I’ve been having a very nice but busy day so far. I’m still amped up from the Wonder Woman footage in last night’s “Dawn of the Justice League” special, and pleasantly surprised to have a bit of optimism about the film now. A couple of work things have come together in cool ways that I wasn’t expecting, with fun things working out on multiple fronts. Plus I had left over three cheese ravioli for lunch. Everything’s coming up Tim today.
So after that very busy morning and late lunch break, I sat down to read today’s Wonder Woman #48. Now, I never expect this book to be good. “Not actively unpleasant” would be a win when it comes to this run. But here, on this day that has been lovely thus far, Meredith and David Finch went and did the most boring, clichéd revamp of one of my favourite Wonder Woman characters. And now I’ve got to write about it! It’s killing my mood, gang, and I don’t appreciate it. Luckily, I didn’t get a chance to watch Agent Carter last night so my spirits will be rebuoyed soon enough when I dig into that. But for now, let’s chat about this issue after the requisite…
I am about to reveal how the Finches turned a super cool character into something painfully dull!!
Look away if you haven’t read the book yet!!
Or if bad Wonder Woman comics make you sad!!
Let’s begin by jumping in the wayback machine for a quick history lesson about the original, Golden Age Dr. Poison. She first appeared in Sensation Comics #2, only the third Wonder Woman comic book ever made. The fiendish doctor was working with the Nazis, trying to poison American soldiers with the drug “Reverso” that made them do the opposite of what their officers commanded them. Doctor Poison wore a bulky green suit and a black mask, and was sort of grotesque. The villain’s creepy toothy grin was accompanied by bulged out eyeballs; it was a grim, unnerving countenance of a sinister man. Then, at the end of the issue, Wonder Woman ripped off the fiend’s costume and mask to reveal that Doctor Poison was actually the lovely Princess Maru, a chemical genius bent on destroying America:
This was awesome for a couple of reasons. First, she was essentially a crossdresser. The comics never dug too deep into the mind of Princess Maru so we don’t know whether her male identity was a simple disguise, a way to get ahead in a man’s world, or something that was a deeper part of her. She could certainly be read as one of the first trans characters in superhero comics, and at the very least the gender ambiguity of the character was unique and surprising for the time.
She was also Asian, a Japanese princess. The Japanese were fairly common in early Wonder Woman comics, but they were often oafish, racist caricatures. Princess Maru was different. She was both brilliant and beautiful, plus her villainous guise was a costume that turned her into a white man. The existence of Princess Maru doesn’t excuse William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter for their awful depiction of Asian men, of course, but again she’s definitely an absolutely fascinating character, especially for 1942. A later version of Doctor Poison retained the gender ambiguity, as well as the grotesque appearance, in a handful of issues in the Modern Age.
So now let’s return to the present to look at Meredith and David Finch’s Doctor Poison. She’s a white woman, Russian instead of Japanese. She also dresses like a doctor; no fun, crossdressing costume or creepy mask, just a lab coat. She’s not a princess of anything either. Thanks to some clunky exposition, we learn that she was the daughter of Russians scientists who were branded as terrorists by the Russian government after American spies approached them to learn about their research. Take a moment to pause and think about the most clichéd, stereotypical thing that could happen to Russian scientists when the government is after them. Do you have it? Was it “They got sent to the gulag in Siberia and tortured and killed”? If you did, well done! And now, for some reason, Doctor Poison is mad at the Americans instead of the Russians and tries to kill the President at a G8 meeting in London. Wonder Woman stops her, of course.
This Doctor Poison is SO. VERY. BORING. The original Doctor Poison is bizarre and fascinating and has so many interesting things going on with her. Or him? It’s hard to say. That’s why she, or he, is so cool. This Doctor Poison is just tediously generic. We’ve seen villains just like this countless times. Plus the whitewashing isn’t cool either. Why swap a bad ass Japanese princess for yet another boring Russian? What is the story value in that? Simplifying a character so enjoyably complex is just the worst.
Plus, even her plan is lame. Poison the President? Whatever happened to rad drugs like Reverso? Make it complicated and fun. All Wonder Woman had to do was suppress Doctor Poison’s dumb drone and the President was saved. Easy peasy. Her escape plan was nothing fancy either. Doping up some civilians to turn them into violent zombies is yet another plotpoint we’ve seen several times, IN Wonder Woman comics, even. Wonder Woman ’77 did it twice already, just last year.
So yeah, not a great issue. What a dull revamp, and such a waste of a cool character. Furthermore, the story just seems to be filler. The book ends with a reveal that should form the backbone of the series for the next few issues, Zeke being ill, but that’s got nothing to do with Doctor Poison and the 18 pages of story before it. Unless Doctor Poison somehow got to Mount Olympus and poisoned Zeke. That seems unlikely. It would be fun, though; they should do something weird like that instead of whatever they’ve got planned. I’d be into it. Anyway, urgh. This book exhausts me.