Saturday, October 15, 2011

Starting The Wonder Woman Graphic Novel Saga Well: The Contest

The Good: Great artwork, Interesting story, Decent character work
The Bad: Fractured writing, Cover gives away the ending
The Basics: The Contest provides the beginning of a series of challenges for Wonder Woman that bring her purpose and mission back into focus when her mother decides to provide an opportunity for the selection of a new Wonder Woman!

Since my Wonder Woman Year last year, there have been a few gaps in the heroine's storyline that I have been most interested in filling. As a fan of Wonder Woman graphic novels, there are stories I was very interested in and I was disappointed that I did not manage to find before the year was over. Fortunately, my local library has an awesome interlibrary loan system. They managed to get me in Wonder Woman: The Contest, which was one of the big stories I had wanted to read before now. I knew that Diana's Themysciran rival, Artemis, assumed the mantle of Wonder Woman at some point, but I did not know how it happened until now. Reading The Contest, I finally got the story of how Diana was replaced by Artemis as Wonder Woman.

Before starting The Contest, I did not realize how important the story actually was in the Wonder Woman pantheon. But it is this story that introduces Artemis and the Bana-Mighdall, not just replacing Diana. More than that, the rift between Hippolyta and her sister Antiope is explored - and justified fairly reasonably by Diana looking remarkably like her aunt. What surprised me as much was that The Contest was actually the first Wonder Woman trade paperback anthology. For sure, Wonder Woman had been in comics for the fifty years that preceded the publication of this book, but no one had bothered to anthologize the stories.

Opening with Diana returning to Themyscira, Diana is shot at and shocked before she is welcomed by her sisters. She is most surprised to learn that Circe's mystical barrier that she has breached (before this particular story began) has kept Themyscira away from Earth not for the months that she believed, but a decade. Meeting with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, Diana learns the horrible truth about how Circe removed Themyscira from the Earthly plane and set her banished sister's upon the island. After the initial assault and the bloody conflict, Circe transported Paradise Island to a demon dimension, which caused the two warring groups of Amazons to stop their conflict and fight off demons together. Thwarting the demons, Themyscira remained trapped behind Circe's barrier with Hippolyta ceding a quarter of the island to the other Amazons before Diana found them. Diana, shocked, wanders out into their territory where she meets Artemis and learns about her aunt's people.

Hippolyta, feeling Diana has lost her roots as a Themysciran, calls for a new contest to possibly award the position of Wonder Woman in Patriarch's World to another. After helping to set up for the contest, a shocked Diana wanders off with Artemis to the settlement of the other Amazons and she learns Antiope's story. Experiencing the treachery of men the way her aunt did, Diana lays in a state apparently near death.

The contest begins then with Diana periodically having flashes of her mother and aunt's story. As she comes to understand the rift between the Amazon tribes, she must alternately fight against and with Artemis and her sisters as part of the contest to crown the next Wonder Woman!

The Contest is one of the few retroactive origin stories that has managed to fit the pieces into the established narrative seamlessly. Having read the origin of Wonder Woman in George Perez's Gods And Mortals (reviewed here!), I recall Hippolyta's relationship with Herakles, but not the other men marrying other Amazons. William Messner-Loebs writes the story of Antiope and Hippolyta to seem credible, like the first pass merely focused too tightly on Hippolyta as opposed to rewriting the pre-origin of Diana as a "this is how it really happened, not like that other story!" Antiope is an interesting character and the split with her Amazons makes the story of Artemis and her Amazons make a lot of sense.

The character conflict is equally interesting. Hippolyta makes a decent point in that Diana has been preoccupied with working at a fast food restaurant and violently fighting invaders both metahuman and extraterrestrial instead of making the world safe for women everywhere. Hippolyta comes across as a bit of an absolutist, but she makes some sense. Moreover, Diana's emotional journey to understanding Antiope and the Bana-Mighdall (even if they are not called that in this book) is compelling. She loses her faith in Hippolyta and that, at the very least, sets up the storylines that follow in an interesting direction.

What doesn't work are the fractured moments. As a perfect example, Chapter Two ends with Diana in a trance, in shock, unconscious and when we see her first in Chapter Three, she is back in her Wonder Woman outfit, active and fit. Moreover, during the race when she takes on the Medusa, it is not written in a clear way to indicate that when Medusa is slain, those she has turned to stone revert to their natural form. So, there are moments that are choppy, as if William Messner-Loebs did not have enough space to actually write the books he was writing.

That said, Mike Deodato Jr.'s artwork is pretty fantastic. The Contest might look like a preteen's wet dream with the women-filled pages, but Deodato does an exceptional job of consistently representing characters. None of the panels look like they were skimped on and in addition to Diana looking like one expects her - save in the last chapter where there are moments in the new uniform where she looks like Deodato is still trying to get the character's new shorter, straight hair and proportions right. On the other hand, Deodato makes Artemis as Wonder Woman look phenomenal (from the cover and final chapter) and she is instantly a viable, forceful character from the form and presentation of the character.

Despite being somewhat choppy and having a few panels that are not as beautiful as the others, The Contest is a Wonder Woman graphic novel that is very easy to enjoy and sets off a new era in the Amazon Princess's storyline. I know, I am eager for the next chapter!

For other Wonder Woman volumes in this incarnation of the Amazon Princess, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Mortals by George Perez
Wonder Woman: Challenge Of The Gods by George Perez
Beauty And The Beasts By George Perez
Wonder Woman: Lifelines By John Byrne
Paradise Lost By Phil Jimenez
Down To Earth By Greg Rucka
The Hiketeia


For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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