Sunday, December 18, 2016

FULL REVIEW: Wonder Woman '77 Meets the Bionic Woman, No. 1

Wonder Woman Meets the Bionic
Woman #1, main cover by Cat Staggs
© IDW Publishing.
Publisher: IDW Publishing/ DC Comics
Cover date: 2017
On-sale: December 7, 2016
Cover price: $3.99
Pages: 36 (including cover)
Content: Editorial-75%, Advertising-25%
Format: Standard, saddle-stiched, glossy paper

“When Diana Met Jaime!” (22 pages)
Writer: Andy Mangels
Artist: Judit Tondora
Colorists: Michael Bartolo, Stuart Chaifetz
Letterers: Lois Buhalis, Tom Orzechowski
Editors: Matt Idelson

Other features: emPOWERed Words (letters column, 1 pg); Writers Brian Wood and Alex Cox Discuss John CarterL The End (promo page, 1 pg); Interview with Paul Cornell (promo page, 1 page)


THE BOTTOM LINE (UP TOP): About as basic as a story can get, with art that, while not bad, looks in places more like movie storyboards than comic book illustrating. And my, 19 covers is kind of overkill, isn't it? 


STORY SYNOPSIS: While on their way to a joint meeting of their respective government security agencies, Diana Prince and Jamie Sommers, the former in her Wonder Woman identity, meet while trying to save lives when both happen upon a terrorist attack. At the big meeting, we learn a "new paramilitary group" known as Castra is behind the bombing, and, since Castra is believed to also be in the business of kidnapping scientists for some presumably nefarious purpose, Diana and Jamie are dispatched to guard the next brain on the list. Naturally, they foil the operation, while Steve Trevor battles a convoy of baddies that are, we assume, related in some way to the main attack, although it's not defined exactly how. But while all that is happening, Castra hits the good guy's HQ, apparently killing Joe Atkinson, who, for those who remember, was Wonder Woman's federal agency boss.

COVER (6.0):
This issue has 19, count 'em, 19 covers, the primary of which was the one shown above. However, that image was an early preview. On the final cover, all of the background colors are eliminated or toned down, while the "reverb" colors are all brought to an orange hue, which all but eliminates the after images of both title characters. I expect that was done because all those colors might have been seen to conflict with the title logos. That's probably not a bad decision. Still, the preview image above is actually a lot more striking and eye-catching that the final cover, which looks more like Diana and Jaimie are about to be eaten by an orange blob.  

The Alex Ross cover, which comes in three different version is, unsurprisingly, probably the best of the bunch. However, the 'D' cover by interior artist Judit Tondora is pretty good and gives an indication of what the insides could have looked like. Meanwhile, the various retailer exclusive covers will probably become the most valuable over time, if only due to relative scarcity. For my money, the Andrew Pepoy cover is the one that does the most to make a reader wonder what goes on inside the book, incentivizing him or her to pick it up off the rack. Although, to be honest, any cover with both Diana and Jaimie on it is liable to grab casual readers of a certain age. This should be a window item for most stores that bother with a display window.

Personally, the action figure cover is the one that does it for me. Did Mego ever even make a Bionic Woman action figure?

PLOT (8.0):
The plot, as reviewed in the synopsis above, is actually pretty basic, but it is, nonetheless, a revelation compared to most of what passes for comic books stories these days. The vast majority of modern comics, thanks to increasingly decompressed forms of storytelling, only offer the barest bit of plot per issue. The debut issue of this series, however, while teasing the larger plot, actually gives us not one, not two, but three heroic battles, all depicted from start to finish. That definitely gives the reader a sense that something (three somethings, in fact) has been introduced, explored, and resolved within the confines of this cover. Now, I'll grant you, what we get is a bit of plot-by-numbers, but this issue does provide a complete reading experience, while leaving those so inclined wanting more. So, decent job on this front.

