Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Resolution To An Unseen War Mixes With A Less-Than-Ambitious Continuation Of A Story In Wonder Woman: Paradise Found

The Good: Decent character development, Sensible villain
The Bad: Abrupt right turn in plot, Terrible middle chapter, Unremarkable resolution, Mixed artwork
The Basics: After much build-up, the main story of Wonder Woman is interrupted by the brutal Imperiex War, which Circe takes advantage of in a way that results in a ridiculous and jumbled narrative in Wonder Woman: Paradise Found.

In their quest to sell more comic books, both of the major comic book publishers present grandiose, universe-altering crossovers. This frequently necessitates that fans of the given comic book world buy issues across titles, as well as exclusives for the crossover itself. With Wonder Woman, this has occasionally been problematic, as her story tends to be more introverted. Green Lantern may be out saving the galaxy, the Flash may run into trouble within his twin cities, and such, but Wonder Woman tends to go on long arcs. This is in direct contrast to Batman, who tends to foil plots within his own city that are largely episodic, or Superman, who defends Metropolis from the attack of the day without (usually) building incredibly long arcs. So, when a universe-altering event comes along, Superman and Batman are pretty much always available and Green Lantern and Flash can easily be recalled. Wonder Woman, however, might be out trying to cure famine, blinded, or wrestling with the internal politics of Themyscira. The problem of pulling Wonder Woman from her well-developed plots is most evident in Wonder Woman: Paradise Found.

After books and books of build-up, most recently in Paradise Lost, Wonder Woman has been on a collision course with her old charge Vanessa Kapatelis, who has taken up the mantle of the Silver Swan. But, in the moments when the big reveal hits and there should be – in fine Wonder Woman tradition – great moralizing and character development, the storyline takes an abrupt right turn to fit in with the massive crossover The Imperiex War, which was shaking the DC Universe at the time. This is found in Wonder Woman: Paradise Found and that incredible distraction from the main Wonder Woman plotline is recovered by what should have been a strong Wonder Woman story (as the inevitable fight between Diana and Circe comes) is diluted with a battle royale that ultimately reads like a list (with artwork) of every female character in the DC Universe. The result is that fans of Wonder Woman are more likely to feel cheated than thrilled by the way Wonder Woman: Paradise Found is put together and the resolution to so many stories that fans might have been invested in.

Following the last successful tests of the Silver Swan by her manipulators, Vanessa Kapatelis comes into direct conflict with Wonder Woman. While Diana pleads with Vanessa, she finds herself under attack by a new incarnation of the Cheetah. Before the fight can be resolved, Circe intervenes and retreats with Diana’s enemies. It is then that Diana is called into space to participate with the heroes of Earth in the Imperiex War. The Imperiex War finds refugee ships from countless worlds coming to Earth, with the villainous Imperiex forces and Brainiac on their heels. In fighting to save the Earth, Wonder Woman helps empower Darkseid to repel the greater evil and Hippolyta is killed in the process.

In the wake of the devastation, Circe goads Diana as the witch makes a bold attack. Capturing the heroes of the world in New York City, Circe transforms the men into animals or human/animal hybrids. She then unleashes the villainesses to hunt them and as the hero and civilian casualties mount, Wonder Woman assembles an army of women and enters New York City to fight Circe once and for all. Unfortunately for her, Circe has captured Superman and transformed him into a Superman/Doomsday creature which she sets upon Wonder Woman!

One of the key chapters of Wonder Woman: Paradise Found, the climactic fight between the heroines of the DC Universe and Circe’s forces, is one of the worst-written comic books ever by simple virtue that there is no pace, no subtlety. Instead, most of a chapter is simply a list of the characters. We see virtually every female character – heroine and villainess – in the DC Universe for a single panel in action. What they are doing, what their thoughts, motivations or any genuine sense of character is lost in this book. But, it takes up a huge amount of space. It also robs much of the fight between Diana and Kal-El of its impact.

What works with this whole upset of the main narrative to accommodate the Imperiex War is the way Circe manipulates the circumstances. She is, as befits her character, happy to use the chaos on Earth as an opening to exact her revenge upon Diana. This actually makes Circe one of the most formidable villains in the DC pantheon, surprisingly. The demigoddess, however, is not given enough room to grow, develop, or truly menace in Wonder Woman: Paradise Found. Author Phil Jimenez provides Circe with an obvious Achilles heel in her new daughter Lyta. Moreover, forced to accommodate the presence of Lex Luthor and the Joker, Circe is prevented from appropriately dominating Wonder Woman: Paradise Found.

The character of Diana holds up and, despite Circe and the Silver Swan’s mockery, the resolution to Wonder Woman: Paradise Found makes a great deal of sense. There is a philosophical component to the resolution, but given the dangling plotlines with some of the villains, the reward denouement reads as somewhat ill-conceived. Given how much work Jimenez goes through to preserve the key elements of the adversaries of Wonder Woman, the intervention of the Olympians in the final chapter is presented more for the fans than for any sensible progression.

The artwork in Wonder Woman: Paradise Found is fair. Many of the panels are rendered well-enough to make the characters recognizable, but without a vibrant sense of coloring (little depth and shading, especially by current standards) that most readers expect. As well, there is a diminished portrayal of movement within panels in Wonder Woman: Paradise Found. Jimenez is pleasantly verbose with his characters, which makes them very well-rounded, but does not allow the him to utilize the visual medium as effectively as some of the other volumes.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman: Paradise Found is an unsatisfying continuation of the Wonder Woman story and the portions that focus on the Imperiex War may be found in other anthologies for those looking for it.

For other Wonder Woman volumes, 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
Destiny Calling By George Perez
The Contest By William Messner-Loebs
Wonder Woman: Lifelines By John Byrne
Paradise Lost By Phil Jimenez
Down To Earth By Greg Rucka
Eyes Of The Gorgon By Greg Rucka
Land Of The Dead By Greg Rucka
Mission's End By Greg Rucka
The Hiketeia


For other graphic novel reviews, be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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