Review: Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Year One (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Year One makes me a little mad. It is a lovely Wonder Woman origin that in many ways reflects these characters best selves, with all the more pure and tragic motivations now for Diana, her mother Hippolyta, and the other gathered Amazons especially. At the same time, both happily and not, the broad strokes of Rucka's origin hew fairly close to George Perez's post-Crisis on Infinite Earths original, and I did have to wonder at the necessity of a new Wonder Woman origin when the last most recent still seems to work fairly well.

Still yet, however, this origin does fit fairly well into the post-Flashpoint New 52 continuity. I've no idea and probably won't for at least a few more months what timeline these Rebirth books are supposed to be adhering to, but as it seems pretty certain DC is doubling down on Justice League: Origin as being the definitive first meeting of the Justice League, and Wonder Woman: Year One dovetails with that. We have lacked a clear Wonder Woman origin for almost a decade now, not just for the New 52 but since Infinite Crisis, so the fact that we actually have one at all is something of a miracle.

[Review contains spoilers]

What's important in Year One is present right in the first two issues, in the action that takes place on Themyscira. That's unsurprising to a certain extent since Rucka's Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies, at least, turns on the question of Themyscira, though that creates a bit of lopsidedness to this book. As compared to John Byrne's Superman: The Man of Steel, the gold standard of revised superhero origin tales, Rucka's big statements are all at the beginning and then the end is mostly what we already knew, whereas notably Byrne bookended Man of Steel with Krypton in both start and finale. On the topic of lopsidedness, while Rucka's story is satisfactorily powerful, I equally felt the real harrowing action sequence was in the mid-book mall shooting sequence, overshadowing the supposed final climax.

What we find on Themyscira is that the Amazons are indeed resurrected souls of women killed by violence, that they are eminently peaceful and reasonable, and that Hippolyta very well knows that she's sending her daughter off to "Man's World" for all eternity but does so proudly because the gods will it and so Diana can make a positive difference. That torpedoes a great amount of the angst inherent in previous Wonder Woman origins where Diana must convince her mother to let her leave or the Amazons hold some prejudice against the outside world. Additionally, Rucka establishes that supposedly Diana can never return to Themyscira once she leaves. "This will be her sacrifice and ours, too," Hippolyta narrates, "Themyscira's gift to the world"; the heroic journey tropes are strong here, with recognizable similarities to Jesus, Moses, and Superman.

And yet, Rucka doesn't touch at all the question of Diana's origins-origins, that is, whether or not she's born of clay. Clearly that's the sticky wicket in all of this, what among other things most specifically separates Diana's pre- and post-Flashpoint origins, and also which further defines what depictions of the Amazons you adhere to, etc. My sincere hope is that Rucka is holding this out to address in the course of "The Lies/The Truth," because to leave this unresolved would be simply irresponsible. Surely I'd rather have Rucka definitively establish this fact about Diana than he leave it for another writer to do.

The mid-story shooting at a mall is Rucka's best sequence in this book (issue #10), beginning with such a jovial outing with Diana, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, and Barbara Ann Minerva, and ending with rather startling violence. It's surprising and unpredictable, and that Diana is only figuring out her powers as she goes adds to the unexpectedness. In contrast, the fight with Ares in the end is auspicious -- because Diana's origin involves Ares again -- but also somewhat predictable for the same reason, up to and including Diana's quick-cut defeat of Ares's terrorists. I definitely felt compelled by Rucka's Wonder Woman, but not as much by his Ares, and I'm also curious whether Rucka will be able to tell the whole story of Minerva's transformation to Cheetah in what, apparently, few issues he now has left.

