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Sunday Slugfest: Wonder Woman #600

Posted: Sunday, July 4, 2010
By: Thom Young

DC Comics
It’s the 600th issue of Wonder Woman (following last month’s 44th issue, of course), and various writers, illustrators, and colorists have all dropped by to help the Amazonian Princess celebrate her milestone issue in this 56-page extravaganza (including ads and promotional material).

Karyn Pinter:
Christopher Power:
Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:

Karyn Pinter:

Well here it is. After 68 years, our most wondrous of women finally gets her 600th issue. It's about time. A smorgasbord of the who's who in comics have come out to celebrate the first lady of DC by contributing stories, art, and some amazing pin ups.

Plus, there's an introduction by the only woman brave/lucky enough to have stepped into the Amazonian princess's knee-high red boots, Linda Carter (voice acting doesn't count unless you're Kevin Conroy, and neither does that 1974 TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby). So, without further ado, let's get this roast underway.

There were so many "hell yeahs" and so many "oh nos" inspired by this comic. Grading this issue was hard because there are so many things that bothered me at first, and some things that still do--but I understand why they were done.

I've been reading Wonder Woman for a long time; I’ve been a fan since I was born, and I’ve been doing the monthly reviews for the past year. Admittedly, as of late, I have been quicker to heap criticism rather than praise upon the title--and a little cleaning of the slate was undoubtedly called for. What has been put before us, however, is almost unacceptable--and yet, at the same time, intriguing.

Rewriting Wonder Woman’s history--really? I certainly hope things get put back to normal . . . and soon . . . because between this alternate timeline for Wonder Woman and the end (finally) of Lost my brain is about to liquefy.

The primary problem, when it's boiled down and examined, is that there is no transition here between J.M. Straczynski’s new storyline and what Gail Simone has been writing for the past 30-plus issues. There was no build up, and having a three-page prequel story in the same issue barely counts as a heads-up.

I knew what was happening before I read the issue, so I began the reviewing process with extreme prejudice. I can tell you in complete honesty that some parts of this review I have deleted and or changed after re-reading the issue with a more open mind.

Did I like having to let go of the Wonder Woman I've known for twenty years of my life? No. I don't think many of us did, but let's face it, Wonder Woman was in dire straights. The sales haven't been great, the stories were lacking, and our dear Amazonian Princess was slowly being left behind in favor of more action-packed hero stories with greater fanfare.

Certainly, the "death" of Bruce Wayne got everyone's attention. People who don't usually read comics were all abuzz and chattering about how could anyone but Bruce Wayne be Batman. Comics were sold--that's the long and short of it.

Wonder Woman needed something extreme to generate attention. Changing the issue number from 45 to 600 certainly helped, but was it enough? I guess the world may never know because an even greater extreme came with issue 600: the new suit.

This change in attire is the female equivalent of killing off the main character. Trust me, destroying a favored jacket or pair of shoes is going to start some shit in girl world. Again, I understand the necessity as it relates to the story, but . . . Jim Lee and Straczynski, this may be your Wonder Woman, but she's not mine.

Straczynski tries to reason, "What woman doesn't accessorize?"

Well, to answer you, sir, one who doesn't need to. She's Wonder Woman. She’s proven she doesn't need a cape or a utility belt; she can kick-ass on her own while wearing a bathing suit and some chunky bracelets.

Superman hasn't changed his image much over the years. Well, maybe he looks like he's about to ‘roid rage on some unsuspecting villain. However, other than the muscles trying to escape his spandex, he's worn the same primary colors his whole run with the exception of the Electric Blue year in 1997-98).

And Batman? He's a tech junky, so the upgrades are necessary to his character. That's where he gets his "powers" from. He's bound to go through suits the way Apple goes through iPhones.

Wonder Woman's accessories are iconic, and her suit is her identity. Nothing about this new outfit does anything for her; it literally blends into the background. Wonder Woman wasn't created to blend in--that was Diana Prince's roll. She used that role to hide among the masses, to be just another average Jane. Congratulations, Wonder Woman is now just another chick in tight black pants.

We can't dwell on fashion mistakes forever, though, not when the comic contains so much great writing. As much as the pants irk the hell out of me, Straczynski's story is genuinely good, or dare I say “great”--well, great in comparison to the past year of Wonder Woman stories anyway.

There is nothing I love more than being surprised at how good a story is, especially one I didn't have too much hope for. The new "alternate path" story is addictive, but perhaps that stems from waiting for the familiar Wonder Woman to come back. This story plainly states that the gods have altered time at their whim, but it may be possible to change it back. Wardrobe malfunction aside, I think Straczynski is on to something here, and I am prepared to put my time in as long as he promises to keep a decent story flowing.

