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Sunday Slugfest: Wonder Woman #604

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2010
By: Thom Young

J. Michael Straczynski
Don Kramer & Eduardo Pansica (p), Jay Leisten (i), & Alex Sinclair (colors)
DC Comics
“Odyssey: Part Four”

Diana finally confronts her primary foe in this altered reality, and it turns out he’s a pawn, too.

Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:

Shawn Hill

This fourth issue is a disappointing installment from the new regime. Though the art is uniformly strong, I still can’t adjust to the new costume. It’s simply incongruous with the story being told--a grim and gritty military war tale, with this issue focusing on a mercenary with a very dark history; his present isn’t much better.

He is covered in severe burns that were inflicted upon him in vengeance by the survivors of his amorally (yet thoroughly) executed victims, and he has only survived due to mystical means. He’s a memorable (if nameless) foe, but no more memorable than the last engineered creep sent at Diana by Ares (Genocide). That abomination, like this one, was in possession of her magic lasso and was set up to have the same skill set as the formidable Amazon while representing a morally inverse critique of everything she stood for.

The problem this time is we don’t quite know what this Wonder Woman stands for because she doesn’t either. While it’s been somewhat fun to watch her rediscover her powers as the story progresses, this evolution is taking place within a context that doesn’t make much sense. Removing Diana from the DC Universe where she has many alliances, a history, and full membership in several significant teams is too obvious a way to go. It removes all the connectivity in which she could thrive in order to artificially stack the deck against her for the duration of J. Michael Straczynski’s story.

Diana has always had a personality that works well with others--and the threats that she is facing in this tale need a Donna, an Artemis, or even a Batman or Black Canary to come to her aid (not to save her, mind you, but just to be on her team). Instead, we make due with an unexpected last minute save from another long-time supporting cast member, this time acting almost as a literal deus ex machina, because mystic dooms and boons are, after all, what this occult mystery is about.

If it is, as I’ve hinted above, yet another game by that god who always has it in for Diana, then he is well within the established territory for this title. However, thus far the mix of arcane mumbo jumbo and military might has been a rough, uneven ride.

Dave Wallace:

Wonder Woman #604 is a perfect example of an average modern-day superhero comic. Introducing a new villain for the book's heroine to battle, the fourth part of J. Michael Straczynski's “Odyssey” storyline sees Diana learn a little about her foe's history before plunging into battle with him--the result of which is that she moves a step forward in her current quest and reacquires a couple of the classic Wonder Woman trappings that had previously been stripped away from her by JMS's alternate-reality story concept.

All of these elements are handled reasonably well, in a way that's typical of an average superhero comic, with the new villain's origin dropped in at the beginning of the issue to provide a little more depth for an otherwise faceless (no pun intended) character. This backstory is appreciated, even if it is fairly run-of-the-mill stuff that sits a little clunkily at the start of the book like the brick of exposition that it is (and it doesn't help that Wonder Woman herself voices boredom with the potted character biography after a while).

Then, it's on to the action, which gives the art team the chance to shine. Together, Don Kramer and Eduardo Pansica provide fairly consistent (if unremarkable) artwork throughout the book, but the fight sequence that is the centre piece of the issue allows them a chance in the spotlight. There's a neat full-page montage of exciting images of Wonder Woman fighting her enemy, followed by a few pages that depict a more linear back-and-forth between the two characters in a fashion that's always easy to follow, even if there isn't a single standout visual moment that really feels like it dazzles.

At the climax of the battle, there are hints that Wonder Woman might have to make the supreme sacrifice if she's to overcome her enemy--but a twist in the story gives her the opening she needs to vanquish her foe and escape, and then it's onwards to the next adventure.

However, before the issue is over, JMS manages to restore a couple of Diana's more familiar traits with a couple of moments that feel revelatory until you remember that they're really only putting things back to how they were a few issues ago (“No change--just the illusion of change,” as Stan Lee supposedly used to tell his writers).

As I said earlier, all of these elements are handled reasonably well, with no huge plot holes to speak of, no glaring mistakes in the writing (despite a couple of clunky moments), and some pleasing enough artwork that conveys the story perfectly adequately. However, at the same time, there's nothing here to elevate the story above the average standard that you'd expect from a superhero comic today.

Being average isn't necessarily a bad thing, and by definition it means that there are a lot of other books out there that are handled a lot more sloppily and can't boast the same standard of writing and artwork seen here. Yet, when there's also a large number of titles offering something more interesting, more original, and more unpredictable, then it becomes hard to justify shelling out on a book like this that's merely “okay.”

Perhaps particular fans of Wonder Woman will enjoy this issue a little more than I did--and I'm sure they'll cheer at one particular moment that sees JMS do away with one of the more controversial of Diana's recent costume revisions--but personally, I'm starting to wonder whether it's worth continuing to follow a book that hasn't provided anything to make it stand out as special.

Thom Young:

My interest in J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Wonder Woman has been waning with each new issue, but my bullet rating had not dipped below the three bullets that indicates a competently produced average comic book--that is, of course, until I read this latest issue. I disagree with Dave’s assessment that this issue represents an “average” comic book; it is below average to me for a few reasons that have already been mentioned by my colleagues and a few others that I will add to the mix.

First, the shadowy villain of the first three issues finally stands revealed in this issue. We have caught glimpses of him in the shadows before--a bald man with a toned body of lean muscle. Normally, if a villain is being kept hidden in the shadows by the creative team it is usually an indication that the character is well known and that the revelation is meant to shock the readership. Of course, that tactic is a cliché, but it can still be an effective tactic.

