Monday, October 23, 2017

REVIEW: Wonder Woman #31



WONDER WOMAN #31, Nov. 2017
Main cover by Bryan Hitch.
©DC Comics
WONDER WOMAN #31
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Date: Nov. 2017
On-Sale: Sept. 27, 2017
Cover Price: $2.99
Format: Standard, 32 pgs
Variants: Three covers

“Children of the Gods, Part One” (20 pgs)
Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Carlo Pagulayan
Inkers: Sean Parsons, Jason Paz, and Scott Hanna
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Asst. Ed.: Andrew Marino
Editor: Chris Conroy

STORY GRADE: A–
ISSUE SCORE: 86.25

THE BOTTOM LINE (UP TOP):
A beautiful looking book that kicks off what promises to be an intriguing storyline that gets Wonder Woman out of our mundane world and into the realm of the Gods, where she belongs. ***WONDEROUSLY RECOMMENDED***

STORY SUMMARY (spoilers!):
ISSUE SCORE
COVER
8.25
PLOT
8.25
SCRIPT
9.00
LAYOUT
9.50
ARTWORK
10.00
EDITING
8.00
PRODUCTION
9.50
VALUE
 7.25
COLLECTIBILITY
8.00
GOSH-WOW
8.50
TOTAL
86.25
We begin at the end, with Wonder Woman in distress, addressing an unknown “brother,” not because this splash panel serves any real narrative purpose, but because Wonder Woman doesn’t otherwise show up until three-quarters of the way through this issue. And it is her book, after all. So, we need something to keep the groundlings in the cheap seats from getting restless.

We then jump back five weeks to a small town in Elexinor, Oregon. Not a real town, by the way. I looked it up. Also not the capital of Oregon on the parallel Earth were the Spanish armada didn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean and Lex Luthor is President of the United States of Columbia. I looked that up, too.

In this small town, we meet Paul Jackson, beloved recluse mountain man who comes around occasionally to buy supplies. He’s beefy, so the locals like to call him Paul Bunyan. I would’ve guessed Paul Pontipee, but then, I come from that Earth where Harvey Fierstein is president of the United States of Sondheim.

Back at his cabin, Paul is apparently a were-lumberjack, who comes out under the full moon to fell giant redwoods with a one-handed swing of his hatchet. But no sooner does he drop the first tree, to within an inch of where he wants it, as Adam Pontipee might’ve bragged, than Shadow Lass shows up, referring to ol’ Paul as the Son of Zeus.

Paul says he just wanted to stay hidden, and when he asks Shadow Lass for her name, she advises that she’s actually Grail, the daughter of Darkseid.

Now, I’ve been reading comics for 45-plus years, and like to think I’m pretty hip to all the continuity minutia. But my weekly comics budget hasn’t changed since 1992, while the average cover price of comics surely has. So, ya can’t buy everything. Not anymore. And somewhere along the way I seem to have missed this but about Darkseid having a daughter.

According to WikiGoogle, Grail is in fact who she says she is, having first popped up in JUSTICE LEAGUE #40 (cover-dated June 2015). Frankly, I’m surprised that whoever it was who decided to add a new character to the Kirby Fourth World pantheon did not give her an on-the-nose, weirdly spelled name, designed to invite mispronunciation — like Holy Grayelle, or somesuch. But be that as it may, Grail’s got a bit of a back story. Still, all you really need to know, even though it’s not mentioned at all in this issue, is this: That she’s only half-Apokaliptian. She’s also half Amazon. ::gasp!::

Looking that up was helpful. I also had to look up the reference to Gail’s battleax, as having been made by Hercules’ uncle Hades, given that he corrects her and says, “Don’t you mean Hephaestus!?” Well, Hades, the Greek God of the underworld, was a brother of Zeus. So, he would be Hercules’ uncle all right. But Hephaestus, a son of Zues, and thus Hercules’ half-brother, was the Greek god of craftsmen, blacksmiths, and volcanoes. So, yeah, he’s more likely the maker of the ax. Right church, wrong pew,

As Grail and Paul fight, he realizes the gig is up and reveals himself in perfect service to fanboys with both the costume and logo he used in DC’s HERCULES UNBOUND series. If you don’t remember that one, don’t feel too bad. It’s a pretty deep cut, published in 12 bi-monthly issues between July 1975 and May 1977.

