Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Comic Review - Wonder Woman: The Circle

I've been a comic fan for roughly a year now. My at first tentative, and bewilidering, steps into the world of comics were safe choices: Sandman, Fables and highly spoken of Batman volumes. Here I am a year on, and I've just read my first Wonder Woman comic. Go me? Truth is, as of late Wonder Woman has held something of an interest for me, and not for the two obvious reasons. She's part of DC's big three - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. All three are iconic and recogniseable characters, part of modern culture. Superman is an all-American hero (despite not being American) and a representation of the ideal man, his arch-enemy is evil genius Lex Luthor. Batman is a billionaire who was inspired by witnessing his parents' murder to dawn a bat costume and terrorise criminal - his arch nemesis is The Joker. We all know this, it's all pretty common knowledge.

So what do we know about Wonder Woman? Well, she's a woman.

Really, that's it. Closer inspection revealed that the people who have written Wonder Woman in the past have often come up against such a barrier too. Who is Wonder Woman? Her portrayal has varied, her powers have wobbled more than any other superhero, and the themes of her stories have been altogether scattershot. I'd be surprised if any non-comic fans were to know her origin story. I'm not saying there has not been good stories - in fact, this blog is about one such good story - but as far as I have been able to gather, there has been a real lack of consistency in her portrayal.

Being that I've only read one Wonder Woman story, all of the above is based on second hand accounts and supposition, so take it with a good sized pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, this lone female superhero amongst comic's big names (not including women part of teams like X-Men or Fantastic Four) was interesting because of this very ambiguity that seems to surround her. One particularly writer that I had heard glowing praise of was Gail Simone, so I decided that if I was to take a decent look at ol' Wondy, then that was the place to start:

The Circle:

The comic gets going with mysterious right off the bat:

"What you do not know yet..." (p1, panel 1)

We see Hippolyta, ruler of the Amazons and mother to Wondy, visit four prison cells, asking the prisoners to repent. Each in turn refuses. When she gets the fourth prisoner, there is again a refusal; the prisoner tells Hippolyta to release her nonetheless, and the ensuing conversation is littered with hints as to a secret hidden from Wondy.

We then cut to the main woman herself, locked in combat with talking gorillas. It's both a lighthearted and fast paced way to bring people into the story, and defuses tension very well in order to set-up the status-quo. We get to see Wondy working as a secret agent (it's kinda stupid, but not this comic's fault so I can't really fault it for that), and her interactions with a co-worker/love interest. Their dialogue communicates a lot of familiarity, but is a little too cutesy for my liking; trying too hard to be sharp and clever. Also, whilst the narration presented is decent enough, it's a little too noir-ish. Really confuses the tone of the story.

Once the story moves away from this spy business and the plot really gets going it is an all-round great yarn. Diana is an interesting character, the villains of the piece are nicely fleshed out, and we get a battle fought with nazis vs amazons and gorillas. It's intelligently written, very much enjoyable and moves at a well measured pace. Although early on the tone feel a bit indecisive, as the story goes on a good balance is struck. The art, too, is clear and engaging - it possesses a consistency that is really what I look for in comic book artwork.

There is an attempt later on to superimpose a prayer over a fight scene that could have been oh so awesome, but comes off as rather half-baked; aside from that, really this is a great story. She's no Morrison, but based on story I'm certainly keen to check out more of Simone's work.

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