Wonder Woman Meets the Bionic
Woman #1, Page 1 art by Judit
Tondona. © IDW Publishing.
SCRIPT (5.0):
Now, as generally happy as I am with this issue's plotting, the script unfortunately falls flat. There's very little particularly clever in the dialogue, and most of what we get is exactly and only what is needed to advance each scene, and each panel, to the next. Even the comedy bit about Jamie quickly figuring out Diana is Wonder Woman, while the latter struggles to maintain the subterfuge, feels kind of  pedestrian. It's, like, "Ah, yes, I see what you're going for there. Okay, next scene."

If it's true that Andy Mangles is banned by DC from writing Wonder Woman, it must have more to do with his scripting than his plot work and knowledge of the characters. So far as the words go, this series might have taken a cue from the tv industry in mines, and hired a script doctor. 

LAYOUT (7.75):
I initially gave this section a lower score, influenced by the overall art, and by a few things I later decided were editorial faults, rather than the flow of pictures in telling the story. Overall, Tondora, while apparently new to comics, does a much better than average job in this regard. Some pages, such as the two with the big inter-agency meeting, become little more than a series of talking heads, but Tondora clearly didn't have a lot to work with there. A few other glitches I'll mention in the "editing" section, but, for the most part, Tondora chooses high and low angles, as well as medium and close-up shots, appropriately. Whether that's her doing, or her taking direction from Mangles' script, the result is pages that "read" well.

ART (6.5):
But the larger problem is with the art itself. Now, all of the anatomy, proportions, angles, and sight lines are correct, although Tondora does appear to struggle with placing vehicles in her scenes. Still, the artwork itself seems overly basic in some places. As mentioned in the "cover" section, Tondora gives us nice linework on her alternate cover. However, the story itself appears to have been prepared on a computer tablet, rather than with pen and ink (or brush and ink) on paper. The result is, in many places, a uniform line that appears too thick for the characters' placement in the setting, making them actually look "pasted" onto the background, rather than drawn into it. This effect is enhanced by the fact that, in many places, there is a minimum of linework outside of the contour. Now, don't get me wrong. I actually think most comics today are overly rendered. My preference is the nice, clean style of a Curt Swan/George Klein Superman family book. But the art produced here, especially given the coloring work, makes the figures most often look like Colorforms stuck on the page. 

Now, that said, there are still some pages, despite a stiffness to some poses and a stock sameness to the hands (cartoony "Shuster" hands in some places), that are as good as anything found in most comics. So, I'll be closely watching how Tondora progresses on this book, and looking for what she does next.

EDITING (4.5):
First off, I think Matt Idleson forgot to remind Mangles that most readers may not be familiar with the supporting players from the respective 70's tv shows being depicted here. For myself, I don't think I've watched a complete episode of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show in more than 25 years, and I don't recall offhand having watched The Bionic Woman since its original run. For that reason, tossing out names, as in, "They killed Joe Atkinson!' fails to resonate. 

I don't really remember Atkinson from the Wonder Woman show. And yeah, while his name is given during the big inter-agency meeting scene as someone nominally in charge of something, it's not made clear which one of the talking heads in the room, if any, was him. We could have used a scene of 'ol Joe actually doing something, or made him the leader of the big meeting, in order for his death to mean something to any reader who does not know, or else has forgotten, who he is.

Similarly, I had no idea who the "robot dog" was supposed to be. I had completely forgotten about "Rover" from the Wonder Woman show. I also had forgotten about I.R.A.C. For that reason, and because the guy laying on the floor where both ROVER and I.R.A.C. were introduced appeared to be a scientist, I took him to be the never-seen Dr. Niyol Tahy-McGuffin Diana and Jaime had been dispatched to protect. For that reason, I thought we had switched from our Dynamic Duo aiding Steve Trevor and troops back inside the building they had just been in, not realizing the scene had apparently shifted back to the Inter-Agency Defense Command HQ. The resulting confusion annoyed rather than simultaneously charmed and horrified, as I suspect the intent had been in having Rover show up only to get a swift, damaging kick.