Grail and Paulcules fight for a few more pages until she gets the jump on him and does something with something that turns him into a withered husk, whereupon she exits stage right courtesy of the Boom Tube Express.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles (actually, 11 days later), we happen upon Wonder Woman (remember her) in the act of felling a giant redwood of her own, in this case, the redheaded villainess, Giganta, who for totes gives me wood. Fifty-foot-tall woman are HOT!

That problem dispensed with, WW spends a couple of pages chatting with boy toy Steve Trevor, acting all pose-o-riffic and looking very Gal Gadot. Not that I have a problem with that at all. Gal Gadot is now Wonder Woman to my mind in the same way that Christopher Reeve IS Superman and Clayton Moore IS The Lone Ranger.

As Gal and Steve are chatting, they are approached by The Prankster. Whoop. He only looks like The Prankster. He’s actually Blake Hooper, probate attorney to the stars. Anyway, Hooper informs Wonder Woman that Hercules is dead and she is heir to his fortune. Actually, he also says she’s the majority holder of his estate. So, Hercules must have left a will, otherwise Wonder Woman would be in line behind Herc’s spouse(es), kids, and parents. But if she’s the majority holder, Herc must have left something to others, so this story promises to become a gripping probate procedural, I suppose.

Well, probably not.

Meanwhile, “elsewhere,” Grail hands a Mother Box to a mysterious hand, saying that it contains the nourishing life force she bled from Hercules. Unfortunately, that still not enough juice and it only ages the recipient by a “few years, “ which, to an immortal god is, like, nothing at all.

And yes, this is a God Grail is feeding. In fact, as we learn on the final page teaser, it’s her own father, Darkseid himself, now de-aged to apparent pubescence!

 ROLL CALL..  
Heroes:
Wonder Woman, Hercules (disguised as Paul Jackson); Supporting Players: Steve Trevor, Attorney Blake Hooper (1st appearance); Villains: Grail (a.k.a. Darkseid’s Daughter), Giganta (cameo), Darkseid; Others: Unnamed owner of Elexinor, Oregon, General Store, unnamed residents of town, unnamed residents of Los Angeles.

 SETTINGS..  
Places:
Eilxinor, Oregon (1st appearance, fictional town), Paul Jacksons home (upcountry of Elixinor), Los Angeles, Apokolips (presumably)

 COOL TOYS..  
Weapons:
Gail’s battleax; Powers: Grail’s Omega-eye beams; Costumes: Hercules’ outfit (same as used in 1970s HERCULES UNBOUND series); Technology: Boom tube, Mother Box (or at least a box-shaped item containing Hercules’ captured life force. One review of this issue online called it a Fatherbox, but I don't know what that is).

WONDER WOMAN #31, Nov. 2017
Alt. cover by Jenny Frison.
©DC Comics
COVER (8.25/10)
The main cover is by Bryan Hitch, and that ain’t nothing. It also have cover copy that declares this to be both the first part of a new story arc, and the return of Darkseid’s daughter. That latter part alone sold me, mostly because I had no idea Darkseid had a daughter. So, I was all, like, “Well, THIS I have to see!”

The image, however, is bit of a puzzler. The foreground with Wonder Woman leaping out at the reader is good, but Giganta appears to be marching along with her, rather than acting in any adversarial way, as a good villainess should. Meanwhile, the gray lady with the ax (I didn’t know who it was until I read the issue) looks set to chop Giganta right in the crotch.

So, my first impression of this cover was that some new hero was in the act of saving Wonder Woman from being overtaken by Giganta, possibly without our heroine even realizing what was going on behind her.

The alternate cover by Jenny Frison has Wonder Woman in Giganta’s grip, with her lasso wrapped around the villain’s neck. But it’s a pretty bland, static pose, with WW not looking particularly imperiled and Giganta actually looking kind of stoned.

There’s also a limited New York Comic Con variant with a photo cover of Gal Gadot. ComicBookRealm.com does not have a photo of that version, but nonetheless reports its value already at $25.

PLOT (8.25/10)
Fairly basic and straightforward, but solid, with a clear beginning, middle and end to the bit of business conducted in this issue. Thus, I do not feel cheated out of story as I do with many (indeed, most) comics these days.

