Review: Wonder Woman Vol. 7: War-Torn hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 14, 2015

I don't envy Meredith Finch, a relative newcomer to comics, having to follow award-winning author Brian Azzarello on Wonder Woman, and especially not after Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman achieved instant-classic status. As expected, Finch's first story, in Wonder Woman Vol. 7: War-Torn, is not as sharp as what proceeded it. To Finch's credit, War-Torn delves immediately into aspects of Wonder Woman's new status quo that Azzarello left unexplored, and in many respects Finch's story felt of a piece with the run that preceded it; one also can't deny the draw of the book's mystery villain. But Finch's Diana feels helpless where Azzarello's felt confident, in a way that makes Wonder Woman less enjoyable; as well, while artist David Finch's work here is not grossly over-sexualized, it is over-sexualized enough to feel like a less-serious product than Chiang's before him.

[Review contains spoilers]

In Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron, having just learned that her friend Zola's new baby might bring about the end of Earth, Olympus, the New Gods, and all of reality, Brian Azzarello has Diana "lose it" to hilarious effect in the span of just two panels as she paces back and forth and talks to herself; that done, she's on with her mission. In comparison, as early as this book's first issue, Diana is pouring out her angst to Aquaman over her many roles as Queen of the Amazons, a Justice Leaguer, Superman's girlfriend, and the God of War, and how in trying to be all of them she seems to succeed at none of them; she has almost the same conversation with Superman an issue later, and then later on again with Batman.

Diana's initial outpouring to Aquaman is so dialogue-heavy, on Meredith Finch's part, and squeezed panel-wise, on David Finch's part, as to arrive on the page as a rant; there's also unfortunate prop placement such that Diana ends up holding a child's teddy bear, which comes off as diminutive. It's a boon that Meredith Finch's Wonder Woman is more tied-in to the Justice League and the larger fabric of the ongoing DC Universe than Azzarello's was, and Finch can't help that Diana is the only woman in the A-list of the League, but in all the effect is a Wonder Woman who seems smaller than she was in her title previously, less of a leader and more of a follower, and more in need of assistance by her male colleagues. That Diana rather irrationally attacks Swamp Thing (who seems in the story just for Diana to attack him irrationally) only additionally makes her seem a less-experienced hero than her teammates.

Further, the "Wonder Woman who struggles with being everything to everyone" trope felt a bit tired even in its post-Infinite Crisis Who is Wonder Woman? heyday, and Azzarello's run actually seemed partially in answer to this, with a Diana who didn't worry about her identity so much as just acted. (This, even in a story that radically changed Diana's identity a couple times over; in Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War, she states that she "tried to be perfect once," and then decided to accept herself instead.) As DC Comics's most prominent female superhero, Wonder Woman is often made to present the varied experiences of every woman; I can't fault Finch for spotlighting through Diana the struggle of women trying to fill many roles, but it doesn't feel true to the character's recent and long-term history.

I did appreciate that War-Torn begins to examine what exactly it means for Diana to be the God of War, something Azzarello didn't get into, and there's a delightfully creepy scene where Diana begins to inherit Ares ever-present blood spatters. This is only the beginning, but the characters begin to question whether Diana will now sew war wherever she goes, which is surely an interesting puzzle for a character best associated with peace; this surely gets to the heart of the "peace through violence" dichotomy that makes Wonder Woman so fascinating. I also liked the new status quo that Finch gives Amazon queen Hippolyta, finding a way to keep the character in the book despite having been turned to stone and killed. At the same time, Finch ducks the question of how the female and male Amazons might coexist by killing off all the male Amazons, which seemed to me a poor side-stepping of a promising storyline.

I also expect the reintroduced Donna Troy might not be to everyone's liking, but I found her compelling. To be sure, in this Donna being an Amazonian doppelganger, and having her own quest to try to be "perfect," there are resonances of Donna Troy classic, and being made evil by the goddess Hectate is, in the grand scheme of comics, easily fixable. It's also a curious twist that this Donna Troy is said to be made of clay, now that Diana isn't, making Donna more Wonder Woman than Wonder Woman is. Of course, faster than you can say "who is Donna Troy," I'm confused -- is Donna made of clay, or does the woman that's sacrificed earlier mean that Donna is actually flesh? And while War-Torn seems to contain separate plots -- the plight of dormant underground aliens awoken by Diana's defeat of the First Born, and then Hectate pitting Donna Troy against Diana -- aren't I correct that the alien once makes reference to Donna? In the end I wasn't sure if I was meant to believe things were as they seemed or not.

I tend to like David Finch's work on, say, a Batman story that rightly or wrongly tends to involve mostly male heroes and grotesque villains. War-Torn is not badly drawn, but stars mostly female characters, and when Finch has populated enough pages with women's navels -- superhero navels, Amazon navels, villain navels -- that one starts to notice all the navels, that's probably more anatomy than the book requires. Don't mistake, Chiang started Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood with Diana naked, so it's not the use of sensuousness that irks so much as whether it serves the story or not, and in this case it doesn't. Finch also returns Paradise Island to its Greco-Roman marble origins, which are certainly in the George Perez classic style but differs from the Chiang mudstone designs from the previous run.

It's the aforementioned Donna Troy that will keep me coming back to this book, as might have been the intention. I am more inclined these days to decide a book is "not for me," especially when I've just seen it done better, but when I consider that the next book after Wonder Woman Vol. 7: War-Torn will begin Donna Troy's redemption on the way to the Convergence-based series Titans Hunt, the money just falls out of my pocket. To that end, I only hope Meredith Finch's run on Wonder Woman improves, and surely that starts with a better presentation of the title character herself.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]
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  1. To me, this seemed like more of a Justice League book than a Wonder Woman book. I'd hate to compare this to what came before, but Azzarello really fleshed out the whole world of Wonder Woman and provided her with a memorable supporting cast. The Finches, on the other hand, made WW's world feel much smaller by bringing in the Justice League as a crutch, and even worse, they based their storyline on the least desirable aspect of the mythos Azzarello developed.

    1. I agree it felt like a Justice League book (in a similar vein to Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1: Knight Terrors, though Finch was solely artist and not writer there, too), and in some respects this is what Azzarello's book lacked, a distinct sense of Diana as a member of her larger world. I think we agree, however, that Meredith Finch swings the pendulum too far in terms of Justice League participation here.

  2. i also just read this book, but i really liked it. its the best finch art in ages (although i admit his diana alternates between looking too old and too young and certain angles) and like you said, azz is a tough act to follow. so a complete tonal shift without throwing out what came before was a good decision to me. some of the things that took place did shock me. i highly recommend this book -- at least until she switches to that gods awful costume in the future!

    1. Presenting Diana in something other than a swimsuit seems a welcome change, though the skeptic in me doubts it'll last, and even that it'll end up with Diana in something more akin to the color scheme of her original uniform.