Yet, let's not forget that this is a special anniversary issue, and it has short stories by Gail Simone, Amanda Conner, Louise Simonson, and Geoff Johns as well. Most of these pieces are simple little weaves that display how awesome Wonder Woman is, and how much she is adored by her fellow superheroines.

Amanda Conner's tale involves Power Girl and a brief appearance by Cassie Cane as Batgirl. It's absolute fluff, and possibly the best story in the book. It holds true to the sprit of Wonder Woman while still being sweet and showing off the friendship side of Diana. Plus, it has kitties in it, and who doesn't love Amanda's cat drawings?

Geoff Johns’s tale is the set up for Straczynski's--at least I'm about 80% sure it is. It was just too much mystery and not enough explanation. If Johns's and Straczynski's stories had been blended together, or if on their own they had been a full issue, than perhaps some of the confusion would have been lessened.

Having the 600th issue be a little celebration of all things that make Wonder Woman great was lovely. I think holding off on the new story until next month where it could have been the whole focus, and have an entire issue all to itself with twenty-odd pages of full explanation would have been a much better idea.

Some changes are difficult, but not impossible to overcome. As wracked as I might be over the latest developments, I do have (and always will have) nothing but love for the greatest of superheroines. I still have faith in the character, and if the pants can't stop me then I don't think it should stop anyone else from continuing to love and read Wonder Woman. The series is in Straczynski's capable hands now, and I think we can all trust him to put out a great story month after month.

Happy 600th Wonder Woman--you don't look a day over 30.

Christopher Power:

“What’s she got that she can say the word and we all follow?”

A cavalcade of artists, writers, editors, and fans coalesce on Wonder Woman 600 to produce a true capstone for the original and best superheroine. I am not sure if William Moulton Marston knew what he brought into the world in 1941, but I am sure he would love to know that his creation continues to inspire so many creative people and invoke such passion as is contained in this book.

Whereas the Batman #700 anniversary explored the legacy of the cowl, and Superman #700 looked at the Man of Steel’s connection to Earth, this book truly celebrates the history and myriad facets that comprise the Amazon Princess--and sets her up to embark on her next great journey.* It explores the core aspects of Diana’s strength, love, and ferocity--commanding armies with a word, imparting love at a glance, and standing against tyranny with determination.

The story by Gail Simone and George Perez is perhaps the perfect way to start an anniversary volume for Wonder Woman. An army of female heroes inspired by Wonder Woman, either from legacy or contemporary, fighting for her in her name. This scenario is perhaps the perfect metaphor for the legions of female fans who have been inspired by the comics, TV shows, movies, and (to paraphrase JMS) a gajillion lunch boxes, dolls, t-shirts and everything else that has had the WW on it.

It is clear why Simone was such a popular writer for Wonder Woman. Aside from the obvious observations about her ability to write female heroes well, Simone clearly has a wonderful ability to write not only Diana but also those around her. The awe that is inspired by Diana just oozes from the page.

Furthermore, Perez is clearly firing on all cylinders. He is still the master of the art form of comics--especially large battle scenes. Each panel is clear, clean, and precise. Movement is correct, and the flow from panel to panel is as perfect as ever. In particular, I am amazed as how well he can replicate the presentation of heroes from other artists, while creating inspiring looks that are all his own.

For example, Black Alice is a character who is always changing, but there are certain features that make her recognizable. These features come through perfectly in Perez’s panels (such as the pigtails), while the character still looks original and fresh wearing one of the Marvel Family uniforms. The story was written by two greats at the top of their game, and it provides a coda to Simone’s own outstanding run on the book--a run that has been very good (and it is sad to see it end).

Whereas the first story explores Diana’s well known powers (strength, flight, et cetera). The story “Fuzzy Logic,” written and penciled by the fantastic Amanda Conner, looks at Diana’s lesser-known empathy powers. It’s a subtle story that begins with my favourite Wonder Woman villain, Chang Tzu, and ends with one of the most earnest and sweetest scenes I have seen with Diana in a long time. This story also provides a nice bookend on Conner’s run on Power Girl--and I am happy that I own this story to provide that bookend.

“Firepower,” written by Louise Simonson, is perhaps the most straightforward of the stories. This enjoyable tale involves a team-up with Wonder Woman’s male counterpart, Superman. While he does the busy work, Diana takes centre stage by standing up to a small little man.

The art by Eduardo Pansica provides a well-designed series of panels that tells Simonson’s straightforward story in a smooth flowing manner. I think this story is probably the nicest coloured of the set as well--with Pete Pantazis providing very dynamic tones. I particularly like the lightning reflecting off the breastplate and bracelets.

