Sunday, October 22, 2017

REVIEW: Wonder Woman #30

WONDER WOMAN #30, Nov. 2017
Main cover by Jesus Merino
©DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Date: Nov. 2017
On-Sale: Sept. 13, 2017
Cover Price: $2.99
Format: Standard, 32 pgs
Variants: 2 covers

“Heart of the Amazon, Part Five” (20 pgs)
Writer: Shea Fontana
Artist: David Messina
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Asst. Ed.: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Chris Conroy


The first Wonder Woman story from Super-Hero Girls writer Shea Fontana concludes in a slugfest with rivals that, having not been introduced until the very last chapter of this five-issue arc, fail to resonate on any level. ***BARELY RECOMMENDED***

STORY SUMMARY (spoilers!):
Our tale opens by violating one of the main rules of fiction. I believe it was Chekov who said, “You can’t kill an ant crawling toward Etta Candy’s coffee in Act I if you don’t fire them in Act III.” Or something like that.

After Etta Candy commits mass antocide (proving that no secure government facility is secure enough to keep out Ant-Man, should he ever cross over into the DCU), Steve Trevor advises her that Revere Genetics used to have a government contract. But before the ominous sound cue can blare, Sasha Bordeaux waltzes in, asks Steve and Etta to follow her, and sneaks them out though a secret door. Apparently, a General Thomas has orders to keep Wonder Woman’s pals on lockdown — although not too securely, I guess, as Sasha found them in The Picket’s breakroom, sitting next to some rando guy.

We then switch to Revere Lab, were Wonder Woman is surrounded by a bunch of soldiers. The establishing shot gives us six of them: A blond dude, a bald dude, a brunette woman, a ginger woman, a black woman, and a brunette dude. Two of the woman — the brunette is named Private Hanson — express fangirl crushes on Wonder Woman. The soldiers are apparently at the beck and call of some old guy we can presume to be Hamilton Revere, although it’s not said so explicitly. In fact, they guy’s name is not given until his arrest near the end of the issue.

He and Wonder Woman go back and forth discussing recent events, but it’s written in a way that doesn’t really bring me up to speed. They each references events that have happened, but it’s not really clear to me the line that brought us from there to here. Still, as best I can make up, They mention what Crawford did, but who is Crawford, and what does anything he or she did have to do with the price of tea on Paradise Island? But we can gather that Revere used a sample of Wonder Woman’s blood, given to effect a cure for something or other non-specific, and instead has shot it into these soldiers, who now apparently have all of Wonder Woman’s powers. However, the soldiers apparently must have been given a dose of Durlan blood as well, as during the ensuing fight — you see, Wonder Woman doesn’t take kindly to what’s been done with her blood, and the soldiers don’t take kindly to her not taking kindly — we get the addition of an Hispanic dude with a beard, a black guy with a beard, and at least two additional bald guys.

Eventually the soldiers overpower Wonder Woman and tie her down, with Revere intent on draining her of blood on a regular basis in order to create even more super-soldiers. Why no one who ever tried to recreate Abraham Erskine’s formula didn’t think to do this with Captain America, I’ll never know. But Steve and Etta show up at the lab and make like a two-man cavalry, purposely setting fire to the lab in the process.

As the fight spills outside, Etta ropes all of the solders, along with Wonder Woman, in one toss of the magic lasso, and, as a result, Wonder Woman is somehow able to will the soldiers to give up. She does the same to the ginger woman — named Amelia Median we learn — who had directed our heroes to the best exit when escaping the lab, and it’s not entirely clear at first if Wonder Woman has merely willed the soldiers to give up, or if she’s also depowered them. I mean, it seems like she’s depowered them, and she says the lasso (a.k.a. The Perfect) reveals to the soldiers the truth of what they are, and that renders them powerless. But that really doesn’t make a whole lot o sense. The truth of what they are is in their blood. It’s a physical part of them now. Being super is not just a state of mind. And even so, has the lasso ever before been shown to have this kind of hypnotizing power? Can Wonder Woman use it to show Superman the truth of who he is, and thus turn him into an actual Boy Scout?