If I’ve a quibble, it’s that it takes four pages to establish the Paul Jackson identity. That a lot of panel time in a 20-page story, and I might argue that pointlessness of wasting that real estate given that the cover is blown and quickly discarded. However, the Paul Jackson persona does factor in later when Blake Hooper shows up. We’ll have to see how much that persona factors into the rest of the story, but at the moment is seems like it will, making it worth taking the time to set up Hercules’ reclusive human identity, even when one page is just him parking his car.

The confrontation between Hercules and Grail takes eight pages, nearly half the book, and probably could have been done in half he space, but it’s so beautifully drawn and dialogued that I won’t fuss, especially given that the issue still covered a fair amount of ground and ended with two solid cliffhangers that are not just clichéd last-panel reveal tropes of the artform, but genuinely enticing teasers. So, there really wasn’t any reason to condense the fight, nothing in particular to save room for, so why not spread our battleaxes a bit and let it play out.

SCRIPT (9.00/10)
I have to admit that Robinson has run hot and cold for me in recent years, mostly cold. In fact, I’ve actively disliked a lot of what he’s done since about halfway through his run on STARMAN. And, for a while there, he had this thing where it seemed like he was trying to emulate actual speech patterns — the broken, stuttered, self-interrupting way most people actually talk — and it made his dialogue, for me at least, damn hard to read.

Blake Hooper is simply a revelation and I can easily see him becoming a major supporting player across the DC line. Here, Robinson gives him a distinctive voice without any of the affectations of trying to make him distinctive. He reads naturally, yet still as a distinct individual.

And the same can be said of the unnamed keeper of the Elexinor General Store. I mean, I know she was just a throwaway character, there only to offer a bit of exposition to help establish the Paul Jackson disguise, but is it wrong of me to still hope we see her again? I like the choice made to make her a bit older, yet not a Ma Kent. It makes me realize that Wonder Woman could actually use an older (but not necessarily old) woman’s viewpoint among the amazing Amazon’s cast of supporting players.

One question I do have is the error Grail makes identifying the maker of her ax. It appears to have been intentional on Robinson’s part, but to what end? It could be that we are being given a clue here that Grail is woefully deficient in her knowledge of the old Gods, and likely that failing is what will prove her undoing in the end, but we’ll have to wait and see.

 DATA ERRATA..  
Read Time:
9:00
Words: 1,051
Words/Page: 52.55

 KEY QUOTES & CATCHPHRASES.
• “Primal! Reminds me of olden times.” ~Hercules, to Grail

• “’Old God’ – your time has passed! ~ Grail, to Hercules.

• “Nicely done, angel!” ~ Steve Trevor, to Wonder Woman.

• “I’ve learned from experience, when fighting Giganta . . . if I knock her out, she’s liable to take the whole street with her unless I’m there to catch her on the way down.” ~ Wonder Woman.

• “After the last few months – me, suddenly unable to define fact and fiction – what’s real and what isn’t  . . . a simple super-hero/super-villain showdown, it’s –“
“A palate cleanser. Sure, I get it.” Wonder Woman ß à Steve Trevor

• “While I understand that knights protect princesses, ‘Sir Trevor,’ this one can clearly protect herself. I imagine she can speak for herself, too.” ~ Blake Hooper, to Steve Trevor.

• “Patience, daughter. We always knew this would take time. It’s fine, Zeus has many children here on Earth – we’ll just have to kill them faster.” ~ Darkseid to Grail

LAYOUT (9.50/10)
Very strong, throughout. My eye never questions where to go, even as it is tempted to linger over some of the panels. My only quibble is that while most of the pages appear designed to help tell the story, as well they should, the page which follows Wonder Woman’s defeat of Giganta looks to be built around a pose, possibly taken from some photo reference as this page gives WW the strongest resemblance to Gal Gadot. So, that page is a little less successful than the rest to my mind, in that I was momentarily pulled from the story and forced to notice the layout. The secret to good art is to never notice the artist.

 DATA ERRATA.  
Panels: 77
Panels/Page: 3.85

ARTWORK (10.00/10
That said, the art itself is beautiful, warranting a rare Perfect 10 from me. I’m not familiar with Carlo Pagulayan’s name, but I certainly will seek it out in solicitations now, because this book looked exactly like what I’d want almost all super-hero comic books to look like, particularly ones that deal with gods and monsters and other larger than life characters.

While it was apparent, that the Wonder Woman/Giganta pages were inked by a different hand, the pages blended seamlessly, and it was actually not immediately evident who did what — a tall order considering three different inkers touched this issue. There is a nice variation of line weight throughout that really gives the characters a sense of solidity and realism.

