Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fractured Narrative, Fractured Art: Wonder Woman: War-Torn Gets Off To A Rough Start!

The Good: A few panels of artwork, Coloring, Character conflict
The Bad: Very choppy writing, Choppy narrative, Erratic artwork
The Basics: Wonder Woman: War-Torn reads like a good idea executed on a time crunch, attempting to do too many things . . . poorly.

I admire ambition in writing and with the graphic novel medium, I have come to appreciate both complexity and the skill that comes in making all of the various elements come together. A good graphic novel is like a good movie; the script may be translated into a magnificent work of art that expresses deeper themes and ideas well. A bad graphic novel is just a collection of comic books. Sadly, Wonder Woman: War-Torn is closer to the latter than the former.

Wonder Woman: War-Torn is a compilation of six comic books - issues 36 - 40, plus the Annual, and marks the beginning of Meredith Finch's term as lead writer of Wonder Woman. Finch teamed up with her husband, artist David Finch, for the chapters collected in Wonder Woman: War-Torn and it is unsurprising to me after reading the book that Meredith Finch has very few books under her belt including this one. The writing in Wonder Woman: War-Torn is exceptionally choppy and the transitions between scenes and panels are painfully abrupt. As a result, the process of reading Wonder Woman: War-Torn is very off-putting as readers find themselves flung between Diana's brief stints on Themyscira and equally brief adventures with the Justice League following clues surrounding apparent natural disasters that are swallowing whole villages around the world.

Opening with Diana in London being called to the Justice League, while on Themyscira, Clyemne voices an objection to men being allowed on Paradise Island. When an abrupt natural disaster wipes out tens of thousands of people in Thailand and nearby, Diana freaks out and attacks Swamp Thing in Thailand. While Aquaman talks both parties down, Diana continues to feel like she is being stretched too thin. Diana returns home to see how integration with the Amazon men is going and learns her mother has died. After her mother's death and another attack on Themyscira, the council on Paradise Island demands Diana return. The crisis with the Stymphalian Birds reaches its peak, Diana is called away again . . . just as an underground faction brings Donna Troy into the world to seize Themyscira.

When a dragon attacks Themyscira, Dessa is killed and Diana learns that as the God Of War, she is now a magnet for discord. But Strife has implanted that horrifying dream in Diana to shake her and in her rattled state, she is eager to leave. Recalled by Cyborg when a village in Peru is swallowed up, Diana is absent from Themyscira when Derinoe introduces Donna Troy to the Council. As Troy rallies the Amazon women against the men Diana brought to Paradise Island, Wonder Woman discovers she may be responsible for the natural disasters around the world. In trying to resolve the conflict, the Justice League learns of the aliens harvesting bodies below the Earth and after brokering a peace with the aliens, she returns to Themyscira to discover just how dangerous Donna Troy is!

Wonder Woman: War-Torn ends with a flashback story that finally fills in the backstory of Derinoe. Knowing the motivation of Derinoe only after her apparent death is almost as off-putting as the writing style and the lack of resolution for the main plot that allows the Justice League to get involved in the Wonder Woman book. In addition to taking the extraterrestrials living underground's word for everything, Diana (and the Justice League) illustrate a pretty powerful idiot streak by not resolving the essential problem they learn about. The aliens were influenced by the buried corpse of the First Born. So, the reader has a reasonable expectation that the body will be dealt with in some alternative form; instead, the story abruptly ends.

Wonder Woman: War-Torn is hampered immediately by a very choppy writing style. For example, the leap from the Justice League satellite to Wonder Woman attacking Swamp Thing is terribly abrupt. The reader is left to believe that Diana saw the carnage from orbit, arrived in Thailand still that angry, and attacked the first thing that moved?! There's character development and then there's just ridiculous redefinitions of the character and there are moments in Wonder Woman: War-Torn that are definitely the latter.

Equally troubling in Wonder Woman: War-Torn are the transitions between chapters. One chapter will end with Diana with the Justice League still in the middle of investigating a cataclysm in nature, the next will open with Themyscira under attack and Diana arriving back home in the middle of the battle. There is very poor flow for developing the story as the narrative hops around erratically. While Diana is feeling stretched too thin, the reader ought to be able to follow the logical progression of her story, but Meredith Finch's writing does not make it easy.

On the artwork front, Wonder Woman: War-Torn features generally good panels, but low flow between panels. In other words, each panel is rendered as a decent static shot of the action for the story, but movement within the panels and especially between the panels is choppy. This is the comic book equivalent of a movie with a long series of bad, hard cuts cobbled together.

What redeems Wonder Woman: War-Torn from being truly awful is the sense of the protagonist's morals. Diana continues to have a strong moral core and there is something refreshing about her turning around Bruce Wayne's chiding on the vigilante in their scene together. Diana wants what is best for Themyscira and she wants to be a part of the Justice League; she struggles to find her balance, but she is guided by ethics, even when she gets angry. While Derinoe is painted very thinly as an antagonist until the flashback, even she is motivated by a desire to save Paradise Island for the (female) Amazons.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman: War-Torn is a rocky start to the next phase of Queen Diana, God Of War's next chapter and Meredith Finch is given the unenviable task, like Wonder Woman, of trying to juggle a slew of plot and character elements already in play. It is, therefore, no surprise that the volume has a rushed tone and choppy artwork, even if fans would hope for better for the venerable hero.

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
The Challenge Of Artemis By William Messner-Loebs
Second Genesis By John Byrne
Wonder Woman: Lifelines By John Byrne
Paradise Lost By Phil Jimenez
Paradise Found 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 check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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