Etta then tosses a single grenade that blows up the entire lab, presumably destroying all the samples of Wonder Woman’s blood. She then decides to squirrel Medina away “before the cops show.” Because Commander Candy IS the law. She’ll decide who’s guilty, dammitt!

We never see what happens to the other soldiers. Maybe they were allowed to go free as well? What we do see — “later” after the cops have shown, along with the fire department — is Revere being led in cuffs by a lone cop. That cop then hands off Revere to a couple of EMTs who say they need to check him over, which is totally what a cop would do in a situation like that. I mean, that’s basic. It’s, like Cop 101.

But, ah, we soon learn that these two EMTs are actually two of the super soldiers. One is Private Hanson, now totally over her hero worship, I guess, while the other is a previously unseen mocha-skinned dude with white hair and an Errol Flynn mustache. He says they want Revere to give them their powers back, so apparently Wonder Woman really did drive her blood out of them with the force of hew will, the power of the lasso and the needs of the plot.

And we close at Wonder Woman’s Virginia beach house, with Etta’s niece Destiny —  she was introduced at a wedding in Issue #26, but her relation to Etta is just now made clear — who reminds us that for all her running, jumping, fighting, and grenade throwing, that Etta is on sick leave (she was injured in the bombing of the wedding, but there’s no editor’s note to say so, she we’re meant to just know). For what it’s worth, as I recall, it was as a result of this bombing that Wonder Woman ended up being checked over by Dr. Crawford, who was using Wonder Woman’s blood to solve some sickness of her own, with Revere pulling the strings, apparently, setting the story in motion.

Finally, Wonder Woman flies off to do Wonder Woman stuff and celebrate being her own free woman. Because that’s the end.

Wonder Woman; Supporting Players: Etta Candy, Steve Trevor, Sasha Bordeaux; Villains: Hamilton Revere, Private Hanson, Amelia Medina, at least four other Revere Lab super soldiers; Others: General Thomas (mention only), Jackson (a guard posted outside Revere Labs, and a former army buddy of Steve Trevor).

The Picket, Revere Lab, Wonder Woman’s Virginia beach house (or Etta’s. Or Steve’s. It’s not clear).

Magical items:
Wonder Woman’s magic lasso. Also, her blood.

WONDER WOMAN #30, Nov. 2017
Alternate cover by Jenny Frison
©DC Comics
COVER (8.75/10)
This really is an excellent cover, one that doesn’t particularly need any cove copy to sell it. And given that I’m old school, preferring word balloons and breathless captions over the modern poster-style cover, that says something, I think.

My only quibble is that the dark blue windows blend in too closely with the dark blue of the super-soldier uniforms. And while that does offset nicely with the glowing yellow of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, her dark hair, deep red uniform, and even shadowy skin tones, also tends to blend in. The result is a striking image that sadly does not pop as well as it could.

There also is an alternate cover by Jenny Frison which is a basic stand-'em-up patriotic pose, conveying so sense of why a person would want to buy this comic. Interestingly, it doesn't even have the story title across the top Rebirth banner, so it's totally generic. The main thing that strikes me about it, frankly, is how flat Wonder Woman's hair looks. Maybe she needs a wash?

PLOT (6.25/10)
So, it’s basically a big fight. That would be okay, except that the soldiers (be nice if they had some kind of group name) were a last-panel reveal in the previous issue. So, as readers, we really have nothing invested in their side of the battle. And while there is an attempt to give some degree of personality and motivation to a couple of the female soldiers, this actually works against the story. After all, while we can well imagine why the female members of the team would be so enamored of Wonder Woman they would volunteer to be made just like her, there is not the least hint given for why these same woman would fight their hero on Revere’s orders, or why they would go along with forcing Wonder Woman to make more soldiers like them, when it’s clear that’s not what she’s into. As for the male members of the team, they remain complete cyphers. Given that this story ran five issues, it would have been better, I think, to have introduced these soldiers in a subplot running parallel to Wonder Woman’s story, allowing us to follow their side of the story to this point, in order for them to come off here as real people and not just punching bags.