I am curious what Scott Hanna, the best known of the three (to me, at least) did, as his name does not make the cover credits.

EDITING (8.00/10)
So, a lot of comic book editing these days appears to be more in line with production management. The days of active co-plotting a la Unca Mort are over, and most editors seem to pass on pages without bothering to make much in the way of corrections or changes. In this case, if that’s all that was done, that’s fine, as the work clearly stands on its own.

Luckily, Robinson (whether on his own or with editing help) wrote everything in such a way that even though Grail is an entirely new character to me, I never felt lost. So, well done.

The choice to only come in at the tail end of Wonder Woman’s fight with Giganta was a good one. Part of solid world-building is giving the reader pieces to fill in on their own, and while Wonder Woman’s recounting of how she ended up in L.A. is a bit exposity, the reader is left with enough info to fill in the entire adventure in their minds, as they see fit, essentially giving two stories for the price of one — the one we see here, and a make-your-own-adventure with everything Giganta up to the knockout punch.

I am, however, undecided on the fanboy service seen in the HERCULES UNBOUND reference. I mean, how many readers will that resonate with? I’m 49 and I don’t recall ever seeing that title on the stands when I was a kid. I only became aware of it and back issues and finally completed the run a couple of years ago. And while it is a fun shout-out to those in the know, done in such a way that it does not too terrible distracting for those who don’t recognize the costume or logo, it does present problems for the continuity conscious. After all, are we supposed to suppose now that the HERCULES UNBOUND series is again in continuity? Of course, it was set in the future, so, if so, it hasn’t happened yet. But still. In the end, though, I think we can maybe let it go as the Easter Egg it was probably meant to be and not dwell on it too much.

My only other thought is to question the opening splash panel. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it does make sense to give the reader a bit of Wonder Woman up front, since she wouldn’t otherwise come in until Page 14. But starting at the end and timeshifting back has become a bit of a tired storytelling cliché, on tv and in movies, as well as in comics. The only problem is, I’m not sure what might have been done differently. I am old school, actually liking narrative captions and thought balloons, so I half-wonder if an old-fashioned, traditional title page, with title and credits, maybe showing the start of the Wonder Woman/Giganta battle, might have been better. Of course, that would have also meant a time shift back to the beginning, so maybe not.

CONTINUITY CONUNDRUMS.
• From what I have been able to find online, not having read the original storyline, Grail first appeared and Darkseid died toward the end of the New 52 era. The Rebirth continuity appears to be mostly the same but sort of different in places, so it remains to see how much this story will change the details of prior events — apart from Darkseid no longer being dead, of course. 

• Sometimes in the DCU, which largely uses fictional locals, Coast City is the stand-in for Los Angeles. But sometimes, Los Angeles is just Los Angeles.

REBOOT REFRENCE KIT.
• The HERCULES UNBOUND series given a shout-out in this issue was set in a post-apocalyptic future, with appearances by The Atomic Knights and presumed ties to the concurrent KAMANDI series. DC COMICS PRESENTS #57 declared that this Hercules never actually existed, as the adventures of the Atomic Knights were all a fever-dream of the real Gardner Grayle. However, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS revealed there were actually two Earth (#s 86 and 295) where The Great Disaster of 1986(ish) actually occurred, both with a version of Hercules, although only Earth-86 had the Knights. But then CRISIS also wiped those Earth’s from existence.

 ADDITIONAL CONTENT.
• Pomo Page — “Batman: White Knight” feature on the upcoming limited series of the same name.

PRODUCTION (9.50/10)
Hey, it’s the usual high standards. What can I say? Well, for one thing, I was super impressed with the coloring this issue. Back in the day, all texture and shading was conveyed in the inking, with the color basically being a paint fill of contour lines. I still tend to prefer that, in part because it looks how my mind thinks comics should look, but also because when most colorists try to add shading a depth with the color work, it most often comes off looking like a photoshop effect, and distracts me from the story. Again, you should never consciously notice the artist in the art, particularly in production work, like coloring and lettering. However, this issue had some really great coloring that did add depth and texture, but was done so subtlety that I did even notice how nice it looked. Yes, I consider not noticing the coloring to be high praise, indeed.

