DOUBLE REVIEW: Wonder Woman #30 & Batman And Wonder Woman #30 OR Dysfunctional Amazons

April 16, 2014

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Both Wonder Woman #30 and Batman and Wonder Woman #30 came out today, and on the surface they seem like very different books. In Wonder Woman, the reign of the First Born is underway and Wonder Woman is trying to rally her supporters to defeat him, while in Batman and Wonder Woman, Batman has landed on the shores of Paradise Island chasing Ra’s al Ghul and Damian’s body. The common thread through both of these books is Wonder Woman and the Amazons and how they don’t get along, continuing the unpleasant characterization of the Amazons we’ve seen since the New 52 began. It’s an Amazon-centric review this month, but first:

BEWARE SPOILERS!!

I am not spoiling one but TWO comic books today!

If you haven’t read either, turn away!

Carrying on, I find it odd that while the New 52’s depiction of Wonder Woman has been all over the place (the Wonder Woman of Wonder Woman and the Wonder Woman of Justice League or Superman/Wonder Woman seem like very different characters), the new universe has been rather cohesive in their harsh portrayal of the Amazons. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the New 52 has so embraced the degradation of these former symbols of female empowerment; the New 52’s track record with female characters generally is not so great. Nonetheless, it’s disheartening.

Wonder Woman #29 ended with Wonder Woman rallying her newly freed Amazon sisters, and I thought we might have turned a corner on the Amazons past disdain for Diana. The early issues of the series cast the Amazons as a sniping, spiteful group who never liked Diana and put her down at every turn. Aleka was the spokesperson for this sentiment, and clearly had no affection for Diana whatsoever.

In Wonder Woman #30, Wonder Woman’s rallying cry didn’t seem to take, and Aleka again represented the opposition. She questioned Wonder Woman’s choice of companions, her fitness to be queen, and stirred up talk of rebellion amongst her sisters (aided by what appeared to be an undercover Strife). When Wonder Woman tried to unite the Amazons in a vow to protect Zeke, Aleka and her cohorts shouted her down.

Aleka was front and center in Batman and Wonder Woman #30 as well, holding a sword to Batman’s throat and refusing him entry to the island even though, or perhaps maybe because, Wonder Woman vouched for him. Wonder Woman and Aleka ended up fighting over the matter, trading blows before Batman yelled at them to stop.

Later in the issue, there was a flashback to one of the Amazons’ regular raping and murdering ship hijackings. The attack was depicted in gruesome detail, and ended with the Amazons burning the ship on the shore of Paradise Island and celebrating their conquest.

Thus far in the New 52, the Amazons have absolutely no redeeming qualities. They’re rapists and murderers who revel in their brutality, which is just awful, and despite orchestrating these attacks with some frequency, they seem wholly incapable of working together to do anything else. All of their interactions are laced with conflict and animosity, and usually end in violence. They’re terrible people, and worst of all their depiction suggests that Wonder Woman is a kind and brave hero DESPITE the Amazons and not BECAUSE of them.

I’ve talked about this several times in the past, so I’ll spare you the full spiel, but for seven decades the Amazons were a peaceful, wise nation, and Wonder Woman grew up to be a great hero due largely to their positive influence. They taught her everything she knew, raised her to be led by love above all else, and always rallied behind her when she needed them. The Amazons were a rare bastion of female power and solidarity in a genre so dominated by men.

Today, Wonder Woman is who she is because she got superpowers from her father, Zeus, and training from Ares, the god of war, whose mantle she’s now inherited. Wonder Woman #0 implied that she even learned her compassion from Ares, when he spared her during a sword battle. On top of this all-male influence, her Amazons sisters never supported her and now reject her even though she is their rightful queen with Hippolyta still out of commission.

I’m not at all against the idea of dissention and discord among the Amazons. Utopias can be kind of boring, and differing opinions and factions could lead to some very interesting stories for the Amazon and add some colour and variety to Paradise Island. What I am against is turning a group of noble, powerful women into vicious, spiteful villains for no good reason, and then spreading this depiction through the wider comics universe. None of the changes have been at all necessary or particularly important to the story, and what little they’ve added to the narrative is nothing compared to how much they’ve devalued the Amazons. It’s just ridiculous.

Anyway, that is my Amazon rant, inspired by reading two unpleasant depictions of the Amazons back to back. Let’s quickly go through what else happened in these issues. In Wonder Woman #30, Hades contemplated his potential role in the war for too long and the First Born made a move against him instead, so that’s probably not going to end well for Hades. Speaking of the First Born, he remains gross and burnt up, plus he made Cassandra eat part of her former associate, Cheever, which was super gross. So yeah, forced cannibalism. Comics: They’re not for kids anymore!

