Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Wonder Woman: Guts (volume 2) review

Seeing the reaction to Wonder Woman has been nearly as entertaining as reading the comic itself. It appears to be a very divisive title; readers either love it or hate it. It makes sense when you consider what the creative team is doing. In essence, they’re rewriting the character’s past and her entire mythos along with it. I don’t think the problem is that he’s re-writing the character. It can be very interesting when a character is rewritten but of course, it can also end in a poor storytelling resulting in a comic that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Thankfully, this series is well worth the paper, and even a little more but Wonder Woman has its faults. The biggest flaw of this comic is its depiction of Wonder Woman.

I’m unsatisfied with this version of Wonder Woman because she’s basically just muscle. She’s showed as a very skilled fighter in many issues but other than that, her character is a little hollow. It might be surprising to make such a comment about a character who’s been around since 1941, but how much of the old Wonder Woman has stayed the same? Azzarello is really changing some fundamental elements of who she is as character. For all intents and purposes, unless I’ve seen it in the pages of the New 52 series, any previous characterization of Wonder Woman do not apply to this particular take on the character. Most of what we’ve seen so far is her being manipulated by her “new” family and kicking some ass.

For the first 12 issues, Wonder Woman is reactionary. Worse, she’s characterized as someone who thinks with her fists, not with her head. Diana (Wonder Woman’s name) is constantly learning about secrets that have been hidden from her for her entire life. She’s being led around blindly by her god siblings and some of them are even using her as a means to an end in their own affairs. She appears to be making decisions on her own, but really she’s out of her depths and that’s why she’s unable to successfully protect Zola. Her talent is that she’s physically strong and good at combat. Some of her siblings share her impressive physical strength (such as Apollo and Artemis) but they all have a more cunning mind than her and they use it to her advantage.

It can be frustrating to read these issues because it’s very difficult to believe that her heritage has been kept a secret for so many years. It’s also surprising that Diana is routinely caught off guard by elements of Greek mythology. Even if she wasn’t aware of her status as a bastard child of Zeus, the Amazons of Themyscira were pretty well steeped in that same mythology.  If she knew anything about the gods of Olympus, she would have acted more defensively around them. She should know that she should be mistrusting of her new family because all they do is bicker and fight amongst each other. You would think that she would expect Hades to bargain unfairly and double cross her. But really, how can she? Wonder Woman is just Amazonian muscle, right? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s the dumbing-down of the character that has long-time fans of Wonder Woman annoyed with the New 52 series.

The hook for me is the extended cast. What are their motivations? How will the story play out and ultimately, who will get what they want and who will have to pay the price for it? After 12 issues there are patterns developing and I’m starting to question why people trust who they trust. A lot of the gods so far have made remarks implying that Hermes frequently tells lies. As a messenger, he doesn’t appear to be very good at relaying messages correctly – or at least without omissions or modifications. This inability to tell the truth, and the comments made about it, don’t appear to register with Wonder Woman. Once again, Diana is blind to something, something even I’ve been able to puzzle together: don’t trust Hermes. Really though, the important thing is that even if Hermes doesn’t do anything to confirm the mistrust his family has in him, I haven’t been trusting him blindly. My guards are up and that’s a sign of good storytelling. The creators have me engaged and interested in what’s going on in the pages of Wonder Woman. The comic isn’t perfect, it has its share of faults, but it has my attention and that’s something few comics in DC’s New 52 can boast.

Another reason the comic has my attention is the crisp art of Cliff Chiang. I previously mentioned that I like his designs for the gods and his redesign of Wonder Woman’s costume is pretty great. It’s familiar yet fresh but most importantly of all, it looks good. What really works for me though is the colouring by Matthew Wilson. It adds a lot to the consistent look of the art, even on the issues where Tony Akins takes over the pencilling duties. It’s also interesting to see how he uses a palette of colours that really pop on the page. It’s almost a throwback to the comics of decades ago where bright colours where the norm. Wilson regularly incorporates more traditionally feminine colours, such as purples and pinks, into the palette of specific scenes. The purples, especially, work really well. It suits a title in which the main character is a woman but Wilson isn’t overbearing with it. His choices of colours work well with the different scenes and he’s rather good at capturing the mood and the tone in the artwork by Chiang and Akins. The colours manage to be bright without sacrificing the more serious tones necessary for some scenes. I don’t recall noticing his work on another series but I’ll be looking out for him name from now on because I’m rather impressed with his work on Wonder Woman.

The end of the second volume of Wonder Woman feels like the end of the first chapter of the book. There is a sense that a certain culmination point has been reached and the last page teases the reader by showing us a bit of what’s to come. Wonder Woman’s creative team is building towards something and though it feels like that certain something is still several issues away (perhaps even the series climax), the ride so far has been very enjoyable if a little bumpy at times. It’s not just Wilson’s colouring that has my attention, but also everything else about this comic. After an entire year’s worth of issues, it remains one of the New 52’s more interesting and engaging series. 

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