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!

Review: Wonder Woman: Down to Earth trade paperback (DC Comics)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

On my way to reading Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals, I just finished re-reading Down to Earth, and I've got to say, this book just blows me away every time. I mean, Greg Rucka's Batman: Evolution is certainly good, as is Gotham Central (I wasn't as impressed with Superman: Unconventional Warfare, but even that was ten times better than comics coming out six years ago) -- but Wonder Woman is absolutely where Rucka's hitting gold. For instance, check out the scene where Diana brings flowers to Vanessa and ends up strangling the scientist -- Rucka's obviously imaging his comic book scripts like television shows, to end the scene focusing on the flowers. Writers with half his talent might just let the flowers fall off "screen," and never think to add such details.

And all that's even without mentioning that Diana never throws a punch until the last chapter (though, re-reading it a second time, I notice far more "background" violence than I did the first time, something maybe to examine the third time around). Mainstream comic books without slug-fests are an interesting concept -- Joe Casey tried it over in Adventures of Superman post-Ending Battle, with questionable results, but it showed that it could be done. And why not? You hardly ever had an episode of Star Trek without Captain Kirk throwing a punch, but by the time Next Generation came around, I think Roddenberry figured out that "hero" didn't necessarily mean the one with the best uppercut. Or maybe society figured it out.

Anyway, millions of people tune in for West Wing every week (thousands at this point? hundreds? ten?) and they don't punch each other out every week (this past week an exception); why can't it happen in comic books? And not "why doesn't it," but why can't it? Aren't there writers out there with enough ideas not to need to pad their pages with fights until it's truly necessary? (If it was me, Clark Kent would be Superman for about two pages and Clark Kent for the entire rest of the run. I mean, an investigative reporter with super-powers -- how much more do you need? But I digress ...) Or, is it just a virtue of a Wonder Woman comic?

I mean, Casey showed that you can do "non-violent" (but not immature) comics with Superman -- but how about Batman? Let's see someone do a Batman comic where Batman is tough, brilliant -- and yet throws no punches. Is it so far-fetched? If Batman's supposed to be so intimidating, shouldn't he be able to look a crook in the eye and have them confess -- without ever knocking someone out? There's the gauntlet -- I'd like to see it happen.

So that's my long-winded way of saying Greg Rucka really seems to know what he's doing. How he controls the scenes, the way he even uses when you do and don't see Diana to his advantage, when violence happens and why -- all good stuff. And I'll be curious to see from here how Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals stands up.

JSA: Black Reign trade paperback

Friday, February 25, 2005

And, this just in ... the eighth JSA trade paperback, JSA: Black Reign, has also now been announced at I kind of thought--especially when the new Hawkman trade was announced with issues leading right up to Black Reign--that a JSA/Hawkman crossover trade paperback was just around the corner. I'm waiting for my copy of JSA: Prince of Darkness, which should arrive on Monday--I was pleased to find out that it contains a couple of extra issues after the fact, and not just Prince of Darkness proper.

Now that Amazon lists these trades, can DC's summer schedule be far behind?

New DC Fall 2005 trade paperbacks

Thursday, February 24, 2005 now lists two Fall DC trade paperback titles - Superman: The Healing Touch and Catwoman: When in Rome hardcover. The Catwoman, I think, we all suspected sooner or later, but it's nice to know that the Greg Rucka Superman trade paperbacks are going to continue. If I don't miss my guess, that'll be issues 633-638, taking us right through the end of Matthew Clark's run on the book.

And, come to think of it, that includes #636, the Identity Crisis tie-in issue as well. It's my running theory that DC is going to publish all of their trade paperbacks with Identity Crisis tie-in issues in September, along with the hardcover. Wouldn't that be cool? Like trade-paperback-crossover month. (Though, if can be believed, we'll see the Green Lantern: Rebirth hardcover before the Identity Crisis hardcover, which seems kind of wonky to me, but that's just me. And where the heck is the Absolute Batman: Hush? But I digress ...) The pub date on is August for the Superman book, but I don't think those are always accurate. September does seem to be the big DC month, however -- the Identity Crisis hardcover (reportedly), and also all the DC Countdown miniserieses end in August ... mark my words, September is when the ball drops.

On the road to Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I’ve been re-reading Phil Jimenez’s Wonder Woman trade paperbacks leading up to reading the new Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals, and it strikes me how much more cohesive the Wonder Woman story is than, say, Superman’s, especially. There’s a text page in the back of Wonder Woman: Paradise Found, and even though it glosses over a good chunk of John Byrne and Eric Luke’s runs, and, quite frankly, some of George Perez and William Messner-Loebs’, one can still look at the Wonder Woman issues from Perez through to Rucka and see a somewhat straightforward storyline, at least in terms of where Diana lives, what her place is in the world, what her relationship is to the other Amazons and to her mother, etc. With Superman, there are some ties, but how much does Superman: Exile really have to do with today’s Superman titles? Or Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite? Maybe it comes from a greater ability to play with the Wonder Woman status quo, since the finite details of her mythos aren’t one-hundred percent engraved in the public’s mind. Something to think about.

Meanwhile, reading Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, and then Down to Earth and finally Bitter Rivals.

Marvel Trade Paperback Reading Order

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

This reading order for Marvel Comics' trade paperbacks and graphic novels is a work in progress, and will be continually updated.

Avengers: The Initiative Black PantherCaptain America Classic Avengers Classic Daredevil Daredevil Essential Avengers Fantastic Four (Classic)Iron Man Marvel Knights: Captain America Mighty Avengers New Avengers Thor War Machine Young Avengers

For Marvel trade paperback timelines, visit Centre Cannot Hold and With Great Power.