So, who is the mysterious shadowy bald man? Is he Lex Luthor (as I once speculated)? Is he the god Ares with a new hairstyle?

No, as Shawn mentioned, he’s a nameless mercenary who is supposed to be “the best at what he does” (another cliché) and who was rescued from tortures that even he "did not know could be inflicted on the human body” (yet another cliché)--which leads to the obvious question: How does a mercenary who is skilled in torture and who is the best at his profession not know of the tortures that were then inflicted upon him by his would-be victims?

Oh well, never mind that lapse in logic. After all, it’s just a comic book story.

By the way, one of the tortures inflicted upon our unnamed mercenary is being set aflame with a match after being doused with gasoline. I’m sure I’ve seen that torture many times in comics, so either the mercenary had a limited imagination when it came to his own methods of torture, or those “unknown tortures” were all of the ones that the story indicates occurred off panel--because, obviously, they are so "unknown" that not even the writer of this comic book knows about them.

However, since he was doused with gasoline and set aflame, we should expect him to be a disfigured man with the scars of third-degree burns (perhaps even fourth-degree) over his entire body. He should look like the Batman villain Two-Face, only the scars should be everywhere. Instead, he looks like a different Batman villain: Mr. Zsasz. Wonder Woman’s nameless antagonist has scars that look more like cut marks than burn marks--which, I assume, is the fault of the pencillers.

In the first two issues of this run, I was quite impressed with Don Kramer’s pencils (with only minor complaints about a few panels). However, with these latest two issues Kramer has needed the help of Eduardo Pansica as a co-penciler. The shared art duties are obviously an indication that the series is having deadline problems, which means that the illustrations are not only being shared, they are probably being rushed. Thus, we get a scarred mercenary who should have burn marks but who seems to have cut marks.

Another indication of a problem with the illustration comes in the visual storytelling on page two as the nameless villain conveys his clichéd origin. The first horizontal panel shows us how the villain looks now as he occupies the center of the picture. The second horizontal panel zooms in for a close up of his face and bald head, which continues to occupy the center of the picture. The third horizontal panel shows us a close up of his face from a few years ago when he was a mercenary wearing a military officer’s uniform. Again, this flashback close up has him occupying the center of the panel.

Thus, when we get to the fourth horizontal panel, we have been visually led to expect that the figure occupying the center should be another shot of the villain, Indeed, I thought the figure tied to a pole in front of a firing squad was our antagonist for a few more panels (continuing on to page three) until I finally figured out that he was now no longer occupying the central position of remainder of the horizontal panels on pages two and three.

Visually, the storytelling on those two pages was not as good as it should have been.

The final problem I have with this latest issue is the lack of quality control when it comes to proofreading the text before it is sent to the printer. Of course, everyone makes typographical errors. I’m actually the king of typos--and you can probably find some in this very review that will support that claim.

However, I write these reviews just minutes before posting them online and no one proofreads my work and makes changes to fix such errors (as I usually do for the reviewers whose work I edit--such as Shawn and Dave in this slugfest). It’s only later, when I can bring myself to reading my own long-winded reviews, that I find the typos and so get into the file to fix them.

However, in a comic book that goes to press after passing through the hands of the pencilers, the letterer, and the editor (not to mention the possibility of an actual quality control proofreader who is often employed at publishing companies), there should not be such errors as when Wonder Woman informed her mother in this issue, “No, I can’t use you again, I--”

She can’t use her mother again?

Of course, the line was supposed to be that old clichéd standard, “No, I can’t lose you again!” (page 13, panel 4).

When my students make an error with the word lose they usually end up spelling it with an extra “o”--as in “No, I can’t loose you again!” I often then make some sort of facetious remark about the difference between lose and loose. However, I was completely baffled by how a “typo” could result in the sentence, “No, I don’t want to use you again!”--until, that is I considered the possibility of Straczynski not actually typing his manuscripts himself. I figure he must use word-recognition software that allows him to dictate his scripts into his computer.

Unfortunately, the computer heard use instead of lose. However, why didn’t anyone catch this error and fix it?

The pencilers probably only focus on the art directions in the script rather than the dialog.

The letterer probably doesn’t read the dialog either. He most likely receives the script in a Word document and then just cuts and pastes the lines of dialog directly into his “lettering font” program before placing the fonts in word balloons and positioning them on the page without ever reading a word of dialog the way letterers from 40 years ago had to.

As to why the editor, the assistant editor, and an actual proofreader didn’t catch the error . . . your guess is as good as mine, and mine involves none of them actually doing their jobs as traditionally defined in most publishing companies.

Another such “typo” occurs on the next page of the story as Wonder Woman’s mother says, “Listen well, my daughter, for this did not begin, nor will it not end with his death” (my emphasis on the second “not” in the sentence).

Are these typos minor annoyances? Certainly they are minor. They don’t indicate why I gave this issue such a low rating. In fact, I often find such errors in books that I give higher ratings to. However, in this case these errors are indicative of an overall lack of effort in this book by all of the people involved--the writer with his string of clichés, the pencilers with their hurried illustrations, and the editors with their lack of quality control and allowance of the inferior work by the writer and pencilers.

Finally, before I leave, I just want to say that my guess as to who the “real villain” of the story is--the one who gave the nameless mercenary his life and a chance to have his scars removed--Athena!

Why would Athena plot the destruction of the Amazons?

My guess is that it is a “test” meant to judge Wonder Woman’s commitment to her people—or something like that. Unfortunately, I won’t be reading this series anymore, so I won’t know if my speculation turns out to be correct.

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