Wonder Woman’s “Children of the Gods” arc — authored by new series writer James Robinson — has been struggling from the very beginning. It started by going back to a plotline that the entire Rebirth storyline was devoted to erasing, and has spent so much time focusing on other characters that it seems determined to remove Wonder Woman as the main character in her own series. To many fans of the series this comes across as an almost deliberate insult to the prior readership of the comic, and the Wonder Woman fandom in general.
In issue #36 we at least get Wonder Woman appearing again (how sad it is that this is a point worthy of praise), but the issue is still bent on telling a story for the other characters instead of her.
We start in “The Amazon Jungle”, where Jason and Grail have locked Wonder Woman against a wall after they captured her at the end of issue #34. Jason and Grail gloat a bit and talk about how this location is the remnant of an ancient outpost of the New Gods on earth several thousand years ago. Jason uses this opportunity to passive-aggressively blame his behavior on Diana, since he was hidden away in Greece while she got to travel the world (And even other worlds) as a superhero. Diana, however, is having none of his self-pitying excuses, and she points out that he chose to stay in Greece, even after Glaucus left and he finished growing up.
As their conversation goes on, Diana begins to take aim at Jason’s apparent indecision when it comes to siding with Grail, especially since Grail killed Hercules and all their other half-siblings. Jason claims to have not known that Grail was going to kill all the other children of Zeus, and Grail jumps in with the excuse that she hadn’t lied to him per se, but that things just sort-of happened to accidentally wind up with two dozen corpses. Diana, needless to say, doesn’t accept that excuse.
They go back and forth like that for a while, with Diana taking apart each of Jason’s excuses one by one. Jason was alone and had no father, except he had Glaucus and Hercules to raise him all along (And by all accounts Zeus would have been al all-around crappy father). He was stuck in a peasant’s life as a fisherman while Diana got glory and adulation, except that he knew of Diana’s existence and could have sought her out whenever he wanted. Each time Jason or Grail tries to justify this betrayal of Diana, Diana counters and ultimately gives Jason a direct and blanket statement: that he has to stop blaming other people for his own actions.
Diana seems to be making some sort of headway, and Jason might be wavering in his loyalty to Grail, when she decides that she has played the prisoner for long enough. Explaining that she has always had the strength to escape but chose not to because she wanted to try and reason with Jason, Wonder Woman effortlessly breaks out of her bonds. She fares much better in this fight than she did in issue #34, saying that she lost because she was hurt and confused by Jason’s betrayal, but as they all three charge each other she is knocked down by what are obviously Darkseid’s Omega Beams coming in from off-panel.
The comic then jumps to Belle Reve Penitentiary, which is a DCU mainstay as a prison for superhuman criminals and recruiting ground for Task Force X (More commonly known as the Suicide Squad). Steve Trevor, in company with Amanda Waller, is interrogating Giganta to try and figure out who was having her steal ancient relics at the start of the arc, and what connection it may have with what’s happening now.
With Giganta’s Very Significant Lead-in, the comic cuts back to the fight and Wonder Woman gets her first glimpse of Darkseid himself. He has now aged up to adulthood (I’d guess mid-20s-ish), and he and Wonder Woman charge at each other for their fight before we cut back to Giganta again. Giganta is negotiating how she can reduce whatever punishment has been lined up for her crimes, and after quickly shutting down an offer that she join Task Force X she offers a bit of potentially helpful information: the list of the rest of the relics that Darkseid wanted her to steal.
We do one final cut back to the fight, where Darkseid has emerged as the victor and subdued Wonder Woman. He won’t kill her, though, as he needs to keep her alive to feed off her life force and finish re-aging. The sight of her at Darkseid’s mercy seems to finally be enough to get Jason to switch sides, but Grail continues to whisper sweet-nothings in his ear and he can’t quite make the full turn, when they are suddenly all interrupted by the unexpected appearance of Mr. Hooper, the lawyer who first approached Diana to inform her of the passing of Hercules.
