I’m a day late with this review because I was on road the all day yesterday, but this week’s digital issue of Sensation Comics was definitely worth the wait. The story is a one-shot by Jason Bischoff and David Williams, two creators I’m not particularly familiar with but whose work I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for in the future based on the strength of this issue. This was my favourite issue of the nascent series thus far.
The story begins on Themyscira, with a young Diana undergoing an Amazon ritual. The tale is a fun twist on the usual Amazon origin, where the Amazons wear bracelets as a reminder of their captivity after Hercules’ attack and of the cruelty of men in general. In “Brace Yourself,” an Amazon gets one bracelet just for being an Amazon, but has to earn the other bracelet by defeating the Amazon’s greatest warrior: Queen Hippolyta.
Young Diana sets out to defeat her mother and earn her second bracelet straight away, and the montage of the girl’s attempts is both hilarious and adorable. Diana hiding under the bed, helmet on, lying in wait to sneak attack Hippolyta with her wooden sword is very cute, but snorkelling Diana is probably my favourite of her failed attempts.
Bischoff is clever in his finale to Diana’s quest, tying it into the classic competition of the Amazons battling to get to be the champion who returns Steve Trevor to America. In most tellings of this story, Diana beats her fellow Amazons and wins the tournament. Here, after defeating her sisters handily, Diana has to then defeat her mother in one on one combat.
What I most loved about this story is the way it blended two aspects of Amazon culture that a lot of writers have trouble marrying together: the competitive, warrior aspect and the loving, familial aspect. With Hippolyta especially, many writers have trouble reconciling the two; Hippolyta is often an aloof, regal figure, concerned with ruling and battle, or she’s a friendly, peace-loving, nurturing character. She’s rarely both.
“Brace Yourself” is one of the best stories I’ve ever read in terms of capturing Hippolyta as a mother AND an Amazon. Her interactions with the young Diana are nurturing and patient, but she never lets Diana win. When it comes to their final battle, Hippolyta remains as unrelenting as ever, giving her all to defeat her daughter in combat. Diana, too, battles fiercely, fighting as hard as she can to force her mother to yield.
Hippolyta’s reaction when she loses is just sheer perfection. A shadowed Diana stands over her fallen mother in a pose that usually brings to mind a harsh, painful defeat. But instead, Hippolyta smiles broadly and leaps up to embrace her daughter, caring not at all that she was beaten and overjoyed for Diana’s achievement. “Brace Yourself” is a good Diana story, but it’s a great Hippolyta story.
Jason Bischoff’s writing is strong throughout. It’s paced well, is both funny and touching, and Hippolyta’s narrative propels the story along without overwhelming it. He also walks the fine line of giving the Amazons a more formal brand of dialogue without leaning too far into the archaic style; it’s very easy to go too formal and have the dialogue feel sort of caricature-like and off-putting, but Bischoff has a solid handle on it.
While David Williams art is occasionally hit and miss technically, he absolutely nails the emotion of every scene he draws. His characters are expressive, both facially and physically, and he sells both the humour and the touching finale with aplomb. Unlike last week’s issue, which I thought looked better on screen than it did on paper, I think this story will look better on the page where it will be smaller and we won’t be so zoomed in on each panel. Sometimes pulling back a little lets the art shine more.
Overall, while the series is still young, this has been my favourite issue of Sensation Comics so far. I loved the clever tweaks to the Amazon mythos, and more importantly I loved how these changes let us see new sides of Diana and especially Hippolyta. The issue was well executed on every level, and I think it will be a hit both with hardcore Wonder Woman fans who already love the characters and with new readers who experiencing a Wonder Woman origin story for the first time.