While most of the fight scenes were done well — and I'm particularly indebted to Mangles and Tondoa to depicting each in a page or two, instead of dragging them on in four-panel pages for the balance of the book — I think Idelson should have requested a re-draw on Jamie's kick and punch panel, while making the gun-grab/tiara toss the largest panel and central focus of that particular page. 

Idlson also should have had Mangles make clear up front what Trevor was doing and why the bad guys thought running a convoy of military vehicles through D.C. might escape notice. By the end it appears it was a distraction deigned to keep the good guys busy. But there's really no narrative reason to hold that as a surprise. In fact, knowing it up front might have increased the tension of the fight IADC receptionist Eve has with office intruders, as well as Rover's ultimately futile attempt to intervene.

Finally, one thing Idelson definitely should have caught and corrected was the resolution to the opening scene. Wonder Woman was not aware at that point that Jaime Sommers was bionic. Given that, would she really have dumped a water tower full of extinguishing fluid right on top of her? Worse, we see from the "ssssstt" sound effect that it was the water, turned to steaming hotness by the conflagration it was dumped on, that damaged Jaime's bionic arm. Given the amount of water used, and the result of dumping it on a burning building, Wonder Woman's rescue should have drowned, if not par boiled, the victim Jaime was attempting to save.

Oh, a final thought. While the creator bios was an okay read, they appeared to be an initial entry on what is meant to be a letters column. Such a feature on a limited series seemed silly. I would have preferred to have kacked the letters column, delayed the bios to a later issue, and used that page in this outing on a text feature detailing the history of the two tv shows that make up this book's source material. Doing so might have provided a way to better introduce the supporting players, thus mitigating many of my complaints about this issue.

Wonder Woman Meets the Bionic
Woman #1, Page 3 art by Judit
Tondona. © IDW Publishing.
The packaging and printing of this book is as good as anything out there. But, while the coloring is quite good in some places — bright, vibrant, and multi-layered without distracting from the artwork — in other places in looks to have been done with a Photoshop spray paint tool. Interestingly, the worst coloring seems to coincide with the pages that are the least well rendered, which have the "tablet-drawn" look noted above. We've got two different colorists listed and it seems to me quite probable that some pages came in late and were turned around in a rush.

The lettering also distracted in places. Here and there, I could not help but stop dead in my reading to think, "Yeah, that's a font."

If you've read many of my reviews, you know I'm not a fan of $3.99 comics. To my mind, $3 is the most a standard comics should cost, based on content. While I did not time myself here, as I sometimes do, I'm sure I read this story in something under 10 minutes. The letters page and two interviews with creators of  other IDW series (essentially glorified house ads) did keep this issue in my hands a little longer, but on the whole, $4 is a poor entertainment value for the product.

I suspect this is going to be one of those things that floods dollar binds in future years with the main cover, while some of the alternates become much sought after. This series does have the potential to become something sold in the aftermarket at cons where Lynda Carter and/or Lindsay Wagner appear, as an autograph item. In fact, that, and more nostalgia from fans of a certain age, rather then this series' merits as a narrative, are what will almost certainly drive future demand and value. For that reason, IDW would have been smart to have assured all 19 covers had some negative space on which to best place autographs. Hell, an actual "autographs here" cover might have been called for. For those who do choose to collect the entire series, rather than wait for the trade, or find one issue best for signing by the stars, I predict the series will start out somewhere around 25k in sales, and drop to around 6k by its final outing.

Here, I'm afraid I can't grant that great a score. Although this series was primed to push all by middle-aged fanboy buttons, the plot was so basic, the script so lacking in cleverness, the art distractingly simplified in places, and the color just plain off in others, that the total package made this a meh kind of read. Instead of coming away with renewed interest in two of my boyhood favs, I felt instead like someone had taken advantage of my nostalgia solely to separate me from $4 of my hard-earned.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I welcome yours.

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