On a very superficial level, issue #44 of James Robinson’s Wonder Woman series gives us a lot of what I’ve been asking for: Wonder Woman is fighting Darkseid one-on-one since she’s the supposed star of the series, the human foot soldiers of A.R.G.U.S. are overwhelmed by the forces of Apokolips since they logically can’t compete with superior alien powers, and Jason’s contributions are minute and easily mocked. Looking at just the surface, this is exactly what I would want out of a Wonder Woman-titled comic book. So, with all that said, we need to recognize just how bad this series is when even when they give us exactly what I ask for, it’s still an unmitigated pile of hash.
That’s not easy to do.
Recap When does it end? WHEN DOES IT END?!?
We pick up in the Amazon jungle, where Darkseid has just used New Gods technology to transport the A.R.G.U.S. HQ building to the jungle. He and an enraged Wonder Woman are engaged in personal combat, and when Grail tries to intervene and attack Wonder Woman she is herself taken down and carried away by Jason swooping in from the side.
The comic cuts over to Steve Trevor and the Oddfellows, who are being swarmed by Parademons. Steve verbally recaps what has happened and tells the A.R.G.U.S. troops that they don’t have time to help their wounded or dead, they need to break through the Parademons at once and get to Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman in turn tells Steve not to worry about her, and instead focus on fighting what’s in front of him right now. As Wonder Woman and Darkseid go back and forth, the Female Furies that Diana had freed and armed in the last issue break through the A.R.G.U.S. troops and steal the relics which Darkseid had wanted for his machinery.
We switch back to Jason and Grail going at it, where Grail tries to guilt him from the fight by reminiscing how they used to be lovers. Jason, however, isn’t suckered by the attempt and dismisses their past as lies and deception.
Ultimately Darkseid’s minions are able to finish their work, and a Stargate is opened connecting to Themyscira. Diana attempts to fly through to warn them of what’s coming, but she is violently rebounded from the portal. Grail, however, can go through, and she attacks the Amazons with a ray device that she and Darkseid had built from a smattering of different sources. The Amazons are transformed when struck, and come back through the portal as monstrous creatures.
Review Can we just say “this blows” and leave it at that?
I’m honestly a little stupefied at the way that James Robinson can take the elements that I have been specifically asking for — Wonder Woman back as the primary actor, Jason literally sidelined and mocked, and Steve Trevor no longer inexplicably triumphing over super powered aliens — and still produce pure drek like this issue. It’s almost impressive. I’m even tempted to compare it to an Ed Wood masterpiece as “so bad it’s good”. The only problem with that comparison is that it isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s just bad. Again.
Let’s start outside of the issue itself, and focus on the cover. This is where the “it’s almost what I wanted, except horrible” truly begins. The issue caption is “Wonder Woman, alone…against Darkseid!” and that’s a suitable dramatic caption. It’s especially nice with the promise that Diana will (finally) take front-and-center in her comic again. Except…Diana isn’t alone. Steve Trevor is there fighting against the Parademons and Female Furies, and Jason is fighting Grail, who was likewise attacking Wonder Woman. They’re all interlocked in the giant battle and the comic is frequently cutting back and forth between them, including dialogue between the entire group.
Diana isn’t even alone in the philosophical sense, let alone actually being physically isolated.
Into the comic itself, we run headfirst into problems with the bridge between the last issue and this one. Issue #43 had closed with the lead-up to the final showdown between Wonder Woman and Darkseid, with dramatic pronouncements by both of them as Diana decreed “No quarter asked for. None given”. Taking the time to speak like that sets up the fight as between controlled, earnestly deadly warriors.
In the opening of this issue, however, Wonder Woman is practically in a frothing rage as she screams and hammer-fists Darkseid with wild abandon. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed that there was an entire scene we didn’t see where they had already fought, and this change was what happened after Wonder Woman had lost control due to what happened off-panel. How did she go from ‘making speeches’ to “YOU MANIAC!”?
It doesn’t connect between the issues, and that is a basic level of tradecraft in writing a multi-part story. Forget all my other criticisms of the story and characterization, since for those you could at least make the argument that James Robinson was trying for a different angle (You’d be wrong, but you could at least make the argument). This is just failure at the elementary creator level, and for somebody who’s been writing comics for as long as James Robinson has it’s simply unforgivable.