Meanwhile, the resolution, with Etta able to rope everyone with no previous indication of that being something in her skill set, or that the lasso can do the lion’s share of the roping on its own, falls flat. I still have no idea how Wonder Woman was able to simply will the soldiers powerless. If so, why didn’t she try that from the onset. There’s nothing to indicate she learned it was possible only during the course of the fight. It basically comes off as lasso ex machina.

SCRIPT (6.75/10)
I desperately wanted to like this story. After all, Fontana is known for DC’s Super Hero Girls project, so one presumes she knows something about crafting a girl power story that could serve to draw in new readers.

Unfortunately, this tale, and this issue in particular, really exemplifies what’s wrong with comics writing these days and what’s driving readers away, rather than luring them in. Basically, no new reader has any hope of being anything other than hopelessly confused.

Now, let’s say someone sees this cool cover on the stands and so picks it up and, flipping though the pages and seeing the artwork inside is pretty decent, decides to take a chance.

We open with Etta and Steve being secretly led out of The Picket, with no indication of why they are being held, or even where and what The Picket is. You must have read the previous issues in order to have any clue what this opening scene is all about. Then we get three pages of talking, in which recent events are mentioned, but in a way that doesn’t give the reader any real clue who is being talked about or what those events had to do with leading up to this conversation. We can ultimately work out what Hamilton Revere is up to, even if we have to assume he’s the guy Wonder Woman is talking to, because his name is never given, but we’re given no real clue as to what his connection was to Crawford, or what Wonder Woman thought she was curing by presumably having given her blood.

Then there are things that don’t make a lot of sense, just to move the plot. Setting aside the bit with the lasso, Etta produces a couple of grenades and says she lifted them off “one of the thugs who attacked us.” But when was that? We’ve seen no such scene this issue, and are given no other reference point to where and when Etta and Steve were attacked in the past. And are we to believe they were confined to The Picket yet unsearched, left to hang around inside a secret government facility with a couple of grenades in Etta’s pocket?

And at the end, as noted already, we get reference to Etta being on some kind of sick leave, yet we’ve been no indication she’s at anything other than peak condition. The new reader picking this issue up and having no idea who Etta is might as easily presume she’s some kind of welfare cheat.

Obviously, we don’t want pure exposition, nor do we necessarily want to lead the reader by the hand. However, we also don’t want to continually reference past events without also making it clear who or what is being referenced, and what that has to do with setting up the scene we are actually watching.

And then there’s the thing with the damn ants. What is the point of that opening scene? To let us know The Picket is crawling with bugs? And later, when casing Revere Lab prior to breaking in, Etta asks Steve “how many ants are crawling around down there.” Is that meant to tie in somehow to the opening scene? Was that the point, to somehow link these events via an imagist equation, like Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro?” I mean, it’s just weird to get a kind of non-sequitur opening scene with ants only to have Etta specifically mention ants later on.

Read Time:
Words: 1,591
Words/Page: 79.55

• “Damn ants!” ~Etta Candy

• “You think yours was the only secret military cell operating?” ~ Hamilton Revere, to Wonder Woman.

• “Blood is a renewable resource.” ~ Hamilton Revere, to Wonder Woman.

• “You an organ donor, Mr. Revere? Because if you say another word – you’d be making a sacrifice that would help lots of people. You could save lives, sir.” ~ Etta Candy to a just-captured Hamilton Revere.

LAYOUT (7.00/10)
The layouts are generally strong. That is to say, we can tell where we are and what’s going on. And, although we open with three pages of conversation (four of you count the opening Etta & Steve escape) the pages are visually interesting. The full-page splash panel to start Wonder Woman’s fight with the soldiers fails to impress, however, and later on there’s an inset panel that makes no sense. I think it’s meant to convey Steve punching one of the soldiers only to discover his punches have to effect on his opponent’s super-physique, but it takes a moment longer than it should to work that out. Also, the whole three-panel bit on that same page, with Wonder Woman telling Etta to duck so she can clobber Private Hanson, is less clear and compelling than it could have been. Basically, I think that page just has too much going on, as it also has Wonder Woman breaking free from her bonds. Thus, you have three significant bits of fight choreography taking place on this one page. It’s too much. I would have had the artist fund some room elsewhere, possibly by cutting the opening splash page down to a half-page panel.

