Review: Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't even stop to read this review; just go out and get Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian. Go on, go; we'll wait. This book gets my highest recommendation. Yes, indeed -- Gail Simone's latest volume of Wonder Woman is that good.

[Contains spoilers for Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian]

Bottom line, the best thing about Rise of the Olympian is that the stakes are emotional, not physical. Wonder Woman's epic battle with new-villain Genocide evokes Superman's original battle with Doomsday, except that here, Diana grapples with the moral implications of her battle. It's one thing for Diana to want to kill Genocide in order to stop the villain's rampage while struggling to discern where heroism ends and vengeance begins; it's another thing when Wonder Woman learns that Genocide is her own future self (more Bizarro than Doomsday), and that the evil she finds in Genocide is actually the same urges for revenge within her own self.

Diana gets beat terribly far down in Olympian, but the story rises to a level beyond the latest personality-clash-fueled dissolution of the Justice League because here, Diana's torment stems from her own true character. Genocide threatens to kill Wonder Woman's paramour Nemesis unless she admits that she doesn't actually love him -- the villain is Genocide, but Diana's the one who causes the pain. Similarly, Diana's choice to kill Genocide, which she tries to take back a moment later, ultimately allows Genocide to escape, such that when the villain rises again, Diana will know that the destruction results from her own bad choices. The stakes that Simone introduces here are greater than what you find in your typical comic book, and it makes for entirely gripping reading.

Not to mention, I'm a sucker for a good mystery, and Olympian has plenty of layers to peel back. Genocide is a great villain on her own, but it's ever better when the reader learns she's made from Wonder Woman's future corpse (shocking!) and that she's being controlled by classic Wonder Woman villain Cheetah -- and even better than that is the revelation that the god Ares not only controls them both, but also has a henchman within Zeus's new Olympians, too. As with Superman: New Krypton, there's a great conflicts in this story on many fronts, more than just hero-fights-villain, that kept me turning pages to the end.

I also appreciated how Olympian evokes classic Wonder Woman stories -- though maybe evokes them too strongly. The presence of Ares as the main villain, the meddling by Zeus, even Wonder Woman's renunciation of the Amazon way have all been elements of Wonder Woman stories before, and indeed it is a little repetitive. (No one believes Wonder Woman will permanently stop being an Amazon any more than they believe Superman has really abandoned Earth, of course.) But even the Greg Rucka run on Wonder Woman -- and I say this as someone who loved the Greg Rucka run on Wonder Woman -- didn't quite feel like a "traditional" Wonder Woman story, in that Wonder Woman is a superhero who fights super-villains both human and mythological, splitting her time between Man's World and Themyscira. Olympian "feels" like a Wonder Woman story (moreso, certainly, than New Krypton feels like a Superman story), and as such I'm willing to forgive re-treading some well-worn ground.

To be sure, I'm looking forward to the next volume, which doesn't unfortunately arrive until March. There's plenty still to be discovered -- Wonder Woman's renunciation of the Amazon way doesn't interest me nearly as much as, for instance, the tie between the alien Ichor race that destroyed the Khunds in Wonder Woman: The Circle and the ship that delivered the gods back to Earth at the beginning of Olympian. It seemed to me that the gods didn't even know who they were in the beginning, and despite Athena's interaction with Diana, I'm not entirely convinced the gods are even who they say they are. Certainly Zeus's murder of the god Kane Milohai has yet to be explained, and I'm eager for the answers.

(For an interesting take on Gail Simone's Wonder Woman stories so far, with comments from Gail herself, see the Hooded Utilitarian blog.)

[Contains full covers, Origins & Omens pages]

This is a great, great Wonder Woman volume. Did you enjoy it as much as I did? The Superman and Batman titles get lots of attention right now, but with the recent announcement of Wonder Woman being re-numbered to #600, maybe it'll coincide with some publicity for this storyline. Thanks for reading!
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8 comments:

  1. I've definitely enjoyed this story arc on WW and I completely with you about the many layers of the story being enjoyable.

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  2. Speaking as a casual reader without much understanding of continuity I loved this too. I really hope they can get the movie to be this action packed!

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  3. I'm not sure if I'll ever read it. I wanted to jump on board with Wonder Woman solely because of Gail Simone. But like with the Legion of Superheroes, once I checked out the fan community to catch up a bit on stuff, I was turned right off by the community.

    I also admit I've never really understood Wonder Woman for similar reasons to what Grant Morrison once said of his own view of her.

    I've just found her a really hard character to attach to outside of the Justice League.

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  4. Unfortunate that the fan community might turn you off of a book, though after the past week of highs and lows regarding the DC Comics announcements, I understand where you're coming from.

    To Rise of the Olympian's credit, I'd say there's not much you need to know to understand the book. That is, probably if you've read Amazons Attack, Countdown to Final Crisis, and Final Crisis itself, you'd be pretty OK -- I know that's not insignificant, but I mean to say that if you're not up to date on the Wonder Woman title itself, this is a fair jumping on point.

    Comics, this week has reinforced to me, are complicated.

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  5. Maybe I'll give it a shot anyways. Your reviews are quite fair and impartial, so they do carry weight with me. To see a glowing reccomendation has piqued my curiosity again.

    I must admit I'm gaining a very negative outlook on comics fandom in general. It hasn't helped that some newbies to comics I've gotten into them through efforts are somewhat appalled by how negative and hateful the community is and are a bit miffed about it. I'm trying to work through letting that affect my perception of books or trying them.

    But really, sometimes I can't help but look at a community and go "Is the material they're so anal rententive about really worth the effort?"

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  6. I hear you. This has been quite the week for comics fandom. I wonder if DC knew what they were getting in to, making five major announcements in five days. I don't know if I've been more excited, and at the same time more depressed, about comics and the comics community in one week, well, ever.

    Don't get me wrong -- I firmly believe that most comics fans, and indeed the majority of people I've met through this blog, are nice, calm, rational, friendly people who have nice conversations about comic books. But this has been a really weird week.

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  7. I doubt they did know what they were getting into. I honestly couldn't believe the reactions. I was excited by many of the announcements this week; especially "The Return of Bruce Wayne", being the Batman freak I am. Bruce Wayne fighting through time itself? Hell yeah. Legacies? War of the Supermen? Earth One? I mean, these are things that really had me like "wow, DC is really on their game bringing all this cool stuff!" One friend I got into comics even told me her brother was excited about the announcement of Earth One; and he has been straight up unwilling to give comics a chance in lieu of manga. Then I went to the forums.

    I actually like discussing comics on this blog and a couple others. These have been the places I've had the best comic discussions outside of two forums I frequent where Teen Titans comics are discussed due to a shared interest. This is the kind of thing I think comics fandom should be like, not the angsty, angry kind so prominent.

    Alas, I suppose it is not to be.

    Do you reccomend me starting with The Circle and moving my way up? A friend of mine that I got into comics has also been reccomending Gail's Wonder Woman to me - which she checked out on her own - so I'm wondering if I should just start from the beginning if I'm going to give it an honest shot. I'm thinking maybe the buildup might make Rise even more enjoyable.

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  8. Definitely I'd start with Wonder Woman: The Circle before Rise of the Olympian. For now, at least, you could even skip Ends of the Earth, which didn't add much (that I could see) to Olympian. But Circle and a general knowledge of DCU events should be enough, and I enjoyed both books more than I expected.

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