When the reader comes to the final two stories, we see the future of Diana. I enjoyed the set-up, and I am intrigued at the idea of exploring Diana’s character in a new way for new readers. While longtime fans know the princess well, there is a new exploration ahead of us. Whether you agree with the need for it is a debate for another time.

I found J.M. Straczynski’s first foray into Diana’s world to be well paced and well plotted. A mix of action and heady mythology, it looks like JMS is going to take us on another legendary journey. In particular, I found the art compelling and fluid--new costume and all. I hope Don Kramer, whose art I was unfamiliar with up to now, will be the regular on JMS’s run.

Between each story are portraits of Wonder Woman by famous artists from previous issues. I loved the ones by Nicola Scott, Ivan Reis, and Francis Manupal. However, the prize in the bunch (beyond Perez’s fantastic cover) is the one by Phil Jimenez--a beautiful portrait of Wonder Woman in a classic pose with her history laid out behind her. I want the original of it, printed in large scale, and framed on my wall so my daughter can see its epic nature.

I am excited to see where Wonder Woman goes in the next few months. For the first time in a while, I am really excited about Diana, and that is saying something.

* Note: For comparison for the readers, I would only give the Superman anniversary issue 3 bullets, and the Batman anniversary 3.5 bullets.

Shawn Hill

I really wish I could rank this issue higher. I didn't read Superman's recent milestone issue, but I really enjoyed Batman #700, which had a powerful overarching theme that linked the multiple stories therein. I feel we comic book guys can be harder on our female heroes than we are on the male ones, asking them to do the impossible sometimes to entertain us (or settling for posing in tight costumes when they, and we, deserve better). However, the new direction forecasted at the end of this volume seems like a complete misfire to me--and it colors everything that goes before it.

The issue opens with a heartfelt appeal from Lynda Carter, who cannot be accused of misunderstanding the character. So if Wonder Woman’s principal actress can do it, why do so many writers fail?

The Gail Simone and George Perez story is a girl-power story about what an inspiration Diana is for other women. The story doesn't bother to name all of them, but I like seeing Batwoman in an action that takes her outside of obsessing over her own family. It's good to see that Grace, Miss Martian, Skyrocket, and Manhunter are all still around despite the failures of some of their books and teams.

Bulleteer and Terra also acquit themselves well, even if the story is a rather formulaic one involving robotic sirens enslaving men's minds. The touching part is the capstone the creators put on Perez’s very successful run on the title, when Diana turns back the clock a little to attend Vanessa Kapatelis's graduation.

The Amanda Connor story is probably too cutesy by about a million, but the buxom babes are beautiful--and their light-hearted interaction includes a veiled hentai joke that just about excuses it (and provides a final glimpse at Power Girl's departing creative high on her own book).

The Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica story is a Superman team-up wherein he lets Diana get the final blow in against a generic foe because he's a gentleman. It's not really empowering or essential as far as a beat in their relationship goes.

Then we get an interesting historical sequence painted by the ever-evolving Scott Kolins, which leads into the perplexing new direction by Straczynski--including a horrible new costume design by Jim Lee. To read the JMS stratagem included in the back of the book is to witness a painful misunderstanding of the character, who is apparently so uninteresting she needs to be stripped down to zero (AGAIN), bereft of her family and friends, and basically given the Teen Iron Man treatment--all of which signifies a complete lack of imagination.

Why jettison all the character work that has ensued since Rucka tackled the character, including her game-changing execution of Maxwell Lord (which was mostly well-handled as a facet of her warrior ethos)?

Sure Heinberg did her no favors, and Simone resorted to filling her tenure with colorful guest-stars, but Diana can't be as complicated a challenge as her writers make her out to be. Perez was able do it, and he's not even primarily a writer. However, he gave her a back story, a mission, colorful foes, and a support network of family and friends for more than fifty issues.

The new costume seems instantly dated (the Americana trappings of the original at least have a credible in-story explanation), and the story makes her something like a magickal teen initiate into mysteries as yet unexplained--beset upon by anonymous foes who know more than she. Do we really need to see Wonder Woman as Harry Potter?

J.K. Rowling's series has a unique and character-based finale, but this snippet of the new direction for Wonder Woman doesn't bode well for the future of a book that already had a perfectly strong lead character. Why disparage Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky’s "mod look" of the late1960s when that approach is essentially what Straczynski has done all over again--to "re-imagine" Diana as a street-level fighter a la Emma Peel?