Only he isn’t “Mr. Hooper” at all, he is actually Zeus in disguise, and now he reveals himself and orders Darkseid to unhand both of his children.
Okay, there’s actually enough semi-competent conent in this issue for me to have a “Good stuff” section, so let’s hit that first.
The Good Stuff
Wonder Woman is in the comic, and she isn’t a moron. Hoo boy is that wonderful. To see her take apart each of Jason’s self-serving excuses and justifications was great, because these are the exact same types of critiques that I often yell at characters who have easily-refuted rationales for their actions.
She is also primed to defeat Jason semi-easily, which is what anybody should obviously expect to be the result of their fight. By his own account Jason has done a very little bit of superheroing, while Wonder Woman has been an active member of the Justice League and individual adventurer for a decade and fought aliens, supervillains, and mythic monsters on a daily basis. Jason was trained by Hercules, but only off-and-on, while Diana was raised by an entire society of warriors who trained her for battle on a constant basis. Even if their powers are roughly comparable, Wonder Woman has ages more training and experience which should let her crush him like a bug when he doesn’t have surprise/betrayal on his side.
Unfortunately, outside of those scenes with Diana’s verbal evisceration, this issue is just more of what’s come before in this arc.
Back to the Bad Stuff
Though I do like what Diana did with it, Jason’s apparent indecisiveness makes absolutely no sense in this issue. When he turned on her in #34 he was fully committed and out-and-out angry/hateful of who she was and what she’d gotten, and there is no attention paid to this sudden emotional swing. They could have implied that Grail and Darkseid were somehow using mind control, and Grail is definitely manipulating him, but it seems to just be normal lies instead of a spell that he’s breaking out of. Now, Jason is just suddenly unsure and a tiny bit contrite because….because.
On the subject of Jason, there’s no connection or reference to how we got from the end of the last issue, which was a flashback to Jason’s childhood and life, and this conflict here. Despite taking the time to show us his entire life — something which I feel was a huge mistake for the series — they still haven’t actually given us any information which is pertinent to this conflict. We don’t know how Grail approached him, what lies she told him, or what it took to get him to trust her over Diana. One of my biggest criticisms of this series has been how they’re spending too much time with Jason, and they’re still not actually explaining his story.
Beyond Jason, this issue continues the trend of just having the comic not be about Wonder Woman. The entire sequence of events was a lead-up to the final reveal that Zeus is back and getting involved. He is the dramatic end-of-comic appearance, not the scene of Wonder Woman breaking out of her restraints or fighting against Jason and Grail. She’s just a motivating point to get Zeus to take an interest. Even the “In the next issue…” teaser says that this is about Darkseid and Zeus.
Stepping away from the fight sequence, there are the problems with Giganta’s interrogation, First off, why the heck is Amanda Waller here? Don’t get me wrong, I love Amanda Waller, but she has had zero connection to this series so far. The Suicide Squad hasn’t had a mention yet, and they don’t make an appearance in this issue, so why bring her into this scene? It should have been Sasha Bordeaux, who is the government operative running off-the-books missions that currently works with Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. In fact, why wasn’t it Bordeaux? She should be very interested in stuff involving her operatives, and the complete absence of her and the Picket makes no sense.
Beyond Waller’s inexplicable presence, I have to wonder how Darkseid hired Giganta at all. He has no resources or influence now that he has been de-aged, what was he going to pay her with? How did he even contact her? Is she listed in the Yellow Pages (Sidenote: Do people still make Yellow Pages jokes)? The simple logistics of how this came to be makes no sense.
The deeper this arc goes, the more I have to reiterate the point I’ve been making for several reviews now: James Robinson flat-out does not want to write a Wonder Woman series. He’s got a whole bunch of disparate ideas loosely connected to the Wonder Woman mythos — or not connected at all — and he’s throwing them all at the wall to see what sticks. Wonder Woman’s father! Darkseid! Wonder Woman’s long-lost twin! None of these are Wonder Woman herself, and it’s becoming painfully obvious that he simply wants her out of the way so that he can play with all the other toys in her sandbox.