Review: Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

J. Michael Straczynski's Wonder Woman: Odyssey is better than his Superman: Grounded. Both were year-long stories that in their own way rebuilt their title character; Straczynski's name, however, remains on the book's credits the whole time, alongside co-writer Phil Hester, which they do not in Grounded, and indeed Odyssey feels more cohesive and polished.

As is inevitable for an "alternate universe" tale like Odyssey, it is an exercise in character study, not really a "story" in the truest sense nor something liable to make a strong mark on the Wonder Woman canon (compare one-off Odyssey with Greg Rucka's graphic novel Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia; the former is a study of Wonder Woman while the latter is a story that serves to define Wonder Woman's character).

But Odyssey is sprightly and downright inspiring at times, even; it is not the ultimate Wonder Woman story necessitated by the end of the old DC Universe and the beginning of the DC New 52, but it's a book that's complimentary of Wonder Woman, defines her elements, and at least sets forth some expectations for what the DC New 52 Wonder Woman should entail.

[Contains spoilers]

The "original" Wonder Woman doesn't fare especially well in this book, depicted as exceptionally prideful in a battle with the Morrigan that lead to her broken reality. On opposite sides, both Diana's gods and the Morrigan have lead her to live among mortals instead of being raised with the Amazons on Themyscira in order to foster a love or hate of "Man's World," respectively. Arguably, Diana has been more human than Amazon through most of her depictions -- I can think of instances in both Greg Rucka's and Gail Simone's runs where the public thinks Diana is "with" the Amazons and "against" humanity, but this is usually appearance and not fact -- however, Straczynski and Hester position this new Diana as neither god nor Amazon, as Aphrodite says, but as woman alone.

Maybe this additional time raised among humans and Straczynski and Hester's overall more youthful "alternate" Diana might benefit the character. Admittedly much of this, while interesting, is what the book tells us rather than shows us -- Diana's humanity in the book is limited to her relationship with one battered woman that she's saved. As well, the fact that the entire series ends pre-DC New 52 with this run means Odyssey is all set-up and no enactment -- Straczynski takes fourteen issues to break down and build back up a "new and improved" Wonder Woman, but is never able to show us how that Wonder Woman would actually function day to day.

In another way, Odyssey becomes a treatise on the concept of Wonder Woman overall. In a remarkably charming issue starring Dr. Psycho, Diana experiences a number of alternate origins, many involving a strong daughter raised by a strong mother. Superman and Batman have had their own iconic depictions, investigations into the universal concepts presented by the heroes, but not so much Wonder Woman. "Every era somehow finds a way to create you," Psycho tells Diana, and the writers suggest some fictional character like Diana would have come along even if DC's Wonder Woman hadn't. Amidst the incarnations of Wonder Woman, Straczynski and Hester reinforce Diana's connection to earth, air, water, and fire -- she is ubiquitous, they suggest, and therefore infinitely relatable.

This sequence, beautifully depicted as much of the book is by Don Kramer, is eminently inspiring, a Diana overcoming everything thrown at her. It is also a visual feast for long-time Wonder Woman readers, nodding for better or worse to every Wonder Woman era from the Golden Age to the "mod" look, even the Challenge of Artemis and Star Sapphire get-ups. Diana awakens in a hospital crafted from bits and pieces of the Wonder Woman television series; in many ways the book serves as a love letter to the whole of the Wonder Woman mythos, significantly similar to Kevin Smith's Green Arrow: Quiver.

The writers also take a stab at the inherent contradictions in Wonder Woman's character -- that she's a warrior, raised by Amazons, but joins "Man's world" as an arbiter of peace. Straczynski and Hester's Diana in this book so far has been considerably violent, enough so that she worries even her fellow Amazons; the book's villains, the war god trinity The Morrigan, try to goad Diana to even greater violence such to have her join their ilk. In the story's final conflict, this Diana must temper her thirst for revenge in a battle against the vengeance-god Nemesis, essentially the "old" Wonder Woman's darker side. The reader will not, again, necessarily get to see how Straczynski might have enacted this change issue-after-issue in a Wonder Woman series, but it's something the young Diana surmounts and I was pleased to see the violence of the first volume come to some conclusion.

Indeed in this way Odyssey is far more focused than Superman: Grounded. Whereas Straczynski left the latter title entirely and following writer Chris Roberson took it in his own direction, Odyssey flows cleanly from beginning to end. The beginning of Odyssey presented strange masked figures who seemed to have raised Diana, changed to plainclothes Amazons when Hester joined the story; this second volume clarifies that unevenness. Whether planned or a patch, it helps the two volumes of Odyssey function as one story (really wish this might've been one volume, even) in a way that Grounded does not.

I'm a sucker for a good ending; so many times in serial fiction endings get a short shrift to go on to the next thing. Odyssey has eight pages worth of conclusion, by both Kramer and stellar Batgirl artist Lee Garbett, and it could be one of the best pre-Flashpoint conclusions yet. Diana senses the upcoming shift in reality, and her mother Hippolyta offers a prayer, that just as in the alternate reality where Hippolyta, Diana, and the Amazons existed, so too should they exist in the DC New 52.

In the final pages of Wonder Woman: Odyssey, Straczynski and Hester define the basic elements of Wonder Woman's origin -- Superman is the strange visitor from another planet, Wonder Woman is the daughter of the Amazons -- and with that, Wonder Woman takes flight. It is bitersweet and inspiring, Diana forthrightly facing the changes to come, and it's a great conclusion to a story that, if not an epic depiction of Wonder Woman, still qualifies as a worthwhile Wonder Woman epic.

[Includes original and variant covers]

We've said good-bye to the "old" Wonder Woman -- now next week, we're jumping right back in to the DC New 52. Up first, the Collected Editions review of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman: Blood and more DC New 52 goodness from there. See you next week!
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3 comments:

  1. I didn't bother giving a read to Odyssey, what with these 2 "reboots" one after the other.
    But since you seem to recmmend the book, I might give it a look ;)

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  2. If you have not been a Wonder Woman reader and are already headed to the DC New 52, there may not be a lot here for you. Mainly I would say that despite the controversy, Straczynski impressed me here as he did in the first part of Superman: Grounded; your results may vary.

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  3. JMS sure does get a lot of flak, but like you CE, I've enjoyed what I've read of his work. I would definitely like to see him FINISH his projects, and then maybe some of (certainly not all!) the criticisms will go away.

    Superman and Wonder Woman went unfinished (and I heard a similar thing about his Thor run at Marvel); his Brave & the Bold run as well (something I was enjoying). His Superman: Earth One books, thankfully, were complete. I have little doubt that he'll finish his Before Watchmen books. So maybe the answer with JMS is to limit him to one-shots and mini-series?

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