Monday, December 16, 2013

Wonder Woman Vols. 1&2 by by George Pérez (Author), Len Wein (Author), Greg Potter (Author), Bruce Patterson (Illustrator)

I tend to circle Wonder Woman stories cautiously. Part of the problem is she's the heroine everyone talks about, the one I'm absolutely supposed to like, the way I like Batman or Superman, someone who's just there--but who is a woman, and who is holding the "prominent woman superhero" status all on her lonesome. That's a huge load for one character to carry. Add to that, she's supposed to be both peaceful and a warrior. No tension there!

Anyway, emboldened by my enjoyment of J. Michael Straczynski's Wonder Woman, I decided to try Perez's earlier retelling. My reaction is decidedly mixed.

Wonder Woman Vol 1: Gods and Mortals
The gods are in deep trouble. Mars is getting way out of hand, threatening to destroy the human race with his hijinks and thus destroying the gods, who need human worship to survive. For reasons that are not quite clear, they can't fight Mars themselves but need Wonder Woman to defeat the god of war and (hopefully) bring him to his senses.

The bad (and it's very bad): Rape as backstory. For an entire race. Honestly! Hercules tricks the peaceful (yet skilled in war) Amazons into trusting them, takes them into captivity where they are systematically raped. They escape and are sent by the goddesses (and god: Mercury had a role) who created them to live in isolation on Themyscira, guarding against the escape of evil imprisoned under the island. There are hints that this is for their protection, but equal, and somewhat contradictory, hints that this is something of a punishment for their failure to teach the world how to live peacefully, and for their anger at their rapists. This is a very strange, very mixed message.

The good: In the modern day, there are a lot of strong friendships between women and they ring true. One of the keys to Wonder Woman's success is a Harvard researcher, a librarian, and her subsequent friendship with Julia and her daughter, Vanessa, remains a strength throughout both volumes. I also enjoyed the way that Diana's relationship with Steve Trevor becomes one of friendship rather than romance, and that Etta now has a major role, a lot of backbone, and the ability to plan on her own.

Wonder Woman needs her mortal allies in challenging the god, which is a definite plus: I do prefer team heroes to soloists. The byplay among the godly onlookers doesn't add a lot to the tale (Who cares what happens to Aphrodite?), but does give some backstory when needed.

Verdict: Entertaining, but hasn't really hooked me on reading more Wonder Woman, and I'm still finding the superheroes the least interesting of the graphic novels I've picked up during the Summer of the Graphic Novel (Yes, I know, it's now the Winter of etc, but the "half year of..." is really lame sounding, and the Summer of the Dragonfly is still going on, and that started last year)

Wonder Woman vol 2: Challenge of the Gods
As with volume one, the friendships are strong, and The individual challenges and battles are entertaining enough, but once again the Amazons are threatened with destruction if Wonder Woman doesn't prove her worth. For a group of immortal warriors, they're awfully vulnerable. Oh, and once again they are threatened with rape. The bulk of the story is shaped by Zeus planning on an extended vacation down on the island full of beautiful women; he's angry when Diana refuses his initial offer of "blessing" and presents her with a series of challenges to prove her worth and preserve her, and the island's, safety from his lust. This is not out of character for the god, really, but this is the second book in a row where rape has been a major plot point.

Also, the whole Hercules raped the Amazons story is continued. While I am quite sure that there are valuable tales to be told about a woman forgiving her rapist, and I'm sure that they could (perhaps have) been told in comic book form, I am also certain that these stories shouldn't involve magically resolving the issue by tying rapist and victim together with a magic lasso of truth. That whole "magical insight" and "instant understanding" completely undermines and ignores the trauma of rape. Having Hercules declared more of a man because he realizes women can be equal to men? Not bad. Rewarding him with a kiss from his victim? Very bad.

Again, there are some good bits here: The friendships remain strong. I liked the Etta and Steve romance--I'm a sucker for a good romance. Also, though I probably wasn't supposed to, I loved the rapacious, over-the-top publicity agent, Myndi Mayer. Here jeweled heels and refusal to take no for an answer were wonderful.

All in all, though, I wouldn't say this was one of my more enjoyable forays into the world of superheroes.

The bit that interests me most is almost a throwaway bit: The first arc in here concerns the Cheetah and her attempt to lure Wonder Woman in by promising her evidence of the lost Amazons, the ones who didn't take the gods offer/exile of life in isolation on Themyscira. Nothing, other than a fight scene, comes of it, but I can't help thinking that there's more to tell of that tale in the future.

So, it's a mixed bag, and of course Perez's reinvention has now been trumped, or at least enfolded, by Straczynski's which has in turn been wiped from continuity by the New 52.

Other Reviews links of interest

Gods and Mortals on Goodreads
Challenge of the Gods on Goodreads

Got a review you think I should link to? Let me know!

Gods and Mortals on Amazon
Challenge of the Gods on Amazon

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