The only exception was on the pose-y page where WW and Steve are standing in the street after taking down Giganta. That one panel looked really different from the rest of the book, possibly (and this is only a theory) because someone was trying too hard to emulate the lighting of whatever photo was used as reference. I mean, maybe not. But that was the impression it gave.

Oh, one more thing, I thought the nighttime battle between Hercules and Grail looked awesome. Given her blue skin and costume, Herc’s blue genes, and the blueish backdrop used to set the timeframe of the fight, those pages could have looked like mud, but they really pop, and when the sparks fly it really looks like they are lighting up the night. I wonder if anyone in Elexinor saw the fireworks, and went up the mountain to check on pal, Paul? Actually, I imagine that’s how they found out he was dead. But now I wonder what they made of his UNBOUND duds when they found him? Hmmmm . . .

DATA ERRATA.  
Ad Pages: 38.89%
Paid Ads: 16.67%

 NOTABLE ADS.
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 ?]
• DC Collectibles Harley Quinn statues and bookends (2 pages).
• LEGO Ninjago Garma Mecha Man kit, based on the THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVE now in theaters (inside back cover).
NOTABLE HOUSE ADS.
MICHAEL CRAY, new ongoing Wildstorm series starting in October (full page).
• HARLEY AND IVY MEET BETTER AND VERONICA, limited series co-published with Archie Comics, starting in October (full page).
DOLLAR VALUE (7.25/10)
As most know who read these reviews, I tend to judge the value of a book based on reading time. If a comic costs me $4 bucks, and I’m able to zip through it in under 10 minutes, that’s a poor entertainment value. But, hey, I’m a Bronze Age baby, I can remember when it took 30-40 minutes to read a comic book, the things were so densely packed. And that was often just the story, never mind the lettercols and other supplementary material!

So on the surface, this being a quick 9-minute read, you’d think this would score low. However, it is a clear exception to the rule. We don’t need words just for the sake of more words, and that’s just what any additional dialogue would have been here, I think — filler. And yes, there were three full-page splash panels, and a few pages with a mere three panels, but each splash served an actual purpose, as did the more minimalist pages.

So, while this remains the lowest of the 10 section scores for this book, the overall quality is high enough that, for most any other 9-minutre read, we would’ve been at or under a 5, for sure. Oh, and add extra points for the book looking so nice that I actually went back and read it a second time — common enough when I was a kid but something I almost never do anymore.

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

 Entertainment Value.
(Cover Price/Reading Time)
Story: 33¢/min.
Total: 32¢/min.

COLLECTIBILITY (8.00/10)
This is definitely a book I’ll want to hang on to, and not one I’m liable to purge in 10 or 15 years when I am pruning the collection. And, if Blake Hooper becomes the significant player I suspect he might be, and especially if he ever crosses over to tv and/or movies, this could become a sought-after little gem of some value.

 PRICE GUIDE.
Good:
Very Good:
Fine:
Very Fine:
Near Mint: $3.00

THE GOSH-WOW FACTOR (8.50/10)
A decent score here. The book looked great, we had interesting and innovative ideas, a little world building, some fan service, the introduction of a compelling new character, and the use of one who was new to me, done in a way that made me want to know more, rather than feeling frustrated at having missed some vital piece of recent continuity. Also, have I mentioned, the book looked GREAT.

This is an issue I’d give to any kid looking for an introduction to comics, in part because it filled me with something like the same sense of wonder I experienced reading comics when I was a kid. Good job!


BOTTOM OF THE PAGE DEPT.
Okay, so Grail is the daughter of Darkseid and Amazon assassin Myrina. Wonder Woman in the New 52/Rebirth continuity is the daughter of Greek God Zeus and Amazon Queen Hippolyta. The Amazons were created by Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus and Dione, making Myrina and Hippolyta something like sisters. Aphrodite is the wife of her half-brother Hephaestus. Hercules, meanwhile, is the son of Roman God Jupiter and the mortal Alcmene. However, in DC lore he’s Heracles, son of Zeus and Alcmene.

So, Wonder Woman and Hercules are half-siblings. Grail, meanwhile, is a granddaughter of Aphrodite, and thus a great-granddaughter of Zeus, meaning, if I have my genealogy right, that she is a first cousin to Wonder Woman and great-niece to Hercules, plus also a great-grandniece to her “uncle” Hades, and a great-niece to Hephaestus, who also is her step-grandfather. Have I got that right?









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