That's another bothersome point about Greg Rucka's Year One, which is really quite fine, "except," and another of those "excepts" is that we now know Rucka is leaving the title after issue #25, essentially the first most major departure from a Rebirth title aside from Phil Jimenez leaving Superwoman. I've been thinking about what made for rather distinct characterizations of some of DC's characters after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I came down to longevity, that Byrne, Jerry Ordway, and Dan Jurgens collectively wrote over a hundred issues featuring the post-Crisis Superman, that George Perez wrote over fifty of Wonder Woman, that William Messner-Loebs wrote over fifty of Flash, Mike Grell's eighty Green Arrows, Gerard Jones's almost fifty Green Lanterns, etc. This longevity specifically at the very start of DC's new continuity helped define these characters such that their depictions largely stuck. Not only am I simply sorry not to see Rucka writing more Wonder Woman, but I'm unsure how effective what it turns out Rucka is trying to do here will be if he's only there for the set-up and not the post-origin day to day enactment.

Case in point, depending on how this all shakes out, both the reader and future writers stand at an odd narrative point with Diana. The defining conceit of Rucka's Wonder Woman is that she sacrificed access to her home to save Man's World and hasn't been back since; that's only meaningful if she actively mourns this, which I expect we'll be shown she did in the "actual" timeline (the adventures Diana has had with Barbara Minerva, etc., that she and by implication the reader have "forgotten"). But ostensibly we're at the end of that story now, where Diana is about to find her way back to Themyscira, so effectively the audience witnesses Diana losing Themyscira and gaining it back without going through, so to speak, years of Themyscira being missing. As such, I'm concerned whether Rucka's depiction of the progressive Themyscira will be concrete enough for future writers to uphold it, or worse how quickly we might end up with warlike Amazons attacking the White House again.

Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Year One is quite fine, and the Diana, Steve, Etta, and Barbara Ann cast are all interesting and enjoyable. This is the Wonder Woman equivalent of the "five years earlier" New 52 Action Comics we might've started with some years ago and have needed for a while. Because it's an good origin, finally, it's worth preserving, and surely at least part of my misgivings come now from uncertainty whether it'll be preserved or not.

[Includes original and variant covers]
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6 comments:

  1. I can't wait to pick this up. As to the timelines, without spoiling, The Button starts to nudge you as to where all is taking place.

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  2. What makes this run work is that both the present and past storylines intertwine to present one epic narrative. In the present storyline, characters act and undergo dire events. In the past, we see what makes these characters tick, and how they've come to be how they are.

    In some ways, Wonder Woman reads better when the present and the past alternate on a bi-weekly basis, because each storyline informs the other. I've heard that the Deluxe Edition will actually keep the issues in publication order.

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  3. Surprised you didn't comment on George Perez's cameo when Diana is in custody. It was a nice moment.

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    1. Dr. Perez, a Mr. Jimenez on the TV, General Simone ... All nice moments.

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  4. The answer why there was a need for a new origin is fairly simple. It was how DC attracted Greg Rucka back. It was in all the Rebirth announcement interviews, he and Nicola Scott had these ideas they wanted to write together about a young Wonder Woman. Sadly she left and we also got the recent news that Greg Rucka will also leave after issue #25.

    It was a fun story, it mixed well the familiar with new ideas. I like how he makes Diana find out how her powers work, her talking to the Lizard made me laugh harder than it should have as a small part in that 2 page spread. And as always, Greg Rucka his characters are so well written. It just lifts the book to another level.

    The continuity freak in me wants to know if he's planning to link this Wonder Woman with the Pre-Rebirth stories (or at least explain how they were fabricated in her mind if that's the case). Or why she and Steve had fallen out by the time the The Villain's Journey story took place. I'm a bit less concerned about they Clay story line, I wouldn't mind if he drops it aspect as if it just never happened. It's a bit like the Nightwing/Batman drama we're currently seeing, it's been explored so many times that it takes a more important role than it should. I know it's important to the Wonder Woman mythos, but I could live with this just being an important part of the Pre-Flashpoint Wonder Woman.

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    1. Most likely we need a new History of the DC Universe before this is done. I, too, would like to see this link up with Justice League Vol. 2: Villain's Journey in regards to Diana and Steve, or show us where in these proceedings Justice League Vol. 1: Origin takes place. That's assuming the New 52 first meeting of the Justice League even remains in continuity; to be determined, I guess.

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