not been) to understand who the principles are and what is going on with their backstories as the stories progress. This tool is a great gift to readers and one has to be grateful to writer Phil Jimenez for that.

"Gods Of Gotham" finds Gotham City besieged by the Joker, Poison Ivy and the Scarecrow . . . only they are not themselves. All three supervillains have willingly loaned their bodies to the children of Ares, God of War and are now possessed by Deimos (God of Terror), Eris (Goddess of Discord), and Phobos (God of Fear), respectively. Led by a cultist, Maxie Zeus, an abandoned church in Gotham City becomes the portal to an interdimensional realm where the gods prepare for the coming of Ares. Set to thwart them are Wonder Woman, Batman, and sidekicks Nightwing, Huntress, Artemis, Troia, Wonder Girl, and Robin. But when Wonder Woman is almost immediately incapacitated by the possessed Joker, she must stave off the effects of a God's poison to stop Ares from obliterating the world, starting with Gotham City.

"Gods Of Gotham" is remarkably clever, smartly-written story that actually features characters who use brains over brawn. There are a number of obvious superhero conceits: Wonder Woman and Batman work to set the villains against one another (it doesn't work) and they work to appeal to the hosts' personalities to fight the spirits of the gods using their bodies (generally, this does not work either). But what surprised me was how educated the writers seem to be about Greek Mythology and how well they incorporate that into the Wonder Woman and Batman story!

The real shock was how smart the story was in terms of character explorations. Batman is an atheist and Wonder Woman is not only a woman of faith, but a direct product of her gods. Having the two of them work together on a problem which is fundamentally outside Batman's realm of belief makes for a good story, especially given that Batman's views do not weaken as the story goes along. The debate that rages between Artemis and the Huntress is also astonishingly smart as a debate over two very different religions. What's more, this does not slow down the narrative as the heroines work to reach their respective partners.

"Who Is Troia?" features Donna Troy, Princess Diana's sister, returning to Themyscira and being honored as Hippolyta's other daughter. She is given the status of Princess and this is basically a dossier on Troia's backstory for readers to catch up before the "Paradise Island - Lost?" storyline.

With Hippolyta out in Patriarch's World working with the Justice League Of America as Wonder Woman, Diana and Donna return to Themyscira. There, they are at Doom's Doorway, they fall victim to a bombing and all of Paradise Island is thrown into chaos as to who might be responsible. While Artemis takes up the cause of the Amazons Of Bana-Mighdall, Diana champions the Amazons of Themyscira. While Donna looks for a solution that meets the needs of both of the island's populations, the leaders fall under the influence of the sorceress, Magala. Before any of the leaders can stop them, the Themyscirans and Bana-Mighdall Amazons are at war!

This story is problematic because it is both too simple and too complex. The simple aspect is what drags the story down; there is a villain who is revealed very early on and the conflicts are explained at great depth more than they are resolved. As a result, this is a storyline where there's a lot of talk and not a lot of action. But beyond that, the resolution comes entirely from a story the reader is not necessarily privy to, as it is essentially Hippolyta's backstory which the conflict and resolution come from. This comes out as more of a Hippolyta story than a Diana (Wonder Woman) story. The complexity of the story is dragged down by how brief the story is. "Paradise Island - Lost?" is essentially a setup but it mirrors the Palastine/Israel conflict in the Middle East and the way it is so quickly resolved in this comic book is unfortunately simple.

The "Paradise Island - Lost?" storyline is a lot of exposition and very light on character and might have worked better if vital peripheral characters were given more time on the page and developed better so the reader actually cares about them. And while Wonder Woman's underlying jealousy over her mother assuming the Wonder Woman mantle in the Justice League comes into play, most of the character growth actually is Hippolyta's and this story is a setup for future Paradise Island stories. It's not a bad story, but it is predictable and it has a very "comic book" sense to the story that is being told.

The final story in Paradise Lost is "She's A Wonder!" That story has Lois Lane following Diana through her day as she teleports from the Trevor household to France for an inspirational lecture and then to the moon to work on a cure for diabetes. Lane accompanies Diana to New York City for a morning television program, then to D.C. where Diana appeals to President Luthor (yes, that's Lex Luthor, so I guess the DC universe has a real sense of ironic politics . . . which mirrors reality) for aid on a peacekeeping mission. After a bad patch at the U.N., Diana and Lane go to Atlanta, Indonesia, and Rwanda where Diana tries to aid the underprivileged before teleporting back to a pool hall. It's a day in the life of Diana Troy!

This final story is a very basic story which seems to be filling the gap between the "Paradise Island - Lost?" story and whatever comes next. It is utterly unremarkable, but like "Who Is Troia?" it creates a very decent character sketch and readers who are just getting into Wonder Woman at this phase of her development will find it invaluable.

The artwork in Paradise Lost is consistently wonderful. Outside wondering about how the physics of Fury's breasts are working (it's either one heck of a costume or it is being held up by the imagination of teenage boys everywhere) and one or two panels in the "Paradise Island - Lost?" storyline where Diana and Donna are too-similarly drawn, the artwork is clear. In the whole "Gods Of Gotham" story, the interdimensional setting is appropriately creepy and well-rendered with extreme angles being featured for the reader to be pleasantly confounded by.

Paradise Lost, unlike many current trade paperback anthologies, seems to have reprinted the original comics with a very true sense of what they were. As a result, the pages are more of a newspaper stock than nice, glossy pages. The colors are, therefore, a little less vibrant than most current anthologies. Even so, there is a wonderful sense of shading and coloring and some of the panels in the "Gods Of Gotham" story are downright beautiful. There is also a cover gallery at the end of the book, so those who want the full comic book experience (less the advertisements throughout) will find Paradise Lost to be a wonderfully complete anthology.

Unfortunately, though, the greatness of the clever and heroic "Gods Of Gotham" story is brought down by the more mediocre stories which follow it and the anthology suffers as a result. Anyone who likes a compelling heroic story with larger-than-life conflict will enjoy the "Gods Of Gotham" story and want to pick Paradise Lost up for that, if nothing else.

For other Wonder Woman volumes, please check out my reviews of:
Wonder Woman: Lifelines
Wonder Woman: Amazonia
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia


For other book and graphic novel reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

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

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