Now we’re going to get into the actual story itself, and on its own merits it’s just a flop. As they fight, Darkseid talks about the ways that Wonder Woman has beaten him in the past, and that her pathetic showing now doesn’t compare. This is probably a reference to Justice League: Origin storyline, which was adapted into the animated film Justice League: War, and the problems here are threefold.
Number one is the fact that this story explicitly has not happened anymore; that is a New 52 story (The new origin of the Justice League after Flashpoint) and is no longer canon in Rebirth. Number two is the fact that even if this story was in continuity, it didn’t happen in this series. It happened in the Justice League title, so even longtime readers of Wonder Woman who have been reading the series since the New 52 won’t know what these events refer to unless they’ve read a completely different series. Number three, and this is the biggest problem, is that it is James Robinson himself who is writing Wonder Woman as being unable to challenge Darkseid, and then having Darkseid mock her for it.
This isn’t clever or meta dialogue, and you don’t get points by having the characters themselves point out that what’s happening is poor writing. It’s just proof that your writing is poor, because you can’t even compensate for the story continuity that you yourself are trying to force into being.
Then we get to the way that Jason distracts Grail to keep her from interfering in the fight between Wonder Woman and Darkseid. First off, I did not need to learn that Grail and Jason were lovers during their brief alliance. Not only has this been completely unmentioned and unaddressed beforehand, without even the barest hint or reference to a past relationship when Jason was explaining to Diana why he sided with Grail, but it’s another example of the sexist nature of James Robinson’s writing on this series. I might really hate the character and how she’s been used in the series, but Grail is a superpowered evil half-Amazon/half-New God warrior, she doesn’t need to be relegated to the role of femme fatale who seduced away Wonder Woman’s brother to their side.
Then there’s the fight itself and the incredibly awkward way that Jason literally flies in from the side, tackles Grail, and flies her away from Wonder Woman. It’s almost comical. This strikes me as James Robinson deciding that he needs Wonder Woman and Darkseid to fight one-on-one, but he couldn’t actually think of a way to keep Grail and Jason out of it so he had them literally fly away from the scene together. Similar to the way that, on the next page, Steve Trevor announces that he’s coming to help Wonder Woman and she tells him to stay and deal with his own thing instead, when they are not shown with any kind of radio equipment that they could have been speaking to each other with.
Throughout these fight scenes Lashina and Mad Harriet are running around A.R.G.U.S. HQ collecting the relics that Darkseid needs, and I feel the need to scream at this point because the reason these two are running about is that Diana freed and armed them in the last issue.
This issue doesn’t even contain an oblique reference to these events, not a single thought-bubble of grief as Diana says to herself “Curses, if only I hadn’t let them go” when they kill somebody or help Darkseid launch his invasion of Themyscira. It’s simply not addressed at all that Diana freed the mass-murdering enemy soldiers so that she could beat them for information.
Steve Trevor’s scenes are just as bizarrely incompetent as the rest of the comic. When he first appears he gives a verbal recap of the events to the people around him, even though they are in the process of experiencing the very events he is describing. This would have made perfect sense as a thought bubble or a narration box, two comic devices which were specifically invented to convey information to the reader that can’t be contained in dialogue, but instead Steve decides to start monologuing.
…This isn’t even “stilted” dialogue, it’s downright inhuman.
The frequent cuts back to Steve and Oddfellows fighting Parademons and the Female Furies are practically copy/paste sequences, as each one is just Steve saying “We’ve got to win!” with a background of people fighting. They don’t contribute anything to the issue and don’t advance (Or even hold back) the plot. It’s just that James Robinson had put them into the story and couldn’t think of what else to do with them.
This entire issue is a mess in a whole new direction from the the preceding comics. It’s just shoddy any way you look at it. Even trying to get back on the rails for what a Wonder Woman comic should be — with Diana fighting the main villain one-on-one and at the center of the action — the execution is just bizarrely clunky and halfway twisted so that a lot of it doesn’t make any sense.
Where can this possible go from here?