The saving grace of the package is the inclusion of many portrait shots by a diverse group of artists. My favorites are Greg Horn's (whose colors have taken on an added moody depth lately) and Francis Manapul's (who has found an intriguing mix of painterly effect and standard inking that has a lot of character). Adam Hughes, Nicola Scott, Ivan Reis and Phil Jiminez all do fine (sometimes funny) takes on Diana. In fact, the only really bad portrait is by Jock, who seems to have painted a Hooters waitress on Halloween.

Dave Wallace:

Wonder Woman #600 is pretty much exactly what I expect from an anniversary issue of a superhero title. Presenting several short stories about the Amazon princess by a selection of well-known writers and artists, the issue is accessible even for casual readers who aren’t fans of the character whilst also throwing in a couple of interesting pointers as to the future direction of the book for those who intend to stick around a little longer.

Unlike the recent Superman #700, each of these stories is focused squarely on the book’s title character--and most of them seem intent on identifying the qualities that make Wonder Woman a worthy super-heroine.

Gail Simone’s “Valedictorian” is a brisk, energetic yarn that demonstrates that Diana can be an inspiration to other women both in and out of her costume (so to speak). It also features a host of female guest stars, and is illustrated by the much-loved Wonder Woman artist George Perez.

Perez’s work here is better than his recent work on Legion of 3 Worlds in that he stops short of cramming each panel full of as many costumed characters as possible. Instead, he seems content to illustrate Simone’s fast-moving and incident-packed seven-page tale in as clear and straightforward a manner as possible. There’s plenty of larger-than-life action here, but Simone also makes time for a quieter moment towards the end of the story, which captures Diana’s more human side.

Amanda Conner’s “Fuzzy Logic” features a team-up with Power Girl and Batgirl that kicks off with another big action sequence before turning into just about as fluffy and light a story as you could imagine. Here, we see Wonder Woman’s intuition and ability to empathise with others on display--albeit tempered with a certain naivety that seems a bit over-the-top given her status as a grown woman in the modern world. It’s fairly forgettable stuff, but I can’t deny that I find Conner’s artwork is charming in an innocent sort of way--and there’s nothing particularly bad about her writing, either.

“Firepower,” by Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica, is probably the weakest entry of the lot, featuring a team-up with Superman against a magical villain. The whole thing feels like something out of the Silver Age without any of the extra depth, humour, or irony that might help it to feel more relevant today. Nonetheless, it’s fairly well illustrated and colourful, and it’s brief enough that it doesn’t outstay its welcome for too long.

The book concludes with two linked pieces--a short sequence by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins (in which Johns seems to be setting out his own personal feelings about Wonder Woman as much as telling a story about her) that then segues into J. Michael Straczynski’s first story featuring the character before he takes over the book in earnest next month.

JMS’s “Couture Shock” is an effective prologue to his “Odyssey” arc--setting up quite a few of the ideas he intends to use without giving too much away just yet. I like the way in which he seems to be planning on filtering the mythical and legendary trappings of Wonder Woman’s character through a more modern, urban lens. Given what we find out about his ideas in the issue’s afterword, I’m quite keen on reading more of the story.

Of course, the reason this book has garnered such a lot of attention over the last week is that Wonder Woman’s origins and costume have been altered in preparation for JMS’s run on the book. After reading the issue, it seems like a bunch of fuss over nothing. JMS makes it pretty clear that his alterations to Diana’s origin story are going to be temporary, and her new threads actually feel very fitting given the tale’s more urban, modern setting.

Artist Don Kramer makes the new outfit look pretty good--retaining the most significant iconic symbols of the character’s classic costume whilst updating some of the details. Aside from some minor quibbles with the art (I’m not sure how Wonder Woman can leave a “W” imprint on her enemy’s forehead--presumably using the amulet that she wears on her forearm--after only punching him with her fist?), it’s a good-looking story with clear and dynamic action sequences. There are also some visually interesting attempts to re-imagine ancient mythological concepts in a contemporary environment.

Alongside these stories, we get a healthy selection of Wonder Woman pinups by some quite high-profile illustrators. There’s also a fun introduction by Lynda Carter that shows some real affection for the character--even if Carter scores a bit of an own goal by apparently forgetting that she’s writing an introduction to a comic book as she states that she “never tried to dumb down [Wonder Woman] or treat her as a two-dimensional comic book character; I had too much respect for her to do that.”

That said, Lynda Carter probably has a point. Of all the stories in this issue, it’s really only JMS’s prologue that seeks to treat Wonder Woman as more than just a “two-dimensional comic book character,” with the remaining tales standing as perfectly serviceable but unremarkable short stories about her--which is probably enough for fans of Wonder Woman. However, as somebody without much of an investment in the character one way or another, I’m more keen on seeing whether the quality of the book can be kicked up a notch when JMS takes over next issue.

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