In Batman and Wonder Woman #30, Batman almost got Damian back but not quite. I suspect this sort of thing will go on for a while until Damian returns this summer, if the rumours prove to be true. Also, Wonder Woman freed a dark creature that Zeus had imprisoned to guard a Lazarus Pit on Paradise Island, which was a nice moment for her. I like when she tries to help people instead of fighting them, perhaps because it’s so rare these days.

All told, I was pretty excited for a double dose of Wonder Woman this week but the result was a rant, so clearly my excitement didn’t last. I just don’t understand the decisions that are being made in regards to Wonder Woman, from the Amazons to the Superman relationship to pretty much everything else. They just don’t seem to get her and her mythos, at all.

Wonder Woman #30 Preview OR One Missing Amazon

April 15, 2014

Wonder Woman #30 comes out tomorrow, and Comic Book Resources has posted a preview of the book. After the events of last month’s issue, the Amazons are back and Wonder Woman is fixing to go to war against the First Born, so let’s check in on how things are progressing:

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Well, now we know why there wasn’t a joyful mother/daughter reunion when the Amazons were restored at the end of the last issue. Hippolyta is still a statue, and Hera doesn’t know why. The always obstinate Aleka has some thoughts on the matter, of course; she seems to be suggesting that Hera isn’t actually trying to bring back Hippolyta. But given how her character has progressed, I suspect that Hera is telling the truth and that some other forces are at play.

Cliff Chiang is taking a break this month, and he’ll be missed. His art always elevates the book for me; the things I like I like even more when Chiang draws them, and the things I don’t like I am less concerned about because Chiang draws it all so nicely. Goran Sudzuka is my favourite of the several fill-in artists we’ve seen, though. My guess is that this will be a bit of a set-up issue, partly because last month was pretty crazy and partly because Brian Azzarello tends to save the really big things for Chiang. But we’ll see.

Wonder Woman #30 is on sale in comic shops and online tomorrow. Keep an eye out for Batman and Wonder Woman #30 as well.

“America’s Silver Age,” My Piece On Gender And Race In Silver Age Wonder Woman Comics For The Los Angeles Review Of Books

April 14, 2014

This weekend, a piece I wrote about Wonder Woman’s Silver Age comics went up at the Los Angeles Review of Books. We really could have called it “Ugh, White Men, Am I Right?” but “America’s Silver Age” is a classier title choice. Ostensibly a review of Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess Archives, Volume 1, which came out a while ago, the piece looks at the depiction of women and people of colour (or rather, the lack thereof) in Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito’s revision of Wonder Woman that began in 1958.

In the Golden Age, William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter’s Wonder Woman was all about female strength and superiority. It was also a fairly racially diverse comic for the time, though these depictions of people of colour ran the gamut from moderately positive to offensive stereotypes. Marston himself wasn’t nearly as forward thinking about race as he was about gender; in his psychological writing he frowned on interracial relationships, and he had a number of connections with known eugenics supporters and sympathizers, including his de facto aunt, Margaret Sanger. Nonetheless, the early years of Wonder Woman actually portrayed people of colour at least, however problematically.

When Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito began their new take on Wonder Woman in 1958, Marston’s feminist messages went out the window, as did people of colour. In the thirteen issues collected in this first Silver Age Wonder Woman Archive volume, there are only three very brief instances that feature people of colour. This panel from Wonder Woman #103, featuring Inuits fleeing a glacier, was the most any non-white characters spoke in the book:

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It was a whitewashed book, removing race all together at a time when race was a daily issue in American society as the Civil Rights Movement continually gained momentum.

You can read the full piece over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, and of course learn more about Wonder Woman’s history generally in my book, Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine.

