There’s nothing I want more than to enjoy Wonder Woman every month, so these last few less than enthusiastic reviews have been a real bummer for me. I miss the fast, crazy fun of the early days of the relaunch where the plot hurtled forward, jumping from hilarity to cool fights to touching moments with ease and skill. Wonder Woman was a well-oiled machine then, a clinic in how to pack a comic full of awesome. In comparison to those early days, the last few months have felt sort of slow and plodding, and with Wonder Woman #17 I feel like the wheels have come off on pretty much every level. We’ll discuss this momentarily, but first:
I am going to ruin every (admittedly few) plot point from this comic book!!
If you haven’t read it, it will be SPOILED just inches from now!!
Now, on with the review. We left last issue with Zola and Hera at a bar with a slew of gods, and Wonder Woman, Lennox, and Orion fixing to team up and track down Zola’s baby. In this issue, everyone meets up at the bar, where sparks should fly. They do not. Wonder Woman finally comes face to face with Ares, a confrontation that’s been building for months, and they have a subdued conversation and then set off to find Zola’s baby. Apart from Ares insulting Wonder Woman’s intelligence occasionally, it was a rather non-confrontational confrontation.
There were some good moments in the story, like Wonder Woman rehearsing her conversation with Zola and Hera, Orion calling Lennox “Lummox”, and Strife doing anything. Hermes showing up at the end and clawing the hell out of Ares was pretty great. However, there were a lot of sour moments, and overall the story just dragged for me. I’m not enjoying this frat boy version of Orion, despite the cool new design, and this panel was just dumb:
Ares picking apart Wonder Woman’s plans and decision making is yet another in a long line of examples of someone pointing out that Wonder Woman’s not so bright. In the New 52 universe, Diana may be caring and a great warrior, but she’s got next to no tactical or thinking ahead skills, which Ares breaks down. And then the First Born stuff feels tacked on and also slow moving. Part one of a shark battle we know he’s going to win because he’s the Big Bad is not so enthralling.
There all these great characters in what should be a super cool story about a baby’s destiny to bring down the gods, and it’s just been SO slow and uneventful. Last issue, the fun of the gods at the bar made up for lackluster storytelling elsewhere. This month, there was very little fun and a lot of slowing inching the story along. Charming scenes can go a long way to make up for a lack of story progression because some characters are just such a good time to be around. That was not the case this month.
However, the glacial storytelling was only part of my problem with this issue. The art was a rough situation in a lot of places. I hate to be down on Tony Akins because following Cliff Chiang is a tough gig. No one is going to look great when compared to what Chiang does with this book. But there were just some bad style choices. Panels cut off in odd spots, like this one after Zola “attacks” Ares and Ares quickly turns the tables:
The framing of this strikes me as bizarre. Why not pull back a bit and have more of both character’s faces, or either zoom in closer on Zola’s frightened expression? This weird half in frame scene just looks off.
To be fair, I suspect there was a bit of a rush on this book. Amilcar Pinna filled in on a few of the First Born pages (and did a nice job), which suggests that Akins didn’t have enough time to finish the book. If Akins was on a tight time crunch, that could explain why some of the pages don’t appear particularly well thought out. Nonetheless, it gave the book a bit of a sloppy look.
This was exacerbated by the colouring situation. Usually Matthew Wilson knocks it out of the park every month with Wonder Woman, and I’ve singled out his colouring prowess several times in past reviews. Unfortunately, this issue wasn’t his best work. Look again at the image above. On Zola’s face, Wilson uses two flat colours for the skin and another two for the hair, creating a lot of stark contrast between the two. Usually this would be softened up some, with some gradation or blending to smooth out the divide between light and shadows, but as it is the colouring looks harsh, and somewhat slapdash even. Look at Zola’s eyes as an example of good blending and highlights. They really pop and look great, which makes the rest of the panel look all the more half-hearted in comparison.
Also consider Ares in the background. There are barely any highlights whatsoever. It’s mostly just flat colour, with a sporadic stark highlight here and there. Plus, the panel is very red, which was a big problem for all of the bar scenes. The bar itself had a red colouring, which worked fine last issue and gave it a moody feel. Here, it just made the pages feel monochromatic. There were no real contrasts. Blonde hair had orange shadows. Skin had pink shadows. Add in Wonder Woman and Orion with their red outfits and the whole scene was just slight variants of red and the whole thing became muddled.
While I don’t know the details behind this issue’s production, it looks like time could be to blame here as well. Colourists usually do several passes on a page, laying in flat colours, putting in shadows and highlights, and then polishing and smoothing the image so it looks good and pops. I feel like this issue got shortchanged on the last colouring pass, and a rush job might explain that. Go back and look at Wonder Woman #16 to see how smooth the colours are, and how Wilson brought in more than just one main colour and one shadow colour. I’m looking at it right now, and good lord these bar scenes are gorgeous. He makes the red work so well, cutting the monochrome with these great white highlights and smoothing out the skin tones, while also bringing in a lot of other colours for contrast. Wilson is a remarkable colourist, so my best guess is that he just didn’t have a lot of time on this issue, and I think the rushed quality of the line art supports this theory.
Basically, this issue was no one’s best work. Azzarello kept on plodding the story along instead of giving it some oomph, while the art appeared rushed on every level. All together, it felt like a pretty sloppy comic book, and I’ve got to assume that everyone was working on a tighter deadline than usual. Ultimately for me, the biggest issue continues to be the story. The art’s been fairly consistent on the book for a while, but the story’s momentum has really slowed since the #0 issue. Supposedly big events have felt small, a lot of material feels tangential and unimportant, and Wonder Woman’s main plot has barely progressed at all. Hopefully they find that darn baby next month so something will actually happen for a change.