Well, this was a surprise. I did not have high expectations for today’s Wonder Woman Annual #1, the book that wrapped up Meredith and David Finch’s first arc on Wonder Woman. I’ve been extremely unimpressed with their work thus far, and constantly frustrated with the series and their lack of understanding of who Wonder Woman is and why she is awesome. And so I was not at all looking forward to this annual, but guess what? It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s easily the best issue the Finches have produced thus far. Granted, that’s not saying a lot, but with the Finches sticking around for a second arc, it’s encouraging that their first ended with something almost decent instead of uniformly terrible. Let’s dig into the specifics, but first:
I am about to spoil not just this issue, but an ENTIRE arc of Wonder Woman!
Look away if you do not want to spoiled!
First off, before I say nice things about the story, I should point out that this issue does not wrap up the arc well at all. The ongoing plot involving underground creatures that’s been a part of the plotline from the beginning gets neatly wrapped up in the first few pages and has no bearing whatsoever on anything else that happens in the book. As a whole, this storyline added nothing to the book except for shoehorning in the Justice League so Wonder Woman could complain to various individual members about how overwhelmed she was. It was entirely unnecessary, and could lift right out without affecting anything in the primary storyline on Paradise Island. I think that this structural problem highlights Meredith Finch’s inexperience. To be fair, she’s never written a multi-issue arc of anything before, and it shows. You’d think that editorial might have steered her into something a little more relevant and less completely expendable here.
Aside from poorly capping the arc, this issue wasn’t bad. I was particularly impressed with the fight between Diana and Donna, for a lot of reasons. First, it was well choreographed. I know I’ve been hard on Finch in several of my reviews, but this was a readable, easy to follow, generally entertaining fight scene. There wasn’t much in the way of T & A or brokeback poses, just two warriors beating the hell out of each other. I think it’s the best sequence that Finch has done on the book to date. Even the double page spreads and splash pages work fairly well within the context of the fight.
I’d also like to highlight a cool choice that colorist Brad Anderson makes. We’re so used to seeing heroine with red or pink lips, a sort of permanent lipstick that never goes way. In many panels of the story, Anderson doesn’t do this. The lips are often just a slightly darker colour than the skin tone, and sometimes the same colour as the skin tone. It’s a small thing, but a cool decision that I really liked.
The writing for the big fight scene is hit and miss. Everything’s a little on the nose and sort of cornily bombastic in ways that don’t quite fit the characters, but Meredith Finch does a fine job with the fight’s conclusion. Throughout the fight, Diana and Donna debated what it truly means to be an Amazon, and the battle ends with Donna tied up in the golden lasso and these panels:
That’s not bad at all. It’s good, even. It’s a nice distillation of what it means to be an Amazon, a reinforcement of the obligation these women have toward each other, but also the love that should be at the core of their society. It felt like Finch misunderstood what it means to be an Amazon and who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for in her first issues, and this scene is the first time I thought that she might actually get it.
There’s a second story in the issue, drawn by Goran Sudzuka, that tells the backstory of Derinoe, the crone Amazon who teamed with Hecate to create Donna Troy, and it fleshes out the characters motivations fairly well. Derinoe was in love with Hippolyta, who had just become queen after the murder of her mother, but Derione was aged into an old woman when she saved Hippolyta from an attack by the witch Hecate. She grew bitter being the only old woman on an island of beautiful immortals, as well as seeing Hippolyta move on with other suitors, but there was also an element of seeing Hippolyta repeat the same mistakes that led to her mother’s death, Hippolyta’s ascension to queen, and Derinoe’s subsequent ill-fated fight with Hecate. It all was decently told, and improves the one dimensional, unexplained characterization we’ve had of Derinoe thus far. I think that the story would actually have worked better as a runner throughout the arc rather than as an information dump at the end, maybe in place of the pointless underground creature storyline. Slowly revealing Derinoe’s motivation would have made for a more compelling read than learning it all at once after everything else was wrapped up. Nonetheless, I was glad for the backstory.
The story also seems to be a revamping of the Amazons origin story. Usually, Hercules betrays Hippolyta to steal her magic girdle and imprisons the Amazons, and then the gods help them escape and the Amazons start a new life far away from the world of men. Here, after the Spartans betray and murder Hippolyta’s mother and incite a war, Hippolyta marches to Sparta, Derinoe saves her life but is aged for it, and Hippolyta retreats to Paradise Island and forbids men from ever stepping on the island again. So it seems that Hercules and the classic origin may not be part of the Amazon’s history in this new universe, and that this misadventure with the Spartans and Hecate may be why the Amazons concealed themselves from the rest of the world. I don’t love the change, but it’s also better than pretty much every other horrific change to the history of the Amazons that we’ve seen since the New 52 debuted.
Also, the story mentions that the Amazons have enjoyed unnaturally long life for centuries, and that there is a cost for this. That may be some foreshadowing for what’s to come in Wonder Woman, and it seems like a potentially interesting avenue to explore.
Ultimately, while this wasn’t a great issue, it was far and away the best issue of the Finches’ tenure and it had several good moments. It wrapped up the arc as a whole in too neat and succinct a fashion, but it showed growth for both the writer and artist, which is a welcome sign seeing as they’re both back for another arc starting in a couple of weeks. While I’m not exactly looking forward to this new storyline, I’m not actively dreading it anymore, so that’s a definite plus. Their run started at horrible and now it’s all the way up to not bad, so hopefully that positive trajectory will continue with DCYou.