Batman/Wonder Woman #30 Preview OR Batman Visits Paradise Island

April 11, 2014

The book that used to be called Batman and Robin has been touring the DC universe, filling Robin’s spot in the title with other characters in the wake of Damian Wayne’s death over a year ago. This month, Wonder Woman is the guest star, and Batman has chased Ra’s al Ghul to Paradise Island. Apparently Ra’s stole Damian’s body and is trying to bring the little bugger back to life; I haven’t been following the book, but that seems to be the gist of things. Wonder Woman’s issue is out next Wednesday, and 13th Dimension has posted a preview. You might want to click that double page spread so you can read it:

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This does not look great. I’m not super into Patrick Gleason’s art generally, but I remember not minding it too much when he and Tomasi were on Green Lantern Corps. That was the last time I’ve seen his stuff, and it seems far less good now. His anatomy is all jacked up, as is his perspective. Aleka looks like a grotesque giant, and his take on Wonder Woman is different, to say the least. Plus, he didn’t put pointy tops on the boots. That’s Wonder Woman 101. These are not an artistically pleasant assortment of pages, and three panels on a two page spread of people standing around talking is hardly great story structure.

Now, it’s only four pages. Maybe it picks up nicely from here. But this preview has actually lessened my interest in the book. I’m all about a Wonder Woman and Batman team-up, and was excited when the issue was announced, but what I’ve seen so far is quite a letdown. It just looks weird, both in terms of the art itself and the layout more broadly. Here’s hoping it gets better.

Batman/Wonder Woman #30 is out next Wednesday, online and in comic shops everywhere. If there’s anything fun or interesting to talk about, I may put up a review later in the week. There’ll definitely be a review of Wonder Woman #30, and look for that preview probably Monday or Tuesday; it’s not up yet.

Wonder Woman, And Women Generally, Again Didn’t Have Much To Do In Robot Chicken’s DC Comics Special #2: Villains In Paradise

April 9, 2014

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It’s time to again take all the fun out of comedy and be serious about gender roles in a special starring talking action figures!  Though “comedy” might be stretching it a bit; the Robot Chicken “DC Comics Special #2: Villains in Paradise” wasn’t all that funny to begin with.

When the first Robot Chicken “DC Comics Special” aired backed in September 2012, I did a post about the lack of female characters in the show, and about how little the few women they included spoke or did. Things haven’t improved much with the second outing. While the first special had 7 women with speaking roles, the new one has 8.

Moreover, the 8 women who spoke and the 4 other women who were in the background didn’t have particularly good roles. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • A girl scout tried to sell cookies to Bizarro.
  • Lena Luthor, Lex Luthor’s daughter, actually had a big part, but it involved her selling coffee at the Legion of Doom headquarters and then dating Superboy and singing a song that included a line about how big his penis was.
  • Poison Ivy was part of the Legion of Doom, but her rather curvaceous action figure body was barely covered by her costume and she spent most of her time onscreen suggestively touching her body.
  • Catwoman was part of the Legion of Doom as well. She said “Meow” a few times.
  • Iris West popped in for a quick bit where she was on a date with the Flash. She had no lines.
  • Reverse Iris West, aka. Tina, was in the same bit, and her lines consisted of “My name is Tina.”
  • Dr. Fate had a date as well, named Melanie.
  • Aquaman was also on a date with an unnamed woman, but ditched her when her fish told him that she doesn’t put out and she doesn’t shave her lady parts.
  • Ice was in the crowd at Green Arrow’s funeral.
  • Harley Quinn showed up at the final battle and fought Wonder Woman for a bit.
  • The Cheetah was shown in the aftermath of the battle, knocked out on the sand.

And finally, Wonder Woman. Her one big scene involved her being angry when Superman introduced Superboy as his clone because Superboy was actually her and Superman’s son. Here she is, looking angrily at Superman:

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Wonder Woman was involved in another scene as well, on the invisible jet, but she was knocked unconscious the whole time and Green Arrow was trying to figure out how to fly it when he couldn’t see anything. And she was fighting with the group at the end.

All together, there were two female superheroes, four female villains, a couple of kids, and four dates for male heroes in the special. Very few of them had more than a line, if that.

Some other female characters were mentioned but didn’t appear. Lois Lane was name checked in a scene set at the Daily Planet, while Lana Lang was mentioned in a song by Lex Luthor’s high school band, Sexx Luthor. Oh so cleverly, they rhymed “Lana Lang” with “sweet poontang.” Interestingly, Superboy was in the special but there was no Supergirl. There were also Batman and Robin and no Batgirl or Batwoman. Green Arrow but no Black Canary. Aquaman but no Mera.

All told, it was another Robot Chicken “DC Comics Special” with another poor showing for female characters. It’s not particularly surprising given how the first one went, but it would have been nice of them to up the representation noticeably and be a bit more creative with their roles. Of the 12 female characters who appeared in the special, 7 of them were there as the romantic or sexual interests of male characters. Those who weren’t were background players. Maybe try a little harder if you do a third special, Robot Chicken. There’s nowhere to go but up.

