Review: Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 28, 2005

Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals stood up to the expectations created by Wonder Woman: Down to Earth, if not suffering from a bit of "middle-book-itis." Of course Down to Earth would contain mostly set-up, being the first of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman issues, but you might expect the second book to contain some resolutions. Instead, most of it was set-up for the inevitable third book, with the resolutions more thematic than concrete. That's not to say it didn't have its high points ...

First of all, a long-deserved kudos to whomever it was at the DC Collected Editions department who started taking the credit boxes out of the various issues collected in trade paperbacks, so each issue now reads like a "chapter" instead. I noticed it first in Teen Titans: A Kid's Game, and it's in Superman: Birthright and Batman: Broken City as well. Bitter Rivals uses this to its advantage, contributing to its overall feel as a graphic novel, and not a collection of already-published comics.

And the twists and turns were good. I had a feeling when we never saw Dr. Psycho's dead body in Down to Earth that he probably wasn't dead, even if his picture in the front matter hadn't given it away (there's a slip!), but I sooner assumed that he was impersonating Fallon than Veronica Cale. And when I talked about thematic resolutions before, I meant that sure, we didn't see Diana and Cale go toe-to-toe over the streets of New York in an all-out-unnecessary slugfest, but we did see Diana get a better sense of Cale's machinations, we saw Cale get a little roughed up as her stint on the dark side backfires on her, and Rucka leaves us knowing that the next time Diana and Cale meet, it won't be pretty. So in that way, and with all the West Wing-esque political drama that went with it, I think Bitter Rivals was a success.

In a way, Cale reminds me of Smallville's Lex Luthor. It's not that Lex is bad, per se, it's just that bad choices lead to bad choices. And when you're a person of so-so character, and you're surrounded by good people -- in Lex's case, Clark; in Cale's case, Diana -- your so-so side becomes all the more apparent (which is why I think having Lionel Luthor reform is ingenious, because every time Lex questions Lionel's motives, it's Lex that comes off looking like the heel, and not his father). So when Cale tries hiring Dr. Psycho to get at Diana, she ends up beaten and tied to a chair. Cale blames Diana, but in essence it's Cale who's caused herself the damage. It's a Greek tragedy scenario (kind of) -- which may be exactly what Greg Rucka intended.

Small complaints: Themyscira has been through so much in this title -- disappeared, blown up, regenerated, you name it -- that it almost seems to be backsliding to have them close their borders once again, instead of staying open as a science and technology center. Essentially, when Artemis refused to care for Vanessa, it almost seemed like, "Have the Amazons learned nothing?" And frankly, it seems so unbelievable that they would have learned nothing, that I feel Rucka wrote Artemis out-of-character. At the same time, I have slightly more faith in Rucka than that, and there is the fact that Ares was behind Themyscira's latest tragedy in the first place, that I wonder if Artemis's overreaction isn't a ploy on Rucka's part. And what part of Themyscira got destroyed, anyway? In Down to Earth, it looked like the whole island was a goner, but now we learn it was only one island? Could have fooled me.

And of course Rucka wrote excellent Batman scenes, but I might have liked even a small reference to The Hiketeia, if just for continuity's sake. Unfortunately, not to be.

Overall, good stuff. Certainly head and shoulders over lots of stuff out there. Now I'm on to re-reading Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds before reading Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student for the first time. See you next time!
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