Panels: 101
Panels/Page: 5.05

ARTWORK (8.25/10
Maybe the strongest aspect of the issue, apart from the cover. The female characters all have distinctive features and body types. Steve is kind of indistinguishable from the soldiers in some panels, and probably should have been given short of some primary color, but all of the characters generally have strong contour lines and interesting features.

The lab setting is kind of non-descript, and it seems odd that the precious blood samples would be kept out in the open in a big room that also has easily broken bottles of flammable chemicals laying out on tables and furniture like couches that make the place look like a kind of clubhouse. But whatever, I guess.

EDITING (5.00/10)
So, yeah, everything said above is something the editor should have stepped in to fix. From scripting issues that could at least use an editor’s note to references earlier issues, to the idea that Etta can blow up an entire concrete bunker with a single grenade. But the big issue to my mind is that this story introduced too many elements too late into the narrative. Now, granted, even if the soldiers and Revere’s ultimate plan had come into play earlier, we still would’ve had to play fair with the new reader in this issue. Still, we would have had more reason to understand and care about what is going on. But, ultimately, I get the feeling that the first issue of this arc was completed and accepted without a complete draft of the entire plot, or any clear idea for how it would end. Maybe not, but that’s how it reads, making is seem as if there was no overall structure, forcing the late need for a sudden lasso solution. It’s a form we see over and over in modern comics — a strong set-up, a drive on one direction, a couple of issue that amount to filler, and then a sudden resolution that may or may not have anything to do with how the story opened several issues earlier.

• If Destiny refers to Etta as her aunt, is she the daughter of the unknown sibling of the nephew who got married in Issue #26. Is she a sister to that nephew, or the child if a different sibling? Or is Destiny short-handing for Great Aunt, meaning she is the daughter, as it appeared in Issue #27, of the nephew who got married, meaning he married a woman who already had a child? Or that it is his child from a previous relationship?

• Not that it matters, but I find it interesting that this month’s issue of The Flash also deals with an employee of the hero’s workplace environment, who tries to use blood to cure their own illness and help others, only to see that effort backfire. That’s the origin of new Flash villain Bloodwork and the backstory of Dr. Crawford, from earlier issues of this Wonder Woman story arc.

• Although she has a lot of narrative problems going on this issue, Etta finally starts to come off as something other than Amanda Waller-lite, and I’m starting to count this version of her character as my favorite.

• Pomo Page — “Spotlight on the Music of DC” from Warner Bros. Watertower Music, including the soundtrack to the recent Wonder Woman move and an upcoming compilation, The Music of DC Comics, Vol. 2.

PRODUCTION (8.25/10)
Nothing much to note here, which is generally good for what I consider to the invisible arts of comic book creation. As a rule, coloring, lettering, printing, and packaging only really calls attention to itself when something is wrong. There are a few panels where an attempt is made to add muscle definition to Wonder Woman via coloring which I find a bit distracting, but otherwise I am able to enjoy the comic with all of the production aspects working on a subliminal level, as they should.

