Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals Finds Wonder Woman’s Adversaries Moving To Destroy Her!

The Good: Decent plot, Most of the artwork, Good fleshing out of the villains
The Bad: Some mediocre artwork, Light on character development for the protagonist.
The Basics: A transition graphic novel, Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals has the enemies of Wonder Woman closing in on her as she tries to save Vanessa!

Having read so many Wonder Woman graphic novels , I’m getting to the point where I get asked who my favorite author for the series is. I have remarkably few graphic novels that I actually buy and the one that I want most does not exist yet because it has never been compiled in a way that preserves the entire story. That arc was written by Greg Rucka and, despite some issues with some of the artwork in some of the books he scripted, he is easily the author who wrote the most consistently good arc for Wonder Woman. My favorite story Rucka wrote for Wonder Woman involved the heroine getting blinded by Medousa and should that story ever be compiled in an omnibus that preserves the entire story arc as opposed to breaking it up over a few smaller books, then it will be the one Wonder Woman book I eagerly buy the day it comes out. Such a book would also make Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals unnecessary.

Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals is a bridge book that carries Rucka’s arc between the attack on the Themysciran Embassy and the Medousa arc where Wonder Woman is blinded. As much as I enjoy Wonder Woman books, Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals is light on character development for Diana and it focuses much more on the villains who are closing in on Diana to ruin her. The book is billed on the presence of Batman, though his involvement in the graphic novel is little more than a cameo. Instead, Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals is intensely focused on the catastrophes surrounding Diana and the villains who are motivated to wrong her. The book is a poor standalone graphic novel in that most of the volume deals with the fallout of an attack that is not being investigated. Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals might have been far better had the incident and the investigation been part of the same book.

Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals starts with a reinterpretation of the myth of Perseus and the Gorgons. Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl) is babysitting at the Themysciran Embassy and she tells her two sugar-loaded wards the story of how Perseus defeated the Gorgons. Ferdinand notes that Stheno and Euryale are still out in the world and that the consequences of falling in love with a god can be devastating. The undertones in the first story foreshadow events in Wonder Girl’s story arc while the story of the Gorgons is essential to where Wonder Woman would soon go (but does not quite get there in Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals).

Elsewhere, Themyscira falls out of the sky and amid the devastation, one of the freed Gorgons rescues Circe (who was, presumably, imprisoned on Paradise Island). Preventing Circe from drowning and getting her back to their lair, Stheno and Euryace charge Circe with repaying them with a boon. Elsewhere, Wonder Woman rescues Vanessa Kapatelis (the Silver Swan) after she attacks Diana. Diana discovers the demise of Themyscira when she teleports to the crashed island with the insensate Kapatelis. The Amazons are unable to offer assistance to the fallen Silver Swan as they are busy recovering creatures let out of the Themysciran prison when the island crashed. Wonder Woman returns to New York City where she discovers that the U.S. military is moving in on Themyscira and the Amazons are being pressured over the assassination of the head of Protect Our Children, Darrel Keyes on the steps of the Themysciran Embassy (which happened before this book).

After a sidestory that has Veronica Cale torturing one of her subcontractors and through that, she finally reveals the root of her problems with Diana. After Cale’s backstory is revealed, Diana tries to get Vanessa help and discovers that the best hope her friend has is Leslie Anderson, Cale’s partner at C.A.P. Amid pressure from Artemis for Diana to get the U.S. to recognize Themyscira’s territorial waters, Circe resurrects Medousa’s head and is prepared to screw over Stheno and Euryale when Poseidon appears in order to get her to finish resurrecting the Gorgon. Diana enlists Batman to investigate the death of Keyes and he soon finds that Doctor Psycho was involved. When Wonder Woman, who is immune to Doctor Psycho’s influence, arrives at C.A.P. to find the assassin and/or Doctor Psycho, she becomes the unlikely rescuer of Cale.

The fundamental problem with Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals is that the book is very much a plot-centered transition volume that does not lead to any sense of resolution. The reader learns who killed Darrel Keyes through the cameo from Batman, but the investigation is one of several plot threads in the book. The volume is entirely filled with unresolved threads, making it feel like a strangely busy book where nothing actually happens. For sure, Wonder Woman has a fight at C.A.P. and the reader learns what is going on in Cale’s head to make her hate Diana, but beyond that Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals is entirely about setting up the storylines beyond this book. None of the villains get captured, there is no justice brought down and the next major villain is fully restored and prepared to hunt for Wonder Woman; the plotline with the U.S. recognizing the new location of Themyscira is not even resolved!

That said, Greg Rucka makes his mark with Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals by continuing to make a solid arc with Diana on Earth in a surprisingly practical persona. She is an Ambassador and bound by international law. Her only real super powers utilized in Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals are flight, super-strength, and using her lasso to see through Doctor Psycho’s mental manipulations. While Rucka does not have Gail Simone’s pen for banter, his serious take on Wonder Woman plays well opposite the villains who have a depth to them that is on par with Geoff Johns’s Flash villains.

But without reading the volumes that precede – and especially the two follow-ups dealing with Medousa and Wonder Woman’s blindness - Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals would not be as compelling as it is. The entire book feels like a middle chapter in a much larger work. The artwork is simplistic compared to some comic books, but it is not bad. The coloring is vivid and the characters are all recognizable, but none of the artwork in Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals is truly extraordinary. Fans of Wonder Woman will want to read Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals to be prepared for the important Medousa arc, but on its own, it is a much harder sell.

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
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 book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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