Saturday, December 20, 2014

Climax To An Unworthy Story: Wonder Woman: War Is A Resounding Success!

The Good: Engaging story, Good pacing, Some good character moments
The Bad: Erratic and simplistic artwork
The Basics: Just as I was ready to write off Wonder Woman, the writers pull out Volume 4, War which is strong enough to give readers hope!

I would like to start my review of Wonder Woman: Volume 4 - War out with a big “fuck you!” to writer Brian Azzarello. Brian Azzarello has been writing Wonder Woman since the New 52 reboot over at DC Comics and he managed to take one of the most interesting characters in the DC Comics pantheon and utterly ruin her. Gone from being a magical, exceptionally ethical, warrior/diplomat, Azzarello rewrote the character as an unimaginatively rendered demi-goddess who is a fish-out-of-water warrior defending her extended family members on a world she is not entirely familiar with. Over the first three volumes of The New 52’s Wonder Woman, Azzarello and his team managed to mortgage almost all of my love for one of the greatest characters in comic book history. Then came Wonder Woman: Volume 4 - War.

And Azzarello pulled it out. Wonder Woman: War is an engaging story with a cool protagonist, compelling villain and enough twists to become an essential part of the new Wonder Woman story. Almost all of the problems that the first three books created are undone or swept to the side in Wonder Woman: War. Given how Wonder Woman’s heritage has been rewritten, by Volume 4 there is no real point in continuing to bitch about how that has happened. Wonder Woman has gone from being a magically-created, somewhat divine creature into a powerful demi-goddess created through a mundane heterosexual relationship between a god and an immortal, so by War, there is no point in fighting that lost cause any longer. Wonder Woman: War seems to acknowledge that because it wastes no time recapping the former volumes and instead, it plunges forward with the narrative and it does so in a fairly good way.

With Apollo figuring out the ins and outs of being the ruler of Olympus and relating to the gods who are now under his command, Diana and her allies regroup. While they figure out a name for Zola’s new baby, the First Born continues his march for dominance by taking Poseidon hostage and threatening him. Diana’s allies begin to abandon her: War and Lennox begging off as Orion hits relentlessly on Diana. With Poseidon and Hell cutting a deal with the First Born that puts their realms outside his quest for power, the First Born turns toward Olympus. But realizing that the baby poses the gravest threat to him, he and Cassandra make a bee-line for Diana’s crew.

With the baby menaced, Wonder Woman comes in in full force and only survives her encounter with the First Born when Lennox and Orion rescue her. Whisked off to New Genesis, Diana finds herself unable to heal on her own. Orion and Highfather get into a feud over jurisdiction with the leader of the New Gods unwilling to risk New Genesis should the First Born turn his attention there. Returning to Earth, Wonder Woman and the First Born get into their final conflict and the result is a fundamental shift in Wonder Woman’s status in the universe!

Wonder Woman: War is a set-up volume, but the set-up is so incredible that it does what none of the prior New 52 Wonder Woman books have done; it makes us want to read what comes next. Wonder Woman has gone through several paradigm shifts over the decades and one of the most problematic was her ascension to godhood, largely because she was assuming a position without a niche. Wonder Woman: War gives Wonder Woman a divine purpose and, in the full Greek tradition, she is given a specific position in the pantheon to take and it is awesome.

Moreover, Wonder Woman: War makes the transition make sense. The First Born is a cool villain who is tied to the peripheral characters in this incarnation of Wonder Woman. Motivated by vengeance toward Hera and with the weight of prophecy, the First Born is dangerous and realistically motivated. Moreover, he is created without any serious defects, making him virtually impossible to defeat, which makes for an engaging story.

Diana in Wonder Woman: War experiences loss and a sense of vulnerability uncommon to the super heroine and it plays well. Wonder Woman may be (largely) invulnerable, but as she and her friends are hunted, she gets seriously wounded. Not only physically beaten, Diana wrestles with loss at the hands of the First Born. There is an evolution in Wonder Woman: War; Hera has a sense of remorse, Diana loses, and Orion proves himself more than just a sleazy god.

What does not work as well in Wonder Woman: War is the artwork. Like so many of the New 52 books, the artwork is simplistic and blockish. In writing 52 books a month, DC Comics created a-list and b-list (and down) comics where they prioritized their best artists. Wonder Woman, unfortunately, seems to be down the list. The characters are rendered blockishly with sloppy lines and vivid, though not realistic coloring. This is like an animated series Wonder Woman where the artists don’t really give a damn about the background or the characters who are not talking at the time!

The result is a good story that makes very poor use of the graphic novel medium. Wonder Woman: War might be the indispensable New 52 Wonder Woman story, but it is not rendered in a compelling way. Ultimately, that makes it a tougher sell than it ought to be, but it is worthwhile and makes one want the next book!

For the rest of the New 52 Wonder Woman, please check out my reviews of:
Volume 1 – Blood
Volume 2 – Guts
Volume 3 – Iron


For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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