Superman/Wonder Woman #7 Preview OR Superman’s Nuclear Diet

April 8, 2014

Superman/Wonder Woman #7 is out tomorrow, and the good folks at Comic Book Resources have put up a preview. When we last saw our superpowered lovers, they were in the midst of a nuclear blast, so they’re probably dead and the series is over, right? Wrong! Surprisingly, they’re okay. Let’s take a look:

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So after a couple of not completely terrible issues, Superman/Wonder Woman is doing that thing where no one talks very much and there’s not much going on artwise, and then when they do talk it’s really inane romance stuff. I’m not super enthused to see that format return. I like when things actually happen. Where are Zod and Faora? And why isn’t this book Zod/Faora instead? I’d be all over that.

Anyway, Tony S. Daniel is taking a month off so there are three different artists for this issue. And it’s a prelude to the “Doomed” crossover, where Superman is going to turn into a Doomsday monster sort of thing. Maybe soaking up all that nuclear radiation messed with his genetics. It certainly thinned him out; the dude is rail thin here. That’s kind of an interesting idea, having solar energy make Superman strong but the energy from a nuclear bomb make him weak. I mean, the sun is basically a cauldron of constantly exploding nuclear energy so maybe it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but still. I like the idea. I’m less excited about four pages of Wonder Woman trying to break through the clouds, though.

Superman/Wonder Woman #7 is out everywhere tomorrow. You can pick it up at your local comic shop or buy it online.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Was Great SO When Do We Get A Black Widow Movie?

April 7, 2014

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a massive success. It made almost $100 million domestically this weekend, has pulled in over $300 million globally, and people love it; it’s got an 89% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 95% from audiences. The movie is killing it on every possible level.

There was lots of great stuff in Winter Soldier. Captain America was super cool, Falcon was awesome, the Winter Soldier was like he just stepped out of the comics, and even Jenny Agutter got to bust up some bad guys as Councilwoman Hawley. But no one was cooler than the Black Widow. She was all over the place, taking down villains in so many ways. She’s got fantastic martial arts skills to start with, but she’s also got a grappling hook, electric shocks, various guns, a garrote, and the ability to make use of whatever else is lying around to beat the hell out of anyone who gets in her way.

Scarlett Johansson has gotten better with each Marvel movie, and she was pretty awesome to begin with way back in Iron Man 2. Of all the Avengers, only Black Widow and Hawkeye haven’t had their own movies yet, and Black Widow is the far more developed character. We’ve heard rumours of a Black Widow movie for a while, but nothing concrete yet, and the rumblings for other characters have been much louder. Ant-Man is already on the schedule, and Dr. Strange has been getting a ton of buzz (and SPOILER even a brief shout out in Winter Soldier) but not every Marvel movie needs to have a white guy lead. A Black Widow movie is not only a very sensible next step for the franchise, but it’s long overdue and would be crazy good.

Let’s talk about the crazy good stuff first. Black Widow is a Russian assassin turned good guy, with a shady past. A Black Widow movie could go in several fun directions: it could have a Bond vibe, or a Bourne vibe, or go even darker than those franchises due to the opportunities her sketchy past provides. In the comics, Black Widow is the product of a covert Soviet superspy/assassin program, an orphan trained from a young age, but given that the movies haven’t delved into her past too much, they’re not locked into any specific version of this origin. There were also other Black Widows in the program in the comics, and Scarlett facing off against and/or teaming up with a bunch of other bad ass lady assassins would make for a heck of a film. Plus, no matter what direction they go with it, the action in a Black Widow movie can be totally out of control.

In terms of the sensible next step, look away if you haven’t seen Winter Soldier yet because we’re diving into SPOILER territory here. The movie ends with Nick Fury and Black Widow releasing all of SHIELD’s secret files, including everything about Black Widow’s history. The world now knows all of her secrets, so she’s perfectly poised to explore this past and tackle any new foes who come out of the woodwork. I think Marvel would be well served to do a prequel/sequel combo, exploring her past life via flashbacks while having her deal with a threat from this past in the present. Preferably a threat that has her traipsing all over the globe, taking down evildoers in classic and exotic locales. A fight atop the Eiffel Tower perhaps, or an epic chase through the jungle toward a Soviet base in Vietnam, or a rooftop battle on a snowy Moscow night.

The time is absolutely right for a Black Widow movie, and no other character is better poised to headline their own film. Also, it would just be awesome. She could kick all of the butts. All. The. Butts.


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