Ad Pages: 38.89%
Paid Ads: 25.0%

Snickers “Crabby” comic-style ad, with Flash and Superman vs. “Gorilla Grodd. (full page, cut down from what was a 2-page add last month) [Drawn by ?]
• Schick Hyrdo gel reservoir razo (full page) [proving the audience for modern comics is 40-year-old fanboys, not kids. Can you imagine a razor ad in a comic book from the 1960s or 1970s?]
• LEGO Ninjago Garma Mecha Man kit, based on the THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVE now in theaters (inside back cover)
• Warner Bros. WONDER WOMAN movie, with “bonus scene not seen in theaters!” available for digital DVD August 29, and on Blue-Ray September 19. (outside back cover)
HARLEY AND IVY MEET BETTER AND VERONICA, limited series co-published with Archie Comics, starting in October.
DOLLAR VALUE (5.25/10)
It’s okay, I guess. This issue takes about 10 minutes to read, which isn’t great, but also not bad compared to many current comics. Still, for our $3 we are only getting the final chapter of the story. Keep in mind that overall, this story has lasted five issues, meaning an outlay of $14.95. That’s getting into the territory where one could buy an entire novel that would occupy one’s time for a week or more. Or, for half that, attend a movie that’s last two hours, rather than the total 50 minutes plus or minus of entertainment given by these five issues.

 Page Value.
(Cover Price/Pages)
Story: 15¢/pg.
Total: 14¢/pg.

 Entertainment Value.
(Cover Price/Reading Time)
Story: 30¢/min.
Total: 28¢/min.

Yeah, I don’t think much will come of this. Somehow, I don’t now see Fontana becoming the regular Wonder Woman writer with a long fan-favorite run, which would make the final issue of her first arc highly sought after. Fontana does leave the door open for Private Hanson to return, and she could in time come to be a major Wonder Woman villain, maybe even, Pvt. Hanson, the Reverse-Wonder Woman, in which case her first full appearance might be sought after. But otherwise, this is likely to linger in discount bins at less than cover price for many years to come.

Very Good:
Very Fine:
Near Mint: $3.00

Not really much going on. As a long-time fan, I did not at all buy the use of the lasso in this issue, and that more ore less ruined the story for me. Meanwhile, what we got of the soldiers personal stories seemed perfunctory at best, leaving me with zero connection to them. About the only cool thing going on was bad-ass Etta, but I still don’t get where she got the grenades, how she kept them hidden, and how she was able to use one to blow up an entire lab (grenades aren’t THAT powerful and their damage comes from the shrapnel they set flying, not so much the explosive blast), not to mention her sudden inexplicable cowgirl roping skills, and how she was able to manage all that having been all but gutted at the wedding bombing just a few days earlier.

Okay, so it’s never clear to me exactly how many super-soldiers Revere has made using Wonder Woman’s blood. Let’s count them.

1. Private Hanson: cover, 21 panels (1 fist only, 1 hands only, 1 as silhouette), 72 words (7 from off panel)
2. Amelia Medina: cover, 9 panels (1 hand only, 1 back of head only, 1 in silhouette), 51 words
3. Unnamed black guy with 5 o’clock shadow: cover, 5 panels (1 as silhouette)
4. Unnamed black buy with goatee: cover, 14 panels (one boot only, one from back only), 32 words
5. Unnamed brunette white guy: cover, 5 panels (1 hand only, 2 body only)
6. Unnamed blond guy: 8 panels, 10 words
7. Unnamed bald white guy: 9 panels (1 body/lower face only, 1 as silhouette), 18 words
8. Unnamed black woman: 6 panels, 3 words
9. Unnamed bald white guy with van dyke: 1 panel
10. Unnamed beefy white guy with crew cut: 1 panel
11. Unnamed bald white guy #2: 3 panels
12. Unnamed bald white guy #3: 2 panels
13. Unnamed bald white guy #4: 1 panel
14. Jackson: 1 panel in silhouette
15. Unnamed guard: 1 panel in silhouette.
16. Unnamed clean-shaven black guy): 2 panels
17. Unnamed black guy with white hair and thin mustache: 3 panels, 20 words

So, I count 17 super-soldiers. However, I think there are probably only supposed to be six, leaving us with two on the run trying to get their powers back (Hanson and a black guy), one hidden by the heroes (Medina), and three presumably in prison but with the potential to be re-powered at some point (a blond white guy, a black woman, and one dealer's pick). I assume the white-haired black guy who liberated Hamilton Revere alongside Pvt. Hanson is supposed to be the same goateed black guy who got a lot of panel time earlier in the story, who apparently found tome to effect a disguise by bleaching his hair and shaving his facial hair down to an Errol Flynn look.

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